Memory, faith, merciful love. That is the recipe of Christian life according to Pope Francis. This morning, in Vartanants square, in Gyumri, he celebrated Votive Mass of the Holy Mercy of God, according to the Latin rite. On the stage, next to the Pontiff, there was also Catholicos Karekin II, who at the beginning of the celebration addressed a welcoming speech to the Holy Father. Quoting the prophet Isaiah (they will rebuild the ancient ruins, repair the ruined cities), Bergoglio noted that it is exactly in Armenia that “the words of the prophet were fulfilled. After the terrible devastation of the earthquake, we are here today to thank God for all the things that have been rebuilt.”
The Pope addressed the thousands of people crowded in the square, kissed by a hot summer sun, with the following question: “What does the Lord invite us to build today in our life, and above all: on what does he call us to build our lives?” To try answer this question, the Pope offers “three stable foundations on which we can build our Christian life over and over again, without getting tired.” First of all, it is memory. “A grace we have to ask is the ability to recover memory of what the Lord did in and for us”, that is to remember that “He has not forgotten us, but remembers us: He has chosen, loved, called and forgiven us. There were great events in our story marked by love with Him and we have to keep them alive in our heart and mind”. Then there is another memory to cherish, that of the people.
“The peoples have a memory, like people – the Pope went on to say -. And the memory of your people is ancient and valuable. The voices of the learned saints of the past echo in your voices; those who created your alphabet in order to proclaim the Word of God can be heard in your words; the groans and joys of your history blend in your song. You can certainly recognize the presence of God if you think about all these things: He has not left you alone. Even when you suffered terrible hardships, we could say with today’s Gospel, the Lord visited your people: you are reminded of your fidelity to the Gospel, of the first fruits of your faith, of all those people who have witnessed, even at the cost of blood, that God’s love is better than life. It is nice that you can remember with gratitude that Christian faith has become the breath of your people and the heart of its memory.”
Another pillar on which you should build your Christian life is faith, which is “also hope for your future, the light on the path of life.” But be careful, because there is always danger that can make your trust in God fade away: “the temptation to reduce it to something of the past, to something important, but belonging to a different era, as if faith was a beautiful book of miniatures to be preserved in a museum.” As mentioned before, if faith is “locked away in the archives of history, it loses its transformative power, its vibrant beauty, and its positive openness towards everyone.” On the contrary, it is “born again in the life-giving encounter with Jesus, in the experience of his mercy that gives light to every life situation”.
To feed it, you should renew your encounter with the Risen One every day and “open to His love in silent prayer.” In fact, “the encounter with Lord’s tenderness brings joy to your heart, joy that is greater than sadness, joy that resists even in front of pain, becoming peace.” All those things renew life, “make it free and docile to surprises, ready and available for the Lord and for the others. It can also happen that Jesus will call you to follow him more closely, to dedicate your life to Him and to the others.” With this invitation, he addresses especially to the young ones. “Do not be afraid, tell him Yes! – Bergoglio says -. He knows us and truly loves us, and wants to free our heart from the burdens of fear and pride.
The third foundation is “merciful love: this rock, the rock of love received from God and offered to your brother, is the base of the life of Jesus’ disciple.” Only through the experience charity, “the face of the Church rejuvenates and become attractive.” It is concrete love, “a Christian’s visit card: other ways of presentation can be misleading and even useless”. Each one of us is called “to build and rebuild the paths of communion, ceaselessly, build bridges of unity and overcome the barriers of separation.” Believers have to be the first ones to always give “the example, collaborating with each other in mutual respect and dialogue.” Citing St. John Paul II’s words, Bergoglio said: “The only possible rivalry among the Lord’s disciples is to see who can offer greater love!”
Returning to the passage from the prophet Isaiah, proclaimed in the first reading, Francis points out that “God dwells in the hearts of those who love, especially where people take care, with courage and compassion, of the weak and of the poor.” That is what we need today more than ever. The world needs “Christians who do not let themselves be discouraged by hardships and adversities, but are available and open, ready to serve. The world needs men of good will, who will help our brothers and sisters in difficulty not only on words, but with concrete actions. The world needs fairer societies, where everyone can lead a dignified life and where work is equitably remunerated”.
Therefore, one might wonder: “How can I become merciful, with all the faults and miseries everyone sees inside and around himself?” Francis’ answer inspires itself “to a great herald of divine mercy”. The Pope himself wanted to call attention to this saint, making him become Doctors of the universal Church: St. Gregory of Narek, “word and voice of Armenia”. No one like him has been able to “fathom the abysmal misery that can lurk in the human soul.” He has “always connected human misery and God’s mercy, elevating a heartfelt plea of tears and faith to Lord, in the certainty that the light of his mercy can never be outshined by the darkness of anger.” Gregory of Narek is “a master of life, because he teaches us that it is important to recognize, above all, that we are in need of mercy.”
With the words of this Armenian saint, the Pope concludes his homily, invoking divine mercy: “Holy Spirit, powerful protector, mediator and peacemaker, we address our prayers to you. Grant us the grace of encouraging works charity and good deeds. Spirit of gentleness, compassion, love for mankind and mercy, You who are nothing but mercy, have mercy on us, O Lord, according to thy great mercy.”
After Mass, the Pope thanked Catholicos Karekin II and Archbishop Minassian for their kind words. Then, he thanked all the participants who have come to Gyumri from different regions and from the neighboring Georgia. Then, he addressed his greetings to “those who, with so much generosity and concrete love, help those in need. I think, in particular, of the hospital in Ashotsk, opened five years ago and known as the ‘”the Pope’s Hospital”: born from the heart of St. John Paul II, it is still an extremely important presence close to those who suffer; I think of the works carried on by local Catholic communities, the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and by the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa of Calcutta”.
After Mass, the Holy Father got into his popemobile, which drove him around Vartanants Square, allowing him to greet the faithful. Then, he reached the Convent of “Our Lady of Armenia”, the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. After lunch, in private, the Pope will greet the religious women, the orphans the sisters take care of in the “Boghossian Educational Centre” near the convent and the students of the Professional School “Diramayr”, run by the Congregation.