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Young detainees at the Pacora Juvenile Detention Center Young detainees at the Pacora Juvenile Detention Center  (AFP or licensors)

Today, as 2,000-years ago, ‘scandal’ ensues when embracing sinners

Evangelization is based on the centrality of compassion. This message calls into question certain attitudes exhibited by Catholic media agencies which daily dedicate energy to condemnation.

By Andrea Tornielli

On Thursday, the feast of the patron saint of journalists, St Francis de Sales, Pope Francis made reference to certain Catholic media outlets while speaking to the Bishops of Central America.

He said the result of evangelization is based neither on the material means at our disposal, nor on the quantity of events that we organize, but “on the centrality of compassion”.

“I am worried about how the compassion of Christ has lost a central place in the Church,” said Pope Francis, “even among Catholic groups, or is being lost – not to be so pessimistic. Even in the Catholic media there is a lack of compassion. There is schism, condemnation, cruelty, exaggerated self-praise, the denouncing of heresy…”.

His words are like a “photograph” of a reality which unfortunately is plain for all to see: the spread – even among media that proclaim to be Catholic – of the habit of wanting to judge everything and everyone by putting one’s self on a pedestal and raging against one’s brothers and sisters in the faith who have different opinions.

We should not believe that such a profoundly anti-Christian attitude (even if conveyed under “Catholic” auspices) is a transitory phenomenon, linked only to the daily criticism of the present pontificate. In fact, at the root of this attitude lies something deeper and less incidental: the belief that in order to exist and confirm my identity, I must always find an enemy against which to direct my rage. Someone to attack, someone to condemn, someone to judge heretical.

Example of Jesus

On this point, Jesus’ witness presents itself as a total change, which unravels acquired traditions and stratified behaviors, challenging the “high-thinkers” of every age and place.

We witnessed this once again in the meeting that Pope Francis held on January 25th, at the Las Garzas de Pacora Juvenile Detention Center. The Pope spent a few hours in prison to approach several young people who were unable to participate in the World Youth Day events taking place in Panama. His was a moving testimony of compassion and mercy, which is not learned in a manual, but is born of compassion and mercy first experienced personally, in order to be able to look upon the other, upon the sinner, upon those who have made mistakes.

Pope Francis explained to the young detainees that Jesus was not afraid to approach those who, for various reasons, bore the burden of social hatred. The Pope said Jesus ate at the home of publicans and sinners, scandalizing everyone. “Jesus approaches others, compromises, puts his reputation on the line, and always invites us to look towards a horizon capable of renewing life and history”.

Many, however, cannot abide this choice of the Son of God, preferring to freeze and stigmatize the behavior of those who have made mistakes by labeling not only the past but also the present. In doing so, Pope Francis explained, we sow only division and the separation of the good from the bad, the just from the sinners. We raise invisible walls, believing that by marginalizing and isolating, the problem has been solved.

Instead, nearly every page of the Gospel shows us a different attitude, a Copernican revolution, which passes through the eyes of Jesus, who was capable of looking at people not for the mistakes, sins or crimes they have committed, but for what their lives could become if touched by mercy, compassion, and the infinite love of God Who embraces you before judging you.

This gaze, said the Pope, is born from the heart of God.

“Eating with publicans and sinners,” the Pope added in his speech to juvenile prisoners, “Jesus breaks with the logic that separates, excludes, isolates, and physically divides people into ‘good’ and ‘bad’.”

Jesus does not do so by decree or only with good intentions, nor even with voluntarism or sentimentality. He does so by creating bonds capable of allowing new processes, betting on a better future and celebrating at every possible step. This, because the gaze of the Lord, Whom we can experience in the Sacrament of Penance, “does not see a label or a condemnation: He sees His children”.

25 January 2019, 18:39