Sunday, following the Angelus, Pope Francis asked pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square to pause for a silent moment of prayer for all those affected by forest fires still raging in central Portugal.
“I express my closeness to the dear Portuguese people for the devastating fires that are destroying the woods around Pedrógão Grande and causing numerous victims and wounded. We pray in silence,” Francis said June 18.
At least 57 people have been killed in huge forest fires in the central part of Portugal Saturday and Sunday, many dying in their cars as they tried to escape the flames, the Portuguese government said Sunday.
Dozens more have been injured in the blazes, with 1,700 firefighters battling the 60-some fires.
The blazes began on Saturday afternoon in the municipality of Pedrógão Grande, before quickly spreading and by evening had taken hold across Portugal.
The Iberian Peninsula has been suffering under a severe heatwave recently, with temperatures exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit in several regions. According to the prime minister of the country, dry thunderstorms may have been the cause of the flames.
According to Jorge Gomes, the secretary of state for internal administration, 22 people burned to death in their cars after becoming trapped by flames on the road as they tried to flee. Three others died from smoke inhalation.
In his address before the Angelus, Pope Francis reflected on the Church’s celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi, also called Corpus Domini.
“To nourish ourselves on the Eucharistic Jesus also means abandoning ourselves in him with confidence and allowing ourselves to be led by him,” he said.
“It is about welcoming Jesus in place of our ‘I.’ In this way, the free love received by Christ in the Eucharistic Communion, with the work of the Holy Spirit, nourishes our love for God and the brothers and sisters we meet on the path every day.”
It is in “feeding on the Body of Christ,” he continued, that “we become more and more intimately and concretely the mystical Body of Christ.”
Just like the apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 10:16-17: “The chalice of the blessing that we bless, is it not communion with the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not communion with the body of Christ? Since there is only one bread, we are, though many, one body, for we all share in the one bread.”
Francis spoke to some 20,000 people in St. Peter’s Square Sunday from a window of the Casa Santa Marta, reminding them that Jesus in the Eucharist is the “bread of life.”
As the Easter lamb, the Lord sacrificed himself for us upon the cross, giving his body and shedding his blood so that through “the sacrament of his flesh” the world might have eternal life.
In the Eucharist, the Pope said, Jesus accompanies us just as he did the disciples when he lived on earth. He is there to nourish in us faith, hope and charity, to comfort us in trials, and to support us in our work towards justice and peace.
And the spiritual food found in the Eucharist is for everyone, he said.
“This solidarity of the Son of God is everywhere: in cities and in the countryside, in the North and in the South of the world, in countries of Christian tradition and in those of first evangelization.”
Concluding, he prayed to the Virgin Mary, who “has always been associated with Jesus the Bread of Life,” he said.
Help us to “rediscover the beauty of the Eucharist, nurture us with faith, to live in communion with God and with our brothers.”
Following the Angelus, Pope Francis spoke about the upcoming World Day of Refugees, which will be on June 20, and is promoted by the United Nations. The theme is “With refugees. Today more than ever we should be on the side of refugees,” the Pope said.
“Concrete attention goes to the women, men, children fleeing from conflicts, violence and persecution. We remember also in prayer how many of them have lost their lives in the sea or in exhausting land voyages.”
“Their stories of pain and hope can become opportunities for fraternal encounter and true mutual knowledge,” he said. “Indeed, the personal encounter with refugees dissipates distorted fears and ideologies, and becomes a cause of growth in humanity, capable of making room for feelings of openness and for the construction of bridges.”