Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Jesus was a refugee. He had to flee to save his life. He was a refugee," said Pope Francis in his appeal ahead of next Friday's World Refugee Day, a day dedicated "to those who are forced to leave their homeland to flee conflict and persecution."
"The number of these brother refugees is growing and, in these past few days, thousands more have been forced to leave their homes in order to save their life. Millions of families, millions of them, refugees from many countries and different faiths, experience in their stories tragedies and wounds that will not likely be healed. Let us be their neighbours, share their fears and uncertainty about the future, and take concrete steps to reduce their suffering. May the Lord support the people and institutions that work with generosity and hospitality to provide refugees with shelter and dignity, and give them reasons to hope."
The pope made his appeal at the end of the general audience in which he began a series of catechesis dedicated to the Church, "which is all of us". As an institution, it is not "an end in itself or a private association, nor a NGO," or limited "to priests, bishops, or the Vatican."
The Church is "a much broader reality, which is open to all humanity." It was "not born in a lab" suddenly. "It was founded by Jesus but it is a people with a long history and a long [period pf] preparation before Christ himself" came; it is the story of a people "on the move" in which "Jesus was born".
The pontiff congratulated the 40,000 people gathered in in St Peter's Square to hear him for braving the weather. "You were good [to come] in such a weather, not knowing whether it would pour or not. Let us hope to reach the end of the audience without it."
Speaking about the Church, he said that talking about it was "a bit like a child who talks about his own mother, his own family. To talk about the Church is to talk about our mother, our family. Indeed, as an institution, the Church is not an end in itself, or a private organisation, nor NGO, nor should it be seen only as the clergy or the Vatican.
Priests, bishops, and the Vatican "are parts of the Church, which is all of us, all [part] of the mother's family. The Church is a much broader reality, which is open to all humanity. It was not born in a lab. The Church was not born in a lab; it was not born all of a sudden. It was founded by Jesus but it is a people with a long history and a long [period pf] preparation before Christ himself" came.
The Church's "prehistory" begins with the Book of Genesis, when God chose Abraham and asked him to leave his homeland to go to another land that He would reveal.
"In this vocation, God does not call Abraham alone, as an individual, but from the start involves his family, his kin and all those who are in the service of his house."
"The first important fact is this. Starting with Abraham, God gave birth a people to bring his blessing to all the families of the earth. Jesus was born amid this nation. God created this people, this story, the Church on the move. Jesus was born here, in this nation. "
A second element is that "Abraham did not gather a people around himself. God gave life to this people." Typically, "man turned to the gods, trying to bridge the gap, calling for support and protection. People prayed to the gods, and the gods . . . But, now something unprecedented occurred. God himself took the initiative." This is "the beginning of the Church and Jesus was born amid this nation."
"But, Father, how can this be? God speaking to us?' Yes! 'Can we talk to God?' Yes! 'Can we can have a conversation with God?' Yes! It is called prayer, which God did from the start."
Abraham and his people "heard God's call and started their journey even though they did not know exactly who this God was and where he wanted to lead them."
Abraham "did not have a book of theology to study what God was. He had trust, trust in love. God made him feel love and he trusted him. This did not mean that these people were always convinced and faithful. . . . Indeed, from the beginning there was resistance, turning inward and towards self-interest and the temptation of bargaining with God and sort things out in their own way. These betrayals and sins mark the journey of the people throughout the history of salvation, which is the story of God's faithfulness and the people's unfaithfulness."
Yet, God "does not tire. God is patient, has a lot of patience, and over time continues to educate and train his people, like a father does with his son."
This is the same attitude "he has with the Church. In fact, we too, even when we are resolved to follow the Lord Jesus, experience every day the selfishness and hardness of our hearts. However, when we acknowledge that we are sinners, God fills us with his mercy and love. He forgives us; he always forgive us."
This way we grow "as the people of God, as the Church," and realise that what counts "is not our skills, nor our merits" but "the daily experience of how much the Lord loves and cares for us. This makes us feel that we are truly his, in his hands, making us grow in communion with Him and with one another. Being Church means feeling that we are in God's hands, who is father and loves us, embraces us, waits for us, makes us feel his tenderness. And this is very nice."
"This is God's plan. When he called Abraham, God was thinking about this: create a people blessed by his love who can bring his blessing to all the nations of the earth. This project has not changed; it is always underway. It found its fulfilment in Christ and even today, God continues to achieve it through the Church. Let us then ask for the grace of remaining faithful to the Sequela Christi, listening to His Word, ready to leave every day, like Abraham, towards the land of God and man, our true homeland, so as to become a blessing, a sign of God's love for all of his children."
"One synonym, one name I like for us Christians is 'men and women, people who bless'," the pope said in concluding. "Through their lives, Christians must always bless, bless God and bless all of us as well. We Christians are people who bless, who know how to bless. This is [a] beautiful vocation!"