By Junno Arocho Esteves
FLORIANA, Malta (CNS) — Christians who truly imitate Jesus are more inclined to forgive and be merciful than those who, under the pretense of holiness, point fingers and condemn others, Pope Francis said.
“Those who believe they are upholding the faith by pointing their finger at others may have a certain ‘religiosity,’ but they have not embraced the spirit of the Gospel, for they disregard mercy, which is the heart of God,” the pontiff said April 3 during an outdoor Mass on his second and final day in Malta.
The pope began the day visiting the Basilica of St. Paul in Rabat, where the famed apostle lived for three months after he was shipwrecked on the island nearly 2,000 years ago.
Hundreds of people waited outside the basilica, many on balconies and rooftops, waving flags and applauding the pontiff’s arrival. A group of altar servers stood outside the basilica holding a local team’s soccer jersey with the pontiff’s name emblazoned on the back.
Inside the grotto, Pope Francis sat for several minutes before lighting a candle and praying that Christians may have “the grace of a kindly heart that beats with love for our brothers and sisters.”
“Help us to recognize from afar those in need, struggling amidst the waves of the sea, dashed against the reefs of unknown shores. Grant that our compassion be more than empty words, but instead light a bonfire of welcome,” he said.
Pope Francis, who suffers from sciatica, made his way into the basilica at a slow pace due to apparent pain and greeted those present. Donning a red stole, he recited a brief prayer before departing.
The Vatican said the pontiff then made an impromptu visit to the tomb of St. George Preca, a Maltese priest who founded the Society of Christian Doctrine, a society of laypeople dedicated to teaching the catechism and faith formation.
The pontiff then traveled several miles to Floriana for an outdoor Mass where, according to the Vatican, an estimated 20,000 people cheered his arrival. Seated in his popemobile, Pope Francis waved at the crowd and occasionally stopped to kiss and bless babies brought to him.
In his homily, the pontiff reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. John, which recounted the story of a woman caught in adultery and Jesus’ response to those asking whether she should be stoned.
The Holy Father said the woman’s accusers are a “reflection of all those who pride themselves on being righteous, observers of God’s law, decent and respectable people.”
“In the eyes of the people, they appear to be experts in things of God, yet they fail to recognize Jesus; indeed, they view him as an enemy to be eliminated,” he said.
The woman’s accusers, he added, are a reminder that at any moment, religiosity can be used “to conceal the worm of hypocrisy and the urge to point the finger at others.”
Like many today, they were also more concerned with making faith “part of their facade” while lacking “interior poverty, the greatest treasure of the human heart.”
“It is good for us then, whenever we pray, but also whenever we participate in lovely religious services, to ask ourselves if we are truly attuned to the Lord,” the pontiff said. “Praying like that will do us good, because the master is not content with appearances; he seeks the truth of the heart.”
Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman and his call for her to “sin no more” changed her life and is a call for “us, his disciples, his church, likewise forgiven by him, to become tireless witnesses of reconciliation.”
Christians are called to be “witnesses of a God for whom the word ‘irredeemable’ does not exist, a God who always forgives and who never stops believing in us and always gives us a chance to start anew,” Pope Francis said.
“There is no sin or failure that we can bring before him that cannot become the opportunity for starting to live a new and different life under the banner of mercy,” the pontiff said.