Thursday 27 November
It is a great joy to be gathered here in Nairobi. We are here together to ask ourselves a question: What is the hope that we are called to share with others today?
For several months, more than eighty parishes have been working together here to prepare a beautiful welcome. We would like to express our thanks to all those who have opened the doors of their homes and made our meeting possible.
There is such a diversity among us! You have come from many countries of Africa; and some of you have even come from other continents. This great diversity is something we would like to welcome as a gift. For all of us belong to one and the same fellowship, which is the Church, the family of God.
For my part, I would like to say what a great joy it is to be in this city again. Thirty years ago, I came here to Nairobi to spend a few weeks together with Brother Roger, the founder of our Community, and with some of the other brothers. We lived in the Mathare Valley neighbourhood.
I always remember these weeks. The first who welcomed us were the children. They liked so much to join our prayers, and they taught us to sing “Simama”. It was they who helped us to find friendship and trust. A small group of our brothers stayed on in Mathare Valley and afterwards in Kangemi for ten years.
Today, all over the world, societies and lifestyles are changing very quickly. There are more and more extraordinary possibilities for development; but at the same time poverty and injustices continue, there are new instabilities, worries about the future are becoming more intense.
In order for technical and economic progress to go hand in hand with more real humanity, it is essential to seek for a deeper meaning for life. In the face of the apathy or the confusion that many people feel, there is the question that we want to ask ourselves during this meeting in Nairobi: What is the wellspring from which we live? What is the spring where we find hope?
Many centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah pointed towards such a spring, when he wrote these words: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will run and not be weary; they will walk and not grow faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
How can we unblock this spring in us? Is it not by being attentive to the presence of God? By doing that, we can draw out hope and joy. By opening to God the doors of our own heart, we prepare the way for Him to come to many other people, too.
Yes, God is present in each person, whether they are believers or not. In its very first pages, the Bible describes in a very beautiful and poetic way how God gives His Spirit of life to every human being. It is His Spirit that makes us alive, that sets us on our feet.
When he came to the earth at Christmas, Jesus revealed God’s limitless love for each person. And by giving himself, right through to the end, he inscribed God’s “yes” right in the depths of human nature. Since the resurrection of Christ, we can no more despair of the world or of ourselves.
Since that time, God’s Breath, the Holy Spirit, has been given to us for ever. Through his Spirit who lives in our hearts, God says “yes” to what we are, even if we think we are not worthy of it. We can never tire of listening to these words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord will find His pleasure in you, and your land will be married.”
So let us consent to what we are and also to what we are not. Let us dare to create, even starting from what is not perfect. Even if we are weighed down with burdens, we shall receive our life as a gift; we can receive every day as a unique day given by God.
Here in Africa, the trials that people go through do not take away their sense of dignity. Difficulties do not empty people’s lives of joy; serious situations can still leave a place for dancing. So many people refuse to give in to hopelessness. Often it is women who are in the front line; it is they who take on so many tasks in the family and in society; and they do this with inventiveness and perseverance.
When we are faced with the complexity of the problems around us, with great poverty, injustices, the threat of conflicts, what can we do to share hope? What commitments are within our reach? Couldn’t this mean going towards others, in a practical way, with great simplicity? Let us go beyond the barriers in our societies! Let us go towards those who suffer! Let us visit those who are pushed to one side and mistreated!
Wherever we may be, let us look for gestures to accomplish, alone or with a few others, in situations of distress. In this way, we can discover the presence of Christ even where we had not expected to find it. He is risen from the dead; He is there, in the very midst of human beings. He goes ahead of us on the way of compassion. And already, by the Holy Spirit, He is renewing the face of the earth.
Friday 28 November
Yesterday I said how essential it is to be attentive to the presence of God in our lives. That is where we can draw the hope that we would like to share. In order to discover better and better the presence of God, are we sufficiently aware of the treasure that we have in the Bible?
Recently, I spent three weeks in Rome. I was invited to a synod that brought together bishops from all the continents. There I met Cardinal Njue, who was there too. The subject of this synod was the Bible, the Word of God, and its place in our lives. We heard testimonies coming from right across the world. Some of these were like precious pearls. I’ll give you two examples.
A bishop from the Philippines, in Asia, talked about listening. He said that, in order to understand the Word of God better, we need to learn to listen. He spoke about events that show the tragic consequences of when people do not listen enough: conflicts in families, great gaps between generations and countries, acts of violence…. He underlined the fact that the Church can offer a place of dialogue and of listening.
Then this bishop from the Philippines said some very powerful words. This is what he said: “God speaks, but He does not only speak. God listens as well. In particular, He listens to widows, orphans, the persecuted, the poor who have no voice. In order to understand God’s word, we need to learn to listen the way God listens.”
Another bishop, who came from Latvia, a little country in the north of Europe, gave a moving testimony. This bishop told how, in his country, during the Soviet regime which finished less than twenty years ago, priests and ordinary believers died for simply having proclaimed God’s word. A priest from Latvia called Victor was arrested one day for possessing a Bible. The police of the regime threw the Bible on the ground, and ordered the priest to trample it under foot. But he knelt down and kissed the book. For doing that, he was condemned to ten years of forced labour in the freezing wastelands of Siberia.
When we hear testimonies like that, we understand how much the Bible has been loved, and how much it has transformed the lives of many people. We are glad that our churches today make a big effort so that all believers can have a Bible. And even if not everybody does possess a Bible yet, let us come together in our parishes to read a text and share about what it means for our life.
Of course, it isn’t always easy to read the Bible. We find passages that we don’t understand. We sometimes need specialists to help us to understand what we read. To make it easier to find our way into the Bible, it is important to underline two things:
The first thing is this: all of us can remember that what is at the heart of the Bible is the love of God and the love of our neighbour. For Jesus, this is what sums up the whole of the scriptures.
What is fascinating in the Bible is that it tells the whole story of this love. It begins with the freshness of a first love; then there are limits and even infidelities. But God does not grow tired of loving. He keeps opening ways; He keeps seeking his people. In fact, the Bible is the story of God’s faithfulness. One day He said to His people, through one of the prophets: “Does a woman forget her little child? Even if women were to forget, I would never forget you.”
The other thing is this. Through the coming of Christ, God shares our life, and even our sufferings, to the point of death. Christ carries in himself God’s entire message. In this sense, the Gospel tells us that Christ is Himself the Word of God. When we read the scriptures, it is Christ that we meet. It is His voice that we listen to; and we enter into a personal relationship with Him.
This is why at Taizé we like to sing some of the words of the Scriptures, as we are doing these days during the times of prayer together. The singing that repeats the words again and again allows them to sink in. We also like to be together for long periods of silence. In silence, a word from God can take root and grow in us.
Sometimes, we only remember a single word. What is important is to put it into practice. It’s by putting it into practice that we come to understand it better. Maybe everyone can ask themselves: what is the word that has touched me personally during the days of this meeting and which I can put into practice?
Saturday 29 November
This evening I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the hospitality that we have received here in Nairobi. We would like particularly to thank all the families, religious communities and parishes that have opened the doors of their homes to welcome us.
This meeting in Nairobi has sought to contribute to building up more fraternal relationships and to leaving behind false representations of others, which can be the result of lack of contact between peoples, or the wounds of history. We cannot change the past, but during these days, we have had the joy of going beyond boundaries and of receiving from each other.
The welcome offered by the Christians of Nairobi has helped us rediscover how much the Church is a place of friendship that is open to everyone. Tomorrow we are going home. We would like to continue to deepen this friendship in our everyday lives.
To all of us is offered the gift of living out a friendship with Christ. It is not for nothing that He says in the Gospel: “I no longer call you servants; I call you friends.” He says to all of us: you are very close to God, and that is true for always.
Even if our faith is very small, even if we have the impression that we have a lot of doubts, God never ceases looking for our friendship.
Here is an icon that expresses this. It’s the icon of Friendship. It dates from the sixth century, and comes from North Africa, from Egypt. We see Christ put his hand on the shoulder of his friend in order to walk beside him, to be with him.
Each one of us can recognize that we are this friend of Christ. Even if Christ, risen from the dead, is invisible to our eyes, nevertheless we can entrust ourselves to Him. He is walking beside every human being, without exception.
Just to look at this icon can already be a prayer that unites us to God.
And this friendship with Christ is something that we can experience together among ourselves. Christ unites us into a single fellowship, which is the Church, the family of God. Let us make this friendship grow; let us overcome the separations that still exist!
In Africa, in spite of all the things that tear the continent apart, many people keep courageously seeking reconciliation and peace. For Christians, it’s a question of holding onto this hope: the bond of Baptism in Christ is stronger than divisions. There are Christians in Africa who have paid with their lives for this conviction of faith.
When we become aware of the friendship that God has for each of us, we discover a new courage to widen our friendship to all those who are entrusted to us, and in particular to the most vulnerable people. The Church in Africa is often so attentive to people who are excluded or abandoned.
Your ability to welcome and your commitment to justice is something we would like to share with young people of every continent. At the end of December, there will be a European Meeting in Brussels, with thousands of young people. Later, there will be a meeting of young people in Asia. We will bring them your friendship.
We have made some copies of the icon of friendship, one for each country of Africa that is represented here.
This icon will help you to make little “pilgrimages of trust” in the places where young people get together, in one town or another, in one parish or another, in a hospital or a centre that looks after abandoned children, or in other places where people are suffering.
By this simple means, you can transmit the Good News of the Gospel, and live out the missionary dimension of our faith. The presence of this icon beside you will help you to struggle with a heart that is reconciled.
Today it is above all you, young people, who are called to transmit the joy of the Gospel to others. Remember: Christ is seeking your friendship. He places His Holy Spirit in you. He goes ahead of you and walks beside you wherever you go.