During these days in Poland, the simple words and gestures of Pope Francis have won the hearts not only of those gathered for World Youth Day in Krakow, but of millions of people across the globe. The Polish media has made this clear by highlighting the positive tone and new conciliatory spirit with which this papal visit, Francis’s first to east-central Europe, is being received. As was the case during his trip to the United States on the heels of a visit to Cuba, the affectionate welcome the Pontiff received and his positive message dispelled any doubts proliferated by a pessimistic media not without its own interests.
The anniversary of the “baptism” of Poland, the commemoration of the Shoah, and the world gathering of youth were interconnected by a crystal clear theme that has stood at the center of this papal journey: mercy. Mercy, the heart of the Gospel and the bedrock of Bergoglio’s preaching, is the thread that connected the reflections at the solemn celebration of the Way of the Cross, in which an enormous crowd of nearly 600,000 young people took part, as well as in visits to places were two great twentieth-century witnesses of mercy are venerated: Faustina Kowalska e Karol Wojtyła.
At the newly dedicated shrine to his predecessor, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for priests and religious, men and women, meditating on the episode of Jesus’s appearance to the Apostle Thomas. There the pontiff highlighted the setting of the event as narrated by John the Evangelist, a disciple in dialogue with the Lord and with the Gospel itself. Once upon a time the Archbishop of Milan and future Pope Paul VI, in a message to those “far from the Church” in 1957, defined this Gospel simply and effectively as the “great book.”
The place where the disciples were gathered was closed, but Jesus wants his followers to get out. Pope Francis hears in this interpretation of the passage an echo of the first words pronounced by John Paul II upon his election to the papacy: “Open wide the doors to Christ!” Furthermore, the invitation to escape that stifling, self-centered, and sterile place coincides with the joyful mission of announcing the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), the central and undeniable Christian task, according to Francis. Fundamental to this, as shown in the life of the Apostle Thomas, are the continual search for Christ and the education of the heart.
Finally, Francis – recalling that the “great book,” as the Evangelist himself tells us, does not contain all the signs performed by Jesus – offers us an important lesson: the Gospel, the “living book of God’s mercy which we read and continually reread,” still has some “blank pages.” They are the pages of “an open book that we are called to write in with the same pen; that is, precisely by performing works of mercy.” Works of mercy, that is, both “corporal” and “spiritual” as synthesized in the Christian tradition by fourteen points creatively touched upon in the reflections given during the Way of the Cross in Krakow.