“Pope Francis, thank you for brining us this tsunami of joy,” the leader of Paraguay’s bishops said as he took the microphone and silenced an exuberant crowd representing Paraguayan civil society, before the Pope addressed them this afternoon. The Pope responded with a chuckle.
Francis is on the penultimate day of his nine-day, three-nation South America visit. Sunday evening, he returns to Rome.
After a musical production that the Pope went on to praise in his discourse, the Holy Father endeavored to answer six questions or reflections that were proposed to him.
The first question, from a youth, brought the Pope to encourage the young people to remember that happiness and pleasure are not synonymous.
“Happiness is demanding, it requires commitment and effort,” he said, contrasting it with pleasure, which is fleeting. He encouraged them to give the best of themselves, not trying to fix the game beforehand so as to avoid effort.
“But don’t do this alone,” Francis said. “Try to talk about these things among yourselves, profit from the lives, the stories and the wisdom of your elders, of your grandparents. ‘Waste’ lots of time listening to all the good things they have to teach you. They are the guardians of that spiritual legacy of faith and values which define a people and illumine its path. Find comfort, too, in the power of prayer, in Jesus. Keep praying to to him daily. He will not disappoint you. Jesus, in the memory of your people, is the secret to keeping a joyful heart in your quest for fraternity, justice, peace and dignity for everyone.”
The Holy Father added to his prepared address in this context, to say that it is important to live in coherence, and not merely speak of a quest for these values. Fraternity, justice, peace, etc, can become just words, he warned. They have to be made concrete or else they are useless.
“I confess that sometimes I have a bit of ‘allergy,’ or to say it in a less genteel way, a bit of a ‘runny nose,’ when I listen to great discourses with all these words, but when one knows the person who speaks, thinks, ‘what a liar you are,'” he said, adding to his prepared text. “That’s why words by themselves aren’t enough. Thus, if you say something, commit yourself to it, knead it day after day. Make sacrifices for it. Commit yourselves.”
Learning to dialogue
A significant portion of the Holy Father’s discourse dealt with dialogue, and how to truly dialogue. He admitted that dialogue is not easy, and emphasized, as he has on other occasions, that to truly enter into dialogue, one must first be sure of one’s own identity. In this regard, he gave the example of interreligious dialogue. For a national dialogue, he continued, the fundamental base, the identity, should be love for one’s homeland.
“Many times this culture of encounter can involve conflict,” he said. “This is logical and even desirable. It is not something we should be afraid of or ignore. Rather, we are called to resolve it. This means that we have to ‘face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process’ (Evangelii Gaudium 227), because ‘unity is greater than conflict’ (ibid., 228).”
He also said that dialogue must recognize that diversity is “not just good but necessary.” Unity should not become uniformity, he cautioned, saying, “the richness of life is found in diversity.”
The Pontiff spoke emphatically about the need to recognize the dignity of each person involved in dialogue. We can’t presume the other is wrong, he warned. Instead, we have to be ready to ask, “How does the other enrich me? How does the other help me realize where I’m wrong?” Dialogue is a “back and forth and back and forth,” he said, “but with the heart open.” If one presumes his interlocutor is wrong from the beginning, then it’s better to just go back home, he said, and not waste time in such a “dialogue” that is nothing better than a painting.
“There aren’t persons of first place, second place, third and fourth,” the Pontiff said. “We all have the same dignity.”
Welcoming the poor
The Holy Father went on to speak about the poor, saying that they have much to teach the world.
He warned against “auto-excluding oneself,” as the older son did in the parable of the prodigal son, because of feeling superior to the others. The Holy Father urged avoiding an attitude of “I’m very cultured. I studied in this university,” etc. “Don’t exclude oneself because we all need everyone.”
He said that when he hears confessions — and he added that now he doesn’t have as much time to hear confessions as he did “in my diocese before” — he likes to ask the penitent if they support the poor. And if the penitent responds that he gives alms, he asks, and when you give alms, do you touch the hand of the poor person or do you just drop the coin? Do you look the person in the eye or look in the other direction? “They are attitudes,” he warned. “This is to disdain the poor.”
People can be needy for a multitude of situations, “economic, political, social or personal,” Francis reflected, and encouraged considering, “I could be in this place, and could be desiring that someone help me. And in addition to desiring that someone help me if I’m in this spot, I have the right to be respected.” Christians, he continued, have the added motivation to respect the poor because the poor are “the flesh of Christ.”
As the Pope neared the end of his prepared text, he said off-the-cuff that he wanted to ensure that he’d answered all the questions. He went on to reiterate some of the points he’d made earlier about economy and culture.
Then, he added: “There are two things that before ending I’d like to speak about. And here, since there are politicians present, since the president of the republic is here, I say it fraternally.”
He went on to mention that someone had told him as he was arriving about a person kidnapped by the army. “I don’t say if this is true or isn’t true, if it’s just or isn’t just,” he said, “but one of the methods used by the ideological dictatorships of the last century — which I referred to earlier — was to remove people, either with exile or with prison, or in the case of the Nazi or Stalinist extermination camps, they removed them with death.”
A culture of the common good, the Pontiff says, calls for clear, quick justice. Other strategies don’t work, he affirmed.
Next, the Pope spoke about extortion, saying that corruption is the gangrene of a people. ” No politician can fulfill his role if he is exhorting with attitudes of corruption,” the Pope stated, but clarified that “I am speaking of something universal.”
Message to me
Finally, before leading the people in praying the Our Father, the Pontiff added one more message: that the “worst thing” that could happen to the audience as they leave would be consenting to the thought that the Pope’s message was for this or that other person.
“Who did the Pope say this to?” he asked. “To me.”