Pope Francis appeared in the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Sunday to make his first public speech since his release from the hospital on Friday.
The 86-year-old pope waved and smiled on June 18 as he gave thanks for the prayers and messages that he received during his nine-day stay in the hospital to recover from surgery to repair an incisional hernia.
“I wish to express my gratitude to those who, during the days of my hospitalization at Gemelli Hospital, have shown me affection, care, and friendship, and assured me of prayerful support,” the pope said.
“This human and spiritual closeness has been a great help and comfort to me. Thank you all, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
In his Angelus address, Pope Francis urged Christians to show the world the closeness of God by “performing many deeds of love and hope in the name of the Lord.”
Pope Francis reflected on how Jesus asked his apostles to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 10:7). He noted how Jesus also began his preaching with this proclamation that the God of love is in our midst.
“Indeed, if the God of heaven is close, we are not alone on earth, and even in difficulty we do not lose faith,” he said.
The pope recommended: “Here is the first thing to say to people: God is not far away, but he is a father … He knows you and he loves you; he wants to take you by the hand, even when you travel on steep and rugged paths, even when you fall and struggle to get up again and get back on track. He, the Lord, is there with you. In fact, often in the moments when you are at your weakest, you can feel his presence all the more strongly. He knows the way. He is with you. He is your Father.”
Francis added that witnessing to God’s closeness does actually require many words but can be accomplished through witness and freely given service. He noted Jesus’ command to the apostles at their commissioning: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay” (Mt 10:8).
He encouraged Christians to be close to those who suffer and are alone, as well as to those who are far away or even hostile. “This is the concreteness of faith; this is what matters,” he said.
“And let us now pray to Mary; may she help us feel beloved and transmit trust and closeness to one another,” he said.
After praying the Angelus prayer in Latin with the crowd gathered below in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis the pope prayed for the victims of an attack in Uganda, where rebels attacked a school near the Congo border, killing at least 38 students.
The pope also expressed sadness at the sinking of a refugee ship off the coast of Greece that has left more than 500 migrants presumed drowned, according to the Associated Press.
“Next Tuesday, June 20 marks the World Refugee Day promoted by the United Nations,” he said. “With great sorrow, I think of the victims of the severe shipwreck in recent days off the coast of Greece. And it seems that the sea was calm. I renew my prayer for those who have lost their lives and implore that we always do everything possible to prevent such tragedies.”
The pope greeted Catholic pilgrims from Florida, London, Munich, and Italy who were among the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square to receive a blessing from the pope in his first public address since his surgery on June 7.
Pope Francis was discharged from Rome’s Gemelli Hospital on June 16. His first stop was to pray before an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Basilica of St. Mary Major and to make a quick private visit to a group of religious sisters, the Institute of the Most Holy Child Mary, who run a guesthouse next to St. Peter’s Square.
The Vatican has announced that the pope’s Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square on June 21 has been canceled “to safeguard the Holy Father’s postoperative recovery.”
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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