Quito (AsiaNews) – In his last event in Ecuador, Pope Francis met priests and religious just before leaving for Bolivia at noon (GMT -5:00).
“The Lord,” the pontiff said, “invites us to accept our mission without placing conditions,” conscious that “we no longer belong to ourselves, that our vocation calls us to let go of all selfishness, all seeking of material gain or emotional rewards”. This means serving and not being served, “with complete detachment, without walking stick or bag,” ceaselessly proclaiming the Kingdom and bringing salvation to all.
Earlier in the morning, the pope visited the rest home of the Missionaries of Charity, in Tumbaco, where he greeted the elderly guests, one by one. From there, he proceeded to the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Presentation of El Quinche (pictured), where the Virgin appeared several times in 1561. Here he met with priests, religious and seminarians.
Speaking without a prepared speech, the pope told those present to heed Jesus who said “’Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give’.” As such, “Please, do not forget this, do not forget that grace is free, a gift from Jesus,” that it is “the best part of our priestly and religious life".
The Gospel’s two main aspects are service and freely giving. "Let us not forget of what we received, of what we were, [and] of the places we came from. Do not feel superior to the faith you received from your mom and your dad. [. . .] Remember those who after entering the seminary no longer want to speak in their language, in the language of their parents . . . It happens! The desire to grow is human, but your calling is to serve. [. . .] Giving freely is a grace. [However,] When the priesthood becomes a ‘career,’ a priest’s spiritual journey ends.”
In his written speech, the pope, taking his cue from the presentation of Our Lady, to which the shrine is dedicated, said, “In the Presentation of the Virgin we find some suggestions for our own call. The child Mary was a gift from God to her parents and to all her people who were looking for liberation. This is something we see over and over again in the Scriptures. God responds to the cry of his people, sending a little child to bring salvation and to restore hope to elderly parents. The word of God tells us that, in the history of Israel, judges, prophets and kings are God’s gifts to his people, bringing them his tenderness and mercy. They are signs of God’s gratuitousness. It is he has chosen them, who personally chose them and sent them. Realizing this helps us to move beyond our self-centeredness and to understand that we no longer belong to ourselves, that our vocation calls us to let go of all selfishness, all seeking of material gain or emotional rewards, as the Gospel has told us. We are not hired workers, but servants. We have not come to be served, but to serve, and we do so with complete detachment, without walking stick or bag.
“The ‘authority’ which the Apostles receive from Jesus is not for their own benefit: our gifts are meant to be used to renew and build up the Church. Do not refuse to share, do not hesitate to give, do not be caught up in your own comforts, but be like a spring which spills over and refreshes others, especially those burdened by sin, disappointment and resentment.
“Something else that Our Lady’s Presentation makes me think of is perseverance. In the evocative iconography associated with this feast, the Child Mary is shown moving away from her parents as she climbs the steps of the Temple. Mary does not look back and, in a clear reference to the evangelical admonition, she moves forward with determination. We, like the disciples in the Gospel, also need to move forward as we bring to all peoples and places the Good News of Jesus.
Perseverance in mission is not about going from house to house, looking for a place where we will be more comfortably welcomed. It means casting our lot with Jesus to the end. [. . .] To persevere even though we are rejected, despite the darkness and growing uncertainty and dangers – this is what we are called to do, in the knowledge that we are not alone, that God’s Holy People walks with us. [. . .] ‘So let us walk together, helping one another, as we humbly implore the gift of perseverance in God’s service.’
“The apparition of Our Lady of Quinche was a moment of encounter, of communion, so that this place which from Incan times has been a place where people of various ethnicities have settled. How beautiful it is when the Church perseveres in her efforts to be a house and a school of communion, when we cultivate what I like to call ‘the culture of encounter’! [. . .] A Church on the move is a Church which is close to people, overcoming obstacles, leaving its own comfort behind and daring to reach out to the peripheries which need the light of the Gospel.”
In concluding his address, the Holy Father said, “let us not neglect to care for, encourage and guide the popular devotions which are so powerfully felt in this holy place and which are widespread in the countries of Latin America. The faithful express the faith in their own language, and they show their deepest feelings of sadness, uncertainty, joy, failure, and thanksgiving in various devotions: processions, votive lights, flowers, and hymns. All of these are beautiful expressions of their faith in the Lord and their love for his Mother, who is also our Mother.”