PRESOV, SLOVAKIA – Christian faith is not demonstrated by the power of the world but by lived testimony, Pope Francis said on September 14, warning that the cross should not be used as a political symbol or a sign of social or religious status.
“Witnesses generate other witnesses, because they are life givers,” he insisted. “This is how faith is spread: not with worldly power but with the wisdom of the cross; not with structures but with testimony.”
The Pope’s words came during his first public Mass since arriving in Slovakia on September 12, which he celebrated in the Byzantine liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
“How often do we miss a Christianity of victors, a triumphalist Christianity that is important and influential, which receives glory and honor?” Asked the Pope in his homily. “Yet a Christianity without a cross is worldly Christianity, and proves sterile.”
Christian humility detached from the “temptation” of power has been a constant theme of the Pope trip to Hungary and Slovakia.
At the start of his trip to the Hungarian capital of Budapest – in the presence of the controversial Prime Minister of the country Viktor Orban, who has amassed enormous political power over the past decade by presenting himself as a defender of Christian Europe – Francis warned against those who “would prefer a mighty Messiah rather than a crucified servant.”
The Pope returned to this message in the bucolic town of PreÅ¡ov, in eastern Slovakia, telling nearly 40,000 people that “in the eyes of the world, the cross represents failure”.
“We may not accept, except perhaps in word, a weak and crucified God, and rather dream of a powerful and triumphant God,” he said. “It’s a great temptation.”
âJesus is not a loser, but God, who offers himself willingly for every man and woman,â he added.
The pope’s words were punctuated by the choice of PreÅ¡ov as the site of his first mass in the country. Here, in 1950, the oriental rite [Greek Catholic] Church leaders were arrested by the Communist authorities and forced to convert to Orthodoxy.
PreÅ¡ov, where Pope John Paul II also met Eastern Rite Catholics in 1995, is a âcity of messagesâ, Ines Murzaku, professor of religion at Seton Hall University, told NCR.
While awaiting the arrival of the Pope, Fr. Eduard Roman, an Eastern Rite Catholic priest, said the message had been understood and well received. Francis’ recognition of the region’s difficult history gives hope for its future.
“He is a father to all of us,” he told NCR. “My heart is very, very full.”
As Francis celebrated Mass using the 4th century liturgy, against the backdrop of a Greco-Catholic crucifix, in a nod to the region’s troubled past, the Pope made it clear that the cross was not to be used for any purpose. policies, but rather required sacrifices.
“The witnesses to the cross do not employ the ways of deception and worldly pretension: they do not want to impose themselves and theirs, but to lay down their lives for others”, declared the Pope, rendering homage to persecuted believers and martyrs who had given their lives for the faith.
Praising them as “heroes of everyday existence” whose “life changed history”, the Pope said it was incumbent on those present to honor their memory with their own lives.
“Crucifixes are found all around us: on our necks, in houses, in cars, in pockets,” FranÃ§ois said. “What good is it if we don’t stop to look at Jesus crucified and open our hearts to him.”
“Let us not reduce the cross to an object of devotion, let alone a political symbol, a sign of religious and social status,” he added. “For the cross is not a flag to be waved, but the pure source of a new way of life.”