Rome (AsiaNews) - Moved perhaps by the melancholic sight of the sun setting against the tombs in Rome's Verano Cemetery, the final resting place of so many great Italians, or stirred perhaps by the memory of all the victims of persecution, to whom he referred a few hours earlier during the Angelus, Pope Francis put aside his written homily and spoke ad lib during the Mass he celebrated this afternoon. In his meditation, the words that prevailed were 'hope', 'anchor', and 'Jesus', as if he were proclaiming the power of Christian hope in a place that speaks about everyone's end and death.
Surrounded by thousands of faithful who filled the paths and alleys between the monumental tombs of Verano Cemetery, the pontiff celebrated Mass accompanied by Card Agostino Vallini, vicar of Rome, Mgr Filippo Iannone, vice-regent of the Diocese of Rome, the diocese's auxiliary bishops and Fr Armando Ambrosi, priest at the San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (St Lawrence outside the Walls) Parish Church, where the cemetery is located. In coming here, Pope Francis revisited a tradition that John Paul II had upheld until 1 November 1993. Since then, Benedict XVI did celebrate the Eucharist at the nearby Basilica of St Lawrence outside the Walls in 2008.
In a slow voice, a moved pontiff said, "At this moment before sunset, we are gathered in this cemetery to think about our future and all those who are no more, those who have gone before us in life and are in Lord. The vision we heard in today's first reading is so beautiful (Rev, 7:2-4, 9-14)".
"We can expect full love. Those who have gone before us in the Lord are there and proclaim that they were saved not by their deeds, but by the Lord. 'Salvation comes from our God [. . .] and from the Lamb" (Rev, 7:10b) [. . .] He is the One who saves us, like a father, by bringing us to the other shore at the end of our life".
Going back again to the reading from Revelation, the pope went on to say. "An elder asked, 'Who are these [. . .]? [. . .] These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb' (Rev. 7:14)." "We can only enter Heaven through the blood of the Lamb. It is the blood of Christ that justified us."
If today, we remember our departed brothers and sisters, it is because they were cleansed by the blood of Christ. He is our hope. He never disappoints."
The pope then turned to the first reading of the Mass (1 Jn, 3:1-3), when "John told his disciples, 'See what love the Father has bestowed on us [. . .] we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed.' That is, 'we shall be like him'. That is our hope."
"Today," the pope explained, "on the feast of All Saints, before the day of All Souls, we need to think about hope, the hope that accompanies us in life . . . . Early Christians represented hope as an anchor, as if hope was anchored in God's life, on the other shore. To have our life anchored where our dearly departed, Jesus Christ, and God are brings the hope that does not disappoint."
"Hope is the yeast that widens the soul," said in concluding. "Even in difficult times, hope, the soul go on. Today is a day of hope. Our brothers and sisters are in God's presence. We too shall be there if we walk along Jesus' road . . . . Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure' (1 Jn. 3, 3). Hope purifies; it lightens us; it makes it go faster.
"As sun starts to set today, let each of us think of our own sunset. Am I looking at it with hope? . . . Where is my heart anchored? If it is anchored on the shore, hope cannot disappoint because Jesus does not disappoint."
At the end of the Mass, the pope concluded, "I would like to pray in a special way, in particular for our brothers and sisters who died as they sought a better life. We saw the cruelty of the desert, and of the sea where many drowned. Let us also pray for those who were saved, now languishing in shelters. Let us hope they might go to other, more comfortable places, in other centres."