Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wind and Fire

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Solemnity of Pentecost

May 31, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Every time that we celebrate the Eucharist we experience in faith the mystery that is accomplished on the altar, that is, we participate in the supreme act of love that Christ realized with his death and resurrection. The one center of the liturgy and of Christian life -- the paschal mystery -- then assumes specific "forms," with different meanings and particular gifts of grace, in the different solemnities and feasts.

Among all the solemnities, Pentecost is distinguished by its importance, because in it, that which Jesus himself proclaimed as being the purpose of his whole earthly mission is accomplished. In fact, while he was going up to Jerusalem, he declared to his disciples: "I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish for it to be kindled!" (Luke 12:49).

These words find their most obvious realization 50 days after the resurrection, in Pentecost, the ancient Jewish feast that, in the Church, has become the feast of the Holy Spirit par excellence: "There appeared to them parted tongues as of fire ... and all were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:3-4).

The Holy Spirit, the true fire, was brought to earth by Christ. He did not steal it from the gods -- as Prometheus did according to the Greek myth -- but he became the mediator of the "gift of God," obtaining it for us with the greatest act of love in history: his death on the cross. God wants to continue to give this "fire" to every human generation, and naturally he is free to do this how and when he wants. He is spirit, and the spirit "blows where he wills" (cf. John 3:8).

However, there is an "ordinary way" that God himself has chosen for "casting fire upon the earth": Jesus is this way, the incarnate only begotten Son of God, dead and risen. For his part, Jesus constituted the Church as his mystical body, so that it prolongs his mission in history. "Receive the Holy Spirit" -- the Lord says to the Apostles on the evening of his resurrection, accompanying those words with an expressive gesture: he "breathed" upon them (cf. John 20:22). In this way he showed them that he was transmitting his Spirit to them, the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

Now, dear brothers and sisters, in today's solemnity Scripture tells us how the community must be, how we must be to receive the Holy Spirit. In his account of Pentecost the sacred author says that the disciples "were together in the same place." This "place" is the Cenacle, the "upper room," where Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples, where he appeared to them after his resurrection; that room that had become the "seat," so to speak, of the nascent Church (cf. Acts 1:13). Nevertheless, the intention in the Acts of the Apostles is more to indicate the interior attitude of the disciples than to insist on a physical place: "They all persevered in concord and prayer" (Acts 1:14). So, the concord of the disciples is the condition for the coming of the Holy Spirit; and prayer is the presupposition of concord.

This is also true for the Church today, dear brothers and sisters. It is true for us who are gathered together here. If we do not want Pentecost to be reduced to a mere ritual or to a suggestive commemoration, but that it be a real event of salvation, through a humble and silent listening to God's Word, we must predispose ourselves to God's gift in religious openness.

In order that Pentecost may be renewed in our time, it is perhaps necessary - without taking away anything from the freedom of God - that the Church be less "concerned" with activity and more dedicated to prayer. Mary Most Holy, the Mother of the Church and Bride of the Holy Spirit, teaches us this.

This year Pentecost occurs on the last day of May, when the Feast of the Visitation is customarily celebrated. This event was also a little "Pentecost," bringing forth joy and praise from the hearts of Elizabeth and Mary -- the one barren and the other a virgin -- who both became mothers by an extraordinary divine intervention (cf. Luke 1:41-45).

The music and singing that is accompanying our liturgy, also help us to be united in prayer, and in this regard I express a lively recognition of the choir of the Cologne cathedral and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra. Joseph Haydn's "Harmoniemesse," the last of the Masses composed by this great musician, and a sublime symphony for the glory of God, was chosen for today's Mass. The Haydn Mass was a fitting choice given that it is the bicentennial of the composer's death. I address a cordial greeting to all those who have come for this.

To indicate the Holy Spirit, the account in the Acts of the Apostles uses two great images, the image of the tempest and the image of fire. Clearly, St. Luke had in mind the theophany of Sinai, recounted in Exodus (19:16-19) and Deuteronomy (4:10-12:36).

In the ancient world, the tempest was seen as a sign of divine power, in whose presence man felt subjugated and terrified. But I would like to highlight another aspect: the tempest is described as an "impetuous wind," and this brings to mind the air that distinguishes our planet from others and permits us to live on it.

What air is for biological life, the Holy Spirit is for the spiritual life; and as there is air pollution, which poisons the environment and living things, there is also pollution of the heart and the spirit, that mortifies and poisons spiritual existence. In the same way that we should not be complacent about the poisons in the air -- and for this reason ecological efforts are a priority today -- we should also not be complacent about that which corrupts the spirit. But instead it seems that our minds and hearts are menaced by many pollutants that circulate in society today -- the images, for example, that make pleasure a spectacle, violence that degrades men and women -- and people seem to habituate themselves to this without any problem.

It is said that this is freedom, but it is just a failure to recognize all that which pollutes, poisons the soul, above all of the new generations, and ends up limiting freedom itself. The metaphor of the impetuous wind of Pentecost makes one think of how precious it is to breathe clean air, be it physical air without lungs, or spiritual air -- the healthy air of the spirit that is love -- with our heart.

Fire is the other image of the Holy Spirit that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. I compared Jesus with the mythological figure of Prometheus at the beginning of the homily. The figure of Prometheus suggests a characteristic aspect of modern man. Taking control of the energies of the cosmos -- "fire" -- today human beings seem to claim themselves as gods and want to transform the world excluding, putting aside, or simply rejecting the Creator of the universe. Man no longer wants to be the image of God but the image of himself; he declares himself autonomous, free, adult. Obviously that reveals an inauthentic relationship with God, the consequence of a false image that has been constructed of him, like the prodigal son in the Gospel parable who thought that he could find himself by distancing himself from the house of his father.

In the hands of man in this condition, "fire" and its enormous possibilities become dangerous: they can destroy life and humanity itself, as history unfortunately shows. The tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which atomic energy, used as a weapon, ended up bringing death in unheard of proportions.

We could of course find many examples, less grave and yet just as symptomatic, in the reality of everyday life. Sacred Scripture reveals that the energy that has the ability to move the world is not an anonymous and blind power, but the action of the "spirit of God that broods over the waters" (Genesis 1:2) at the beginning of creation. And Jesus Christ "cast upon the earth" not a native power that was already present but the Holy Spirit, that is, the love of God, who "renews the face of the earth," purifying it of evil and liberating it from the dominion of death (cf. Psalm 103(104): 29-30). This pure "fire," essential and personal, the fire of love, descended upon the Apostles, gathered together with Mary in prayer in the cenacle, to make the Church the extension of Christ's work of renewal.

Finally, a last thought also taken from the Acts of the Apostles: the Holy Spirit overcomes fear. We know that the disciples fled to the Cenacle after the Master's arrest and remained there out of fear of suffering the same fate. After Jesus' resurrection this fear did not suddenly disappear. But when the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost, those men went out without fear and began to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and risen. They had no fear, because they felt that they were in stronger hands.

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, where the Spirit of God enters, he chases out fear; he makes us know and feel that we are in the hands of an Omnipotence of love: whatever happens, his infinite love will not abandon us. The witness of the martyrs, the courage of the confessors, the intrepid élan of missionaries, the frankness of preachers, the example of all the saints -- some who were even adolescents and children -- demonstrate this. It is also demonstrated by the very existence of the Church, which, despite the limits and faults of men, continues to sail across the ocean of history, driven by the breath of God and animated by his purifying fire. With this faith and this joyous hope we repeat today, through Mary's intercession: "Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!"

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

The Fiftieth Day
The name “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word meaning “fiftieth.” Like Easter, it is tied to a Jewish feast. The 50th day of Easter, being 49 days (7 weeks, or “a week of weeks”) after the second day of Passover, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).

Passover celebrates the freeing of the Jews from slavery; Shavuot celebrates their becoming God’s holy people by the gift and acceptance of the Law; and the counting of the days to Shavuot symbolises their yearning for the Law. From a strictly practical point of view, Shavuot was a very good time for the Holy Spirit to come down and inspire the Apostles to preach to all nations because, being a pilgrimage festival, it was an occasion when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from many countries.

Symbolically, the parallel with the Jews is exact. We are freed from the slavery of death and sin by Easter; with the Apostles, we spend some time as toddlers under the tutelage of the risen Jesus; and when He has left, the Spirit comes down on us and we become a Church.


Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from Thy celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!

Come Father of the poor!
Come source of all our store!
Come within our bosoms shine!

Thou, of comforters the best;
Thou, the soul's most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;

In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat,
Solace in the midst of woe.

O most blessed Light divine
Shine within these hearts of Thine.
And our inmost being fill!

Where you are not, man has naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour Thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

On the faithful who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sev'nfold gift descend;

Give them virtue's sure reward;
Give them Thy salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Regina Caeli Prayer

Pentecost, May 31, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters!

The Church spread throughout the whole world relives today, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, the mystery of its own birth, its own "baptism" in the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1,5), which took place in Jerusalem 50 days after Easter, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost itself.

The resurrected Jesus had told His disciples: "Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Lk 24,49).

This took place in sensible form in the Cenacle, while everyone was gathered in prayer with Mary, the Virgin Mother. As we read in the Acts of the Apostles, suddenly the place was filled with an impetuous wind, and tongue-like flames settled on each one present. The Apostles went forth thereafter and started to proclaim in various languages that Jesus is the Christ, Son of God, who died and was resurrected (cf. Acts 2,1-4).

The Holy Spirit, who with the Father and the Son, created the universe, who guided the history of the people of Israel and who spoke through the prophets, and who in the fullness of time cooperated in our redemption, descended on Pentecost on the nascent Church and made her missionary, sending her forth to announce to all peoples the victory of divine love over sin and death.

The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. Without Him, what would she be reduced to?

It would certainly be a great historical movement, a complex and solid social institution, perhaps a kind of humanitarian agency. In fact, that is how it is thought of by those who consider her without the eyes of faith. However, in reality, in her true nature and even in her most authentic historical presence, the Church is ceaselessly formed and led by the Spirit of her Lord. She is a living body, whose vitality is precisely the fruit of the invisible divine Spirit.

Dear friends, this year, the Solemnity of Pentecost falls on the last day of the month of May, on which we normally celebrate the beautiful Marian Feast of the Visitation.

This fact invites us to allow ourselves to be inspired and instructed by the Virgin Mary, who was a protagonist in both events. At Nazareth, she received the annunciation of her singular motherhood, and, shortly after, conceived Jesus by the action of the Holy Spirit by the same Spirit of love that urged her to go assist her aged relative Elizabeth, who was in the sixth month of a pregnancy that was itself miraculous.

The young Mary, who carried Jesus in her womb, oblivious of herself, ran in aid to her neighbor, is the stupendous icon of the Church in the perennial youthfulness of the Spirit, of the missionary Church of the incarnate Word, called to bring it to the world and to bear witness to it, especially in the service of charity.

Let us invoke therefore the intercession of the Most Blessed Mary, so that she may obtain for the Church of our time that it may be powerfully reinforced by the Holy Spirit.

In a particular way, may the ecclesial communities who suffer persecution in the name of Christ feel the comforting presence of the Paraclete participating in their sufferings, so that they may receive the Spirit of glory in abundance (cf. 1 Pt4,13-14).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Laity in the Church: From Collaboration to Co-Responsibility in the Mission of the Church as the People of God and Body of Christ

Address of Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome
Opening of the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome

"Church Membership and Pastoral Co-Responsibility"
Basilica of St. John Lateran
May 26, 2009

. . . I extend to all the parishes my cordial greeting, with the words of the Apostle Paul: "To all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 1,7). . . .

We have just been reminded that in the course of the past decade, the attention of the Diocese was focused in the first three years on the family; then for the next three years, on educating the new generations in the faith, seeking to respond to that "educative emergency" which is, for everyone, not an easy challenge; and lastly, also with regard to education, and spurred by the encyclical Spe Salvi, you chose the issue of education in hope.

Even as, with you, I thank the Lord for so much good that he has allowed us to do so far - I think particularly of the parish priests and other protests who do not spare themselves in leading the communities entrusted to them - I wish to express my appreciation for the pastoral choice to dedicate time to verifying what has been done, with the purpose of putting them to the proof, in the light of some fundamental aspects of regular pastoral work, in order to better identify them and share them better.

At the basis of this commitment, which has already engaged you in all the parishes and other diocesan organisms for some months, there should be a renewed awareness of our being a Church and of the pastoral co-responsibility which, in the name of Christ, we are all called on to exercise. It is precisely this aspect that I wish to dwell on.

The Second Vatican Council, wishing to transmit purely and integrally the doctrine on the Church that had matured in the course of two thousand years, gave a "more thought out definition" of the Church, illustrating above all its mystical nature, namely as "a reality impregnated with the divine presence, therefore, always capable of new and more profound explorations" (Paul VI, Address at the Opening of the Second Session, September 29, 1963).

Thus, the Church, which originates in the Trinitarian God, is a mystery of communion. As such, it is not simply a spiritual reality, but it lives in history, in flesh and blood, so to speak.

The Second Vatican Council describes it as "like a sacrament, or sign and instrument of intimate union with God and the unity of the entire human species" (Lumen Gentium, 1). And the essence of sacrament is precisely that it can be felt both in the visible as well as the invisible, and that which is visible and tangible opens the door to God himself.

The Church, as we have said, is a communion of persons who, by the action of the Holy Spirit, make up the People of God, which is at the same time the Body of Christ. Let us reflect a bit on these two key expressions.

The concept "People of God" was born and developed in the Old Testament: To enter into the reality of human history, God chose a specific people, the people of Israel, to be his people. The intention of this particular choice was to arrive, through a few, to the many, and from the many, to all. Through the agency of this people, God truly entered history in a concrete way. The opening to universality was realized on the Cross and in the resurrection of Christ.

On the Cross, St. Paul says, Christ brought down the wall of separation. Giving us his body, he reunites us in this Body to make us into one. In the communion of the "Body of Christ," we all become one people, the People of God, where - to cite St. Paul again - everyone is just one, and there is no longer any distinction, or difference "between Greek and Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, slave, Jew, But Christ is everything in everyone." He brought down the wall of distinction among peoples, races and cultures: we are all united in Christ.

So we see that the two concepts - "People of God" and "Body of Christ" - complete each other and together form the New Testament concept of the Church. While "People of God" expresses the continuity of the Church's history, "Body of Christ" expresses the universality that was inaugurated on the Cross and in the resurrection of our Lord.

For us, Christians, then, "Body of Christ" is not just an image, but a true concept, because Christ makes us a gift of his real Body, not only of an image. Resurrected, Christ unites us all in the Sacrament to make us one body only. Therefore, the concept "People of God" and "Body of Christ" complete each other: In Christ, we become truly the People of God. So "People of God" means everyone, from the Pope to the last baptized baby.

The first Eucharistic prayer, the so-called Roman Canon written in the fourth century, distinguishes between servi - "we who are your servants" - and plebs tua sancta (your sacred people). Therefore, if one must distinguish, there are servants who are holy people, whereas the term "People of God" expresses the idea of everyone together in their common being, the Church.

Immediately following Vatican-II, this ecclesiological doctrine found a vast acceptance, and thank God, so much good fruit has matured in the Christian community. But we must also remember that the reception of this doctrine in practice and its consequent assimilation into the fabric of the ecclesial conscience, has not happened always and everywhere without difficulty and according to a correct interpretation.

As I had the occasion to clarify in an address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, a current interpretation, citing a presumed "spirit of the Council," has intended to establish a discontinuity and even outright contraposition between the Church before the Council and the Church after the Council, sometimes going beyond the limits that objectively exist between the hierarchical ministry and the responsibility of laymen in the Church.

The notion of the "People of God," in particular, has some interpretations that come from a purely sociological viewpoint, with an almost exclusively horizontal direction, excluding any vertical reference to God. These are positions in open contradiction to the word and spirit of the Council, which did not intend a rupture, another Church, but a true and profound renewal in the continuity of the one subject Church which grows in time and develops, but remains always the identical single subject of the People of God in pilgrimage.

In the second place, it must be acknowledged that the reawakening of spiritual and pastoral energies in these past years has not always produced the desired increment and development. In fact, it must be observed that, in some ecclesial communities, a period of fervor and initiative was followed by one of weakened commitment, a situation of tiredness, almost a stalemate, and even resistance and contradiction between the conciliar doctrine and various concepts formulated in the name of the Council, but in reality, opposed to its spirit and its letter.

If only for this reason, the ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1987 was dedicated to the question of vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and the world. This tells us that the luminous pages dedicated by the Council to the laity had not yet been adequately translated and realized in the consciousness of Catholics and in pastoral practice.

On the one hand, there still exists the tendency to identify the Church unilaterally with the hierarchy, forgetting the common responsibility, the common mission, of the People of God that all of us are in Christ. On the other hand, the tendency also persists to think of the "People of God," as I mentioned, according to a purely sociological or political angle, forgetting the novelty and specificity of that people which become a people only in communion with Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters; it is now time to ask: At what point is our Diocese in? To what degree is the pastoral co-responsibility of everyone, particularly of laymen, recognized and promoted?

In past centuries, thanks to the generous testimony of so many baptized ones who spent their lives to educate new generations in the faith, to heal the sick and help the poor, the Christian community announced the Gospel to the residents of Rome. This same mission is entrusted to us today, in different situations, in a city where not a few baptized Christians have lost the way to the Church, while non-Christians do not know the beauty of our faith.

The Diocesan Synod which was called by my beloved predecessor John Paul II was an effective reception of the Conciliar doctrine, and the Book of the Synod committed the Diocese to become ever more a Church that is alive and functioning in the heart of the city, through the coordinated responsible action of all its components. The mission of the city, which followed the Synod in preparation for the Grand Jubilee of 2000, allowed our ecclesial community to take note of the fact that the mandate of evangelization does not only concern some, but all baptized Christians.

It was a salutary experience which contributed to mature in the parishes, religious communities, associations and movements the consciousness of belonging to the one People of God, who - according to the words of the Apostle Peter - are "a chosen race... a people of his own, so that you may announce his praises" (1 Pt 2,9). And we wish to give thanks for that tonight.

There is still a long way to go. Too many baptized Christians do not feel part of the ecclesial community and live at its margins, turning to the parishes only in some circumstances to receive religious services. In proportion to the number of residents in each parish, there are still too few laymen who, professing to be Catholic, are ready to make themselves available to work in various fields of apostolate.

Certainly, there is no lack of cultural and social difficulties, but to be faithful to the mandate of the Lord, we cannot resign ourselves to conserving the status quo. Confident in the grace of the Spirit, that the resurrected Christ assured us of, we must resume the way with renewed vigor.

What path can we take? First of all, we must renew efforts for a more attentive and specific formation, according to the view of the Church that I have just described, on the part of the priests and of the religious and laymen. To understand even better what this Church is, this People of God in the Body of Christ.

It is necessary at the same time to improve the pastoral setting with respect to vocations and to the roles of those in consecrated life and laymen, promoting gradually the co-responsibility all together of all the members of the People of God. This requires a change in mentality particularly among laymen, who must pass from considering themselves "collaborators" of the clergy to recognize that they are really "co-responsible" for what the Church is and how it acts, thus promoting the consolidation of a mature and committed laity.

This common consciousness among all baptized persons of being a Church does not diminish the responsibility of parish priests. It falls on you, particularly, dear parish priests, to promote the spiritual and apostolic growth of those who are already assiduously committed in the parishes: they are the nucleus of the community who will be the ferment for others.

In order that such communities, even if sometimes numerically small, do not lose their identity and vigor, it is necessary that they be educated in prayerful listening to the Word of God through the lectio divina, which was ardently recommended by the recent Bishops' Synod assembly. Let us nourish ourselves by this listening and meditation on the Word of God.

These communities should not be any less conscious that they are "Church" because Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, calls them together and makes them his people. Faith, in fact, is one part of a profoundly personal relationship with God, but it possesses an essential communitarian component, and the two dimensions are inseparable.

Thus, the faithful can experience the beauty and the joy of being and feeling themselves Church - even the young people, who are most exposed to the growing individualism of contemporary culture, which brings the inevitable consequence of weakening inter-personal ties and the sense of belonging. In our faith in God, we are united in the Body of Christ, and we all become one in the same Body, and thus, believing profoundly, we can experience communion among ourselves and overcome the solitude of individualism.

If it is the Word that calls the community together, it is the Eucharist that makes them one Body: "Because the loaf of bread is one," St. Paul writes, "we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Cor 10.17).

The Church therefore is not the result of a sum of individuals, but a unity among those who are united by the one Word of God and of the only Bread of Life. The communion and unity of the Church, which are born from the Eucharist, are a reality of which we must have an ever greater awareness, even when we receive Holy Communion, to be ever more aware that we are entering into union with Christ, in order to become, among ourselves, one thing only.

We should always learn anew how to guard and defend this unity from rivalry, contestations and jealousies which can arise within and among ecclesial communities. In particular, I wish to ask the movements and the communities that emerged after Vatican-II, who are a precious gift within our Diocese for which we must thank the Lord, to be always careful that their formative itineraries lead their members to mature a true sense of belonging to the parish community.

The center of parish life, as I mentioned, is the Eucharist, particularly the Sunday Mass. If the unity of the Church arises from the encounter with the Lord, it is not then secondary that the adoration and celebration of the Eucharist be very attentively done, allowing those who participate to experience the beauty of Christ's mystery.

Since the beauty of the liturgy "no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God's love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us" (Sacramentum Caritatis n. 35), it is important that the Eucharistic celebration manifests and communicates divine life, through sacramental signs, and reveals the true face of the Church to the men and women of the city.

The spiritual and apostolic growth of the community leads to widening it through convincing missionary activity. Do your best then to bring back to life in your parishes, as during the period of the city mission, those small groups or centers of listening for the faithful to listen to the announcement of Christ and his Word, places where it is possible to experience the faith, exercise charity, organize hope. This articulation of the large urban parishes through the multiplication of small communities allows a wider missionary breadth which takes into account the density of the population, and its social and cultural physiognomy, often remarkably diversified.

It would be important that this pastoral method finds efficient application even in workplaces, which must be evangelized today with a well-conceived environmental pastoral, since, with increased social mobility, the population spends a large part of this time at work.

Finally, not to be forgotten is the testimony of charity which unites hearts and opens them up to ecclesial belonging. To the question of how to explain the success of Christianity in its early centuries - the elevation of a presumed Jewish sect to become the religion of the Empire - historians answer that it was particularly the experience of charity by Christians that most convinced the world.

To live charity is the primary form of missionary work. The Word that is both announced and lived becomes credible if it is embodied in behavior showing solidarity and sharing, and in gestures which show the face of Christ as a true Friend to man. The silent daily testimony of charity, promoted by the parish thanks to the efforts of so many faithful laymen, must continue to extend itself ever more, so that whoever lives in suffering may feel the Church near him and thus experience the love of the Father, rich with mercy.

Therefore, be "good Samaritans" ready to heal the material and spiritual wounds of your brothers. Deacons, conforming to their ordination as servants of Christ, can carry out a useful service in promoting a renewed attention towards the old and new forms of poverty.

I also think of the young people: dearest ones, I invite you to place your enthusiasm and your creativity in the service of Christ, making yourselves apostles among your contemporaries, and ready to respond generously to the Lord if He calls you to come closer to him in the priesthood or in the consecrated life.

Dear brothers and sisters, the future of Christianity and the Church of Rome depends on the commitment and testimony of each of you. For this, I invoke the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, venerated for centuries at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore as the "Salus populus romani." As she did with the Apostles at the Cenacle while awaiting Pentecost, may she accompany and encourage us to look with confidence to tomorrow.

With these sentiments, as I thank you for your lasting work, I impart to all a special Apostolic Blessing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Renunciation and Obedience

Catechesis of Pope Benedict XVI
Piazza di San Pietro

General Audience of May 27, 2009

The saint that we find today, St. Theodore the Studite, brings us to a period that from the religious and political point of view was rather turbulent. St. Theodore was born in the year 759 to a noble and pious family. His mother, Teoctista, and an uncle, Plato, abbot of the monastery of Sakkudion in Bithynia, are venerated as saints. . . .

With his characteristic energy, he became the leader of the resistance to the iconoclasm of Leo V the Armenian, who opposed once again the existence of images and icons in the Church. The procession of icons, organized by the monks of Studios, brought about the reaction of the police. Between 815 and 821, Theodore was flogged, jailed and exiled in various parts of Asia Minor. In the end, he was able to return to Constantinople, but not to his monastery. Thus he established himself with his monks on the other side of the Bosphorus. . . .

The characteristic contribution of Theodore consists in his insistence on the necessity of order and submission on the part of the monks. During the persecutions, the monks had dispersed, accustoming themselves to living according to each one's personal judgment. When it was possible to reconstruct common life, it was necessary to deeply commit himself to again make of the monastery an authentic living community, an authentic family, or as he said, an authentic "Body of Christ." In a community like this, the reality of the Church as a whole is concretely fulfilled.

Another of Theodore's deep conviction is this: With respect to laypeople, monks take on the commitment of observing Christian duties with greater rigor and intensity. That's why they make a special profession, which belongs to the hagiasmata (consecrations), and which is almost a "new baptism," and is symbolized by the taking of the habit.

With respect to laypeople, the commitment of poverty, chastity and obedience is characteristic of monks. Addressing the monks, Theodore speaks in a concrete way, occasionally almost picturesque, of poverty, but in the following of Christ, this is from the beginning an essential element of monasticism and indicates as well a path for us.

Renunciation of private poverty, freedom from material things, as well as sobriety and simplicity, are only valid in their radical form for monks, but the spirit of this renunciation is the same for everyone. In fact, we should not depend on material property; we should learn detachment, simplicity, austerity and sobriety. In this way, a solidary society can grow and the great problem of poverty in this world can be overcome. Therefore, in this sense, the radical sign of the poor monks indicates essentially a path also for us.

When he illustrates the temptations against chastity, Theodore does not hide his personal experiences and shows the path of interior fight to find self-control and in this way, respect for one's own body and the body of others as a temple of God.

But the principal renunciations are for him those demanded by obedience, since each one of the monks has his way of living, and integration in the great community of 300 monks truly implies a new form of life, which he classifies as the "martyrdom of submission." Also in this, the monks give an example, since after original sin, the tendency for man is to do one's own will, the first principle is the life of the world, and everything else remains submitted to the personal will. But in this way, if each one only follows himself, the social fabric cannot work.

Only in learning to integrate oneself in common freedom, sharing and submitting to it, learning legality, that is, submission and obedience to the rules of the common good and the common life, can a society be healed, as well as the "I" of the pride of putting oneself in the center of the world
. In this way, St. Theodore helps his monks with keen introspection, and certainly us as well, to understand the true life, to resist the temptation of putting one's own will as the supreme rule of life and to conserve a true personal identity, which is always an identity together with others, as well as peace of heart.

For Theodore the Studite, an important virtue, together with obedience and humility, is philergia, that is, love for work, which he sees as a criterion to prove the quality of personal devotion. One who is fervent in material commitments, who works assiduously, he maintains, is the same in the spiritual realm. In this regard, he does not allow that with the pretext of prayer and contemplation, the monk dispenses with work, including manual work, which in reality is, according to him and to the monastic tradition, the means to encounter God.

Theodore is not afraid to speak of work as the "sacrifice of the monk," of his "liturgy," even of a type of Mass through which the monastic life converts into angelical life. And precisely in this way the world of work is humanized and man, through work, becomes more himself, closer to God. A consequence of this singular vision deserves to be considered: Precisely because it is the fruit of a form of "liturgy," the riches that come from common work should not serve the comfort of the monks, but should be destined for the help of the poor. In this, all of us can see the need for the fruit of work to be a good for everyone. . . .

Perhaps it is useful to take up at the end some of the principal elements of the spiritual doctrine of Theodore:

Love for the incarnated Lord and for His visibility in the liturgy and in icons. Fidelity to baptism and commitment to live in the communion of the Body of Christ, understood also as communion of Christians among themselves. Spirit of poverty, of sobriety, of renunciation; chastity, self-control, humility and obedience against the primacy of one's own will, which destroys the social fabric and the peace of souls. Love for material and spiritual work. Spiritual friendship born in the purification of one's conscience, of one's soul, of one's life. Let us try to follow these teachings that truly show us the path of the true life.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In Christ ascended into heaven, man has entered in a new way into the intimacy of God

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Celebrating the Ascension of the Lord

Piazza Miranda di Cassino (renamed Piazza Benedetto XVI)
May 24, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

With these words, Jesus bids farewell to the Apostles, as we heard in the first reading. Immediately afterward, the sacred author adds that "as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight" (Acts 1:9).

Today, we are solemnly celebrating the mystery of the Ascension. But what does the Bible and the liturgy intend to communicate to us in saying that Jesus "was lifted up"?

We will not understand the meaning of this expression from a single text, nor from one book of the New Testament, but in carefully listening to the whole of Sacred Scripture. The use of the verb "to lift" is, in effect, Old Testament in origin and it referred to an installation in royalty. Christ's ascension thus means, in the first place, the installation of the crucified and risen Son of Man in God's royal dominion over the world.

There is a deeper meaning, however, that is not immediately graspable. The passage from the Acts of the Apostles says first that Jesus was "lifted up" (1:9), and afterward it adds that "He was assumed" (1:11). The event is not described as a voyage up above, but rather as an action of God's power, which introduces Jesus into the space of nearness to the divine.

The presence in the clouds that "took Him from their sight" (1:9) recalls a very ancient image of Old Testament theology and inserts the Ascension into the history of God with Israel, from the clouds of Sinai and above the tent of the covenant, to the luminous clouds on the mountain of the Transfiguration. Presenting the Lord wreathed in clouds definitively evokes the same mystery expressed in the symbolism of "sitting at the right hand of God."

In Christ ascended into heaven, man has entered in a new and unheard of way into the intimacy of God; man now finds space in God forever. "Heaven" does not indicate a place beyond the stars, but something more bold and sublime: it indicates Christ Himself, the divine Person that completely and forever takes on humanity, He in whom God and man are united forever.

And we draw near to heaven, indeed, we enter into heaven, to the extent that we draw near to Jesus and enter into communion with Him
. For this reason, today's Solemnity of the Ascension invites us to a profound communion with Jesus dead and risen, invisibly present in the life of each of us.

In this perspective, we understand why the evangelist Luke says that, after the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem "full of joy" (24:52). They are joyful because what happened was not a separation: in fact, now they had the certainty that the crucified and risen Christ was alive, and in Him, the gates of eternal life were opened forever.

In other words, the Ascension did not begin Christ's temporary absence from the world, but inaugurated instead the new, definitive and insuppressible form of his presence, by virtue of His participation in the royal power of God. It will belong to them, to the disciples, emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make His presence felt with their witness, preaching and missionary commitment

The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord should fill us also with serenity and enthusiasm like the Apostles, who returned from the Mount of Olives "full of joy." Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the two men "dressed in white garments," must not stay looking up at the sky, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must go everywhere and proclaim the salvific message of the death and resurrection of Christ. His own words -- with which the Gospel according Matthew concludes: "And behold I am with you all days until the end of the world" (Matthew 28:19) -- accompany and comfort us.

Dear brothers and sisters, the historical character of the mystery of the resurrection and ascension of Christ helps us to recognize and to understand the transcendent and eschatological condition of the Church, which was not born and does not live to take the place of the Lord who has "disappeared," but which finds its reason for being in His mission and in the invisible presence of Jesus working with the power of His Spirit. In other words, we could say that the Church does not carry out the function of preparing for the return of an "absent" Jesus, but, on the contrary, lives and works to proclaim His "glorious presence" in an historical and existential manner.

Since the day of the Ascension, every Christian community advances in its earthly journey toward the fulfillment of the messianic promises, fed by the Word of God and nourished by Body and Blood of its Lord. This is the condition of the Church -- the Second Vatican Council says -- as she "presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes" (Lumen Gentium, 8).

Brothers and sisters of this dear diocesan community, today's solemnity calls on us to reinvigorate our faith in the real presence of Jesus; without Him we cannot do anything of value in our life or apostolate. It is He, as the Apostle Paul recalls in the second reading, who "made some apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ," that is, the Church. And He does this so that "we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature to manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13, 14).

My visit today is situated in this context. As your pastor noted, the purpose of this visit is to encourage you constantly to "build, found and rebuild" your diocesan community on Christ. How? St. Benedict himself points the way, recommending in his Rule to put nothing before Christ: "Christo nihil omnino praeponere" (LXII, 11).

This is why I thank God for the good that your community is accomplishing under the leadership of your pastor, Father Abbot Dom Pietro Vittorelli, whom I greet with affection and thank for the kind words that he spoke to me on behalf of everyone. Together with him, I greet the monastic community, the bishops, the priests and the men and women religious who are present. I greet the civil and military authorities, in the first place the mayor, to whom I am grateful for the speech with which he welcomed me in here in Piazza Miranda, which will afterwards bear my name. I greet the catechists, the pastoral workers, the young people and those who in various ways are overseeing the spreading of the Gospel in this land rich with history, which experienced moments of great suffering during the Second World War. The many cemeteries that surround your resort city are a silent witness of this. Among these, I think particularly of the Polish, German and Commonwealth cemeteries. Finally I extend my greeting to all the citizens of Cassino and the nearby towns: to each, especially to the sick and suffering, I assure my affection and my prayer.

Dear brothers and sisters, we hear St. Benedict's call echo in this celebration of ours, to keep our hearts fixed on Christ and put nothing before Him. This does not distract us but on the contrary moves us even more to commit ourselves to the building up of a society where solidarity is expressed in concrete signs. But how?

Benedictine spirituality, which you know well, proposes an evangelical program synthesized in the motto: "ora et labora et lege" -- "prayer, work, culture." First of all prayer, which is the most beautiful legacy that St. Benedict left the monks, but also to your local Church: to your clergy -- most of whom were formed in the diocesan seminary, for centuries housed in the Abbey of Monte Cassino itself -- to the seminarians, to the many who were educated in the Benedictine schools and recreation programs and in your parishes, to all of you who live in this land. Looking up from every village and district of the diocese, you can all admire that constant reminder of heaven that is the monastery of Monte Cassino, to which you climb every year in the procession on the eve of Pentecost.

Prayer -- to which grave peals of the bell of St. Benedict calls the monks every morning -- is the silent path that leads us directly to the heart of God; it is the breath of the soul that gives us peace again in the storms of life. Furthermore, in the school of St. Benedict, the monks always cultivated a special love for the Word of God in the "lectio divina," which has become the common patrimony of many today. I know that your diocesan Church, following the instructions of the Italian Bishops' conference, takes great care in studying the Bible, and indeed has begun a course of study of the Sacred Scriptures, dedicating this year to the evangelist Mark and continuing over the next four years will conclude, please God, with a diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land. May attentive listening to the divine Word nourish your prayer and make you prophets of truth and love in a joint commitment to evangelization and human promotion.

The other hinge of Benedictine spirituality is work. Humanizing the world of work is typical of the soul of monasticism, and this is also the effort of your community that seeks to be at the side of the many workers in the great industry present in Cassino and the enterprises linked to it. I know how critical the situation of many workers is. I express my solidarity with those who live in a troubling precariousness, with those workers who on unemployment assistance and those who have been laid off. May the wound of unemployment that afflicts this area lead those who are responsible for the "res publica," the entrepreneurs and those who are able, to seek, with everyone's help, valid solutions to the employment crisis, creating new places of work to safeguard families.

In this respect, how can we not recall that, today, the family has an urgent need to be better protected, since it is gravely threatened in its very institutional roots? I think also of the young people who have difficulty finding a dignified job that allows them to build a family. To them I would like to say: Do not be discouraged, dear friends, the Church will not abandon you! I know that more than 25 young people from your diocese participated in last year's World Youth Day in Sydney: treasuring that extraordinary spiritual experience, may you be evangelical leaven among your friends and peers; with the power of the Holy Spirit, be the new missionaries in this land of St. Benedict!

Attention to the world of culture and education also belongs to your tradition. The celebrated archive and library of Monte Cassino contain innumerable testimonies of the commitment of men and women who meditated on and researched ways of improving the spiritual and material life of man.

In your abbey, one can touch with one's hands the "quaerere Deum," the fact that European culture has been constituted by the search for God and availability to listen to Him. And this is important for our time as well. I know that you are working with this very spirit at the university and in the schools, so that you become workers of knowledge, research, passion for the future of new generations. I also know that, in preparation for my visit, you recently held a conference on the theme of education to solicit in everyone the lively determination to transmit to the young people the values of our human and Christian patrimony that we cannot renounce. In today's cultural effort aimed at creating a new humanism, faithful to the Benedictine tradition you rightly intend to stress attention to the fragility, weakness of man, to disabled persons and immigrants. And I am grateful that you have given me the possibility today of inaugurating the "House of Charity," where a culture attentive to life will be built with deeds.

Dear brothers and sisters! It is not hard to see in your community, this portion of the Church that lives around Monte Cassino, is heir and repository of the mission, impregnated by the spirit of St. Benedict, to proclaim that in your life no one and nothing must take Jesus away from the first place; the mission to build, in Christ's name, a new humanity to teach hospitality and help of the weakest. May your patriarch help and accompany you, with St. Scholastica his sister; may your holy patrons, and above all Mary, Mother of the Church and Star of our hope, protect you. Amen!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

He Ascended into Heaven and is Seated at the Right Hand of the Father

Sing to the Lord, sing psalms to His name. Make a path for Him who rides on the clouds. Alleluia.

The Acts of the Apostles (1:1-11):

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day He was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after He had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with the them, He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

When they had gathered together they asked Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

When He had said this, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

While they were looking intently at the sky as He was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven."

From a Sermon by Saint Augustine, Bishop --

Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with Him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as He remained with us even after His ascension, so we too are already in heaven with Him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.

Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but He still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of His body, have to bear. He showed this when He cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when He said: I was hungry and you gave me food.

Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with Him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to Him? While in heaven He is also with us; and we while on earth are with Him. He is here with us by His divinity, His power and His love. We cannot be in heaven, as He is on earth, by divinity, but in Him, we can be there by love.

He did not leave heaven when He came down to us; nor did He withdraw from us when He went up again into heaven. The fact that He was in heaven even while He was on earth is borne out by His own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.

These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for He is our head and we are His body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: He is the Son of Man by His union with us, and we by our union with Him are the sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.

Out of compassion for us He descended from heaven, and although He ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in Him by grace. Thus, no one but Christ descended and no one but Christ ascended; not because there is no distinction between the head and the body, but because the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.

St. Augustine on the Ascension in his Confessions --

Our Life Himself came down into this world and took away our death. He slew it with His own abounding life, and with thunder in His voice He called us from this world to return to Him in heaven. From heaven He came down to us, entering first the Virgin’s womb, where humanity, our mortal flesh, was wedded to Him, so that it might not be forever mortal.

He came “as a bridegroom coming out his chamber, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race." He did not linger on His way but ran, calling us to return to Him, calling us by His words and deeds, by His life and death, by His descent into hell and His ascen­sion into heaven.

He departed from our sight so that we should turn to our hearts and find Him there. He departed, but He is here with us. He would not stay long with us, but He did not leave us. He went back to the place which He had never left, because He, through whom the world was made, was in the world, and He came into the world to save sinners.

To Him my soul confesses, and He heals it, because it had sinned against Him. O sons of men, how long will you be so slow of heart? Even now after Life itself has come down to you, will you not ascend and live?
--St. Augustine, Confessions, Book IV, ch. 12

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.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pope Benedict Departs the Holy Land

Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI
Departure Ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport

Tel Aviv, Israel
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
May 15, 2009

Mr. President,
Mr. Prime Minister,
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I prepare to return to Rome, may I share with you some of the powerful impressions that my pilgrimage to the Holy Land has left with me. I had fruitful discussions with the civil authorities both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories, and I witnessed the great efforts that both governments are making to secure people’s well-being.

I have met the leaders of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, and I rejoice to see the way that they work together in caring for the Lord’s flock. I have also had the opportunity to meet the leaders of the various Christian Churches and ecclesial communities as well as the leaders of other religions in the Holy Land. This land is indeed a fertile ground for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, and I pray that the rich variety of religious witness in the region will bear fruit in a growing mutual understanding and respect.

Mr. President, you and I planted an olive tree at your residence on the day that I arrived in Israel. The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by Saint Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant (cf. 11:17-24). We are nourished from the same spiritual roots. We meet as brothers, brothers who at times in our history have had a tense relationship, but now are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship.

The ceremony at the Presidential Palace was followed by one of the most solemn moments of my stay in Israel – my visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, where I met some of the survivors who suffered the evils of the Shoah. Those deeply moving encounters brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews - mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends - were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred. That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied. On the contrary, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love.

Mr. President, I thank you for the warmth of your hospitality, which is greatly appreciated, and I wish to put on record that I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people.

Friends enjoy spending time in one another’s company, and they find it deeply distressing to see one another suffer. No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades.

Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing

Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream. And let peace spread outwards from these lands, let them serve as a “light to the nations” (Is 42:6), bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict.

One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall. As I passed alongside it, I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation, but rather respecting and trusting one another, and renouncing all forms of violence and aggression. Mr. President, I know how hard it will be to achieve that goal. I know how difficult is your task, and that of the Palestinian Authority. But I assure you that my prayers and the prayers of Catholics across the world are with you as you continue your efforts to build a just and lasting peace in this region.

It remains only for me to express my heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed in so many ways to my visit. To the Government, the organizers, the volunteers, the media, to all who have provided hospitality to me and those accompanying me, I am deeply grateful. Please be assured that you are remembered with affection in my prayers. To all of you, I say: thank you, and may God be with you. Shalom!


"The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of life."

Reflections of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Visit to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
May 15, 2009

Dear Friends in Christ,

The hymn of praise which we have just sung unites us with the angelic hosts and the Church of every time and place – “the glorious company of the apostles, the noble fellowship of the prophets and the white-robed army of martyrs” – as we give glory to God for the work of our redemption, accomplished in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Before this Holy Sepulchre, where the Lord “overcame the sting of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers,” I greet all of you in the joy of the Easter season.

I thank Patriarch Fouad Twal and the Custos, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, for their kind greeting. I likewise express my appreciation for the reception accorded me by the Hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. I gratefully acknowledge the presence of representatives of the other Christian communities in the Holy Land. I greet Cardinal John Foley, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and also the Knights and Ladies of the Order here present, with gratitude for their unfailing commitment to the support of the Church’s mission in these lands made holy by the Lord’s earthly presence.

Saint John’s Gospel has left us an evocative account of the visit of Peter and the Beloved Disciple to the empty tomb on Easter morning. Today, at a distance of some twenty centuries, Peter’s Successor, the Bishop of Rome, stands before that same empty tomb and contemplates the mystery of the Resurrection. Following in the footsteps of the Apostle, I wish to proclaim anew, to the men and women of our time, the Church’s firm faith that Jesus Christ “was crucified, died and was buried,” and that “on the third day he rose from the dead.”

Exalted at the right hand of the Father, He has sent us His Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. Apart from Him, whom God has made Lord and Christ, “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Standing in this holy place, and pondering that wondrous event, how can we not be “cut to the heart,” like those who first heard Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost? (Acts 2:37)

Here, Christ died and rose, never to die again. Here, the history of humanity was decisively changed. The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life; the wood of the Cross lay bare the truth about good and evil; God’s judgment was passed on this world and the grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon humanity. Here, Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.

The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of life (cf. Rom 5:5). This is the message that I wish to leave with you today, at the conclusion of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. May hope rise up ever anew, by God’s grace, in the hearts of all the people dwelling in these lands! May it take root in your hearts, abide in your families and communities, and inspire in each of you an ever more faithful witness to the Prince of Peace!

The Church in the Holy Land, which has so often experienced the dark mystery of Golgotha, must never cease to be an intrepid herald of the luminous message of hope which this empty tomb proclaims. The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Saviour.

This ancient Memorial of the Anástasis bears mute witness both to the burden of our past, with its failings, misunderstandings and conflicts, and to the glorious promise which continues to radiate from Christ’s empty tomb. This holy place, where God’s power was revealed in weakness, and human sufferings were transfigured by divine glory, invites us to look once again with the eyes of faith upon the face of the crucified and risen Lord.

Contemplating His glorified flesh, completely transfigured by the Spirit, may we come to realize more fully that even now, through Baptism, “we bear in our bodies the death of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our own mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:10-11). Even now, the grace of the resurrection is at work within us!

May our contemplation of this mystery spur our efforts, both as individuals and as members of the ecclesial community, to grow in the life of the Spirit through conversion, penance and prayer. May it help us to overcome, by the power of that same Spirit, every conflict and tension born of the flesh, and to remove every obstacle, both within and without, standing in the way of our common witness to Christ and the reconciling power of His love.

With these words of encouragement, dear friends, I conclude my pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption and rebirth in Christ. I pray that the Church in the Holy Land will always draw new strength from its contemplation of the empty tomb of the Savior. In that tomb, it is called to bury all its anxieties and fears, in order to rise again each day and continue its journey through the streets of Jerusalem, Galilee and beyond, proclaiming the triumph of Christ’s forgiveness and the promise of new life.

As Christians, we know that the peace for which this strife-torn land yearns has a name: Jesus Christ. “He is our peace,” who reconciled us to God in one body through the Cross, bringing an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14). Into His hands, then, let us entrust all our hope for the future, just as in the hour of darkness, He entrusted His spirit into the Father’s hands.

Allow me to conclude with a special word of fraternal encouragement to my brother Bishops and priests, and to the men and women religious who serve the beloved Church in the Holy Land. Here, before the empty tomb, at the very heart of the Church, I invite you to rekindle the enthusiasm of your consecration to Christ and your commitment to loving service of his mystical Body. Yours is the immense privilege of bearing witness to Christ in this, the land which He sanctified by His earthly presence and ministry. In pastoral charity, enable your brothers and sisters, and all the inhabitants of this land, to feel the healing presence and the reconciling love of the Risen One.

Jesus asks each of us to be a witness of unity and peace to all those who live in this City of Peace. As the new Adam, Christ is the source of the unity to which the whole human family is called, that unity of which the Church is the sign and sacrament. As the Lamb of God, He is the source of that reconciliation which is both God’s gift and a sacred task enjoined upon us. As the Prince of Peace, He is the source of that peace which transcends all understanding, the peace of the new Jerusalem.

May He sustain you in your trials, comfort you in your afflictions, and confirm you in your efforts to proclaim and extend His Kingdom. To all of you, and to those whom you serve, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of Easter joy and peace.


Meetings of Pope Benedict with the Patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic Churches

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Meeting with His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III

the Throne Hall of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
May 15, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is with profound gratitude and joy that I make this visit to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem; a moment to which I have much looked forward.

I thank His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III for his kind words of fraternal greeting, which I warmly reciprocate. . . .

Standing in this hallowed place, alongside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the site where our crucified Lord rose from the dead for all humanity, and near the cenacle, where on the day of Pentecost “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1), who could not feel impelled to bring the fullness of goodwill, sound scholarship and spiritual desire to our ecumenical endeavors? I pray that our gathering today will give new impetus to the work of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, adding to the recent fruits of study documents and other joint initiatives. . . .

Extending His arms on the Cross, Jesus revealed the fullness of His desire to draw all people to Himself, uniting them together as one (cf. Jn 12:32). Breathing His Spirit upon us, He revealed His power to enable us to participate in His mission of reconciliation (cf. Jn 19:30; 20:22-23). In that breath, through the redemption that unites, stands our mission!

Little wonder, then, that it is precisely in our burning desire to bring Christ to others, to make known His message of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:19), that we experience the shame of our division. Yet, sent out into the world, empowered by the unifying force of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming the reconciliation that draws all to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Jn 20:21-22, 31), we shall find the strength to redouble our efforts to perfect our communion, to make it complete, to bear united witness to the love of the Father who sends the Son so that the world may know His love for us (cf. Jn 17:23).

Some two thousand years ago, along these same streets, a group of Greeks put this request to Philip: “Sir, we should like to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). It is a request made again of us today, here in Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, in the region and throughout the world. How do we respond? Is our response heard?

Saint Paul alerts us to the gravity of our response: our mission to teach and preach. He says: “faith comes from hearing, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). It is imperative therefore that Christian leaders and their communities bear vibrant testimony to what our faith proclaims: the eternal Word, who entered space and time in this land, Jesus of Nazareth, who walked these streets, through His words and actions calls people of every age to His life of truth and love.

Dear friends, while encouraging you to proclaim joyfully the Risen Lord, I wish also to recognize the work to this end of the Heads of Christian communities, who meet together regularly in this city. It seems to me that the greatest service the Christians of Jerusalem can offer their fellow citizens is the upbringing and education of a further generation of well-formed and committed Christians, earnest in their desire to contribute generously to the religious and civic life of this unique and holy city.

The fundamental priority of every Christian leader is the nurturing of the faith of the individuals and families entrusted to his pastoral care. This common pastoral concern will ensure that your regular meetings are marked by the wisdom and fraternal charity necessary to support one another and to engage with both the joys and the particular difficulties which mark the lives of your people. I pray that the aspirations of the Christians of Jerusalem will be understood as being concordant with the aspirations of all its inhabitants, whatever their religion: a life of religious freedom and peaceful coexistence and - for young people in particular - unimpeded access to education and employment, the prospect of suitable housing and family residency, and the chance to benefit from and contribute to economic stability.

Your Beatitude, I thank you again for your kindness in inviting me here, together with the other guests. Upon each of you and the communities you represent, I invoke an abundance of God’s blessings of fortitude and wisdom! May you all be strengthened by the hope of Christ which does not disappoint!

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Visit to the Armenian Patriarchal Church
of St. James in Jerusalem

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
May 15, 2009

Your Beatitude,

I greet you with fraternal affection in the Lord, and I offer prayerful good wishes for your health and your ministry. I am grateful for the opportunity to visit this Cathedral Church of Saint James in the heart of the ancient Armenian quarter of Jerusalem, and to meet the distinguished clergy of the Patriarchate, together with the members of the Armenian community of the Holy City.

Our meeting today, characterized by an atmosphere of cordiality and friendship, is another step along the path towards the unity which the Lord desires for all His disciples. In recent decades we have witnessed, by God’s grace, a significant growth in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. . . . In a spirit of gratitude to the Lord, I wish also to express my appreciation of the unwavering commitment of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the continuing theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. . . .

From the first Christian centuries, the Armenian community in Jerusalem has had an illustrious history, marked not least by an extraordinary flourishing of monastic life and culture linked to the holy places and the liturgical traditions which developed around them. This venerable Cathedral Church, together with the Patriarchate and the various educational and cultural institutions attached to it, testifies to that long and distinguished history. I pray that your community will constantly draw new life from its rich traditions, and be confirmed in its witness to Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection (cf. Phil 3:10) in this Holy City.

I likewise assure the families present, and particularly the children and young people, of a special remembrance in my prayers. Dear friends, I ask you in turn to pray with me that all the Christians of the Holy Land will work together with generosity and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel of our reconciliation in Christ, and the advent of His Kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.

Your Beatitude, I thank you once more for your gracious welcome, and I cordially invoke God’s richest blessings upon you and upon all the clergy and faithful of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Holy Land. May the joy and peace of the Risen Christ be always with you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Annunciation Gives Us Hope and Invites Us to Also Consent to His Dwelling within Us

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Celebration of Vespers

the Upper Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
May 14, 2009

Brother Bishops,
Father Custos,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is profoundly moving for me to be present with you today in the very place where the Word of God was made flesh and came to dwell among us. How fitting that we should gather here to sing the Evening Prayer of the Church, giving praise and thanks to God for the marvels He has done for us! . . .

What happened here in Nazareth, far from the gaze of the world, was a singular act of God, a powerful intervention in history, through which a child was conceived who was to bring salvation to the whole world. The wonder of the Incarnation continues to challenge us to open up our understanding to the limitless possibilities of God’s transforming power, of His love for us, His desire to be united with us.

Here, the eternally begotten Son of God became man, and so made it possible for us, His brothers and sisters, to share in His divine sonship. That downward movement of self-emptying love made possible the upward movement of exaltation in which we too are raised to share in the life of God Himself (cf. Phil 2:6-11).

The Spirit who “came upon Mary” (cf. Lk 1:35) is the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of Creation (cf. Gen 1:2). We are reminded that the Incarnation was a new creative act. When our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived in Mary’s virginal womb through the power of the Holy Spirit, God united Himself with our created humanity, entering into a permanent new relationship with us and ushering in a new Creation.

The narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God’s extraordinary courtesy (cf. Mother Julian of Norwich, Revelations 77-79). He does not impose Himself, He does not simply pre-determine the part that Mary will play in His plan for our salvation: He first seeks her consent.

In the original Creation, there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of His creatures, but in this new Creation, He does so. Mary stands in the place of all humanity. She speaks for us all when she responds to the angel’s invitation.

Saint Bernard describes how the whole court of heaven was waiting with eager anticipation for her word of consent that consummated the nuptial union between God and humanity. The attention of all the choirs of angels was riveted on this spot, where a dialogue took place that would launch a new and definitive chapter in world history. Mary said, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” And the Word of God became flesh.

When we reflect on this joyful mystery, it gives us hope, the sure hope that God will continue to reach into our history, to act with creative power so as to achieve goals which by human reckoning seem impossible. It challenges us to open ourselves to the transforming action of the Creator Spirit who makes us new, makes us one with Him, and fills us with His life. It invites us, with exquisite courtesy, to consent to His dwelling within us, to welcome the Word of God into our hearts, enabling us to respond to Him in love and to reach out in love towards one another.

In the State of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Christians form a minority of the population. Perhaps at times you feel that your voice counts for little. Many of your fellow Christians have emigrated, in the hope of finding greater security and better prospects elsewhere. Your situation calls to mind that of the young virgin Mary, who led a hidden life in Nazareth, with little by way of worldly wealth or influence. Yet, to quote Mary’s words in her great hymn of praise, the Magnificat, God has looked upon his servant in her lowliness, He has filled the hungry with good things.

Draw strength from Mary’s canticle, which very soon we will be singing in union with the whole Church throughout the world! Have the confidence to be faithful to Christ and to remain here in the land that He sanctified with His own presence!

Like Mary, you have a part to play in God’s plan for salvation, by bringing Christ forth into the world, by bearing witness to Him and spreading His message of peace and unity. For this, it is essential that you should be united among yourselves, so that the Church in the Holy Land can be clearly recognized as “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

Your unity in faith, hope and love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, enabling you to be effective instruments of God’s peace, helping to build genuine reconciliation between the different peoples who recognize Abraham as their father in faith. For, as Mary joyfully proclaimed in her Magnificat, God is ever “mindful of His mercy, the mercy promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and his children for ever” (Lk 1:54-55).

Dear friends in Christ, be assured that I constantly remember you in my prayer, and I ask you to do the same for me. Let us turn now towards our heavenly Father, who in this place looked upon His servant in her lowliness, and let us sing His praises in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with all the choirs of angels and saints, and with the whole Church in every part of the world.