Love is “the Christian’s visiting card”. “Any other way of presenting ourselves could be misleading and even unhelpful, for it is by our love for one another that everyone will know that we are his disciples: if we love one another”. This morning Pope Francisaddressed the Armenian Catholic community of Gyumri, the city with the largest numer of Catholics in the country, in a region that wasdevastated by a violent earthquake in 1988. The words he pronounced focus on the essential of Christian testimony.
Francis had been keen to visit this city, which is located just a few kilometres from the closed border with Turkey. He was greeted by thousands of people who had sought refuge from the sun, under their umbrellas. Many groups had arrived from nearby Georgia, whicht he Pope will be visiting next September. Among the many Catholics, there were faithful from the Apostolic Church, in a city that experienced a demographic drop after the earthquake in 1988, which claimed the lives of around 25,000 people.The tough life people lived in the containers, made of a cheap fabric that was difficult to reconstruct, meant that the number of inhabitants plummetted from the 222,000 who were registered in the Soviet census of 1984 to just over 120,000 people today. the Pope entered in procession, flanked by Catholicos Karekin II. He was wearing a chasuble and a white mitre featuring the Armenian cross.
In his homily, Bergoglio rerembered the earthquake that destroyed what was once the most industrialised city in the country: “After the terrible devastation of the earthquake, we gather today to give thanks to God for all that has been rebuilt. Yet we might also wonder: what is the Lord asking us to build today in our lives, and even more importantly, upon what is he calling us to build our lives?” The Pope answered by suggesting three “foundations”. The first is memory: “One grace we can implore is that of being able to remember: to recall what the Lord has done in and for us.” “God has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us.” But there is also another memory that needs to be protected, that of the people. Peoples, like individuals, have a memory. Your own people’s memory is ancient and precious. Your voices echo those of past sages and saints; your words evoke those who created your alphabet in order to proclaim God’s word.”Francis then invited Armenians to remember “with gratitude how the Christian faith became your people’s life breath” “even int he face of tremendous adversity”.
The second foundation is faith. “there is always a danger that can dim the light of faith, and that is the temptation to reduce it to something from the past, something important but belonging to another age, as if the faith were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum.” “Once it is locked up in the archives of history, faith loses its power to transform, its living beauty, its positive openness to all. Faith, however, is born and reborn from a life-giving encounter with Jesus, from experiencing how his mercy illumines every situation in our lives. We would do well” he added, “to let our encounter with the Lord’s tenderness enkindle joy in our hearts; a joy sadness, a joy that even withstands pain and in turn becomes peace.”
After inviting the young to seek out their vocation and to respond generously to their calling, Francis spoke about the third foundation upon which to build: merciful love. “Concrete love is the Christian’s visiting card; any other way of presenting ourselves could be misleading and even unhelpful, for it is by our love for one another that everyone will know that we are his disciples . We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions. May believers always set an example, cooperating with one another in mutual respect and a spirit of dialogue.”
God, Bergoglio explained, “dwells in the hearts of those who love him. God dwells wherever there is love, shown especially by courageous and compassionate care for the weak and the poor. How much we need this!We need Christians who do not allow themselves to be overcome by weariness or discouraged by adversity, but instead are available, open and ready to serve. We need men and women of good will, who help their brothers and sisters in need, with actions and not merely words. We need societies of greater justice, where each individual can lead a dignified life and, above all, be fairly remunerated for his or her work.”
Francis ended by quoting the great Armenian saint Gregory of Narek, who taught about the importance of recognising that we need mercy and in the face of the misery and the wounds that we see, it is important not to retreat into our shell but open ourselves up with sincerity and faith in the Lord.”