Here is the Vatican-provided translation of Pope Francis’ homily at the Opening Mass of Caritas Internationalis’ General Assembly. The mass was held this afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica.
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The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16: 22-34) that we have just heard presents us a somewhat special character. It is the jailer of the prison at Philippi, where Paul and Silas were imprisoned following an up roar of the crowd against them. The magistrates first had Paul and Silas beaten and then sent to prison, ordering the jailer to keep a good guard. So, during the night, when the man felt the earthquake and saw the prison doors open, he was full of despair and thought of killing himself. But Paul reassured him; and trembling and full of wonder, the man got down on his knees and pleaded for salvation.
The story tells us that the man immediately took the necessary steps on the path towards faith and salvation: together with his household, he listened to the Word of the Lord; washed the wounds of Paul and Silas; received Baptism with his entire family; and finally, full of joy, he welcomed Paul and Silas into his home, setting the table and offering them something to eat.
The Gospel, proclaimed and believed, urges us to wash the feet and the wounds of the suffering and to prepare the table for them. The simplicity of the gestures, where the acceptance of the Word and the sacrament of Baptism are accompanied by the welcome of the brother, as if these were indeed one single gesture: to welcome God and to welcome others; to welcome others with the grace of God; to welcome God and express this act in the service to our brothers and sisters. Word, Sacraments and service refer to and nourish each other, as can already be seen in these testimonies of the early Church.
We can see in this gesture the entire vocation of Caritas. Caritas is now a great Confederation, widely recognized throughout the world for its work and accomplishments. Caritas is a reality of the Church in many parts of the world and must still seek a greater expansion in the different parishes and communities, to renew what took place in the early days of the Church. In fact, the source of all your service lies in the simple and docile welcome of God and neighbor. This welcome is first personally experienced by you, so that you may then go out into the world, and there, to serve others in the name of Christ, whom you have met and whom you will continue to meet in every brother and sister that you will approach as your neighbor. Thanks to this, you will actually avoid the risk of being reduced to a mere humanitarian organization.
Whoever lives the mission of Caritas is not simple charitable worker, but is a true witness of Christ. He is a person who seeks Christ and allows Christ to seek him; people who love with the spirit of Christ, a spirit of gratuitousness and gift. All of our strategies and plans remain empty unless we carry this love in us. Not our love, but His. Or better yet: our love, purified and strengthened by His love.
In this way, we can serve everyone and set the table for all. This is also a beautiful image that the Word of God offers us today: setting the table. Even now, God sets the table of the Eucharist. Caritas sets many tables for the hungry. In recent months you launched the great campaign “One human family, food for all”. There are still so many people today who do not have enough to eat. The planet has enough food for all, but it seems that there is a lack of willingness to share it with everyone. We ought to set the table for all, and ask that there be a table for all. We must do what we can so that everyone has something to eat, but we must also remind the powerful of the Earth that God will call them to judgement one day and there it will be revealed if they really tried to provide food for Him in every person (cf. Matt.25: 35) and if they did what they could to preserve the environment so that it could produce this food.
And thinking about the table of the Eucharist, we cannot forget our Christian brothers and sisters who have been violently deprived of the food for the body and for the soul: they have been driven from their homes and their churches – at times destroyed. I renew the appeal not to forget these people and these intolerable injustices.
Together with many other charitable organizations of the Church, Caritas, therefore, reveals the power of Christian love and the desire of the Church to reach out to Jesus in every person, especially the poor and suffering. This is the path that lies ahead of us. With this perspective, I hope that you will carry out your work during these. We entrust them to the Virgin Mary, who has made this welcome of God and neighbor as the fundamental criteria of her life. In fact, tomorrow we will celebrate Our Lady of Fatima, who appeared to announce victory over evil. With such a great support, we are not afraid to continue our mission. Amen.