As can be seen throughout history, the life of a Christian cannot escape the sacrifices and sorrows of the cross, Pope Francis said Sunday at Mass in Lithuania.
“The Christian life always involves experiences of the cross; at times they can seem interminable.”
“Earlier generations still bear the scars of the period of the [Soviet] occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors,” he said Sept. 23.
Pope Francis spoke about the cross at Mass during his second day of a four-day visit to the Baltic states. The Mass was celebrated for around 100,000 people in Kaunas, Lithuania. He will also visit Estonia and Latvia.
The disciples in the day’s Gospel, he said, did not want Jesus to speak about sorrows and the cross, “they wanted nothing to do with trials and hardships,” but wanted to discuss who was the greatest among them.
The thirst for power and glory is a sign that someone has failed to heal from the memories of the past, and perhaps to take “an active part in the tasks of the present,” he continued. “For there is nothing truly human that does not find an echo in the heart of Christ’s disciples.”
Because when a community feels “true and profound solidarity with all humanity,” he said, “and its history,” they want to spend their lives in joyful service, making known their hope in Jesus Christ.
“That is why we are here today. We want to welcome Jesus, in his word, in the Eucharist, in his little ones,” Francis said. “To welcome him so that he can heal our memory and accompany us in this present time that presents us with exciting challenges and signposts, so that we can follow him as his disciples.
The Mass was followed by the midday Angelus prayer. Both fell on the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto during the Holocaust. During the three-year German occupation, more than 95 percent of Lithuania’s Jewish population were killed.
“Let us think back on those times, and ask the Lord to give us the gift of discernment to detect in time any [reoccurrence] of that pernicious attitude, any whiff” of anti-Semitism, he said.
In the day’s Gospel, Jesus warns against the temptation to have power and to dominate others, a temptation, which he said, “can dwell in every human heart.” How often, he asked, has a group of people considered themselves superior to others, with greater rights and privileges?
“What is the antidote that Jesus proposes when this impulse appears in our heart or in the heart of any society or country?” he said. “To be the last of all and the servant of all; to go to the place where no one else wants to go, where no one travels, the furthest peripheries; to serve and come to know the lowly and the rejected.”
He referenced the Hill of Crosses, a pilgrimage site in northern Lithuania, “where thousands of people, over the centuries, have planted the sign of the cross,” and asked those present to pray during the Angelus that the Blessed Virgin Mary would “help us all to plant our own cross, the cross of our service and commitment to the needs of others.”
“As we remember the ‘yes’ spoken by Mary, let us ask her to make our ‘yes’ as generous and fruitful as hers,” he concluded.