POPE’S MESSAGE | Egypt is a beacon of hope and refuge

Paul Haring | Catholic News Service
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VATICAN CITY — Just as it had been for centuries, Egypt can be a sign of hope for those who long for peace, Pope Francis said.

In his weekly general audience May 3, the pope reflected on his recent visit to Egypt and said that because of its religious and cultural heritage as well as its role in the Middle East, Egypt has the task of promoting a lasting peace that "rests not on the law of force but on the force of law."

"For us, Egypt has been a sign of hope, refuge and help. When that part of the world suffered famine, Jacob and his sons went there. Then when Jesus was persecuted, He went there," he said. " Egypt, for us, is that sign of hope both in history and for today, this brotherhood."

The pope's April 28-29 visit to Cairo began with a gathering organized by Egypt's al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's highest institute of learning.

The visit to the university, he said, had the twofold purpose of promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue and promoting peace in the world.

Peace between Christians and Muslims in Egypt, he said, is a sign of the country's identity "as a land of civilization and a land of covenant."

"For all of humanity, Egypt is synonymous with ancient civilization, treasures of art and of knowledge, of a humanism that has, as an integral part, a religious dimension — the relationship with God," he said.

Christians in Egypt, the pope continued, play a pivotal role in contributing to peace in the country and are "called to be a leaven of brotherhood," but that is possible only if Christians themselves are united in Christ.

The historic agreement signed by Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II ending a longtime disagreement between the churches over the sacrament of baptism "renews the commitment" to peace and is "a strong sign of communion," he said.

"Together we prayed for the martyrs of the recent attacks that tragically struck that venerable church," Pope Francis said. "Their blood made fruitful that ecumenical encounter, which included Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, my dear brother."

Talking about his Mass with the country's Catholic community, he said, "I have seen the beauty of the Church in Egypt, and I prayed for all Christians in the Middle East so that, guided by their pastors and accompanied by consecrated men and women, they may be salt and light in that land." 

God's tenderness softens the hardest hearts, pope says

VATICAN CITY — God's compassion can change the rigid hearts of those who use His law to condemn others, Pope Francis said.

A person with a hardened, "pagan heart does not allow the Spirit to enter" and often relies on his or her own strength and intellect rather than understanding God's will through humility, the pope said May 2 in his homily during Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"They do not know that the Word became flesh, that the Word is a witness to obedience," the pope said. "They do not know that God's tenderness is able to take out a heart of stone and put in its place a heart of flesh."

The pope focused his homily on the day's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which recalled the martyrdom of St. Stephen, who was stoned to death after denouncing the scribes and elders "as stiff-necked people" that "always oppose the Holy Spirit."

Unlike the disciples at Emmaus whose hearts were opened after being reproached by Jesus as "foolish," the elders who stoned Stephen gave into their anger at being corrected. This, the pope said, is the tragedy of those "with closed hearts, hardened hearts."

"This makes the Church suffer very, very much: closed hearts, hearts of stone, hearts that do not want to be open, that do not want to listen, hearts that only know the language of condemnation," the pope said.

"Let us enter into this dialogue and ask for the grace so that the Lord softens a bit the heart of these rigid ones, those people who are always closed in the law and condemn all those who are outside of that law," he said.

— Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

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