By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
GENEVA – Speaking to a crowd of an estimated 40,000 Swiss Catholics on Thursday, Pope Francis used the “Our Father” as a tool for reclaiming Christian roots and values.
During a Mass marking the end of his daylong ecumenical pilgrimage to Geneva, Francis preached a homily that stressed practical ways in which Christians can live in unity together.
He went on to add that the “Our Father” is a means by which Christians are reminded of their roots so that they may be of help to those who are rootless and in need of support – including, he said, “the unborn, the older person who can no longer speak, the person we find hard to forgive, the poor and the outcast.”
In a homily chock full of colloquial phrases centered around today’s Gospel passage which includes one of the most famous prayers in Christendom, the “Our Father,” Francis urged those in attendance not to treat Jesus “as a side dish,” but rather as sustenance for survival, along with advising Christians to “take a good x-ray of our heart” in order to more readily forgive.
“The ‘Our Father’ is the prayer of us, of the Church,” he said. “It says nothing about me and mine; everything is caught up in the you of God… ‘Our Father’: these two simple words offer us a roadmap for the spiritual life.”
“Every time we say ‘Our Father,’ we reclaim our roots,” he added.
He also used his homily to offer pastoral wisdom on living a simpler life, more focused on tending to one’s spiritual disciplines and the daily tasks of Christian life.
“Nowadays many people seem ‘pumped up,’ rushing from dawn to dusk, between countless phone calls and texts, with no time to see other people’s faces, full of stress from complicated and constantly changing problems,” said Pope Francis. “We need to choose a sober lifestyle, free of unnecessary hassles.”
He went to criticize an attitude of waste and neglect, saying that the “Our Father” aids in helping Christians better appreciate even small things, such as daily bread.
“When I was a child at home, if a piece of bread fell from the table, we were taught to pick it up and kiss it,” Pope Francis recalled. “Let us value the simple things of everyday life: not using them and throwing them away, but appreciating them and caring for them.”
While Geneva has long been known as ground zero for Protestant/Catholic conflict, where the two sides clashed both verbally and physically over doctrinal matters, Pope Francis’s visit on Thursday emphasized forgiveness and working together for shared causes.
“Forgiveness is the catch phrase of the ‘Our Father.’ God frees our hearts of all sin, he forgives every last thing,” said Pope Francis. “Yet he asks only one thing of us: that we in turn never tire of forgiving.”
“Forgiving one another, rediscovering after centuries of disagreements and conflicts that we are brothers and sisters, how much good this has done us and continues to do!” he continued.
The Mass took place in Geneva’s Palexpo convention center, just outside of the city limits. The location – which boasts of its renewable energy sources and exemplary recycling policies – served as a fitting venue during a week in which in the pope also marks the third anniversary of his encyclical Laudato si’ calling for greater concern for the environment.
In celebrating Mass for Swiss Catholics, Pope Francis was joined by Bishop Charles Morerod of the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg.
Morerod has his own history of being steeped in the realm of dialogue from his ongoing work on the Vatican team aimed at reconciliation with the Society of Saint Pius X, the breakaway traditionalist Catholic fraternity established in 1970 after rejecting elements of the Second Vatican Council.
While many had hoped he would use the trip to also visit and pay tribute to the work of the United Nations in Geneva, which serves as a major hub for treaty negotiations and many of the specialized agencies for the international body, Pope Francis insisted that he was coming with one purpose: elevating the ongoing work to promote greater cooperation and communion between Christian communities around the globe by marking the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches.
Although Pope Francis bypassed an official visit to the UN, one Church official who works closely with the international institution told The Tablet that Francis understands the central role the Geneva location plays in international affairs.
“In Geneva, you make all the food, and in New York they just eat it,” Pope Francis told him, referring to the often over-sized role the New York headquarters plays compared to the satellite locations.
“Let us ask for the grace not to be entrenched and hard of heart, constantly demanding things of others,” Pope Francis said as he closed out the Mass. “Instead, let us take the first step, in prayer, in fraternal encounter, in concrete charity.”
“In this way, we will be more like the Father, who loves without counting the cost,” Pope Francis concluded. “And he will pour out upon us the Spirit of unity.”
Pope Francis will now depart Geneva to return to Rome, where he is expected to give a traditional in-flight press conference.