This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:30 in St. Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
In his address in Italian, the Pope focused his meditation on the theme: “Hoping against hope” (cf. Romans 4:16-25).
After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present. Then, after greeting the delegation of the Iraqi super-intendancy, made up of representatives of different religious groups present at the Audience, he invited to pray for reconciliation in Iraq.
The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.
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The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
The passage of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans that we just heard, gives us a great gift. In fact, we are used to acknowledging Abraham as our Father in the faith. Today the Apostle makes us understand that Abraham is also for us Father in hope; not only Father of faith but Father in hope. And this because in his story we can already receive an announcement of the Resurrection, of the new life that overcomes evil and death itself.
The text states that Abraham believed in the God “Who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17), and then it specifies: “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about 100 years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4:19). See, this is the experience that we are also called to live. The God who reveals Himself to Abraham is the God who saves, the God who makes us come out of despair and of death, the God who calls to life. In Abraham’s story everything becomes a hymn to God who liberates and regenerates, everything becomes prophecy. And it becomes so for us, for us who now recognize and celebrate the fulfilment of all this in the mystery of Easter. In fact, God “raised Jesus from the dead” (Romans 4:24), so that, in Him, we can also pass from death to life. And truly Abraham can now well say of himself “Father of many nations,” in as much as he shines as proclamation of a new humanity – us! –, rescued by Christ from sin and death and introduced once and for all in the embrace of God’s love.
At this point, Paul helps us set on fire the very close bond between faith and hope. He affirms, in fact, that Abraham “hoped against hope” (Romans 4:18). Our hope is not governed by human reasoning, expectations and reassurances; it is manifested where there is no more hope, where there is nothing more in which to hope, precisely as it happened for Abraham, in face of his imminent death and the sterility of his wife Sarah. The end was approaching them, they could not have children and, in that situation, Abraham believed and had hope against all hope. And this is great! Great hope is rooted in faith, and precisely because of this it is able to go beyond all hope. Yes, because it is not founded on our word, but on the Word of God. So, in this sense also, we are called to follow Abraham’s example who, although in face of the evidence of a reality that seemed avowed to death, trusted God, “fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised” (Romans 4:21). I would like to ask you a question: we, all of us, are we convinced of this? Are we convinced that God loves us, and that He is ready to bring to fulfilment all that He has promised us? But Father, how much does this cost? There is only one price: “open the heart.” Open your hearts and this strength of God will lead you forward, He will do miraculous things and teach you what hope is. This is the only price: to open the heart to faith and He will do the rest.
This is the paradox and, at the same time, the strongest, highest element of our hope! A hope founded on a promise that, from the human point of view seems uncertain and unpredictable, but which does not fail not even in face of death, when the one who promises is the God of the Resurrection and of life. This is not promised by just anyone! He who promises is the God of the Resurrection and of life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, today let us ask the Lord for the grace to remain founded not so much on our securities, on our capacities, but on the hope that flows from God’s promise, as true children of Abraham. When God promises, He brings to fulfilment what He promises. He never fails in His word. And then our life will assume a new light, in the awareness that He who resurrected His Son will also resurrect us and render us truly one with Him, together with all our brethren in the faith. All of us believe. Today we are in the Square, we praise the Lord, we will sing the Our Father, then we will receive the Blessing . . . but this passes. But this is also a promise of hope. If our heart is open today, I assure you that we will all meet in Heaven’s Square, which never ever passes. This is God’s promise and this is our hope, if we open our hearts. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet the priests of the Focolare Movement, the “Provida Italia” Association and the Pro-Good Friday Committee of Cave. I greet the faithful of Cassino, who are observing the 70th anniversary of the consecration of the church of Saint Anthony of Padua; the “Unasca Italia” Group and the Basket for Ever team of Gaeta. May the visit to the Eternal City increase communion in each one with the universal Church and the Successor of Peter.
Finally, a special greeting goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Dear young people, the Lenten Season is precious to rediscover the importance of the faith in daily life; dear sick, unite your sufferings to the cross of Christ for the building of the civilization of love; and you, dear newlyweds, favor God’s presence in your new family.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
The Holy Father’s Appeal
I am happy to greet the delegation of the Iraqi super-intendancy, made up of representatives of different religious groups, accompanied by His Eminence Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. The richness of the beloved Iraqi nation lies precisely in this mosaic that represents unity in diversity, strength in union, prosperity in harmony. Dear Brothers, I encourage you to continue on this path and I invite you to pray so that Iraq may find peace, unity and prosperity in reconciliation and harmony between its diverse ethnic and religious components. My thought goes to the civilian populations trapped in the western districts of Mosul and the displaced because of war, to whom I feel united in suffering through prayer and spiritual closeness. In expressing profound grief for the victims of the bloody conflict, I renew to all the appeal to commit themselves with all their strength in the protection of civilians as an imperative and urgent obligation.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]