Speaking to those present for morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta, the Pope explained the meaning of the words “he who is without sin, cast the first stone”.
The reading is well known. It narrates the episode in which the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery. They point out that in the law, Moses commands us to stone such women because adultery is considered a very grave sin.
Marriage – Pope Francis said – is a human reality but it is also a symbol of a faithful relationship between God and his people. When the marriage is spoilt by adultery, he continued, it spoils the relationship with God.
But when the scribes and the Pharisees ask Jesus “what do you say?” they do so to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against Him.
“If Jesus had said: ‘Yes, go ahead and have her stoned’, they would have told the people ‘this is your good and merciful master… just look at what he has done to this poor woman!’ And if Jesus had said: ‘Poor woman! Forgive her!’ they would have said: ‘He does not observe the Law!’…”
The Pope pointed out that they cared nothing about the woman; “they did not care about adultery, perhaps amongst them there were some adulterers. All they cared about was catching Jesus in a trap”.
And to this – Pope Francis said - Jesus answered: ‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her’. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.
So one can imagine – the Pope observed – that their own records were not that straight.
“So Jesus was left alone with the woman before him and said to her: ‘woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ It is just you and I, alone before God, without accusations, without gossip. You and God! No one has condemned you. She replied: ‘No one, sir’”. But Pope Francis said: “she does not say it was a false accusation! She does not say‘I have not committed adultery’. She recognizes her sin. “Then Jesus said: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin anymore,’ do not offend God again; do not spoil the beautiful relationship between God and his people”.
“Jesus forgives” – the Pope said – “but here there is something that goes beyond forgiveness.”
“Jesus goes beyond the law. He does not say: ‘adultery is not a sin!’ But he does not condemn it according to law”. This – the Pope said – “is the mystery of mercy. It is the mystery of the mercy of Jesus”.
And the Pope said that when he is asked whether mercy removes sins, he answers that it is God’s forgiveness that removes sins: “mercy is the way in which God forgives our sins”.
This biblical episode – Pope Francis said – shows us Jesus’s merciful attitude when he advises the woman not to sin again and to go in peace. “He defends the sinner from her enemies; he defends her against a just condemnation”.
“How many of us” – the Pope said – “should perhaps go to hell? And the condemnation would be just… but He forgives and goes beyond. How? With this mercy!”
“Mercy” – Pope Francis said – “goes beyond in such a way that sin is put to the side. It is like heaven”:
“We look at the sky, there are many, many stars; but when the sun rises in the morning, the light is such that we can’t see the stars. God’s mercy is like that: a great light of love and tenderness. God forgives us, not with a decree, but with his love, healing the wounds of sin. Because He is involved in forgiveness, He is involved in our salvation. So when Jesus acts as confessor to the woman he does not humiliate her, he does not say: ‘What have you done? When did you do it? How did you do it? With whom did you do it?’ No! He says: ‘Go and do not sin again!’. God’s mercy is great, Jesus’s mercy is great. Forgive us and heal us!”
Text from Vatican Radio website
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reaffirmed the importance of the Church’s work of evangelization in Africa, saying that lay and religious must “foster this missionary imperative” that has roots in the past but continues “every day in the Church’s pastoral work.”In a discourse to Bishops of Tanzania whom he received Monday in audience in the Vatican, the Pope spoke of the evangelical nature of the Church’s work in parishes, the liturgy, the sacraments, education, health care, catechesis and “in the lives of ordinary Christians.” The bishops from this east African country are here on an ad limina visit to the tomb of St. Peter. In greeting them, Pope Francis said “the great challenge” facing the faithful in Tanzania today is in giving “compelling witness” to the loving redemption offered by Jesus Christ. In particular, the Holy Father pointed to the witness given by Catholic healthcare workers, in caring for the sick, “not least” those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and “by all who strive diligently to educate people in the area of sexual responsibility and chastity.” He also drew attention to those who work for the “integral development of the poor,” especially “destitute women and children.”
He challenged the bishops to ensure that priests “receive an adequate human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation” from the seminary onwards.
The Pope called the role of the lay faithful in evangelization ”indispensable” and noted the “particularly outstanding” work of lay men and women catechists. He urged the bishops to make sure they have a comprehensive understanding of the Church’s doctrine not only to be able to share their faith with others, but also to equip them to counter “challenges of superstition, aggressive sects and secularism.”
The Pope recalled that evangelization “begins in the home” and the need for an “energetic apostolate to the family.” “By promoting prayer, marital fidelity, monogamy, purity and humble service of one another within families,” the Pope said, the Church continues to make an invaluable contribution to the social welfare of Tanzania.” This, together with its other apostolates, he said, “will surely foster greater stability and progress” in the country.
On the subject of religious tolerance, Pope Francis said he is “particularly encouraged” by Tanzania’s commitment to ensuring religious freedom for followers of various religions and called for protection and promotion of this “fundamental human right.”
He thanked the bishops for their “ongoing efforts to promote forgiveness, peace and dialogue” even in times of intolerance, violence and persecution, and urged them to work with the government and civic institutions “to ensure that the rule of law prevails.”
Below please find the full text of the Pope’s discourse to Tanzanian bishops:
Dear Brother Bishops,
I offer you a warm fraternal welcome on the occasion of your visit ad Limina Apostolorum, which is an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of communion between the Church in Tanzania and the See of Peter. I thank Archbishop Ngalalekumtwa for his thoughtful words offered on your behalf and in the name of the priests, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful of your country. I would ask you kindly to assure them of my prayers and spiritual closeness.
The Church in Tanzania is blessed with many gifts for which we must all give thanks to God. I think, in the first place, of the impressive history of missionary work throughout the region. Arriving with a desire to make “the name above every other name” (Phil 2:9) known and loved, these Spirit-filled evangelizers laid a firm foundation for the Church which has inspired subsequent generations in their efforts to proclaim the Gospel and build up the Body of Christ. In our own day too, missionary outreach must be “paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity” (Evangelii Gaudium, 15). Building upon the zeal and sacrifices of the first evangelizers, you must always maintain and foster this missionary imperative, so that the Gospel may increasingly permeate every work of the apostolate and shed its light on all areas of Tanzanian society. In this way, a new and dynamic chapter in the great missionary and evangelical history of your country will be written.
The work of evangelization in Tanzania, then, is not merely a remarkable event of the past; no, it happens every day in the Church’s pastoral work in parishes, in the liturgy, in the reception of the sacraments, the educational apostolate, health care initiatives, catechesis, and in the lives of ordinary Christians. It is carried out whenever faithful believers stir up the minds and hearts of those who, for whatever reason, are weak in living out the grace of the Gospel. It happens above all – through words and through integrity of life – by proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and risen to those who do not know the joy that comes from loving him and surrendering their lives to him. This is the great challenge facing God’s people in Tanzania in our day: to give a compelling witness to the loving redemption of humanity by Jesus Christ experienced and celebrated by the community of believers in the Church.
Here I think in a special way of the witness of missionary discipleship (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 119-120) given by workers in the Church’s healthcare apostolate, not least in caring for those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and by all who strive diligently to educate people in the area of sexual responsibility and chastity. I also think of all those who devote themselves to the integral development of the poor, and in particular, of destitute women and children. May the Holy Spirit who gave strength, wisdom and holiness to the first missionaries in Tanzania continue to inspire the entire local Church in this vital witness.
Because of the critical importance of their ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing Christ’s flock, the need for holy, well-educated and zealous priests is always great. I join you in expressing gratitude and encouragement for the ministry of your priests. The sacrifices they make, known often only to God, are a source of much grace and holiness. It is your urgent responsibility, as their fathers and brothers in Christ, to ensure that priests receive an adequate human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation – not only in the seminary, but throughout their lives (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, 43-59). This will enable them to give themselves more fully to the priestly ministry in fidelity to the promises made at their ordination. This formation must be ongoing; only through daily conversion and growth in pastoral charity will they mature as effective agents of spiritual renewal and Christian unity in their parishes and, like Jesus, gather people together “from every tribe and tongue” (Rev 7:9) for the praise and glory of God the Father. As men of deep wisdom and genuine spiritual leaders, priests will be a source of inspiration for their flock, and draw many young men to respond generously to the Lord’s call to serve his people in the priesthood.
The indispensable role of the lay faithful in the ongoing evangelization of your country was clearly brought out by two recent ecclesial events: the National Eucharistic Congress of 2012 and the Seminar held to close the Year of Faith. I appreciate your efforts to promote events such as these, which contribute greatly to strengthening the faith among the People of God in Tanzania. A particularly outstanding exercise of the lay apostolate is that of the men and women catechists in your country who labour to pass on the Gospel and the fullness of the Christian life. In your service to the local Church, make every effort to provide catechists with a comprehensive understanding of the Church’s doctrine. This will equip them not only to counter the challenges of superstition, aggressive sects and secularism, but even more importantly, to share the beauty and richness of the Catholic faith with others, particularly the young. In fidelity to the mission received at baptism, each member of the Church will then be able to renew the Church and society as a leaven from within. As well-formed lay disciples, they will know how to “imbue culture and human works with a moral value” (Lumen Gentium, 36), something greatly needed in our own time.
Dear brothers, the work of evangelization begins in the home. The gift that healthy families represent is felt with particular vitality in Africa. Moreover, the Church’s love for, and pastoral solicitude towards the family is at the heart of the new evangelization. As you know, I have called a Synod devoted to the family later this year, the pastoral care of which was a central concern of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops in 2009. May our encounter today be an incentive to review your common response to that Synod’s call for a more energetic apostolate to the family, through uncompromising and selfless spiritual and material assistance (cf. Africae Munus, 43). By promoting prayer, marital fidelity, monogamy, purity and humble service of one another within families, the Church continues to make an invaluable contribution to the social welfare of Tanzania, one which, coupled with her educational and healthcare apostolates, will surely foster greater stability and progress in your country. There is scarcely a finer service which the Church can offer than to give witness to our conviction of the sanctity of God’s gift of life and to the essential role played by spiritual and stable families in preparing the younger generations to live virtuous lives and to face the challenges of the future with wisdom, courage and generosity.
I am particularly encouraged to know that Tanzania is committed to ensuring the freedom that followers of various religions enjoy to practice their faith. The ongoing protection and promotion of this fundamental human right strengthens society by enabling believers, in fidelity to the dictates of their conscience and in respect for the dignity and rights of all, to advance social unity, peace and the common good. I am grateful for your ongoing efforts to promote forgiveness, peace and dialogue as you shepherd your people in difficult situations of intolerance and, at times, of violence and persecution. Your prayerful and united leadership – which is already bearing fruit as you confront these challenges together – will continue to show the path to those entrusted to your pastoral care and to the wider society. I urge you also to work with government and civic institutions in this area so as to ensure that the rule of law prevails as an indispensable means for guaranteeing just and pacific social relations. I pray that your example, and that of the entire Church in your country, will continue to inspire all people of good will who long for peace.
With these thoughts, dear brother Bishops, I commend all of you to the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, and with great affection I impart my Apostolic Blessing, which I willingly extend to all the beloved priests, religious and lay faithful of your country.
From the Vatican, 7 April 2014
Text from Vatican Radio website
(Vatican Radio) Thousands of people in Rome’s working class Magliana neighbourhood welcomed Pope Francis on Sunday evening to the parish of San Gregorio Magno. The streets were filled with people, many holding signs greeting the Pope in Roman dialect, still spoken daily in the neighbourhood. The Pope spent three hours at the parish, and began is visit by meeting young people in a soccer field, where he emphasized hope.Pope Francis told them they could not live without hope, which drives people to be creative, to have children, to work. He said it’s not always easy to have hope today: “you see so many terrible things, sickness, unemployment”. The Holy Father said hope is a gift from God, and if you take away hope, then young people lose their faith and lose their way.
Pope Francis also met with the old and infirm, and told them to offer their suffering with Jesus on the Cross.
In a meeting with ex-convicts and former drug addicts, the Holy Father reminded them the Lord is not just at Church, but also in their own frailty. He said the best place to find Jesus in in “places of human weakness”. He also lamented the culture of waste, pointing out as an example the killing of unborn children in their mother’s womb.
The Holy Father heard confessions before celebrating Mass, where the Gospel was the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.
“All of us have some parts …of our heart that are not alive, that are a bit dead,” Pope Francis said. “Only the power of Jesus can help us come out of these tombs of sin is in each and every one of us. But sometimes we are too attached to these tombs and are reluctant to leave them. This is when our soul starts to stink; this is the stench of sin.”
He said the promise of the Gospel of the Day was that Jesus would open these tombs and let us out.
“The Lord has the power to restore life to the dead,” said Pope Francis. “Do we have the strength to hear what Jesus said to Lazarus: Come out?”
The Holy Father said we must contemplate our attachment to sin, and avoid becoming corrupt by seeking the forgiveness of the Lord.
The Pope had pocketsize books of the Gospels handed out at the Mass, just as he did at the Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square earlier in the day. He repeated his request that the Gospels be carried at all times, and be read during any available moment, such as waiting in line or on the bus, but only “when you are not busy watching your pockets.”
Text from Vatican Radio website