The Holy Father began his address recalling the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which the Catholic Church celebrates today.
The Basilica is the Cathedral Church of Rome and the ecclesiastical seat of its Bishop, the Pope. Dedicated by Pope Sylvester I in 324, it is the oldest church in the West.
Noting that the basilica is known as the “mother of all Churches”, the Pope said that this term not only refers to the building itself, but the “work of the Holy Spirit that is manifested” through the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, in unity with the Church around the world.
“This unity presents the nature of a universal family, and as there is a mother in a family, so does the venerated Cathedral of Lateran become a ‘mother’ to the churches of all the communities of the Catholic world,” he said.
“With this feast, therefore, we profess, in the unity of the faith, the bond of communion that all the local Churches, spread throughout the earth, has with the Church of Rome and with its Bishop, the successor to Peter.”
The Holy Father also noted that the building itself is a sign of the Church alive in the world, made up of men and women and in which Christ is the living stone. This sign, he continued, calls all Christians to be consistent in their lives "with the gift of faith and Christian witness.”
“It is not easy, we all know, the consistency in life between faith and witness,” he said. “But we should go forward and have daily consistency in our lives. This is a Christian! Not so much for what he says, but for what he does, for the way in which he acts. This coherence, which gives us life, is a grace of the Holy Spirit that we should ask for.”
Prior to praying the Angelus with the faithful, the Pope reminded the faithful that today’s feast is an invitation to reflect on the communion of the Church around world. This communion is a motivation for Christians to overcome barriers of indifference and “build bridges of understanding and dialogue.”
“The Church Herself,” he explained, “is a sign and an anticipation of this new humanity, when it lives and spreads the Gospel with Her witness, a message of hope and reconciliation for all mankind.”
Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Recalling the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pope Francis said that the wall represented the ideological divisions that existed in Europe and the world. He also noted those who died, fought and prayed for the wall's destruction, including his predecessor, St. John Paul II, who he said, “had a lead role” in its fall.
After his election, Pope John Paul II’s support of the Solidarity movement in his native Poland contributed to the fall of Communism there, causing a ripple effect throughout Europe.
Pope Francis prayed that the walls that continue to divide the world today may continue to fall and that “a culture of encounter may continue to spread.”
This culture, he concluded, is “capable of bringing down all the walls that still divide the world, and that never again will innocent people be persecuted and even killed because of their beliefs and their religion.”
“Where there is a wall there is a closing of the heart. We need bridges, not walls!” he exclaimed.