ROME – Speaking at his weekly general audience, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the more than 300 victims of a terrorist attack in the capital of Somalia on Oct. 14 and prayed for the “conversion of the violent.”
“This terrorist act deserves the staunchest indignation, also because it raged on a country that has already suffered a lot,” the pope said. “I pray for the dead and the wounded, for their families and for all the people of Somalia.”
Perhaps keeping this event in mind, Francis also made death the main focus of his general audience on Oct. 18 – a theme, he said, that our societies try and keep at bay – which he juxtaposed with Christian faith.
The pope, while admitting that death is present at the creation, also said that it’s a “blight” that spoils God’s design of love and that “the Savior wants to heal us” from it.
“When death arrives, for those who are close to us or for ourselves, we find ourselves to be unprepared, without even an appropriate ‘alphabet’ to come up with reasonable words about its mystery,” Francis told faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Yet while our modern societies might shy away from death, the first human civilizations pondered and struggled with this enigma. “We could say that man was born with the cult of death,” the pope said, “other civilizations, before ours, had the courage to look it in the eye. It was an event by elders to the new generations, as an inescapable reality that forced man to live for something absolute.”
In his speech the pope quoted the Psalms that remind Christians of the brevity of life and how quickly time goes by. “Death exposes our lives,” Francis said, “it makes us understand that our proud, angry and hateful actions were vanity. We sadly realize that we didn’t love enough and didn’t search for what is essential.”
At that moment of death, the pope added, we see what we actually have built and the loved ones we sacrificed ourselves for. Jesus himself, he continued, “illuminated the mystery of our death” and authorized us to suffer when a dear one dies as he did upon hearing of the death of Lazarus.
The Son of God calls his friend out of his tomb the same way he wakes a young girl from death as her father despairs.
“Jesus knows that that man is tempted to act with anger and desperation, and he tells him to keep the small fire that shines in his heart,” Francis said, adding that the promise of resurrection gives Christians hope. “All of our existence happens here, between the slope of faith and the precipice of fear.”
The pope said that, “we are all small and helpless” before death, but if we keep that small fire of faith alive in our hearts, “Jesus will take us by the hand.”
This, he continued, is “our hope before death” that the Lord will call us one by one to resurrection.
“For those who believe it’s a door that’s wide open; for those who doubt it’s a ray of light that trickles in through a door that is not completely closed,” Francis said, “for all of us it will be a grace, when this light will illuminate us.”