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Sunday, September 21, 2014

The living Church in the Land of the Eagles: thank you for your fidelity

Vatican City, 21 September 2014 (VIS) – Thousands of faithful participated in the Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Latin and Albanian at 11 a.m. in Mother Teresa Square. The liturgical readings reflected aspects of Albania's history. The first, from the Book of Exodus, told how “I bore you on eagle's wings”, whereas the epistle was St. Paul's letter to the Romans in which the apostle tells how he preached in Illyria, which at that time included the current territory of Albania.

However, in his homily the Holy Father commented on the passage from the Gospel of St. Luke, which includes the phrase “Peace be to this house” and which narrates how Jesus, after naming the twelve apostles, convokes another seventy-two disciples and sends them to proclaim the Kingdom of God to peoples and cities.

“He comes to bring the love of God to the world and he wishes to share it by means of communion and fraternity”, said Pope Francis. “To this end he immediately forms a community of disciples, a missionary community, and he trains them how to 'go out' on mission. The method is both clear and simple: the disciples visit homes and their preaching begins with a greeting which is charged with meaning: 'Peace be to this house!'. It is not only a greeting, but also a gift: the gift of peace. Being here with you today, dear brothers and sisters of Albania, in this square dedicated to a humble and great daughter of this land, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I wish to repeat to you this greeting: May peace be in your homes. May peace reign in your hearts. Peace in your country. Peace”.

“In the mission of the seventy-two disciples we see a reflection of the Christian community’s missionary experience in every age: the risen and living Lord sends not only the Twelve, but the entire Church; he sends each of the baptised to announce the Gospel to all peoples. Through the ages, the message of peace brought by Jesus’ messengers has not always been accepted; at times, the doors have been closed to them. In the recent past, the doors of your country were also closed, locked by the chains of prohibitions and prescriptions of a system which denied God and impeded religious freedom. Those who were afraid of the truth did everything they could to banish God from the hearts of men and women and to exclude Christ and the Church from the history of your country, even though it was one of the first to receive the light of the Gospel”.

Pope Francis went on to recall the “decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims”, affirming that “Albania was a land of martyrs: many bishops, priests, men and women religious, lay faithful, and ministers of worship of other religions paid for their fidelity with their lives. Demonstrations of great courage and constancy in the profession of the faith are not lacking. How many Christians did not succumb when threatened, but persevered without wavering on the path they had undertaken! I stand spiritually at that wall of the cemetery of Scutari, a symbolic place of the martyrdom of Catholics before the firing squads, and with profound emotion I place the flower of my prayer and of my grateful and undying remembrance. The Lord was close to you, dear brothers and sisters, to sustain you; he led you and consoled you and in the end he has raised you up on eagle’s wings as he did for the ancient people of Israel. The eagle, depicted on your nation’s flag, calls to mind hope, and the need to always place your trust in God, who does not lead us astray and who is ever at our side, especially in moments of difficulty.

“The doors of Albania have now been reopened and a season of new missionary vitality is growing for all of the members of the people of God: each baptised person has his or her role to fulfil in the Church and in society. Each one must experience the call to dedicate themselves generously to the announcing of the Gospel and to the witness of charity; called to strengthen the bonds of solidarity so as to create more just and fraternal living conditions for all”.

Today, the Pontiff exclaimed, “I have come to give thanks to you for your witness and to encourage you to cultivate hope among yourselves and within your hearts. Do not forget the eagle. The eagle does not forget the nest, but flies high. It flies high! I have come to encourage you to involve the young generations; to nourish yourselves assiduously on the Word of God, opening your hearts to Christ: to the Gospel, to the encounter with God and the encounter among you, which is already taking place. Through this encounter of yours, you offer an example to all Europe”.

“To the living Church in this land of Albania, I say 'thank you' for your example of fidelity”, he concluded. “Do not forget the nest, your distant history; do not forget the wounds inflicted, but do not seek to avenge them. Go ahead, working with hope for a great future. So many of your sons and daughters have suffered for Christ, even to the point of sacrificing their lives. May their witness sustain your steps today and tomorrow as you journey along the path of love, the path of freedom, and above all, the path of justice and of peace”.

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