To Reestablish Full Communion
The Pope announces his message to the Catholics of China
Pope Francis dedicated his reflection at the General Audience in Saint Peter’s Square on Wednesday, 26 September , to his recent journey to the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Afterwards, he announced the publication of his Message to the Catholics of China and to the universal Church, written in the wake of the signing of the Provisional Agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Holy See, and expressed his hope that this “new phase’’ may “heal the wounds of the past, to reestablish and maintain the full communion of all Chinese Catholics”. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s reflection and appeal, which he gave in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In recent days I made an Apostolic Journey to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on the occasion of the centenary of Independence of these States known as the Baltics: 100 years, half of which was lived under the yoke of occupation, first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets. They are people who have suffered greatly and for this reason, the Lord has looked upon them with predilection. I am certain of this. I thank the Presidents of the three Republics and the civil Authorities for the welcome I was shown. I thank the Bishops and all those who cooperated in preparing and making this ecclesial event possible.
My visit took place within a context that had changed a great deal with respect to that which Saint John Paul II had encountered. Therefore my mission was to announce anew to these people the joy of the Gospel and the revolution of tenderness, of mercy, because freedom is not enough to give meaning and fullness to life without love, love that always comes from God. The Gospel, which, in a time of trial gives strength and purpose to the fight for freedom, in the time of freedom is a beacon for the daily journey of people, of families, of societies, and is the salt that gives flavour to ordinary life and preserves it from the corruption of mediocrity and selfishness.
Catholics are the majority in Lithuania; while in Latvia and in Estonia there are more Lutherans and Orthodox, although many have distanced themselves from religious life. Thus, the challenge is to strengthen the communion among all Christians, already developed during the period of persecution. Indeed, the ecumenical dimension was an inherent part of this journey and it found expression in the moment of prayer in the Cathedral of Riga and in the encounter with young people in Tallinn.
In addressing the respective Authorities of the three countries, I highlighted the contribution that they have made to the community of nations and especially to Europe; contributions of human and social values that endured the crucible of trial. I encouraged dialogue between the elderly and young generations so that contact with one’s ‘roots’ may continue to enrich the present and the future. I exhorted them to always unite freedom with solidarity and welcome, according to the traditions of those lands.
Two specific encounters were dedicated to young people and to the elderly: with the youth in Vilnius and with the elderly in Riga. In the square filled with young people in Vilnius, the motto of the visit to Lithuania, “Jesus Christ our hope”, was palpable. The testimonies manifested the beauty of prayer and hymns in which the soul opens up to God; the joy of serving others, emerging from the enclosures of the ‘I’ in order to set out on the journey, able to pick oneself up again after falling. With the elderly in Latvia, I highlighted the close relationship between patience and hope. Those who have experienced difficult trials are the roots of a people, to be safeguarded with the grace of God so that the new sprouts may draw from them and blossom and bear fruit. The challenge for those who are aging is not to become hardened within, but to remain open and tender of mind and heart. And this is possible with the ‘life blood’ of the Holy Spirit, in prayer and in listening to the Word.
Also with the priests, consecrated people and seminarians whom I met in Lithuania, the dimension of steadfastness seemed essential for hope: to be centred in God, firmly rooted in his love. So many priests, elderly men and women religious, have offered and continue to offer great witness to this! They have suffered slander, imprisonment, deportations ... but they remain steadfast in their faith. I exhorted them not to forget, to safeguard the memory of the martyrs, in order to follow their example.
And regarding memory, in Vilnius I paid homage to the victims of the genocide of Jews in Lithuania, exactly 75 years after the closure of the great Ghetto which was the antechamber of death for tens of thousands of Jews. At the same time, I visited the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights. I paused in prayer in the very rooms where opponents of the regime were imprisoned, tortured and killed. They killed some 40 of them each night. It is distressing to see how far human cruelty can go. Let us consider this.
The years pass, regimes pass, but above the Gates of Dawn in Vilnius, Mary, Mother of Mercy, continues to watch over her people as a sign of sure hope and solace (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 68).
Concrete charity is always a living sign of the Gospel. Even where secularization is strongest, God speaks with the language of love, of care, of service freely given to those in need. And it is then that hearts open and miracles happen: new life springs from the deserts.
In the three Eucharistic celebrations — in Kaunas, Lithuania, in Aglona, Latvia, and in Tallinn, Estonia — the holy faithful People of God journeying in those lands renewed their “yes” to Christ our hope; they renewed it to Mary who always reveals herself as Mother to her children, especially those who suffer most; they renewed it as chosen people, priestly and holy, in whose heart God reawakens the grace of Baptism.
Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Thank you!
Dear brothers and sisters, last Saturday, 22 September, a Provisional Agreement was signed between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of Bishops in China. The Agreement is the result of a lengthy and thoughtful journey of dialogue, intended to foster a more positive cooperation between the Holy See and the Chinese Authorities for the good of the Catholic community in China and for the harmony of the whole society.
In this spirit I decided to address to the Catholics of China and to the entire universal Church a Message of fraternal encouragement which will be published today. With this, I hope that a new phase may begin in China, which may help to heal the wounds of the past, to reestablish and maintain the full communion of all Chinese Catholics and to assume with renewed commitment the proclamation of the Gospel.
Dear brothers and sisters, we have an important task! We are called to accompany our brothers and sisters in China with fervent prayer and fraternal friendship. They know they are not alone. The entire Church prays with them and for them. Let us ask Our Lady, Mother of Hope and Help of Christians, to bless and keep all the Catholics in China as we invoke God for the gift of prosperity and peace for the entire Chinese people.
Weekly Edition in English
28 September 2018, page 16
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