Two days after returning from his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope Francis at the General Audience reflected on his trip.
The pilgrimage to the Holy Land marked the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras.
“In the past days, as you know, I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was a great gift for the Church, for which I thank God. He led me to that blessed Land, which witnessed the historical presence of Jesus and where fundamental events took place of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
The main purpose of the pilgrimage, he said, was its commemorative aspect, noting the historic meeting was the “first time in which a Successor of Peter visited the Holy Land: thus during Vatican Council II, Paul VI inaugurated the Popes’ trips outside of Italy in the contemporary age. That prophetic gesture of the Bishop of Rome and of the Patriarch of Constantinople was a milestone in the suffering but promising path of unity of all Christians, which since then has taken important steps. Therefore, my meeting with His Holiness Bartholomew, beloved brother in Christ, was the culminating moment of the visit,” noting their moments of prayer together at the Sepulcher of Jesus.
Although he acknowledged that divisions still exist between the Churches and how this “does harm to the heart,” he said, “above all,” the celebration was “charged with reciprocal fraternity, esteem and affection, we heard loudly the voice of the Risen Good Shepherd who wishes to make of all his sheep only one flock.”
“We felt the desire to heal the still open wounds and to continue with tenacity on the path towards full communion.” He continued, “We are all brothers in Christ and, with Patriarch Bartholomew, we are friends, brothers and we shared the will to walk together, to do everything that we can do today: pray together, work together for God’s flock, seek peace, protect Creation, so many things that we have in common. And, as brothers, we must go forward.”
Another purpose of this pilgrimage, he said, was to “encourage in that region the path to peace, which is at the same time gift of God and commitment of men,” adding he accomplished this in Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
“I exhorted the Christian faithful to allow themselves to be ‘anointed’ by the Holy Spirit with an open and docile heart, to be ever more capable of gestures of humility, brotherhood and reconciliation.”
The Pope shared what the Spirit can allow us to do: “The Spirit enables one to assume these attitudes in daily life, with persons of different cultures and religions, and thus become ‘artisans’ of peace.”
“Peace is made with craftsmanship!” he said, “There are no industries of peace. It is done every day through craftsmanship, and also with an open heart so that God’s gift will come. Therefore, I exhorted the Christian faithful to allow themselves to be ‘anointed.’”
Reflecting on his pleas, he said he encouraged the concerned authorities to continue efforts to relax the tensions in the Middle Eastern area, especially in “martyred Syria,” as well as to continue in their search for a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The pilgrimage also was the occasion to confirm in the faith the Christian communities, which, he said, “suffer so much, and to express the gratitude of the whole Church for the presence of Christians in that area and in the whole of the Middle East.”
“These brothers of ours are courageous witnesses of hope and charity, ‘salt and light’ in that Land. With their life of faith and prayer and with their appreciated educational and welfare activity, they work in favor of reconciliation and forgiveness, contributing to the common good of the society.”
He closed sharing what he personally achieved from this visit: “With this pilgrimage, which was a true grace of the Lord, I wished to take a word of hope, but I also received it in return!”
He closed requesting prayers for those in the Holy Land and Middle East.
“May the prayer of the whole Church also support the path towards the full unity of Christians, so that the world will believe in the love of God that came, in Jesus Christ, to dwell among us.”
In his greetings in various languages following today’s catechesis, the Holy Father invited all those present to pray for peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.
After giving special thanks to those who accompanied him through prayer on his pilgrimage, he gave a special greeting to English and Welsh pilgrims, members of the Catholic Police Association, and the members of the International Catholic Commission for Migration, who are holding their plenary session. He expressed his hope for them that this “concerted commitment may contribute to assisting many of our brethren in need.”
He also thanked the Arab-speaking pilgrims, above all those from Jordan and the Holy Land, for the affectionate and generous welcome received during his trip and assured them that he will hold them forever in his heart and in his prayers, invoking “abundant goodness, continuing prosperity and lasting peace.”(D.C.L.)
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