Preaching on the Beatitudes during his visit to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, Pope Francis called on those present to seek communion with Christ before all else.
“Let us together ask here today for the grace of rediscovering the attraction of following Jesus, of imitating him, of not seeking anyone else but him and his humble love,” the pope said Feb. 5 during Mass at Zayed Sports City, a stadium in Abu Dhabi.
“For here is the meaning of our life: in communion with him and in our love for others,” he added.
Pope Francis is in the Emirati capital Feb. 3-5 to promote interreligious dialogue and to give support to the country’s Christian minority. During his visit he also attended an interreligious meeting and met privately with the Muslim Council of Elders.
Christ pronounced the Beatitudes to “fix in our hearts,” the pope said, the “essential message” that “if you are with Jesus, if you love to listen to his word as the disciples of that time did, if you try to live out this word every day, then you are blessed.”
“The Christian life, first and foremost, is not … simply a list of external prescriptions to fulfil or a set of teachings to know,” but “rather, it is the knowledge that, in Jesus, we are the Father’s beloved children.”
“The Christian life means living out the joy of this blessedness, wanting to live life as a love story, the story of God’s faithful love, he who never abandons us and wishes to be in communion with us always,” Francis stated. “This is the reason for our joy, a joy that no one in the world and no circumstance in our lives can take from us. It is a joy that gives peace also in the midst of pain, a joy that already makes us participate in that eternal happiness which awaits us.”
The Beatitudes are “an overturning of that popular thinking, according to which it is the rich and the powerful who are blessed, those who are successful and acclaimed by the crowds,” he said.
“Let us look at how Jesus lived: poor in respect to things, but wealthy in love; he healed so many lives, but did not spare his own. He came to serve and not to be served; he taught us that greatness is not found in having but rather in giving. Just and meek, he did not offer resistance, but allowed himself to be condemned unjustly. In this way Jesus brought God’s love into the world. Only in this way did he defeat death, sin, fear and even worldliness: only by the power of divine love.”
Pope Francis thanked the Catholics living in the UAE for “the way in which you live the Gospel we heard.”
He added that following Christ doesn’t mean “always being cheerful,” saying that one “who is afflicted, who suffers injustice, who does everything he can to be a peacemaker, knows what it means to suffer.”
Many of the Catholics in Abu Dhabi are guest workers from Africa, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, though some are local Arabs.
The pope noted that many of the UAE’s Catholics “live far from home, missing the affection of your loved ones, and perhaps also feeling uncertainty about the future.”
“The Lord is faithful and does not abandon his people,” Pope Francis said. He recalled the life of St. Anthony the Great, who was accompanied by Christ amid his torments, saying: “The Lord is close. It can happen that, when faced with fresh sorrow or a difficult period, we think we are alone, even after all the time we have spent with the Lord. But in those moments, where he might not intervene immediately, he walks at our side. And if we continue to go forward, he will open up a new way for us; for the Lord specializes in doing new things; he can even open paths in the desert.”
Living the Beatitudes does not require “great works”, Pope Francis said, but “the imitation of Jesus in our everyday life.”
The Beatitudes “invite us to keep our hearts pure, to practice meekness and justice despite everything, to be merciful to all, to live affliction in union with God,” and they are “for those who face up to the challenges and trials of each day.”
“Those who live out the Beatitudes according to Jesus are able to cleanse the world. They are like a tree that even in the wasteland absorbs polluted air each day and gives back oxygen. It is my hope that you will be like this, rooted in Jesus and ready to do good to those around you. May your communities be oases of peace.”
The pope singled out two of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the meek, and Blessed are the peacemakers.
Concerning meekness, he said: “Those who attack or overpower others are not blessed, but rather those that uphold Jesus’ way of acting, he who saved us, and who was meek even towards his accusers.”
The pope quoted from St. Francis of Assisi’s Earlier Rule regarding approaches to “Saracens and non-Christians”: “Let them not get into arguments or disagreements, but be subject to every human creature out of love for God, and let them profess that they are Christians”.
“Neither arguments nor disagreements,” the pope stressed. “At that time, as many people were setting out, heavily armed, Saint Francis pointed out that Christians set out armed only with their humble faith and concrete love. Meekness is important.”
Turning to “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Pope Francis said that a Christian “promotes peace, starting with the community where he or she lives.”
“I ask for you the grace to preserve peace, unity, to take care of each other, with that beautiful fraternity in which there are no first or second class Christians,” he told the Catholics living in the UAE.
Pope Francis concluded: “May Jesus, who calls you blessed, give you the grace to go forward without becoming discouraged, abounding in love ‘to one another and to all’.”
At the conclusion of Mass, Pope Francis was addressed by Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, who thanked him for his visit.
Bishop Hinder said that the pope had “come to a Muslim country with the intention to do as Saint Francis did in the year 1219,” when he met in “mutual respect” with Al-Kamil, Sultan of Egypt.
“We Christians try to implement the order Saint Francis gave at his time to his brothers and to ‘live spiritually among the Muslims … not to engage in arguments and (simply) to acknowledge that (we) are Christians.’”
The bishop also thanked the Emirati authorities, especially Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, “who generously have made possible this visit and given us this space in order to have a public Mass with as many faithful as possible.”