Vatican City, 4 October 2013 (VIS) – Following his visit to the bishop's residence, the Holy Father proceeded on foot to the Church of St. Mary Major. From there he transferred by car to the Upper Basilica where he was awaited by representatives of government and clergy. Following greetings, the Pope visited the Crypt to venerate the tomb of St. Francis, where he prayed for a minute.
The Holy Father celebrated Holy Mass at 11 a.m. in Piazza San Francesco, in front of the Basilica. He began his homily by commenting that Francis has much to tell us today, “not merely with words … but by his life”. The reality to which he bore witness is that “being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him. … Where did Francis’ journey to Christ begin?” he asked, before approximately one hundred thousand well-wishers. “It began with the gaze of the crucified Jesus. With letting Jesus look at us at the very moment that he gives his life for us and draws us to himself. Francis experienced this in a special way in the Church of St. Damian, as he prayed before the cross which I too will have an opportunity to venerate”. He commented that paradoxically the cross “does not speak to us about defeat and failure” but rather “it speaks to us about a death which is life, a death which gives life”.
The second witness Francis gives us is, the Pope continued, “that everyone who follows Christ receives true peace, the peace that Christ alone can give, a peace which the world cannot give. … Franciscan peace is not something saccharine. Hardly! That is not the real Saint Francis! Nor is it a kind of pantheistic harmony with forces of the cosmos… That is not Franciscan either; it is a notion some people have invented! The peace of Saint Francis is the peace of Christ, and it is found by those who 'take up' their 'yoke', namely, Christ’s commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. This yoke cannot be borne with arrogance, presumption or pride, but only with meekness and humbleness of heart”.
Thirdly, the Pope said, “Saint Francis of Assisi bears witness to the need to respect all that God has created, and that men and women are called to safeguard and protect, but above all he bears witness to respect and love for every human being. … Let us respect creation, let us not be instruments of destruction! Let us respect each human being. May there be an end to armed conflicts which cover the earth with blood; may the clash of arms be silenced; and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon, and discord to unity. Let us listen to the cry of all those who are weeping, who are suffering and who are dying because of violence, terrorism or war, in the Holy Land, so dear to Saint Francis, in Syria, throughout the Middle East and everywhere in the world”.
The Pope concluded by mentioning that today Italy celebrates St. Francis as her patron saint, and made a plea to the saint for peace in our world, asking “that everyone will always work for the common good, and look more to what unites us, rather than what divides us”.
Following the eucharistic celebration, the Holy Father transferred by car to the Centre of St. Mary of the Angels to meet with the poor assisted there by Caritas.