Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Fidelity to Christ even unto martyrdom" and "the urgency and the beauty of bringing Christ and his Gospel to all" need the "witness of charity, without which even martyrdom and mission lose their Christian flavour," said Pope Francis today at Mass in St Peter's Square before 100,000 faithful, mostly from Italy, Colombia, and Mexico, who came for the canonisation of the 800 martyrs of Otranto slaughtered by the Turks in 1480, including tailor Antonio Primaldo; the sister of St Catherine of Siena María Laura Montoya Upegui (1874-1949), a Colombian nun who founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and Saint Catherine of Siena; and Sister María Guadalupe García Zavala (1878-1963), the Mexican co-foundress of the Congregation of the Handmaids of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and the Poor.
In his homily, which was delivered in Italian and Spanish, the pope explained the holiness of the three types of canonisation.
"Today," he said as he began speaking about the Martyrs of Otranto, "the Church proposes for our worship a host of martyrs, called together to the supreme witness to the Gospel in 1480. About 800 people, after surviving the siege and invasion of Otranto, were beheaded near that city. They had refused to renounce their faith and died confessing the risen Christ. Where did they find the strength to remain faithful? Precisely in faith, which allows us to see beyond the limits of our human eyes, beyond the boundaries of earthly life, to contemplate, in Saint Stephen's words, "the open heavens" and the living Christ at the right hand of the Father."
The first reading of the Mass, Seventh Sunday of Easter, tells the story of the martyrdom of St Stephen and mentions the presence at his murder of Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul.
According to some historical records, during the martyrdom of the faithful at Otranto, a Turk by the name of Bersabei is said to have convert upon seeing the way in which the inhabitants of Otranto died for their faith so that he too suffered martyrdom, impaled by his own comrades-in-arms.
"Dear friends," the pope explained, "let us keep the faith we have received; let us renew our fidelity in the Lord, even in the midst of obstacles and misunderstandings; God will never allow us to lose strength and serenity. As we venerate the martyrs of Otranto, let us ask God to sustain those many Christians who, at this time in many parts of the world, continue to endure violence, and give them the courage of fidelity to respond to evil with goodness."
The second canonisation, that of Saint Laura Montoya, Colombia's first saint, is an example of mission. She, said the Pope, "was an instrument of evangelisation, first as a teacher and then as the spiritual mother of indigenous peoples, to whom she gave hope, welcoming them with the love she learnt from God, and bringing them to Him with an educational efficiency that respected, not hold back their culture. In her work of evangelisation, Mother Laura became, in the words of Saint Paul, truly everything to everyone (cf 1 Cor, 9:22). Even today, her spiritual daughters live in and bring the Gospel to the remotest and neediest places, as a kind of vanguard of the Church."
For everyone, the lesson is clear. "This first saint born on the beautiful Colombian soil teaches us to be generous with God, not to live the faith alone-as if we could live our faith in isolation-but to communicate it, bring the joy of the Gospel by word and witness of life in wherever we find ourselves. She teaches us to see Jesus' face reflected in that of others, overcoming indifference and individualism, welcoming everyone without prejudice or duress, with love, giving them the best of ourselves and above all, sharing with them the most valuable thing we have, which are not our actions or possessions, but Christ and his Gospel."
"The martyrs' fidelity even unto death and proclaiming the Gospel are rooted in God's love infused into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (cf Rom, 5:5), and in the witness we must bear of this love in our daily lives." And for this aspect, the Holy Father has a Mexican saint in mind, María Guadalupe García Zavala.
"By giving up a life of comfort-How much damage does a life of comfort" and "the embourgeoisement of the heart [cause?]-', by giving up a life of comfort to follow Jesus' call, she taught people to love poverty in order to love further the poor and the sick. Mother Lupita used to kneel on the floor of the hospital in front of the sick and the abandoned so as to serve them with tenderness and compassion."
"This means touching Christ's flesh," the pope said ad-lib. "The poor, the abandoned, the sick, the marginalised are Christ' flesh. Even today, her spiritual daughters try to reflect God's love in works of charity, no sacrifice being too big, whilst facing with meekness and apostolic endurance (hypomonē) any obstacle."
"This new Mexican saint," he added, "urges us to love as Jesus loved us. This means not retreating into oneself, one's own problems, one's own ideas, one's own interests but rather going out to meet those who need care, understanding and support, to bring them the warm closeness of God's love through acts of kindness and sincere affection and love."
Francis ended his address with an invitation. "Fidelity to Christ and his Gospel in order to proclaim it in word and deed and bearing witness to God's love with our own love and charity towards all are the shining examples and lessons that the saints proclaimed today offer, but they also raise questions with regards to our Christian life. How faithful am I to Christ? Let us ponder this question today. Can I 'show' my faith with respect but also with courage? Am I attentive to others, do I recognize when someone is in need, do I see a brother and a sister to love in everyone? Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the new saints, let us call on the Lord to fill our lives with the joy of His love. So be it."
Before the Mass ended, when it was time for the Regina Caeli, the Pontiff mentioned again the value of today's three canonisations, adding his plea on behalf of life and the rights of the human embryo, on the occasion of the 'March for Life' held in Rome this morning.
"I call" on the faithful," he said, "to keep everyone's attention focused on the important issue of respect for human life that starts at conception. In this regard, I am pleased to remind everyone that signatures are now being collected in many Italian parishes in order to support the European initiative 'One of Us' whose aim is to ensure legal protection for the embryo, so that every human being is protected from the first moment of his or her existence. The 'Day of Evangelium Vitae', to be held here in the Vatican, as part of the Year of Faith on 15 and 16 June, will be a special moment for those who care about the defence of the sacredness of human life."
Previously, the pontiff mentioned yesterday's beatification at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls of Fr Luigi Novarese, a priest who founded the Volunteer Centre of Suffering and the Silent Workers of the Cross, which collaborate with PIME missionaries in some countries.
In today's ceremony, a noticeable change was made. It is usual for the pope to greet official delegations at the end of the Mass. This time however, Pope Francis greeted cardinals, bishops, priests and ambassadors who had come for the canonisation before the Regina Caeli. Perhaps this was done to allow the pope to greet the faithful in the square immediately after the service.
With more than 100,000 people from the 'March for life' joining worshippers in attendance for the Mass, the pope's jeep was forced to drive down the entire length of Via della Conciliazione, which was packed with people.