.- On Sunday Pope Francis offered special greetings to 6,000 migrants and refugees who were gathered in S. Peter’s Square, telling them not to be discouraged by negative experiences, but rather to find hope in the Lord.
“Dear migrants and refugees, each one of you carries within yourself a story, a culture, of precious value; and often unfortunately experiences of misery, oppression and fear,” the Pope said Jan. 17.
He spoke to an especially large crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address, which fell on the same day as the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The day was also celebrated as a special Jubilee of Migrants as part of Francis’ larger Jubilee of Mercy.
In October Pope Francis issued a special message for the day, titled “Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy.”
In his comments Sunday, Francis told the migrants that their presence in the square is “a sign of hope in God,” and urged them not to allow themselves to be “robbed of hope and the joy of living, which derive from the experience of divine mercy, also thanks to the people who welcome and help you.”
According to the Migrants Foundation of the Italian Bishops Conference, the Lazio region of Central Italy currently houses the highest number of immigrants in the country. Of the 600,000 who have found refuge there, 500,000 are in Rome.
In honor of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which is being celebrated in all of Italy’s 27,000 parishes, 6,000 of those migrants from within the 17 dioceses of the Lazio region, consisting of at least 30 different nationalities, made their way to St. Peter’s Square.
After the Pope’s Angelus address, they passed through the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica. Mass was then celebrated for them inside the basilica by Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.
The Cross of Lampedusa was placed below the altar as a commemorative sign of the dramatic voyage which in 2015 resulted in the death of 3,700 people, including 800 children, many of whom were asylum seekers.
In his comments, the Pope said that their passage through the Holy Door and the celebration of Mass “will fill your hearts with peace.”
He offered special thanks to the Opera maximum security prison in Milan for donating the hosts that were used during the Mass, which were made by inmates at the prison. He invited all those gathered in the square to offer their thanks for the gift with a moment of applause.
In his speech before reciting the traditional Marian prayer, Pope Francis centered on the day’s Gospel from John, which recounts Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding Feast in Cana.
Miracles, he said, “are extraordinary signs which accompany the preaching of the Good News and are meant to arouse or strengthen faith in Jesus.”
By performing a miracle in the celebration at Cana, we see Jesus’ benevolence toward the spouses, he said, adding that love shared between a man and a woman “is therefore a good path in living the Gospel.”
However, he noted that the miracle at Cana doesn’t just involve the spouses, and affirmed that “every human person is called to encounter the Lord as the Bridegroom of their lives.”
The story of the Wedding Feast, he said, is a reminder that Jesus doesn’t come to us as a judge ready to condemn us for our faults or as a commander who forces us to blindly follow his orders.
Instead, the Lord “is manifested as the Bridegroom of humanity: as the one who responds to the expectations and promises of joy that live in the heart of each one of us.”
Francis then questioned those present as to how well the understand Jesus in this role, asking “do I really know the Lord as this? Do I feel that he is the Bridegroom of my life? Am I responding to the wavelength of that spousal love that he manifests each day to me and to every human being?”
He encouraged attendees to reflect on how Jesus both seeks us out and invites us to make room for him in the depth of our hearts.
The Pope then noted that to do this is a journey, but one in which Jesus “has not left us alone.” To help us, Jesus has given us his flesh in the Eucharist, as well as the other sacraments, which “instill in us supernatural strength and allow us to savor the infinite mercy of God.”
Pope Francis concluded his address by praying Mary would intercede in helping us to rediscover “the beauty and the richness” of each of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, which “make present the faithful love of God for each of us.”
After leading pilgrims in the Angelus, Francis then offered his prayers for the victims of the recent terror attacks in Indonesia and Burkina Faso.
“May the Lord welcome them into his house, and sustain the commitment of the international community in building peace,” he prayed, and led pilgrims in offering a Hail Mary for these intentions.