Below is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ address at this morning’s General Audience in St. Peter’s Square:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.
In the Book of the prophet Jeremiah, Chapters 30 and 31 are said to be those “of consolation,” because in them, God’s mercy is presented with all His capacity to comfort and to open the heart of the afflicted to hope. Today we also want to hear this message of consolation.
Jeremiah addresses the Israelites, who were deported to a foreign land, and he predicts their return to the homeland. This return is a sign of the infinite love of God the Father, who does not abandon His children, but takes care of them and saves them. The exile was a devastating experience for Israel. Their faith wavered because, being in a foreign land, without the Temple, without worship, after seeing the country destroyed, it was difficult to continue to believe in the Lord’s goodness. The thought comes to mind of neighboring Albania and how, after so much persecution and destruction, it was able to rise in dignity and in faith. The Israelites thus suffered in exile.
At times, we too can live a sort of exile, when loneliness, suffering, and death make us think that God has abandoned us. How many times we have heard this word: “God has forgotten me”: they are persons that suffer and feel themselves abandoned. Instead, how many of our brothers are living at this time a real and tragic situation of exile, far from their homeland, with their eyes still beholding the ruin of their homes, with fear in their heart and often, unfortunately, sorrow for the loss of dear persons! In such cases, one can ask oneself: where is God? How is it possible that so much suffering can befall men, women and innocent children? And when they seek to enter somewhere they see the doors close. And they are there, at the border because so many doors and so many hearts are closed. The immigrants of today that suffer cold, are without food and cannot enter, do not experience hospitality. It pleases me so much when I see nations, rulers that open their heart and open the doors!
The prophet Jeremiah gives us an initial answer. The exiled people will be able to return to see their land and to experience the Lord’s mercy. It is the great proclamation of consolation. God is not absent, not even today, in these tragic situations. God is close and does great works of salvation for those who trust in Him. We must not give way to despair, but continue to be certain that good overcomes evil and that the Lord will wipe every tear and free us from all fear. Jeremiah lends his voice to God’s words of love for His people:
“from afar the LORD appears:
With age-old love I have loved you;
so I have kept my mercy toward you.
Again I will build you, and you shall stay built,
Carrying your festive tambourines,
you shall go forth dancing with merrymakers.” (31:3-4)
The Lord is faithful, He does not abandon us to desolation. God loves with an everlasting love, which not even sin can stop, and thanks to Him man’s heart is filled with joy and consolation.
The consoling dream of returning to the homeland continues in the prophet’s words, who, addressing those who will return to Jerusalem, says:
“Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD’s blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
flocks of sheep and cattle;
They themselves shall be like watered gardens,
never again neglected” (31:12).
The exiled will return to Zion in joy and in gratitude, going up to the holy mountain towards the house of God, and thus they will be able to raise hymns and prayers again to the Lord who liberated them. This returning to Jerusalem and to their properties is described with a verb that literally means “to flow, to run.” In a paradoxical movement, the people are seen as a full river that runs to the height of Zion, going up to the summit of the mountain – a bold image to say how great the Lord’s mercy is!
The land, which the people had to abandon, had become desolate and the prey of enemies. Now, instead, it revives and flowers. And the exiled themselves will be like a watered garden, like a fertile land. Israel, led back to its land by its Lord, witnesses the victory of life over death and of blessing over curse.
Thus, it is that the people are fortified and consoled by God. This word is important: consoled! The repatriated receive life from a source that freely waters them.
At this point, the prophet announces the fullness of joy, and always in the name of God, he proclaims:
“Then young women shall make merry and dance,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will show them compassion and have them rejoice after their sorrows. (31:13).
The Psalm tells us that when they returned to the homeland their mouth was full of smiles, so great was their joy! It is the gift that the Lord wants to give each one of us, with His forgiveness that converts and reconciles.
The prophet Jeremiah has given us the proclamation, presenting the return of the exiled as a great symbol of the consolation given to the heart that is converted. For His part, the Lord Jesus has brought this message of the prophet to fulfilment. The true and radical return from exile and the comforting light after the darkness of the crisis of faith is realized at Easter, in the full and definitive experience of God’s love, a merciful love that gives joy, peace and eternal life.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT] Greeting in Italian
A cordial welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I am happy to greet the faithful of the diocese of Ischia, accompanied by the Bishop, Monsignor Pietro Lagnese; the docents and students of the Pontifical University Auxilium of Rome; the Association of the Passion of Christ of Sezze and that for organ transplants of Marche.
I greet the young people of the University of Perugia; the National Amateur League of Lazio; the group of the Parliament of Legality of Monreale; the UNITALSI of Lombardy and the dependents and relatives of the Gepin Contact of Rome.
With the crossing of the Holy Door, may the Jubilee of Mercy be a propitious occasion to return to the arms of the Father, who always consoles us in difficulties.
Finally, I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Tomorrow we will remember Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland. May his spiritual vigor stimulate you, dear young people, to be coherent with your faith; may his trust in Christ the Savior support you, dear sick, in the moments of greatest difficulty; and may his missionary dedication remind you, dear newlyweds, of the importance of the Christian education of children.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]