VATICAN CITY — While hope can often be viewed as the desire for things out of our reach, Pope Francis has said that the birth of Jesus offers us a new kind hope — one which, thanks to the Incarnation, is attainable and leads to a different goal.
“When we speak of hope, we often refer to that which man is not able to do and that which is not visible. In effect, what we hope for goes beyond our strength and gaze,” the Pope said Dec. 21.
However, the birth of Christ “speaks of a different hope, a trustworthy, visible and understandable hope, because it is founded on God.”
In becoming man, Jesus enters the world and gives humanity the strength to walk with him and to live the present moment “in a new way,” even if it’s sometimes tiring, he said.
For a Christian, then, hope means the certainty “of being on a journey with Christ toward the Father who awaits us,” Francis said, adding that this hope “offers a goal, a good destiny in the present, the salvation of humanity, the beatitude of those who entrust themselves to the merciful God.”
“Hope never stops; it’s always on a journey, and it makes us walk forward,” he added.
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall during his last general audience before Christmas, continuing his new catechesis on Christian hope.
Through Christ’s birth, “hope entered the world,” he said, explaining that the true meaning of Christmas is found in the act of God fulfilling his promise of salvation in becoming man. God “doesn’t abandon his people,” but “draws near.”
“In this way, God demonstrates his fidelity and inaugurates a new kingdom, which gives a new hope to humanity: eternal life,” the Pope said, asking pilgrims whether they walk along the path of hope, or if, instead they close their hearts and cease to move forward.
As the season of Advent comes to an end, reflecting on the Nativity scene is a key way to contemplate this hope, he said, because in its simplicity, “the Nativity transmits hope; each one of the figures is immersed in this atmosphere.”
Pointing to the place where Jesus was born, Francis noted that Bethlehem was the small village where, a thousand years before Jesus, David, a shepherd, was chosen to become the king of Israel.
“Bethlehem is not a capital, and because of this, it is preferred by divine Providence, which loves to act through the small and the humble,” he said, noting that it is in this small village where Jesus, “in whom the hope of God and the hope of man meet,” is born.
Francis then turned to Mary, “the Mother of Hope,” explaining that with her “Yes,” she was able to open to God the door of our world, and she did it as a young girl, whose heart was “full of hope, totally animated by faith,” and who believed in God’s word.
Turning to St. Joseph, Pope Francis said he was a man who also believed in the word of God that was spoken to him through the angel and who not only stood at Mary’s side, but obeyed God in giving Jesus his name.
In the name “Jesus,” “there is hope for every man, because through that son of a woman, God will save humanity from the death of sin,” the Pope said, noting “how much hope there is” in the scene of Christ’s birth.
He then pointed to the image of the shepherds, who represent the “humble and poor” people awaiting the salvation of the Messiah.
When they come to the Child Jesus, “they see the realization of the promise and hope that the salvation of God finally comes for each one of them,” Francis said. They not only trust in God, but “they hope in him, and they rejoice when they recognize in that Child the sign indicated by the angels.”
Turning to the choir of angels who appeared to the shepherds, the Pope said that their proclamation of “glory to God in the highest” is the announcement of hope, because “Christian hope is expressed in praise of God, who inaugurated his kingdom of love, justice and peace.”
Pope Francis closed his speech by reiterating the importance of contemplating the Nativity scene as Christmas approaches, because, in doing so, “we prepare for the birth of the Lord.”
“It will truly be a celebration if we welcome Jesus, seed of hope that God plants in the furrows of our personal and communitarian lives,” he said, adding that “each ‘Yes’ to Jesus is a seed of hope.”
After his catechesis, the Pope made another appeal for a peaceful resolution to political conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by extending “a heartfelt appeal to all Congolese, so that, in this delicate moment in their history, they are artesians of peace and reconciliation.”
The DRC, for the past few months, has been entangled in a political headlock as the country’s president, Joseph Kabila, approached the end of his final term in office Dec. 19.
However, the elections for a new leader, originally scheduled to take place in November, were never organized; and according to a deal struck between Kabila and an opposition faction in October, the president is allowed to stay in power until official polls are held.
The polls are tentatively set for April 2018; however, many parties in opposition to Kabila’s government oppose the deal and are calling for the president to step down and schedule the elections for 2017.
As tensions mount, fears are also increasing that there will be a repeat of a Sept. 19 demonstration by one of the opposition groups turned violent, leading to the death of more than 50 people in just two days.
Catholic bishops in the country have intervened in negotiations in the hope that a crisis might be averted. Both the president and vice president of the Congolese Bishops’ Conference had a recent meeting with Pope Francis in which they discussed the crisis.
In his appeal, the Pope asked that those who have political responsibility would “listen to the voice of their own conscience, knowing how to see the cruel sufferings of their countrymen and have the common good at heart.”
He assured the faithful of his prayer and support for the country and invited the people to let themselves be guided “by the light of the Redeemer of the world,” praying that the birth of the Lord at Christmas “opens paths of hope.”