Vatican City, Nov 4, 2016 / 06:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Reflecting on the faithful work of the bishops and cardinals who have died in the past 12 months, Pope Francis said Friday that death does not separate us, but in fact unites us more closely in the Body of Christ.
“In the light of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, their death is, in fact, the entry into the fullness of life. In this light of faith, we feel even closer to our deceased brothers: death has apparently separated us, but the power of Christ and his Spirit unites us in an even deeper manner,” he said.
Pope Francis offered Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 4 for the souls of the 126 cardinals and bishops who passed away in 2016. In his homily, he spoke about the passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans which asks, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” The bishops and cardinals “knew that our earthly pilgrimage ends at the house of the heavenly Father, and only there is the finish line, rest and peace,” he said. “At the house we are lead to the Lord Jesus, our way, truth and life.”
The beginning of our journey to the Father’s house begins at our baptism, Francis said. For priests and bishops, another important step in this journey takes place during their priestly ordination, when they pronounce the words, “Here I am!” “From that time we are united to Christ in a special way, associated with his ministerial priesthood,” the Pope said, adding that “in the hour of death, we pronounce the final ‘here I am,’ united with that of Jesus, who died entrusting his spirit into the Father's hands.”
There were five cardinals who died this year: Cardinal Georges-Marie-Martin Cotter, Emeritus of the Prefecture of the Papal Household; Cardinal Giovanni Coppa, Nuncio Emeritus to the Czech Republic; Cardinal Loris Francesco Capovilla, Archbishop-Prelate Emeritus of Loreto and longtime secretary to St. John XXIII; Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli, Archbishop Emeritus of Florence; and Cardinal Granciszek Macharski, Archbishop Emeritus of Krakow.
Among those who died were also Archbishop Francis Thomas Hurley, Archbishop Emeritus of Anchorage; Archbishop Henry Sebastian D'Souza, Archbishop Emeritus of Kolkata; and Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop Emeritus of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.
“The cardinals and bishops who today we remember in prayer for their entire life, especially after having been consecrated to God, were dedicated to testify and give to others the love of Jesus,” the Pope said. “By word and example, they urged the faithful to do the same.” In imitation of Christ and as shepherds of his flock, they sacrificed for the salvation of those entrusted to them, he said. “They sanctified through the sacraments and guided people on the way of salvation; full of the Holy Spirit’s power they proclaimed the Gospel; with fatherly love they have striven to love everyone, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those in need of help.”
Pope Francis recalled how some of those being remembered were called to undergo heavy trials, thus bearing witness to the Gospel in a heroic manner. Therefore, in this Mass, he said, we praise God for all the good that he has done through these men both “for us and for his Church.”
“In the name of the God of mercy and forgiveness, their hands have blessed and absolved, their words have comforted and dried tears, their presence testified eloquently that the goodness of God is inexhaustible and his mercy is infinite,” he said. “We will continue to feel them next to us in the communion of saints. Fed the Bread of Life, we too, together with those who have gone before us, await with firm hope the day we will meet, face-to-face, with the bright and merciful face of the Father.”