By Andrea Tornielli
“There is space in the Church for everyone… Everyone, everyone, everyone!”
Pope Francis encouraged the half-a-million young people who warmly received him on Thursday evening at Lisbon’s Edward VII Park to repeat this word numerous times.
The Pope appeared revitalized and invigorated by the contagious enthusiasm of the girls and boys who, together with their pastors and educators, traveled to Portugal from all over the world.
“For everyone, para todos,” exclaimed Pope Francis. His message neatly epitomizes the first ten years of his pontificate—a pontificate that began under the banner of mercy.
What does it mean to reiterate that there is room for everyone in the Church?
By way of explanation, the Pope said, “No one is useless; no one is superfluous; there is room for everyone. Just as we are, everyone… ‘But Father, I am a wretch; I am a sinner: is there room for me?’ There is room for everyone.” For, “God loves us; God loves us as we are, not as we wish to be or as society expects us to be: as we are. He loves us with our flaws, limitations, and desires to progress in life. God calls us in this way: have faith because God is a father, and he is a loving father, a father who love us.”
In a time when everyone gives their opinion and no one listens, when so many try to appear as something they are not, there is no message more attractive and revolutionary than what the Pope is reminding us of: God loves us just as we are, always forgives us, awaits us with open arms, and extends His mercy.
This awareness represents a logic that goes beyond human capacity and reaches the divine, one we learn from the Gospel episode of Zacchaeus, the sinful publican disliked by all in the city of Jericho. Despite the opinions of others about him and feeling curious about the Nazarene prophet, Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore tree and waits for Him to pass, half-hidden among the leaves.
Jesus looks at him first, loves him first, and invites Himself to Zacchaeus’s home, regardless of the scandalized comments from onlookers.
There are no prerequisites to receiving Jesus’ merciful embrace. There are no “instructions” to follow, no preparatory courses to attend, nor techniques to learn.
It is enough to be present when He passes by, surrender to His gaze filled with love and mercy. We need only to remove our barriers and allow Him to embrace us, recognizing Him in the faces of the witnesses He places in our path every day.
The Church has room for everyone, just as it did for Zacchaeus, who had the privilege of hosting the Nazarene at his own table in his own home. His was an unprecedented surprise, a free gift, bestowed purely by grace.
Jesus’ gaze, His call, turned Zacchaeus’s life upside down: because he was loved like never before, he could comprehend the depths of sin and corruption in his existence.
However, conversion for Zacchaeus wasn’t a prerequisite for receiving love and forgiveness.
The dynamic was different: experiencing divine mercy allowed him to realize his own sin and corruption. Experiencing divine mercy made him aware of his status as a poor sinner.
The invitation which the “rejuvenized” Pope Francis reiterated “among the young,” influenced by their enthusiasm, is the key to evangelization today.
What else do we need if not Someone to embrace us as we are, making us feel special, wanted, loved, and forgiven? What else do we need if not to be assured: there is room for you too, regardless of your circumstances?