“May humanity understand that the moment has come to abolish war, to erase it from human history before it erases humans from history”, Pope Francis said at the Angelus on Sunday, 27 March, referring to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Earlier, the Holy Father had reflected on the day’s Gospel passage from Luke on the prodigal son. The following is a translation of his words which he shared with the faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Happy Sunday, Buongiorno!
The Gospel for this Sunday’s Liturgy recounts the so-called Parable of the Prodigal Son (cf. Lk 15:11-32). It leads us to the heart of God, who always forgives compassionately and tenderly. Always, God always forgives. We are the ones who tire of asking for forgiveness, but he always forgives. It [the parable] tells us that God is a Father who not only welcomes us back, but rejoices and throws a feast for his son who has returned home after squandering all his possessions. We are that son, and it is moving to think about how much the Father always loves us and waits for us.
But there is also the elder son in the same parable who manifested his resentment in front of this Father. It can put us into crisis as well. In fact, this elder son is also within us and we are tempted to take his side, at least in part: he had always done his duty, he had not left home, and so he becomes indignant on seeing the Father embracing his [other] son again after having behaved so badly. He protests and says: “I have served you for so many years and never disobeyed your command”. Instead, for “this son of yours”, you go so far as to celebrate! (cf. vv. 29-30) “I don’t understand you!” This is the indignation of the elder son.
These words illustrate the elder son’s problem. He bases his relationship with his Father solely on pure observance of commands, on a sense of duty. This could also be our problem, the problem among ourselves and with God: losing sight that he is a Father, and living a distant religion, made of prohibitions and duties. And the consequence of this distance is rigidity towards our neighbour whom we no longer see as a brother or sister. In fact, in the parable, the elder son does not say my brother to the Father. No, he says that son of yours, as if to say: he is not my brother. In the end, he risks remaining outside of the house. In fact, the text says: “he refused to go in” (v. 28), because the other one was there.
Seeing this, the Father goes out to plead with him: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v. 31). He tries to make him understand that for him, every child is all of his life. Parents know this well and are very close to feeling like God does. Something a father says in a novel is very beautiful: “When I became a father, I understood God” (H. de Balzac, Le Père Goriot). At this point in the parable, the Father opens his heart to his elder son and expresses two needs, which are not commands, but essentials for his heart: “It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive” (v. 32). Let us see if we too have in our hearts these two things the Father needs: to make merry and rejoice.
First of all, to make merry, that is, to demonstrate our closeness to those who repent or who are on the way, to those who are in crisis or who are far away. Why should we do this? Because this helps to overcome the fear and discouragement that can come from remembering one’s sins. Those who have made mistakes often feel reproached in their own hearts. Distance, indifference and harsh words do not help. Therefore, according to the Father, we have to offer them a warm welcome that encourages them to go ahead. “But father, he did so many things”: a warm welcome. And we, do we do this? Do we look for those who are far away? Do we want to celebrate with them? How much good an open heart, true listening and a transparent smile can do; to celebrate, not to make them feel uncomfortable! The Father could have said: “Okay, son, come back home, come back to work, go to your room, establish yourself and your work! And this would have been a good way to forgive. But no! God does not know how to forgive without celebrating! And the Father celebrates because of the joy he has because his son has returned.
And then, like the Father, we have to rejoice. When someone whose heart is synchronized with God’s sees the repentance of a person, they rejoice, no matter how serious their mistakes may have been. They do not stay focused on errors, they do not point fingers at what they have done wrong, but rejoice over the good because another person’s good is mine as well! And we, do we know how to look at others like this?
I would like to recount a fictional story, but one that helps illustrate the heart of the father. There was a pop theatre production, three or four years ago, about the prodigal son, with the entire story. And at the end, when that son decides to return to his father, he talks about it with a friend and says: “I’m afraid my father will reject me, that he won’t forgive me”. And the friend advises him: “Send a letter to your father and tell him, ‘Father, I have repented, I want to come back home, but I’m not sure that you will be happy. If you want to welcome me, please put a white handkerchief in the window’”. And then he began his journey. And when he was near home, at the last bend in the road, he had the house in view. And what did he see? Not one handkerchief: it was full of white handkerchiefs, the windows, everywhere! The Father welcomes us like this, completely, joyfully. This is our Father!
Do we know how to rejoice for others? May the Virgin Mary teach us how to receive God’s mercy so that it might become the light by which we see our neighbours.
After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father continued:
Dear brothers and sisters, more than a month has gone by since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, since the beginning of this cruel and senseless war, that, like every war, represents a defeat for every one, for everyone of us. We need to reject war, a place of death where fathers and mothers bury their children, where men kill their brothers and sisters without even having seen them, where the powerful decide and the poor die.
War does not devastate the present only, but the future of a society as well. I read that from the beginning of the aggression in Ukraine, one out of every two children has been displaced from their country. This means destroying the future, causing dramatic trauma in the lives of the smallest and most innocent among us. This is the brutality of war — a barbaric and sacrilegious act!
War should not be something that is inevitable. We should not accustom ourselves to war. Instead, we need to convert today’s indignation into tomorrow’s commitment, because if we will emerge from these events, the way we were before, we will all be guilty in some way. Faced with the danger of self-destruction, may humanity understand that the moment has come to abolish war, to erase it from human history, before it erases humans from history.
I pray that every political leader may reflect on this, to commit themselves to this! And, looking on martyred Ukraine, to understand how each day of war worsens the situation for everyone. Therefore, I renew my appeal: Enough. Stop. May weapons be silenced. May peace be seriously pursued. Let us continue to pray untiringly to the Queen of Peace, to whom we consecrated humanity, in particular Russia and Ukraine, with such a huge and intense participation for which I thank all of you. Let us pray together. Hail Mary….
I greet all of you, people of Rome and pilgrims from Italy and from various countries. In particular, I greet the faithful from Mexico, Madrid and Lyon; the students from Pamplona and Huelva, and young people from various countries who participated in formation in Loppiano. I greet the parishioners of Our Lady of Valme in Rome, and those from Saint George in Bosco, Bassano del Grappa and Gela; the Confirmation candidates from Frascati and the “Friends of Zacchaeus” groups from Reggio Emilia; as well as the Commission promoting the Perugia-Assisi March for Peace and Fraternity who have come with a group of schoolchildren to renew their commitment to peace.
I greet those participating in the Rome Marathon. This year, through an initiative of “Athletica Vaticana” (Vatican Athletes), many athletes were involved in an initiative of solidarity with people in need in the city. Congratulations to you!
Precisely two years ago in this square, we lifted up our plea for the end of the pandemic. Today, we have done so for an end to the war in Ukraine. At the Square’s entrances, you will be given a book as a gift, produced by the Vatican Covid-19 Commission with the Dicastery for Communication. It is an invitation to pray without fear during moments of difficulty, always having faith in the Lord.
I wish all of you a happy Sunday and, please, do not forget to pray for me. Enjoy your lunch. Arrivederci!