Nagasaki Mass: The lesson of the good thief

Pope Francis says the thief's profession of faith made the horror of Calvary become a message of hope for humanity
Nagasaki Mass: The lesson of the good thief

Pope Francis holds a Mass at Nagasaki Baseball Stadium on Nov. 24. (Photo: Vatican Media/AFP)

Pope Francis recalled the good thief in Luke’s Gospel in a Mass attended by 35,000 people at Nagasaki Baseball Stadium in Japan.

On the Feast of Christ the King on Nov. 24, he told the packed stadium that the thief’s attitude and profession of faith made the horror and injustice of Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary become a message of hope for all humanity.

“The shouts of scornful derision addressed to the innocent victim of suffering will not be the last word; rather, they will awaken a response from those who let their hearts be touched, who choose compassion as the authentic way to shape history,” the pope said.

“Today, in this place, we want to renew our faith and our commitment. We know too well the history of our failures, sins and limitations, even as the good thief did, but we do not want them to be what determines or defines our present and future.

“We know how readily all of us can take the easy route of shouting out ‘Save yourself!’ and choose not to think about our responsibility to alleviate the suffering of innocent people all around us.

“This land has experienced, as few countries have, the destructive power of which we humans are capable. Like the good thief, we want to speak up and profess our faith, to defend and assist the Lord, the innocent man of sorrows. We want to accompany him in his ordeal, to stand by him in his isolation and abandonment, and to hear once more that salvation is the word the Father desires to speak to all: ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise.’”

The 82-year-old pontiff recalled St. Paul Miki and the hundreds of Japanese martyrs who gave their lives in times of persecution.

The love poured out in sacrifice for us by Christ crucified is capable of overcoming all manner of hatred, selfishness and mockery, he said. “It is capable of defeating all those forms of facile pessimism or comfortable indolence that paralyze good actions and decisions.”

Turning to nuclear-bombed Nagasaki, the pope said the city “bears in its soul a wound difficult to heal, a scar born of the incomprehensible suffering endured by so many innocent victims of wars past and those of the present, when a third world war is being waged piecemeal.” 

He added: “Let us lift our voices here and pray together for all those who even now are suffering in their flesh from this sin that cries out to heaven. May more and more persons be like the good thief and choose not to remain silent and jeer, but bear prophetic witness instead to a kingdom of truth and justice, of holiness and grace, of love and peace.”

The remains of a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary rescued from a cathedral destroyed in the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki stood on the altar during the Mass.

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