“We are born again from the side of Jesus opened on the cross: let there be no poison of death in us; but let us pray that by God’s grace we can become more and more Christians: joyful witnesses of new life, witnesses of love and peace,” said His Holiness Pope Francis in his homily presiding. Divine Liturgy at the “Expo Grounds” in Nur-Sultan
As part of his apostolic visit to Kazakhstan and on the occasion of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, His Holiness Pope Francis presided over at five to a quarter of the local time the Divine Liturgy at the “Expo Grounds” in Nur-Sultan. This we celebrate the exaltation of the cross of Christ. Because on that tree Jesus took upon himself our sin and the evil of the world and defeated them with His love. That is why we celebrate the Holy Cross. The word of God that we have heard tells us about this, as it puts on the one hand the snakes that are bitten, and on the other hand the one that saves. Let us stop at these two images.
Pope Francis continued to say first the snakes that bite. She attacks the people who have fallen for the thousandth time into the sin of murmuring. Complaining about God does not only mean bad talk and scorn for him; Rather, it means, in a deeper way, that confidence in him and his promise has faded in the hearts of the Israelis. The people of God, in fact, are walking in the desert towards the Promised Land, weary and tired of travelling. He was discouraged and lost hope, and at one point it was as if he had forgotten God’s promise: these people had no more strength to believe that He was leading their way to a rich and fertile land. It is no coincidence that when faith in God ran out, the serpents that kill began to bite the people. It reminds of the first serpent that the Bible talks about in the Book of Genesis, the tempter who poisoned the human heart and made it doubt God. In fact, Satan, in living form, bewitched Adam and Eve, creating in them mistrust and convincing them that God is not good, but is jealous of their freedom and happiness. And now, in the desert, the serpents, the “stinging serpents”, had returned; That is, the original sin has returned: the Israelites doubted God, lost their trust in Him and grumbled, and rebelled against the One who gave them life, thus heading towards death. This is what leads to the lack of confidence in the heart!
The Holy Father added, “Dear brothers and sisters, this first part of the story asks us to look closely at the moments in our personal and collective history in which there was a lack of trust in the Lord and among us.” How many times, when mistrust and impatience overwhelmed us, we withered in our deserts and lost sight of the goal of the march! Even in this great country there is the desert which, while offering us splendid landscapes, we have spoken of that weariness, that dryness which we sometimes carry in our hearts. They are moments of weariness and trial, in which we have lost the strength to look up, to God; It is the situations of personal, ecclesiastical and social life in which we are bitten by a snake of distrust, which injects in us the poisons of disappointment, despair, pessimism and surrender, closes us down on ourselves, and extinguishes enthusiasm. But in the history of this land there have been other painful bites: I think of the vitriolic lives of violence, of atheistic persecution, of religious persecution, and of the sometimes turbulent march during which the freedom of the people was threatened and their dignity wounded. It will do us good to keep the memory of what we have suffered: we must not remove some darkness from our memory, for it will be thought that a page has been turned and that the course of good has been decided once and for all. No, peace is never acquired once and for all, but we have to achieve it daily, as well as coexistence between different ethnic groups and religious traditions, integral development, and social justice. In order for Kazakhstan to grow more “in brotherhood, dialogue and understanding and in order to build bridges of solidarity with other peoples, nations and cultures, there is a need for the commitment of all. But before that there is a need for an act of renewed faith in the Lord: to look up, look at Him, learn from His universal and crucified love .
Thus, Pope Francis continued, we arrive at the second image: the serpent that saves. While the people were dying because of the stinging serpents, God heard Moses’ intercession and said to him: “Make you a stinging serpent and put it on a pole, so that every stinger who looks at it will live.” In fact, “any man who has been bitten by a snake and has looked at the brass serpent shall live.” But we can ask ourselves: Why didn’t God destroy the poisonous snakes instead of giving Moses these arduous instructions? This way of acting reveals to us His work in the face of evil, sin, and the lack of trust of mankind. At that time, as now, in the great spiritual battle that dwells in history to the end, God has not eliminated the lows to which man so freely pursues: poisonous snakes have not disappeared, but are still there, they lie in wait, and they can always sting. So what has changed, what did God do?
The Pope added, explaining that in the Gospels, Jesus said: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes may have eternal life.” Here is the turning point: the serpent that saves has arrived among us: Jesus, who was raised on the cross, does not allow the poisonous serpents that attack us to lead us to death. And in the face of our lowliness, God grants us a new elevation: if we fix our eyes on Jesus, the stings of evil will not be able to control us, because, on the Cross, He took upon Himself the poison of sin and death and defeated their destructive power. This is what the Father did about the spread of evil in the world. It was given to us by Jesus, who drew near to us as we could never have imagined: “He who did not know sin, God made sin for us, that we might become in him the righteousness of God.” This is the greatness of the infinite divine mercy: Jesus who “made himself sinful” for us, Jesus who is on the cross – we can say – “made himself alive” so that when we look at him we can resist the venomous bites of the evil serpents that attack us.
The Holy Father continued saying, brothers and sisters, this is the only way to our salvation, to our new birth and resurrection: to look at the crucified Jesus. From this height we can see our lives and the history of our peoples in a new way. Because from the cross of Christ we learn to love, not hate. We learn pity, not indifference; We learn forgiveness, not revenge. The outstretched arms of Jesus are the tender embrace with which God wants to accept our lives. They show us the brotherhood that we are called to live among us. It shows us the path, the Christian path: not the path of imposition and compulsion, strength and importance, nor the path of one who bears the cross of Christ against the other brothers and sisters for whom Jesus gave his life! The path of Jesus is another path, the path of salvation: it is the path of love that is humble, free and universal, without the “if” and without the “but”.
Pope Francis concluded his homily by saying yes, because Christ on the cross has removed the poison of an evil serpent, and being Christians means to live without toxins: we do not bite each other, do not complain, do not accuse each other, do not gossip, do not spread evil, do not pollute the world By sin and distrust that come from the evil one. Brothers and sisters, we are born again from the side of Jesus opened on the cross: let there be no poison of death in us; Rather, let us pray that by God’s grace we can become more and more Christians: joyful witnesses of new life, witnesses of love and peace.
At the conclusion of the Eucharist, and after the speech of Archbishop Thomas Bernard Beta, in which he thanked the Holy Father for this visit, asking for his blessing, Pope Francis said, “Thank you, Archbishop Beta, for your words, and thank you for all the efforts that were made in preparing for this celebration and for my visit.” In this regard, I would therefore like to renew my sincere gratitude to the civil and religious authorities of the country. I greet all of you, brothers and sisters, especially those of you who have come from other countries in Central Asia and from distant parts of this boundless land. I bless the elderly, the sick, children and young people with all my heart.
Today, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Holy Father continued, let us feel spiritually united with the National Shrine of the Queen of Peace in Osiornoye. Archbishop Tomash mentioned that there was a large cross on which was written: “Gratefulness to the people of Kazakhstan” and “Peace to mankind.” Gratitude to the Lord for the holy people of God who live in this great country is united by gratitude for their commitment to promoting dialogue, and is transformed into a plea for peace, the peace for which our world thirsts.
I think of many war-torn places, especially dear Ukraine, concluded Pope Francis. We do not get used to war, and we do not surrender to its inevitability. Let us help those who suffer and persevere so that peace may be truly sought. What must happen next, how many deaths do we have to wait before the opposition gives way to dialogue for the good of people, peoples and humanity? The only way out is peace and the only way is dialogue. Let us continue to pray that the world learns to build peace, also by curbing the arms race and turning the huge war expenditures into tangible support for the population. Thank you to all who believe in this, thank you and to all the messengers of peace and unity!
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