At Mass for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Pope Francis canonized 800 Martyrs from the Italian city of Otranto, along with two Latin American religious Foundresses, Mother Laura Montoya e Upegui – the first Colombian saint – and Mother Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, from Mexico.
In his homily, the Holy Father asked us to “look on the new saints in the light of the Word of God proclaimed: a Word that invited us to be faithful to Christ, even unto martyrdom; a word that recalled to us the urgency and the beauty of bringing Christ and his Gospel to everyone; a word that spoke to us about the witness of charity, without which even martyrdom and mission lose their Christian savor.”
Today, he said, “the Church proposes for our veneration a host of martyrs, who were called together to the supreme witness to the Gospel.” The more than 800 Martyrs of Otranto, when faced with the choice of renouncing Christ or death, remained faithful to the Gospel. It is precisely their faith, the Pope said, that gave them the strength to remain faithful. He prayed, “As we venerate the martyrs of Otranto, let us ask God to sustain those many Christians who, in these times and in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence, and give them the courage and fidelity to respond to evil with good.”
Pope Francis then turned to Saint Laura Montoya, “an instrument of evangelization, first as teacher and then as the spiritual mother of the indigenous peoples.” He said, “This first saint born on the beautiful Colombian soil, teaches us to be generous [together] with God, not to live the faith alone – as if we could live our faith in isolation – but to communicate, to radiate the joy of the Gospel by word and witness of life in every place we find ourselves.”
He continued, “The martyrs’ faithfulness even unto death, the proclamation of the Gospel are rooted in the love of God that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit and in the witness we must bear to this love in our daily lives.” Saint Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, he said, knew this well. She gave up “a comfortable life to follow the call of Jesus, taught people to love poverty, in order the more to love the poor and the sick.” This, the Pope said, “This is what it means to touch the flesh of Christ. The poor, the abandoned, the sick, the marginalized are the flesh of Christ. And Mother Lupita touched the flesh of Christ and taught us this conduct: [to be] unabashed,[to be] unafraid, [to be] not loathe to touch the flesh of Christ. Mother Lupita understood what it means ‘to touch the flesh of Christ’.”
Pope Francis said the saints canonized on Sunday offer us “a shining example” of “fidelity to Christ and his Gospel, in order to proclaim it in word and deed, bearing witness to God’s love with our love, with our charity toward all.” Their example, he said, challenges us: “Let us take this question with us to consider during the day: how am I faithful to Christ? Am I able to ‘show’ my faith with respect, but also with courage? Am I attentive to others, do I recognize when someone is in need, do I see in everyone a brother and a sister to love?”
The Holy Father concluded his homily with a prayer to Mary and to the new saints: “Let us ask that, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the new saints, the Lord might fill our lives with the joy of His love. Amen.”
Dear brothers and sisters,
On this seventh Sunday of Easter we are gathered together with joy to celebrate a feast of sanctity. Let us give thanks to God, who made his glory, the glory of Love, shine in the Martyrs of Otranto, in Mother Laura Montoya and in Mother María Guadalupe García Zavala. I greet all of you who have come for this feast – from Italy, from Colombia, from Mexico, from other countries – and I thank you!
I would like to consider the new saints in the light of the Word of God that has been proclaimed. This is a Word that has invited us to fidelity to Christ, even unto death; it has called us to recognize the urgency and the beauty of bringing Christ and his Gospel to all; and it has spoken to us of the witness of charity, without which even martyrdom and missionary work lose their Christian character. The Acts of the Apostles, when they speak to us of the deacon Stephen, the first Christian martyr, insist on saying that he was a man “full of the Holy Spirit” (6:5, 7:55). What does this mean? It means that he was full of the Love of God, that is whole person, his whole life was animated by the Spirit of the Risen Christ, so much so that it led him to follow Christ in total fidelity, to the point of the gift of self.
Today the Church proposes for our veneration a group of martyrs who were called together to the supreme witness to the Gospel in 1480. About 800 people, who survived the siege and invasion of Otranto, Italy, were decapitated on the outskirts of that city. They refused to deny their faith and they died confessing the risen Christ. Where did they find the strength to remain faithful? Precisely in faith, which permits us to see beyond the limits of our human vision, beyond the confines of earthly life, it permits us to contemplate “the heavens opened up,” as St. Stephen says, and the living Christ at the Father’s right hand. Dear friends, let us maintain the faith that we have received and that is our treasure, let us renew our fidelity to the Lord, even in the midst of obstacles and misunderstandings; God will never let us lack strength and serenity.
Relics of the Martyrs of Otranto at church of Santa Caterina a Formiello in Naples, under the altar of the Our Lady of the Rosary which commemorated the victory over the Ottomans at Lepanto in 1571.
As we venerate the Martyrs of Otranto, let us ask God to sustain many Christians who, in our own time and in many parts of the world, now still suffer from violence, and to give them the courage of fidelity and to answer evil with good.
The second thought we can draw from the words of Jesus that we have heard in the Gospel: “I pray for those who believe in me through their word: that all may be one; as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (John 17:20). St. Maria Laura Montoya was an instrument of evangelization first as a teacher and then as a spiritual mother of the indigenous people, to whom she gave hope, welcoming them with God’s love and bringing them to him through an effective pedagogy that respected their culture and did not oppose it. In her work of evangelization Mother Laura truly made herself all things to all men, according to the expression of St. Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 9:22). Today too her spiritual daughters live and bring the Gospel to the most obscure and needy places, as a kind of vanguard of the Church.
This first saint, born in the beautiful country of Colombia, teaches us to be generous with God, not to live our faith alone – as if it were possible to live the faith in an isolate way – but to communicate it, to convey the joy of the Gospel with words and the witness of life in every place in which we find ourselves. Wherever we live let us let this light of the Gospel shine! She teaches us to see the face of Jesus reflected in the other, to overcome indifference and individualism, which corrode Christian communities and corrode our heart, and she teaches us to welcome all without prejudice, without discrimination, without reticence, with sincere love, giving them the best of ourselves and above all sharing with them what is most precious to us, which is not our works or our organizations, no! Our most precious possession is Christ and his Gospel.
Lastly, a third thought. In today’s Gospel, Jesus prays to the Father with these words: “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:26). The fidelity of martyrs unto death and the proclamation of the Gospel to everyone are rooted in, have their roots in the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 5:5), and in the testimony that we must give of this love in our daily life. St. María Guadalupe García Zavala knew this well. Giving up a comfortable life – how much damage is done by a comfortable life, well-being; the “bourgeoisification” of the heart paralyzes us. Giving up a comfortable life to follow Jesus’ call, she taught the love of poverty, which permitted a greater love of the poor and infirm. Mother Lupita knelt on the floor in the hospital before the sick and abandoned to serve them with tenderness and compassion. And this is called “touching the flesh of Christ.” The poor, the abandoned, the sick, the marginalized are the flesh of Christ. And Mother Lupita touched the flesh of Christ and taught us this way of acting: do not be ashamed, do not be afraid, do not be repulsed by “touching the flesh of Christ.” Mother Lupita understood what this “touching the flesh of Christ” meant. Today her spiritual daughters continue to seek to reflect God’s love in works of charity, without avoiding sacrifice and facing all obstacles with meekness, with apostolic perseverance (hypomonē), enduring them with courage.
This new Mexican saint invites us to love as Jesus did, and this means not bring shut up in ourselves, in our own problems, our own ideas, our own interests, in this little world that does so much damage to us, but going out and caring for those who need attention, understanding, help, to being them the warmth and nearness of God’s love, through delicate gestures of sincere affection and love.
Fidelity to Christ and to his Gospel, to proclaim it with our words and lives, witnessing to God’s love with our love, with our charity to all: these are the luminous examples and teachings the saints who are proclaimed today. But they also pose questions for our Christian life: How am I faithful to Christ? We bring this question with us to reflect on during the day: How am I faithful to Christ? Am I able to manifest my faith with respect but also with courage? Am I attentive to others, do I recognize those in need, do I see everyone as a brother or sister to love? Let us ask for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the new saints, that the Lord fill our lives with the joy of his love. Amen.