ASSISI, Italy — During his visit to Assisi, Pope Francis told Christians gathered at Mass that true peace can only be gained by drawing close to the crucified Lord, stressing the importance of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“What is the peace which [St.] Francis received, experienced and lived and which he passes on to us? It is the peace of Christ, which is born of the greatest love of all, the love of the cross,” the Holy Father said.
Pope Francis celebrated an Oct. 4 Mass for the pilgrims who joined him in the town of Assisi to celebrate the feast of his 13th- century patron, St. Francis of Assisi.
At the beginning of his pontificate, the Holy Father revealed in a special audience with journalists that he chose the name “Francis” because of remarks made to him immediately after his election, in which some of his brother cardinals urged him not to forget the poor.
The Pope began his homily reflections on the life of the saint, who was born the son of a wealthy fabric merchant by recalling how Francis’' encounter with Jesus inspired him to resign his inheritance, and to embrace a life of poverty.
“In all of Francis’ life,” the Pope said, “love for the poor and the imitation of Christ in his poverty were inseparably united, like the two sides of a coin.”
The Witness of St. Francis
Deepening his reflection upon the life of the saint, the Pope urged those in attendance to question what sort of witness Francis gave, not just in his words, but, more importantly, in the way he lived his life.
“His first and most essential witness is this: that being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him,” the Pope said. He added that Francis’ journey of faith began “with the gaze of the crucified Jesus.”
Referencing the cross, which spoke to St. Francis, calling him to serve God, the Holy Father said that Jesus is depicted as alive, not dead. He added, “The cross does not speak to us about defeat and failure; paradoxically, it speaks to us about a death which is life.”
“It speaks to us of love, the love of God incarnate, a love which does not die, but triumphs over evil and death,” Pope Francis added.
When Christians meet the gaze of the crucified Lord, the Pope said, they become “re-created” and experience being loved not by their own merits, but in spite of the fact that they are sinners.
A second witness that St. Francis gives Christians, the Holy Father said, is that “everyone who follows Christ receives true peace, the peace that Christ alone can give, a peace which the world cannot give.”
Pope Francis said that people often associate peace with the great saint of Assisi, but few go deeper into the peace that he “received, experienced and lived” — that is “the peace of Christ,” which comes from “the love of the cross.”
“It is the peace which the risen Jesus gave to his disciples when he stood in their midst and said: ‘Peace be with you!’” Pope Francis said.
“Franciscan peace is not something saccharine,” he said, “That is not the real St. Francis. Nor is it a kind of pantheistic harmony with forces of the cosmos. … That is not Franciscan either; it is a notion some people have invented.”
“The peace of St. Francis is the peace of Christ, and it is found by those who ‘take up’ their ‘yoke,’ namely, Christ’s commandment: Love one another as I have loved you,” he added.
The Holy Father urged that the “yoke” of his patron saint “cannot be borne with arrogance, presumption or pride, but only with meekness and humbleness of heart.”
Witness to Peace
Pope Francis ended his reflections by looking at Saint. Francis’ witness to respect, “safeguard and protect all that God has created” in the world, noting most importantly the saint’s “love for every human being.”
“Francis was a man of harmony and peace,” the Holy Father said. “From this ‘City of Peace,’ I repeat with all the strength and the meekness of love: Let us respect creation; let us not be instruments of destruction. Let us respect each human being.”
He added, “May there be an end to armed conflicts, which cover the earth with blood; may the clash of arms be silenced; and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon and discord to unity.”
The Pope prayed in particular for peace in the Holy Land, Syria, and throughout the Middle East.
Adding that St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of Italy, the Pope asked all present, “Let us pray for Italy, that everyone will always work for the common good and look more to what unites us, rather than what divides us.”
Pope Francis ended his homily by giving the final blessing and quoting a prayer written by St. Francis.