Nicosia (Agenzia Fides) - The mission of proclaiming the salvation given by Christ becomes fruitful if it manifests the face of a "patient Church", which "does not allow itself to be upset and disturbed by changes, but serenely welcomes the new and discerns situations in the light of the Gospel". A "fraternal Church", "without walls", made united and harmonious in its varieties by the action of the Holy Spirit, an "open space" where everyone can enter and be welcomed not for "sterile proselytism" but because he is attracted and embraced "by the mercy of God. And where the bond of friendship and communion between those who are attracted to Christ can become "an instrument of brotherhood for the world". With these evocative images, disseminated in his first speech in Cyprus on the afternoon of Thursday, December 2 - the first day of the apostolic journey that will take him to Greece in the coming days - Pope Francis re-proposed patience and brotherhood as intrinsic features of the mission entrusted by Christ to his Church. He did so by speaking "as a pilgrim in the footsteps of the great apostle Barnabas, a son of this people, a disciple who loved Jesus and a fearless herald of the Gospel", Patron Saint of the Church of Cyprus. In the footsteps of Barnabas, Pope Francis resumed the events of the first proclamation of the Gospel narrated in the Acts of the Apostles as an inevitable paradigm of every authentic missionary adventure, always animated by the present and free work of the Holy Spirit. St. Barnabas - recalled the Successor of Peter, citing the Acts of the Apostles - "as he visited the emerging Christian communities, he saw the grace of God at work; he rejoiced and urged everyone to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose". I come with the same desire: to see the grace of God at work in your Church and in your land, to rejoice with you at the wondrous things the Lord has done, and to urge you to persevere always, without growing weary or discouraged".
In his speech, delivered in the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia, in front of Patriarchs, bishops, priests, men and women religious, deacons, catechists, members of associations and movements of the local Catholic communities, the Pope traced precisely in the history of St. Barnabas and his bond with the Apostle Paul the traits of patience and fraternity as distinctive signs of every authentic apostolic movement. Barnabas - the Bishop of Rome recalled - was chosen by the Church of Jerusalem as the most suitable person to visit a new community, that of Antioch, "made up of a number of recent converts from paganism".
In Antioch, he found people coming from "another whole world, another culture, another religious sensibility". And with these neophytes, his attitude was one of "utmost patience", that of those who "know how to wait for the tree to grow" and "to accept what was new without rushing to judgement. His was the patience of discernment that is capable of perceiving the signs of God’s work in every place, the patience to “study” other cultures and traditions". Barnabas, as an authentic disciple in love with Christ - continued the Pope, "knew how to accompany and allow growth to occur. He did not overwhelm the fragile faith of the newcomers by taking a rigorous and inflexible approach, or by making excessive demands about the observance of precepts. He allowed them to grow. He accompanied them, taking them by the hand and dialoguing with them". Barnabas was not scandalized; he was like mothers and fathers "who are not scandalized by their children, who accompany them and help them to grow". The Church of Cyprus - the Pope remarked - has these same open arms: it welcomes, integrates and accompanies brothers and sisters who come "from other shores of the world". And this attitude can be "an important message for the Church throughout Europe, marked by the crisis of faith. It does little good to be impulsive and tempestuous, nostalgic or querulous; instead, we do well to march forward, reading the signs of the times as well as the signs of the crisis. We need to start proclaiming the Gospel anew, patiently, closely following the Beatitudes, above all proclaiming them to the next generation". For this reason the bishops are called to be "pastors patient in closeness", and priests - the Pontiff insisted, are called to be "untiring ministers of God’s forgiveness and mercy. Never be harsh judges, but loving fathers", avoiding above all being "strict in confession", which does not mean being "over-indulgent", but to have a "heart of the father heart". The work that the Lord accomplishes in each person - the Pope continued - "is a sacred history: let us be enthused about it. Given the multifaceted variety of your people, patience also means having open ears and hearts for different spiritual sensibilities, different ways of expressing the faith, different cultures. The Church does not want to reduce everything to uniformity, far from it, but to integrate all cultures, all the mentalities of people with maternal patience, for the Church is a mother".
In the second part of his speech, the intense bond between Barnabas and Saint Paul gave Pope Francis the opportunity to expose the source of authentic Christian brotherhood and what distinguishes it from the false unanimity that often lurks even in ecclesiastical circles. Barnabas and Paul of Tarsus - the Pope recalled - share a fraternal friendship, which led them to carry out their mission together. The Acts of the Apostles recount that after the conversion of Paul, who had previously been a fierce persecutor of Christians, "they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe he was a disciple". And it was Barnabas himself who took him with him, presenting him to the community, in imitation of Jesus, "who took the disciples with him through the streets of Galilee and took upon himself our humanity wounded by sin". "Taking with oneself", "taking upon oneself" means taking up the history of others, taking the time to get to know them without labeling them – the sin of labeling people! – bearing them on our shoulders when they are tired or wounded, as the good Samaritan did. This is fraternity", the Pope said.
Both attracted by Christ, "Barnabas and Paul, as brothers, journeyed together to proclaim the Gospel, even amid persecution". Later, "as happens in life", the two had a sharp disagreement and they went their separate ways. What divides them - the Pope remarked - are not personal reasons, but conflicts "on their ministry, on how to carry out the mission". "This - the Pope continued - is what fraternity in the Church means: we can argue about visions, points of view – and we do well to do so, for a little disagreement does us good – perceptions and differing ideas, because it is not good never to argue. In a family, brothers and sisters argue and exchange points of view. I am suspicious of those who never argue, because they always have hidden agendas". While fraternity in the Church "means we may argue, yet we remain brothers and sisters". Even in the Church of Cyprus - the Pontiff continued - "there are many spiritual and ecclesial sensibilities, different backgrounds and histories, different rites and traditions. Yet we should not experience diversity as a threat to identity; we should not be jealous or defensive. If we fall into this temptation, then fear grows, and fear gives rise to distrust, distrust leads to suspicion and then, sooner or later, to conflict". In the concluding part of his speech, the Bishop of Rome once again returned to the plural and varied trait that characterizes the Cypriot ecclesial community: "You are immersed in the Mediterranean, a sea rich in history, a sea that has been the cradle of many civilizations, a sea from which today many individuals, peoples and cultures from every part of the world still disembark. By your spirit of fraternity, you can remind everyone, and Europe as a whole, that we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity. We need to welcome and integrate one another, and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us!". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 2/12/2021)