Pope Francis: May we actively engage for a just and more peaceful world

Bear witness to faith by example

Today we go to Latin America, specifically to Venezuela, to get to know the figure of a layman, Blessed José Gregorio Hernández Cisneros. He was born in 1864 and learned the faith above all from his mother, as he recounted, “My mother taught me virtue from the cradle, made me grow in the knowledge of God and gave me charity as my guide.” Let’s be attentive: it is the mothers who pass on the faith. The faith is passed on in dialect, that is, the language of mothers, that dialect that mothers know to speak with their children. [...] Truly, charity was the north star that oriented the existence of Blessed José Gregorio: a good and sunny person with a cheerful disposition, he was endowed with a marked intelligence; he became a doctor, university professor, and scientist. But he was first and foremost a doctor close to the weakest, so much so that he was known in his homeland as “the doctor of the poor.” He cared for the poor, always. To the riches of money he preferred the riches of the Gospel, spending his existence to aid the needy. In the poor, the sick, the migrants, the suffering, José Gregorio saw Jesus. The success he never sought in the world he received, and continues to receive, from the people, who call him “saint of the people,” “apostle of charity,” “missionary of hope.” Beautiful names: “saint of the people”, “apostle of the people”, “missionary of hope”.

José Gregorio was a humble man, kind, and helpful. And at the same time he was driven by an inner fire, a desire to live in the service of God and neighbor. Driven by this ardour, he tried several times to become a religious and a priest, but various health problems prevented him from doing so. Physical frailty did not, however, lead him to close in on himself, but to become a doctor who was even more sensitive to the needs of others; he clung to Providence and, forged in his soul, went ever more toward what was essential. [...] And so the Blessed understood that, through caring for the sick, he would put God’s will into practice, comforting the suffering, giving hope to the poor, witnessing to the faith not in words but by example [...] How important it is not to suffer things passively, but, as Scripture says, to do everything in a good spirit, to serve the Lord (cf. Col. 3:23) [...]

And in contact with Jesus, who offers himself on the altar for all, José Gregory felt called to offer his life for peace. The first World War was under way. So, we come to June 29th, 1919: a friend comes to visit him and finds him very happy. José Gregorio has indeed learned that the treaty ending the war has been signed. His offering has been accepted, and it is as if he foresees that his work on earth is done. That morning, as usual, he had been at Mass, and now he goes down the street to bring medicine to a sick person. But as he crosses the road, he is hit by a vehicle; taken to the hospital, he dies pronouncing the name of Our Lady. So, his earthly journey ends, on a road while doing a work of mercy, and in a hospital, where he had made his work a masterpiece, as a doctor.

Brothers, sisters, in the presence of this witness let us ask ourselves: do I, faced with God present in the poor near me, faced with those in the world who suffer the most, how do I react? And the example of José Gregorio: how does it affect me? He spurs us to engagement in the face of the great social, economic, and political issues of today. So many people talk about it, so many complain about it, so many criticise and say that everything is going wrong. But that’s not what the Christian is called to do; instead, he is called to deal with it, to get his or her hands dirty: first of all, as St. Paul told us, to pray (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-4), and then not to engage in idle chattering – idle chatter is a plague – but to promote good, and to build peace and justice in truth.


(From an address on September 13th in Rome)