Pope Francis brought down the house, or more precisely the church, on Sunday when he addressed cloistered nuns who were given special permission to leave their convents to see him.
At the start of his last day in Peru, Francis addressed some 500 nuns, known as “contemplatives,” who usually live a life of prayer and rarely leave their convents except for medical reasons.
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“Seeing you all here an unkind thought comes to my mind, that you took advantage (of me) to get out of the convent a bit to take a stroll,” he said, drawing roars of laughter from the nuns, many of whom were elderly.
Later in his talk to the nuns gathered in a Lima church, he sent a long-distance greeting to four cloistered nuns in his native Buenos Aires. He thanked them for their prayers for him and added, “The rest of you aren’t jealous, are you?”
“Nooooo,” they shot back, like schoolgirls to a teacher.
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He also urged them not to succumb to gossiping in their convents, comparing it to “terrorism” – something he regularly tells priests and nuns on his global travels.
“You know what a gossiping nun is?” he asked. “A terrorist.”
The nuns laughed again.
“Because gossip is like a bomb. One throws it, it causes destruction and you walk away tranquilly. No terrorist nuns! No gossip, and know that the best remedy against gossip is to bite your tongue,” he said.
Trying to make his appeal local, he joked that gossiping nuns were worse “than the terrorists of Ayacucho.”
Ayacucho was the epicenter of the Maoist-inspired Shining Path uprising that fought the Peruvian state in a conflict that left 69,000 people dead or missing in the 1980s and 1990s.
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Bands of remnant rebels still operate in the Andean area around Ayacucho and have moved into drug trafficking, occasionally attacking military and police convoys.
Some Peruvians did not find it funny, comparing a gossiping nun to members of a guerrilla group, especially on a pastoral trip aimed at unifying a politically divided Peru, and turned to social media to call the comments insensitive or disrespectful.
An editor of a local online newspaper said on Twitter he thought the cases of sex abuse by Catholic priests had more to do with “terrorism” than gossiping nuns.
Like Chile, which was the first country on the pope‘s tour, Peru has also been hit by sexual abuse scandals.
Earlier this month, the pope ordered the takeover of an elite Catholic society whose founder is scheduled to go on trial in Peru this year for sexual abuse of minors.