Pope: Christian suffering in the Middle East at the centre of his visit to Bari
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The suffering of many Christians in the Middle East will be at the centre of the meeting Pope Francis will have next Saturday in Bari with many Eastern Christian Church leaders, Pope Francis himself said after the Angelus, when he invited the faithful to pray for the people of Syria and the youths missing in a cave in Thailand.
“Next Saturday,” said the pontiff, “I will go to Bari, together with many Heads of Churches and Christian communities of the Middle East. We will experience a day of prayer and reflection on the ever-dramatic situation of that region, where so many of our brothers and sisters in faith continue to suffer, and we will implore as one voice: ‘Peace be with you!’ (Ps 122: 8). I ask everyone to accompany this pilgrimage of peace and unity with their prayers.”
Speaking about the Middle East, Francis said that “the situation in Syria remains serious, especially in the province of Daraa, where military actions in recent days have hit schools and hospitals and have provoked thousands of new refugees. Together with my prayers, I renew my appeal so that the population, which has been so badly stricken for years, may be spared further suffering.”
The Pope also expressed his solidarity with Nicaragua and “the efforts made by the bishops and of the many people of goodwill who are acting as mediators and witnesses in an ongoing process of national dialogue on the road to democracy.”
Before the Marian prayer, Francis told the 20,000 people in St Peter’s Square that everyone is admitted on the path of the Lord, “no one should feel like an intruder, an illegal or someone not entitled.” This is the lesson the pontiff draws from the two miracles mentioned in today’s Gospel (Mk 5:21-43): that of Jairus’s daughter s and the hemorrhaging woman.
“First the Evangelist tells of a certain Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, who came to Jesus and begged him to go to his house because his twelve-year-old daughter was dying. Jesus accepted and went with him but, along the way, came the news that the girl had died. We can imagine that dad’s reaction, but Jesus told him: ‘Do not be afraid; just have faith’ (Mk5:36). Once at Jairus’s house, Jesus made the people who were weeping leave the house. There were also the professional mourners, who screamed loud. He went inside the room only with parents and three disciples, and addressing the deceased said: ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’ (Mk 5:41). Immediately the girl got up, as if waking up from deep slumber (Mk5:42).
Mark added another story to the story of this miracle. The healing of a woman who suffered from bleeding and was healed as soon as she touched Jesus’ mantle (Mk 5:27). What is striking here is the fact that woman’s faith attracts, one might almost say ‘steals’, the divine salvific power that exists in Christ, who, feeling that power going ‘out from him’, tried to understand who did it. And when the woman, feeling quite ashamed, came forward and confessed to everything, He told her: ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you’ (Mk 5:34).
These are two interlocking stories, with a single centre: faith. They show Jesus as the source of life, as the one who gives back life to those who fully trust him. The two protagonists, the father of the girl and the sick woman, are not disciples of Jesus and yet they are fulfilled for their faith. They have faith in that man. From this, we can realise that everyone is admitted to the path of the Lord: no one should feel like an intruder, an illegal or someone not entitled. To have access to his heart, to the heart of Jesus, there is only one requirement: to feel the need for healing and reliance on Him.”
As he often does, Francis asked those present if “everyone feels the need for healing” and “if they feel in need, they have faith in Jesus”.
“Jesus goes to discover these people in the crowd and takes them out of their anonymity, frees them from the fear of living and daring. He does it with a look and with a word that put them on the path after so much suffering and humiliation. We too are called to learn and imitate these words that free and those looks that give back, to those without it, the desire to live.
In this page taken from the Gospel, the themes of faith and new life that Jesus came to offer to all intertwine. Entering the house where the girl lies dead, He drives out those who are agitating and weeping (Mk 5:40) and said: ‘The child is not dead but asleep’ (Mk 5: 39). Jesus is the Lord, and to Him physical death is like sleep: there is no reason to despair. One must be afraid of another death: that of the heart hardened by evil! Indeed, we must be afraid of that, when the heart hardens, when our heart is ‘mummified’.”
“However, for Jesus, sin too is never the last word because He has brought us the infinite mercy of the Father. Even if we fall down, his soft yet strong voice reaches us: ‘I say to you, arise!’ The word Jesus addresses to each one of us this beautiful feeling: ‘Arise!’.”
“Let us ask the Virgin Mary to accompany our journey of faith and concrete love, especially for those in need. Let us invoke her maternal intercession for our brothers and sisters who suffer in body and spirit.”
Finally, the Holy Father mentioned “an initiative that can be defined historic – that can also be called good news. Recently, after twenty years, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea have begun to talk about peace again. May this meeting turn on the light of hope for these two countries in the Horn of Africa and the entire African continent.”