ROME – Pope Francis covered a lot of ground in his Sunday Angelus address, offering special prayers for migrants and persecuted Christians as well as dads on Father’s Day, who, he said, have the difficult yet rewarding task of raising their children.

He also welcomed the public back to St. Peter’s Square after a long coronavirus lockdown, acknowledging flags of various foreign countries in the crowd he could see from the window of the papal apartment.

“Today, in my homeland and in other places, we celebrate the day dedicated to the father, to dads,” the pope said June 21, assuring his closeness and prayer “to all fathers.”

“We all know that being father is not an easy task: therefore, let us pray for them. I remember in a special way also our fathers who continue to protect us from heaven,” he said.

Francis also gave a shout-out to the increasing number of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, offering special greetings to the “dear Roman faithful and pilgrims who have come from various parts of Italy.”

“Now we start to see them, the pilgrims, from other countries, some of them: I see the flags,” he said, and spoke to young people in particular, pointing to Sunday’s feast day commemorating Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, “a young man full of love for God and for his neighbor” who died in Rome young while caring for plague victims.

During his address, Pope Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid of the things that kill the body, but those that kill the soul.

He said the disciples faced several different hostilities throughout their ministry, the first being “the hostility of those who would like to stifle the Word of God by sugar-coating it, by watering it down or by silencing those who proclaim it.”

“In this case, Jesus encourages the Apostles to spread the message of salvation that He has entrusted to them,” he said, noting that while they were a small group, they were urged to proclaim the Gospel “from the rooftops.”

Another threat the disciples faced is physical harm in the form of direct persecution “to the point of being killed,” Francis said, noting that “Jesus’s prophesy is fulfilled in every age: it is a painful reality, but it attests to the faithfulness of the witnesses.”

“How many Christians are persecuted even today throughout the world! They suffer for the Gospel with love, they are the martyrs of our day. And we can say with certainty that there are more of them than the martyrs of the early times: so many martyrs, merely for the fact of being Christians,” he said.

In the process of preaching the Gospel, “there is no need to be frightened of those who seek to extinguish the evangelizing force with arrogance and violence,” he said, referring to the day’s Gospel.

Those who persecute Christians through physical violence “can do nothing against the soul, that is, against their union with God,” he said, insisting that, “no one can take this away from the disciples, because it is a gift from God.”

“The only fear that a disciple should have is to lose this divine gift, this closeness to and friendship with God, to stop living according to the Gospel, thereby experiencing moral death, which is the effect of sin.”

A third trial that the disciples face, he said, is the temptation to believe that God has abandoned them, or that he is distant and silent.

This is also a case when the disciples should not be afraid, the pope said, “because even while experiencing these and other pitfalls, the lives of the disciples rest firmly in the hands of God, who loves us and looks after us.”

Even Jesus felt abandoned by God the Father when he was on the cross, Francis said, insisting that in times of spiritual desolation, “We must not be afraid of it. The Father takes care of us, because we are greatly valued in His eyes. What is important is the frankness, the courage of our witness, of our witness of faith.”

After his address, Pope Francis noted that June 20 marked the United Nations World Refugee Day.

The coronavirus crisis, “has highlighted the need to ensure the necessary protection for refugees too, in order to guarantee their dignity and safety,” he said, and invited faithful to join him in praying for “a renewed and effective commitment, on the part of us all, to the effective protection of every human being, especially those who have been forced to flee as a result of situations of grave danger to them or their families.”

He also noted that pollution levels have gone down as a result of the coronavirus lockdowns, saying the lack of fog in many cities has “revealed once more the beauty of so many places free from traffic and noise.”

As public life and social activities resume, “we should all be more responsible for looking after the common home,” he said, voicing gratitude for the many “’grass roots’ initiatives that are emerging in this regard all over the world.”

Francis prayed that these activities would “foster a citizenship that is increasingly aware of this essential common good.”

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