.- While no words or gestures will ever be enough to comfort the pain experienced by those who have lost a child, Pope Francis said that God’s response to our tears is the offer of hope – hope in the promise of eternal life.
Reflecting on the Old Testament figure of Rachel, who in the Book of Jeremiah is weeping “for her children – they are no more!” the Pope focused his Jan. 4 general audience on God’s response to her mourning.
“God, with his gentleness and his love, responds to the cry of Rachel with real words” through the Prophet Jeremiah, he said.
“Cease your cries of weeping, hold back your tears! There is compensation for your labor,” Jeremiah writes. “They shall return from the enemy’s land. There is hope for your future…your children shall return to their own land.”
The pain of Rachel in the loss of her children “embodies the pain of all mothers of all time, and the tears of every human being who cries for irreparable losses,” the Pope said.
Rachel’s refusal to be consoled, Francis said, shows the “depth of her pain – a pain in proportion to the love.”
“Every mother knows all this; and there are many, even today, mothers who weep, who are not resigned to the loss of a child, inconsolable before a death impossible to accept.”
Francis said the figure of Rachel teaches us how to respond to those who are experiencing similar pain, stressing that if we want to bring hope, we must approach these people gently, uniting our tears to theirs.
“To speak of hope to those who are desperate, one needs to share their desperation,” he said, adding that “only in this way can our words truly be capable of giving a little bit of hope.”
Later, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Evangelist uses this text in reference to the massacre of the Holy Innocents, Pope Francis said, explaining that it is a text that puts us right “in front of the tragedy of the killing of defenseless human beings.”
But in the New Testament when Jesus dies on the cross, death is conquered and Jeremiah’s prophecy fulfilled. “Even the tears of Mary, like those of Rachel, have generated hope and new life” in this instance, the Pope said in conclusion.
At the end of the audience, Francis asked attendees to pray for victims of a Jan. 1 prison riot in Brazil that left 56 people dead. The fight erupted between two rival gangs at the overcrowded prison in Manaus and lasted for around 17 hours, according to the BBC.
“I invite you to pray for the deceased, for their families, for all inmates of that prison and for those who work there,” Pope Francis said.
“I renew my appeal so that penitential institutions would be places of rehabilitation and social reintegration, and that the living conditions of the inmates are worthy of human people.”
The issue of poor living conditions and overcrowding in prisons has been a recurrent topic during Pope Francis’ pontificate. He commonly makes visits to prisons during international trips, and his first Holy Thursday as Pope was spent visiting a youth prison in Rome.
More recently, in November 2016, he hosted a special audience for prisoners right before the end of his Jubilee of Mercy.
The Pope closed his appeal by turning to Mary, Mother of Prisoners, and invited attendees to pray “for these prisoners, living and dead, and also for all prisoners in the world, so that prisons can be for rehabilitation, and not overcrowded, that they are places of reintegration.”