Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "The Church wants men of faith, ... men of prayer, men of witness ..."; "Today, by these Palliums, I wish to entrust you with this call to prayer, to faith and to witness". This was the triple invitation that Pope Francis addressed this morning during Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s basilica to the metropolitan archbishops he appointed this year, as he blesse the pallium they will receive.
Unlike in the past, the small wool collar with five crosses, a sign of the Passion, was not imposed by the pontiff. The only Pope blessed them. They will be imposed at a later date by the papal nuncios in the home cities of the Archbishops, to allow the participation of the faithful. Among the 46 archbishops who will receive the pallium six are from Asia: Msgr. Julian Leow Beng Kim (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Msgr. Florentino Lavarias Galang (San Fernando, Philippines); Msgr. Anthony Pappusamy (Madurai, India); Msgr. Thomas Aquino Manyo Maeda (Osaka, Japan); Mons. Yustinus Harjosusanto, MSF, (Samarinda, Indonesia); Msgr. Thomas Ignatius Macwan (Gandhinagar, India).
Since today is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, in a tradition that has lasted for 47 years, a delegation sent by Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, was also present. The delegation was composed of Ioannis (Zizioulas), Metropolitan of Pergamon; Maximos, Metropolitan of Silyvria; Fr. Heikki Huttunen, of the Orthodox Church of Finland.
For his triple invitation to faith, prayer, witness, Francis was inspired by the readings of the Mass of St. Peter and Paul. The first reading (Acts 12: 1-11) speaks of the persecuted Church and the imprisonment of Peter, who is liberated by an angel, while the Church prayed for him. "I would like - said - to pay homage today to the courage of the Apostles and that of the first Christian community. This courage carried forward the work of evangelisation, free of fear of death and martyrdom, within the social context of a pagan empire".
Prayer and the Angel
"The community of Peter and Paul teaches us that the Church at prayer is a Church on her feet, strong, moving forward! Indeed, a Christian who prays is a Christian who is protected, guarded and sustained, and above all, who is never alone".
"Let us think about how many times the Lord has heard our prayer and sent us an angel? An angel who unexpectedly comes to pull us out of a difficult situation? Who comes to snatch us from the hands of death and from the evil one; who points out the wrong path; who rekindles in us the flame of hope; who gives us tender comfort; who consoles our broken hearts; who awakens us from our slumber to the world; or who simply tells us, “You are not alone."
How many angels he places on our path, and yet when we are overwhelmed by fear, unbelief or even euphoria, we leave them outside the door. "
"No Christian community can go forward without being supported by persistent prayer! Prayer is the encounter with God, with God who never lets us down; with God who is faithful to his word; with God who does not abandon his children. Jesus asked himself: “And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night?” (Lk 18:7). In prayer, believers express their faith and their trust, and God reveals his closeness, also by giving us the angels, his messengers".
The forces of evil are destroyed and the Church remains
Recalling the sacrifice of St. Paul, as expressed by the Second Letter to Timothy (4,6-8.17-18), Francis said: "God does not take his children out of the world or away from evil but he does grant them strength to prevail." .
"How many forces in the course of history have tried, and still do, to destroy the Church, from without as well as within, but they themselves are destroyed and the Church remains alive and fruitful! She remains inexplicably solid, so that, as Saint Paul says, she may acclaim: “To him be glory for ever and ever” (2 Tim 4:18).
Everything passes, only God remains. Indeed, kingdoms, peoples, cultures, nations, ideologies, powers have passed, but the Church, founded on Christ, notwithstanding the many storms and our many sins, remains ever faithful to the deposit of faith shown in service; for the Church does not belong to Popes, bishops, priests, nor the lay faithful; the Church in every moment belongs solely to Christ. Only the one who lives in Christ promotes and defends the Church by holiness of life, after the example of Peter and Paul.
In the name of Christ, believers have raised the dead; they have healed the sick; they have loved their persecutors; they have shown how there is no power capable of defeating the one who has the power of faith!"
Without witness a Christian is sterile
Finally the call to the witness: "A Church or a Christian who does not give witness is sterile; like a dead person who thinks they are alive; like a dried up tree that produces no fruit; an empty well that offers no water! The Church has overcome evil thanks to the courageous, concrete and humble witness of her children".
Addressing the archbishops directly, the Pope reminded them that the pallium " is a sign which represents the sheep that the shepherd carries on his shouldersas Christ the Good Shepherd does, and it is therefore a symbol of your pastoral mission". Quoting a phrase from Benedict XVI he also said that it is " a liturgical sign of communion that unites the See of Peter and his Successor to the Metropolitans, and through them to the other Bishops of the world".
"The Church - he continued - wants you to be men of prayer, masters of prayer; that you may teach the people entrusted to your care that liberation from all forms of imprisonment is uniquely God’s work and the fruit of prayer; that God sends his angel at the opportune time in order to save us from the many forms of slavery and countless chains of worldliness. For those most in need, may you also be angels and messengers of charity!
The Church The Church desires you to be men of faith, masters of faith, who can teach the faithful to not be frightened of the many Herods who inflict on them persecution with every kind of cross. No Herod is able to banish the light of hope, of faith, or of charity in the one who believes in Christ!
The Church wants you to be men of witness. Saint Francis used to tell his brothers: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words!” (cf. Franciscan sources, 43). There is no witness without a coherent lifestyle!".
"Today - he concluded - there is no great need for masters, but for courageous witnesses, who are convinced and convincing; witnesses who are not ashamed of the Name of Christ and of His Cross; not before the roaring lions, nor before the powers of this world. And this follows the example of Peter and Paul and so many other witnesses along the course of the Church’s history, witnesses who, yet belonging to different Christian confessions, have contributed to demonstrating and bringing growth to the one Body of Christ".
"Faith is transmitted in a mother’s womb, the womb of the Church, because the Church is a mother, the Church is female". A nun was in prison in Albania during the dictatorship, but the guards allowed her out a little and she used to go to the riverbank. What could the poor thing do, they thought. Instead, other women, knowing when she came out, brought their children to her and she secretly baptised them with the river water.
"If I want the Lord to listen to my requests, I must return, and return again, to knock at the door of God’s heart, since my own heart is committed to [this petition]! But if my heart is not concerned for this need, or the person for whom I am praying, neither will it be capable of courage and patience".