Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Speaking to pilgrims in St Peter's Square after the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis expressed hope that the beatification of Flavianus Michael Malke (Flavyānus Mikhayil Malké), a martyred Syrian Catholic bishop, might bring "consolation, courage and hope" to the Christians of the Middle East and other parts of the world who are still currently persecuted. The Holy Father also used the occasion to urge the faithful to pray for the migrants who suffocated to death in a lorry that was secretly bringing them from Hungary to Austria.
In his address, Pope Francis spoke about Bishop Malke who was beatified yesterday in Harissa (Lebanon). In 1915, during the Turkish-led genocide of Armenians and Assyrians, he was imprisoned and later beheaded. Born into an Orthodox family near Mardin (in today’s Turkey), Michael Malke became Catholic in 1912, and was later appointed eparch (bishop) of Gazarta (today’s Cizre, Turkey).
“In the context of the terrible persecution of Christians,” the pope explained, “he was a tireless defender of the rights of his people, urging all of them to remain firm in the faith". For this reason, "Even today,” when “in the Middle East and other parts of the world, Christians are persecuted, the beatification of this martyred bishop will instil in them consolation, courage and hope."
After a moment of silence, the pontiff added, "There are more martyrs now than in the early centuries. Let [this beatification] . . . be a stimulus to legislators and government leaders to ensure religious freedom everywhere. Let the international community do something and end violence and abuse."
The pontiff then turned to the "numerous migrants" who "in recent days" lost their life "in terrible journeys." Only two days ago, two ships with about 500 people on board capsized off the coast of Libya. Other ships, used by human traffickers, brought hundreds of refugees to Italy and Greece, but also the bodies of scores of people who suffocated to death in their hold.
In view of this, the pope said, "I join Card Schönborn, who is here today, and the whole Church in Austria in praying for the 71 people, including 4 children, found in a lorry on the Vienna-Budapest highway. We entrust each of them to God’s mercy, and we ask Him to help us work together effectively to prevent these crimes, which offend the entire human family." Francis followed this with a silent prayer "for all the migrants who suffer and for those who lost their life."
Earlier, the pontiff had commented on today’s Gospel (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), which looks at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who followed "the tradition of the elders" but neglected "God's commandment."
"Watch out!” the pope said. “With these words, Jesus wants to warn us as well, on this day, against believing that the outward observance of the law is sufficient to be good Christians. Like the Pharisees, we too are exposed to the danger of considering ourselves respectable or better than others simply because we respect rules and customs, but do not love our neighbour, are hard-hearted and proud. The literal observance of the precepts is something sterile if it is not translated into concrete attitudes, like openness to meeting God and his Word, seeking justice and peace, and helping the poor, the weak, [and ] the oppressed."
Speaking without written notes, the pontiff was pained to talk about the scandal caused by some Christians who "claim to be good, even more than others," but "forget the family" and charity towards others. Indeed, "As he continued his exhortation, Jesus focused on a deeper aspect, and said, 'Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile' (Mark, 7:15). In doing so, he stressed the primacy of the inner self, the 'heart'. It is not external things that make us saints or not; it is the heart that expresses our intentions, choices and the desire to do everything for God’s love. External attitudes are the consequence of what we have decided in one’s heart. The opposite is not the case. With external attitudes, we cannot call ourselves Christian unless we change our heart. The border between good and evil does run not outside of us but within us, in our consciousness."
"Jesus said: your treasure is where your heart is. Where is my treasure? Is it Jesus? . . . Thus, it is the heart that must be purified and converted. Without a purified heart, one cannot truly have clean hands and lips to speak sincere words of love, mercy and forgiveness.”
“Let call upon the Lord, through the intercession of the Holy Virgin, to give us a clean heart, free from all hypocrisy, so that we can live in accordance with the spirit of the law and reach its purpose, which is love."