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Pope at Mass in Greece: Conversion helps us move beyond existential deserts

Pope Francis presides over Mass with the Catholic community in Athens, Greece, and encourages them to remain hopeful despite the "existential deserts" of our lives, since the Lord is always there to fill our emptiness if we make room for Him.

By Vatican News staff writer

On Sunday afternoon, the second day of his visit to Greece, Pope Francis celebrated Mass with the local Catholic community at the Megaron Concert Hall in Athens.

Around 2,000 faithful were onhand in two different halls in accordance with Covid-rules for social distancing. The Pope had returned to Athens a few hours earlier after his morning visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, where he met with refugees and migrants in a moving show of solidarity together with leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church and Greece's President and authorities.

Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens
Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens

In his homily for the Mass on the Second Sunday of Advent, the Pope reflected on the Gospel reading for the day, which speaks of Saint John the Baptist in the desert calling people to conversion.

The Pope observed that the image of the desert makes us realize how the path of redemption did not begin in the context of worldly places of power, something we might expect, but in a place that is "poor" and simple and, paradoxically, inaccessible and dangerous. 

But, precisely in the vast and arid expanse of the desert, "the glory of the Lord was revealed". This is a surprise for human expections, but a beautiful message to appreciate, since the Lord values what is small and lowly, and that we need to be interiorly poor, without pride, "even as the desert is poor".

Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens
Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens

The Lord visits our existential deserts

John the Baptist prepares the coming of Christ in the desert by preaching the need for conversion, the Pope observed, adding that, then as now, God turns His gaze wherever we are facing trials or sadness, able to reach us if we let Him fill our inner emptiness by visiting "our existential deserts."

In our lives there often times when we feel that we are lost in the desert, he observed, and "it is precisely there that the Lord makes His presence felt," providing our pride does not prevent us from letting Him in.

Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens
Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens

The Lord visits us "with words of closeness, compassion and tenderness," and John's preaching in the desert shares that message that God visits us anywhere we find ourselves, reaching out "with love to our littleness and to refresh our arid spirits." The Pope told his audience in particular not to fear littleness or being few in number as a minority, but more importantly "being open to God and to others."

To convert is to “think beyond”

John the Baptist's emphasis on preaching "conversion" may make us uneasy at first, the Pope observed, since we realize how changing our ways can be so frustratingly difficult, yet this is often because we are looking at it only in terms of arriving at moral perfection, something we can never achieve on our own.

Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens
Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens

Our problem, he noted, is thinking everything is up to us. And we need to look at the full meaning of "to convert" or "metanoeίn", the original Greek work used for it in the Gospel. The literal meaning of the word is to “think beyond”, the Pope said, which means going beyond our usual ways of thinking, beyond our habitual worldview. 

He explained that it means letting go of our belief in our own self-sufficiency, or thinking only of ourselves and the way we do things. "By calling us to conversion, John urges us to go 'beyond' where we presently are," he said, since "the reality is that God is greater." 

God is always present

Conversion is about knowing that "God is always present," that we must have trust in Him, "for He is our beyond, our strength."  He said we need only open the door to Christ to "let Him enter in and work His wonders." in us, "just as the desert and the preaching of John were all it took for Christ to come into the world."

Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens
Pope Francis presides over Mass with Catholic community in Athens

With God things really do change

In conclusion, the Pope prayed for the grace that we may all believe "that with God things really do change," as He can banish our fears, heal our wounds, and "turn our arid places into springs of water."

We ask for the grace of hope, he added, since it nourishes our faith and outreach to help each other. "It is for this hope that the deserts of today’s world are thirsting."

Watch full video of the Mass presided over by Pope Francis with the Catholic community in Athens
05 December 2021, 16:17