By Hannah Brockhaus
During an ecumenical prayer service in Latvia Monday, Pope Francis warned Christians to not let the faith turn into another piece of history, but to keep it an active part of their lives and communities.
“This is a recurring danger for all of us,” the pope said Sept. 24. “We can take what gives us our very identity and turn it into a curio from the past, a tourist attraction, a museum piece that recalls the achievements of earlier ages… The same thing can happen with faith.”
“We can stop feeling like ‘resident’ Christians and become tourists,” he continued. “We could even say that our whole Christian tradition can run the same risk. The risk of ending up as a museum piece, enclosed within the walls of our churches, and no longer giving out a tune capable of moving the hearts and inspiring the lives of those who hear it.”
Pope Francis spoke during an ecumenical prayer meeting in the Evangelical Lutheran cathedral in Riga, Latvia. The cathedral is one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks and houses a pipe organ considered among the best in the world.
Though the organ has been renovated and rebuilt several times over the years, it is also considered one of the oldest in Europe and was at one time the largest in the world.
During the prayer, Francis referenced the organ, pointing out how it must have “accompanied the life, the creativity, the imagination and the devotion of all those who were moved by its sound.”
“It has been the instrument of God and of men for lifting of eyes and hearts to heaven. Today, it is a symbol of this city and its cathedral,” he said. “For those who live here, it is more than a monumental organ; it is part of the life, traditions and identity of this place.”
He said the organ can be a symbol of the Christian faith, which as St. Luke says, “is not to be hidden away, but to be made known and to resound in the various sectors of society.”
If the “music of the Gospel” is not heard in people’s lives, there can be no hope, he said. If the music of the Gospel does not sound in homes, in workplaces, in public, people will not recognize the duty to defend the dignity of every man and woman.
If the music of the Gospel stops, people will lose joy, compassion, trust, and the capacity for reconciliation. He stated: “If the music of the Gospel is no longer heard, we will lose the sounds that guide our lives to heaven and become locked into one of the worst ills of our day: loneliness and isolation.”
“Thank God” that the words of the Gospel of John continue to “echo in our midst,” the pope said: “Father, that all may be one… so that the world may believe.”
He explained that Jesus prayed these words before his Passion, “as he looked ahead to his own cross.” This constant and quiet prayer marks a path for everyone, shows the way to follow, he emphasized.
“We discover the only path possible for all ecumenism: that of confronting the cross of suffering… Jesus turning to his Father, and to us his brothers and sisters, continues to pray: ‘that all may be one.’”
These are not easy times, Francis said, especially for those who, even today, are experiencing exile and martyrdom for the faith. “Yet their witness makes us realize that the Lord continues to call us, asking us to live the Gospel radically, in joy and gratitude.”
“If Christ deemed us worthy to live in these times, at this hour – the only hour we have – we cannot let ourselves be overcome by fear, nor allow this time to pass without living it fully with joyful fidelity,” he said.
Following the prayer meeting, Pope Francis met with elderly men and women in St. James’ Catholic Cathedral. Though a historically Lutheran country, Catholics make up around 25 percent of the population of just under 2 million.
At St. James’ the pope recalled the many trials older Latvians have experienced, such as war, political repression, persecution, and exile. “Yet you remained steadfast; you persevered in faith,” he said.
“Neither the Nazi regime, nor the Soviet regime could extinguish the faith in your hearts. Neither could they stop some of you from becoming priests, religious sisters, catechists, or from serving the Church in other ways that put your lives at risk,” he said. “You fought the good fight; you ran the race, you kept the faith.”
He pointed to the words of St. James to have constancy in faith, and encouraged those present to persevere, to “not yield to disappointment or grief,” to not lose gentleness or hope.
Francis encouraged them to have, in their homes and homeland, “patient endurance and patient expectation,” so that “in this way you will continue to build your people.”
Before the meetings in the two cathedrals, Pope Francis started his day in Latvia with a brief speech to the country’s authorities. To them he said he was happy to know that the Catholic Church, in cooperation with the other Christian churches, is an important part of the country’s roots.
“The Gospel has nourished the life of your people in the past; today it can continue to open new paths enabling you to face present challenges, to value differences and, above all, to encourage ‘com-union’ between all,” he said.
The pope also praised the country’s liberty, which is celebrated during this year’s 100th anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence.
“If today we can celebrate, it is due to all those who blazed trails and opened a door to the future,” he said, “and bequeathed to you that same responsibility: to open a door to the future by looking to everything that stands at the service of life.”
He said a community’s development is not measured by the goods produced or resources possessed, but by the desire “to engender life and build for the future,” which is “measured by their capacity for self-sacrifice and commitment, in imitation of the example of past generations.”