.- Drawing on the experience of the Latin American Church, Pope Francis called on groups dedicated to specific saints to grow in their faith, help unite the Church and evangelize through their public acts of devotion.
“Three words, don’t forget them: Evangelical spirit, ecclesial spirit, missionary spirit. Let us ask the Lord always to direct our minds and hearts to him, as living stones of the Church, so that all that we do, our whole Christian life, may be a luminous witness to his mercy and love,” the Pope told the thousands of devotees gathered May 5 in St. Peter’s Square.
Most of the pilgrims began arriving in Rome this past Friday, and their colorful outfits brought a certain flair to the streets surrounding the Vatican. They came for the Year of Faith weekend event dedicated to confraternities – groups of Catholics who are dedicated to a particular saint or spirituality – many of which have ancient roots.
The culmination of the weekend was a Mass that Pope Francis celebrated with them in St. Peter’s Square at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 5.
Although Saturday was sunny, Sunday morning began with an overcast sky that turned to rain just before Mass was about to start, leading the Pope to congratulate the pilgrims for their perseverance.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he began his homily, “you were very courageous to come with this rain … May the Lord bless you very much!”
The confraternities – which came from Italy, France, Ireland, Malta, Spain and Poland for the event – were welcomed by the Pope, who noted that they are “a traditional reality in the Church, which in recent times has experienced renewal and rediscovery.”
Throughout his homily on the day’s readings, Pope Francis drew on Benedict XVI’s pervious message to confraternities, but also added insights from the Latin American bishops’ remarks on the groups.
His first exhortation to the crowd was to nurture their devotions as a “treasure possessed by the Church, which the bishops of Latin America defined, significantly, as a spirituality, a form of mysticism, which is a place of encounter with Jesus Christ.
“Draw always from Christ, the inexhaustible wellspring; strengthen your faith by attending to your spiritual formation, to personal and communitarian prayer, and to the liturgy,” he urged.
Pope Francis then recalled how the first Christians solved their problems within the Church, not from without.
“And this brings up a second element which I want to remind you of, as Benedict XVI did, namely: ecclesial spirit. Popular piety is a road which leads to what is essential, if it is lived in the Church in profound communion with your pastors,” he said.
The Holy Father observed that this morning St. Peter’s Square contained “a great variety, first of umbrellas, and then of colors and signs.”
“This is also the case with the Church: a great wealth and variety of expressions in which everything leads back to unity, the variety leads back to unity and unity to the encounter with Christ,” he said, repeating a theme he has raised in his daily Masses.
Pope Francis’ final point for the confraternities was that they should have a “missionary spirit.”
“You have a specific and important mission,” he stated, “that of keeping alive the relationship between the faith and the cultures of the peoples to whom you belong. You do this through popular piety.”
“When, for example, you carry the crucifix in procession with such great veneration and love for the Lord, you are not performing a simple outward act … you are reminding yourselves first, as well as the community, that we have to follow Christ along the concrete path of our daily lives so that he can transform us,” he preached.
Quoting from the Latin American bishops’ “Aparecida Document,” Pope Francis said, “(i)n effect, journeying together towards shrines, and participating in other demonstrations of popular piety, bringing along your children and engaging other people, is itself a work of evangelization.”
After Mass finished, the Pope recited the Regina Caeli and greeted the Meter Association, which is dedicated to preventing the abuse of children.
“It allows me the opportunity to turn my thoughts to the many who have suffered and continue to suffer because of abuse,” he said.
“I wish to assure them that they are present in my prayers, and I would also like to say that each of us must do all we can and commit ourselves with clarity and courage so that every human person, especially children, who are in the category of the most vulnerable, are always defended and protected.”