“Everything begins with an encounter: an encounter with this man, a carpenter from Nazareth.” These were the words of encouragement given by Pope Francis to an estimated 80,000 members of the Communion and Liberation movement present in St. Peter’s Square.
The event topped off a week in which Pope Francis met with two major movements: the Focolare movement and the Neocatechumenal Way.
The Holy Father began his address by calling to mind the movement’s founder, Don Luigi Giussani and the 10thanniversary of his death. The Pope recognized the works of Don Giussani, even in his own personal life.
“I am grateful to Don Giussani for several reasons. The first, more personal, is the good this man has done for me and my priestly life, through the reading of his books and his articles,” the Pope said.
“The other is that his thought is profoundly human and reaches the deepest longings of man. You know how important for Don Giussani the experience of encounter was: the encounter not with an idea, but with a Person, with Jesus Christ.”
This education, the Holy Father stressed, guides Christians towards liberty because only Christ can give true freedom.
Recalling Caravaggio’s “The vocation of Matthew”, a painting that inspired his papal motto Miserere Atque Eligendo, the 78 year old Pontiff said that it exemplifies the encounter with Christ that changes one’s life. However, he noted that this encounter cannot be understood without the aspect of mercy.
“Only those who have been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, truly knows the Lord,” he said. “The privileged place of encounter is the caress of mercy of Jesus Christ towards my sin. And for this reason, sometimes, you have heard me say that the place, the privileged place of encounter with Jesus Christ is my sin. It is thanks to this embrace of mercy that the desire to respond and change comes from, and that can allow a new life to spring up.
Recalling the 60thanniversary of Communion and Liberation’s founding, the Holy Father stressed the sentiments of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who said that the group’s founding was not due to hierarchal need but a “renewed encounter with Christ.”
“After 60 years, the original charism has not lost its freshness and vitality. But, remember that the center is not the charism, the center is only one, it is Jesus: Jesus Christ.”
The Pope went on to say that the charism is “not conserved in a bottle of distilled water.” Faithfulness to the charism does not mean to ‘petrify it’ – it is the devil who petrifies, do not forget this!
“Don Giussani cannot be reduced to a museum of memories, of decisions made, of rules of conduct. It certainly entails faithfulness to tradition, but faithfulness to tradition – Mahler would say – ‘means keeping the fire alive and not worshipping the ashes.”
“Keep the fire of the memory of that first encounter alive and be free!” he exclaimed.
Concluding his address, Pope Francis called on the members of Communion and Liberation to follow their founder’s example to go out in search of those who marginalized. He quoted two texts of Don Giussani, which reminded those present of the movement’s mission the salvific message of Christianity.