ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — In the final homily of his trip to South America, Pope Francis said that a key aspect of Christian spirituality and evangelization is to have a welcoming attitude toward others, especially those most in need.
“How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments?” the Pope asked at his July 12 Mass in Asuncion, Paraguay.
In the day’s Gospel, taken from Matthew, “the Lord says to us quite clearly: In the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics. You convince them by learning how to welcome them.”
Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Campo Grande in the Nu Guazú park of Paraguay’s capitol, Asuncion, on the last day of his trip to South America. Before coming to Paraguay, the Pope visited the nations of Ecuador and Bolivia.
Standing in front of a large altar locals made out of rice and coconuts, Francis focused his homily on the day’s Gospel from Matthew, in which Jesus sends his disciples out two by two.
When Jesus commissions the disciples, he gives them very clear instructions to “take nothing for the journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money,” and “when you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.”
All of these are challenges the Pope said could seem unrealistic, exaggerated and even “absurd”; however, Jesus was very clear.
Out of all the words that stand out in Jesus’ command, such as bread, money, staff, sandals or tunic, one that can easily go unnoticed, and which sits at the heart of Christian spirituality, is to “welcome,” he said.
“Jesus as the good master, the good teacher, sends them out to be welcomed, to experience hospitality,” Francis said. Rather than going out as men with influence, dominance or officials with rules, the disciples are being shown by Jesus that “the Christian journey is about changing hearts.”
“It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules. It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love.”
“The Church is the home of hospitality,” he said, explaining that she is a mother who knows how to welcome and accept with an open heart, particularly those who are in greatest need.
“How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome! How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home, welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, the leper and the paralytic.”
Pope Francis also stressed the importance of welcoming those who don’t think the same as us, who do not have faith or who have lost it, as well as the persecuted, the unemployed and those in different cultures.
He also emphasized the need to welcome sinners, saying that often it’s easy to forget that evil lies at the root of our sin.
“There is a bitter root which causes damage, great damage, and silently destroys so many lives. There is an evil which, bit by bit, finds a place in our hearts and eats away at our life: It is isolation.”
Isolation can have many different roots, the Pope observed, explaining that it does a lot of harm and “makes us turn our back on others, God, the community. It makes us closed in on ourselves.”
This, he said, is why the true work of the Church, as a mother, is not mainly managing various projects, “but to learn how to live in fraternity with others.”
By living this way, Jesus teaches us a have a new mentality and opens up new horizons filled with truth, beauty, life and fulfillment.
“God never closes off horizons; he is never unconcerned about the lives and sufferings of his children. God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity,” the Pope continued.
Jesus, who is sent by the Father, provides a new horizon, which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation, Francis said, explaining that Jesus “is the Word which breaks the silence of loneliness.”
Although we can’t force anyone to welcome or accept us, neither can anyone force us from welcoming or being hospitable to others, he continued.
“No one can tell us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life,” he said, and encouraged communities and chapels to be “true centers of encounter between ourselves and God,” wherever there are Christians.
Pope Francis concluded his homily by noting that, like the Church, Mary is also a mother and a model.
Just as Mary provided a home for Jesus in her womb, “we too must provide a home, like the Earth, which does not choke the seed, but receives it, nourishes it and makes it grow.”
After closing his homily, Pope Francis led attendees in reciting the traditional Marian prayer of Angelus.
In his brief address, the Pope said that Mary is the “gift that Jesus gives to his people” and that she was first given to us by Jesus at moment of his suffering on the cross.
“She is the fruit of Christ’s sacrifice for us. And from that moment, Mary has always been, and will always be, with her children, especially the poor and those most in need,” he said.
“Mary has become part of the tapestry of human history, of our lands and peoples, he said, noting that, as in many other Latin-American countries, the faith of Paraguay’s people is “imbued” with love of the Virgin Mary.
Whenever her children approach her with trust, open their hearts and entrust to her their joys and sorrows, their aspirations and sufferings, Mary “consoles them and, with tender love, fills them with hope,” Francis observed.
He prayed that Mary would watch over and strengthen the Church in mutual and fraternal love, so that “the Church be a home for all, a welcoming home, a mother for all peoples.”
Pope Francis concluded his Angelus address by asking for prayers, saying, “I know how much the Pope is loved in Paraguay. I also keep you in my heart, and I pray for you and your country.”