Pope Francis greets a crying child on his arrival at the Tokyo Dome for a Mass on Nov. 25. (Photo: AFP)
Pope Francis went back to basics in delivering his homily in front of the biggest crowd of his trip to Asia: more than 50,000 people at the cavernous Tokyo Dome.
He drew on what he described as Jesus Christ’s first great sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, and included the thematic of his Japan trip, the Gift of Life.
And he used the Mass on Nov. 25 to air once again his common themes of consumerism and wealth as a roadblock to leading a Christian life.
In the Bible, the mountain is the place where God reveals himself and makes himself known. “Come up to me,” God says to Moses, the pope said, adding that the mountain summit is not reached by willpower or social climbing but only by attentive, patient and sensitive listening to the master at every crossroads of life’s journey.
“The summit presents us with an ever-new perspective on all around us, centered on the compassion of the Father. In Jesus, we encounter the summit of what it means to be human; he shows us the way that leads to a fulfilment exceeding all our hopes and expectations. In him, we encounter a new life, where we come to know the freedom of knowing that we are God’s beloved children,” Pope Francis said in his homily.
Yet he warned that it is easy to get lost along the way and the freedom of being God’s children can be repressed and weakened if people become trapped in a vicious circle of anxiety and competition.
In particular, he warned against focusing “all our attention and energy on the frenetic pursuit of productivity and consumerism as the sole criterion for measuring and validating our choices, or defining who we are or what we are worth.”
Since his 2013 election, the pope has railed against consumerism and an obsession with making money, arguing from the first day of his papacy for a simpler approach to life and leading by example that has seen him never move into the papal palace and eschew fancy garments favored by other popes.
He used the opportunity to warn Japan, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, about the problems of wealth.
“Here in Japan, in a society with a highly developed economy, the young people I met this morning spoke to me about the many people who are socially isolated. They remain on the margins, unable to grasp the meaning of life and their own existence. Increasingly, the home, school and community, which are meant to be places where we support and help one another, are being eroded by excessive competition in the pursuit of profit and efficiency,” Francis said
“Many people feel confused and anxious; they are overwhelmed by so many demands and worries that take away their peace and stability.”
The Lord is not telling us that basic necessities like food and clothing are unimportant, Francis said, adding that rather, he invites us to re-evaluate our daily decisions and not to become trapped or isolated in the pursuit of success at any cost, including the cost of our very lives.
“Worldly attitudes that look only to one’s own profit or gain in this world, and a selfishness that pursues only individual happiness, in reality leave us profoundly unhappy and enslaved, and hinder the authentic development of a truly harmonious and humane society,” the pope said.
The pope spent his usual half an hour or so doing the rounds and greeting people.
At the Mass was former death row inmate Iwao Hakamada, who has long proclaimed his innocence in a 1966 murder case. He attended to highlight Francis’ opposition to the death penalty.
In 2018, the pontiff revised the Catholic Church's teachings by declaring the death penalty inadmissible and he has led a campaign to abolish capital punishment around the globe.