Pope Francis met thousands of priests, men and women religious, seminarians, and their families at Medellín’s La Macarena event centre. Many young people discovered their vocation in a context of violence. A priest, a Carmelite nun, of a seminarian's mother bore witness to their experience. The pontiff is optimistic about young people and stressed the importance of having "communities with a contagious apostolic zeal, which inspire and attract others.” He called to dwell in Christ by standing by the people in prayer, study and joy.
Medellín (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis spoke to thousands of priests, men and women religious, seminarians, and their families and told them that they are “the promise of a new beginning for Colombia, that leaves behind the floods of discord and violence, a Colombia that wants to bear abundant fruits of justice and peace, of encounter and solidarity.”
The pontiff made his address at Medellín’s La Macarena event centre yesterday afternoon; on the podium, the relics of Saint Mother Laura Montoya, a nun who was the first female Colombian Saint, canonised by the pontiff himself on 12 May 2013.
The Holy Father focused on consecrated people to rebuild the country. Colombia has 7,624 priests, 4,513 men religious, 16,083 women religious (3,897 in Medellín alone) out of a population of 48.6 million that is 71 per cent Catholic.
That is a huge number considering that people have lived in a situation of war and corruption for more than 50 years. Yet, this very situation of violence seems to have pushed many young people towards a priestly or religious vocation, as testified by those who spoke before the pope, namely a priest, Fr Juan Felipe Escobar Escobar, a cloistered Carmelite Sister Leidy de San José, and a mother, María Isabel Arboleda Pérez, who has a seminarian son.
In particular, Fr Juan Felipe, who has been a priest for 12 years, said that he wanted to be a doctor, but then seeing the situation and the pain of his people wondered, "What can I do for my people? That is how my vocation was born: God called me to heal and be a shepherd of souls."
In his own reflection, Pope Francis spoke about the conditions under which “vocational fruits of special consecration” are born: Not only “families sustained by a strong love and full of values” but also those marked by “suffering and bloodshed”.
“God manifests his closeness and his election; he changes the course of events to call men and women in the frailty of their personal and shared history. Let us not be afraid, in that complex land, for God always brings about the miracle of producing good clusters on the vine, like arepas at breakfast. May there be vocations in every community and in every family in Medellín!”
The pope’s optimism is for young people. “Many of you, young people, have discovered the living Jesus in your communities; communities with a contagious apostolic zeal, which inspire and attract others. Where there is life, zeal, the desire to take Christ to others, genuine vocations arise; the fraternal and fervent life of the community awakens the yearning to devote oneself entirely to God and to evangelization (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 107).
“Young people are naturally restless and, although there is a crisis of commitment and of communitarian relationships, many of them stand together against the evils of the world and become involved in various forms of political action and voluntary work. When they do so for Jesus, feeling that they are a part of the community, they become ‘street preachers (callejeros de la fe)’, to bring Jesus Christ to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth (cf. ibid. 106).”
Francis warned against living the vocation in lies. “We are a people chosen for the truth [. . .] Vocations associated with special consecrations die when they love to be sustained with honours, when they are driven by a search for personal reassurance and social advancement, when the motivation is ‘to climb the ladder’, to cleave to material interests and to strive shamefully for financial gain. [. . .] ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’ (Mt 6:21, 24), we cannot take advantage of our religious state and the goodness of our people in order to be served and gain material benefits.”
Turning to the Gospel reading about the vine and the branches in Saint John, Francis said that to “respond faithfully to the Lord’s call” and “bear much fruit”, it is necessary to “dwell in him”, proposing three ways to make this ‘dwelling’ effective.”
The first one is by “touching Christ’s humanity: With the gaze and attitude of Jesus, who contemplates reality not as a judge, but rather as a good Samaritan; who recognizes the value of the people who walk with him, as well as their wounds and sins; who discovers their silent suffering and who is moved by peoples’ needs, above all when they are overwhelmed by injustice, inhumane poverty, indifference or by the perverse actions of corruption and violence.”
The second is by “contemplating his divinity”. In view of this, the pope urged the consecrated to “study”. Citing Saint Augustine, he said “we cannot love someone we do not know”. This entails “the encounter with Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospel where Christ speaks to us, reveals his unconditional love for the Father, and instils the joy that comes from obedience to his will and from serving our brothers and sisters.”
Studying can “help us to interpret reality with the eyes of God”. It encourages to pray, which “frees us from the burden of worldliness” and “draws us out of our self-centredness, from being reclusive in an empty religious experience.
Together with praying, we must “learn to adore in silence” and be “men and women who have been reconciled in order to reconcile,” conscious that we are sinners, but also certain that “He will never leave us at the side of the road. God does everything to prevent sin from defeating us and closing the doors of our lives to a future of hope and joy.”
Finally, the third way requires “dwelling in Christ in order to live joyfully: If we remain in him, his joy will be in us. We will not be sad disciples and bitter apostles. On the contrary, we will reflect and be heralds of true happiness, a complete joy that no one can take away. We will spread the hope of a new life that Christ has given to us. God’s call is not a heavy burden that robs us of joy. He does not want us to be immersed in a sadness and weariness that comes from activities lived poorly, but rather wants a spirituality that brings joy to our lives and even to our weariness. Our contagious joy must be our first testimony to the closeness and love of God. We are true dispensers of God’s grace when we reflect the joy that comes from encountering him.”
In concluding, the pontiff noted that “The Lord has cast his gaze on Colombia: you are a sign of this loving election. It is now up to us to offer all our love and service while being united to Jesus, our vine. To be the promise of a new beginning for Colombia, that leaves behind the floods of discord and violence, a Colombia that wants to bear abundant fruits of justice and peace, of encounter and solidarity.”
During the Mass, Francis told those present that “Even if it may seem that you are getting yourself dirty or stained, get involved,” which means “to be brave” and have “evangelical courage”. For him, “the Church is not a customs house. She wants open doors because the heart of her God is not only open, but pierced by the love that has become pain."