Pope Francis has urged Church leaders in Mozambique to avoid being part of conflicts and divisions, but to go out of their way to visit others and to encourage dialogue and solutions.
“The Church in Mozambique is invited to be the Church of the Visitation,” the Pope told Mozambican bishops, priests, seminarians, religious men and women, consecrated, and catechists in Maputo on September 5.
The Church in Mozambique, he continued, “cannot be part of the problem of rivalry, disrespect and division that pits some against others, but instead a door to solutions, a space where respect, interchange and dialogue are possible.”
“You, at least the older ones among you, witnessed how division and conflict ended in war. You must always be ready to ‘visit’ to shorten distances,” like Mary did at the visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, he said.
The meeting took place in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the afternoon of the first full day of Pope Francis’ visit to three African countries September 4-10.
Before the meeting at the cathedral, he met privately with a group of people from the port city of Xai-Xai, which is about 139 miles north of Maputo.
In February 2000 the city, which sits on the Limpopo river, was hit by flooding and submerged in nearly 10 feet of water and mud.
Francis told the roughly 2,500 people present, all active in the Church’s ministry, that they “are called to face reality as it is.”
“Times change and we need to realize that often we do not know how to find our place in new scenarios,” he noted, advising people to look to Mary’s ‘yes’ at the Annunciation as an example of what to do.
“The announcement of the incarnation is made in Galilee, in a remote and conflict-ridden region and a little town – Nazareth,” he said.
“It takes place in a house, not a synagogue or a religious place, and is made to a layperson and a woman. What has changed? Everything. And in this change, we find our deepest identity.”
The pope addressed the crisis of priestly identity, noting that what he would say is also applicable to bishops, seminarians, and consecrated men and women.
He said sometimes, without necessarily meaning to, priests can start identifying with their daily activity as priests, with certain activities, meetings, rituals, and with certain important and solemn places.
Instead, he said, the image of Mary, “that simple young woman in her home, as opposed to all the activities of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, can be a mirror in which we see the complications and concerns that dim and dissipate the generosity of our ‘yes.’”
“Renewing our call has to do with choosing to say yes and to let our weariness come from things that bear fruit in God’s eyes, things that make present and incarnate his son Jesus.”
“The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock,” Francis said.
He drew a contrast between Mary and Zechariah, who, when he was told his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, “could not overcome his desire to control everything.” Instead Mary, “surrendered herself; she trusted.”
The weariness of a priest should not be from expending energy measuring one’s work against one’s “due” from God, he argued, but should be related to the “ability to show compassion.”
“We are to rejoice with couples who marry; we are to laugh with the children brought to the baptismal font; we are to accompany young fiancés and families; we are to suffer with those who receive the anointing of the sick in their hospital beds; we are to mourn with those burying a loved one,” he urged.
“Take this, eat this…” he said. “These are the words the priest of Jesus whispers repeatedly while caring for his faithful people: Take this, eat this; take this, drink this… In this way our priestly life is given over in service, in closeness to the People of God… and this always leaves us weary.”
The pope said he hopes young people will find in their priests an example of how to follow Jesus “radiant with the joy of a daily commitment, not imposed but fostered and chosen in silence and prayer.”
He also encouraged Mozambican women to live out their baptismal call to evangelize.
Pope Francis quoted a catechist, who had spoken earlier in the meeting and said: “‘We are a Church that is part of a heroic people’ that has experienced suffering yet keeps hope alive.”
“With this holy pride that you take in your people, a pride that invites a renewal of faith and hope, all of us want to renew our ‘yes,’” he said. “How happy is Holy Mother Church to hear you manifest your love for the Lord and for the mission that he has given you!”
At the end of the meeting, Pope Francis said a prayer for vocations and led the Our Father before giving his apostolic blessing.
His next stop will be to make a private visit to the Matthew 25 House, a charity run by the local Catholic church with the apostolic nunciature and about 20 religious congregations. It provides warm food and hygienic and health services to street children and youth.