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THE POPE IN BRAZIL: Homily at Mass in Cuiabá


Christ will judge the selfish

October 16, 1991

Pope speaks on problems of migration and ecology


On Wednesday, 16 October, the Holy Father celebrated Mass in the city of Cuiabá. The theme of the Mass was "Evangelization: migrants and ecology". During the Mass the Pope preached the homily in Portuguese, speaking about the problems of migration and the environment in the area of the large port city on the Amazon.

1. "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?"

Let us try to keep this question in mind; it is a very important one. It is decisive. It comes from the great parable of the Last Judgement, according to St Matthew's Gospel, which we read just a few moments ago.

In this depiction of the Judgement which Christ, the Son of Man, will make at the end of the world (because the Father has given him the power to judge since he is the world's Redeemer), all of the Good News finds confirmation. Why "Good"? Because in it we find the expression of the eternal plan for the salvation of mankind. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).

What is the price of eternal life? It is infinite.

But how can man, a finite being, pay such a price? How can he be saved?

In the parable of the Last Judgement Christ gives us an answer: there is only one price of eternal salvation, which each person must pay, and that price is love. "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?", those on the right side will ask during the judgement. The Son of man will reply: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Mt 25:40).

2. The Last Judgement concerns the end of human history on earth. At the same time, reflecting on Matthew's Gospel, we must affirm that this judgement is constantly taking place. It continues at all times and places. In fact, people continue to do good for others, saving others from famine, giving them hospitality, clothing them, taking care of the sick and the imprisoned... or, they do none of these things: they are closed in upon themselves, in their selfishness, seeking their own comfort, insensitive to others and their needs.

In one way or another this division between the evangelical and eschatological "left" and "right" is repeated in people, milieux, and societies.

Therefore the truth about the judgement is always present, always timely. It cannot be put off to some unknown date. It is important to see it "here and now". "Here and now" in the life of the whole society, "here and now" in the life of Brazil's north and south. But also "here and now" in the life of each one of us, without exception. In the life of the one who is speaking to you now... and in that of all those who are listening to these words: this truth concerns each of us.

At the same time, it is the essential condition for evangelization, that is to say, for the Good News of salvation.

3. During my travels in this immense land of Brazil I have had before my eyes the goodness of God who has given it immeasurable wealth so that, using it, man and his family can give glory to the Creator.

These thoughts spur me on to make a more thorough reflection on the problems which afflict everyone, especially the people of Mato Grosso: the problem of migrations and ecology.

Here, like in other parts of Brazil, the problem of immigration is first of all that of the person who comes from other States of the Federation or from another country in search of better living conditions for himself and his family. He is usually longing for a piece of land, in the city or country, where he can become established. Only rarely will he find it. In some cases it is because the immigrant does not have the technical or financial resources to begin a new life; in others, it is because the large estates, some of which do not produce anything, do not allow him to have any land to work. In this way the immigrant enters into a vicious cycle which is very difficult to break.

I cannot hide my concern for the Brazilian families who have been removed from their environment, their traditions, the life of their religious community, exposed to the problems of long, difficult journeys. They are unsure of finding work and unable to get even a modest dwelling for shelter. Since it is still in an initial phase, industry in this State is not able to absorb the unskilled or poorly skilled labourer, and thus there is a growing number of unemployed or underemployed people. Children are the chief victims of the growing, uncontrolled migrations, which bring increased poverty, crime, abandonment and misconduct. Cuiabá, gateway to the Amazon, is the goal of many migrants who come here hoping to find a better life. However, they end up becoming part of this grand scenario of our suffering brothers and sisters, hungry, suffering children, the victims of an uncontrolled migration. It is up to public and community organizations to take this serious problem to heart and, with great human sensitivity and generosity, to adopt political and social measures.

The Pope blesses with joy and deep gratitude all those who, overcoming the barriers of consumerism and indifference, devote themselves to welcoming those who are truly Christ himself on pilgrimage who passes by and asks for effective help. How could I fail to mention the Centre for the Apostolic Care of Migrants run by the Scalabrini Fathers in Cuiabá which contributes, to the degree its scant resources allow, to alleviating so much suffering?

However, my brothers and sisters, I cannot overlook another type of immigrant, the person who comes to Mato Grosso with some resources in order to develop some commercial, industrial, farm or agricultural business or services in a State which, indeed, has a promising future. These migrants represent in some respects the wheels of progress, but they can also be its victims because by devoting themselves entirely to work, hoping for quick success in their business enterprise and lacking the comfort and support of their Church community, they neglect the religious practices that they observed in the city of their birth. They succeed in business, but fail in their religious life, forgetting their duties to God who, in their land of origin, showed them the way to happiness through good works, a close, faithful family, children who grow in love for God and their parents.

Undoubtedly, the problem of migration is not merely socio-economic or political, but it is most of all a challenge to world justice and charity. "Whatever the situation of each person", as I wrote in my Message for World Migration Day, "today everyone feels committed to a vast stream of participation, reflection and demand for the conscious recognition of their own dignity" (John Paul II, 5 August 1987). The Church, which is aware of the complexity of your problems, wants to remain at your side so that "Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Eph 3:17). She strives to alleviate your sufferings which are caused by humiliation and poverty. She wants to give Christian families their true countenance, that of the "domestic Church" where physical life and faith life are both born. Therefore she has the duty of working skillfully and devotedly to prevent and counteract the aggressive, insidious activity of the sects which, in their proselytism, frequently focus on migrants.

4. The other great problem affecting society today is the environmental question, the problem of ecology. We all know the causes of this problem. On the occasion of the recent publication of the Encyclical Centesimus annus, the topic was treated to emphasize that "in his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way" (n. 37). On that occasion I wrote that man cannot "make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray" (ibid.).

When one enters into contact with environmental problems, whether in the Amazon basin or the lowlands of Mato Grosso, these observations are confirmed; unfortunately, they do not affect Brazil alone, but also other regions of the planet, even in the industrialized nations. With interest I am following the preparations for the United Nations Conference on the environment and its development which will be held in Rio de Janeiro next June. My hope is that in its preparation and conference phases, the nations gathered there will "safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic `human ecology'" (Centesimus annus, n. 38). For Brazil, environmental protection is most of all the right to protection of life. If we take into consideration the enormous problems of the infrastructure of the large urban centres, we will have an idea of the challenges which will face the country in this closing century.

5. Dear brothers and sisters!

I greet the priests of this land who work in the State of Mato Grosso and I thank them for their pastoral commitment to the People of God. I also greet and thank the Governor and the other civil and military Authorities. I greet everyone present, and those who were not able to come and could not participate in person in this Eucharistic celebration.

It is a great joy for me to be here in Cuiabá. The Pope has not come in search of gold like the bandeirantes of old or the prospectors of today. He is in this city, the geographic centre of South America, to get to know, bless and bring his word to the good people of this land, to those who were born here or the many people who have come here in recent years. I thank Archbishop Bonifácio Piccinini and my brother Bishops of Mato Grosso for their fraternal welcome. Their apostolic activity is an extension of the work of their predecessors and the missionaries who came from so many different areas, and who planted the Church in the plains and forests of this beautiful region after the first Bishop-Prelate of Cuiabá, Bishop Luiz de Castro, arrived here in 1801.

6. "What will separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom 8:35).

St Paul asks this question of the first Christians, of people who frequently had to suffer amid the widest range of danger and persecution, even to the point of losing their life.

However, the Apostle replies, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. On the contrary, "in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us" (Rom 8:37).

This is truly Good News, even for the people of today who suffer from injustice, deceit and death threats when they defend just causes.

What can separate us from the love of Christ? Only our lack of love could separate us from it, our selfishness, indifference, insensitivity, and greed. These are the foes of our salvation. They will be the ones to judge us in the court of the Son of Man and to deliver the verdict. Perhaps at this moment they are already sentencing us in the inner voice of our conscience. What do we have to do in regard to a deaf, insensitive conscience? The day will come when it will make itself heard, when it can no longer be silenced, when it will find itself face to face with the majesty of the Son of Man, of the crucified and risen Redeemer of the world.

7. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31), the Apostle asks. God is with us. God desires our salvation. In fact, he "did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all" (Rom 8:32). Through him we have been justified, by Jesus Christ "who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us!" (Rom 8:34).

Therefore, what can separate us from the love of Christ, from that love which is God?

Only we can. Only our very own lack of love.

Dear brothers and sisters!

May love have the best that is in us. May it be victorious in our social life in all its dimensions. May each of us hear at least once these words of the Son of man: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me".

Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion

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