By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis wrapped up his two-day Apostolic Visit to Madagascar on Sunday evening at Antananarivo’s Saint Michel College, an institute founded by French Jesuit missionaries in 1888 and that has become a well-known center for higher education throughout the region.
The Pope’s message to the men and women gathered in Antananarivo to be with their pastor, was one of thanks for their hard work – often carried out in difficult situations – and of encouragement in times of difficulty.
“Even those things you see as problems are signs of a Church that is alive, dynamic and striving to be each day to be a sign of the Lord’s presence,” he said.
Pope Francis recalled with gratitude all those who “in past years were unafraid to stake their lives on Jesus Christ and his kingdom”, telling those present that today, they share in their legacy.
He thinks, he said, not only of the many religious missionaries who came to Madagascar to bring the Gospel message, but also “of the many lay persons who kept alive the flame of the faith in this land during the difficult days of persecution, when many missionaries and religious had to leave”.
The challenge of being a Church that goes forth
The Pope compared those present to the 72 disciples who Jesus sent forth and who came back with their bags full, to share everything that they saw and heard.
“You too dared to go forth, and you accepted the challenge of bringing the light of the Gospel to the different parts of this island,” he said.
He acknowledged that many live in difficult conditions and lack such essential services as water, electricity, roads and means of communication, or the financial resources needed for their lives and pastoral activity.
He thanked them for having “chosen to stand beside your people, to remain in their midst”.
“Consecrated persons, in the broad sense of the term, are women and men who have learned how to keep close to the Lord’s heart and to the heart of their people,” he said.
Never lose your evangelical flavour
And as they go forward in their mission, Pope Francis urged those present never to stop praising the Lord.
Often, he said, we can yield to the temptation of wasting our time talking about “successes” and “failures”, the “usefulness” of what we are doing or the “influence” we may have.
But then we risk ending up denying our own history, he said, and the history of your people “ which is glorious because it is a history of sacrifices, hope, daily struggle, a life consumed in fidelity to work, tiring as it may be”.
A sure foundation
Pointing out that much of the life, joy and fruitfulness of missionaries has to do with Jesus’ invitation to praise, he quoted from Romano Guardini saying: “The one who worships God in the depths of his heart and, when possible, by his concrete actions, lives in the truth. He might be mistaken about many things; he can be overwhelmed and dismayed by all his cares, but when all is said and done, his life rests on a sure foundation.”
A mission carried out in the name of Jesus
The Pope told his audience that “the joy of the disciples was born of their certainty that they were acting in the name of the Lord, sharing in his plan and participating in his life, which they loved so much that they wanted to share it with others”.
He reminded them that one triumphs over evil whenever one teaches people to praise our heavenly Father, teaches the Gospel or visits the sick bringing the consolation of reconciliation.
Fight your battles in prayer and in praise
“In Jesus’ name, you triumph whenever you give a child something to eat, or save a mother from despair at being alone in the face of everything, or provide work to the father of a family,” he said.
The battle is won, Pope Francis continued, “whenever you overcome ignorance by providing an education” (…) “whenever any of you helps show respect for all creatures, in their proper order and perfection, and prevents their being misused or exploited”.
“It is a sign of God’s victory whenever you plant a tree or help bring drinkable water to a family. What a great sign of victory over evil it is, whenever you work to restore thousands of persons to good health!” he said.
The battles fought within ourselves
Pope Francis did not neglect to mention the inner battles religious and consecrated people so often have to deal with as they grow in their vocations.
He noted that often the spiritual life “comes to be identified with a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort, but which do not encourage encounter with others, engagement with the world or a passion for evangelization.”
As a result of this, he said, instead of being men and women of praise, we become “professionals of the sacred”.
Thus, he invited those present to conquer the spirit of evil on its own terrain, urging them to respond to doubts and difficulties with evangelical responsibility and poverty “that inspires us to give our lives for the mission”.
A happy Church
“Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary joy!” he said.
Pope Francis concluded his discourse upholding a happy Church of the poor and for the poor, “a Church imbued by the fragrance of her Lord, a Church that lives joyfully by preaching the Good News to the marginalized of the earth, to those who are closest to God’s heart”.
“May you continue to be a sign of his living presence in our midst!” he said.