In his visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, Pope Francis left behind in his speeches and homilies a number of important points worth reflecting on.
In Sri Lanka interreligious relations was a key point. On his arrival at the airport he said that it was important that all the religions work together in overcoming past civil conflict and rebuilding the country.
“All must be free to express their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and their fears. Most importantly, they must be prepared to accept one another, to respect legitimate diversities, and learn to live as one family.”
Later, at an interreligious meeting he declared that the Catholic Church has a “deep and abiding respect for other religions.”
“It is in this spirit of respect that the Catholic Church desires to cooperate with you, and with all people of good will, in seeking the welfare of all Sri Lankans,” he continued.
At the same time if the dialogue between religions is to be successful it has to be based on a clear and full presentation of the respective beliefs. Only if we are honest in setting forward what we believe in will there be cooperation and mutual esteem.
At the canonization of Saint Joseph Vaz, Pope Francis again touched on interreligious matters commenting that the Church is prepared to serve all, no matter which religion they follow. He also insisted on the need for religious freedom so that every individual is free from intimidation or external compulsion.
Honesty and integrity
After his arrival in the Philippines, Pope Francis met with government authorities and the diplomatic corp. Two of the themes that were to be a constant in his visit there were raised at the very start, namely the need for social justice and respect for human dignity.
He said it was, “necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good. In this way they will help preserve the rich human and natural resources with which God has blessed this country.”
We need to hear the voice of the poor, he insisted, and reforming the social structures requires a conversion of mind and heart, as well as a rejection of every form of corruption.
The Pope then turned to the family, another key theme during his visit: “Families have an indispensable mission in society. It is in the family that children are trained in sound values, high ideals and genuine concern for others. But like all God’s gifts, the family can also be disfigured and destroyed. It needs our support.”
He insisted on the right to life and the need to transmit to children the core values that sustain a culture of integrity.
In his homily at the Mass with bishops, priests, and religious Pope Francis once again mentioned the need to be concerned about poverty, but not only material poverty as preaching the Gospel is an essential task for all.
“We proclaim the joy of the Gospel. For the Gospel is the promise of God’s grace, which alone can bring wholeness and healing to our broken world. It can inspire the building of a truly just and redeemed social order.”
“The poor are at the center of the Gospel, are at heart of the Gospel, if we take away the poor from the Gospel we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ,” he continued. He also said that the Gospel “means rejecting worldly perspectives and seeing all things anew in the light of Christ.”
At the meeting of families in Manila Pope Francis insisted on the need of prayer in family life. “You must make time each day to rest in the Lord, to pray.”
More than once in his visit he referred to the need to beware of false ideas that threaten family life: “Let us be on guard against colonization by new ideologies.” He also referred to the danger of attempts to redefine marriage and of the lack of openness to human life.
In his homily at the final mass last Sunday, Pope Francis once more said it was necessary to defend families. St Joseph, he said, reminds us of the importance of protecting our families, and those larger families which are the Church, God’s family, and the world, our human family.
At the first general audience last Wednesday after returning to Rome, Pope Francis commented on his recent trip and once more turned to consider the family. “Healthy families are essential to the life of society,” he said.
He also denied that large families were the main cause of poverty. “I can say that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the center and put the god of money there,” he noted.
With one Synod on the family just finished and another to come we can expect to hear a lot more from the Pope about this subject.