Pope Francis called on Christians to live next "to those who are now living crucified," those who "crave peace", calling for help, but are not heeded.
The pontiff delivered his meditation to Christians gathered in the
Lower Basilica of St Francis during an ecumenical prayer, the first
public event of his visit to the meeting "Thirst for Peace: Faiths and
Cultures in Dialogue", organised by the Sant'Egidio Community, the
diocese of the Umbrian city and the Franciscan Family, on the 30th
anniversary of the World Day of Prayer peace convened by John Paul II on
27 October 1986.
After he arrived in the late morning, Francis had lunch at the Sacred
Convent with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Syriac Orthodox
Patriarch Efrem, Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman and 12 refugees from
war-torn countries. One of them, a woman from Aleppo, told her story.
During the meal, Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Community of
Sant'Egidio, mentioned the 25th anniversary of Patriarch Bartholomew I.
After lunch, the pope individually met Bartholomew I, Syrian Orthodox
Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Ephrem II, Archbishop of Canterbury and
Primate of the Church of England Justin Welby, Zygmunt Bauman,
Indonesian Ulema Council chief Din Syamsuddin and the Grand Rabbi of
Israel David Rosen.
The representatives of different religions prayed for peace in
different places in Assisi. All the Christians gathered in the Lower
Basilica of St Francis for an ecumenical prayer, during which all the
countries at war were mentioned and a candle was lit for each.
The words "I am thirsty" cited in Revelation by the crucified Jesus inspired the meditations of the Francis and Bartholomew.
"We have come to this holy city from various corners of the world,”
said the patriarch, “and we stand together, as Christians, in this holy
place to invoke from the Lord the greatest of His gifts, Peace, from him
who is the King of Peace. Yes, because the Lord bore witness with his
own life, the love incarnate – peace among men, the inner love, the
peace of God, the love of the Cross and the Resurrection – the cosmic
"Today,” he went on to say, “Christians are called to martyria, a witness of communion: ‘This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (Jn,
13:35). What word of peace can be offered to the other, the different,
the distant, the stranger, the one who stands between us, if that word
of peace is not a real experience of communion with the Radiant Light of
the Morning? How can we offer peace, which is love, without the real
testimony that is martyrdom? Without the living icons of the Trinitarian
communion in God and neighbour?"
“Gathered before Jesus crucified,” said Francis, “we hear his words ring out also for us: “I thirst” (Jn 19:28).
Thirst, more than hunger, is the greatest need of humanity, and also
its greatest suffering. Let us contemplate then the mystery of Almighty
God, who in his mercy became poor among men.
“What does the Lord thirst for? Certainly for water, that element
essential for life. But above all for love, that element no less
essential for living. He thirsts to give us the living waters of his
love, but also to receive our love. The prophet Jeremiah expressed God’s
appreciation of our love: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your
love as a bride” (Jer 2:2). But he also gave voice to divine
suffering, when ungrateful man abandoned love – it seems as if the Lord
is also speaking these words today – “they have forsaken me, the
fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken
cisterns, that can hold no water” (v. 13). It is the tragedy of the
“withered heart”, of love not requited, a tragedy that unfolds again in
the Gospel, when in response to Jesus’ thirst man offers him vinegar,
spoiled wine. As the psalmist prophetically lamented: “For my thirst
they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps 69:21).
“‘Love is not loved’,” the pontiff noted, “this reality, according to
some accounts, is what upset Saint Francis of Assisi. For love of the
suffering Lord, he was not ashamed to cry out and grieve loudly (cf. Fonti Francescane,
no. 1413). This same reality must be in our hearts as we contemplate
Christ Crucified, he who thirsts for love. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
desired that in the chapel of every community of her sisters the words
“I thirst” would be written next to the crucifix. Her response was to
quench Jesus’ thirst for love on the Cross through service to the
poorest of the poor. The Lord’s thirst is indeed quenched by our
compassionate love; he is consoled when, in his name, we bend down to
another’s suffering. On the day of judgment they will be called
“blessed” who gave drink to those who were thirsty, who offered true
gestures of love to those in need: “As you did it to one of the least of
these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).
“Jesus’ words challenge us, they seek a place in our heart and a
response that involves our whole life. In his “I thirst” we can hear the
voice of the suffering, the hidden cry of the little innocent ones to
whom the light of this world is denied, the sorrowful plea of the poor
and those most in need of peace. The victims of war, which sullies
people with hate and the earth with arms, plead for peace; our brothers
and sisters, who live under the threat of bombs and are forced to leave
their homes into the unknown, stripped of everything, plead for peace.
They are all brothers and sisters of the Crucified One, the little ones
of his Kingdom, the wounded and parched members of his body. They
thirst. But they are frequently given, like Jesus, the bitter vinegar of
rejection. Who listens to them? Who bothers responding to them? Far too
often they encounter the deafening silence of indifference, the
selfishness of those annoyed at being pestered, the coldness of those
who silence their cry for help with the same ease with which television
channels are changed.
“Before Christ Crucified, “the power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24),
we Christians are called to contemplate the mystery of Love not loved
and to pour out mercy upon the world. On the cross, the tree of life,
evil was transformed into good; we too, as disciples of the Crucified
One, are called to be “trees of life” that absorb the contamination of
indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world. From the
side of Christ on the Cross water flowed, that symbol of the Spirit who
gives life (cf. Jn 19:34); so that from us, his faithful, compassion may flow forth for all who thirst today.
“Like Mary by the Cross, may the Lord grant us to be united to him
and close to those who suffer. Drawing near to those living as
crucified, and strengthened by the love of Jesus Crucified and Risen,
may our harmony and communion deepen even more. “For he is our peace” (Eph 2:14),
he who came to preach peace to those near and far (cf. v. 17). May he
keep us all in his love and unite us, so that we may be “one” (Jn 17:21) as he desires."