Pope Francis arrives to lead the opening of the annual Rome diocesan convention at the Vatican June 17. The pope led the three-day gathering of priests, religious and laypeople who were meeting to set pastoral priorities for the coming year. CNS photo/S tefano Rellandini, Reuters

Pope calls for 'revolutionaries' to change hearts by sharing God's love

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • June 18, 2013

VATICAN CITY - Christians are called to be revolutionaries, changing the world one heart at a time, Pope Francis said.

"A Christian who is not a revolutionary today isn't a Christian," the pope said June 17 during a conference that quickly turned into a rally for evangelization and care of the poor.

More than 10,000 people gathered at the Vatican -- most in the audience hall, but also in the parking lot outside -- to listen to Pope Francis kick off the annual Rome diocesan convention, a three-day gathering of priests, religious and laypeople to set pastoral priorities for the coming year.

Speaking for 30 minutes without a prepared text, Pope Francis repeatedly called upon Rome's Catholics to take seriously their responsibility to bring God's love and the promise of salvation to the poor, the sad and the suffering.

The revolution started 2,000 years ago by Jesus, who accepted death in order to save humanity, is the longest lasting revolution in history and the one with the greatest impact on the world because it focused not on territory or power, but on changing human hearts, the pope said.

The grace of Christ, he said, gives people "a heart that loves, a heart that suffers, a heart that rejoices with others, a heart full of tenderness for those who bear the wounds of life and feel like they are on the periphery of society."

"Love is the greatest force for transforming reality because it breaks down the walls of selfishness and fills the chasms that keep people far from one another," he said.

Using phrases and metaphors that have become a staple of his homilies, Pope Francis urged Catholics to leave the comfort of their parishes, go out to the streets and share the good news with others.

"Each one of us can think of persons who live without hope and are immersed in a profound sadness that they try to escape by thinking they can find happiness in alcohol, drugs, gambling, the power of money, promiscuity," he said. In the end, though, he said, they just sink deeper into the abyss.

"We who have the joy of knowing that we are not orphans, that we have a Father," cannot be indifferent to those yearning for love and for hope, he said. "With your witness, with your smile," you need to let others know that the same Father loves them, too.

"In the Gospel there's the beautiful passage about the shepherd who realizes that one of his sheep is missing and he leaves the 99 to go out and find the one," Pope Francis said. "But, brothers and sisters, we have only one. We're missing 99! We must go out and find them."

It is tempting to take the easy path, "staying home with that one little sheep, combing it, caressing it," he said.

However, the pope added, "the Lord wants us to be shepherds, not hairdressers to sheep."

A parish community that stays on the church grounds with active members talking only with active members "is a sterile community," he said.

Pope Francis said he knows it is difficult to have the patience and courage to go out and share the faith, but that is what every Christian is called to do.

And, he said, Christians should not be surprised when they get disappointed about the results of their efforts, but they must recognize that the devil is behind their discouragement. "Every day the devil sows in our hearts seeds of pessimism and bitterness."

To counteract the devil, the pope said, Christians must draw strength "from prayer, mortification, the desire to follow Jesus and from the sacraments, which are an encounter with Jesus."

Each Catholic has an obligation to witness to Gospel joy in their families, neighborhoods, workplaces and schools, he said, but they must remember that the poor are the first to need and deserve the good news and concrete expressions of Christian love and charity.

"At the Last Judgment, as we read in Matthew 25, we will be judged by this," he said, referring to Jesus' words: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.''

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