Vatican City, 28 May 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father arrived punctually in St. Peter's Square this Wednesday morning, and began his general audience by touring the square in the popemobile to greet the 35,000 faithful and pilgrims who awaited him, kissing children and blessing religious objects. He then went on to speak about his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, from which he returned on Monday. “It was a great gift for the Church”, he commented, “and I give thanks to God. He led me to that blessed Land, that has seen the historical presence of Jesus and where events fundamental to Judaism, Christianity and Islam took place”.
He explained that “the main aim of this pilgrimage was to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the historic encounter between Pope Pope VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras. It was the first time that a Successor of Peter visited the Holy Land: Paul VI thus inaugurated, during Vatican Council II, the tradition of papal trips outside Italy during the contemporary era. This prophetic gesture on the part of the bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople constituted a milestone in the arduous but promising path towards unity among all Christians, which has taken important steps since then. Therefore, my encounter with His Holiness Bartholomew, beloved brother in Christ, was the culmination of the visit. We prayed together at the Holy Sepulchre, along with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, and the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Nourhan, as well as archbishops and bishops from various Churches and Communities, civil authorities and many faithful”.
“In that place, where the proclamation of the Resurrection resounds, we all felt the bitterness and suffering of the divisions that continue to exist between Christ's disciples, and this has really done great harm, harm to the heart. We are still divided; in that place, where the proclamation of the Resurrection resounds, where Jesus gives us life, we are still divided. But above all, in that celebration so rich in mutual brotherhood, esteem and affection, we strongly heard the voice of the Risen Good Shepherd who wishes to bring together all His sheep in one flock; we felt the desire to heal the wounds that are still open and to follow with tenacity the path to full communion”.
“Once more, like my predecessors, I ask forgiveness for what we have done to promote that division, and I pray that the Holy Spirit may help us to heal the wounds we have inflicted on other brethren. We are all brothers in Christ, and with the Patriarch Bartholomew we are friends, brothers; we have shared the desire to walk together, to do what we are able to do today: to pray together, to work together for God's flock, to seek peace and protect creation, the many things that we have in common. We must move forward like brothers”.
Pope Francis went on to speak about a second aim of the pilgrimage: that of encouraging, in the region, the path to peace, “which is both a gift from God and a commitment for humankind”. He continued, “I always did this as a pilgrim, in the name of God and of humankind, carrying in my heart a great compassion for the sons of that Land, who have lived in conditions of war for too long and have the right to finally experience days of peace! For this reason I exhorted the Christian faithful to let themselves be anointed by the Holy Spirit, with an open and docile heart, to increasingly able to make gestures of humility, fraternity and reconciliation. The Spirit enables us to assume these attitudes in our daily life, with people of different cultures and religions, and to thereby become peacemakers”. He added, “peace is crafted day by day, and with an open heart to allow God's gift to enter”.
The Pontiff commended the efforts made by the Jordanian authorities and people to welcome the many refugees from war zones: “a humanitarian effort that deserves and needs the constant support of the international community. I was impressed by the generosity of the Jordanian people. May the Lord bless this welcoming people”. He also commented that in other places during his pilgrimage he had “encouraged the authorities involved to continue in their efforts to alleviate the tensions in the Middle East, especially in war-torn Syria, and to continue their search for an equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. “For this reason”, he added, “I invited the president of Israel and the president of Palestine, men of peace and artisans of peace, to join me in the Vatican to pray together for peace”.
He commented that the trip had also offered “the opportunity to confirm the faith of the Christian communities, who suffer greatly, and to express the gratitude of all the Church for the presence of Christians in that area and throughout the Middle East. These brothers of ours are courageous witnesses of hope and charity, 'salt and light' in the Land. Through their life of faith and prayer, and with their greatly appreciated educational and welfare assistance, they work for reconciliation and forgiveness, contributing to the common good of society”.
“With this pilgrimage”, he concluded, “I wished be the bearer of a word of hope, but I also received this in return! I received it from the brothers and sisters who hope 'against all hope', amid the suffering of those who have fled their own countries on account of conflicts; of those who, throughout the world, are derided and discriminated against for their faith in Christ. Let us stay close to them! Let us pray for them, and for peace in the Holy Land and in the Middle East. May the prayer of all the Church also support the path to full unity between Christians, so that the world may believe in God's love that in Jesus Christ came to live among us”.
Pope Francis concluded by inviting the faithful to pray a Hail Mary for world peace.