Pope at Mass in Kazakhstan: 'Our salvation is to behold Jesus crucified'
By Christopher Wells
Although representing less than 1% of the country's population, members of Kazakhstan’s small Catholic community turned out by the thousands to participate in the Holy Mass presided over by Pope Francis in Nur-Sultan’s EXPO Centre on Wednesday.
Although “the Cross is a gibbet of death,” Pope Francis said in his homily, “today we celebrate [the Feast of] the Exaltation of the Cross of Christ, for on its wood Jesus took upon Himself all our sin and the evil of the world, and vanquished them by His love.”
Serpents that bite and a serpent that saves
The Pope reflected on the contrasting images of “the serpents that bite” and “a serpent that saves,” taken from the reading from the Book of Numbers. As they travelled through the desert to the Holy Land, the Israelites lost their trust in God and in His promises and were bitten by deadly serpents.
"The first part of the narrative," Pope Francis said, “asks us to examine closely those moments in our own personal and community lives when our trust in the Lord and in one another has failed.” It also calls to mind “other kinds of painful ‘bites’” Kazakhstan has suffered, including violence, atheistic persecution, and attacks on personal freedom and human dignity.
The Pope said, “Peace is never achieved once for all,” and insisted that “commitment is demanded on the part of all if Kazakhstan is to keep growing in ‘fraternity, dialogue, and understanding’.”
Keeping our gaze fixed on Jesus
This, the Pope said, is the second image from the day’s reading: “the serpent that saves.” God, he continued, “does not destroy the vile and worthless things that men and women choose to pursue.” Instead, Jesus comes among us, lifted up on the Cross like the bronze serpent Moses raised in the desert.
“Confronting our misery, God gives us a new horizon,” Pope Francis said. “If we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the sting of evil can no longer prevail over us, for on the Cross He took upon Himself the venom of sin and death, and crushed their destructive power.”
The Holy Father said “the path to our salvation, our rebirth, and our resurrection” is “to behold the crucified Christ.”
From the Cross, he continued, Christians learn “love, not hatred; compassion, not indifference; forgiveness, not vengeance.” Christ on the Cross shows us, too, “the embrace of the tender love of God” and “the fraternal love that we are called to have for one another and for everyone.”
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis insisted that Christians must be “reborn from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus.” And he prayed that “we might be freed from the poison of death” and “that by God’s grace we can become ever more fully Christian: joyful witnesses of new life, love, and peace.”