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Nuncio: "Thank you, Mama Mary... Thank you for your compassion..."

Homily of Archbishop Charles John Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

Mass on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Lourdes (Apparition Mass)

at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Quezon City | February 11, 2023

Your Excellency, the Most Reverend Honesto Ongtioco, Bishop of Cubao, Fr. Jefferson Augustin, OFMCap, shrine rector and parish priest, dear Capuchin fathers, priest concelebrants, women and men religious, and all of you lay faithful here in this beautiful church this morning, I wish you a very happy fiesta, here in this beautiful and splendidly decorated church, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, here in the Diocese of Cubao.

photo by Eric Paul Guanlao | Roman Catholic Diocese of Cubao Facebook page

It gives me so much joy and happiness to be with you this afternoon as a representative of Pope Francis here in the Philippines to celebrate mass with you this afternoon on the feast and, indeed, here in your parish, the Solemnity of Our Lady of Lourdes - the day in which we remember her apparition in Lourdes, France back in 1858 to Bernadette, our dear beloved St. Bernadette.

Today is the 31st World Day of the Sick. So we pray in a very special way during this mass, for all our beloved sick people, everyone or anyone who is suffering in any way from ailments of mind or body we pray for during this mass on the World Day of the Sick.

And our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us a beautiful message for this World Day of the Sick in which he entitled it, "Take care of him - Compassion As A Synodal Exercise of Healing." And then, in the letter, Pope Francis speaks about the style of God. What is God's style? God's characteristic way of acting. He says the style of God, Pope Francis says, is closeness, compassion, and tenderness. The style of God is closeness, compassion, and tenderness. And you know, brothers and sisters, as we crowd together in this beautiful church this morning, we are feeling, of course, the closeness of one another, the compassion and the tenderness of Our Lady.

In the Gospel this afternoon, the Gospel of The Visitation, the Gospel in which we remember the moment in which two women met. Two women and two unborn babies: Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, a virgin who had become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, and then St. Elizabeth, who was also pregnant, but a woman who was too old to have children. Two miraculous pregnancies meet. Two unborn babies meet. And one baby who is St. John the Baptist, jumps for joy in the womb of his mother, St. Elizabeth, when Elizabeth hears the greeting of Mary.

The joy of Elizabeth, the joy of little John the Baptist, is our joy today because we rejoice in the presence of Mary. We rejoice in Mary's closeness, her compassion, and her tenderness. All of you who are devotees of Mary, all of you who love Our Lady of Lourdes and are loved by her as her children, all of you, all of us experience Mary's closeness, her compassion, her tenderness. And that is why we're gathered together in this church this afternoon to say, "Thank you, Mama Mary, thank you for your closeness. Thank you for your compassion. Thank you for your tenderness which we feel when we come here to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes with all of our petitions."

You know, in the Gospel today, Elizabeth is amazed by the presence of Mary. She's flabbergasted, we can say, that Mary has come to her. She says, "How does it happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me." Elizabeth is amazed by the closeness and the compassion, the tenderness of this young teenage mother, who traveled all the way from Nazareth, her hometown, to the place where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in order to help Elizabeth in her difficult pregnancy because she was quite elderly.

Elizabeth experiences that closeness of Mary, and she's amazed by it. Isn't it true for all of us who pray to Our Lady? Many times we say, "How does it happen to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me and intercede for me and help me." And yet all of us who love Our Lady, who love Mama Mary, all of us experience that many times in our lives.

Mary's presence is always relatively discreet. What do I mean? She's like a mother in the background. She doesn't push herself forward and make a big show. But she's there, close to us, holding our hand, protecting us, listening to us, helping us, just like she did at The Wedding Feast of Cana when that newly married couple was about to run out of wine for their wedding feast, who were about to suffer a big humiliation in front of their guests because they wouldn't have enough wine. Mary sees, and she intercedes with Jesus, and Jesus works his miracle. We experience that same thing if we're devoted to Our Lady. If we pray the rosary, and we try to pray the rosary every day, we will experience that maternal protection of Mary, her closeness, her compassion, her tenderness.

And you know, Mary is also an image of a Synodal Church. We're in this synodal process of the Church throughout the entire world. And as all of you by now have heard, the root meaning of Synod is "caravan" - a group of people traveling together, going together, on the way helping one another. And that's what we are as the Church - helping one another. That's what Pope Francis wants us to do in his message on this World Day of the Sick: "Take care of him. Take care of him. Take care of one another." But Mary is an image of that synodal process because she went from Nazareth down to the town where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. And certainly, since she was a teenage mother, newly pregnant, she didn't travel alone. The Gospel doesn't tell us how she came. But she came certainly in a caravan with other people on the way.

So think about this for a moment, the first thing Mary does after receiving the gift of Jesus in her womb she goes. She goes on a synodal path, the path of the caravan from her town to the town of Zechariah and Elizabeth. She goes to help. She goes to be close. She goes to show compassion and tenderness. And we need to imitate that. We need to imitate Mary in that.

It's interesting when Mary appears throughout history, like in Lourdes. Lourdes was a small town, and we can say, in the middle of nowhere. It wasn't an important place. And yet Mary chose the unimportant place to go. Fatima in Portugal is not an important place. It's out of the way. Maybe some of you have gone there, not so easy to get to. Out-of-the-way places attract the gaze of Mary. Out-of-the-way places attract her closeness, her compassion, her tenderness. We need to imitate Mary in that - by going to the, we can say, the out-of-the-way places. The places in our neighborhood where maybe a poor person is living without anyone visiting him or her. We go like Mary to show the amazing closeness and compassion and tenderness of God for his poor, for his sick.

So don't stay enclosed in your own little circle, but go out. That is what Pope Francis wants us to do. Go out to the peripheries. Go out to the Lourdes. Go out to the Fatimas of the world. Not the big cities (we're in a big city) but go out to the places where the poor are, where the sick are, to comfort them. That's what the Pope is asking for on this World Day of the Sick.

So you can see that for me as the representative of Pope Francis here in the Philippines, it gives me so much joy and happiness to be with you this day. As I said at the beginning of the mass, your church is so beautifully decorated for this feast. The flowers, incredible music from the choir. All of us here are devotees of Mary, children of Mary who love our mother, Mama Mary.

People say that the Filipinos are the pueblo amante de Maria. What does that mean? The people who love Mary. We are, you are, the people who love Mary and are loved by Mary.

So stay close, stay close to Our Lady. Stay close to our Lady but also imitate her in going out. Imitate her in her closeness, her compassion, her tenderness for the sick and the poor, especially today on the World Day of the Sick.

I ask you also to pray for Pope Francis. Whenever I see him in Rome, he always asks me to please pray for him. He relies on your prayers. He has a great affection and a great love for the Filipino people. And he really was relying on your prayers.

So dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Mary is our life, our sweetness and our hope. We are her devoted children. We celebrate her feast day, Our Lady of Lourdes, this day, and I wish each and every one of you a very happy and blessed fiesta.

May God bless you.

Transcribed by Gel Katalbas

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