Pope Francis celebrates Mass for an estimated 50,000 people at the Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, the last stop in his Sept. 22-23, 2023 visit to the port city to speak at an ecumenical meeting of young people and bishops called the “Rencontres Mediterraneennes,” or Mediterranean Encounter. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Rome Newsroom, Sep 23, 2023 / 13:10 pm (CNA).
Be Christians who “leap for joy” in the face of life’s challenges — with hearts ready to encounter the Lord and others, Pope Francis said Saturday at a Mass in Marseille, France.
“We want to be Christians who encounter God in prayer, and our brothers and sisters in love; Christians who leap, pulsate, and receive the fire of the Holy Spirit and then allow ourselves to be set afire by the questions of our day, by the challenges of the Mediterranean, by the cry of the poor — and by the ‘holy utopias’ of fraternity and peace that wait to be realized,” the pope said Sept. 23.
Pope Francis was in the port city of Marseille, in southern France, Sept. 22-23, to take part in the Mediterranean Encounter, an ecumenical gathering of around 120 young people and 70 bishops from 30 countries.
The pope addressed the “Rencontres Mediterraneennes” on Saturday morning before celebrating Mass in the afternoon for an estimated 50,000 people in Marseille’s Vélodrome Stadium.
Pope Francis greets an estimated 50,000 people in Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille from the popemobile before celebrating Mass at the end of a Sept. 22-23, 2023, visit to the southern France port city. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
In his homily, Francis recalled the words of the French priest St. Vincent de Paul, who exhorted Christians to “‘soften our hearts and make them aware of the sufferings and miseries of our neighbor. We should beg God to give us that spirit of mercy which is the very Spirit of God himself,’ to the point of recognizing that the poor are ‘our lords and masters.’”
Taking inspiration from the Gospel read at Mass, he reflected on the passage from St. Luke, in which Mary, pregnant with Jesus, goes to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, who is pregnant with St. John the Baptist.
When Mary “enters Elizabeth’s house, the child [Elizabeth] is carrying, recognizing the arrival of the Messiah, leaps for joy and begins to dance as David had before the Ark,” Francis said.
He explained that Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth teaches us to be Christians who “leap in the face of life,” and whose hearts are filled with compassion and mercy for others — recognizing, too, that the Lord often works in our lives through other people.
An image of Notre Dame de la Garde, or Our Lady of the Guard, was present in Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023, for the celebration of Mass. Pope Francis celebrated Mass for an estimated 50,000 people at the end of his Sept. 22-23, 2023 visit to Marseille to speak at an ecumenical meeting of young people and bishops called the “Rencontres Mediterraneennes,” or Mediterranean Encounter. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
The greater metropolitan area of Marseille, which lies in the Provence region of France, is almost 70% Catholic, with around 742,000 Catholics in a population of just under 1.1 million.
Francis’ 27-hour visit to the city included a Marian prayer with clergy, a moment of reflection for migrants lost at sea, and a private visit with the poor. He also spoke with France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne.
The immigration crisis in Europe and especially the Mediterranean region was the main theme of the pope’s speeches during his visit. According to the French government, during a 30-minute private meeting, Francis and President Macron also addressed the situations in Ukraine, Africa, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
A lively crowd awaited Pope Francis for Mass in the Vélodrome Stadium Sept. 23. Attendees in the stadium seating, including the concelebrating priests, passed the time by doing “the wave” before the pope’s arrival and the start of Mass.
In his homily, the pope explained that to leap in the face of life means “to feel that something is moving in our heart” — the opposite of “a flat, cold heart, accustomed to the quiet life, which is encased in indifference and becomes impermeable.”
“Such a heart becomes hardened and insensitive to everything and everyone, even to the tragic discarding of human life, which is seen today in the rejection of many immigrants, of countless unborn children and abandoned elderly people,” he said.
A banner of Pope Francis with the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, or the Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard, is displayed at Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, on Sept. 23, 2023. Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the stadium on the final day of his Sept. 22-23, 2023, visit to the port city. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Francis said this indifference can mean people “suffer cynicism, disenchantment, resignation, uncertainty, and an overall sadness,” while with faith, instead, “we can recognize God’s presence in everything.”
“Faced with the mystery of life and the challenges of society, those who believe have a spring in their step, a passion, a dream to cultivate, an interest that impels them to personally commit themselves. They know that in everything the Lord is present, calling and inviting them to witness to the Gospel with meekness, in order to build a new world, using the gifts and charisms they have received,” he said.
Pope Francis closed his homily by invoking the protection of Mary over France and all of Europe, and by quoting the poem “The Virgin at Noon,” by French poet and dramatist Paul Claudel, who died in 1955.
“I would like to offer this prayer using the words of Paul Claudel,” the pope said: “I see the church, open. […] / I have nothing to offer and nothing to ask. / I come, Mother, only to look at you. / To look at you, to weep for happiness, knowing that / I am your son, and that you are there. […] To be with you, Mary, in this place where you are. […] / Because you are there, always / Simply because you are Mary / Simply because you exist / Mother of Jesus Christ, thanks be to you.”