Pope Francis said that his thoughts are with Ukraine on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Speaking at a large outdoor Mass in Kazakhstan’s capital of Nur-Sultan on Sept. 14, the pope said he was thinking of “all the war-torn areas of our world, particularly beloved Ukraine.”
“May we never grow accustomed to war, or resigned to its inevitability. Let us come to the aid of those who suffer and insist that genuine efforts be made to achieve peace,” the pope said.
“What still needs to happen, and how many deaths will it still take, before conflict yields to dialogue for the good of people, nations and all humanity?”
Pope Francis urged that the “only way to arrive at peace is through dialogue,” a theme he has returned to in many of his speeches at the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan this week.
The pope also expressed concern over a new flare of tensions in the Caucasus region and asked people to pray that peace will prevail in the disputed territories.
“May the world learn to build peace by limiting the arms race and converting the enormous sums spent on war into concrete assistance to peoples,” he said.
In his homily for the Mass, Pope Francis explained that the Catholic Church’s annual feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates how “Jesus took upon himself all our sin and the evil of our world and vanquished them by his love.”
“Brothers and sisters, this is the path, the path to our salvation, our rebirth and our resurrection: to behold the crucified Jesus. … For from the cross of Christ we learn love, not hatred; compassion, not indifference; forgiveness, not vengeance,” he said.
“The outstretched arms of Jesus are the embrace of tender love with which God wishes to embrace us.”
Kazakhstan is a majority-Muslim country home to an ethnically diverse minority of Catholics — an estimated 250,000 in total. Most of Kazakhstan’s Catholics are Latin-rite, but there is also an Eastern-rite minority of approximately 3,000 people. St. John Paul II visited the country in 2001 to an enthusiastic welcome.
Pope Francis arrived at the expo grounds in a pickup truck popemobile, waving at the cheering crowd of several thousand.
He called on the crowd to remember that being a Christian means “living without venom: not biting one another, not complaining, blaming and backbiting, not disseminating evil, not polluting the earth with the sin and distrust that comes from the evil one.”
He said: “We have been reborn from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus. May we be free of the poison of death, and pray that by God’s grace we can become ever more fully Christian: joyful witnesses of new life, love, and peace.”
The people of Kazakhstan were likely first evangelized by Franciscan missionaries in the 13th century. The Catholic population grew thanks to deportations of believers from across the Soviet Union. Religious believers suffered active persecution when it was part of the Soviet Union; today, it is an officially secular state where religious freedom is tolerated.
Pope Francis recalled the “violence and atheist persecution” that Christians in Kazakhstan endured. He said that God, in response to the spread of evil in the world, “gave us Jesus.”
He said: “Confronting our misery, God gives us a new horizon: if we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the sting of evil can no longer prevail over us, for on the cross he took upon himself the venom of sin and death, and crushed their destructive power.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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