It gives me great joy to see us gathered here as one family to pray for several countries around the world and for our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted because of their faith. A great number of Christians are losing their lives in the name of Jesus Christ. We are here this evening because of our faith and our noble sentiments of appreciation for those who are giving up their lives for the faith.
I am sure that most of you have been following posts on social media, and have seen how cruelly these Christians are being murdered. We are gathered here together to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters and pray that the Holy Spirit may fill them with the gift of fortitude so that they may be brave until the end, even to the point of death, in order to give witness to Christ.
It is good to bear in mind the sentiments which fuel this violence: the lack of tolerance, the greed for power, jealousy and hatred, all of which lead some people to consider others as the enemy rather than as a brother or a sister who, like them, has been created by God. We too can harbour these same sentiments which may lead to violence between us. This violence may increase; the only difference is that for the grace of God, we are not equipped with arms. We need to be imbued with sentiments of tolerance, compassion, forgiveness, love and generosity in order that we may seek the good of all, rather than simply our own good.
This evening is also an occasion to renew our faith in Christ who triumphed over death, as well as an opportunity to understand the full value of suffering in the eyes of God.
God did not create suffering. He does not wish for us to suffer, because as a Father who loves, he does not wish his children to be lacking in anything. However, there are times when, in order to safeguard that which is good – faith and the values which we uphold – we must suffer. With God’s help, this suffering is transformed into something positive for our benefit and that of those around us. Christ conceived his Church on the Cross, enduring the most cruel suffering imaginable. The Church was born from Christ’s pierced body; Christ who gave up his last drop of blood for us. And the Church continues to be built and strengthened by the suffering of Christians, whose suffering is united with that of Christ. St Paul the Apostle says to the Colossians: “It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1, 24). This does not mean that Christ’s suffering is incomplete. Rather it is necessary for us to build the Church which Christ conceived through his suffering, by uniting our suffering to his.
There is no comparison between our suffering and the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters, as a result of conflicts and wars in Libya and African countries, in Israel and Palestine, in Syria and Iraq as well as in the Ukraine. Today, we are here to pray for all these countries. But our suffering contributes to the building of the Body of Christ which is the Church, in the same way as their suffering does. For this I wish to thank God and all our Christian brothers and sisters who are offering up their suffering and giving up their lives for Him and for His Church. I would also like to thank God for those people in our country who are also suffering for Christ and for the Church. I wish to encourage those of you who are suffering with me, so that the Church in our own country may be strengthened. I urge you not to be disheartened. Just as our Christian brothers and sisters are offering themselves totally through their suffering, so we too must remain strong until the end. Take heart, through our suffering, our Church is being built and strengthened!
I wish to thank my brother-priests, parish priests and others. During the course of my pastoral visits, I noticed that there are those of them who are suffering for the sake of the Body of Christ since they are called upon to carry out their pastoral work under unfavourable and difficult circumstances. In spite of this, they carry out their duties with great love and hope, bolstered by their faith. I also wish to thank our lay brothers and sisters who offer their time and make great sacrifices in order that they may labour in the Lord’s pasture grounds. To these I add all those parents who are struggling to bring up their children in the Christian faith. In spite of the fact that their children may turn against them and rebel, they remain steadfast in their love and carry on dedicating their lives to them. I wish to thank the sick and the infirm who are also suffering – physically and morally – and which suffering they offer up for the salvation of souls and for the strengthening of the Church in our country.
In the name of the victory of Jesus Christ, through his resurrection from the dead, let us rejoice with our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted because our suffering has great value in the eyes of the Lord. At the same time, let us bear in mind that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8,18).
✠ Paul Cremona O.P.
Archbishop of Malta