GUAYAQUIL. A million people from Ecuador and neighboring countries interrupted Pope Francis several times with enthusiastic applause as he delivered an inspiring and encouraging homily on the family, and assured them that thanks to Jesus “the best wine is yet to come.”
He offered this encouraging and exhilarating message when he spoke at Mass in Los Samanes Park, in Guayaquil, the country’s largest and most vibrant city and its commercial hub, on July 6. The city's name comes from the heroic Indian chief “Guayas” and his wife “Quil,” symbols of the indigenous peoples resistance to the Spanish conquistadores. It was the first city to gain its independence from Spain (1820) and became part of the new state in 1830. The pope took an early morning 50-minute flight from Quito to here.
He spoke with passion and force about the family as the sun blazed down on this enormous crowd and the thermometer registered 35° C (75° F), while humidity stood at 90 percent. They listened with great attentiveness, huddled under umbrellas and wearing a variety of headgear, and applauded several times at key moments.
Drawing on the Gospel story of the wedding at Cana, Francis sent several messages that transcended the borders of Ecuador and Latin America; messages destined for families in a variety of situations, for governments worldwide, and for next October’s synod of bishops.
He began by recalling that Jesus and his mother Mary were at a wedding in Cana, when the wine ran out. He explained that “wine is a sign of happiness, love and plenty,” but often these three elements are lacking in many family situations today. “The lack of wine” can be due to a variety of causes. Adolescents and young people can sense when it is lacking in their homes. Many women, sad and lonely, sense this too “when love left, when it slipped away from their lives.” Elderly people feel this lack too “when they are left out of family celebrations, cast aside and longing each day for a little love.” This lack of “wine” can also be due to “unemployment, illness and difficult situations which our families may experience,” he said.
At Cana in Galilee, he recalled, Mary “is concerned for the needs of the newlyweds” and so “she approaches Jesus in confidence,” she prays. Jesus’ initial response is disheartening, because he said his “hour” had not yet come, but “she nonetheless places the problem in God’s hands” and “her concern to meet the needs of others hastens Jesus’ hour.”
Francis said, “She teaches us to put our families in God’s hands, to pray, to kindle the hope which shows us that our concerns are also God’s concerns.” He explained that “praying always lifts us out of our worries and concerns. It makes us rise above everything that hurts, upsets or disappoints us, and it puts us in the place of others, in their shoes.”
At Cana, Pope Francis said, “Mary finally acts,” she tells the attendants “do whatever he tells you.” He explained that “this is also an invitation to us to open our hearts to Jesus, who came not to be served but to be serve.” Service “is the true sign of love,” he added. “We learn this especially in the family, where we become servants out of love for one another. In the heart of the family, no one is rejected.”
At this point he delivered his first message, reminding governments—in Ecuador and worldwide—that “the family is the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly” and as such “the family constitutes the best ‘social capital.’ It cannot be replaced by other institutions. It needs to be helped and strengthened, lest we lose our proper sense of the services which society as a whole provides.” He insisted that “those services are not a type of alms, but rather a genuine ‘social debt’ with respect to the institution of the family, which contributes so greatly to the common good.”
That message went down well with the vast crowd at the Mass because in Ecuador where there are many poor people, the minimum monthly wage is US $390, and families really need to be helped in so many ways.
The Argentinean pope’s next message was for families, in Ecuador and elsewhere across the globe. He reminded them that the family is “a little church,” “a domestic church,” which “along with life, also mediates God’s tenderness and love.” Indeed, “in the heart of the family no one is rejected.” And, “when we experience the love of our parents, we feel the closeness of God’s love.”
He recalled that when he was young he once asked his mother which of her five children she loved most. She responded by holding up her hand and showing him the five fingers and said, “if someone hurts one, I feel it.”
In the family, he said, “miracles are performed with what little we have, with what we are, with what is at hand… many times, it is not ideal, it is not what we dreamt of, nor what ‘should have been.’”
He recalled that “the new wine” made by Jesus at the wedding feast of Cana “came from the water jars, the jars used for ablutions, we might even say from the place where everyone had left their sins…"
Indeed, he said, “In our own families and in the greater family to which we all belong (the church), nothing is thrown away, nothing is useless.”
At this point, he delivered his third message: to the 300 bishops who will meet in the Vatican in October for the synod on the family. He recalled that its task is “to deepen her spiritual discernment and consider concrete solutions and helps to the many difficult and significant challenges that families face today.” He asked all present “to pray fervently for this intention, so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it—by making it part of his “hour”—into a miracle.” He did not need to explain what he meant by “impure, scandalous or threatening,” the Ecuadorians understood.
Saying that the synod could be “part of Jesus’s hour” when he could do “a miracle” is quite significant. It brought to mind what Francis said on the flight back to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, July 2013, when he spoke about the present moment as a “Kairos”—a God given moment, for the church to show mercy.
He recalled that Jesus performed the miracle because “they had no wine.” It happened because a woman, Mary, “was attentive, left her concerns in God’s hands and acted sensibly and courageously.”
But everything did not end with the miracle, he said: “there was more to come: everyone went on to enjoy the finest of wines.”
Pope Francis said that “this is the good news: the finest wines are yet to be tasted; for families, the richest, deepest and most beautiful things are yet to come. The time is coming when we will taste love daily, when our children will come to appreciate the home we share, and our elderly will be present each day in the joys of life.”
He said, “The finest of wines will come for every person who stakes everything on love. And it will come in spite of all the variables and statistics which say otherwise; the best wine is yet to come for those who today feel hopelessly lost.”
To drive his point home, he asked the crowd to repeat three times: “the best wine is yet to come.” And when they did so with gusto, he then told them “Whisper it to the hopeless and the loveless.”
He reminded them that “God always seek out the peripheries, those who have run out of wine, those who drink only of discouragement” and “Jesus feels their weakness, in order to pour out the best wines for those who, for whatever reason, feel that all their jars have been broken.”
He concluded his homily by saying that “as Mary bids us, let us do whatever Jesus tells us, and be thankful that in this, our time and our hour, the new wine, the finest wine, will make us recover the joy of being a family.”
This was indeed a significant homily, and it came at the first of five public Masses that Francis will celebrate on his eight day journey through Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.
The Mass and the homily were but a small part of an incredibly busy day for the 78-year-old pope, who did not even take his usual daily rest. The rest of the program involved a visit to shrine of Divine Mercy, lunch with the Jesuit community of the Javier school, one of whom was an old 91-year friend and mentor, a courtesy call to the President at the Presidential Palace, and a visit to the Cathedral.
Everywhere Pope Francis he went tens of thousands of people turned out to see him, cheer him and receive his blessing. He is a Latin American pope and they love him in a very special way, and everywhere they chant "Francisco, Francisco." But even at the end of a long and demanding day in which he shook hands and embraced or kissed hundreds if not thousands of young and old, a very happy and seemingly tireless pope was still full of energy. Some say he draws his great energy from contact with people and with crowds, but he attributes it to the grace of office.