By CINDY WOODEN, Catholic News Service | Published July 9, 2015
GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (CNS)—Even if a pastoral proposal for helping a Catholic family with problems seems scandalous at first, it is possible God could use that proposal to bring healing and holiness, Pope Francis said.
Encouraging and celebrating family life during a Mass July 6 in Guayaquil, Pope Francis asked people to pray for the October Synod of Bishops on the family, and he tied the synod to the Jubilee of Mercy, a yearlong celebration that will begin in December.
The synod will be a time for the church to “deepen her spiritual discernment and consider concrete solutions to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families in our time,” the pope said.
Celebrating Mass with as many as 1 million people gathered under the hot sun in Los Samanes Park, Pope Francis asked them “to pray fervently for this intention, so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it—by making it part of his ‘hour’—into a miracle. Families today need this miracle!”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Pope Francis was not referring to any specific proposal discussed in anticipation of the synod; one of the most common—and most debated pastoral suggestions—was to develop a process or “penitential path” for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion but have not received an annulment.
The pope, Father Lombardi said, hopes the synod “will find a way to help people move from a situation of sin to a situation of grace.”
Pope Francis acknowledged the suffering and hope of young people who do not experience happiness and love at home, the “many women, sad and lonely,” who wonder how their love “slipped away,” and the elderly who feel cast aside.
In a family, “no one is rejected; all have the same value,” he said, telling the crowd that when he asked his own mother which of her five children she loved best, she would say that they were like her five fingers: all were important and if one finger was hurt, the pain would be the same as if another finger was hurt.
The Gospel reading at the Mass recounted the story of the wedding feast at Cana where the wine ran out and Mary asked Jesus to do something about it. Jesus turned water into wine.
Despite the 90-degree heat, the 78-year-old pope was upbeat during the Mass and confident—even cheerful and playful—in his homily about the family.
The joy of the wedding feast at Cana, he said, began when Mary was attentive to the needs of others “and acted sensibly and courageously.”
“Mary is not a ‘demanding’ mother, a mother-in-law who revels in our lack of experience, our mistakes and the things we forget to do,” he said. “Mary is a mother! She is there, attentive and concerned.”
As with the guests at the Cana wedding, who were offered the finest wine at the end of the celebration, Pope Francis insisted, so, too, for families today “the richest, deepest and most beautiful things are yet to come.”
“The time is coming when we will taste love daily, when our children will come to appreciate the home we share and our elderly will be present each day in the joys of life,” he said. “The finest of wines will come for every person who stakes everything on love.”
Pope Francis said he knows “all the variables and statistics which say otherwise,” but “the best wine is yet to come for those who today feel hopelessly lost.”
Speeding up his delivery and increasing his volume, the pope made “the best wine is yet to come” into a litany. “Say it until you are convinced of it,” he told the crowd. “The best wine is yet to come.”
“Whisper it to the hopeless and the loveless,” the pope urged.
The whole story of God’s involvement with humanity, he said, demonstrates that he always seeks out those on the margins of society, “those who have run out of wine, those who drink only of discouragement.”
Jesus, he said, will provide flasks of the finest wine “for those who, for whatever reason, feel that all their jars have been broken.”
Strong families, he said, help build strong individuals and strong societies. They are the place where “our hearts find rest in strong, fruitful and joyful love.” Families teach people to be attentive to the needs of others and to place those needs ahead of one’s own.
“Service is the sign of true love,” he said.
When the church asks governments to assist families, he said, it is not asking for “alms,” but rather payment of the “social debt” societies owe to families.
In Quito, asking for a ‘new revolution’
Celebrating Mass for evangelization on July 7 at Quito’s Bicentennial Park, Pope Francis insisted Christians would convince no one of the power of the Gospel if they could not demonstrate in their lives and behaviors that faith pushes a person beyond self-interest to concern for others.
Catholics will never be effective evangelizers if they are squabbling among themselves, and they cannot show the world how faith in Christ responds to the human yearning for freedom and peace if they are divided, the pope said.
Christians do not look at the world through rose-colored glasses, the pope said, but they can dream. Like Jesus, they see the world’s flaws, but also like Jesus, they love the world God created.
“It is precisely into this troubled world that Jesus sends us,” he said. “We must not pretend not to see or claim we do not have the needed resources or that the problems are too big.
“Instead we must respond by taking up the cry of Jesus and accepting the grace and challenge of being builders of unity,” he said.
To evangelize is to live as brothers and sisters with all people, he said. “This is the new revolution—for our faith is always revolutionary—this is our deepest and most enduring cry.”
Local church officials said more than 800,000 people gathered at the park, a former airport, for the Mass. Ecuador is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers and roses are queen—a fact evident from the rose petals strewn along the pope’s path, the flower-petal carpets on the altar platform and the colorful arrangements that decorated even the walkway to the makeshift sacristy behind the stage.
Those who gather around the altar and share Communion should be united with one another, setting aside worldly desires for power and petty squabbles in order to show the world the peace and unity that comes with faith in Christ, Pope Francis told them.
Evangelization is not beating down people’s doors, he said, but knocking gently and drawing near to “those who are far from God and the church, who feel themselves judged a priori by those who think they are pure and perfect.”
In his homily, reflecting on Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper that his followers would be one so that the world would believe, Pope Francis said that while Jesus probably said the prayer in hushed tones, he likes to think of it “as more of a shout, a cry rising up from this Mass which we are celebrating in Bicentennial Park.”
“The desire for unity,” he said, “involves the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, the conviction that we have an immense treasure to share, one which grows stronger from being shared and becomes ever more sensitive to the needs of others.”
Because of sin, he said, unity takes real effort. It requires a commitment to explicitly trying to include everyone, to avoid selfishness, to promote dialogue and encourage collaboration.
Society needs people committed to unity, the pope said, and so does the church.