“Eternal life is not an illusion; it is not a flight from the world. It is a powerful reality which calls out to us and challenges us to persevere in faith and love,” Pope Francis declared during his final Mass in Africa at the end of this six-day visit, celebrated this morning at the Barthélémy Boganda Stadium in Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui.
In his homily, the Pope recalled the two “other shores” that await the faithful, that of eternal life, heaven, and the immediate other shore, which involves us transforming our lives and the world around us.
The theme of the Pope’s trip to CAR was taken from Luke’s Gospel, when Christ invites his apostles to “go across to the other side,” to the other shore of the lake.
“Let us thank the Lord for his presence and for the strength which he gives us in our daily lives, at those times when we experience physical and spiritual suffering, pain, and grief,” Francis said, noting that in all these things, the Risen Christ takes us by the hand and guides us.
Yet the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination, he reminded, noting, “In a certain sense we are in midstream, needing the courage to decide, with renewed missionary zeal, to pass to the other shore.”
“All the baptized need to continually break with the remnants of the old Adam, the man of sin, ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil. How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable,” he lamented.
Artisans of renewal
Francis acknowledged that our Christian communities, called to holiness, still have a long way to go, and that, we certainly “need to beg the Lord’s forgiveness for our all too frequent reluctance and hesitation in bearing witness to the Gospel.” The Pontiff encouraged them to do so during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, which has begun early in their country, with the Pope’s opening of the Holy Door on Sunday at the cathedral of Bangui.
“Dear Central Africans, may you look to the future and, strengthened by the distance you have already come, resolutely determine to begin a new chapter in the Christian history of your country, to set out towards new horizons, to put out into the deep,” he said.
The Holy Father reminded them of the Apostles, who were so full of enthusiasm that when Christ drew them closely to himself, they felt able to do everything and to risk everything with Him. “Each of us, in his or her heart,” he urged those gathered, “can ask the crucial question of where we stand with Jesus, asking what we have already accepted – or refused to accept – in responding to his call to follow him more closely.”
The Holy Father reminded them, “We are all called to be, each of us, these messengers whom our brothers and sisters of every ethnic group, religion and culture, await, often without knowing it. For how can our brothers and sisters believe in Christ – Saint Paul asks – if the Word is neither proclaimed nor heard?”
We too, like the Apostles, the Pope encouraged, need to be full of hope and enthusiasm for the future.
“Christians of Central Africa, each of you is called to be, through perseverance in faith and missionary commitment, artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of your country. I repeat, artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of your country,” he said.
Pope Francis concluded, praying that Mary protects and encourages the Central Africans on their path of hope.
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