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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Francis recalls his apostolic trip to Africa and praises missionaries

Vatican City, 2 December 2015 (VIS) – The catechesis of today's Wednesday general audience was dedicated to the Holy Father's apostolic trip to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic from 25 to 30 November. “How beautiful Africa is!” he said, before explaining the details of the trip to the thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.

The first country he visited, Kenya, “is a country that represents very well the global challenge of our time: protecting creation while reforming the model of development, so that it may be equitable, inclusive and sustainable”, he said. “All this is reflected in Nairobi, the largest city in East Africa, where wealth and poverty coexist. But this is a scandal! Not only in Africa: even here, everywhere. The coexistence of wealth and poverty is a scandal, it brings shame upon humanity”.

The Pope recalled that on many the occasions he encouraged Kenyans to cherish the great wealth of their country: their natural and spiritual wealth, made up of the resources of the land, the new generations and the values that form the wisdom of the people. In this context, so dramatically relevant today, I had the joy of bringing the Jesus' Word of hope: be firm in faith, do not be afraid. This was the motto of the visit. A word that is lived every day by many humble and simple people, with noble dignity; a word that was demonstrated tragically and heroically by the young people of the University of Garissa, killed on 2 April because they were Christians. Their blood is the seed of peace and fraternity for Kenya, for Africa, and for the whole world”.

In Uganda, the second country, the fiftieth anniversary of the canonisation of the nation's martyrs by Blessed Paul VI set the tone for the visit. “For this, the motto was, 'You will be my witnesses'. … The entire visit to Uganda took place in the fervour of witness animated by the Holy Spirit. Witness in the explicit sense of the service of catechists … the witness of charity … that involves many communities and associations in service to the poorest, the disabled, and the sick. There was witness of the young who, in spite of difficulties, safeguard the gift of hope and seek to live according to the Gospel and not according to the world, thus going against the grain. There was the witness of the priests and consecrated persons who day by day renew their total 'yes' to Christ and devote themselves with joy to the service of God's holy people. … All this multiform witness, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is a leaven for all society, as is shown by the effective work carried out in Uganda in the battle against AIDS and in the welcome to refugees”.

The third stage in the Pope's trip was the Central African Republic, the geographical heart of the continent, the heart of Africa. “This visit was in reality the first in my intentions, as it is a country that is trying to come out of a very difficult period, of violent conflicts and great suffering among the population. For this reason I wanted to open there, in Bangui, a week ahead of time, the Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy, as a sign of faith and hope for the people, and symbolically for all the African peoples who are most in need of redemption and consolation.”

Christ's invitation to His disciples – to go over to the other side – was the theme of this leg of the journey. “Passing to the other side, in the civil sense, means leaving behind war, divisions and poverty, and choosing peace, reconciliation, development. But this presupposes a 'passage' that takes place in the conscience, in the attitudes and intentions of the people. And at this level, the contribution of religious communities is decisive. For this reason I met with the Evangelical and the Muslim communities, sharing in prayer and commitment to peace. … And finally, in the final Mass in the Bangui stadium … we renewed our commitment to following Jesus, our hope, our peace, the face of Divine Mercy. This final Mass was marvellous: it was full of young people, a stadium full of the young! Half the population of the Central African Republic is less than eighteen year old; a promise for the future”.

The Pope also spoke about missionaries, “the men and women who left their homeland, when they were young, leading a life of work, at times sleeping on the ground”. Francis mentioned that when he was in Bangui he met an Italian religious sister aged 81, who had been in Africa since she was 24, and had come to Bangui from her home in nearby Congo by canoe, accompanied by a child. “This is how missionaries are: brave”, he said. She was a nurse who then became a midwife, and had delivered 3,280 babies. “All a life, spent for life, for the life of others. And there are many more like her, many: nuns, priests, men and women religious who spend their life proclaiming Jesus.”

“I would like to say a word to the young”, he concluded. “Think about what you do with your lives. Think about that religious sister and the many others like her, who have given their lives, and so many others like her have died there. Being a missionary is not about proselytism: she told me that Muslim women came to her because they knew that religious sisters were good nurses who cure well, without giving catechesis to convert them! Bearing witness: then offering catechesis to those who want it. Witness is the great heroic missionary act of the Church. Announcing Jesus Christ with your own life. I ask the young: think about what you want to do with your life. It is the moment to think and ask the Lord to let you hear His will. But do not exclude, please, this possibility of becoming a missionary, to take love, humanity and faith to other countries. Not to proselytise: no. Those who do that are seeking something else. Faith is preached first in witness and then in words. Slowly”.

The Pope explains the motives and expectations of the Jubilee of Mercy

Vatican City, 2 December 2015 (VIS) – The Italian magazine “Credere” today published an interview with Pope Francis ahead of the imminent opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, in which the Holy Father explains the motives and expectations of this convocation. The following are extensive extracts from the interview:

“The theme of mercy has been strongly accentuated in the life of the Church, starting with Pope Paul VI. John Paul II underlined it firmly with Dives in Misericordia, the canonisation of St. Faustina and the institution of the feast of Divine Mercy on the Octave of Easter. In line with this, I felt that it was as if it was the Lord's wish to show His mercy to humanity. It was not something that came to my mind, but rather the relatively recent renewal of a tradition that has however always existed. … It is obvious that today's world is in need of mercy and compassion, or rather of the capacity for empathy. We are accustomed to bad news, cruel news and the worst atrocities that offend the name and the life of God. The world needs to discover that God is the Father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the way, that condemnation is not the way, because it is the Church herself who at times takes a hard line, and falls into the temptation to follow a hard line and to underline moral rules only; many people are excluded. The image of the Church as a field hospital after a battle comes to mind here: it is the truth, so many people are injured and destroyed! … I believe that this is the time for mercy. We are all sinners, all of us carry inner burdens. I felt that Jesus wanted to open the door to His heart, that the Father wants to show us his innate mercy, and for this reason he sends us the Spirit. … It is the year of reconciliation. On the one hand we see the weapons trade … the murder of innocent people in the cruellest ways possible, the exploitation of people, of children. There is currently a form of sacrilege against humanity, because man is sacred, he is the image of the living God. And the Father says, 'stop and come to me'”.

In response to the second question on the importance of divine mercy in the life of Pope Francis, who has repeatedly affirmed his awareness of being a sinner, he says:

“I am a sinner … I am sure of this. I am a sinner whom the Lord looked upon with mercy. I am, as I said to detainees in Bolivia, a forgiven man. … I still make mistakes and commit sins, and I confess every fifteen or twenty days. And if I confess it is because I need to feel that God's mercy is still upon me”. Francis recalled that he felt this sensation in a particular way on 21 September 1953, when he felt the need to enter a church and confess to a priest he did not know, and from then his life was changed; he decided to become a priest and his confessor, who was suffering from leukaemia, accompanied him for a year. “He died the following year”, said the Pope. “After the funeral I cried bitterly, I felt totally lost, as if with the fear that God had abandoned me. This was the moment in which I came across God's mercy, and it is closely linked to my episcopal motto: 21 September is the feast day of St. Matthew, and the Venerable Bede, when speaking of the conversion of St. Matthew, says that Jesus looked at him 'miserando atque eligendo'. … The literal translation would be 'pitying and choosing'”.

“Can the Jubilee of Mercy be an opportunity to rediscover God's 'maternity'? Is there an almost 'feminine' aspect of the Church that must be valued?” is the third question.

“Yes”, the Holy Father replies. “God Himself affirms this when He says in the Book of Isaiah that a mother could perhaps forget her child, even a mother can forget, but 'I will never forsake you'. Here we see the maternal dimension of God. Not everyone understands when we speak about God's maternity, it is not part of 'popular' language – in the good sense of the word – and may seem rather elitist; for this reason I prefer to speak about the tenderness, typical of a mother, God's tenderness that comes from his innate paternity. God is both father and mother”.

In response to a question on whether the discovery of a more merciful and emotional God, Who is moved to tenderness for mankind, should lead to a change of attitude towards others, Francis says: “Discovering this leads us to have a more tolerant, more patient, more tender attitude. In 1994 during the Synod, in a group meeting, I said that it was necessary to begin a revolution of tenderness … and I continue to say that today the revolution is that of tenderness, because justice derives from this. … The revolution of tenderness is what we must cultivate today as the fruit of this year of mercy: God's tenderness towards each one of us. Each one of us must say, 'I am a wretch, but God loves me as I am; so, I must love others in the same way'”.

The journalist recalls St. John XXIII's famous “Sermon to the moon”, in which greeting the faithful one night, he told them to give a caress to their children. “This image became an image of the Church's tenderness. In what way does the theme of mercy help our Christian communities to convert and renew themselves?”

“When I see the sick, the elderly, the caress comes to me spontaneously. … The caress is a gesture that can be interpreted ambiguously, but it is the first gesture that a mother and father offer a newborn child, this gesture that says 'I love you, I wish well to you'”.

Finally, “ is there a gesture you intend to make during the Jubilee to show God's mercy?”

“There will be many gestures, but one Friday each month I will make a different gesture”, the Holy Father concludes.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 2 December 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has:

- appointed Msgr. Rodolfo Luis Weber, prelate of Cristalandia, Brazil, as metropolitan archbishop of Passo Fundo (area 12,000, population 550,000, Catholics 436,000, priests 142, religious 543), Brazil.

- accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the diocese of Santo Amaro, Brazil, presented by Bishop Fernando Antonio Figueiredo, O.F.M., upon reaching the age limit. He succeeded by Bishop Giuseppe Negri, P.I.M.E., coadjutor of the same diocese.

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