24 March 2013

"Let us protect Christ in our lives..."

Our General Minister, Br Mauro Jöhri, and most of the general councilors attended the Installation Mass of Pope Francis on Tuesday, 19 March 2013. Despite having spent a total of nearly seventeen years in Rome, I have never had this opportunity before since I was living in the United States when Pope Benedict XVI was installed. It was an experience I will not soon forget.

Pope Francis greets the pilgrims in St Peter Square
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Rome, seemingly tailor-made for the Mass in St Peter Square. A large number of pilgrims (between 100,000 and 300,000 depending on the source) from around the world were on hand to greet and pray with their Holy Father. Applause and cheers of "Viva il Papa!" erupted when he appeared in the open Popemobile. He rode through the entire square, as if he wished to greet each pilgrim personally, and he descended a few times to greet the disabled. The atmosphere was electric.

The Installation Mass coincided with the feast of St Joseph so the Pope took the occasion to wish his predecessor a happy feast day. The Pope's homily, delivered from the ambo, centered on the tenderness of St Joseph, who was the protector of Jesus and Mary. He called on all Christians to imitate the example of St Joseph: "Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!" He then added that being a protector means "protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us."

The Installation Mass is also a political event since it marks the inauguration of the head of the Holy See so there were many ambassadors and representatives of the nations on hand. Pope Francis also directed a message toward them: "let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!"

17 March 2013

First Angelus of Pope Francis

Several of the brothers attended the first Angelus blessing of Pope Francis this morning. Saint Peter Square, as you can well imagine, was packed. We arrived around 10:30 and the square was already half full. 
The Pope commented briefly on today's Gospel, reminding us that God's mercy is infinite. He spoke simply, but forcefully, and he even threw in a bit of spontaneous humor. When he quoted from a book of Cardinal Walter Kasper that he recently read, he added, "Don't think that I'm just trying to give free advertising to my Cardinals!" He also recounted a conversation with an eighty year-old lady in Argentina about sin and forgiveness, which ended with him asking her whether she had by any chance attended the Gregorian University in Rome.

Here is a clip of the end of his appearance (apologies for the poor quality), with an English transcription below:

I chose the patron saint of Italy, Saint Francis of Assisi, for my name. This reinforces my spiritual ties with this country which, as you know, is where my family has its origins. Jesus, however, calls us to belong to a new family - his Church - and to walk together with this family of God in the way of the Gospel. May the Lord bless you and may the Blessed Mother protect you. Never forget: the Lord never tires of forgiving us; it is us who tire of asking for forgiveness.
Have a good Sunday, and a good lunch.

02 March 2013


I am not sure if this is true of other cultures, but Americans are fond of saying how precious freedom is and that they would willingly fight to preserve it.

Listening to the parable of the Prodigal Son in today's Gospel, I reflected on how ready we are, on the other hand, to sell ourselves into slavery—and here I am not talking only about Americans, but about humans in general. The prodigal son was prepared to become his father's slave just so he could get enough to eat. It wasn't difficult for him to make that decision because he was already a slave to the man whose pigs he was forced to feed. Even before that, however, he had willingly become a slave to his own passions. Like so many people, he probably thought that he could break free whenever he wanted, but he discovered that once you surrender your freedom, it is not an easy matter to get it back. In fact, the young man in the story was only freed by the generous, unconditional love of his father.

Our work among the poor and outcast puts us into contact with people who are similarly enslaved to vices and passions. Those who work most closely with these people talk about how difficult it is for them to become free again, even with the assistance provided by us and many others.

As much as we value our freedom, we must also recognize in ourselves a willingness to become enslaved—whether to avarice, lust, self-esteem or a host of other attractions. The tragedy of the prodigal son was that he gave up his freedom for ephemeral pleasures. The beauty of our Christian faith and our Franciscan vocation is that by giving up everything, we win that most precious gift of all, the freedom of a son of God.