Today Francis celebrated the final mass of his visit to Paraguay, in the Ñu Guazú field. “A Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality.” Jesus does not send his disciples out “as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations. Instead, he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts!”
“A Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others.”At the end of his Latin American voyage, Francis celebrated a mass in the Ñu Guazú field in Asunción, Paraguay, taking the day’s Gospel story as a cue for explaining the real vocation of Christians and therefore of the Church: welcoming everyone.
The big concluding mass of Pope Francis’ visit to Paraguay, was celebrated in the place where John Paul II canonized San Roque González de Santa Cruz and his companions during his visit to the country in 1988. The imposing Ñu Guazú field is located in the grounds of a military airbase and can hold up to a million and a half people. Numerous people camped out in the mud last night in preparation for the mass. Among the many Argentineans who wanted to be present, was President Cristina Kirchner who arrived in Asunción yesterday evening.
The scene of the mass was spectacular and unique. It was created by artist Delfín Roque Ruiz, using a vast number of corn cobs and coconuts donated by thousands of farmers across the country: the symbol of the Jesuits and the large portraits of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius of Loyola stood out. Many wrote message for the Pope on the coconuts that were within reach. The outcome was quite breathtaking: decorated columns and baroque images made entirely out of fruits and seeds.
The Pope said the Gospel “shows us the identity card of the Christian. Our calling card, our credentials,” when Jesus sends out his disciples giving them a set of “clear and precise instructions”, he says to them: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money…” “When you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place”. Francis explained that this text contains “one key word can easily pass unnoticed” and that is: “welcome”.
“We might say,” Francis explained, “that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality. Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations. Instead, he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts. It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules. It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love. It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares.” These words are laden with significance for the Church of today – not just in Latin America – and they define two profoundly different approaches.
“These are two contrasting mentalities,” Francis added, “two ways of approaching our life and our mission. How many times do we see mission in terms of plans and programs. How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, manoeuvres, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments. Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics. You convince them by learning how to welcome them.”
Because, the Pope went on to explain, “the Church is a mother with an open heart. She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty. The Church is the home of hospitality. How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome! How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home!”
We must show everyone this hospitality, the Pope stressed: “Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, the leper and the paralytic. Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it. Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed. Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed. Welcoming sinners.”
Francis spoke of “an evil underlying our sins.” “A bitter root which causes damage, great damage, and silently destroys so many lives: it is isolation. Isolation makes us turn our back on others, God, the community. It makes us closed in on ourselves. That is why the real work of the Church, our mother, is not mainly to manage works and projects, but to learn how to live in fraternity with others. A welcome-filled fraternity is the best witness that God is our Father.”
“In this way, Jesus teaches us a new way of thinking,” Francis explained. “He opens before us a horizon brimming with life, beauty, truth and fulfilment. God never closes off horizons; he is never unconcerned about the lives and sufferings of his children. God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity. So he sends us his Son, he gives him to us, he hands him over, he shares him… so that we can learn the way of fraternity, of self-giving. He opens up a new horizon; he is the new and definitive Word which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation. He is the Word which breaks the silence of loneliness.”
“One thing is sure,” Francis concluded, “we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom. But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people. No one can tell us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life. How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, wherever there are Christians, as true centres of encounter between ourselves and God.” “The Church is a mother, like Mary. In her, we have a model. We too must provide a home, like Mary, who did not lord it over the word of God, but rather welcomed that word, bore it in her womb and gave it to others.”