Pope welcomes those seeking entrance to Catholic Church

Pope Francis hands the book of the Gospels to a catechumen during Mass on Nov 23 2013 Credit Lauren Cater CNA CNA 11 24 13 Pope Francis gives a book of the Gospels to a catechumen Nov. 23, 2013. | Lauren Cater/CNA.

Pope Francis stood at the door of St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday afternoon, prepared to celebrate the entrance of over 500 people into the Catholic Church.

As they waited to process inside, Pope Francis asked in the words of the Rite of Introduction, "what do you ask of the Church of God?"

"Faith," the international group of men, women, and children replied.

Thirty-five representatives approached the pontiff to have him trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads as he pronounced, "Christ himself protects you with the sign of his love. Now learn to know him and follow him."

Pope Francis noted that the Nov. 23 event came at the close of the Catholic Church's Year of Faith, a sign of the journey that "many other men and women are carrying out in diverse parts of the world."

Despite the various cultures and individual experiences, the Pope said, those gathered have "many things in common."

"Above all, we have one: the desire for God," he said.

"How important it is to keep this desire alive, this longing to meet the Lord and to experience Him, his love, his mercy!" he exclaimed.

There are three key moments in encountering the Lord, explained the Pope.

The first is that of listening. "In the tumult of many voices that echo around and inside of us, you have heard and received the call that pointed you to Jesus as the only one who can make full sense of your life," he told the catechumens.

"The second moment is the meeting," he continued. "God did not create us to be alone, closed in on ourselves, but to be able to meet him and to open us to a meeting with others."

In the Scriptures, God "always appears as someone who takes the initiative in meeting with man."

"God does not wait for someone to look for him: he searches immediately.  Our Father is a patient seeker! He goes before us and always awaits us," emphasized Pope Francis.

After meeting the Lord, the life of a Christian in faith becomes a "journey with Jesus."

This journey lasts throughout all of life, even if "in some moments of the walk we feel tired and confused."

"Faith, however, gives us the certainty of the constant presence of Jesus in every situation, even those most sad or difficult to understand," he assured them.

"Don't ever forget the gaze of Jesus on you – and you, and you, and you," he said, pointing around the Basilica. "It is the gaze of love."

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The Pontiff closed by reminding them of Mary's help. She who was "the perfect disciple accompanies you," he encouraged the catechumens. "It's beautiful to sense her as our mother in faith!"

Michael Jayasekara was one of five catechumens who arrived from Austria to meet with Pope Francis.

Jayasekara parents are from Sri Lanka: was raised Buddhist, but took Catholic religion classes in school when his family moved to Austria.

The 21-year-old told CNA that he was "very, very excited" to be in Rome so close to Pope Francis, who in a world that is often disillusioned "helps people to get the sense of the Roman Catholic Church again."

For his own part, Jayasekara said that he is "proud to decide now" at his age to enter the Church. "It's a hard step. I can't change my religion like a sweater." But, he continued, "I'm ready. I'm ready to get the catechumenate."

Pope Francis concluded the evening with the final blessing, "go in peace" adding, "I should say, go also full of joy! Because Jesus journeys with you."

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