Pope Francis has been brave in his visit to the Central African Republic where there were many security concerns. He has made an appeal to peace and has talked about forgiveness and reconciliation and the power of prayer to people who have suffered the horrors of war and violence. He celebrated an advance of the opening of the holy year of mercy. And met young people.
“Today Bangui becomes the spiritual capital of the world. The Holy Year of Mercy comes in advance to this land. A land that has suffered for many years as a result of war, hatred, misunderstanding, and the lack of peace. But in this suffering land there are also all the countries that are experiencing the Cross of war”, said Pope Francis yesterday afternoon in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Bangui, before opening the Holy Door and thus beginning the Jubilee Year of Mercy, informs the Vatican Information Services.
Bangui thus becomes, he continued, the spiritual capital of prayer for the Father’s mercy. We all ask for peace, mercy, reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. For Bangui, and for all the Central African Republic, for all the world, for countries that suffer war, we ask for peace. Let us all ask together for love and peace!”, he exclaimed, adding in the Sango language of the Central African Republic, “Doye Siriri! Love and peace!”.
With this prayer he began the Holy Year following the ceremony for the opening of the Holy Door. “Open the doors of justice; this is the door of the Lord; I enter Your House, Lord”, said Francis before entering first, alone, into the cathedral where the priests, men and women religious, and seminarians of the Central African Republic, awaited to take part in the Holy Mass. In his homily, the Pope reiterated that all, without exception, share in the “God’s grace, the alms of peace”, and he made a fresh appeal to those who “make unjust use” of weapons: “Lay down these instruments of death. Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace”.
The following is the full text of the homily pronounced by the Holy Father:
“On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which we inaugurated here today. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s pains. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness. All of us are looking for God’s grace, for the alms of peace.
“But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to ‘go across to the other side’.
“Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, He asks us to make the crossing with Him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realise that making this crossing can only be done with Him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us, in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is ‘good [and] instructs sinners in the way’. Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father ‘makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good’. Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: ‘You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’.
those who evangelise must be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy“One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony. Those who evangelise must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to ‘cross to the other side’ – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that He is in the boat with us. As He did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts His gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming His reassuring words: ‘Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah’.
“In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission. First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice. Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, Who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due. Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice. He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings. And He sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that ‘Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness’. Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice. This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.
In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God Who is love“The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love. In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love. In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God Who is love. In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and women, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realise that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great. For this reason I echo the prayer of St. Paul: ‘Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women’. Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: ‘See how they love one another, how they truly love one another’.
“Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail. After announcing to His disciples the terrible signs that will precede His coming, Jesus concludes: ‘When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’. If St. Paul can speak of a love which ‘grows and overflows’, it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel. It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show His great power, His incomparable glory and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger, more powerful, than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be one of love and peace!
To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death!“To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens. May the Lord deign to ‘strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints’. Reconciliation, forgiveness, love and peace! Amen”.
After celebrating Holy Mass, the Pope left the Cathedral of Bangui to greet the young people who awaited him outside the Cathedral for a night-long prayer vigil. Francis addressed some extemporaneous remarks to them, setting aside the discourse he had prepared.
Beforehand one of the young people had commented that their symbol was the banana tree on account of its resistance, referring also the many difficulties they encounter in this period of war and division.
“The banana tree is a symbol of life”, said Francis. “It always grows, it always reproduces, it always bears nourishing fruit. The banana tree is also resistant. I think that this clearly shows the way for you in this difficult moment of war, hatred and division: the path of resistance”.
“Your friend said that some of you want to go away from here. Fleeing from the challenges of life is never a solution! It is necessary to resist, to have the courage to resist, to struggle for good! Those who flee do not have the courage to give life. The banana tree gives life and continues to reproduce and give more life as it resists, it remains, it stays there. Some of you will ask me, ‘But Father, what can we do? How can we resist?’. I will tell you two or three things that may perhaps be useful for you, to resist”.
“First of all, prayer. Prayer is powerful. Prayer conquers evil. Prayer draws us closer to God, who is Almighty. … Secondly, work for peace. And peace is not a document that is signed and stays there. Peace is made every day! Peace is a craft, it is made by hand, with one’s own life. But some may say, ‘Tell me, Father, how can I be an artisan of peace?’. First: never hate. If someone harms you, try to forgive. No hatred! Forgiveness! Let us say this together: No hatred! Forgiveness! If you do not have hatred in your heart, if you forgive, you will be victorious, because you will be victorious in the most difficult battled of life: victorious in love. And through love comes peace”.
“Do you want to be defeated, or do you want to win in life?” asked the Pope. “You can win only by taking the path of love. The path of love. And can you love your enemy? Yes. Can you forgive those who have wronged you? Yes. In this way, with love and forgiveness, you will be victorious. With love, you will be victorious in life and will always give life. Love will never let you be defeated”.
The following is the discourse prepared by Pope Francis:
“Dear Young Friends, good evening! It is a great joy for me to be here with you this evening, as we enter upon a new liturgical year with the beginning of Advent. Is this not, for each one of us, an occasion to begin anew, a chance to ‘go across to the other side?’.
“During this, our meeting, I will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with some of you. I encourage each of you to reflect on the grandeur of this sacrament, in which God comes to meet us personally. Whenever we ask, He comes to us and helps us to ‘go across to the other side’, to that side of our life where God forgives us and bathes us in His love which heals, soothes and raises up! The Jubilee of Mercy, which I just opened particularly for you, dear Central African and African friends, rightly reminds us that God is waiting for us, with arms wide open, as we see in the beautiful image of the Father who welcomes the prodigal son.
forgiving those who have done us harm is, humanly speaking, extremely difficult. But God offers us the strength and the courage to become those artisans of reconciliation and peace which your country greatly needs“The forgiveness which we receive comforts us and enables us to make a new start, with trusting and serene hearts, better able to live in harmony with ourselves, with God and with others. The forgiveness which we receive enables us in turn to forgive others. There is always a need for this, especially in times of conflict and violence, as you know all too well. I renew my closeness to all those among you who are have experienced sorrow, separation and the wounds inflicted by hatred and war. In such situations, forgiving those who have done us harm is, humanly speaking, extremely difficult. But God offers us the strength and the courage to become those artisans of reconciliation and peace which your country greatly needs. The Christian, as a disciple of Christ, walks in the footsteps of his Master, who on the Cross asked His Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him. How far is this sentiment from those which too often reign in our hearts! Meditating on the attitude and the words of Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them’, can help to turn our gaze and convert our heart.
“For many people, it is a scandal that God came to be one of us. It is a scandal that He died on a cross. Yes, it is scandalous: the scandal of the cross. The cross continues to scandalize. Yet it remains the one sure way: the way of the cross, the way of Jesus Who came to share our life and to save us from sin. Dear friends, this cross speaks to us of the closeness of God: He is with us, He is with each one of you, in your joys and in your trials.
“Dear young people, the most precious good which we can have in this life is our relationship with God. Are you convinced of this? Are you aware of the inestimable value that you have in God’s eyes? Do you know that you are loved and accepted by Him, unconditionally, as you are?. Devoting time to prayer and the reading of Scripture, especially the Gospels, you will come to know Him, and yourselves, ever better. Today too, Jesus’ counsels can illumine your feelings and your decisions. You are enthusiastic and generous, pursuing high ideals, searching for truth and beauty. I encourage you to maintain an alert and critical spirit in the face of every compromise which runs contrary to the Gospel message.
“Thank you for your creative dynamism, which the Church greatly needs. Cultivate this! Be witnesses to the joy of meeting Jesus. May He transform you, strengthen your faith and help you to overcome every fear, so that you may embrace ever more fully God’s loving plan for you! God wills the happiness of every one of His children. Those who open themselves to His gaze are freed from sin, from sorrow, from inner emptiness and from isolation. Instead, they can see others as brothers or sisters, accepting their differences and recognizing that they are a gift for all of us.
“It is in this way that peace is built, day by day. It calls for setting out on the path of service and humility, and being attentive to the needs of others. To embrace this mindset, we need to have a heart capable of bending low and sharing life with those most in need. That is where true charity is found. In this way solidarity grows, beginning with small gestures, and the seeds of division disappear. In this way dialogue among believers bears fruit, fraternity is lived day by day and it enlarges the heart by opening up a future. In this way, you will be able to do so much good for your country. I encourage you do so.
“Dear young friends, the Lord is alive and He is walking at your side. When difficulties seem to abound, when pain and sadness seem to prevail all around you, He does not abandon you. He has left us the memorial of his love: the Eucharist and the sacraments, to aid our progress along the way and furnish the strength we need to daily move forward. This must be the source of your hope and your courage as you ‘go across to the other side’ with Jesus, opening new paths for yourselves and your generation, for your families, for your country. I pray that you will be filled with this hope. May you be ever anchored in it, so that you can give it to others, to this world of ours so wounded by war and conflicts, by evil and sin. Never forget: the Lord is with you. He trusts you. He wants you to be missionary disciples, sustained in times of difficulty and trial by the prayers of the Virgin Mary and those of the entire Church. Dear young people of Central Africa, go forth! I am sending you out!”.