It was fiesta time in Lima on Sunday, Jan. 21, as Peruvians lined the streets of the capital city of 10 million people and cheered Pope Francis everywhere he went on this last day of his visit. There was an atmosphere of great excitement as he passed by; people cheered and chanted, “Papa Francisco, amigo, Peru esta contigo!” (“Pope Francis, friend, Peru is with you!”). He has clearly touched the hearts of the inhabitants of this majority Catholic country.
On the two first big events of the day, the pope focused on the need for the church in Peru to be a united church, to a missionary church that reaches out to everyone and to be a prophetic church with the courage to denounce abuses and corruption against the people, especially against the most vulnerable.
People cheered and chanted,“Pope Francis, friend, Peru is with you!”
Francis, who appears to be enjoying his visit here more than in Chile, where the climate was much different, began the day with a visit to the Shrine of the Lord of Miracles, a sacred image of the crucifixion of Jesus. The image dates back to the 17th century and, having survived the ravages of time and earthquakes, has become an object of great devotion for all Peruvians.
At the shrine, he addressed 500 contemplative cloistered nuns from all over the country. Francis asked them not to be jealous as he sent his greetings, too, to the four communities of contemplative sisters in Buenos Aires, his former diocese, who “accompany me always with their prayers.”
Pope Francis began his talk with a joke, “I think that you took advantage of this visit to get out for some fresh air!” They cheered with delight. “The church needs you,” he told them; it the needs their prayer, which must “always [be] missionary.” He urged them to pray for the prisoners, migrants, refugees, victims of persecution, the unemployed, the poor, the sick and families. The pope encouraged them to help the needy “not only by prayer but also by concrete service.”
Pope Francis: “Pray constantly for unity in this beloved church in Peru, because it is tempted to division.”
Francis warned them against gossip, which destroys the harmony and unity in communities. The pope drew laughter when he said: “Do you know what a nun who gossips is? A terrorist! Because the one who gossips throws a bomb and then walks away tranquil.” Francis also pleaded with them to “pray constantly for unity in this beloved church in Peru, because it is tempted to division.”
From the shrine, Pope Francis drove in his popemobile through cheering crowds, who were being sprayed with water by the fire brigade to keep them cool on this very hot day, and went to the 17th-century cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. Inside, after praying before the relics of the country’s great saints, including St. Teresa of Lima, St. Martin de Porres and others, he addressed the country’s 68 bishops.
He began by recalling that the theme of his visit is “unity” and “hope” (“Unidos por la esperanza.”) and developed his talk around another of the country’s great saints, St. Turibius of Mongrovejo, who was the archbishop of Lima in the 17th century. Francis presented him as a model for bishops today. He described him as “a street bishop”; “a bishop with shoes worn out by walking, by constant travel, by setting out to preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance and fear.”
Francis recalled that the saint “understood that it was necessary to learn to speak the language of others, for only in this way could the Gospel be understood and touch the heart.” Bishops today, he said, “have to learn completely new languages, like that, for example, of this, our digital age. To know the real language of our young people, our families, our children.”
“The evangelization of culture requires us to enter into the heart of culture itself, so that it can be illuminated from within by the Gospel.”
Moreover, the pope said bishops today “need to get to the places where new stories and paradigms are being born, to bring the word of Jesus to the very heart of our cities and our peoples. The evangelization of culture requires us to enter into the heart of culture itself, so that it can be illuminated from within by the Gospel.”
Pope Francis recalled that St. Turibius on his pastoral visits “was able see the abuses and excesses that the original peoples had suffered, and thus he was unafraid to excommunicate the Corregidor of Cajatambo [the mayor of the region], setting himself against a whole system of corruption and a web of interests which drew on himself the enmity of many.”
Today, he said, bishops in Peru should carry out their ministry with a “spirit of prophecy.” The pope told them “there can be no authentic evangelization that does not point out and denounce every sin against the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
“There can be no authentic evangelization that does not point out and denounce every sin against the lives of our brothers and sisters.”
Francis recalled that St. Turubius founded the first post-Tridentine seminary in this part of the world, defended the ordination of the mestizos and insisted that “if the clergy needed to be different in any area, it had to be by virtue of their holiness and not their racial origin.” St. Turubius was a pastor who visited his priests, accompanied them, encouraged them, admonished them “and reminded them that they were pastors, not shopkeepers, and so they had to care for and defend the indios as their children.”
Francis recalled that the saint “did not do this from a desk, and so he knew his sheep and they recognized, in his voice, the voice of the good shepherd.” The bishops of Peru, he said, should follow his example with their priests.
In the final part of his speech, Pope Francis focused in on the crucial issue of unity among the bishops in Peru. He recalled that St. Turubius worked “in an admirable and prophetic way” to open ways “for communion and participation among the different members of God’s people” in his time.
Francis knows well that the Peruvian bishops, in recent decades, have been badly divided, in part as a result of the appointments made by Rome in the 1980s and ’90s. Encouraged by Francis, they are now beginning to take steps to regain the lost unity. He told them: “We cannot deny tensions and the differences; life is not possible without conflict.” But, he said, it is necessary “to deal with them in a spirit of unity, in honest and sincere dialogue, face to face, taking care not to fall into the temptation to ignore the past or to remain prisoners, lacking the vision to discern paths of unity and peace.”
As he concluded his talk, he pleaded with them: “Dear brothers, work for unity. Do not remain prisoners of divisions that create cliques and hamper our vocation to be a sacrament of communion. Remember: What was attractive about the early church was how they loved one another. That was—and is and always will be—the best way to evangelize.”
When Pope Francis had finished speaking, the bishops applauded warmly. The pope then engaged in a question-and-answer session for about half an hour.
The pope ended the morning praying the Angelus with Peruvian young people and inviting them to get involved with the next synod, which will be this October and focus on youth. “Your faces, your questions and your lives are important for the church and we need to give them the importance they deserve,” he told them.
Look to the saints of Peru as examples of hope and don't be discouraged “about ourselves or about others,” he told them, adding that things in life that are hard to accept cannot simply be digitally enhanced.
“There are pictures that are very nice, but completely fake. Let me assure you that the heart can’t be photoshopped, because that’s where authentic love and genuine happiness are found,” Pope Francis said.
Later that afternoon, before taking the plane back to Rome, he was scheduled to celebrate Mass for more than 1.2 million people at Las Palmas Airbase.
Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report. This story has been updated.