Pope Francis today reminded the Catholic world that Jesus appointed Peter and his successors —the bishops of Rome—as the “visible center of communion in the church.”
Though he makes no direct reference to them, his words would appear to be a gentle but firm reminder especially to that tiny minority of cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful, who are challenging his authority, especially over his post-synod exhortation on the family, “The Joy of Love.”
Addressing thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Aug. 27, Pope Francis commented on the 16th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew that was read at Mass today in Catholic churches worldwide. That Gospel story tells how after Simon Peter confessed his faith in the Lord, Jesus made him the rock or sure foundation on which he will build his church.
“Jesus wanted for his church a visible center of communion in Peter and in those who would succeed him.”
Francis said the Gospel story makes clear that “Jesus wanted for his church a visible center of communion in Peter and in those who would succeed him in the same primatial responsibility, which from the origins [of the church] have been identified in the bishops of Rome, the city where Peter and Paul gave the witness of blood.”
He recalled that today’s Gospel “reports a key passage in the journey of Jesus with his disciples: It is the moment in which he wishes to verify the extent of their faith in him.” Jesus first asks them what “the people” think of him, and they respond, “A prophet.” Francis observed that while this is true, it does not capture “the center of his person and of his mission,” and so Jesus asks the disciples what they themselves think of him. Francis noted that Peter responded for all of them saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Commenting on that response, Pope Francis said: “Simon Peter finds on his lips words that are greater than he; words that do not come from his natural capacity but are inspired by the heavenly Father, who reveals to the first of the 12 [apostles] the true identity of Jesus: He is the Messiah, the Son sent by God to save humanity.” At this answer, Francis said: “Jesus understood that thanks to the faith given by the Father, there is a solid foundation on which he can build his church. And so he says to Simon: “You are Peter—that is, a stone, a rock—and on this rock I will build my church.”
“Simon Peter finds on his lips words that are greater than he.”
Pope Francis went on to tell his pilgrim audience that “with us, too, today, Jesus wants to continue building his church, this house with a solid foundation but where there are also cracks, and which has continual need of repair, as at the time of Francis of Assisi.”
Speaking for himself as pope but also for other members of the church, Francis said: “Certainly we do not feel to be rocks but only small stones. Nevertheless, no small stone is useless. On the contrary, in the hands of Jesus, it becomes precious, because he gathers it, watches it with great tenderness, works on it with the His Spirit and puts it in the right place, which he has thought from eternity, and where it may be more useful for the entire building.”
Indeed, he said, “All of us, however small, we are made ‘living stones’ of his love, and so we have a place and a mission in the church, which is a community of life, made of many stones, all different, that form one only building in the sign of fraternity and communion.”
“All of us, however small, we are made ‘living stones’ of his love, and so we have a place and a mission in the church.”
He concluded by reminding all the faithful that Jesus builds his church on “the rock,” that is Peter and his successors as bishops of Rome.
After reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis called for prayers for all those hit by the heavy flooding in recent days in Bangladesh, which he is expected to visit at the end of November, Nepal and northern India. “I express my closeness to these populations, and I pray for the victims and for all who are suffering because of this calamity.”
Pope Francis then made a passionate appeal for an end to the violent persecution of the Rohingya people, a minority Muslim population of some one million people in Rakhine state, Myanmar. It was a highly significant statement given that he plans to visit Myanmar at the end of November, a country where the situation of the Rohingya people is a highly sensitive one for the government and the majority Buddhist population. While Myanmar is on the road to democracy, the army still holds the balance of power and remains deeply involved, together with the police, in the repression of the Rohingya.
“Sad news has reached us of the persecution of our Rohingya brothers and sisters, a religious minority,” Pope Francis said in an explicit reference to the killing of some 80 Rohingya people and 12 members of Myanmar’s security forces in clashes between the two sides in recent days in the city of Maungdaw. It was the worst violence to hit the majority Buddhist Rakhine state, where the Rohingya live, since October 2016, prompting the evacuation of many people from the area.
Francis went on to say, “I would like to express my full closeness to them, and let all of us ask the Lord to save them and to raise up men and women of goodwill to help them, that they may be given their full rights.” He concluded by asking everyone to “pray for our Rohingya brethren.”