Sunday, 9 April 2000
I thank God, who is great and merciful, for giving me the joy of meeting you and in bringing you the blessing of the Holy Father John Paul II, which I will impart at the end of the Holy Mass. I also express my gratitude to the authorities of this beautiful country for the hospitality that they are offering me during my apostolic journey.
Almost all of you find yourselves in this country for reasons of work. You left your homeland, which you miss and for which you feel a great longing. As brothers and sisters in the faith, you have come to this sacred place to meet Jesus Christ, to experience his presence in your midst and in his sacraments. Your "longing for God" and desire to "see Jesus" has brought you here. We are here and God is present among us. He speaks to us in the words that we have just heard. Jesus Christ offers his Body and Blood as our nourishment, because of his great love for us.
And what does God say to us today? What is his message to us in the Word that he has spoken?
1. "We wish to see Jesus'
The Gospel presents Jesus and his little group of disciples in the midst of a crowd. There are also some Greeks, who are foreigners among the Jews, belonging to a different religion and probably only there on a temporary basis. They hear about Jesus and his miracles, about how he brought Lazarus back from the dead. And so they ask to see this man, Jesus. He stirs up a longing within them for God, a desire that is deeply rooted in the heart of every person to come in contact with the mysterious character who is our Creator. They try to see Jesus because they sense that he is not just any man, but because he has extraordinary powers and a great love for people.
But who is this young master, Jesus? He presents himself in an unusual way. He wants no special honour from kings. He who brought Lazarus back to life speaks of his death as something necessary so that others can have life: "Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.... And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself. By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die" (Jn 12: 24, 32-33). He even sees his glory and the glory of his Father in this work.
As we heard in the second reading, he "became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation" (Heb 5: 9). He is the Saviour and Redeemer of all men. He is that Son who is spoken about in the Scriptures: "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3: 16). He also died for my sins because he loved me. Each of us has the right and duty to place ourselves before him and say with St Paul: "... the Son of God who loved me and who sacrificed himself for my sake" (Gal 2: 20). "There is no greater love than to give one's life for one's brother". With this love he loves each one of us; through this love he is present in the Eucharist, and he offers himself for us to the Father and offers us his Body and Blood.
In this way, through his death he has united Greeks and Jews and all the other peoples with a new covenant. Though coming from many nations, he links us into a new people, with whom he signs a new contract with his own blood, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah: "Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people" (Jer 31: 33).
We are this new People or family of God, the Church of Jesus Christ. For this reason we feel close, like brothers and sisters, a little flock, but united by bonds that are even stronger than those of blood, race or colour.
Our gathering today, as indeed any other kind of meeting, Eucharistic or otherwise, should be full of joy and of rediscovery of this relationship of brotherhood in Jesus Christ. In him our longing for God becomes satisfied. He is our Emmanuel: God with us. He also helps to ease the legitimate nostalgia we feel for our homeland.
2. How to overcome nostalgia for one's own country
A great number of you are here for work reasons and naturally your own native land remains close to your heart. You can ease this nostalgia through your relationship with God in Jesus Christ. You try to honour your country, but you should also seek to honour your names as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ. Do all you can to deepen your faith. Honour Jesus Christ by being faithful to him in your life. With your life give witness of your fidelity to Jesus Christ, to his love for everyone, to his spirit of pardon and reconciliation. Be honest, hard-working, peaceful, just, charitable. Keep alive your longing for God, your striving to "see God", to "see Jesus Christ" in prayer (and here you can learn much from our Muslim brothers) and in the reading of the Gospel.
"If a man serves me, he must follow me" (Jn 12: 26), says Jesus. Follow Jesus Christ with an honest, authentic, peaceful life. Honour your Head who is Jesus Christ. What is needed is not so much a lot of words, but rather lots of deeds, example, authenticity. Twenty-five years ago Pope Paul VI stated that "modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses" (Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 41). Time has proved the wisdom and truth of those words.
In this way the people around you could be drawn to find out the secret of your joy and your inner peace, which is basically - as it was for the Greeks of the Gospel - the desire to "see Jesus", to know him more closely. As the Apostle Peter says, "let him be your hope".
Remember that each one of you is an ambassador of Jesus Christ, an ambassador that brings a message of peace, of solidarity, of humanity, of brotherhood, of cooperation, of tolerance, in a word: of dialogue of life.
The Great Jubilee is for all of us an occasion for reviewing our life and for converting to a style of life that is more consistent with our faith. Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus gathered his little flock and left a mandate to his Church: "You will be my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1: 8). This mandate is all the more valid for your little ecclesial community in the land of Libya 2,000 years later, especially in this Jubilee Year. Be the witnesses of Jesus Christ!