Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
Meeting with the Catholic Community
Rakovski, Church of Saint Michael the Archangel
Monday, 6 May 2019
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Good afternoon! Thank you for your warm welcome and for your dancing and testimonies. It is always brings me joy to meet the Holy People of God with its myriad faces and charisms.
Bishop Iovcev asked me to help you to “see with eyes of faith and love”. But first, I would like to thank you for helping me to see better and to understand a little more fully why this land was so dear and important to Saint John XXIII. Here the Lord was preparing what would be an important step in our ecclesial journey. Here he developed strong friendships with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, and this led him on a path that would help foster the longed-for, yet ever fragile sense of fraternity between individuals and communities.
To see with the eyes of faith. I would like to recall something that “Good Pope John” once said. His heart was so attuned to the Lord that he could register his disagreement with those around him who saw nothing but evil and to refer to them as “prophets of doom”. He was convinced of the need to trust in God’s providence, which constantly accompanies us and even in the midst of adversity is capable of bringing about his deeper and unforeseeable plans (Opening Address of the Second Vatican Council, 11 October 1962).
God’s people learn to see, trust, discover and let themselves be guided by the power of the resurrection. They recognize, of course, that there will always be painful times and unjust situations, yet they do not wring their hands, shrink back in fear or, even worse, create a climate of scepticism, discomfort or disruption, since this does nothing but harm the soul, causing hope to flag and hindering every possible solution. Men and women of God have the courage to take the first step in finding creative ways of directly testifying that Love is not dead, but has triumphed over every obstacle. They get involved because they have learned that, in Jesus, God himself gets involved. He put his own flesh at stake so that no one will feel alone or abandoned.
I would like to share with you an experience I had a few hours ago. This morning I visited the Vrazhdebna refugee camp and met asylum-seekers and refugees from various countries of the world who are looking for a better place to live than the one they left. I also met the Caritas volunteers. They told me that at the heart of the Centre’s life and work is the recognition that every person is a child of God, regardless of ethnicity or religious confession. In order to love someone, there is no need to ask for a curriculum vitae; love precedes, it takes the first step. Because it is gratuitous. In that Caritas Centre are many Christians who have learned to see with God’s own eyes. God is not worried about details, but seeks out and awaits each person with a Father’s eyes. Seeing with the eyes of faith is a summons not to spend your life pinning labels, classifying those who are worthy of love and those who are not, but trying to create conditions in which every person can feel loved, especially those who feel forgotten by God because they are forgotten by their brothers and sisters. Those who love do not waste time in self-pity, but always try to do something concrete. In the Centre, they learn to see problems, to acknowledge them and to confront them; they let themselves be questioned and try to discern things with the eyes of the Lord. As Pope John said: “I never met a pessimist who managed to do something good”. The Lord is the first not to be pessimistic. He constantly tries to open up paths of resurrection for all of us. How marvellous it is when our communities become building-sites of hope!
On the other hand, to see things with the eyes of God, we need other people. We need them to teach us to look and feel the way Jesus looks and feels, to let our heart beat with his own feelings. This is why it pleased me when Mitko and Miroslava, with their little daughter Bilyana, told us that for them the parish has always been a second home, the place where they always found strength to carry on, amid community prayer and the support of loved ones.
The parish, in this way, becomes a home in the midst of homes. It manages to make the Lord present there, where every family, every person tries to earn their daily bread. There, at every street corner, is the Lord, who did not want to save us by decree, but came into our midst. He wants to enter into the heart of our families and say to us, as he did to the disciples: “Peace be with you!”
I am happy that you like the “advice” I share with spouses: “Never go to bed angry, not even for one night”. From what I see, it works for you! It is a bit of advice that can also be helpful for all of us Christians. It is true that, as you also said, we experience various trials; that is why we need to be on guard against anger, resentment or bitterness taking possession of our hearts. We have to help each other in this, caring for one another, so that the fire that the Spirit has kindled in our hearts never goes out.
You appreciate, and are grateful, that your priests and religious sisters care for you. As I was listening to you, I was struck by that priest who spoke not about how successful he had been during his years of ministry, but about all those people God placed in his path to help him become a good minister of God.
The People of God is grateful to its priests, and priests recognize that they learn how to be believers with the help of their people, their family, living in their midst. A living community, one that supports, accompanies, integrates and enriches. Never separated, but united, where everyone learns to be a sign and blessing of God for others. A priest without his people loses his identity, and a people can grow apart without its priests. The unity between the priest who supports and fights for his people, and the people who support and fight for their priest. Each dedicates his or her life to the others. None of us can live only for ourselves; we live for others. The priestly people can say with its priests: “This is my body given up for you”. That is how we learn to be a Church, a family and a community that welcomes, listens, accompanies, cares for others, revealing its true face, which is that of a mother. A Church that is a mother – Mother Church – experiences and makes her children’s problems her own, not offering ready-made answers, but seeking together paths of life and reconciliation. Trying to make present the Kingdom of God. A Church, a family and a community that takes up the knotty problems of life, which are often like balls of tangled wool; before untangling them, it has to make them its own, taking them into its hands and loving them.
A family among families, open to bearing witness in today’s world, as our sister told us, open to faith, hope and love for the Lord and for those whom he has a preferential love. A home with open doors.
In this sense, I have a “job” for you. You are the children, in faith, of the great witnesses who testified by their lives to the love of the Lord in these lands. The brothers Cyril and Methodius, holy men with great dreams, were convinced that the most authentic way to talk to God was in one’s own language. This made them boldly decide to translate the Bible, so that no one would be without the Word of life.
Being a home with open doors, in the footsteps of Cyril and Methodius, means that today too, we need to be bold and creative. We have to ask how we can translate the love God has for us into concrete and understandable language for the younger generation. We know from experience that “young people frequently fail to find in our usual programmes a response to their concerns, their needs, their problems and issues” (Christus Vivit, 202). And this requires of us new and imaginative efforts in our pastoral outreach. Finding ways to touch their hearts, to learn about their expectations and to encourage their dreams, as a community-family that supports, accompanies and points to the future with hope. A great temptation faced by young people is the lack of deep roots to support them; as a result, they feel uprooted and alone. Our young people, when they feel called to express all the potential they possess, often give up half-way because of the frustrations or disappointments they experience, since they have no roots to rely on as they look to the future (cf. ibid. 179-186). How much more so, when they are forced to leave behind their homes, their country and their family.
Let us not be afraid to meet new challenges, as long as we make every effort to ensure that our people never lack the light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus, a community of faith to support them, and ever new horizons that can give them meaning and a goal in life (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 49). May we never forget that the most beautiful chapters in the life of the Church were written when God’s People set out with creativity to translate the love of God in their own time, with the challenges they gradually encountered. It is good to know that you can count on a great living history, but it is even more beautiful to realize that you are being asked to write its next chapter. Never tire of being a Church that continues to give birth, amid the contradictions, sorrows and poverty, to the sons and daughters that this land needs today, at the start of this twenty-first century. Always listen with one ear to the Gospel and the other to the heart of your people.
I thank you for this very enjoyable meeting and, thinking of Pope John, I would like the blessing I now give you to be a caress of the Lord for each of you.