Christ gave sight to a blind beggar whom others ignored. For Pope Francis, this bears an important lesson for Christians today. “We are witnesses not of an ideology, of a recipe, of a particular theology. We are witnesses to the healing and merciful love of Jesus,” the Pope said July 9 at a gathering with priests, religious, and seminarians at the Coliseo Don Bosco in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia's largest city. “One day Jesus saw us on the side of the road, wallowing in our own pain and misery. He did not close his ear to our cries. He stopped, drew near and asked what he could do for us. And thanks to many witnesses, who told us, ‘Take heart; get up,’ gradually we experienced this merciful love, this transforming love, which enabled us to see the light.” Pope Francis was first greeted by Bishop Roberto Bori, auxiliary of the Vicariate Apostolic of Beni, who said: “We are impassioned by the religious and social problems of our country. We have an urgent need for a more intense and extensive evangelization, so that our people know how to face the avalanche of secularism and materialism, with all their nefarious consequences in the spheres of personal, family, and social life.” Bishop Bori gave a litany of the concerms facing Bolivian religious, including immorality, corruption, drug trafficking, alcoholism, family breakdown, social insecurity, political and ideological clashes, injustice, and poverty. “Yet,” the bishop said, “all this does not dishearten us, for we are accompanied by the Lord and his grace, and by a message of great value, which is the Gospel of joy, and the joy of the Gospel. We know that good is more attractive and contagious than evil, because it produces true life, rich in beauty, love, and virtue, which all men are able to appreciate.” Pope Francis then listened to the testimonies of Fr. Crispin Borda Gomez, a priest of the Cochabamba archdiocese, and rector of the San Luis major seminary; Sr. Gabriela Cuellar Duran, a religious; and Damian Oyola Ramos, a seminarian. Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel of Mark’s account of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who “became a disciple at the last minute.” The man was “pushed aside” from the center of the crowd during Christ's final journey to Jerusalem from Jericho — “more exclusion was impossible” — yet he cried out amid the large crowd when he heard Christ was passing by. Some in the crowd told Bartimaeus to be quiet. Christ, however, told his followers to call to the beggar. He asked what he could do for him. When the blind man told him “Master, I want to see,” Christ gave him sight. The Pope suggested that St. Mark wanted to show the reaction of Christ's followers when faced with Bartimaeus’ suffering. He reflected that some of Christ's followers passed by the beggar. This is “the response of indifference, of avoiding other people’s problems because they do not affect us.” “We do not hear them, we do not recognize them,” the Roman Pontiff lamented. “Here we have the temptation to see suffering as something natural, to take injustice for granted.” For Pope Francis, this is a response “born of a blind, closed heart, a heart which has lost the ability to be touched and hence the possibility to change. A heart used to passing by without letting itself be touched; a life which passes from one thing to the next, without ever sinking roots in the lives of the people around us.” He cautioned that such a response had happened to the first Pope, St. Peter, “who denied the Lord, and whose wonder failed.” “To pass by, without hearing the pain of our people, without sinking roots in their lives and in their world, is like listening to the word of God without letting it take root and bear fruit in our hearts,” he continued. Pope Francis then reflected on Christ's followers who told the beggar to be quiet. They reacted to Bartimaeus “simply by scolding.” “This is the drama of the isolated consciousness, of those who think that the life of Jesus is only for those who deserve it,” he said. “They seem to believe there is only room for the 'worthy', for the 'better people', and little by little they separate themselves from the others. They have made their identity a badge of superiority.” Pope Francis reflected that someone like this is “no longer a pastor — they're bosses,” adding that “they hear, but they do not attend” to what their people are saying. Someone with this attitude is cut off from the tears of others, but “most of all, from their reasons for rejoicing.” “Laughing with those who laugh, weeping with those who weep; all this is part of the mystery of a priestly heart,” he said. “Ask for the grace of memory,” he exhorted, hearkening to the message he spoke to Ecuadorian religious the day before. “Don't deny the culture you learned from your peoeple. Don't feel that now you have a far more sophisticated culture. There are priests who are ashamed of speaking their mother tongue, and so they forget the Quechua, the Aymara, the Guarani … but if you lose the memory, you lose the grace that came with it.” The Pope finally focused on the fact that Christ stopped when Bartimaeus cried out to him. “Jesus singled him out from the nameless crowd and got involved in his life,” the Pope said. Christ sought to come into the beggar’s life and gradually restored his dignity. “Far from looking down on him, Jesus was moved to identify with the man’s problems and thus to show the transforming power of mercy.” This “logic of love” is not grounded in fear, he said. Rather, it is grounded in “the freedom born of love and of desire to put the good of others before all else.” This logic often means “no more than standing at their side and praying with them.” Pope Francis reflected that some of Christ's disciples told the blind beggar: “take heart and get up.” He encouraged Christians to follow this example. “Not so that we can be special, not so that we can be better than other, not so that we can be God’s functionaries, but only because we are grateful witnesses to the mercy which changed us.” He closed his remarks by asking those gathered to remember Blessed Nazaria Ignacia de Santa Teresa de Jes√∫s, who cared for the aged and the hungry and founded a woman’s trade union while also running homes for orphaned children and hospitals for wounded soldiers. The Pope also mentioned Venerable Virginia Blanco Tardío, an evangelizer who cared for the poor and sick. “May we press forward with the help and cooperation of all,” he concluded. “For the Lord wants to use us to make his light reach to every corner of our world.”
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