Homily given by Fr. Miljenko Steko, OFM, Provincial of Herzegovinian Franciscan Province

date: 02.08.2020.

Today our eyes are directed towards Assisi and a small church called Portiuncula. It was called that way because it was an insignificantly "small estate" of the Benedictines from nearby Subiaco. But for Francis, it meant something great because the birth of the Order of Friars Minor, as well as of the Poor Clare Sisters, was connected to it. It was right there where the first brothers joined Francis, and where he also received his first spiritual daughter – St. Clare of Assisi.

Francis used to return to the Portiuncula after each sermon. At this place were held the meetings of the brothers – the so-called 'Chapter Meetings on Mats', under the open sky, because during Francis' life—at his explicit request—no large monasteries were built. It was at this place—after returning from the hill of La Verne where he received his stigmata—where Francis died.

Several different biographers share Francis' testimony that he, by God's revelation, knew that the Portiuncula, among all the churches built in honor of the Mother of God, was especially dear to Her. Relying on the revelation that the church of Portiuncula was especially close to Our Lady's heart, Francis was encouraged to go to Pope Honorius III when he was in Perugia. There he asked him to grant the Portiuncula the privilege of the Plenary indulgence to the faithful who, in addition to confession, visit it.

The Plenary indulgence was granted on this day of August 2. The church which Francis restored by his own efforts was also consecrated on that day. Later, this indulgence was extended to all Franciscan churches and was named the indulgence of Assisi.

Apart from being the cradle of the Franciscan order, the Portiuncula was also exceptional for Francis' personal history. It was in a sense the crown of his conversion.

Namely, whoever knows anything about St. Francis, knows that his conversion began with Jesus' call from the cross in the church of St. Damiano: "Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is all falling down". We know today how far-reaching that call from the crucifix in the church of St. Damiano was for the Church and the world? At that point, Francis did not see any symbolism in it, but he took in hand the masonry tools to make this ruined building a worthy edifice for the celebration of the Eucharist. Shortly afterwards he spotted another church in a miserable and dilapidated condition, the church that no one cared about. It was Portiuncula. As it was dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, Francis was very sad, so he restored it too. Later, he moved right next to that church.

The Portiuncula was also important for St. Francis. About this, Thomas of Celano said: "When the saint saw it so dilapidated, he was moved by love; since he simply burnt with piety towards the good Mother ... ”(1Cel 9:21).

To many of you, Medjugorje is your Portiuncula. You return tirelessly as pilgrims, constantly confirming that you are participating in something that transcends all of us. And by your pilgrimages you speak to others with this motto of the 31st International Prayer Encounter for the Youth – Youth Festival: "Come and you will see" (Jn 1:39)! Here you were moved by Our Lady's love as St. Francis was moved in the Portiuncula. Medjugorje is a place of grace, because in it heaven touched the earth in a special way. Or as one pastoral theologian puts it – The event of Medjugorje reveals "mystagogy", bringing man before a mystery, where God opens the heart from within, as in the case of Lydia in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 16:14).

Each of you could tell your own story about the grace you have experienced here and taken with you ... From those individual and quiet, hidden and mysterious, and silenced ones. And yet, each of you here could unite all this in an affinity with the millions of other ardent groanings arising from human souls to heaven. Here, millions of souls, just like you, have received sacramental absolution from sins. Here, many human hearts have softened – human hearts that had previously been almost inaccessible to anything that is sacred. Millions of human sins, just like yours, have been washed away and gone into irretrievability here. Here, millions of souls wept before something as powerful as the heart of a Mother who loves us. Before her they added and multiplied all their small, living, mustard seeds of faith, all their silent and small prayers.

You all came here to Our Lady, the Queen of Peace, your Mother Mary, whom we call the Mediatrix of All Graces. That grace has not dried up. She is waiting for you and says once again: Pray and pray, pray until prayer becomes joy for you. Pray in solitude, pray in communion, pray over and over again. Open your own heart to God. In your prayer, open yourselves for heaven. Put everything you have at your disposal and insight, to the One who searches hearts with His eyes and from whom nothing can be hidden.

Even when trials like this one come, pray. When the days of great afflictions come. When today's world wanders mindlessly looking for a way out to the old paths, pray. Pray, because the man of the modern age does not know that greatness grows only through trials; that role models are born only in afflictions; and that only in the trials of the world  can it be determined who is worthy of his own name, and of the vocation he has chosen.

Dear young people, in this communion with the entire world! Many of you who have come here all these years, tonight you are connected with Medjugorje in a different way. In a virtual way. I am convinced that even in these moments, the words of Francis vibrate in the hearts of many of you: “This is what I want, this is what I long for with all my heart.”

That is why I am asking you now: What do you want? What do you long for with all your heart tonight?

I am trying to answer on your behalf… I want to leave a mark. One day when this body of mine is just a blink in the threads of time, I want you to know that I lived for a reason. I want you to be convinced that I have fulfilled my mission.

I want you to know that I was what I needed to be and that I wasn’t afraid to go for it. I want you to know that I swung bravely on the edge of the abyss, relying only on the urgings of my abilities and strengths, but there was an infinite grace. I want you to know that I didn't let my life pass me by just like that.

Because I owe that to Him – the Creator, who gave me this life at this very moment of time, for some reason.

I want you to know that I breathed with full lungs every second of my life. I want you to know that I have stopped so many times to admire the sunset spilling over the nature He created.

Especially tonight I pray for the intercession of the Queen of Peace in Medjugorje to be able to truly recognize my deepest desire; the kind of desire that determines who I am and what I need to be; the kind of desire that is sacred, which in the depths of my conscience makes me be a better person, and to strive for something greater, more lasting. I long for that desire to be what determines me and what guides me. The desire that is sent by Him into my life and which leads me to Him.

Let us pray to Mary, the Queen of Peace, to turn her motherly gaze tonight to all her children gathered in this communion of the Youth Festival. May she bring each of us to the knowledge of St. Francis, which could be expressed as follows: I know the Son of God, the Son of Mary, the Word of God [that] became flash for me….

We are also encouraged to do so by the words that Pope Francis addressed to us here in Medjugorje last night: „Mary is the Mother who watches »over us, her children, on our journey through life, often weary and in need, anxious that the light of hope not fail. For that is our desire: that the light of hope never fail. Mary our Mother looks at this pilgrim people: a youthful people whom she loves and who seek her in the silence of their hearts amid all the noise, the chatter and the distractions of the journey«, (…) I entrust you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, invoking the light and the power of the Holy Spirit so that you may be true witnesses of Christ.” The Pope in the end said he was praying for this as he blessed all the youth gathered in Medjugorje and asked of us to pray for him.

Let us do the same for our Pope Francis with the promise of prayer for him and let us greet him now!