Pope Francis says the word ‘welcome’ is at the heart of Christian spirituality and of our experience of discipleship, yet it easily passes by unnoticed.
His last day in Paraguay, during his Apostolic Visit to Latin America, July 5-13, the Holy Father made this observation during the Mass he celebrated this morning in Asuncion’s Nu Guazu field. From an altar artistically constructed from local fruit and vegetables, the Pope told more than 1 million gathered, including many Argentineans, why Christians are to follow Christ’s welcoming example.
Francis recalled how in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples: ‘No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.’ He added how Jesus “as the good master, the good teacher,” sends them out to be welcomed, to experience hospitality and to learn one of the hallmarks of the community of believers.
“We might say that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality,” he said, noting, “Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations.”
Instead, the Pope said, “he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts.” It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules. It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love. It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares.”
The Pontiff observed these are two contrasting mentalities, two ways of approaching our life and our mission. He lamented how many times we see mission in terms of plans and programs, and evangelization as “involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments.”
“Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics. You convince them by learning how to welcome them.”
The Church is a mother with an open heart, the Pope said, stressing She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of care. The Church, he said, is the “home of hospitality.”
“How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome! How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home! Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Mt 25:34-37), the leper and the paralytic. Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it. Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed. Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed. Welcoming sinners.”
In this way, the Pope reflected, Jesus teaches us a new way of thinking and opens before us a horizon “brimming with life, beauty, truth and fulfillment.”
“God never closes off horizons; he is never unconcerned about the lives and sufferings of his children. God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity. So he sends us his Son, he gives him to us, he hands him over, he shares him… so that we can learn the way of fraternity, of self-giving. He opens up a new horizon; he is the new and definitive Word which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation. He is the Word which breaks the silence of loneliness.”
Launching an appeal, the Pope said, all faithful too must provide a home, like the earth, “which does not choke the seed, but receives it, nourishes it and makes it grow.”
After celebrating Mass, the Pope gave his weekly Angelus address before reciting the midday prayer, stressing how those gathered are to look with trust to the Virgin Mary, who is “the gift” that Jesus gives to his people. “She is the fruit of Christ’s sacrifice for us. And from that moment, Mary has always been, and will always be, with her children, especially the poor and those most in need.”
The Argentine Pontiff observed how Mary has become “part of the tapestry” of human history, of our lands and peoples and how, as in many other countries of Latin America, the faith of the Paraguayan people is imbued with love of the Virgin Mary.
“They approach their mother with confidence, they open their hearts and entrust to her their joys and sorrows, their aspirations and sufferings. Our Lady consoles them and with tender love fills them with hope,” he said. “They never cease to turn with trust to Mary, mother of mercy for each and every one of her children.”
The Holy Father prayed that the Blessed Mother watches over the Church and strengthens Her members in fraternal love: “With Mary’s help, may the Church be a home for all, a welcoming home, a mother for all peoples.”
After asking those gathered to pray for him, Pope Francis said, “I know how much the Pope is loved in Paraguay,” and said he keeps the Paraguayan faithful in his heart and prays for them and their nation.
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