“We sense our helplessness and our inadequacy. We need to be told, ‘Do not be afraid,’” he said. “Yet human reassurance is not enough. We need the closeness of God and the certainty of his forgiveness, which alone eliminates evil, disarms resentment, and restores peace to our hearts. Let us return to God and to his forgiveness.”
At the start of the service, Pope Francis stopped before a large crucifix placed in the center of the basilica’s nave, over the tomb of St. Peter.
The live-streamed liturgy, which was punctuated by periods of silence, began with the chanting of the Latin hymn “Attende, Domine,” which means “Hear us, O Lord.”
“Brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said, “God calls us once again to conversion: let us pray to obtain the grace of a new life in Christ our Lord.”
The first reading was from the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians. “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” the lector read.
The responsorial psalm, taken from Psalm 97, was “the Lord has made known his salvation.”
The day’s Gospel, Luke 1:26-38, was the story of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced that she would conceive Jesus, the Son of God.
The Gospel was followed by a homily from Pope Francis, who said that the conflict in Ukraine cannot be ended by our own power alone, but requires God’s love.
“By ourselves, we cannot succeed in resolving the contradictions of history or even those of our own hearts. We need the wisdom and gentle power of God that is the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit of love who dispels hatred, soothes bitterness, extinguishes greed, and rouses us from indifference,” the pope said. “We need God’s love, for our love is fragile and insufficient.”
“Indeed, without love, what can we offer to the world? It has been said that a Christian without love is like a needle that does not sew: it stings, it wounds, and if it fails to sew, weave or patch, then it is useless. This is why we need to find in God’s forgiveness the power of love: the same Spirit who descended upon Mary.”
Pope Francis said that if people want the world to change, it is their hearts that must change first.
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“For this to happen, let us allow Our Lady to take us by the hand. Let us gaze upon her Immaculate Heart in which God dwelt, ‘our tainted nature’s solitary boast.’”
“God changed history by knocking at the door of Mary’s heart,” he said. “Today, renewed by God’s forgiveness, may we too knock at the door of her immaculate heart. In union with the bishops and faithful of the world, I desire in a solemn way to bring all that we are presently experiencing to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
“I wish to renew to her the consecration of the Church and the whole of humanity, and to consecrate to her in a particular way the Ukrainian people and the Russian people who, with filial affection, venerate her as a Mother.”
Francis also urged Catholics to not be afraid to approach God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“If your sins frighten you, if your past worries you, if your wounds do not heal, if your constant failings dishearten you and you seem to have lost hope, do not be afraid,” he said. “God knows your weaknesses and is greater than your mistakes. He asks of you only one thing: that you not hold your frailties and sufferings inside. Bring them to him, lay them before him and, from being reasons for despair, they will become opportunities for resurrection.”
After the homily, the pope led a period of silence to make an examination of conscience.