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Pope Francis walked with Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius as he visited the prison area in the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sept. 23.
Pope Francis walked with Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius as he visited the prison area in the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sept. 23.
Photo Credit: Paul Haring | CNS

POPE’S MESSAGE | God’s love in charity exists even in most secularized places

VATICAN CITY — During times of freedom or persecution, the Gospel is needed to bring meaning, fullness and hope to life, Pope Francis said.

Speaking about his Sept. 22-25 visit to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the pope said he visited the Baltic nations as they celebrated the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence.

However, during the past 100 years, these countries have experienced “the yoke of occupation,” beginning with the Nazis and then the Soviet Union, the pope said at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square Sept. 26.

During his visit, the pope paid homage to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania, where more than 95 percent of its Jewish population was murdered, and he visited a former Soviet KGB headquarters that is now a museum dedicated to victims of genocide, foreign occupations and political resistance.

“I stopped in prayer in the rooms where opponents of the regime were detained, tortured and killed. They killed 40 people, more or less, a night,” he said, noting how upsetting it was to see how cruel human beings could be. “Let us think about that.”

The situation in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is very different now compared to when St. John Paul II visited in 1993, “therefore, my mission was to newly proclaim to these people the joy of the Gospel and the revolution of mercy, of tenderness because freedom (by itself) is not enough to give meaning and fullness to life without love, the love that comes from God.”

During difficult, trying times, the Gospel “gives strength and enlivens the struggle for freedom,” he said.

During times of freedom, he added, the Gospel “is the light” showing the way for people’s daily journey, and it is “the salt” giving ordinary life flavor and preserving it from “the corruption of mediocrity and selfishness.”

A strong sign of the Gospel being alive are concrete works of charity, he said.

Even where secularization has hit hardest, the pope said, “God speaks with the language of love, of care, of selfless service to those who are in need. And then hearts open up and miracles happen. In deserts, new life blooms.”

Pope: God looks for disciples among the dregs of society

VATICAN CITY — God went looking for and chose so many Christians and saints from the dregs of society, inviting some of the worst sinners to be His disciples, Pope Francis said in a morning homily.

It would be easy to think, he said, that Jesus “doesn’t have good judgment in choosing people” given that He chose so many people from “the most despised place” a person could be from at the time.

That is because Jesus doesn’t come to call the righteous, but the sinners, because “those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do,” the pope said, quoting from the day’s Gospel reading during Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae Sept. 21, the feast of St. Matthew.

The feast day has great significance for the pope, who, as a 17-year-old boy, strongly felt God’s presence and mercy that day, inspiring him to religious life. His episcopal and papal motto — “Because He saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him” — is based on the account of Jesus seeing Matthew, a sinner and tax collector, and calling him to “Follow me.”

Focusing on the day’s Gospel passage (Matthew 9:9-13), the pope said people must remember who they were when God called them to become Christian and always keep fresh in their minds “the memory of our sins, the memory that the Lord had mercy on my sins and He chose me to be Christian, to be apostle.”

When Matthew left behind his life as a corrupt tax-collector for the Romans in order to follow the Lord, the pope said, he didn’t dress in luxurious clothes or brag about his new status; “No! He worked his whole life for the Gospel.”

“When apostles forget their origins and begin to build a career, they distance themselves from the Lord” and become executives, he said. Perhaps they do a lot of good in life, but they are not apostles since they are unable to share or represent Jesus, he added.

“They will be a good organizer of pastoral plans, of many things, but in the end, a business man — a business man of the kingdom of God because they forgot where they were chosen from,” the pope said.

— Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

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