Pope: no true mission exists without nostalgia for those who have left
During the general audience, Francis urges the faithful to pray for the priest burnt alive in Nigeria and for the victims of last Saturday's missile attack in Ukraine. As the Week for Christian Unity starts, he calls on “all believers in Christ” to join “the journey toward full communion“ and commit to peace.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis continued his cycle of catechesis in Wednesday’s General Audience in the Paul VI Hall, focusing on the “nostalgia for those who have left”, as one of the aspects of today’s evangelisation.
In meeting the pilgrims, the pontiff also urged them to pray for Father Isaac Achi, who was burnt alive last Sunday in his parish house in the Diocese of Minna, northern Nigeria. “So many Christians continue to be the target of violence,” Francis lamented.
Continuing the cycle of reflections on the passion for evangelisation, which began last week, the pope focused his catechesis on Jesus as an “unsurpassable model of evangelisation”.
“The fact that he is the Logos, that is, the Word, highlights an essential aspect of Jesus: He is always in relation, outgoing, never isolated,” Francis said. But “Christ not only has words of life, but makes his life a Word, a message: that is, he lives always turned toward the Father and toward us.”
For Jesus, being a good shepherd, “was not just a job”; instead, “it required time and a lot of dedication. It was a true and proper way of life: twenty-four hours a day, living with the flock, accompanying them to pasture, sleeping among the sheep, taking care of those who were weakest. In other words, Jesus does not do something for us, but he gives everything, he gives his life for us.”
Speaking about the parable of the shepherd who goes looking for his lost sheep, the pontiff stressed that “His pastoral heart [. . .] suffers and [. . .] takes risks. It suffers: yes, God suffers for those who leave and, while he mourns over them, he loves even more.”
Yet, “in response to this suffering, he does not withdraw, rather he takes a risk. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are safe and ventures out for the lost one, thus doing something both risky and unreasonable, but consonant with his pastoral heart which misses the one who left, the longing for someone who has gone away”.
“Jesus teaches us to have nostalgia for those who have left. Jesus does not feel anger or resentment but pure longing for us. [. . .] And I wonder – we, do we have similar sentiments? Perhaps we see those who have left the flock as adversaries or enemies.”
“When we meet them at school, at work, on the streets of our city, why don’t we think instead that we have a beautiful opportunity to witness to them the joy of a Father who loves them and has never forgotten them?”
“This is not about proselytism, as I said, so that others become ‘one of us’ – no, this is not Christian. It is about loving so that they might be happy children of God,” Francis stressed.
“In prayer, let us ask the grace of a pastoral heart, an open heart that draws near to everyone”. Ultimately, “If we Christians do not have this love that suffers and takes risks, we risk” caring only for ourselves.
In greeting the faithful, the pontiff mentioned the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which opens today.
“I urge each one of you to pray and labour,” he said, “so that the journey toward full communion may be increasingly asserted among all believers in Christ; at the same time, I encourage you to commit yourselves, with dedication and in every walk of life, to be builders of reconciliation and peace.”
Finally, the pontiff renewed his appeal for beleaguered Ukraine. “Last Saturday,” Francis noted, “a new missile attack caused many civilian casualties, including children. I share the unbearable pain of family members. The images and testimonies of this tragic episode are a strong appeal to everyone. No one should remain indifferent.”