The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

‘The Lord wants us to become tireless witnesses of reconciliation,’ Pope says in Floriana mass

Sunday, 3 April 2022, 10:05 Last update: about 4 months ago

Thousands of the Catholic faithful gathered at the Floriana Granaries on Sunday morning, with Pope Francis set to celebrate a Papal Mass on the last day of his visit to Malta.

Floriana was a sea of yellow and white in reflection of the Vatican’s flag, with many anticipating the Pope’s arrival and being there long before the scheduled 10am start time of the mass.

Pope Francis started his day by visiting the Jesuit order at the Rabat Apostolic Nunciature, and then visiting St. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat.

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He then made his way to Floriana, on the way stopping in an unscheduled visit at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, where St George Preca is buried. He and Archbishop Scilcluna entered the chapel and said a small prayer before heading back out to the motorcade, where the Pope entered the Popemobile.

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on forgiveness, not judging others and on being true believers.

He quoted from the bible, and spoke of Jesus addressing the courtyard in the temple, but a woman caught in adultery, as well as her accusers - scribes and the Pharisees - were absent for different reasons. The scribes and Pharisees thought that they already knew everything and did not need the teaching of Jesus. “The woman, on the other hand, is lost and confused, someone who went astray looking for happiness in the wrong places.”

”First of all, let us consider the accusers of the woman. In them, we see a reflection of all those who pride themselves on being righteous, observers of God’s law, decent and respectable people. They disregard their own faults, yet they are very concerned about those of others. They go to Jesus: not with open hearts to hear his words, but ‘to test him and to have some charge to bring against him’.”

This reveals the inner thoughts of these cultivated and religious people, who know the Scriptures and visit the temple, yet subordinate this to their personal interests and do not resist the evil thoughts brewing in their hearts, the Pope said. “In the eyes of the people, they appear to be experts in things of God, yet they fail to recognize Jesus; indeed, they view him as an enemy to be eliminated. To achieve this, they set before him someone they scornfully refer to as ‘this woman’, treating her as a thing, and publicly denouncing her adultery. They call for the woman to be stoned, and pour out on her all their hostility to the compassion shown by Jesus. And they do so under the cloak of their reputation as devout and religious men.”

“Brothers and sisters, these Gospel personages remind us that at any time our individual and communal religiosity can conceal the worm of hypocrisy and the urge to point the finger at others. We can always run the risk of failing to understand Jesus, of having his name on our lips but denying him by the way that we live. Even as we raise banners displaying the cross. How, then, can we prove whether not we are true disciples of the Master? We do so by the way we regard our neighbour and the way we regard ourselves. By the way we regard our neighbour: whether we do this with a look of mercy, as Jesus shows us today, or with a look of judgement, even contempt, like the accusers of the Gospel, who present themselves as God’s defenders but who fail to realize that they are trampling on their sisters and brothers. Those who believe they are upholding the faith by pointing their finger at others may have a certain ‘religiosity’, but they have not embraced the spirit of the Gospel, for they disregard mercy, which is the heart of God.”

To understand whether we are true disciples of the Master or not, we need to think about how we view ourselves, he said. “The accusers of the woman were convinced that they had nothing to learn. Their outward appearance was impeccable, yet they lacked the truth of the heart. They represent those believers who in every age make faith part of their façade; they present an impressive and solemn exterior, yet they lack interior poverty, the greatest treasure of the human heart. For Jesus, what really counts is openness and docility on the part of those who do not consider themselves secure, but recognize their need for salvation.”

“It is good for us then, whenever we pray, but also whenever we participate in lovely religious services, to ask ourselves if we are truly attuned to the Lord. We can ask him straightaway, ‘Jesus, here I am with you, but what is it that you want from me? What is in my heart, in my life, that you want me to change? How do you want me to regard others?; Praying like that will do us good, because the Master is not content with appearances; he seeks the truth of the heart. Once we open our hearts to him in truth, he can work wonders in us. We see this in the woman caught in adultery. Her situation seemed hopeless, but then a new and unexpected horizon opened up before her. She was insulted and awaiting merciless judgment and severe punishment. Yet to her amazement, she finds herself acquitted by God, who points her to a future she did not at all anticipate: ‘Has no one condemned you?’ – Jesus says to her – ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again’. What a difference there is between the Master and the woman’s accusers!”

“From this story, we learn that any judgment that is not inspired and moved by charity only serves to make things worse for those who receive it. God, on the other hand, always leaves room for second chance; he can always find paths that lead to liberation and salvation. Forgiveness changed that woman’s life. We can even speculate whether, after being forgiven by Jesus, she was able in turn to forgive others. Perhaps she even came to see her accusers no longer as harsh and wicked men, but as the means that led to her encounter with Jesus. The Lord also wants us, his disciples, his Church, likewise forgiven by him, to become tireless witnesses of reconciliation. Witnesses of a God for whom the word “irredeemable” does not exist, a God who always forgives and who never stops believing in us and always gives us a chance to start anew. There is no sin or failure that we can bring before him that cannot become the opportunity for starting to live a new and different life under the banner of mercy.”

The Pope said that today, that woman, who found mercy amid her misery and who went away healed by Jesus’ forgiveness, invites us, as Church, “to return to the school of the Gospel, to learn from the God of hope who never ceases to surprise us. If we imitate him, we will not be inclined to focus on condemning sins, but on setting out with love in search of sinners. We will be content with those already present, but will go out in search of those absent. We will not go back to pointing fingers, but will start listening. We will not discard the despised, but view as first those whom others consider least. This is what Jesus teaches us today by his example. Let us allow him to amaze us. Let us joyfully welcome the good news he brings.”

After the Pope blessed the Eucharist, many lined up to receive Communion, from the hands of the priests present. Because of Covid, it could not be given directly in the mouth but the hosts were placed in the hands of the congregation

At the end of the mass, Archbishop Charles Sciclina thanked Pope Francis for his visit to Malta.

“Thank you for celebrating the Holy Eucharist with us. Thank you for your love for us. May the word you have shared with us be a source of courage in life, light to our path, comfort in our trials.”

The Pope, in the Angelus, thanked the Archbishop for his words, and said: “I am really the one who should be thanking you!”

“I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the Republic and the civil authorities, to my brother Bishops, to you, dear priests, men and women religious, and to all the citizens and faithful of Malta and Gozo for your warm and affectionate welcome.”

He said that this evening, he will “meet some of our migrant brothers and sisters, and then it will be time to return to Rome. I will bring back many memories of the events and conversations of these days. Above all, I will remember many of your faces, as well as the luminous face of Malta! I thank all those who worked so hard to prepare for this visit, and I cordially greet our brothers and sisters of the different Christian denominations and religions whom I have met in these days. I ask all of you to pray for me, as I will for you. Let us pray for one another.”

“These islands breathe a sense of the People of God,” he said. “May you continue to do so, mindful that faith grows in joy and is strengthened in giving. Forge further links in the chain of holiness that has led so many Maltese to devote their lives with enthusiasm to God and to others. I think, for example, of Dun Ġorġ Preca, canonized fifteen years ago. Finally, I would like to say a word to the young, who are your future. Dear friends, I want to share with you the most beautiful thing in life. Do you know what it is? It is the joy of giving ourselves completely in love, which makes us free. That joy has a name: it is Jesus. I wish you the beauty of falling in love with Jesus, the God of mercy, who believes in you, dreams with you, loves your lives and will never disappoint you. May the Lord accompany you, and Our Lady keep you.”

The Pope prayed for peace in Ukraine. "Let us now pray to her for peace, as we think of the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in war-torn Ukraine, which continues to be bombarded."

Addressing the youths, he said that they should immerse their self in the liberal love of God, and to never forget their roots. Pope Francis also encouraged them to make contact with the elders in their life. 

The Mass drew an estimated 20,000 people, many of them waving the yellow and white flags of the Holy See and a few Ukrainian ones. Among them was Alina Shcherbyna, a 25-year-old Ukrainian who arrived in Malta just over a week ago after fleeing her bombed-out home in Dnipro, leaving behind her parents, who are both doctors and had to remain. 

An Orthodox Christian, she said she was attending the Mass to accompany the Maltese host family who took her in after a solo train and bus journey that took her to Poland, Germany and the Netherlands before she flew to Malta on the advice of a friend. Carrying Ukrainian and Vatican flags, Shcherbyna said she wanted to ask the pope and the world for prayers for Ukraine, saying she still cannot believe what has happened in the matter of a few weeks. 

“At school we were studying a lot about the Second World War, about bomb shelters and about this disaster, and we thought it was impossible in present time. We thought it had ended in 1945 and that was it. But now, it’s really shocking for all of us,” she said. 

She expressed gratitude for the welcome she had received in Malta. “I think it’s a nice place to be to recover after all of this, because of the sun, the sea and the people are really nice here to me. It’s very good.”

The Papal Mass can be followed live from the Floriana Granaries below:

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