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Pope Francis, in Milan, preaches on Annunciation, speaks on evangelization

March 27, 2017

On March 25, Pope Francis traveled to Milan, Italy’s second-largest city and Europe’s largest diocese, in the 13th apostolic journey of his pontificate within Italy.

Following a 50-minute flight and a welcoming ceremony at the airport, the Pope stopped at the “White Houses,” a dilapidated housing complex. Greeted by the local parish priest, he visited families in their apartments and met with other residents, including representatives of the immigrant, Muslim, and Roma communities.

Thanking the residents for a gift of a stole and a restored Marian image, he said:

Our Lady comes towards us not to proselytize, no! But to accompany us in the path of our life; and also the fact that it was the Madonnina who awaited me at the entry to Milan reminded me of when as children we returned from school and there was our mother at the door waiting for us. Our Lady is a mother! …

Our Lady is without sin and does not need restoration, but the statue does, and in this way as a Mother she teaches us to let ourselves be cleansed by God’s mercy, to bear witness to Jesus’ holiness. And fraternally speaking, a good Confession is good for us all. But I also ask confessors to be merciful.

Pope Francis then traveled to Milan Cathedral (Duomo), the largest church on the Italian peninsula apart from St. Peter’s Basilica. There he adored the Blessed Sacrament, venerated the relics of St. Charles Borromeo, and responded to three questions that he had received beforehand.

Asked by a priest about evangelizing in current secular and multicultural conditions, the Pope had a lengthy prepared answer but said extemporaneously:

You know that evangelization is not always a synonym for catching fish: it is going out, into to deep, bearing witness … and then it is the Lord, He “catches the fish”. When, how and where, we do not know. And this is very important. And also starting from this reality, that we are tools, useless tools … A sad evangelizer is one who is not convinced that Jesus is joy, that Jesus brings us joy, and when He calls you He changes your life and gives you joy, and He sends you in joy, even on the cross, but in joy, to evangelize.

The Pope then addressed a question from a permanent deacon on the role of the diaconate.

“We must be careful not to see deacons as half priests, half laypeople,” the Pope answered. Rather, service “is the key to understanding your charism. Service as one of the characteristic gifts of the people of God. The deacon is, so to say, the custodian of service in the Church.”

Turning to a question from an elderly religious sister, the Pope cautioned against “the imagery of a glorious past that, far from awakening the initial charism, increasingly leads us into a spiral of existential heaviness.”

“Our founding fathers and mothers did not think they were a multitude, or a great majority,” he continued, as he called on religious to go out to the peripheries. “Our founders felt moved by the Holy Spirit in a concrete moment in history to be the joyful presence of the Gospel for their brothers; to renew and build up the Church like leaven in the mass, like the salt and light of the world.”

As he left the Duomo, the Pope led the recitation of the Angelus in the cathedral square. After visiting a prison and eating lunch with prisoners, he traveled to a large municipal park to celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

In his homily on “the most important proclamation of our history, the annunciation to Mary,” Pope Francis preached that “God Himself is the one Who takes the initiative and chooses to enter, as He did with Mary, into our homes, our daily struggles, filled with anxiety and with desires.”

“Before Mary’s bewilderment, before our own bewilderment, the Angel offers us three keys to help us accept the mission entrusted to us,” the Pope continued. The three keys, he said, are “evoking memory,” “belonging to the People of God,” and “the possibility of the impossible.”

“God continues to walk our neighborhoods and streets, going everywhere in search of hearts able to listen to His invitation and to make it flesh here and now,” he concluded. “To paraphrase St. Ambrose in his comment on this passage, we can say that God continues to seek hearts like that of Mary, willing to believe even in entirely extraordinary conditions.”

Before returning to the Vatican, the Pope met with recently confirmed youth in Italy’s largest soccer stadium and spoke extemporaneously on education and on bullying, urging the young people to pledge that they would never be bullies.

 
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