Vatican City, 13 July 2015 (VIS) – The final day of Pope Francis' trip to Paraguay began with his visit to Banado Norte, a poor and marshy area of the city of Asuncion, where various Church and public aid projects are currently underway. More than two thousand people awaited the Holy Father in the sports field, to whom he expressed his joy as soon as he arrived: “I have looked forward to being with you today. I could not come to Paraguay without spending some time with you, here on your land”, he said.
“We are meeting in this Parish named after the Holy Family, and I confess that as I arrived, everything reminded me of the Holy Family. To see your faces, your children, your elderly, and to hear about your experiences and everything you went through to be here, to have a dignified life and a roof over your heads, to endure the bad weather and the flooding of these last few weeks... All this makes me think of the little family of Bethlehem. Your struggles have not taken away your laughter, your joy and your hope. Struggles which have not lessened your sense of solidarity but if anything, have made it grow.
“I would like think for a moment about Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem”, continue. “They were forced to leave home, families and friends. They had to leave all that they had and to go somewhere else, to a place where they knew no one, a place where they had no house or family. That was when that young couple had Jesus. That was how they gave us Jesus. They were alone, in a strange land, just the three of them. Then, all of a sudden, shepherds began to arrive. People just like them who had to leave their homes to find better opportunities for their families. Their lives were affected by harsh weather but by other kinds of hardship too. When they heard that Jesus had been born, they went to see him. They became neighbours. In an instant, they became a family to Mary and Joseph. The family of Jesus.
“That is what happens when Jesus comes into our lives. It is what happens with faith. Faith brings us closer. It makes us neighbours. It draws us closer to the lives of others. Faith awakens our commitment, our solidarity. The birth of Jesus changes our lives. A faith which does not draw us into solidarity is a faith which is dead.
“'I am very Catholic, I am a devout Catholic, I go to Mass every Sunday'” said Francis. “But tell me, what goes on in the Banados? 'Ah, I don't know, yes, no, I know that there are people there, but I don't know ...”. For all those Sunday Masses, if you do not have a fraternal heart, if you do not know what happens among your people, then your faith is very weak, it sickens, or it dies. It is a faith without Christ. Faith without solidarity is faith without Christ, it is faith without God, it is faith without brothers. This saying comes to mind – I hope I remember it well – which illustrates this problem of faith without solidarity: 'A God without people, people without brothers, people without Jesus”. This is faith without solidarity. And God places Himself in the midst of the people He chose to accompany, and sends them His Son … to save them and to help them. God acted in solidarity with His people, and Jesus did not hesitate to condescend, to humble Himself unto death for each one of us, for this brotherly solidarity, the solidarity that is born of the His love for His Father and His love for us”.
“As I said, the first to be fraternal was the Lord, Who chose to live among us, Who chose to live in our midst. And I come to you like those shepherds who were in Bethlehem. I want to be your neighbour. I want to bless your faith, your hands and your community. I come to join you in giving thanks, because faith has become hope, and hope in turn kindles love. The faith which Jesus awakens in us is a faith which makes us able to dream of the future, and to work for it here and now. That is why I want to urge you to continue to be missionaries, to keep spreading the faith in these streets and alleys. This faith that gives rise to solidarity between us, with our brother Jesus, and our Mother, the Virgin Mary. Be neighbours above all to the young and the elderly. Be a support for young families and all families which are experiencing difficulty. Perhaps the strongest message you can give is that of solidarity in faith. The devil wants us to fight among ourselves, to divide us in order to defeat us and to rob us of our faith. Solidarity among brothers to defend the faith! Solidarity among brothers to defend the faith! And may this fraternal faith be a message for all the city”.
“I wish to pray for your families, and to pray to the Holy Family so that its example and its witness may continue to offer light for your path, and encouragement in times of trouble. May the Holy Family always give us 'shepherds', priests and bishops able to accompany, support and encourage our families; capable of nurturing this fraternal faith that can never be defeated”.
The Pope invited all those present to recite the Lord's Prayer together, the “prayer to our Father that makes us brothers, that leads us to our brother, His Son Jesus, and that gives us a Mother who accompanies us”. After blessing the inhabitants of Banado Norte, he exclaimed, “Do not let the devil divide you!”.