Sunday, May 25, 2014

"All Of Us Want Peace" – In Bethlehem, Two Messages: Tear Down This Wall... and Build Up The World

Fourteen months into the new Rule of Francis, it's well beyond clear that this pontificate's most resonant moments of communication come without words... well, with a few exceptions. And even if this Sunday's schedule has another seven hours ahead of it, already today, we've seen potent proof of both.

Along those lines, at the start of Day Two of a Holy Land trip whose set plans were rich in symbolism – and one whose announced schedule was parsed to the core – while en route to the late-morning Mass at Bethlehem's Manger Square, the Pope suddenly halted his motorcade, stepped off the Jeep, and caused a chaotic moment as he waded through a crowd to stop and pray for several minutes at the barrier separating Israel and Palestine as an advocate for the new state blared its people's case over loudspeakers in English.

Here, the Vatican video:

As if that wasn't enough, the Regina Caeli at the liturgy's close – usually an afterthought given the looming prevalence of the homily – contained the morning's most loaded line.

"In this place where the Prince of Peace was born," Francis said, "I desire to invite you, [Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas, and [the Israeli] President Shimon Peres, to raise together with me an intense prayer to God for the gift of peace. And I offer my house in the Vatican to host you in this encounter of prayer."

For the unsteeped, that means peace talks – clearly, in the hope of a "Camp Domus Accord"... and, again, it's still early in the day.

(SVILUPPO: Within a half-hour of the Pope's noontime proposal – one interrupted by the midday muezzin (Muslim call to prayer) – the Associated Press reported that both sides had accepted Francis' invite; according to an Abbas' spokesman, the "encounter" will take place in June, before Peres' term as Israel's head of state expires in mid-July.)

Here below, the Pope's homily at the Lord's birthplace, then the fulltext of the closing Marian reflection with its call for peace.

* * *
"This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12).

What a great grace it is to celebrate the Eucharist in the place where Jesus was born! I thank God and I thank all of you who have welcomed me on my pilgrimage: President Mahmoud Abbas and the other civil authorities; Patriarch Fouad Twal and the other bishops and ordinaries of the Holy Land, the priests, the good Franciscans, the consecrated persons and all those who labor to keep faith, hope and love alive in these lands; the faithful who have come from Gaza and Galilee, and the immigrants from Asia and Africa. Thank you for your welcome!

The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is the sign given by God to those who awaited salvation, and he remains forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world. The angel announces to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a child…".

Today too, children are a sign. They are a sign of hope, a sign of life, but also a "diagnostic" sign, a marker indicating the health of families, society and the entire world. Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human. Here we can think of the work carried out by the Ephpheta Paul VI institute for hearing and speech impaired Palestinian children: it is a very real sign of God’s goodness. It is a clear sign that society is healthier.

To us, the men and women of the twenty-first century, God today also says: "This will be a sign for you", look to the child…

The Child of Bethlehem is frail, like all newborn children. He cannot speak and yet he is the Word made flesh who came to transform the hearts and lives of all men and women. This Child, like every other child, is vulnerable; he needs to be accepted and protected. Today too, children need to be welcomed and defended, from the moment of their conception.

Sadly, in this world, with all its highly developed technology, great numbers of children continue to live in inhuman situations, on the fringes of society, in the peripheries of great cities and in the countryside. All too many children continue to be exploited, maltreated, enslaved, prey to violence and illicit trafficking. Still too many children live in exile, as refugees, at times lost at sea, particularly in the waters of the Mediterranean. Today, in acknowledging this, we feel shame before God, before God who became a child.

And we have to ask ourselves: Who are we, as we stand before the Child Jesus? Who are we, standing as we stand before today’s children? Are we like Mary and Joseph, who welcomed Jesus and care for him with the love of a father and a mother? Or are we like Herod, who wanted to eliminate him? Are we like the shepherds, who went in haste to kneel before him in worship and offer him their humble gifts? Or are we indifferent? Are we perhaps people who use fine and pious words, yet exploit pictures of poor children in order to make money? Are we ready to be there for children, to "waste time" with them? Are we ready to listen to them, to care for them, to pray for them and with them? Or do we ignore them because we are too caught up in our own affairs?

"This will be a sign for us: you will find a child…". Perhaps that little boy or girl is crying. He is crying because he is hungry, because she is cold, because he or she wants to be picked up and held in our arms… Today too, children are crying, they are crying a lot, and their crying challenges us. In a world which daily discards tons of food and medicine there are children, hungry and suffering from easily curable diseases, who cry out in vain. In an age which insists on the protection of minors, there is a flourishing trade in weapons which end up in the hands of child-soldiers, there is a ready market for goods produced by the slave labor of small children. Their cry is stifled: the cry of these children is stifled! They must fight, they must work, they cannot cry! But their mothers cry for them, as modern-day Rachels: they weep for their children, and they refuse to be consoled (cf. Mt 2:18).

"This will be a sign for you": you will find a child. The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, every child who is born and grows up in every part of our world, is a diagnostic sign indicating the state of health of our families, our communities, our nation. Such a frank and honest diagnosis can lead us to a new kind of lifestyle where our relationships are no longer marked by conflict, oppression and consumerism, but fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation, solidarity and love.

Mary, Mother of Jesus,
you who accepted, teach us how to accept;
you who adored, teach us how to adore;
you who followed, teach us how to follow. Amen.

* * *
In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.

All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. All of us – especially those placed at the service of their respective peoples – have the duty to become instruments and artisans of peace, especially by our prayers.

Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As we prepare to conclude our celebration, our thoughts turn to Mary Most Holy, who here, in Bethlehem, gave birth to Jesus her Son. Our Lady is the one who, more than any other person, contemplated God in the human face of Jesus. Assisted by Saint Joseph, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger.

To Mary we entrust this land and all who dwell here, that they may live in justice, peace and fraternity. We entrust also the pilgrims who come here to draw from the sources of the Christian faith – so many of them are also present at this Holy Mass.

Mary, watch over our families, our young people and our elderly. Watch over those who have lost faith and hope. Comfort the sick, the imprisoned and all who suffer. Watch over the Church’s Pastors and the entire community of believers; may they may be "salt and light" in this blessed land. Sustain all educational initiatives, particularly Bethlehem University.

Contemplating the Holy Family here in Bethlehem, my thoughts turn spontaneously to Nazareth, which I hope to visit, God willing, on another occasion. From this place I embrace with affection the Christian faithful living in Galilee and I express my support for the building of the International Centre for the Family in Nazareth.

We entrust the future of our human family to Mary Most Holy, that new horizons may open in our world, with the promise of fraternity, solidarity and peace.

Regina Caeli, laetare, alleluia!....

* * *
Not even these, however, can be the last word – at least, not under these circumstances.

See, per immemorial custom for Bethlehem, the liturgy Francis celebrated on this Sunday wasn't that of this day in Easter, but the Mass of Christmas Midnight – the Nativity of the Lord... so given the setting, at this point, we'd be remiss and much more to not recall our own beloved "Patriarch": the great father, brother and friend to so many of us whose lifetime of heroic work and witness finally found its crown in the service and protection of Christ's home-crowd in the Holy Land....