Caacupé, Paraguay, Jul 11, 2015 / 08:47 am
Saying Mass at the Marian shrine of Caacupé on Saturday, Pope Francis reflected that it is the task of the "women, wives and mothers" of Paraguay to keep alive their nation's faith and heritage.
The Roman Pontiff said July 11 at the shrine that they are the "keepers of the memory, the lifeblood of those who rebuilt the life, faith and dignity of your people."
Centering his homily on the difficulties Mary faced after having said "yes" to God, the Pope told the women to consider the greeting of angel to Mary – "Rejoice, the Lord is with you" – as a call for them to follow.
These words, he said, "are a summons to cherish your memory, your roots, and the many signs which you have received as a people of believers tested by trials and struggles."
These are "women, wives and mothers of Paraguay, who at great cost and sacrifice were able to lift up a country defeated, devastated and laid low by war," the Roman Pontiff said.
The Pope's remarks harken back to his words at the presidential palace in Asunción upon arriving in Paraguay Friday evening, making reference to the 1866-1870 war between Paraguayans and Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. The conflict claimed the lives of 90 percent of its population, and resulted in an 8-to-1 ratio of women to men.
"Then and now, you found the strength not to let this land lose its bearings. God bless your perseverance, God bless and encourage your faith, God bless the women of Paraguay, the most glorious women of America."
"Yours is a faith which has become life, a life which has become hope, and a hope which leads to eminent charity," he reflected.
The basilica where Pope Francis said Mass holds a small statue known as Our Lady of Caacupé, to which numerous miracles have been attributed since the 16th century.
Saturday's Mass was one of the highlights of the Pope's visit to Paraguay, the last country in his tri-nation visit to the continent of his birth from July 5-13. The journey has also included visits to Ecuador and Bolivia.
In his homily Pope Francis spoke of the importance of visiting shrines, as pilgrims bring their needs before Mary.
"We come to give thanks, to ask forgiveness and to begin again. How many baptisms, priestly and religious vocations, engagements and marriages, have been born at the feet of our Mother! How many tearful farewells! We come bringing our lives, because here we are at home and it is wonderful to know there is someone waiting for us."
The Pope spoke in particular of the significance of the Caacupé shrine to the people of Paraguay.
"How can we forget that this shrine is a vital part of the Paraguayan people, of yourselves? You feel it, it shapes your prayers, and you sing: 'Here, in your Eden of Caacupé, are your people, Virgin most pure, who offer you their love and their faith'."
Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel passage from the Mass, in which Mary responds with a "yes" to the Angel Gabriel's greeting, telling her to rejoice.
"Mary was confused and asked herself what it could mean. She did not fully understand what was happening. But she knew that the angel came from God and so she said yes. Mary is the Mother of Yes. Yes to God's dream, yes to God's care, yes to God's will."
Observing that Mary's "yes" to the will of God would not easy, the Roman Pontiff said: "That is why we love her so much. We find in her a true Mother, one who helps us to keep faith and hope alive in the midst of complicated situations."
Pope Francis reflected on three particular difficulties which Mary experienced in her life after having said "yes" to God.
The first of these, he said, was at the birth of Jesus, when Mary had to give birth in a stable, being unable to find room in an inn.
"Surely she remembered the words of the angel: 'Rejoice, Mary, the Lord is with you'. She might well have asked herself: 'Where is he now?'."
The second difficulty the Pope highlighted was the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt in order to escape the persecution of King Herod.
"They had to depart and go to a foreign land. They were migrants, on account of the envy and greed of the King. There too she might well have asked: 'What happened to all those things promised by the angel?'"
Finally, Pope Francis turned to Mary's greatest suffering: Christ's death on the Cross.
"There can be no more difficult experience for a mother than to witness the death of her child," the Pope said. "It is heartrending. We see Mary there, at the foot of the cross, like every mother, strong, faithful, staying with her child even to his death, death on the cross. Then she encourages and supports the disciples."
The Pope said when we look at Mary's life, "we feel understood, we feel heard," and are able to pray with her with a "common language," and identify with the various situations of her life.
"Mary is the woman of faith; she is the Mother of the Church; she believed. Her life testifies that God does not deceive us, or abandon his people, even in moments or situations when it might seem that he is not there."
Pope Francis recounted the various Gospel accounts in which Mary helped others: for instance, asking Christ to turn water into wine at the wedding of Cana, and taking care of her expectant cousin Elizabeth for several months.
"She is the Mother who has stood beside us in so many difficult situations," he said.
The Pope turned again to the significance of the Shrine of Caacupé.
"This shrine preserves and treasures the memory of a people who know that Mary is their Mother, and that she has always been at the side of her children," he said.
"She has always been part of the history of this country, making it a nation. Hers has been a discreet and silent presence, making itself felt through a statue, a holy card or a medal. Under the sign of the rosary, we know that we are never alone."