Cardinal Zuppi at the Rimini Meeting (Photo: Ansa)

Zuppi: The true nature of friendship

The homily of the Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, at the opening Mass of the 2023 Rimini Meeting.
Matteo Maria Zuppi*

The prophets do not close their eyes to imagine something that does not exist. In the threatening and distressing confusion of history, in the brutal waves of pandemics, which are part of life itself, they help us to see and search for our future today, when it is not yet there, because it is there and because it will be there. God is inside history, not outside. The true opium are the many addictions distributed widely by a world that no longer knows how to listen to God's word as a word of love that changes both us and history. "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples," says the prophet. It is the vision that helps us understand the value and responsibility of what we live here, in this part of the world that at first seemed like a dream, to some naivety. How much need there is for a world where everyone can be friends, building communion for the entire human family.
Of course, the dream of a friendship of all peoples clashes with the temptation to remain inward-looking or, worse, to build new frontiers, with antagonisms and polarisations that lose sight of the whole, with prejudices that are resistant and amplified by the digital, with racisms and intolerances that are never harmless and powerless because they always poison and arm minds, hearts and hands. The air is polluted by such an epidemic of enmity, as Pope Francis has written. Our commitment as Christians, children of a God who is a 'friend of mankind', is to that sense of belonging to a family – because the I exists only with you and with the we – and to the one human family, without which the value of differences is lost. The I, freed from all ties, believes itself to be the One and feels others to be strangers and enemies. You have chosen well: 'Human existence is an inexhaustible friendship', because God's love does not end and gives life to all that is human. Jesus calls each one of us 'friend', even when we defend ourselves from Him or betray Him, and He does so until the end of His life and ours so that friendship does not end and is stronger than any disappointment and bitterness. Friends and not servants. Sometimes we are afraid of this friendship that takes and commits and we prefer to be servants, really only masters of ourselves! Friends, not servants and friend, not master. Let us live these days, with so many witnesses of the past and present, to also be witnesses of a friendship that does not end, in a strongly and dangerously individualistic time, with the many pathologies it generates. The individual becomes ill when they do not find their neighbour or thinks they can do without and save themselves!

Pope Francis has asked you to be ready for a universal friendship, one that begins in friendship among yourselves but is not closed within an ethnic group, but is open to seizing the good that anyone can bring to everyone's life. We are helped by today's Gospel. It is one of the few times that it goes beyond borders. It is an invitation for us to go to the ends of the earth. Fr. Giussani used to say: “estrangement is abolished.” Love has no borders and feels at home everywhere and everything makes it home. This woman knows that she is a stranger. She is the one looking for Jesus. How many people, in so many ways, even broken and contradictory, seek true friendship, stronger than evil. This woman cries out because she needs mercy. The world is not her friend. How many invocations of suffering are lost in the void, unanswered, in the tragedy of wars, in the immensity of the desert, of the sea, of a hostile and indifferent world because it is not a friend. The encounter between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman is difficult. Hard. Dialogue is also hard, because one has to overcome many prejudices, the memory and the reasons for them. Jesus seems to want to remind the woman and his own of them, to defeat them.

The encounter within a friendship is always generative of something new; it changes everyone, Jesus, the Canaanite woman, the disciples. Pope Francis likes to say that in the encounter one does not win over the other, but something new wins. That woman who was alone and foreign, defined by this label, becomes instead what she is: the unique and original person to be welcomed and loved. Jesus, and we with Him, does not accept foreignness but confronts it because no one is indifferent or an enemy to Him. Here it is Jesus who is measured by the woman's insistence, by an unexpected, at first annoying, inappropriate request. Friendship is stronger. The woman only needs a crumb. She does not think that the problem is too big and that she cannot find healing. She does not resign herself to suffering, she loves her daughter and in Jesus she has sensed that she has found the one who can heal her. That encounter ¬- which at first seems impossible - becomes the most beautiful, surprising, personal one. "Let your will be done.” This is the will of Jesus, who joyfully changed our lives (many times without any insistence on our part, perhaps even some mistrust!) and who entrusts us so that many may experience it and the world may become a friend to all. From that woman we learn not to be ashamed to ask, to be insistent with prayer and friendship with all, so that the desire for a full life will always find its answer. "The true nature of friendship is to live freely together for destiny. We cannot call ourselves friends if we do not love each other's destiny above all else, beyond all gain." Here is our commitment to change history so that the world becomes friends again and people friends with each other, just as God intended. Laudato si'. Fratelli Tutti. Amen.

*Cardinal Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Bishops' Conference