by Elise Harris
On the Feast of the Ascension, Pope Francis said that when Jesus rose into heaven, he entrusted his Church with the great and dignified responsibility of spreading his Word and making it accessible to everyone.
In addition to signaling the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus’ Ascension reminds us of his constant assistance and that of his Spirit, “who gives strength and security to our Christian witness in the world,” the Pope said May 28.
The Holy Spirit “reveals to us why the Church exists: she exists to announce the Gospel” he said. “Only for that. And also, the joy of the Church is to announce the Gospel.”
Francis said the Church includes all faithful that have been baptized, who today “are invited to better understand that God has given us the great dignity and responsibility of announcing it to the world, of making it accessible to humanity.”
“This is our dignity, this is the greatest honor of the Church!” he said.
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Regina Coeli address, which is prayed during the Easter season instead of the Angelus.
In his brief speech, the Pope said Jesus’ ascension into heaven signaled the end of his own earthly ministry, and the beginning of the Church’s mission.
“From this moment, in fact, the presence of Christ in the world is mediated by his disciples, by those who believe in him and announce him,” he said, adding that this mission will last “until the end of history and will enjoy every day the assistance of the Risen Lord,” who promised to be with his disciples “until the end of the age.”
Jesus’ constant presence, he said, “brings strength in persecution, comfort in tribulation, support in situations of difficulty that the mission and the announcement of the Gospel encounter.”
As the Church throughout the world turns their gaze toward heaven, where Christ ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father, Christians must strengthen their own steps so as “continue with enthusiasm and courage our journey, our mission of bearing witness to and living the Gospel in every environment,” the Pope said.
However, he cautioned that this mission doesn’t depend on human efforts, resources or our ability to organize, because only the “light and strength” of the Holy Spirit makes it possible to “effectively fulfill our mission of making Jesus’ love and tenderness more known and experienced.”
Pope Francis then asked for Mary’s intercession in becoming “more credible” witnesses of the Resurrection, and led pilgrims in praying the Regina Coeli.
After the prayer, voiced his closeness to Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II following the May 26 attack on buses carrying Coptic Orthodox en route to St. Samuel the Confessor monastery in Minya.
Gunmen who stopped the buses opened fire, killing 29 and injuring at least 22 others, including children. The attack marked the latest act in a string of violence against the community in recent months.
In his comments to pilgrims, Pope Francis prayed for the Coptic Orthodox community in Egypt after undergoing “another act of ferocious violence.”
“The victims, among whom were also children, are faithful who were going to the shrine to pray, and were killed after they refused to deny their Christian faith,” he said, and prayed that God would “welcome into his peace these courageous witnesses, and convert the hearts of the violent.”
He also voiced his sorrow for the May 23 terrorist attack on the Manchester Arena in England, killing some 22 people, most of whom were youth who had be enjoying a concert by popular teen artist Ariana Grande.
Francis prayed for the victims of the “horrible attack,” which left many young lives “cruelly shattered,” and voiced his closeness to the families and “all who mourn the deceased.”
Finally, the Pope noted that the day also marks World Day of Social Communications, which this year holds the theme “Fear not, for I am with you: Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time.”
Social networks, he said, “offer the opportunity to share and disseminate the news in an instant; this news can be good or bad, true or false.” He prayed that communications, in every form, would be “constructive, at the service of the truth by refusing prejudices, and spread hope and trust in our time.”