Pope Francis spoke today to a group of young people and catechists as he continued his pilgrimage in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In his address, he asked those gathered to look at the five fingers on each of their hands. And for each finger, he taught an essential lesson of the faith. He began with the thumb, the finger “closest to our hearts,” saying that it symbolizes prayer. This passage is worth sharing and merits deep reflection for all of us:

Dear brother, dear sister, we need prayer, a living prayer. Do not speak to Jesus like some far-off being who inspires awe and fear, but rather as your best friend, someone who has given his life for you. Jesus knows you, he believes in you and he loves you, always. When you contemplate him hanging on the cross for your salvation, you will come to see how precious you are to him. You can entrust to him your crosses, your fears, your anxieties, casting them upon his cross. He will embrace them all. He did this two thousand years ago; the cross you are carrying today was already a part of his cross. Do not be afraid, then, to take a cross in your hands, to press it to your heart, and to hand over all your tears to Jesus. And do not forget to contemplate his face, the face of a God who is young, alive and risen! Yes, Jesus has triumphed over evil; he made of his cross the bridge to the resurrection. So, raise your hands to him daily, praise him and bless him. Tell him the hopes of your heart, share with him the deepest secrets of your life: the person you love, the hurts you carry within, the dreams that you hold in your heart. Tell him about your neighbours, your teachers, your friends and colleagues; tell him about your country. God loves this kind of living, concrete and heartfelt prayer. It allows him to intervene, to enter into your daily life in a special way, to come with his “power of peace”. That power has a name. Do you know who it is? It is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Giver of life. The Holy Spirit is the driving force of peace, the true power of peace. That is why prayer is the most powerful weapon there is. It brings you the consolation and hope that come from God. It always opens up new possibilities and helps you overcome all your fears. Yes, prayer conquers fear and enables us to take our future into our hands. Do you believe this? Do you want to make prayer your secret, as refreshing water for the soul, as the one weapon you carry, as a travelling companion on each day’s journey?

Crux’s Elise Ann Allen provides a helpful overview of the address, including a summary of what each finger symbolizes to the pope: Prayer, community, honesty, forgiveness, and service. In his message, Francis challenged the tens of thousands gathered, “Young people, you who dream of a different future: from your hands, tomorrow can be born; from your hands, peace so lacking in this world can at last come about.”

The pope also went off script during the gathering. Christopher White of the National Catholic Reporter recounted that Francis “led the tens of thousands of young people in a spontaneous chant of ‘no to corruption’ — with some people seated near the country’s political leaders turning to directly face Congo’s top power brokers as they joined in the chorus.” The pope continued, “If someone offers you a bribe, or promises you favors and lots of money, do not fall into the trap. Do not be deceived … Do not trust shady financial schemes that plunge you into the darkness.”

As Jason Horowitz of the New York Times reported, this visit of Pope Francis to the DRC has brought hope and encouragement to the people of a nation that is young and abounding with natural resources, but which is also exploited and beset with corruption and violent. Francis’s concern for the people has been been appreciated, and they have reciprocated by an overwhelming display of appreciation and enthusiasm. Horowitz wrote:

In Africa, while avoiding partisan politics, Francis has not been shy in tackling the most sensitive issues. He has called out corruption. Speaking in strong, even angry, tones, he has shamed the international community for what he called Congo’s “forgotten genocide.” Most of all, he has sought to bring global attention to the suffering of lands that are too easily overlooked.

In return, the Congolese, thankful for the pope’s acknowledgment of their plight and expressions of solace and hope, have given an instant shot in the arm to a papacy seemingly in its final act.

“The pope directs the world’s spotlight on us. The world sees us,” said Tito Mwamba, 52, a priest who sat in a front row of the stadium in the capital, Kinshasa, where the pope convened a meeting of Catholic youth and educators on Thursday. “There was a huge need.”

Much of that need was for mere recognition of the suffering of a nation where more than 100 armed groups perpetuate the spasms of violence that have wracked eastern Congo since the 1990s, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions.

Sometimes I don’t think we Catholics in the West truly comprehend how petty and myopic our understanding of the Church really is. Pope Francis undertook this visit, in part, to shine a light on something much more serious than our arguments over liturgy (for example). But more important than that is that he is a shepherd going to his people in their time of need.

Image: Vatican Media

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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