Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Let yourself cross the bridges that you build

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Last weekend, Pope Francis spent a day in Sarajevo, where he met with secular authorities, youth and representatives of different religions and where he powerfully spoke out against war and called for all to become “artisans of peace.” In this post I would just like to share what to me where the highlights of that day.

Right at the start of the day, when addressing the authorities, Francis called for an opposition to those who promote violence and for a uniting of “different voices”:
“In order to successfully oppose the barbarity of those who would make of every difference the occasion and pretext for further unspeakable violence, we need to recognize the fundamental values of human communities, values in the name of which we can and must cooperate, build and dialogue, pardon and grow; this will allow different voices to unite in creating a melody of sublime nobility and beauty, instead of the fanatical cries of hatred.”
Next, during mass at Sarajevo’s Koševo Stadium he spoke about how one works for peace in practice:
“So how does one do this, how do we build peace? The prophet Isaiah reminds us succinctly: “The effect of righteousness will be peace” (32:17). Opus justitiae pax (“the work of justice is peace”), from the Vulgate version of Scripture, has become a famous motto, even adopted prophetically by Pope Pius XII. Peace is a work of justice. Here too: not a justice proclaimed, imagined, planned... but rather a justice put into practice, lived out. The Gospel teaches us that the ultimate fulfilment of justice is love: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22:39; Rm 13:9). When, by the grace of God, we truly follow this commandment, how things change! Because we ourselves change! Those whom I looked upon as my enemy really have the same face as I do, the same heart, the same soul. We have the same Father in heaven. True justice, then, is doing to others what I would want them to do to me, to my people (cf. Mt 7:12).

Saint Paul, in the second reading, shows us the attitude needed to make peace: “Put on then... compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:12-13).”
Following the mass, and after hearing the testimonies of priests and religious who were tortured during the Bosnian war, Pope Francis spoke off-the-cuff instead of following his prepared text:
“Another thing that struck me in their talks was mention of the one hundred and twenty days spent in the concentration camp. How many times the spirit of the world makes us forget our ancestors, the sufferings of our forebears! Those days are counted, not in days, but by the minute, because every minute, every hour is torture. To live together like this, dirty, with no food or water, in the heat and cold – and for a long time! And we, who complain when we have a toothache, or who want to have a television in our comfortable rooms, or who whisper behind the back of our Superior when the meals are not so good… Do not forget, I beg of you, the witness of your ancestors. Think of how much these persons have suffered; think of the six litres of blood that this priest had to receive – he, the first one who spoke – in order to survive. Conform your lives worthily to the Cross of Christ.

Worldly sisters, priests, bishops, and seminarians are a caricature, and are of no use to the Church. They do not remember the martyrs. They have lost the memory of Jesus Christ crucified, our only glory.

Another thing that comes to mind is the story of the soldier who gave a pear to the Sister; and that Muslim woman who now lives in America, who brought something to eat… We are all brothers and sisters. Even the cruel man has thought… well, I don’t know what he thought, but he felt the Holy Spirit in his heart and perhaps he thought of his mother and said, “Have this pear and say nothing to anyone”. And the Muslim woman who reached out beyond her own religious tradition: she loved. She believed in God and she did good.

Look for the good of everyone. Each person has potential, the seed of goodness. We are all children of God.”
From the meeting with representatives of different religions and Christian denominations, where Pope Francis agains spoke about dialogue and peace, what struck me was the prayer he said there together by Muslim, Jewish and Christian faithful:
“Almighty and eternal God,
good and merciful Father;
Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is visible and invisible;
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,
King and Lord of the past, of the present and of the future;
sole judge of every man and woman,
who reward your faithful with eternal glory!
We, the descendants of Abraham according to our faith in you, the one God,
Jews, Christians and Muslims,
humbly stand before you
and with trust we pray to you
for this country, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
that men and women, followers of different religions, nations and cultures
may live here in peace and harmony.
We pray to you, O Father,
that it may be so in every country of the world!
Strengthen in each of us faith and hope,
mutual respect and sincere love
for all of our brothers and sisters.
Grant that we may dedicate ourselves
courageously to building a just society,
to being men and women of good will,
filled with mutual understanding and forgiveness,
patient artisans of dialogue and peace.
May each of our thoughts, words and actions
be in harmony with your holy will.
May everything be to your glory and honour and for our salvation.
Praise and eternal glory to you, our God!
Amen.”
Next, Pope Francis met with young people, where he again put his prepared speech aside and answered their questions instead, where two fragments stood out for me:
“It is not a case of “them and us”, but rather of “we”. We want to be “us”, to not destroy our homeland, to not ruin our country. You are a Muslim, you are a Jew, you are Orthodox, you are Catholic… but we are “us”. This is how to make peace.

[...]

Everyone speaks of peace: some world leaders speak of peace, and say beautiful things about peace, but behind it all they still sell weapons. From you, I expect honesty, coherence between what you think, what you feel and what you do: these three things together. The contrary is called hypocrisy.

[...]

Be united, build bridges, but also let yourselves cross the bridges that you build. This is brotherhood.”
Finally, as is now customary with Pope Francis’ trips abroad, there was a press conference during the flight back. There, one of the journalists asked him to elaborate on what he meant by referring to world leaders who speak openly of peace while selling weapons, to which he replied:
“Sure: there’s always hypocrisy! Thus I said that it is not enough just to talk about peace, one must also work for peace! And the one who only talks about peace but doesn’t work for it is contradicts himself; and the one who speaks of peace while promoting war, for example, through the selling of weapon, is a hypocrite. It’s that simple…”
At the end of the press conference, a French journalist jumped in to ask the pope about whether he would come to France in spite of problems with the French government, which may have been a reference to the stand-off about the candidate they put forward as ambassador to the Vatican, who is gay. After reassuring the journalist that he would come to France, Pope Francis said what was my favorite line of the whole trip:
“As for problems: little problems are not problems!”