On the afternoon of this Saturday, April 2, Pope Francis presided over a prayer meeting at the National Shrine of “Ta’ Pinu” in Gozo, where he pointed out that Christ, through his death, “opens us to the joy of eternal life”.
“Going back to the origins means rather recovering the spirit of the first Christian community, that is, going back to the heart and rediscovering the center of faith: the relationship with Jesus and the proclamation of his Gospel to the whole world. This is the essential!”
Below is the full homily of Pope Francis.
Next to the cross of Jesus are Mary and John. The Mother who has given birth to the Son of God is afflicted by her death, while darkness covers the world. The beloved disciple, who had left everything to follow him, is now motionless at the feet of the crucified Master. It seems that everything is lost, that everything is over forever. And Jesus, while he carries the wounds of humanity, prays: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27,46; Mk 15,34). This is also our prayer in moments of life marked by suffering; It is the prayer that rises to God every day from your heart, Sandi and Domenico. Thank you for the perseverance of your love and for your testimony of faith!
However, the hour of Jesus – which in the Gospel of John is the hour of death on the cross – does not represent the conclusion of history, but rather marks the beginning of a new life. Next to the cross, in fact, we contemplate the merciful love of Christ, who extends his arms wide open to us and, through his death, opens us to the joy of eternal life. In the hour of the end, a life that begins is revealed; In that hour of death another hour full of life begins: it is the time of the Church that is born. From that original cell, the Lord will gather a people, who will continue traveling the arduous paths of history, carrying in their hearts the consolation of the Spirit, to wipe away the tears of humanity.
Brothers and sisters, from this Sanctuary of Ta’ Pinu we can meditate together on the new beginning that springs from the hour of Jesus. Also in this place, before the splendid building that we see today, there was only a small chapel in a state of abandonment. It had been arranged for it to be demolished; it seemed the end. But a series of events changed the course of history, as if the Lord wanted to say to this people: «You will no longer be called “Forsaken”, nor your land, “Devastated”; they will call you “My delight is in her”, and your land, “Bridegroom”» (Is 62,4). That little chapel became the National Shrine, a destination for pilgrims and a source of new life. You have reminded us, Jennifer; here many entrust to the Virgin her sufferings and her joys, and everyone feels welcomed. Saint John Paul II also arrived here as a pilgrim, of whom today we commemorate the anniversary of his death. A place that seemed lost now renews, in the People of God, faith and hope.
Bearing this in mind, let us also try to understand the invitation of the hour of Jesus, of that hour of salvation, for us. It tells us that, to renew our faith and the mission of the community, we are called to return to that beginning, to the nascent Church that we see in Mary and John at the foot of the cross.
But what does it mean to go back to that beginning? What does it mean to return to the origins?
First of all, it is about rediscovering the essentials of faith. Going back to the original Church does not mean looking back to copy the ecclesial model of the first Christian community. We cannot “omit history”, as if the Lord had not spoken and done great things also in the life of the Church in successive centuries. Nor does it mean being too idealistic, imagining that there were no difficulties in that community; On the contrary, we read that the disciples argued, that they even fought among themselves, and that they did not always understand the Lord’s teachings. Going back to the origins means rather recovering the spirit of the first Christian community, that is, going back to the heart and rediscovering the center of faith: the relationship with Jesus and the proclamation of his Gospel to the whole world. This is the essentials!
We see, in fact, that the first disciples, like Mary Magdalene and John, after the hour of Jesus’ death, seeing the empty tomb, ran with trembling hearts, wasting no time, to go and announce the good news of the Resurrection. . The cry of pain at the cross is transformed into the joy of the announcement. And I am also thinking of the apostles, of whom it was written that “every day, in the Temple and in their homes, they did not cease to teach and announce the Good News of Christ Jesus” (Acts 5:42). The main concern of the disciples of Jesus was not the prestige of the community and its ministers, the social influence, the refinement of the cult. No. The restlessness that moved them was the proclamation and witness of the Gospel of Christ (cf. Rm 1,1). Because the joy of the Church is to evangelize.
Brothers and sisters, the Maltese Church has an invaluable history that offers many spiritual and pastoral riches. However, the life of the Church — let us always remember it — is not only “a past history to be remembered”, but “a great future to be built”, docile to God’s plans. A faith made of handed down customs, solemn celebrations, beautiful popular gatherings and strong and exciting moments cannot be enough for us; we need a faith that is founded and renewed in the personal encounter with Christ, in daily listening to his Word, in active participation in the life of the Church, in the spirit of popular piety.
The crisis of faith, the apathy of believing practice, especially in the post-pandemic, and the indifference of so many young people regarding the presence of God are not issues that we should “sweeten”, thinking that after all, a certain religious spirit still resist. Sometimes, indeed, the scaffolding can be religious, but behind that covering the faith ages. In fact, the elegant wardrobe of religious habits does not always correspond to an enthusiastic faith animated by the dynamism of evangelization. It is necessary to be vigilant so that religious practices are not reduced to the repetition of a repertoire of the past, but rather express a living, open faith that spreads the joy of the Gospel. Because the joy of the Church is to evangelize.
I know that through the Synod you have begun a process of renewal, and I thank you for this journey. Brothers, sisters, this is the time to return to that beginning, at the foot of the cross, looking at the first Christian community. To be a Church that cares about friendship with Jesus and the proclamation of his Gospel, not the search for space and attention; a Church that puts testimony at the center, and not certain religious practices; a Church that wishes to meet everyone with the lit lamp of the Gospel and not be a closed circle. Do not be afraid to follow, as you are already doing, new paths, perhaps even risky, of evangelization and proclamation, which transform life.
Let us continue contemplating the origins, to Mary and John at the foot of the cross. At the beginning of the Church is its gesture of welcoming each other. The Lord, in fact, entrusted each one to the care of the other: John to Mary and Mary to John, so that “from that hour the disciple received her into her house” (Gv 19,27). Going back to the beginning also means developing the art of welcoming. Among the last words that Jesus pronounced from the cross, those addressed to his Mother and to John exhort us to make welcoming the permanent style of discipleship. It was not, in fact, a simple gesture of piety, by means of which Jesus entrusted his mother to John so that she would not be left alone after his death, but rather a concrete indication on how to live the highest commandment, the one of love The worship of God passes through closeness to the brother.
How important is in the Church the love between the brothers and the welcome of the neighbor! The Lord reminds us of this at the hour of the cross, in the reciprocal welcome of Mary and John, exhorting the Christian community of every age not to lose sight of this priority: “Here is your son”, “here is your mother” (vv. 26.27). It is like saying: you have been saved by the same blood, you are a single family, therefore welcome each other, love each other, heal each other’s wounds. Without suspicions or divisions, without gossip, rumors or misgivings. Have a “synod”, that is, “walk together”. Because God is present where love reigns.
Dear friends, reciprocal acceptance, not by mere formality but in the name of Christ, is a permanent challenge. It is above all for our ecclesial relationships, because our mission bears fruit if we work in friendship and fraternal communion. Malta and Gozo: you are two beautiful communities, just as Mary and John were two. May the words of Jesus on the cross then be your polar star, to welcome each other, create familiarity and work in communion. Forward, always together! Because the joy of the Church is to evangelize.
But the reception is also the litmus test to verify how effectively the Church is impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel. Mary and John take refuge not in the warm refuge of the cenacle, but at the foot of the cross, in that dark place where they were condemned and crucified as criminals. And we, too, cannot welcome ourselves only among ourselves, in the shadow of our beautiful churches, while outside so many brothers and sisters suffer and are crucified by pain, misery, poverty and violence. You are in a crucial geographical position, facing the Mediterranean as a pole of attraction and a port of salvation for so many people shaken by the storms of life who, for various reasons, arrive on your shores. In the face of these poor it is Christ himself who presents himself to you. This has been the experience of the apostle Paul who, after a terrible shipwreck, was warmly welcomed by your ancestors. The Acts of the Apostles state: “Since it was raining heavily and it was very cold, [los nativos] they lit a fire and welcomed us all” (Acts 28:2).
This is the Gospel that we are called to live: to welcome, to be experts in humanity and to light bonfires of tenderness when the cold of life hangs over those who suffer. And in this case, too, something important was born from a dramatic experience, because Paul announced and spread the Gospel, and then many heralds, preachers, priests and missionaries followed in his footsteps. Pushed by the Holy Spirit, to evangelize. Because the joy of the Church is to evangelize.
I would especially like to thank them, the many Maltese missionaries who spread the joy of the Gospel throughout the world, so many priests, men and women religious, and all of you. As your Bishop, Msgr. Teuma, has said, you are a small island, but with a big heart. You are a treasure in the Church and for the Church. I say it again: You are a treasure in the Church and for the Church.
To take care of it, it is necessary to return to the essence of Christianity: to the love of God, the engine of our joy, which makes us go out and travel the paths of the world; and to welcoming others, which is our simplest and most beautiful testimony on earth.
May the Lord accompany you on this path and the Holy Virgin guide you. May She, who asked us to pray three “Hail Marys” to remind us of her maternal heart, rekindle in us her children the fire of the mission and the desire to take care of one another. May the Virgin bless you and accompany you in evangelization!