“We do not need plans drawn up by a few for the few, or an enlightened or outspoken minority which claims to speak for everyone. It is about agreeing to live together, a social and cultural pact.”
Pope Francis offered his reflections during Mass at the port of Contecar in Cartagena on the last day of his Sept. 6-11 visit to Colombia. Prior to celebrating the liturgy, he blessed and laid the cornerstones for a homeless shelter and prayed the Angelus at the Shrine of Jesuit priest St. Peter Claver y Corberó.
In his homily, the Pope began by noting that Cartagena has for the past 32 years been known as a champion of human rights, and was called “heroic” for it's role in fighting to maintain independence in the early 1800s.
On the human rights front, Francis quoted the 1985 Congress of Colombia praising the role of Jesuit priests Peter Claver, Alonso de Sandoval and Br. Nicolás González, who in the 7th century sought to “alleviate the situation of the oppressed of that time, especially of slaves, of those who implored fair treatment and freedom.”
With this backdrop, the day's Gospel reading from Matthew, which recounts the parable of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep, offers timely and relevant insights into forgiveness, correction, community and prayer, he said.
“This fact pervades the entire text: there is no one too lost to deserve our care, our closeness and our forgiveness,” the Pope said, adding that from this perspective, “we can see that a fault or a sin committed by one person challenges us all, but involves, primarily, the victim of someone’s sin.”
“He or she is called to take the initiative so that whoever has caused the harm is not lost,” he said, recalling the many testimonies he heard throughout the visit from people who suffered “irreparable losses,”but who, despite their own suffering, were able to reach out and “take the first step” on a path other than violence or revenge.
Francis said peace above all begins with the people, and the path to reintegration into the community “begins with a dialogue of two persons.”
“Nothing can replace that healing encounter; no collective process excuses us from the challenge of meeting, clarifying, forgiving,” he said, explaining that the deep, historic wounds the country has suffered “necessarily require moments where justice is done.”
This means giving victims the opportunity to know the truth, ensuring that damages are adequately repaired and making clear and firm commitments to not repeat the same crimes in the future.
However, the Pope said this is “only the beginning” of the Christian response. Followers of Christ, he said, must generate a change in culture “from below,” so that we “respond to the culture of death and violence, with the culture of life and encounter.”
Francis then questioned those present on both how hard they have worked for peace, and, on the contrary, how much they have neglected in the process, “allowing barbarity to become enfleshed in the life of our people.”
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“How many times have we 'normalized' the logic of violence and social exclusion, without prophetically raising our hands or voices!” he said, noting that there were thousands of Christians around during the time of St. Peter Claver, including many who were consecrated, “but only a handful started a counter-cultural movement of encounter.”
St. Peter Claver didn't have “prestigious academic qualifications, and he even said of himself that he was mediocre in terms of intelligence,” the Pope observed. “But he had the genius to live the Gospel to the full, to meet those whom others considered merely as waste material.”
In the process of encountering others, we discover our rights and rebuild our lives so they can reemerge as “authentically human,” he said, and urged all men and women to defend the sacredness “of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic.”
However, when looking to the Gospel, Jesus shows us that some choose to stay closed, continuing to do evil.
“We cannot deny that there are people who persist in sins that damage the fabric of our coexistence and community,” he said, and pointed to the “heartbreaking drama” of drugs, the destruction of nature due to pollution, the exploitation of labor and money laundering and human trafficking.
The Pope went off-the-cuff briefly to emphasize the evil of trafficking.