Pope Francis urges Christians to be united as “witnesses to mercy”

Pope Francis. Credit: Daniel Ibanez. / Archbishop Justin Welby. Credit: Lambeth Palace Picture Partnership.

Pope Francis said today that he prays that Christians will be “more deeply united as witnesses of mercy” in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The pope made the comment in a video message today, broadcast during an online Pentecost Sunday service hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. 

The pope said: “Let us ask the Spirit for the gift of unity, for only if we live as brothers and sisters can we spread the spirit of fraternity. We cannot ask others to be united if we ourselves take different paths. So let us pray for one another; let us each feel responsible for the other.”

The papal message was shown during a virtual service connected to the Thy Kingdom Come movement, which began in 2016 when Welby and the Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, asked every Church of England parish to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for the evangelization of the world. The following year, Christians in more than 85 countries took part.

In his message, Pope Francis said that since Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles in Jerusalem, “God’s life dwells among us, bringing us new and previously unknown hope, peace and joy.”

He said: “At Pentecost God ‘infected’ the world with life. How different this is from the contagion of death that has ravaged the earth for months now! Today, more than ever, it is necessary to implore the Holy Spirit to pour forth into our hearts the life of God, who is love. Indeed, if there is to be a better future, our hearts must change for the better.”

The pope noted that although the pandemic had forced people to observe social distancing it had also brought people together by a shared fear and uncertainty. 

“The Spirit assures us that we are not alone, that God sustains us,” he said. “Dear friends, we must give in turn the gift that we have received: we are called to share the comfort of the Spirit, the closeness of God.”

Pope Francis explained that we can do this by reflecting on what we ourselves long for.

“Everything we would like others to do for us, let us do for them instead. Do we want to be heard? Let us first listen. Do we need encouragement? Let us give encouragement. Do we want someone to care for us? Let us care for those who are alone and abandoned. Do we need hope for tomorrow? Let us give hope today,” he said.

The pope suggested that the world was experiencing “a tragic famine of hope.” But Christians, he said, are able to become “messengers of the comfort bestowed by the Spirit,” radiating hope.

He said that this also had a social dimension, inviting Christians to pray that political leaders would defend human life and the dignity of work, and tackle poverty and inequality.

He said: “Now as never before we need a vision rich in humanity: we cannot start up again by going back to our selfish pursuit of success without caring about those who are left behind. And even if many are doing precisely that, the Lord is asking us to change course.” 

“On the day of Pentecost, Peter spoke with bold courage (parrhesia) prompted by the Spirit. ‘Repent’ (Acts 2:38), he urged, be converted, change the direction of your lives. That is what we need to do: go back, turn back to God and our neighbour: no longer isolated and anesthetised before the cry of the poor and the devastation of our planet.” 

“We need to be united in facing all those pandemics that are spreading, that of the virus, but also those of hunger, war, contempt for life, and indifference to others. Only by walking together will we be able to go far.”

The virtual service also featured: the Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave a sermon; Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, who said the Creed; and Pastor Agu Irukwu, the Pentecostal president of Church Together in England, who led prayers. 

Also taking part were Heidi Crowter, a young advocate for people with Down Syndrome, and Thelma Commey, Methodist Youth President.

The service ended with a rendition of the hymn Amazing Grace, featuring singers from across the United Kingdom.