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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

General Audience on hope as a source of comfort and peace

This morning's General Audience began at 9:30am in the Paul VI Hall.  The Holy Father, Pope Francis met there with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from every corner of the world.

In his speech, the Pope continued the new cycle of catecheses on the theme of Christian hope, adding his meditation on the theme: Hope: source of mutual comfort and peace (1 Thess 5:12-22).

After having summarized His catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father offered particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  Then, he issued three appeals: for the Beatification of Justo Takayama Ukon, a layman from Japan, which took place yesterday; for the Day of prayer and reflection against human trafficking, which is being observed today; and for the 25th World Day of the Sick which will be observed on Saturday, 11 February.

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

Catechesis of His Holiness, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Last Wednesday, we saw that Saint Paul, in his first Letter to the Thessalonians, urged them to remain rooted in hope of the resurrection (cf 1 Thess 5:4-11), with the beautiful words: we will be forever with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).  In the same context, the Apostle demonstrates that Christian hope has not only a personal or individual expression, but also a communal, ecclesial one.  All of us hope; we all have hope, even in community.

For this reason, Paul immediately expands his regard to include all sectors of the Christian community, asking them to pray for one another and to stay close to and to support one another.  Help each other and remain close.  But we should not only help those who are in need, there are many needs we face in our daily lives, but we should also help each other to hope, support one another in hope.  This is not something that begins by making reference to those who have the responsibility for pastoral leadership.  They are the first to be called to feed others with hope, and this is so not because they are better than others, but in virtue of a divine ministry which goes well beyond other strengths.  For this reason, they have more need than ever for our respect, our understanding and our support.

Attention is then focused on our brothers who are most at risk of losing hope, of falling into desperation.  We constantly hear accounts of people who have fallen into desperation and do terrible things ... Desperation drives them to do many terrible things.  Our focus is then fixed on those who are discouraged, those who are weak, whose who feel weighed down by the weight of life and their own guilt, and who no longer feel capable of overcoming such challenges.  In these cases, closeness and the warmth of all the Church must be all the more intense and loving, and should take on the exquisite form of compassion, which is not a matter of compatibility: compassion is the act of suffering with another, suffering with the other, drawing close to those who suffer; a word, a hug, but one that comes from the heart; this is compassion.  For those who need comfort and consolation.  This is more important than ever before:  Christian hope cannot be lived without genuine and concrete charity.  The same Apostle to the gentiles, in his Letter to the Romans, affirms with his heart in his hands: We, who are the strong - who have faith, hope, or not so much difficulty - have the duty to carry the infirmities of the weak, without any regard for our own comfort (Rom 15:1).  Bearing, bearing the weaknesses of others.  This witness therefore does not remain closed within the confines of the Christian community: it resounds in all its fullness even outside, in civic and social circles, as a call to not build walls but rather bridges, to not return evil for evil, to conquer evil with good, offenses with forgiveness - a Christian can never say: you will pay for that!, never; this is not a Christian gesture; offenses are overcome through forgiveness -, by living in peace with everyone.  This is what the Church is all about!  This is the work of Christian hope, when it takes on strong features and at the same time the tenderness of love.  Love is both strong and tender.  It is beautiful.

Thus we can understand that learning the art of hope is not something that we do on our own.  No one learns to hope on his own.  It is not possible.  Hope, in order to feed us, necessarily needs a body, in which the true member is sustained and enlivened by others who are close by.  Therefore, this means that if we learn to hope, it is because so many of our brothers and sisters have taught us to hope and have kept our hope alive.  Among these, we can distinguish the little ones, the poor, those who are simple, those who are marginalized.  Yes, because they have not experienced hope and become closed in upon their own good will: they hope only in their own well being and this is not hope: it is a relative security; it does not know hope but becomes closed in upon its own satisfaction, it always feels just right ... Those who are filled with hope are those who experience every day both trial, precariousness, and their own limits.  These are our brothers, who provide us with the most beautiful witness, the strongest examples, for they remain firm in their commitment to the Lord, knowing that, beyond all sadness, oppression and the inevitability of death, the last word belongs to him, and it will be a word of mercy, of life and of peace.  Whoever hopes, hopes one day to hear these words: Come, come to me, brother; come, come to me, sister, for all eternity.

Dear friends, you know - as we have said - the natural place for hope is in a body that is in solidarity; in the case of Christian hope, this body is the Church, while it breathes and has life, the soul of this hope is the Holy Spirit.  Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot have hope.  This is the reason why the Apostle Paul invites us in the end to call upon him continually.  If it is not easy to believe, neither is it easy to hope.  It is more difficult to hope than to believe, more difficult.  When the Holy Spirit is alive in our hearts, He helps us to understand that we have no reason to be afraid, that the Lord is close by and takes care of us; and it is He who shapes our communities, in a perennial Pentecost, as living signs of hope for the human family.  Thank you.

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized in various languages and He 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 the groups from England, Ireland and the United States of America. Upon you and your families, I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you all!

At the conclusion of the Audience, the Holy Father issued three calls for prayer:

Yesterday, in Osaka (Japan), Justo Takayama Ukon, a Japanese layman who died as a martyr in Manila in 1615 was proclaimed Blessed.  Instead of compromising, he gave up all honours and accolades, accepting humiliation and exile.  He remained faithful to Christ and to the gospel; for this reason, and in so doing, he provided an admirable example of strength in faith and dedication to charity.

Today, we celebrate the Day of prayer and reflection against human trafficking, which this year is dedicated in particular to children and adolescents.  I encourage all those who in various ways are involved in helping those caught in child slavery and those who are abused to free them from such oppression.  I hope that those who are responsible for governments will fight this plight decisively, giving voice to our most vulnerable of brothers, and those who have been stripped of their dignity.  We must make every effort to eradicate this shameful and intolerable crime.

Next Saturday, the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, we will celebrate the 25th World Day of the Sick.  The main celebration will take place in Lourdes and will be presided over by the Cardinal Secretary of State.  I invite you to pray, through the intercession of our Holy Mother, for all those who are sick, especially those who are most seriously ill and those who are most alone, and also for all those who care for them.

Returning to today's celebration, the Day of prayer and reflection against human trafficking, which is celebrated today because today is the feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita (the Holy Father holds up a brochure that explains her story).  This young girl was a slave in Africa, she suffered, she was humiliated, yet she did not lose hope and was able to continue in faith even to the point of arriving as a migrant in Europe.  She felt the call of the Lord and became a Sister.  Let us pray to Saint Josephine Bakhita for all migrants, refugees, those who are exploited and those who are suffering, suffering so much.

And speaking of migrants who have been chased away, I want to pray with you today, in a special way for our Rohingya brothers and sisters who have been chased out of Myanmar; they are travelling from one place to another because no one wants them ... They are good people, gentle and passive.  They are not Christians, they are good, they are our brothers and sisters!  And they have been suffering for years.  They have been tortured, simply because they carry out their own traditions, their Muslim faith.  Let us pray for them.  I invite you to pray an Our Father for them, all together, for our Rohingya brothers and sisters: Our Father ...

Saint Josephine Bakhita - pray for us.  And let us applaud Saint Josephine Bakhita!
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