In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis urged Catholics to dispel the darkness lurking in society, and said the Church cannot abandon her mission of evangelization and service.
Pope Francis reflected in the Angelus on Jesus’ call in the day’s Gospel (Mt 5:13-16) for His disciples to be salt and light.
Jesus’ use of symbolic language, said the Pope, lays out criteria for how the Lord’s disciples are to live their mission in the world.
Salt: resisting sin and moral degradation
Beginning with the metaphor of salt, he said it gives flavor and preserves food from spoiling.
So, said the Pope, “the disciple is therefore called to keep society away from the dangers and corrosive elements that pollute people’s lives.”
Christians do this by resisting sin and moral degradation, as well as by bearing witness to honesty and solidarity. He also warned of several temptations to be on guard against, including careerism, power, and wealth.
Even when we fall, said Pope Francis, being salt means starting afresh every day “with courage and patience”, seeking “dialogue and encounter with others.”
Being salt also means not seeking approval or praise, but being faithful to Jesus’ teaching to serve our brothers and sisters in humility.
“This attitude is greatly needed!” the Pope exclaimed.
Light: performing good deeds to bring others to Christ
Turning to the second image, Pope Francis said light “dispels darkness and allows us to see.”
Jesus, he said, has already dispelled the darkness of sin, though some shadows “still remain in the world and within individuals.”
“It is the Christian’s task to dispel it further by making Christ’s light shine among others and by proclaiming His Gospel,” he said.
We can emanate the Lord’s light through our words, but especially through our good deeds, directing others “to God so they can experience His goodness and mercy.”
“A disciple of Jesus is light when he or she knows how to live their faith outside narrow spaces, helping to eliminate prejudices, slander, and bringing the light of truth into situations tainted by hypocrisy and lies.”
Church: overcoming oppression to evangelize and serve
Pope Francis said Jesus is urging us to live our faith in the world, despite the headwinds of conflict and sin.
The Church, he said, must overcome violence, injustice, and oppression, and “cannot abandon her mission of evangelization and service.”
“The Church gives herself with generosity and tenderness on behalf of the least and the poor. She listens to the cry of those in last place and the excluded, because she is aware that she is a pilgrim community called to extend throughout history the saving presence of Jesus Christ.”
Before beginning the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis concluded his remarks asking that the Blessed Virgin “help us to be salt and light in the world, bringing to everyone – in life and word – the Good News of God’s love.”
Healthy use of technology to prevent human trafficking
Also at the Angelus, following the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, Pope Francis said people must be educated about the healthy use of technology, with studies showing that criminal organizations increasingly use the internet to lure victims.
The Pope spoke both about providing healing for those who have already fallen victim to modern-day slavery, and about the need for prevention.
“To heal this scourge – because it is truly a scourge – which exploits the weakest, the commitment of all is needed: institutions, associations, as well as educational agencies,” he said.
The Pope himself kicked off one such institutional effort on Saturday: a fundraising initiative called “Super Nuns”.
He was the first to sign up on the Patreon platform to support the Talitha Kum network of religious sisters who dedicate their lives to the rescue and rehabilitation of human trafficking survivors.
In his appeal on Sunday, Pope Francis also said education is key to preventing people from falling into human trafficking in the first place.
“I would like to recall that various studies have shown that criminal organizations are increasingly using modern means of communication to lure victims through deception,” he said.
So, he added, the Church needs to educate people “about the healthy use of technology”, while at the same time “reminding the providers of online services about their responsibilities.”
“Heartfelt” plea for Syria
Lastly, after his recitation of the Angelus today Pope Francis launched a renewed appeal for the international community to protect the many people suffering in northwestern Syria, where a government offensive has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
“Painful reports are still emerging from northwestern Syria, particularly regarding the plight of so many women and children, as well as of people forced to flee because of a military escalation.”
He also appealed to the international community and to all parties involved to “make use of diplomatic channels, dialogue, and negotiation” to end the conflict and “to safeguard the lives and welfare of civilians.”
The Pope then invited everyone to pray for “beloved and martyred Syria”.
Thousands forced to flee
Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, are pressing an offensive to retake Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold in the country.
More than half a million people have been displaced from the area since early December 2019.
Some 90,000 civilians have fled their homes in Idlib province in the last 4 days alone, most of whom are making their way toward the Turkish border.
Letter to Syria’s president
The Pope’s latest appeal follows a slew of other initiatives he has launched since Syria’s civil war broke out in March 2011.
Most recently, he wrote a letter to President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, which was hand-delivered by Cardinal Peter Turkson in late June 2019.
In it, the Pope called for the protection of civilian life, an end to the humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib province, concrete initiatives for a safe return of displaced persons, the release of detainees and access for families to information regarding their loved ones, and humane conditions for political prisoners.
He also asked the Syrian president to restart peace talks and to dialogue with rebel leaders.
The 2019 letter was preceded by a similar one sent in 2016, in which the Pope called for “a peaceful solution to the hostilities.”
Pope Francis had sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013, lamenting “one-sided interests” that hinder a solution to the “senseless massacre”.
He has brought up the Syrian civil war constantly in various Angelus addresses and messages.
A mere 18 days after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis implored peace for Syria in his first Easter Urbi et Orbi message.
“How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?” he asked.
Assisting Syrian refugees
During a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016 with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, Pope Francis reminded Syrian refugees there that “you are not alone.”
At the end of the visit, he brought three Syrian families back to Rome with him aboard the papal plane. They were later resettled in Italy.
(Source: Devin Watkins, Vatican News)