Mission, environmental protection, the poor, violence in the name of God, friendship among religions, freedom of expression, peace. These were the main topics addressed by the Pope, who responded to journalists during a press conference on the long flight from Colombo to Manila, where evening had already fallen when he arrived. An enormous and exuberant crowd of perhaps over a million people were there to welcome him. In the extended conversation which lasted nearly an hour, the chief concern — proclaiming and testifying to the Gospel — that has always characterized Bergoglio was immediately evident.
In this sense, the prologue with which Francis introduced the meeting was indeed most meaningful. He spoke about the canonizations of Joseph Vaz in Colombo and of many other great missionaries, thereby offering a key to understanding his pontificate. He spoke of proclamations by way of the so-called equipollent path — the one traditionally used by Pontiffs to recognize the sainthood, without the certification of a miracle, of someone long venerated as such by the faithful.
Vaz was preceded by Pierre Faber, François de Laval, Marie of the Incarnation, José de Anchieta, and will be followed, the Pope announced, by Junípero Serra. Bergoglio thus proposes a sort of geography of missionary sainthood which, in the first centuries of the modern age, ideally reaches various parts of the world: from Europe to Canada, from Brazil to ancient Ceylon, and to the west coast of North America.
To the first question on the environment, the theme of the next encyclical, the Pope responded with an irrefutable affirmation: man has gone too far in his exploitation of natural resources and in his reckless consumption. In the current context, it will not be easy to reach truly effective international decisions, but Francis trusts that his document will be able to contribute to the discussion in view of the upcoming meeting in Paris, after the disappointment of that in Lima.
Next to the necessity of preserving nature, which the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew has long studied and reflected on, the poor are at the centre of the Pontiff’s concerns in this his fourth journey to Asia in less than a year, after those to the Holy Land, Korea and Turkey. This itinerary of friendship is unfolding while, on the contrary, fundamentalist violence seem to be intensifying in the world: from using children in suicide attacks, to the question of respect for religions posed by the tragic events in Paris.
Thus, various questions were related to these dramatic topics. Francis answered noting the extraordinary experience at the Marian Shrine of Madhu, where he was welcomed by not only Catholics, and where, without distinction of religion, all pray before the image of the Virgin and receive grace. In this too, the people are not mistaken, while fundamentalism and violence are disseminated by minorities. To kill in the name of God is an aberration, but it is unacceptable to make a mockery of religion. We must go forward, in order to build harmony from peace, and in this way reach the heart of the people, as the Pope confided to the President of Sri Lanka.
St. Peter’s Square
March 21, 2019
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