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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

First General Audience of the year

Today's General Audience, the first of the year 2017, began at 9:45am in the Paul VI Hall where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from every other part of the world.

In his speech, the Pope continued the new cycle of catecheses on the theme of Christian hope, adding his meditation on Rachel cries for her children ... and there is hope for your descendants (cf Jer 31:15-17).

After having summarized His catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father addressed particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  Then, he issued a call for prayer for victims of a massacre that took place in a prison in Manaus (Brazil).

The General Audience concluded with the chanting of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic blessing.

Catechesis of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In today's catechesis, I want to contemplate with you a female figure who speaks to us about hope that experienced in the midst of tears.  Hope that is experienced with tears.  I'm speaking about Rachel, the wife of Jacob and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, the one who, as the Book of Genesis tells us, died while giving birth to her second son, Benjamin.

The prophet Jeremiah refers to Rachel, speaking to the Israelites in exile in order to console them, with words that are filled with emotion and poetry; they speak of the cries of Rachel but they also give hope:
Thus says the Lord:
A voice was heard in Rama,lamentation and bitter weeping:Rachel cries for her children,and refuses to be comforted,for her children are no more (Jer 31:15).
In these verses, Jeremiah presents this woman of her people, the great matriarch of her tribe, in pain and tears, but also with a possibility of life that had never before been conceived.  Rachel, who in the Genesis account had died giving birth, who had given her life in order that her child might live, now however, is represented by the prophet alive in Rama, in the place where people would gather the deportees, crying for their children who in a certain sense are dead and going into exile; children who, as she herself says: exist no longer, have disappeared forever.

This is the reason why Rachel does not wish to be consoled.  This refusal expresses the depth of her suffering and the bitterness of her tears.  Faced with the tragedy of the loss of her children, a mother cannot accept any words or gestures of consolation: they are all inadequate, never capable of soothing the pain of a wound that cannot and will not be healed.  A pain that is proportional to love.

Every mother knows this; and there are many, even today, mothers who cry, who cannot resign themselves to the loss of their children, inconsolable when faced with a death that is impossible to accept.  Rachel closes up within herself the pain of all mothers throughout the world, of every time, and the tears of every human being who cries for irreparable losses.

Rachel's refusal, for which she refused to be consoled also teaches us how gently we must act when faced with the suffering of others.  In order to speak of hope to someone who is in despair, we must share in their despair; in order to wipe a tear from the face of the suffering, our tears must be united with theirs.  Only in this way will our words be truly capable of giving a bit of hope.  And if we cannot say such words, with tears, sharing in their pain, it is better for us to remain silent; a hug, a gesture and no words.

And God, with his gentleness and his love, responds to Rachel's tears with words that are real, not false; in fact the text of Jeremiah continues:

 The Lord says - in response to these tears:
Cease your crying,
your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for your labours
- thus says the Lord -:
they will return from the land of the enemy.
There is hope for your descendants
- thus says the Lord -: your children will return to your lands (Jer 31:16-17).

Precisely because of the crying of the mother, there is still hope for the children, who will return to life.  This woman, who had accepted to die, at the moment of childbirth, so that the child could live, with her tears now becomes a source of new life for exiled children, prisoners, those who have been driven far from their homelands.  To Rachel's pain and bitter weeping, the Lord responds with a promise that this moment may be a motive for true consolation: the people will return from exile and live in faith, free, in right relationship with God.  The tears have created hope.  And this is not easy to understand, but it is true.  Many times, in our lives, tears sow hope, they are seeds of hope.

As we know, this text in Jeremiah is then taken up by the evangelist Matthew and applied to the massacre of the innocents (cf Mt 2:16-18).  It is a text that places us in front of the tragedy of the murder of defenceless human beings, before the horror of power that despises and suppresses life.  The children of Bethlehem died because of Jesus.  And He, the innocent Lamb, was to die, in his turn, for all of us.  The Son of God entered into humanity's suffering.  We must never forget this.  When someone turns to me and asks me difficult questions, for example: Tell me, Father: why do children suffer?, truly, I don't know how to respond.  I only say: Look to the Crucifix: God has given us his Son, He suffered, and perhaps there you will find an answer.  But in my head (he points to his head) there are no answers.  Only looking to the love of God who gave us his Son, who in turn offered his life in order to enter into the suffering of humanity; who shared in and who welcomed death; his Word is definitively a consoling word, because it is born in the process of crying.

And on the cross, it was he, the dying Son, who gave a new fruitfulness to his mother, confiding to her care the disciple John and making her mother of all believing people.  Death is overcome, and therefore Jeremiah's prophesy is fulfilled.  Even the tears of Mary, like those of Rachel, created hope and new life.  Thank you.

The above catechesis was then summarized in various languages and the Holy Father offered greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  To English-speaking pilgrims, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from Australia, Canada and the United States of America. May each of you, and your families, cherish the joy of this Christmas season, and draw near in prayer to the Saviour who has come to dwell among us. God bless you!

At the conclusion of the General Audience, the Holy Father issued the following call for prayer:

Yesterday, dramatic news arrived from Brazil of the massacre that took place in the prison in Manaus, where a very violent clash between rival gangs has caused dozens of deaths.  I express my sadness and concern for what has happened.  I invite you to pray for the dead, for their families, for all the prisoners in that prison and for all those who are working there.  And I renew my call for prisons to be seen as places of rehabilitation and social reintegration, and for living conditions for all detainees to be worthy of human persons.

I invite you to pray for those prisoners, those who have died and those who are still living, and also for all prisoners throughout the world, that prisons be places of reintegration and not suffocation; places of reintegration.  Let us pray to Our Lady, the Mother of all prisoners: Hail Mary ...
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