ROME – Pope Francis Sunday celebrated a special Mass marking the Day of the Word of God, during which he conferred the ministry of lector on seven lay people, five of them women, and said the Gospel is intended primarily for the sick and far away.

Francis formally opened the ministry of lector, along with that of acolyte, to women in a 2021 decree. He established the Day of the Word of God on the third Sunday in ordinary time in 2019.

In his homily for the Jan. 22 Mass, the pope noted that Jesus in the scriptures is “always on the move, on his way to others.”

“On no occasion in his public life does he give us the idea that he is a stationary teacher, a professor seated on a chair; on the contrary, we see him as an itinerant and a pilgrim, travelling through towns and villages, encountering faces and their stories,” he said.

In the Gospels, Jesus uses the Word of God to heal and lift people out of darkness, Francis said, insisting that the Word of God is not only destined “for the righteous of Israel, but for all.”

Jesus, he said, wants to reach “those far away, he wants to heal the sick, he wants to save sinners, he wants to gather the lost sheep and lift up those whose hearts are weary and oppressed. Jesus ‘reaches out’ to tell us that God’s mercy is for everyone.”

Since the Word of God is intended for everyone, especially the far away and lost, it must be a priority for the ecclesial community, the pope said, praying that as a church, “may it not happen that we profess a God with an expansive heart, yet become a Church with a closed heart; that we preach salvation for all, yet make the way to receive it impractical.”

Pope Francis said the Word of God is also a call to conversion and noted that Jesus himself tells people in the Gospels to repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand.

“This means that God’s nearness is not inconsequential, his presence does not leave things as they are, it does not advocate a quiet life. On the contrary, his Word shakes us, disturbs us, incites us to change, to conversion,” he said.

Francis told believers that God came into the world to be close to them, and urged them to “recognize his presence, make room for his Word, and you will change your outlook on life.”

Scripture also makes believers who read it heralds of the good news, he said, recalling the Gospel passage in which Jesus called Simon and Andrew to be “fishers of men.”

With this call, they were “No longer just experts in boats, nets and fish, but experts in seeking others,” the pope said, saying, “just as in sailing and fishing they had learned to leave the shore and cast their nets into the deep, in the same way they would become apostles capable of sailing upon the open seas of the world, of going out to meet their brothers and sisters and proclaiming the joy of the Gospel.”

“Today let us also hear the invitation to be fishers of men,” he said, telling faithful that each of them are called by Jesus in person “to proclaim his Word, to bear witness to it in everyday life, to live it in justice and charity, to ‘give it flesh’ by tenderly caring for those who suffer.”

Pope Francis closed by thanking those committed to sharing the Word of God, especially those who serve as lectors and catechists.

After his homily, the pope conferred the ministries of lector and catechist on seven laypeople, telling them they are now “at the service of the faith, which has its roots and foundation in the word of God.”

“It is therefore necessary that, while announcing the word of God to others, you know how to receive it within yourselves with full docility to the Holy Spirit,” he said, telling the new lectors to “meditate on it every day to acquire an ever more lively and penetrating knowledge of it, but above all bear witness with your life to our Savior Jesus Christ.”

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