This afternoon, the Holy Father Francis left the Apostolic Nunciature and went to the EXPO Park for the Holy Mass.
On his arrival, after changing cars and after a few laps in the popemobile among the faithful, at 4:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m. Rome time), he presided over the Eucharistic celebration in Latin and Russian on the feast of the Exaltation of the Blessed Cross.
During the celebration, after the proclamation of the Holy Gospel, the Pope delivers his homily.
At the end of Holy Mass, after the address of greeting by the Archbishop of Saint Mary in Astana, HE Msgr. Tomash Bernard Peta, before the final blessing, the Holy Father addresses a few words of thanksgiving to the faithful and pilgrims present. He then drove back to the Apostolic Nunciature, where he dined privately.
We publish below the homily and the final greeting that the Pope gave during the Holy Mass:
Homily of the Holy Father
The cross is a gibbet of death. Yet today we celebrate the exaltation of the cross of Christ, for on his stick Jesus took upon himself all our sins and the evil of our world, and conquered them with his love. This is why we celebrate the Feast today. The word of God that we have just heard tells us how, by contrasting snakes that bite with a snake that saves. Let’s think about these two images.
First, biting snakes. These serpents attacked the people who had once again fallen into the sin of speaking against God. To speak thus against God was more than just grumbling and complaining; on a deeper level, it was a sign that in their hearts the Israelites had lost their trust in him and his promises. As God’s people journeyed through the desert to the promised land, they grew weary and could not bear the journey any longer (cf. Number 21:4). They got discouraged; they lost hope and at one point even seemed to forget the Lord’s promise. They didn’t even have the strength to believe that the Lord Himself was leading them to a land of plenty.
It is no coincidence that once the people no longer trusted in God, they were bitten by deadly serpents. This reminds us of the first serpent mentioned in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis: the tempter, who poisoned the hearts of Adam and Eve and made them doubt God. The devil, in the form of a serpent, has deceived them and sown seeds of mistrust in them, convincing them that God is no good, and is even envious of their freedom and happiness. Now, in the desert, the serpents reappear, this time in the form of “fiery serpents” (v. 6). In other words, original sin returns: the Israelites doubt God; they don’t trust him; they complain and rebel against the one who gave them life, and this is how they meet death. That’s where distrustful hearts end!
Dear brothers and sisters, this first part of the story asks us to look closely at those moments in our own personal and community life when our trust in the Lord and in each other failed. How many times have we grown dry, discouraged, and impatient in our own personal deserts, and lost sight of the purpose of our journey! Here too, in this vast country, there is a desert. Despite all its great natural beauty, it can also remind us of the weariness and aridity that we sometimes carry in our hearts. Moments of fatigue and trial, when we no longer have the strength to raise our eyes to God. The situations in our lives where, as individuals, as a Church and as a society, we can be bitten by the snake of distrustpoisoned by disillusion and despair, pessimism and resignation, and caught up in ourselves, devoid of all enthusiasm.
However, this land has known other kinds of painful “stings” in its history. I think of the fiery serpents of violence, of atheistic persecutions and of all those troubled times when people’s freedom was threatened and their dignity offended. We would do well to keep alive the memory of these sufferings and not to forget certain sinister moments; otherwise, we can consider them as water under the bridge and think that now, once and for all, we are on the right track. No. Peace is never acquired once and for all; like integral development, social justice and the harmonious coexistence of different ethnic groups and religious traditions, it must be renewed every day. Commitment is required from all if Kazakhstan is to continue to grow in “brotherhood, dialogue and understanding… building bridges of solidarity and cooperation with other peoples, nations and cultures” ( SAINT JOHN PAUL II, Speech at the Welcome Ceremony, September 22, 2001). But even before that, we must renew our faith in the Lord: look up, look towards him and learn from his universal and crucified love.
And we come to the second image: the snake that saves. As the people died because of fiery serpents, God heard Moses’ intercessory prayer and said to him, “Make a fiery serpent and place it on a pole.” If someone is bitten and looks at him, he will live” (Number 21:8). And indeed, “if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked upon the serpent of brass and lived” (v. 9). Yet we might wonder: why didn’t God just destroy those poisonous snakes instead of giving those detailed instructions to Moses? God’s way of acting reveals to us his way of dealing with evil, sin and the distrust of mankind. Then, as today, in the great spiritual battle that goes on throughout history, God does not destroy the base and worthless things that men and women choose to pursue. Poisonous snakes don’t go away; they are always there, on the prowl, always ready to bite. What has changed then, what does God do?
Jesus tells us in the Gospel: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, the Son of man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (jn 3:14-15). This is the decisive turning point: the snake that saves is now among us. Jesus, raised on the pole of the cross, does not allow the poisonous snakes that attack us to cause our death. Faced with our misery, God gives us a new horizon: if we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the sting of evil can no longer overcome us, for on the cross he took upon himself the venom of sin and death, and crushed their Destruction Power. It was the Father’s response to the spread of evil in the world: He gave us Jesus, who approached us in a way we could never have imagined. “For us he made it to be a sin that knew no sin” (2 Horn 5:21). Such is the infinite greatness of divine mercy: Jesus “became sin” because of us. Jesus, we could say, on the cross “became a serpent”, so that looking at him we can resist the venomous bites of the evil serpents that assail us.
Brothers and sisters, this is the way, the way of our salvation, of our rebirth and of our resurrection: to contemplate Jesus crucified. From the top of the cross, we can see our life and the history of our peoples in a new way. For from the cross of Christ we learn love, not hate; compassion, not indifference; forgiveness, not revenge. The outstretched arms of Jesus are the embrace of tender love with which God wants to embrace us. They show us the fraternal love that we are called to have for each other and for everyone. They show us the way, the Christian way. It is not the way of imposition and force, of power and status; she never brandishes the cross of Christ against our brothers and sisters for whom he gave his life! The way of Jesus, the way of salvation is different: it is the way of a humble, gratuitous and universal love, without “if”, “and” or “but”.
Yes, because on the wood of the cross, Christ removed the venom of the serpent of evil. To be a Christian means live without venom: do not bite each other, do not complain, blame and backbite, do not spread evil, do not pollute the earth with sin and distrust that comes from the evil one. Brothers and sisters, we are born again from the pierced side of Jesus crucified. May we be freed from the poison of death (cf. Wis 1:14), and pray that, by God’s grace, we may become ever more fully Christians: joyful witnesses to new life, love and peace.