Speech by Bishop Teemu Laajasalo on the occasion of a private audience with His Holiness Pope Francis on 17 January 2020 in connection with St Henry’s Day


Holy Father, Your Holiness,

On behalf of our entire ecumenical delegation I wish to thank you for bringing us together to meet you in connection with the commemoration of St Henry. That we are able together to remember the first bishop and preacher of the Gospel in our country is a special sign of the links we enjoy.

I rejoice in the enduring and shared theological endeavour that has paved the way for a deeper and more visible unity.

Holy Father, in your Christmas sermon you spoke of the Christ who was born as a gift to every human being. God approached us first; he did not wait for us to approach him. God’s love does not depend on our right thinking, deeds, or omissions. Christ is born above all as a gift to human beings.

Holy Father, your words were beautiful, but they also gave simple guidance to all of us who are human.

“He did not wait until we were good before he loved us, but gave himself freely to us. May we not wait for our neighbours to be good before we do good to them, for the Church to be perfect before we love her, for others to respect us before we serve them. Let us begin with ourselves.”

The world is riven by disputes – major military and political ones, as well as small and local ones. In our own country too, there is a new awareness of increasing conflict. Although Finland has been hailed as the happiest country on Earth, harsh words and mutual misunderstanding are growing in our society and in our churches. The president of our country has also expressed his concern about this development.

We are afflicted by the fact that the desire to understand the other has become a desire to misunderstand them. Human beings are not loved because of their humanity, but because they are of like mind.

Holy Father, I believe that the guidance expressed by your words “Let us begin with ourselves” is more important and relevant in this new decade.

Christ calls us to follow the example of his self-giving love and to start with ourselves. To start with ourselves, because there are too many in this world whose voice is unheard by anyone. There are too many beside whom no one stops. There are too many whom no one even tries to understand.

“Let us begin with ourselves.” Through the love of Christ let us afford space to those who lack it. Through the love of Christ let us give words to those who are voiceless. Through the love of Christ let us fight for those who have already lost all their battles.

Ecumenical work is a response to the prayer of Jesus that his followers may be one. However, it is also work that to a great extent awakens the hope that affords an example to the world of how centuries-old disputes and harsh words can be replaced by mutual understanding and a spirit of reconciliation. Your predecessor, St John XXIII, still reminds us today: “The things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.”

Holy Father, we bring you a gift. It is a donation to the work of peace and reconciliation being undertaken in Colombia by Finland’s oldest and largest mission organisation, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission.

With these words I salute you, Holy Father, and on behalf of our entire delegation I wish you a blessing from the God who loves us. We pray for you. Pray for us too.