International Religious Freedom Conference (Malta - 11-17 May 2014)

Aid to the Church in Need
Homily by Bishop Mario Grech
Mass at Ta’ Pinu on the occassion of the International Conference 2014
Thursday 15th May 2014

We are gathered here in the house of the Lord, in this national Marian shrine, as part of the International Religious Freedom Conference organized by Aid to the Church in Need Pontifical Foundation. A fundamental and important moment of this Conference is the daily celebration of the Eucharist. We are here not just as any other human rights organization. Surely, we are promoting and defending the fundamental human right of religious freedom but our motivations and methods are of a particular nature. In the light of today’s Readings in the feast of St Matthias, we can understand and live our aid towards those brothers and sisters who suffer persecution as an act of faith of hope, and of charity.

Dear brothers and sisters, we stand here today as persons of faith. We have received the gift of faith and profess that Christ is our Lord. One of the criteria for he who was to replace Judas consisted in serving the Apostles «as a witness of his [Christ’s] resurrection». We have received this witness and our faith is built upon it. Christ our Lord is risen! Our commitment to help those who suffer persecution stems from this conviction. Otherwise we would do a disservice to the “Church in Need”. Our intention is not to exclude the Cross from the Church’s life, but to aid so that all Christians could be witnesses of the Resurrection. This entails that they could freely proclaim this Good News in their societies. And it also entails helping those who suffer persecution to continue serving the Church as witnesses of the Risen Christ by keeping strong in their faith whatever the cost.

Our aid is also an act of hope: of Christian hope, because we carry to our persecuted brothers and sisters the certainty that the Risen Lord is with them. As we heard in the Psalm: «He raises the poor from the dust, he lifts the needy from the dunghill, to give them a place among princes, among the princes of his people». Through our thoughts and prayers, words and deeds we encourage those who suffer to lift up their hearts to the Lord who suffers for them, suffers in them, suffers with them. Our presence is a stimulus so that amidst their sufferings they may grow in the joyous hope that as in now they are suffering with Christ and for His name, so they will one day rejoice with him in his glory. Overt as well as less manifest persecutions may cause much tears and sufferings, but they may never suffocate this Christian hope from the lives of Jesus’ disciples. Sometimes, despite our efforts to avert persecution, we see that it grows stronger. As Saint Augustine once noted, “the enemy does not cease to persecute; and when he does not openly rage, he plots in secret” (Tract. in Io., X,1). However, ours is not an ever-ending struggle. Christ has given us his assurance: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (Jn 16, 33). So, with our hearts filled with hope we may be consoled with the Word of the Gospel. As Pope Francis writes in his Exhortation: “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice” (Evangelii gaudium, 5). As we continue our fight for religious freedom, we need to battle against all sorts of pessimism that may obscure and diminish the joyous hope of Christ’s disciple: Our Lord God is here! In the Evangelii gaudium we read: “however dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power” (Ibid., 276).

Finally, we act out of love that springs from God. We have heard the words of our Lord during his Last Supper: «I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.» Manete in dilectione mea! This is the foundation for all actions of brotherly love: remaining in His love to live his commandment: «love one another, as I have loved you». We cannot forget the cries of those in need! Love compels us to action as does Christ’s love for us: «No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.» The Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need plays an essential role to keep alive in the minds and hearts of Christians all over the world this call to remain in Christ’s love and love our neighbour as He loves us. This is what qualifies us as friends of Christ. It is our duty on an international, national, diocesan and parochial level, to inculcate in all Christians, of all ages and states of life, this care and brotherly interest for those who suffer persecution. Aiding our brothers in need is not an optional but a requirement of the new commandment given to us by our Lord. May we ask ourselves about how we are responding to Christ’s invitation to live in His love and to love.

Aid to the Church in Need: our aid is an act of faith, an act of hope, an act of love! Everyday people from all walks of life come from all over Malta and Gozo, and overseas, to visit this National Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu. From this place in 1883, Our Lady spoke to a simple lady Karmni Grima: «Come! Come!» and asked her to recite three Ave Maria in honour of the three days her body remained in the tomb before Assumption to Heaven.  This morning we have replied to her invitation. And so we may look to Our Lady, and ask her maternal assistance for all you who have gathered for this Internationalal Conference. Virgin Mary, we come here to ask for your maternal help: Virgin Mary, here we are as pilgrims journeying the path towards Heaven. Help us to be true apostles of your Son Jesus Christ. Help us grow in the virtues of faith, hope and charity so that our aid to the Church in Need may be true friends of your Son, ready to love as He loves us. Madonna Ta’ Pinu, help us be heralds of the joy of the Gospel! Intercede for our brothers and sisters who suffer persecution so that they be consoled and strengthen by our care, prayer and action. May we all remain in the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ and be witnesses of His Resurrection. Amen.