Encouraging Burma's minority Catholic community on Wednesday, Pope Francis preached the forgiveness and compassion of Christ in the face of violence and injury.
“I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible. The temptation is to respond to these injuries with a worldly wisdom that … is deeply flawed. We think that healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus,” the Pope said during his homily at Mass Nov. 29.
Christ “responded with forgiveness and compassion” when “hatred and rejection led him to his passion and death,” Francis reflected during the Mass, said at the Kyaikkasan Ground in Yangon, the largest city of Burma (also known as Myanmar).
“By the gift of his Spirit, Jesus enables us each to be signs of his wisdom, which triumphs over the wisdom of this world, and his mercy, which soothes even the most painful of injuries,” the Pope added.
Francis arrived in Burma Nov. 27, and has already met with military and government officials and with religious leaders. He will remain in the country until midday Nov. 30, when he will travel to neighboring Bangladesh.
Burma was ruled by a military junta for 50 years, and has only recently begun a transition toward democracy. International attention has focused recently on the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority who have been denied citizenship and general persecution. In recent months, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled the country for Bangladesh amid state-sponsored violence against them.
The country's Christian minority (about one percent of the population) has also faced persecution from the government and the Buddhist majority. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom reported last year that Burmese Christians face discrimination, forced conversions, violence, and the desecration of churches.
Pope Francis' words to the country's Catholics have, therefore, a certain poignancy to them.
“Many of you have come from far and remote mountainous areas, some even on foot. I have come as a fellow pilgrim to listen and to learn from you, as well as to offer you some words of hope and consolation,” he told them.
Christ is “the ultimate interpreter of God’s mysteries,” he said. “Jesus did not teach us his wisdom by long speeches or by grand demonstrations of political or earthly power but by giving his life on the cross.”
“Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing in our own wisdom, but the truth is we can easily lose our sense of direction. At those times we need to remember that we have a sure compass before us, in the crucified Lord. In the cross, we find the wisdom that can guide our life with the light that comes from God.”
The cross is also a source of healing, Pope Francis taught, exhorting them: “May we always have the wisdom to find in the wounds of Christ the source of all healing!”
Turning to the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, Pope Francis said that in the Eucharist we “learn how to rest in his wounds, and there to be cleansed of all our sins and foolish ways. By taking refuge in Christ’s wounds, dear brothers and sisters, may you know the healing balm of the Father’s mercy and find the strength to bring it to others, to anoint every hurt and every painful memory.”
“In this way, you will be faithful witnesses of the reconciliation and peace that God wants to reign in every human heart and in every community.”
He noted with appreciation that the Church in Burma is already working “to bring the healing balm of God’s mercy to others, especially those most in need. There are clear signs that even with very limited means, many communities are proclaiming the Gospel to other tribal minorities, never forcing or coercing but always inviting and welcoming.”
The Pope commended the local Churches for offering “practical assistance and solidarity to the poor and suffering … regardless of religion or ethnic background.”
“I can see that the Church here is alive, that Christ is alive and here with you and with your brothers and sisters of other Christian communities. I encourage you to keep sharing with others the priceless wisdom that you have received, the love of God welling up in the heart of Jesus.”
Christ “will surely crown your efforts to sow seeds of healing and reconciliation in your families, communities and the wider society of this nation,” he said. “His message of forgiveness and mercy uses a logic that not all will want to understand, and which will encounter obstacles. Yet his love, revealed on the cross, is ultimately unstoppable.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily by invoking Mary, Mother of God, recalling that “she accompanies us at every step of our earthly journey. May she obtain for us the grace always be to messengers of true wisdom, heartfelt mercy to those in need, and the joy that comes from resting in the wounds of Jesus, who loved us to the end.”
“May God bless all of you! May God bless the Church in Myanmar! May he bless this land with his peace! God bless Myanmar!”