As Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis said the evening Mass at the parish Feb. 16 to mark the 50th anniversary of its dedication. St. Thomas the Apostle is located on Rome's southern periphery, near Ostia. Nearly 400 parishioners filled the church, while others lined the sidewalks to welcome their bishop.
Pope Francis took the opportunity to meet with various small groups from St. Thomas the Apostle, including children making their first communion this year, young people in religious education, the disabled and sick with their families, those children who were baptized this year and their parents, and the members of the parish council. He also heard confessions prior to saying Mass.
During his homily, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of examining one’s conscience well, beginning by recalling the Gospel passage in which Christ's disciples are criticized for disobeying the law of Moses by picking and eating grain on the Sabbath, which was forbidden.
Christ reminds the Pharisees that “it is not that which comes from the outside that dirties the soul, but that which comes from the inside,” preached the Bishop of Rome.
He then went on to encourage the congregation to consider the condition of their own hearts.
“I think that it will do us good today to think not whether the soul is dirty or clean, but what is in my heart … what is inside that I know, but no one else knows?”
Such honest self-knowledge “is not easy” he acknowledged, “because we always seek to cover it, when something that is not good is in our hearts.”
Still, we must ask ourselves, “what is in our hearts? Is it love, for our parents, our children, our husband, our wife, people around us … or do I hate someone?”
“Many times,” Pope Francis noted, we say: “I love everyone except for that person and that person and that person.”
“That is hatred!”
Moreover, in today’s Gospel, Christ explains that anyone who is angry with his brother “kills in his heart.” The Pope added that is is also true for the sins of “gossip, calumny, and detraction.”
“Anyone who insults his brother kills his brother in his heart. Remember that words kill. Evil desires toward others also kill.”
“To speak ill of another is a sin, because I have in my heart hatred, ill-will, for another.”
For these reasons, it is important, he said, “to know what is inside me. What is inside my heart?” We must ask ourselves if our hearts contain “an attitude of forgiving someone who has offended me, or an attitude of revenge.”
“Let us ask the Lord for two graces,” he encouraged the congregation. First, “to know what is in our hearts to not deceive ourselves,” and second, “the grace to do that which is good in our hearts, and not do that which is evil.”
Concelebrating Mass were Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome; Bishop Paolo Schiavon, an auxiliary of the diocese; Fr. Antonio D’Errico, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle; and several other local priests.
The territory of St. Thomas the Apostle includes 20,000 persons. The parish itself has several outreach programs, including an association responsible for the distribution of clothing, furniture, household and baby products to those who need it; activities for families with children with various disabilities; and regular blood donation drives.
Fr. D’Errico, who has been pastor of the parish since 2002, invited Pope Francis in anticipation of the parish’s celebration of its dedication, Feb. 19, 1964.
While making a pastoral visit to Rome's St. Thomas the Apostle parish today, Pope Francis emphasized to the community the importance of making a good examination of conscience.