Never repay one wrong with another, or one abusive word with another; instead, repay with a blessing. That is what you are called to do, so that you inherit a blessing.
Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have.
“Do not repay evil for evil, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Pt 3:9), urges the Apostle Peter.
I come from a country, Pakistan, where, day after day, evil makes mocks people’s faith and patience, by bursting with brutal violence, by carrying out massacres in mosques and churches, by threatening with death those who work for peace.
Just ten days ago, in the city of Peshawar, two terrorists blew themselves up in the Anglican church of All Saints, causing the death of more than 80 Christians who were celebrating Sunday. The images of pain, the torment of those who survived, and the power of evil that destroyed innocent lives, reach out to our prayer after these days full of meeting and dialogue. They rise up to God, as a powerful and dramatic invocation that He makes us instruments of the Gospel to reconcile people and uproot the seeds of hatred. These innocent victims are a call to us to have the courage to hope. Our Christian hope is born under the cross: it is humble, yet it is stronger than the lord of darkness! Stronger than the prince of division! Our prayer is a rebellion against death! It is a rebellion against the unavoidability of evil! It is an urgent call to communion in suffering.
Let us turn our eyes to our brothers and sisters, who in Pakistan and in many other places of the world, are silently led like lambs to the slaughter and killed. These men’s hands carry no weapons, they are raised in prayer to the Lord. These women, blown to pieces by the bombs, want to help the poor and live in peace with everybody. These innocent children are robbed of their life’s years: they are the sons and daughters of a small minority with no political claims, which suffers in Pakistan from massive iniquities and much contempt. Contempt is fuelled by the hatred of those who make religion blasphemous turning it into an instrument of death. These Christians are the brothers and sisters of the many sons and daughters of Islam, who are themselves the victims of the terrorist folly.
The words of the Apostle Peter echo among us: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed (1 Pt 3:14)”. They touch me deeply: the words of Peter refer to Jesus’ words: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12). The humble resistance of Christians makes them similar to Christ. Their faithfulness to Sunday, at the risk of their lives, shows us the core of our faith and of human life: man is made for communion with God and with his neighbours. Man can take part in the endless love of Jesus, our Lord, who has made himself a neighbour to each and every one of us. On Sunday, our brothers celebrate the love of our disarmed God, who accepted the cross to throw the prince of darkness out of our lives.
Our brothers, how difficult it is! Nobody should be alone in this mission! Let us help and support each other… Let us be contagious in Christian love. May it infuse courage, intelligence in dialogue, perseverance in hope. May it lead us, when we return to our countries and we are asked for a reason for the hope that is in our hearts.
What a great consolation comes to us from Pope Francis’ words, when, on the day of fasting and prayer for Syria, he said: “Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God, I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it!” And he continued: “In the cross we can see God’s reply. violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace!”
Yes, dear brothers: it is possible to believe and take the decisions of one’s life looking at the cross. I think of what our martyr, Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, killed less than two years ago, said. Shahbaz lived to protect the Christians and all the minorities of our country. He drew from the Scriptures his sensitivity and compassion for the poorest. He never stopped believing that living together is possible and he courageously and generously promoted dialogue with the Muslims. He said: “I want to live for Christ and I want to die for Him. I do not feel any fear in this country. Many times the extremists have wanted to kill me, many times they wanted to put me in prison. I say, “Until I live, until my last breath, I will continue to serve Jesus, to serve the poor humanity, the suffering humanity, the Christians, the needy, the poor. I believe that the needy, the poor, the orphans, are part of my body in Christ, that they are the persecuted and needy part of the body of Christ. If we bring this mission to its conclusion, then we will have won a place at the feet of Jesus, and I will be able to look at him without feeling shame”.
In this testimony, the words of the Apostle Peter resound: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt 3:14-15).
These words shed light on the meaning of our meeting. For us Christians “the courage to hope” is rooted in the strength that comes from Jesus’ cross. Looking at our crucified Lord, we feel his greatness and beauty, while we implore from him and from his witnesses the same humbleness, the same faith, the same tenacious love. Under the cross, we want to choose the humble and courageous path of dialogue, encounter, forgiveness and peace.
In this spirit, the Community of Sant’Egidio summoned us here to Rome. In this spirit its young members in Pakistan love the poor and build bridges of dialogue. In this spirit we thank the Lord as He does not abandon us in the storms, bur He leads us and always will lead us to the havens of peace. To the Lord of peace we entrust this meeting and the future of all of us, for us to become courageous witnesses of the hope that the cross raises in our hearts. Amen