The world and the Catholic Church today need to take a leap forward “in faith, charity and hope,” Pope Francis said in his homily at a late afternoon Mass in Marseille’s open-air stadium.
“We need to rekindle our passion and enthusiasm, to reawaken our desire to commit ourselves to fraternity. We need to once again risk loving our families and dare to love the weakest, and to rediscover in the Gospel the transforming grace that makes life beautiful,” he said at the final event of a two-day trip to the old port city of Marseille.
Passion and enthusiasm were not lacking at the Vélodrome Stadium, which erupted into cheers the minute images hit the screens of Pope Francis making his way through the city in the popemobile. Officials estimated 100,000 people lined the route to the stadium while some 50,000 people nearly filled the stadium. French President Emmanuel Macron, Marseille Mayor Benoît Payan and other dignitaries were present.
People chanted “Papa Francesco” and repeatedly executed “the wave” to immense cheers. One section, filled with people wearing blue sports bibs, added to the ocean effect. Then in a well-coordinated pull, volunteers hoisted an immense veil-like cut-out image of a waving pope and the belltower of the city’s Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde. They also held up gold cards to spell out “Merci” (Thank you) against the blue background.
While the pope’s Sept. 22-23 trip focused on the plight of migrants and the world’s responsibility to rescue those in danger, to create more equitable legal channels for migration, to amend gross economic disparities and promote peace, he also reminded Catholics of their mission to share Christ’s compassion and hope.
In his homily Sept. 23, he asked the faithful to reflect “honestly, from the heart: Do we believe that God is at work in our lives? Do we believe that the Lord, in hidden and often unpredictable ways, acts in history, performs wonders and is working even in our societies that are marked by worldly secularism and a certain religious indifference?”
In a world with so many challenges, he said, people of faith must have trust in the Lord.
The pope based his reflection on events in sacred Scripture in which God makes possible what seems impossible, generating life even amidst sterility.
The Virgin Mary and her older cousin Elizabeth are both pregnant “in an impossible way,” with Elizabeth feeling her child “leap” in her womb, recognizing the arrival of the Messiah, he said.
This is how to discern “whether or not we have this trust in the Lord,” he said, by feeling this sign, this “leap for joy” within.
“Whoever believes, whoever prays, whoever welcomes the Lord leaps in the Spirit and feels that something is moving within, and ‘dances’ with joy,” the pope said.
This experience is “the opposite of a flat, cold heart, accustomed to the quiet life, which is encased in indifference and becomes impermeable,” he said. “Such a heart becomes hardened and insensitive to everything and everyone, even to the tragic discarding of human life, which is seen today in the rejection of many immigrants, of countless unborn children and abandoned elderly people.”
“Those who are born to faith, on the other hand, recognize the presence of the Lord,” he said.
“Even in the midst of toil, problems and suffering, each day they discern God’s visitation among us and feel accompanied and sustained by him,” the pope said.
“The experience of faith also compels us to leap toward our neighbor,” he said, and to experience the joy of sharing.
Pope Francis asked Christians pray for the “fire of the Holy Spirit” and let themselves “be set afire by the questions of our day, by the challenges of the Mediterranean, by the cry of the poor — and by the ‘holy utopias’ of fraternity and peace that wait to be realized.”
“Today, too, our life and the life of the church, France and Europe need this: the grace of a leap forward, a new leap in faith, charity and hope,” he said.
At the end of the Mass, the pope thanked those who traveled from different parts of France. A group from Nice, accompanied by their bishop and mayor, was made up of survivors of a 2016 terrorist attack when a 19-ton truck drove into people promenading on a holiday evening, leaving 86 people dead and 434 other injured.
“I recall the terrible attack,” the pope said, asking people to “prayerfully remember all those who lost their lives in that tragedy, as well as in all the terrorist acts that have been perpetrated in France and in every part of the world.”
“Terrorism is cowardly,” he added.
Pope Francis also asked the crowd never to tire of “praying for peace in war-torn regions, and especially for the war-torn people of Ukraine.”