Pope in Malta: Love of God drives our joy
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
Love of God is what drives our joy. Pope Francis gave this powerful reminder his first day in Malta during the prayer meeting at the National Marian Shrine of Ta’ Pinu on the Maltese island of Gozo on Saturday.
The Holy Father is visiting the Mediterranean island of Malta, marking his 36th Apostolic Visit abroad. On Saturday, he travelled to Gozo, home to Malta’s most important Marian shrine, where both Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI took pilgrimages during their Apostolic Journeys to the archipelago.
When Everything Seemed Lost
The Pope began recalling how Mary and John stood at the foot of Jesus' Cross.
Pope Francis recalled when Jesus took upon himself the woundedness of our humanity and questioned “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and acknowledged this likewise is "our prayer at times of suffering."
From this sanctuary of Ta’ Pinu, the Pope encouraged, we can contemplate together the new beginning that took place in the “hour” of Jesus.
"Here, in place of the splendid edifice we see today, there stood only a tiny chapel in a state of disrepair. Its demolition was decreed: it seemed to be the end. Yet a series of events would turn things around, as if the Lord wanted to say to this people too: 'You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in her, and your land Married” (Is 62:4).'"
That little church, he said, became the national shrine, a destination for pilgrims and a source of new life.
Jesus’ Hour for Our Own Lives
Pope Francis recalled that Pope St. John Paul II, who passed away today, 2 April 2005, also came to this Marian shrine as a pilgrim, describing this as "a place that once seemed forsaken," that "now revitalizes faith and hope within the People of God."
In light of this, the Pope suggested, we try to appreciate the meaning of Jesus’ “hour” for our own lives. That hour of salvation, he noted, renews our faith and our common mission.
The Holy Father insisted that we must return to the origins, to the nascent Church that we see beneath the Cross in the persons of Mary and John.
First, he explained, it means rediscovering the essentials of our faith, especially rediscovering the center of our faith, that is to say our relationship with Christ and our announcing the Gospel to the world.
Off the cuff, the Pope said, "This is the joy of the Church: to evangelize."
The Maltese Church, the Holy Father said, can share a rich history from which great spiritual and pastoral treasures can be drawn. "However, the life of the Church – let us always keep this in mind – is never merely 'a past to remember.' but a 'great future to build,' always in docility to God’s plans."
Reflecting on what it takes to build this great future, the Holy Father underscored, "How important in the Church is fraternal love and the welcome we show to our neighbour!"
God Present Where Love Reigns
The Lord, the Pope said, reminds us of this at the “hour” of the cross, in entrusting Mary and John to each other’s care.
"He urges the Christian community of every age not to lose sight of this priority: 'Behold, your son,' 'Behold, your Mother' (vv. 26.27). It is as if he said, 'You have been saved by the same blood, you are one family, so welcome each other, love one another, heal each other’s wounds.'”
This, he said, involves "leaving behind suspicions, divisions, rumours, gossip and mistrust.
"Be a 'synod,' in other words, 'journey together.' For God is present wherever love reigns!"
The Pope pointed out that mutual welcome, "not out of pure formality but in the name of Christ, remains a perpetual challenge," especially for ecclesial relationships, "since our mission will bear fruit if we work together in friendship and fraternal communion."
The Holy Father told the Maltese, “be the polar star guiding you to welcome one another, to foster familiarity and to work in communion!” He told them to go forward and to do so “always together!”
“Welcome," he underscored, "is also the litmus test for assessing to what extend the Church is truly evangelical.”
Love of God Drives Joy
This, the Holy Father continued, “is the Gospel we are called to put into practice: welcoming others, being 'experts in humanity' and kindling fires of tender love for those who know the pain and harshness of life." In Paul’s case too, the Pope recalled, something important was born of that dramatic experience, "for here Paul preached the Gospel and thereafter many preachers, priests, missionaries and witnesses followed in his footsteps."
He gave special words of gratitude to to the many Maltese missionaries who spread the joy of the Gospel throughout the world, to the many priests, women and men religious, and to all present before him.
The Holy Father also called Malta a treasure in the Church and for the Church. After the crowds applauded, he said smiling, "I state another time: You are a treasure in the Church and for the Church."
"To preserve that treasure," he insisted, "you must return to the essence of Christianity: the love of God, the driving force of our joy, which sends us forth to the world; and the love of our neighbour, which is the simplest and most attractive witness we can give before the world."
Pope Francis concluded, saying “May the Lord accompany you on this path and the Holy Virgin guide your steps. May Our Lady, who asked us to pray three “Hail Marys” to remind ourselves of her maternal heart, rekindle in us, her children, the fire of mission and the desire to care for one another. May Our Lady bless you!”