Present were some 500 catechumens of 47 different nationalities from five continents, accompanied by their catechists.
The Liturgy began with the Rite of Introduction, held in the courtyard of Saint Peter’s Basilica, where the Pope received a representation of candidates with their sponsors, inviting them then to enter the church.
In the course of the Liturgy of the Word, before handing the text of the Gospels to some of the catechumens, Pope Francis gave the homily which we translate below.
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This conclusive moment of the Year of Faith sees you gathered here, with your catechists and relatives, in representation also of so many other men and women who are engaged, in different parts of the world, in your same course of faith. In this moment, we are all connected spiritually. You come from many different countries, with different cultural traditions and experiences. Yet, this evening we feel we have so many things in common, one above all: the desire for God. This desire is evoked by the words of the Psalmist: “As a heart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Psalm 42: 1-2). How important it is to keep this desire alive, this longing to encounter the Lord and to experience him, to experience his love, to experience his mercy! If the thirst for the living God is lacking, faith risks becoming a fixed habit, it risks being extinguished, as a fire that is not revived. It risks becoming “rancid,” without meaning.
The Gospel account (cf. John 1:35-42) showed us John the Baptist who points out Jesus to his disciples as the Lamb of God. Two of them follow the Master and then, in their turn, become “mediators” that enable others to encounter the Lord, to know and follow him. There are three instances in this account that recall the experience of the catechumenate. In this first place, there is listening. The two disciples have heard the testimony of the Baptist. You also, dear catechumens, have heard those who have spoken of Jesus and proposed that you follow him, becoming his disciples through Baptism. In the tumult of the many voices that resound around us and within us, you have heard and received the voice that indicated Jesus to you as the only one who can give full meaning to our life.
The second instance is the encounter. The two disciples encounter the Master and stay with him. After having encountered him, they immediately notice something new in their heart: the need to transmit their joy also to others, so that they too can encounter him. Andrew, in fact, meets his brother Simon and leads him to Jesus. How much good it does us to contemplate this scene! It reminds us that God did not create us to be alone, closed in on ourselves, but to be able to encounter Him and to open ourselves to encountering others. God is the first to come to each one of us, and this is wonderful! He comes to meet us! In the Bible God always appears as the one who takes the initiative of the encounter with man. It is He who seeks man, and he usually seeks him while man has the bitter and tragic experience of betraying God and of fleeing from Him. God does not delay in seeking him: he seeks him immediately. Our Father is a patient seeker! He always precedes and waits for us. He does not tire of waiting for us, he does not go far from us but has the patience to wait for the favorable moment of the encounter with each one of us. And when this encounter happens, it is never a hasty encounter, because God desires to stay long with us to sustain us, to console us, to give us his joy. God hastens to encounter us, but is never in haste to leave us. He stays with us. Just as we long and desire Him, so He also wishes to stay with us, because we belong to him, we are his “thing,” we are his creatures. We can say that he also thirsts for us, to encounter us. Our God is thirsty for us. And this is the heart of God. It is lovely to feel this.
The last part of the account is to walk. The two disciples walk towards Jesus and then go part of the way with him. It is an important teaching for us all. Faith is a walking with Jesus. Always remember this: faith is to walk with Jesus; it is a moment that lasts the whole of life. At the end will be the definitive encounter. Sometimes along this way we feel tired and confused. Faith, however, gives us the certainty of Jesus’ constant presence in every situation, even the most painful and difficult to understand. We are called to walk to enter increasingly in the mystery of God’s love, which surpasses us and enables us to live in serenity and hope.
Dear catechumens, today you begin the path of the catechumenate. I hope you will follow it with joy, certain of the support of the whole Church, which looks at you with so much confidence. May Mary, the perfect disciple, accompany you: it is lovely to feel her as our Mother in the faith! I invite you to preserve the enthusiasm of the first moment that made you open your eyes to the light of faith; to remember, as the beloved disciple, the day, the hour in which you remained with Jesus for the first time, that you felt his look on you. Never forget this look of Jesus on you, on you, on you. Never forget this look! It is a look of love. And in this way you will always be certain of the Lord’s faithful love. He is faithful. And be sure: he will never betray you!
[Translation by ZENIT]