Monday, May 18, 2009

The Holy Land: a Microcosm that Sums Up in Itself God’s Arduous Journey with Humanity

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Regina Caeli Prayer

St. Peter's Square
May 17, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters!

I returned the other day from the Holy Land. I plan to speak to you about this pilgrimage at greater length during the general audience on Wednesday. Now, I would like to thank the Lord, above all, who granted me the possibility of completing this very important apostolic voyage. I also thank all of those who offered their assistance: the Latin patriarch and the pastors of the Church in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories; the Franciscans of the Holy Land Custody, the civil officials of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories; the organizers and the security forces. I thank the priests, religious and faithful who welcomed me with such affection and those who accompanied and supported me with their prayers. Thanks to all from the depths of my heart!

This pilgrimage to the holy places was also a pastoral visit to the faithful who live there, a service to Christian unity, to dialogue with the Jews and Muslims, and to the building up of peace.

The Holy Land, symbol of God’s love for His people and for the whole of humanity, is also a symbol of the freedom and the peace that God wants for all His children. In fact, however, the history of yesterday and today shows that this Land has become the symbol of the opposite, that is, of divisions and interminable conflicts between brothers.

How is this possible? It is right that such a question should enter our hearts, since we know that God has a mysterious plan for that Land where -- as St. John writes -- God “sent His son as a victim for the expiation of our sins (1 John 4:10). The Holy Land has been called a “fifth Gospel,” because here we see, indeed touch, the reality of the history that God realized together with men -- beginning with the places of Abraham’s life to the places of Jesus’ life, from the incarnation to the empty tomb, sign of His resurrection.

Yes, God came to this land, He lived like us in this world. But here we can say still more: the Holy Land, because of its very history, can be considered a microcosm that sums up in itself God’s arduous journey with humanity. A journey which, with sin, also implicates the Cross. But with the abundance of divine love, it also always implicates the joy of the Holy Spirit in the Resurrection that took place. And it is a journey through the valleys of our suffering toward the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which is not of this world, but lives in this world and must penetrate it with its power of justice and peace.

The history of salvation begins with the election of one man, Abraham, and of people, Israel, but its aim is universality, the salvation of all nations. Salvation history has always been marked by this intersection of particularity and universality

We see this nexus in the first reading of today’s liturgy: St. Peter seeing the faith of the pagans in Cornelius’ household and their desire for God says, “Truly I am beginning to see that God does not distinguish between persons, but welcomes those who, from whatever nation, fear Him and practice justice” (Acts 10:34-35). To fear God and to practice justice - to learn this and thus to open the world to the Kingdom of God - this is the most profound purpose of every inter-religious dialogue.

I cannot conclude this Marian prayer without turning my thoughts to Sri Lanka, to assure those civilians who find themselves in the combat zone in the northern part of the country of my affection and spiritual nearness. There are thousands of children, women, and elderly there from whom the war has taken away years of life and hope. In this respect, I would like once again to address an urgent invitation to the opposing sides to facilitate the evacuation [of the civilians] and join my voice to that of the United Nations’ Security Council which just some days ago asked for guarantees of their safety and security. Furthermore, I ask the humanitarian organizations, including Catholic ones, to do all they can to meet the refugees urgent food and medical needs.

I entrust that dear country to the maternal protection of Holy Virgin of Madhu, loved and venerated by all Sri Lankans, and I lift up my prayers to the Lord that he will hasten the day of reconciliation and peace.

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