Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov 29, 2015 / 10:35 am
In the Central African Republic on Sunday, Pope Francis delivered a homily emphasizing that God's powerful love can overcome "unprecedented devastation." He called on Christians to be leaders in showing mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
"The salvation of God which we await is also flavored with love," the Pope said Nov. 29. "In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God's people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love."
"In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God who is love," he said in his homily for the First Sunday of Advent.
God's salvation has "an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail," he said.
The Pope said Mass in Bangui's cathedral with priests, vowed religious, catechists, and young people. Bangui is the capital of the Central African Republic, which has been an active war zone since 2012, when a violent uprising led to the overthrow of the president.
About 6,000 persons have been killed in the fighting, with thousands more displaced. Elections originally scheduled for October will now be held Dec. 27.
In this context, Pope Francis reflected on the "terrible signs" ahead of the Second Coming.
"It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show his great power, his incomparable glory and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas," the Pope said.
"God is stronger than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships," he continued. "Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love!"
The Pope also had special words for those involved in conflict: "To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace."
The Pope stressed the need for "a spirit of communion."
"Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn," he said. He reflected on the vocation to Christian perfection and one of its essentials: "the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation."
"Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony," he said. "Those who evangelize must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy."
Pope Francis voiced his great affection for all Central African priests, consecrated religious, and pastoral workers. He sent greetings to Central Africans who are sick, elderly, and wounded.
"Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness," he said. The Pope offered God's "strength and power," which can "bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life."
He encouraged Christians to free themselves from "divisive notions of family and blood" in order
to "build a Church which is God's family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need."
In the Sunday readings, Pope Francis said, the happiness that God promises is presented as justice.
"Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Savior, who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due," he said. "Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice."
The Pope said Christ "comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings."
"And he sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that 'Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely'," he said, citing the Prophet Jeremiah.
The Pope said that because God is righteousness and justice, "Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice."
He exhorted the congregation of Bangui's cathedral to follow their vocation to make incarnate "the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens," and prayed that God would strengthen them in holiness.
Immediately preceding the Mass, Pope Francis 'jump-started' the Jubilee of Mercy by opening the Holy Door of the cathedral.
Though the Jubilee for Mercy doesn't begin until Dec. 8, Francis announced earlier this month that he had decided to open the Holy Door in the Central African Republic's capital 10 days early as a sign of prayer and solidarity with the war-torn nation.
Opening the Holy Door, Pope Francis proclaimed, "We all pray for peace, mercy, reconciliation, pardon, love. Throughout the Central African Republic and in all the nations of the world which suffer war, let us pray for peace. And together we all pray for love and peace. We pray together."