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Kneading the dough of peace

· The Pope speaks with Mexicans in preparation for his upcoming visit ·

In preparation for the journey to Mexico that is now fast approaching, the Notimex news agency gathered a series of questions asked by the faithful of the great Latin American country, and presented them to the Pope. Francis recorded his responses on Friday, 22 January at the Casa Santa Marta. The following is a translation of the long-distance dialogue, which transpired in Spanish.

The interview opened with a series of welcome messages from a group of Mexican people, who thanked the Pope for deciding to visit their country and expressed the hope that this encounter may bring peace and comfort to all of their people, and strengthen everyone’s faith. After singing the song that will welcome Francis, two members of the group asked the first questions. Aarón Fonseca’s question was: “How will you feel when you are in our country and, knowing our current situation, what message will you want to give?”. Jorge Armando asked: “Why are you coming to Mexico? What will you bring us?”.

Yes, I will bring something to Mexico, surely, but I would like to tell you that what is pushing more is what I am going to seek in you. I am not coming to Mexico as one of the Magi, laden with things to bring, with messages, ideas, solutions to problems, and other such things. I am coming to Mexico as a pilgrim, I am coming to seek in the Mexican people, that you might tell me something. I will not pass the collection basket, do not worry, but I am coming to seek the richness of faith that you have, I am coming to make this richness of faith count for me. I want to come to Mexico to experience this faith with you. I am coming, in other words, with an open heart that it might be filled with all that you can give me. You have a personality, a way of being that is the fruit of a very long journey, of a history that has been forged slowly, with pain, successes, failures and quests, but there is something of a common thread. You have a great treasure in your heart and especially, you are not a orphaned people because you glory in having a Mother, and when a man, a woman or a people do not forget their Mother, this gives them an indescribable treasure, they receive it, they pass it on. So, I am coming to seek basically all of this in you. A people that does not forget its own Mother, that multiracial mother, the mother who forged the people in hope. You know the joke of the Mexican man who said: “I’m an atheist but I’m from Guadalupe”. It makes sense, said by a people that does not want to be orphaned. Perhaps this is the great treasure that I am coming to find. I am coming among you as a pilgrim. Thank you for welcoming me!

Everyone, at this point, urged by the Pope’s own words, is showing their great devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe (“our ‘Morenita del Tepeyac’ means a great deal to us Mexicans”, says María de Jesús Ángel Ávila di Veracruz) and they ask the Pontiff: “What does the Virgin of Guadalupe represent for the Pope?

I have previously been to Mexico twice. Once in 1970, for a Jesuit meeting. The second time was when Pope St John Paul ii signed and delivered the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in America, I don’t remember exactly what year it was, perhaps 1998. Both times I went to visit her, Our Lady, the Mother, the Mother of God who gives life. The first time in the old basilica. The second time in the present basilica, in the present temple. What was evoked in me? Security, tenderness. So often I am afraid because of some problem or perhaps something bad has happened and I don’t know how to react, and I invoke her, I like to repeat to myself: “Why do you fear? Am I not here who am your Mother?”. They are her words: “Do not fear”. That is what I often say to myself. Another invocation of the Virgin, perhaps something else inspires me, but each time I am before her image and I look at her, there, with those eyes, accomplishing that cultural synthesis of the New World that is being born, awaiting the Child, I say to myself: “Why do you fear? Am I not here who am your Mother?”. I do not expect so much the miracle of the flowers. I feel this, that she is Mother, that she takes care, that she protects, that she brings the people forward, that she brings the family forward, that she gives domestic warmth, that she caresses with tenderness and that she takes away your fear: “Do not fear, little Juan”. This is what I feel before her image. One of the two times that I have come, they wanted to explain it to me, but I preferred not to, I preferred to remain in silence to look at her. It is often said that it is a “loquacious” image, the image of a Mother who protects, who takes care, who dwells in the midst of her people, with the complexion of her people. This is what I feel before her. When I came to Rome in 2013, they were starting to build the San Juan Diego parish in Buenos Aires, and there I named her the patron saint of florists. San Juan Diego says a lot to me in his relationship with the Virgin. He was a good man, but he had to do everything in order to convince the bishop and felt the humiliation of not being believed: “Why do you fear? Am I not here who am your Mother?”. And he had faith. The miracle of the flowers is possible because the Mother is the great flower of Mexico. What I would ask of you — as a favour — is that this time, which will be the third time that I will step foot on Mexican soil, you leave me just a moment before the image. This is the favour I ask of you. Will you do it for me?

The conversation moved on to the topic of social problems. Juan, from Mexico City, said: “When you arrive in Mexico, you will see personally how much migrants suffer in their journey to reach American soil”. Gabriela, from San Luis Potosí, stated: “I am very happy that you are coming here. We hope you will bring some peace, seeing what we are experiencing now, with crime and everything else, one is afraid to go out in the streets”. A group of women from Querétaro added: “We hope the Pope can make us open our eyes in order to say no to violence, no to violence against women, against children, no to violence in general against the whole world”. Hermenegilda and Óscar, from Mexico City, then asked Francis how he thinks he can help them “address the violence”.

Violence, corruption, war, children who can’t go to school because their countries are at war, trafficking, arms manufacturers who sell weapons so the conflicts in the world can continue...; this is more or less the climate in which we live in the world today, and you are living your little piece, your little piece of “war”, in quotation marks, your little piece of suffering, of violence, of organized trafficking.

If I come there it is to receive the best of you and to pray with you, that the problems of violence, corruption, and all that you know is taking place, be resolved, because the Mexico of violence, the Mexico of corruption, the Mexico of drug trafficking, the Mexico of cartels, is not the Mexico that our Mother wants, and I certainly do not want to hide any of that. On the contrary, I want to encourage you in the daily fight against corruption, against trafficking, against war, against disunity, against organized crime, against human trafficking.

“That you bring us some peace”, one of you said. Peace is something that needs to be built every day, not only, but, with an expression that seems like a contradiction, one must fight every day for peace! One must fight every day for peace, not for war. Sow meekness, understanding, sow peace. St Francis prayed: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”. I would like to be an instrument of peace in Mexico, but together with all of you. It’s obvious that I cannot do it alone, it would be folly if I said so, but together with all of you, I can be an instrument of peace. How does one knead the dough of peace? Peace is the work of artisans, a job that each day is kneaded by hand, from how to raise a child to how to caress an elderly person, they are all seeds of peace. Words and caresses. Peace is born from tenderness, peace is born from understanding, peace is born or is made in dialogue, not in rifts, and this is really the key word: dialogue: dialogue among leaders, dialogue with the people and dialogue among the whole population. So often in a neighbourhood quarrel we find the solution that seems the best to us. That is only a little conflict. In neighbourhoods too, also at home, it is important to try to make peace, and this is done with dialogue: being open and speaking with others, listening to their reasons and accepting correction. “Father, that cannot be done with a criminal”. It’s true, but I can dialogue with someone who can change the criminal’s heart. We have our Mother, let’s speak with her a bit. Let’s say to her: “Since you told me not to fear because you are my Mother, you who are my Mother, do something”. Yes, I could pose this question to each one of you: do I ask the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Mother of Mexico, the Empress of America, do I ask her for peace, do I ask her to bring peace to this place, to that one and again to the other, do I offer a prayer to the Mother that she bring peace? You mustn’t be afraid to listen to others, let’s see what their reasons are. And please, you mustn’t enter into anything, any plot only to make money; it would render my life a slave in an inner war and would take away my freedom, because peace gives freedom. I will ask the Virgin, together with you, to give you peace, that Our Lady of Guadalupe give you peace in the heart, in the family, in the city and in the entire country.

Another group of faithful addressed what the Pope’s visit means to the Mexican people, and asked what the Pontiff expects from them. Rubén de la Cruz Martínez, from Guanajuato, stated: “I hope you bring us out of our lethargy in living the faith, that it be not only a faith lived in the Church, but a faith lived in the streets, at work, in the office, in politics, in the media, because we must be sowers of Gospel values”. José Ranulfo Lobato, from Guanajuato, hypothesized: “It is a difficult response, but I believe there are two things you are saying: ‘I am here, I have to act, you know that I am trying to change and to modernize the religion, and to do so I need your help’”.

They say that wisdom speaks from the heart of good elders. From among the wishes expressed, José Ranulfo indicated a spiritual renewal that my visit could bring about.... And before that Rubén said that we should not be Christians “in Church” but Catholics of the Church and outside the Church. So that faith may bloom. Those two remarks really hit me: what helps us to be true Catholics, to express and to live our faith inside and outside of the Church. This is what I expect from you. And I am coming to serve, to be a servant of your faith, because this is why I became a priest, to serve, because I felt this vocation, to serve your faith, to serve the faith of the people. But this faith must grow and come out, to be placed in everyday life, [it should be] a public faith. Faith becomes strong when it is public, especially — as it was said in the last remarks — in moments of crisis: “The Popes always came when there was a crisis”. It must be like this, I didn’t study it, but if you say so it must be like this. It’s true that there is a crisis of faith in the world. But it is also true that there is a great blessing, and a desire — expressed by many of you — for the faith to come out, that the faith be missionary, that the faith not be canned as in a jar of preserves. Our faith is not a museum faith and the Church is not a museum. Our faith is a faith born from contact, from dialogue with Jesus Christ, our Saviour, with the Lord. So, this faith must go out in the streets, it must go out into workplaces, it must emerge in agreement with others, this faith must be expressed in dialogue, in understanding, in forgiveness, in the everyday art of fighting for peace. A faith of the streets, yes, if faith does not go out in the streets it doesn’t serve, and if faith goes out to the streets it doesn’t mean only having a procession. The faith going out to the streets means that in my workplace, in my home, in the things I do at the university, at school, I show that I’m a Christian. In your history there are martyrs who gave their life to follow this path. Faith must go out in the streets, like Jesus. If I ask you: “In what place did Jesus spend the most time during his life?” On the street! Preaching the Gospel, bearing witness. I tell you: “In public life, in family life, in Church, it’s good to pray, but then it must go out”. Our faith must push us to go out and not stay withdrawn with our Jesus, so as not to allow him to go out, because Jesus goes out with us, if we don’t go out, he doesn’t go out. Faith is renewed. Renewing faith means making it “outgoing”, “of the street”, ensuring that one does not fear conflicts but seeks to resolve family, school, social, economic disputes. Faith should be my inspiration to commit myself with my people, and this has its risks, it has its dangers. I would like to end by stealing words from our Mother, so that through me she says to you: “Do not fear going out, never fear, my son, my daughter, am I not here who am your Mother?”.

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