Pope Benedict's addresses from May 2007 to November 2007, click here

Pope Benedict's addresses from November 2007 to April 2008, click here

Pope Benedict's addresses from May 2008

(November 9, 2006 to April 2007)

Papal Address at Pavia Hospital




"San Matteo" Polyclinic, Pavia
Sunday, 22 April 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The programme for my Pastoral Visit to Pavia could not have omitted a stop at the San Matteo Polyclinic to meet you, dear sick people, who come not only from the Province of Pavia but also from the whole of Italy.

I express my personal closeness and solidarity to each one of you as I also embrace in spirit the sick, the suffering, people in difficulty in your Diocese and all those who take loving care of them. I would like to reach out to you all with a word of encouragement and hope.

I address a respectful greeting to Mr Alberto Guglielmo, President of the Polyclinic, and I thank him for his cordial words that he has just addressed to me. My gratitude extends to the doctors, the nurses and all the personnel who work here daily.

I offer grateful thoughts to the Camillian Fathers who every day, with lively pastoral zeal, bring to the sick the comfort of the faith, as well as to the Sisters of Providence involved in generous service in keeping with the charism of St Luigi Scrosoppi, their Founder.

I express heartfelt thanks to the representative of the sick [who spoke prior to the Pope's Address] and I think with affection of their relatives who share moments of trepidation and trustful expectation with their loved ones.

A hospital is a place which in a certain way we might call "holy", where one experiences not only the frailty of human nature but also the enormous potential and resources of human ingenuity and technology at the service of life.

Human life! However often it is explored, this gift always remains a mystery.

I am aware that this hospital structure, your "San Matteo" Polyclinic, is well known in this City and in the rest of Italy, in particular for its pioneering surgery on several occasions. Here, you seek to alleviate suffering in the attempt to restore the person to complete health and this often happens, partly thanks to modern scientific discoveries; and here, truly comforting results are obtained.

I strongly hope that the necessary scientific and technological progress will constantly go hand in hand with the awareness that together with the good of the sick person, one is promoting those fundamental values, such as the respect for and defence of life in all its stages, on which the authentically human quality of coexistence depends.

Being here with you, it comes naturally to me to think of Jesus, who in the course of his earthly existence always showed special attention to the suffering, healing them and giving them the possibility of returning to a life of family and social relations which illness had compromised.

I am also thinking of the first Christian community, where, as we read in these days in the Acts of the Apostles, many cases of healing and miracles accompanied the Apostles' preaching.

The Church, following the example of her Lord, always expresses special preference for the suffering and, as the President said, sees Christ himself in the suffering and does not cease to offer to the sick the necessary technical assistance and human love, knowing that she is called to express Christ's love and concern for them and for those who care for them.

Technical progress, technology and human love should always go together!

Moreover, Jesus' words, "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40;45), resonate with special timeliness in this place. In every person stricken with illness it is Jesus himself who waits for our love.

Suffering is of course repugnant to the human spirit; yet, it is true that when it is accepted with love and compassion and illumined by faith, it becomes a precious opportunity that mysteriously unites one to Christ the Redeemer, the Man of sorrows who on the Cross took upon himself human suffering and death.

With the sacrifice of his life, he redeemed human suffering and made it the fundamental means of salvation.

Dear sick people, entrust to the Lord the hardships and sorrows that you have to face and in his plan they will become a means of purification and redemption for the whole world.

Dear friends, I assure each and every one of you of my remembrance in prayer and, as I invoke Mary Most Holy, Salus infirmorum -- Health of the Sick -- so that she may protect you and your families, the directors, the doctors and the whole community of the Polyclinic, I impart to you all with affection a special Apostolic Blessing.


Papal Homily at Ordination Mass
"The Lord's Goodness Is Always With You, and It Is Powerful"

VATICAN CITY, - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's April 29 homily at the Mass of the ordination of new priests in St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *


St Peter's Basilica
Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2007

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Presbyterate,
Dear Ordinandi,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter traditionally known as "Good Shepherd Sunday", has a special significance for us who are gathered in this Vatican Basilica. It is an absolutely unique day especially for you, dear deacons, upon whom, as Bishop and Pastor of Rome, I am pleased to confer priestly Ordination. In this way you join our "presbyterium".

Together with the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops and the priests of the Diocese, I thank the Lord for the gift of your priesthood which enriches our Community with 22 new Pastors.

The theological density of the brief Gospel passage which has just been proclaimed helps us to perceive better the meaning and value of this solemn Celebration.

Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd who gives eternal life to his sheep (cf. Jn 10:28). This image of the shepherd is deeply rooted in the Old Testament and dear to Christian tradition. The Prophets attributed to David the title: "Shepherd of Israel", which hence possesses an indisputable messianic importance (cf. Ex 34:23).

Jesus is the true Shepherd of Israel, since he is the Son of Man who desired to share the condition of human beings to give them new life and lead them to salvation.

Significantly, the Evangelist adds to the term "shepherd" the adjective kalós, good, which he only uses with reference to Jesus and his mission. In the account of the Wedding at Cana, the adjective kalós is also used twice to signify the wine offered by Jesus, and it is easy to see it as a symbol of the good wine of messianic times (cf. 2:10).

"I give them (that is, to my sheep) eternal life and they shall never perish" (Jn 10:28). These are the words of Jesus, who had said a little earlier, "the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep" (cf. Jn 10:11).

John uses the verb tithénai -- to offer, which he repeats in the following verses (cf. 15,17,18). We find the same verb in the Last Supper narrative when Jesus "laid aside his garments" in order to "take" them back later (cf. Jn 13:4,12).

Thus, it is clear that the intention is to affirm that the Redeemer has absolute freedom to do with his life as he chooses and thereby give it up or take it back freely.

Christ is the true Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep, for us, sacrificing himself on the Cross. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him, just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father (cf. Jn 10:14-15).

This is not a matter of mere intellectual knowledge but of a profound, personal relationship: a knowledge of the heart, of one who loves and one who is loved; of one who is faithful and one who knows how to be trustworthy.

It is a knowledge of love, by virtue of which the Pastor invites his sheep to follow him and which is fully manifest in the gift of eternal life that he offers to them (cf. Jn 10:27-28).

Dear Ordinandi, may the certainty that Christ does not abandon us and that no obstacle can prevent the accomplishment of his universal plan of salvation be a cause of constant consolation -- also in difficulties -- and steadfast hope for you. The Lord's goodness is always with you, and it is powerful.

The Sacrament of Orders, which you are about to receive, will make you sharers in the very mission of Christ; you will be called to scatter the seed of his Word, the seed that carries in itself the Kingdom of God; to dispense divine mercy and to nourish the faithful at the table of his Body and Blood.

To be his worthy ministers, you must ceaselessly nourish yourselves with the Eucharist, source and summit of Christian life.

In approaching the altar, your daily school of holiness, of communion with Jesus, of the way of entering into his sentiments in order to renew the sacrifice of the Cross, you will increasingly discover the richness and tenderness of the love of the divine Teacher, who today is calling you to a closer friendship with him.

If you listen docilely to him, if you follow him faithfully, you will learn to express in your life and in your pastoral ministry his love and his passion for the salvation of souls.

With Jesus' help, dear Ordinandi, each one of you will become a Good Shepherd, ready, if necessary, to lay down your life for him.

Thus it was at the beginning of Christianity with the first disciples, while as we heard in the First Reading the Gospel continued to be disseminated amid consolations and difficulties.

It is worth stressing the last words in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles which we have heard: "The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (13:52).

Despite the misunderstandings and disagreements, about which we have heard, the apostle of Christ does not lose joy; indeed, he is a witness of that joy which flows from being with the Lord and from love for him and for the brothers and sisters.

On today's World Day of Prayer for Vocations, whose theme this year is: "The vocation to the service of the Church as communion", let us pray that all who are chosen to such a lofty mission may be accompanied by the prayerful communion of all the faithful

Let us pray that in every parish and Christian community attention to vocations and to the formation of priests will increase: it begins in the family, continues at the seminary and involves all who have at heart the salvation of souls.

Dear brothers and sisters who are taking part in this evocative celebration, and in the first place you, relatives, family members and friends of these 22 deacons who will shortly be ordained priests!

Let us surround these brothers of ours in the Lord with our spiritual solidarity. Let us pray that they may be faithful to the mission to which the Lord is calling them today and ready to renew their "yes" to God, their "here I am", every day without reserve.

And let us ask the Lord of the harvest on this Day for Vocations to continue to bring forth many holy priests who are totally dedicated to the service of the Christian people.

At this most solemn and important moment of your life, dear Ordinandi, I once again address you with affection. On this day Jesus repeats to you: "I no longer call you servants, but friends". Welcome and nurture this divine friendship with "Eucharistic love"!

May Mary, the heavenly Mother of priests, accompany you. May she who beneath the Cross united herself with the Sacrifice of her Son and after the Resurrection accepted together with the other disciples the gift of the Spirit, help you and each one of us, dear brothers in the priesthood, to allow ourselves to be inwardly transformed by God's grace.

Only in this way is it possible to be faithful images of the Good Shepherd; only in this way can we carry out joyfully the mission of knowing, guiding and loving the flock which Jesus acquired at the price of his blood. Amen.


Papal Address at the University of Pavia
"What the Person Needs Is Unity and Synthesis"

University's Theresian Courtyard, Pavia
Sunday, 22 April 2007

Rector Magnificent,
Distinguished Professors,
Dear Students,

Although it is brief, my Pastoral Visit to Pavia could not leave out a stop at this University, which has been a hallmark of your City for centuries.

I am therefore glad to find myself among you for this encounter, to which I attribute special importance since I also come from the academic world.

I greet with cordial respect the professors, and in the first place, Prof. Angiolino Stella, whom I thank for his courteous words. I greet the students, especially the young man who expressed the sentiments of the other university students. He reassured me of your courage in dedication to the truth, of your courage in seeking beyond the limits of the known and not surrendering to the weakness of reason. And I am very grateful to him for these words.

I also extend my good wishes to all the members of your academic community who were prevented from being present here today.

Your University is one of the oldest and most distinguished of the Italian Universities and -- I repeat the words of the Rector Magnificent -- among the teachers who have honoured it are figures such as Alessandro Volta, Camillo Golgi and Carlo Forlanini.

I am also eager to recall that teachers and students marked by an eminent spiritual stature have passed through your Athenaeum. They were: Michele Ghislieri, who later became Pope St Pius V, St Charles Borromeo, St Alessandro Sauli, St Riccardo Pampuri, St Gianna Beretta Molla, Bl. Contardo Ferrini and the Servant of God Teresio Olivelli.

Dear friends, every university has an inherent community vocation: indeed, it is, precisely, a universitas, a community of teachers and students committed to seeking the truth and to acquiring superior cultural and professional skills.

The centrality of the person and the community dimension are two co-essential poles for an effective structuring of the universitas studiorum.

Every university must always preserve the traits of a study centre "within man's reach", where the student is preserved from anonymity and can cultivate a fertile dialogue with his teachers from which he draws an incentive for his cultural and human growth.

From this structure derive certain applications that are connected to one another. First of all, it is certain that only by putting the person at the centre and making the most of dialogue and interpersonal relations can the specializing fragmentation of disciplines be overcome and the unitive perspective of knowledge be recovered.

Naturally, and also rightly, the disciplines tend to specialization, while what the person needs is unity and synthesis.

Secondly, it is fundamentally important that the commitment to scientific research be open to the existential question of meaning for the person's life itself. Research seeks knowledge, whereas the person also needs wisdom, that knowledge, as it were, which is expressed in the "knowing-living".

In the third place, only in appreciating the person and interpersonal relationships can the didactic relationship become an educational relationship, a process of human development. Indeed, the structure gives priority to communication while people aspire to sharing.

I know that this attention to the person, his integral experience of life and his aspiration to communion are very present in the pastoral action of the Church of Pavia in the field of culture. This is witnessed to by the work of University Colleges of Christian inspiration.

Among these, I too would like to recall the Collegio Borromeo, desired by St Charles Borromeo with Pope Pius IV's Bull of foundation, and the Collegio Santa Caterina, founded by the Diocese of Pavia to comply with the wishes of the Servant of God Paul VI, with a crucial contribution from the Holy See.

In this sense, the work of the parishes and ecclesial movements is also important, especially that of the Diocesan University Centre and the Italian Catholic University Students' Association (FUCI).

The purpose of their activity is to welcome the person in his totality, to propose harmonious processes of human, cultural and Christian formation, and to provide spaces for sharing, discussion and communion.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask both students and teachers not to feel that they are merely the object of pastoral attention but to participate actively and to make their contribution to the cultural project of Christian inspiration which the Church promotes in Italy and in Europe.

In meeting you, dear friends, the thought of Augustine, Co-Patron of this University together with St Catherine of Alexandria, springs spontaneously to mind. Augustine's existential and intellectual development witnesses to the fertile interaction between faith and culture.

St Augustine was a man driven by a tireless desire to find the truth, to find out what life is, to know how to live, to know man. And precisely because of his passion for the human being, he necessarily sought God, because it is only in the light of God that the greatness of the human being and the beauty of the adventure of being human can fully appear.

At first, this God appeared very remote to him. Then Augustine found him: this great and inaccessible God made himself close, one of us. The great God is our God, he is a God with a human face. Thus, his faith in Christ did not have its ultimate end in his philosophy or in his intellectual daring, but on the contrary, impelled him further to seek the depths of the human being and to help others to live well, to find life, the art of living.

This was his philosophy: to know how to live with all the reason and all the depths of our thought, of our will, and to allow ourselves to be guided on the path of truth, which is a path of courage, humility and permanent purification.

Faith in Christ brought all Augustine's seeking to fulfilment, but fulfilment in the sense that he always remained on the way. Indeed, he tells us: even in eternity our seeking will not be completed, it will be an eternal adventure, the discovery of new greatness, new beauty.

He interpreted the words of the Psalm, "Seek his face continually", and said: this is true for eternity; and the beauty of eternity is that it is not a static reality but immense progress in the immense beauty of God.

Thus, he could discover God as the founding reason, but also as love which embraces us, guides us and gives meaning to history and to our personal life.

This morning I had the opportunity to say that this love for Christ shaped his personal commitment. From a life patterned on seeking, he moved on to a life given totally to Christ and thus to a life for others.

He discovered -- this was his second conversion -- that being converted to Christ means not living for oneself but truly being at the service of all.

May St Augustine be for us and also for the academic world a model of dialogue between reason and faith, a model of a broad dialogue which alone can seek truth, hence, also peace.

As my venerable Predecessor, John Paul II commented in his Encyclical Fides et Ratio: "The Bishop of Hippo succeeded in producing the first great synthesis of philosophy and theology, embracing currents of thought both Greek and Latin. In him too the great unity of knowledge, grounded in the thought of the Bible, was both confirmed and sustained by a depth of speculative thinking" (n. 40).

I therefore invoke the intercession of St Augustine, so that the University of Pavia may always be distinguished by special attention to the individual, by an accentuated community dimension in scientific research and by a fruitful dialogue between faith and culture.

I thank you for your presence and as I wish you every good for your studies, I impart to you all my Blessing, which I extend to your relatives and loved ones.


On World Day for Vocations
"At the Service of the Church as Communion"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the Regina Caeli with the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. All the faithful are exhorted to pray in a particular way for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life.

This morning in St. Peter's Basilica I had the joy of ordaining 22 new priests. As I greet with affection these newly ordained men and their families and friends, I invite you to remember in your prayers those whom the Lord continues to call by name -- as he did one day with the apostles on the shores of the Sea of Galilee -- that they may become "fishers of men," that is, his more direct co-workers in the proclamation of the Gospel and the service of the Kingdom of God in our time.

Let us pray for the gift of perseverance for all priests: May they remain faithful to prayer, may they celebrate the holy Mass with ever renewed devotion, may their lives always be a listening to the word of God and that day after day they assimilate the same sentiments and attitudes of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Let us pray, then, for those who are preparing for the priestly office and for the instructors in the seminaries of Rome, Italy and the whole world; let us pray for the families, that they continue to allow the "seed" of the call to the ministerial priesthood to mature and blossom.

This year the theme for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is "Vocation at the Service of the Church as Communion." The Second Vatican Council, in presenting the mystery of the Church in our time, favored the category of "communion." In this perspective the rich variety of gifts and offices of the people of God is highlighted. All the baptized are called to contribute to the work of salvation. In the Church there are, however, some vocations that are especially dedicated to the service of communion.

The one who is primarily responsible for Catholic communion is the Pope, Successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome; with him the bishops, successors of the apostles, are caretakers and teachers of unity. The bishops are helped by the priests. But consecrated persons and all the faithful are also at the service of communion. The Eucharist is at the heart of the Church as communion: From this greatest sacrament the various vocations draw the spiritual strength to continually build up the one ecclesial body in charity.

We turn now to Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd. May she who readily responded to God's call, saying "behold the handmaid of the Lord" (Luke 1:38), help us to welcome with joy and availability Christ's invitation to be his disciples, always animated by the desire to form "one heart and one soul" (cf. Acts 4:32).

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in eight languages. In English, he said:]

I extend a cordial greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims! Today, on this "Good Shepherd Sunday", the Church observes the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In my message for this occasion, I emphasized that the call to ordained and consecrated life in the Church is a call to communion -- a communion rooted in the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As Jesus tells us in the Gospel, "The Father and I are one" (John 10:30). Today, I invite you to join me in praying that young people will answer this call to communion and the service of the Church by responding generously to Christ's call to priesthood and religious life. May God bless you all!


Papal Address to Theology Professors
"Listen to the Answers That the Christian Faith Gives Us"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave March 21 to a delegation of the theological faculty of the University of T?bingen, Germany.

* * *


Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Dear Bishop, esteemed Dean, distinguished Colleagues, if I may be permitted to call you such!

I thank you for this visit and I can say that it makes me deeply happy.

On the one hand, an encounter with one's past is always beautiful because there is something rejuvenating about it. On the other, however, it is something more than a nostalgic meeting.

You yourself, Your Excellency, said that it is also a sign: a sign on the one hand of how dear to me theology is -- and how could it be otherwise? -- because I had considered teaching to be my true vocation, even if the Good Lord suddenly wanted something else.

At the same time, however, it is also a sign on your part, that is, that you see the interior unity between theological research, doctrine and theological work, and pastoral service in the Church, and thus the total ecclesial commitment for the human being, for the world and for our future.

Yesterday evening, of course, I started rummaging among my memories with a view to this meeting. So it was that a memory came to mind which fits in with what you have just said, Mr Dean: in other words, the memory of the Grand Senate. I do not know today whether all the appointments still pass through the Grand Senate.

It was very interesting that when, for example, a chair of mathematics or Assyriology or the physics of solid bodies or any other subject was to be assigned, the contribution from the other faculties was minimal, and everything was resolved quite quickly because almost no one dared to speak out. The situation in the humanistic disciplines was rather different and when the chairs of theology came up in both faculties, in the end, everyone had their say.

Thus, it was evident that all the professors of the University felt in some way competent in theology; they had the feeling that they could and should participate in the decision. Theology was obviously very dear to them.

Consequently, on the one hand it could be perceived that their colleagues in the other faculties in a certain way considered that theology was the heart of the University, and on the other, that theology was precisely something that concerned everyone, in which all felt involved and somehow also knew that they were competent.

In other words, come to think of it, this means that precisely in the debate concerning the chairs of theology, the University could be experienced as a university. I am pleased to learn that these cooptations exist today, more than in the past, although Tubingen has always striven for this.

I do not know whether the Leibniz-Kolleg of which I was a member still exists; in any case, the modern University runs a considerable risk of becoming, as it were, a complex of advanced study institutes externally and institutionally united rather than being able to create the interior unity of universitas.

Theology was evidently something in which the universitas was present and in which it was demonstrated that the whole forms a unit, and that precisely at its root are a common questioning, a common task, a common purpose.

I think, moreover, that one can see in this a deep appreciation of theology. I consider this a particularly important fact.

It reveals that in our time -- at least in the Latin countries where the secularity of the State and State institutions is emphasized to the extreme and therefore the omission of all that has to do with the Church, Christianity and faith is demanded -- interconnections exist from which it is impossible to separate that complex reality which we call theology (which is also fundamentally linked with the Church, faith and Christianity).

It thus becomes evident in our collection of European situations -- however secular, in a certain perspective, they are and must be -- that Christian thought with its questions and answers is present and accompanies them.

I maintain, on the one hand, that this fact shows that theology itself continues in a certain way to make its contribution and to constitute what the University is.

But on the other, it naturally also implies an immense challenge to theology to satisfy this expectation, to be equal to it and to carry out the service entrusted to it and expected of it.

I am pleased that through the cooptations which have now become visible in a rather practical way -- far more than they used to be -- that the intra-university debate makes the University truly what it is, involving it in a collective self-questioning and responding.

However, I think that this is also a reason to reflect on how far we are able -- not only in Tubingen but also elsewhere -- to satisfy this need. The University and society, humanity, in fact, need questions, but they also need answers. And I hold that in this regard there emerges for theology -- and not only for theology -- a certain dialectic between scientific rigour and the greatest question that transcends it and constantly emerges from it: the question about truth.

I would like to make this clearer with an example. An exegete, an interpreter of Sacred Scripture, must explain it as a historical work "secundum artem", that is, with the scientific rigour that we know in accordance with all the historical elements that require it and with the necessary methodology.

This alone, however, does not suffice for him to be a theologian. If he were to limit himself to doing this, then theology, or at any rate the interpretation of the Bible, would be something similar to Egyptology or Assyriology, or any other specialization.

To be a theologian and to carry out this service for the University, and I dare to say for humanity -- hence, the service that is expected of him -- he must go further and ask: but is what is said there true? And if it is true, does it concern us? And how does it concern us? And how can we recognize that it is true and concerns us?

In my opinion, in this regard, even in the scientific context, theology is always also requested and called into question over and above the scientific perspective.

The University and humanity are in need of questions. Whenever questions are no longer asked, even those that concern the essential and go beyond any specialization, we no longer receive answers, either.

Only if we ask, and if with our questions we are radical, as radical as theology must be radical over and above any specialization, can we hope to obtain answers to these fundamental questions which concern us all.

First of all, we have to ask questions. Those who do not ask do not get a reply.

But I would add that for theology, in addition to the courage to ask, we also need the humility to listen to the answers that the Christian faith gives us; the humility to perceive in these answers their reasonableness and thus to make them newly accessible to our time and to ourselves.

Thus, not only is the University built up but also humanity is helped to live. For this task, I invoke God's Blessing upon you.


Benedict XVI's Address to Italian Artisans
Work: "A Means and Path of Holiness"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave March 31 to the directors and members of an Italian association of artisans.

* * *


Paul VI Audience Hall
Saturday, 31 March 2007

Dear Friends,

I am particularly pleased with your visit and I address my cordial greeting to each one of you. I greet in particular your President, Mr Giorgio Natalino Guerrini, and thank him for his courteous and profound words to me on behalf of all. I extend my respectful thoughts to the other directors and members of your Confederation, which is now more than 60 years old, years rich with intense activity.

Confartigianato was founded in 1946 on the principle of free enrolment open to every geographical, sectorial and cultural member of entrepreneurial activity and small artisan businesses. There is no doubt that it has helped to build the modern Italian Nation. It has characterized certain important aspects of the Nation's development in society and economics, art and culture, and has impressed its own stylistic code upon Italian progress.

Indeed, if until a few decades ago, craftwork evoked something "old-fashioned" and "picturesque", to be associated with the image of the locksmith or the cobbler's workshop, today instead it stands for autonomy, creativity and personalization in the production of goods and services.

Dear friends, your presence offers me the opportunity to reflect on an important aspect of human experience. I am referring to the reality of work, which in this age is in the midst of tremendous economic and social changes that are increasingly rapid and complex.

In the Bible, the authentic meaning of human work is highlighted in various passages. To start with Genesis, we read that the Creator made man in his image and likeness and invited him to cultivate the earth (cf. Genesis 2:5-6).

Work is consequently inherent in man's original condition. Unfortunately, because of our first parents' sin it became an effort and a penalty (cf. Genesis 3:6-8), but in the divine plan its value has remained unchanged.

And the Church, faithful to God's Word, does not cease to recall the principle: "Work is "for man' and not man "for work'" ("Laborem Exercens," No. 6). Thus, she ceaselessly proclaims the primacy of man over the work of his hands and recalls that it must all be oriented to the true progress of the human person and the common good: capital, science, technology, public resources and even private ownership.

This has been felicitously achieved in the craftwork businesses you represent, which are inspired by the Gospel teachings and the principles of the Church's social doctrine.

I would like here to recall what the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says in this regard: "Work in small and medium-sized businesses, the work of artisans and independent work can represent an occasion to make the actual work experience more human, both in terms of the possibility of establishing positive personal relationships in smaller-sized communities and in terms of the opportunities for greater initiative and industriousness" (No. 315).

Dear artisans, on the occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, my Predecessor John Paul II addressed some significant words to you which have retained the same timeliness and urgency. Today, I would like to present them once again to the whole of Confartigianato: "You can give new strength and practical expression to those values which have always marked your activity: quality, a spirit of initiative, the promotion of artistic skills, freedom and cooperation, the correct relationship between technology and the environment, devotion to family, good neighbourly relations.

"In the past", he added, "the culture of crafts has created great occasions for bringing people together and has bequeathed wonderful syntheses of culture and faith to later generations" (Teachings of John Paul II, 2000, vol. 1, p. 372).

Dear friends, continue with tenacity and perseverance to preserve and put to good use the productive craft culture that can give life to important opportunities for balanced financial progress and encounters between men and peoples.

Furthermore, may you as Christians be committed to living and testifying to the "Gospel of work", in the awareness that the Lord calls all the baptized to holiness through their daily occupations.
Josemaría Escrivá, a Saint of our times, notes in this regard that since Christ who worked as a craftsman took it into his hands, "work has become for us a redeemed and redemptive reality. Not only is it the background of man's life, it is a means and path of holiness. It is something to be sanctified and something which sanctifies" (Christ Is Passing By, Homily, n. 47).

May the Virgin Mary, who lived in hardworking concealment, and St Joseph, Patron of the Church and your special Protector, help you in this task which becomes a precious service to evangelization. At the school of the Family of Nazareth you can learn how to join more easily a coherent life of faith with the efforts and difficulties of work, personal profit and the commitment to solidarity for the needy.

As I renew to you the expression of my gratitude for your visit, I assure you of a special remembrance in prayer for each one of you and for your various activities, and I cordially bless you together with your loved ones.


Papal Greeting to the parish of St Felicity and her children, martyrs
"Every Person Carries Within Himself a Project of God"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's March 25 homily at the Roman parish of St. Felicity and Her Children, Martyrs.

* * *



Fifth Sunday of Lent, 25 March 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am simply happy to be here with you, to see a community rich in faith, a young community, and so to see how the Church lives today. While the centre of Rome is somewhat depopulated, here we see that there is a lively Rome. It is the community to which St Paul wrote, where St Peter taught the Gospel. Here St Mark's Gospel came into being, according to tradition, as a reflection of St Peter's preaching.

Therefore, we are in a place where the seed of the Word of God grew from the outset and the "agape", love, also developed, so that 100 years later -- more or less in the year 100 -- St Ignatius could say that Rome presides in charity. And so it should be. It is not enough for the Pope to be in Rome. An active, committed Church must thrive in Rome, a Church which presides in charity. Therefore, it is a very happy experience for me to see in the parish that this Church of Rome exists, that she is still alive even after 2,000 years. I would like to greet you all. The parish priest has already introduced to me the various members of the community who are present here. We begin of course with the Cardinal Vicar, with the Auxiliary Bishop, with the parish priest, with the priests. And then there are so many groups. It is not necessary here to repeat what your parish priest has already said. I am grateful to all those who collaborate.

And I am grateful for the beautiful poem that was presented to me; one feels that it wells up from the very heart of this community. I see that the gift of poetry is still alive in Rome, even in these rather, as it were, unpoetic times. I do not wish at this point to enter into demanding considerations and reflections. I would only like to thank the adult lay people who are building a living parish.

Here you have the Vocationist Fathers. The word "Vocationist" is reminiscent of "vocation". We can examine two dimensions of this word. First of all, we think immediately of the vocation to the priesthood. But the word has a far broader, more general dimension.

Every person carries within himself a project of God, a personal vocation, a personal idea of God on what he is required to do in history to build his Church, a living Temple of his presence. And the priest's role is above all to reawaken this awareness, to help the individual discover his personal vocation, God's task for each one of us. I see that many here have discovered the project that concerns them, both with regard to professional life in the formation of today's society -- where the presence of Christian consciences is fundamental -- and also with regard to the call to contribute to the Church's growth and life. Both these things are equally important.

A society where Christian conscience is no longer alive loses its bearings; it no longer knows where to go, what it can do, what it cannot do, and ends up in emptiness, it fails. Only if a living awareness of the faith illumines our hearts can we also build a just society. It is not the Magisterium that imposes doctrine. It is the Magisterium that helps enable the conscience itself to hear God's voice, to know what is good, what is the Lord's will. It is only an aid so that personal responsibility, nourished by a lively conscience, may function well and thus contribute to ensuring that justice is truly present in our society: justice within ourselves and universal justice for all our brothers and sisters in the world today. Today, globalization is not only economic: there is also a globalization of responsibilities, this universality, which is why we are all responsible for everyone.

The Church offers us the encounter with Christ, with the living God, with the "Logos" who is Truth and Light, who does not coerce consciences, does not impose a partial doctrine but helps us ourselves to be men and women who are completely fulfilled and thus to live in personal responsibility and in deeper communion with one another, a communion born from communion with God, with the Lord. I see here this living community. I am grateful to the priests, I am grateful to all of you, their collaborators. And I hope that the Lord will help you and enlighten you always.

Already today, Passion Sunday, I wish you a Happy Easter and I wish your parish, your community, this suburb of Fidene, great good also in the future.


Pope's Birthday Luncheon Address
"The True Gift to Me Today Is Prayer"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's address at his birthday luncheon with several cardinals.

* * *



Hall of Dukes
Monday, 16 April 2007

Dear Brothers and Friends,

At this moment I can only say "thank you" with all my heart.

My thanks go first of all to the Cardinal Dean of the Sacred College, both for his words paying homage to me yesterday with exquisite kindness and for what was written in 30 Giorni [30 Days magazine], and then for his most sensitive and competent organization of this very fine luncheon, at which we have experienced a moment of our affective and effective collegiality.

Indeed, I would say that it was not only a moment of collegiality but also of authentic brotherhood. We truly felt how beautiful it is to be together: "Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum" (Ps 133[132]:1).

I am grateful for this experience of brotherhood, which I also feel in my daily life. Even if we do not see one another constantly, I always sense and notice the collaboration of those who help me. The College of Cardinals really offers effective and important support to the work of the Successor of Peter.

I would further like to say "thank you" here to all the Cardinals who wrote such beautiful things, both in 30 Giorni and in the special column of Avvenire newspaper, as well as in other publications.

I also thank those who did not write, but thought and prayed. The true gift to me today is prayer, which gives me the certainty that I am accepted from within and above all, assisted and sustained in my Petrine ministry, a ministry which I cannot carry out on my own but only in communion with all who help me, also by praying, so that the Lord may be with all of us and also with me.

Today, in the Office of Readings we recited the words of a Psalm which ring especially true and are very precious to me: "In manibus tuis sortes meae" (Ps 31[30]:16); in the Vetus latina the text was: "In manu tua tempora mea"; the Italian translation says: "Nelle tue mani sono i miei giorni"; the Greek text speaks of kairoi mou [the English translation is "my times are in your hands"].

All these versions mirror a single truth: that our time, every day, the events of our life, our destiny and our action are in the good hands of the Lord. This accounts for the great trust with which we go ahead, knowing that these hands of the Lord are sustained by the hands and hearts of so many Cardinals.

This is a cause of great joy to me today. I thank you all, and offer you very many good wishes!


Benedict XVI's Words of Thanks for Concert
"Music … the Universal Language of Beauty"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's address following the concert offered him for his 80th birthday.

* * *



Paul VI Audience Hall
Monday, 16 April 2007

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

At the end of this marvellous concert at which the Stuttgart Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra have offered us a gift by uplifting our hearts, I would like to greet you all warmly.

I thank Minister Willi Stächele and Prof. Peter Voss, Director of the Südwestrundfunks, for their courteous words to me at the beginning.

I willingly and joyfully accepted your musical gift, this marvellous Birthday present from Southwest Germany, especially because the Baden-Württemberg Land is linked to an important and formative phase of my life. The Minister has already mentioned my roots.

In fact, I willingly think back to my years at Tübingen, to the intellectual and scientific exchange in that university and the many precious meetings with people which I had there and which continued for years and decades and are still taking place.

Above all, I would now like to thank the musicians of this evening's event, the members of the Stuttgarter Radio-Sinfonieorchesters, the SWR, who with their skill have offered us all an authentic experience of the inspiring power of great music.

I thank Gustavo Dudamel, the conductor, and Hilary Hahn, the soloist, and all of you, Ladies and Gentlemen. Since the language of music is universal, we see people from completely different cultural and religious backgrounds who let themselves be gripped and likewise guided by it and who also interpret it.

Today, this universal aspect of music is given special emphasis, thanks to the electronic and digital instruments of communications. How many people there are in the most diverse countries who are able to take part in this musical performance at home, or experience it later!

I am convinced that music -- and here I am thinking in particular of the great Mozart and this evening, of course, of the marvellous music by Gabrieli and the majestic "New World" by Dvorák -- really is the universal language of beauty which can bring together all people of good will on earth and get them to lift their gaze on high and open themselves to the Absolute Good and Beauty whose ultimate source is God himself.

In looking back over my life, I thank God for placing music beside me, as it were, as a travelling companion that has offered me comfort and joy. I also thank the people who from the very first years of my childhood brought me close to this source of inspiration and serenity.

I thank those who combine music and prayer in harmonious praise of God and his works: they help us glorify the Creator and Redeemer of the world, which is the marvellous work of his hands.

This is my hope: that the greatness and beauty of music will also give you, dear friends, new and continuous inspiration in order to build a world of love, solidarity and peace.

For this I invoke upon us who are gathered this evening in the Vatican and upon everyone who is linked to us via radio and television the constant protection of God, of that God of love who desires to kindle ceaselessly in our hearts the flame of good, and to feed it with his grace. May he, the Lord and Giver of new and definitive life, whose victory we are joyfully celebrating in this Easter Season, bless you all!

I thank you once again for your presence and for your good wishes.

A Happy Easter Season to everyone!

Thank you!


On Origen of Alexandria
"He Was a True Teacher"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on Origen of Alexandria.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our meditations on the great figures of the ancient Church, today we will get to know one of the most outstanding. Origen of Alexandria is one of the key people for the development of Christian thought. He draws on the teachings he inherited from Clement of Alexandria, whom we reflected upon last Wednesday, and brings them forward in a totally innovative way, creating an irreversible turn in Christian thought.

He was a true teacher; this is how his students nostalgically remembered him: not only as a brilliant theologian, but as an exemplary witness of the doctrine he taught. "He taught," wrote Eusebius of Caesarea, his enthusiastic biographer, "that one's conduct must correspond to the word, and it was for this reason above all that, helped by God's grace, he led many to imitate him" (Hist. Eccl. 6,3,7).

His entire life was permeated by a desire for martyrdom. He was 17 years old when, in the 10th year of Septimius Severus' reign, the persecution against Christians began in Alexandria.

Clement, his teacher, left the city, and Origen's father, Leonides, was thrown into prison. His son ardently yearned for martyrdom, but he would not be able to fulfill this desire. Therefore, he wrote to his father, exhorting him to not renounce giving the supreme witness of the faith. And when Leonides was beheaded, young Origen felt he must follow the example of his father.

Forty years later, while he was preaching in Caesarea, he said: "I cannot rejoice in having had a father who was a martyr if I do not persevere in good conduct and I do not honor the nobility of my race, that is to the martyrdom of my father and the witness he gave in Christ" (Hom. Ez. 4,8).

In a later homily -- when, thanks to the extreme tolerance of Emperor Philip the Arab, the possibility of ever becoming a martyr seemed to fade -- Origen exclaimed: "If God would consent to let me be washed in my blood, receiving a second baptism by accepting death for Christ, I would surely go from this world. … But blessed are they who merit these things" (Hom. Lud. 7.12).

These words reveal Origen's nostalgia for the baptism by blood. And finally, this irresistible desire was, in part, fulfilled. In 250, during the persecution by Decius, Origen was arrested and cruelly tortured. Severely weakened by the sufferings he endured, he died a few years later. He was not yet 70 years old.

We mentioned earlier the "irreversible turn" that Origen caused in the history of theology and Christian thought. But in what did this "turn" consist, this turning point so full of consequences?

In substance, he grounded theology in the explanations of the Scriptures; or we could also say that his theology is the perfect symbiosis between theology and exegesis. In truth, the characterizing mark of Origen's doctrine seems to reside in his incessant invitation to pass from the letter to the spirit of the Scriptures, to progress in the knowledge of God.

And this "allegoristic" approach, wrote von Balthasar, coincides precisely "with the development of Christian dogma carried out by the teachings of the doctors of the Church," who -- in one way or another -- accepted the "lesson" of Origen. In this way, Tradition and the magisterium, foundation and guarantee of theological research, reach the point of being "Scripture in act" (cf. "Origene: il mondo, Cristo e la Chiesa," tr. it., Milano 1972, p. 43).

We can say, therefore, that the central nucleus of Origen's immense literary works consists in his "three-pronged reading" of the Bible. But before talking about this "reading," let us look at the literary production of the Alexandrian.

St. Jerome, in his Epistle 33, lists the titles of 320 books and 310 homilies by Origen. Unfortunately most of those works are now lost, but the few surviving works make him the most prolific author of the first three Christian centuries. His array of interests extended from exegesis to dogma, to philosophy, to apologetics, to asceticism and to mysticism. It is an important and global vision of Christian life.

The inspirational core of this work is, as we mentioned earlier, the "three-pronged reading" of the Scriptures developed by Origen during his life. With this expression we are alluding to the three most important ways -- not in any order of importance -- with which Origen dedicated himself to the study of Scripture.

He read the Bible with the intent to understand the text as best he could and to offer a trustworthy explanation. This, for example, is the first step: to know what is actually written and to know what this text wanted to say intentionally and initially. He carried out a great study with this in mind and created an edition of the Bible with six parallel columns, from right to left, with the Hebrew texts written in Hebrew -- Origen had contact with rabbis to better understand the original Hebrew text of the Bible.

He then transliterated the Hebrew text into Greek and then did four different translations into Greek, which permitted him to compare the various possibilities for translation. This synopsis is called "Hexapla" (six columns). This is the first point: to know exactly what is written, the text in itself.

The second "reading" is Origen's systematic reading of the Bible along with its most famous commentaries. They faithfully reproduce the explanations give by Origen to his students, in Alexandria and Caesarea. He proceeds almost verse by verse, probing amply and deeply, with philological and doctrinal notes. He works with great attention to exactness to better understand what the sacred authors wanted to say.

In conclusion, even before his ordination, Origen dedicated himself a great deal to the preaching of the Bible, adapting himself to varied audiences. In any case, as we see in his Homilies, the teacher, dedicated to systematic interpretation of verses, breaks them down into smaller verses.

Also in the Homilies, Origen takes every opportunity to mention the various senses of sacred Scripture that help or express a way of growth in faith: There is the "literal" sense, but this hides depths that are not apparent upon a first reading; the second dimension is the "moral" sense: what we must do as we live the Word; and in the end we have the "spiritual" sense, the unity of Scripture in its diversity.

This would be interesting to show. I tried somewhat, in my book "Jesus of Nazareth," to show the multiple dimensions of the Word in today's world, of sacred Scripture, that must first of all be respected in the historical sense. But this sense brings us toward Christ, in the light of the Holy Spirit, and shows us the way, how to live.

We find traces of this, for example in the ninth Homily on Numbers, where Origen compares the Scriptures to nuts: "The doctrine of the Law and of the Prophets in the school of Christ," he affirms, "is bitter reading, like the peel, after which you come to the shell which is the moral doctrine, in the third place you will find the meaning of the mysteries, where the souls of the saints are fed in this life and in the next" (Hom. Num. 9,7).

Following along this path, Origen began promoting a "Christian reading" of the Old Testament, brilliantly overcoming the challenge of the heretics -- above all the Gnostics and the Marcionites -- who ended up rejecting the Old Testament.

The Alexandrian wrote about this in the same Homily on Numbers: "I do not call the Law an 'Old Testament,' if I understand it in the Spirit. The Law becomes an 'Old Testament' only for those that what to understand it in terms of the flesh," that is to say, stopping at the mere reading of the text. But, "for us, we who understand it and apply it in the Spirit and in the sense of the Gospel, the Law is ever new, and the two Testaments are for us a new Testament, not because of a temporal date, but because of the newness of the meaning. … For the sinner on the other hand and those who do not respect the pact of charity, even the Gospels get old" (Hom. Num. 9,4).

I invite you to welcome the teachings of this great teacher of the faith into your hearts. He reminds us that in the prayerful reading of Scripture and in a coherent way of life, the Church is renewed and rejuvenated.

The Word of God, which never ages or has its meaning exhausted, is a privileged way of doing this. It is the Word of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, which leads us always to the whole truth (cf. Benedict XVI, international congress for the 40th anniversary of the dogmatic constitution "Dei Verbum," in Insegnamenti, vol. I, 2005, pp. 552-553).

Let us ask the Lord to enable us thinkers, theologians and exegetes of today to find this multidimensional nature, this permanent validity of sacred Scripture.

We pray that the Lord will help us to read the sacred Scriptures in a prayerful way, to really nourish ourselves on the true bread of life, his Word.


Papal Message for Day of Prayer for Vocations
"Consecrated Life Is at the Service of This Communion"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the message that Benedict XVI has written for the 44th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will be celebrated Sunday.

This year's theme is "the vocation to the service of the Church as communion."

* * *

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear brothers and sisters!

The annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations is an appropriate occasion for highlighting the importance of vocations in the life and mission of the Church, as well as for intensifying our prayer that they may increase in number and quality. For the coming celebration, I would like to draw the attention of the whole people of God to the following theme, which is more topical than ever: the vocation to the service of the Church as communion.

Last year, in the Wednesday general audiences, I began a new series of catechesis dedicated to the relationship between Christ and the Church. I pointed out that the first Christian community was built, in its original core, when some fishermen of Galilee, having met Jesus, let themselves be conquered by his gaze and his voice, and accepted his pressing invitation: "Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men!" (Mk 1:17; cf. Mt 4:19). In fact, God has always chosen some individuals to work with him in a more direct way, in order to accomplish his plan of salvation. In the Old Testament, in the beginning, he called Abraham to form a "great nation" (Gn 12:2); afterwards, he called Moses to free Israel from the slavery of Egypt (cf. Ex 3:10). Subsequently, he designated other persons, especially the prophets, to defend and keep alive the covenant with his people. In the New Testament, Jesus, the promised Messiah, invited each of the Apostles to be with him (cf. Mk 3:14) and to share his mission. At the Last Supper, while entrusting them with the duty of perpetuating the memorial of his death and resurrection until his glorious return at the end of time, he offered for them to his Father this heart-broken prayer: "I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them" (Jn 17:26). The mission of the Church, therefore, is founded on an intimate and faithful communion with God.

The Second Vatican Council's Constitution Lumen gentium describes the Church as "a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (n. 4), in which is reflected the very mystery of God. This means that the love of the Trinity is reflected in her. Moreover, thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit, all the members of the Church form "one body and one spirit" in Christ. This people, organically structured under the guidance of its Pastors, lives the mystery of communion with God and with the brethren, especially when it gathers for the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the source of that ecclesial unity for which Jesus prayed on the eve of his passion: "Father…that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21). This intense communion favours the growth of generous vocations at the service of the Church: the heart of the believer, filled with divine love, is moved to dedicate itself wholly to the cause of the Kingdom. In order to foster vocations, therefore, it is important that pastoral activity be attentive to the mystery of the Church as communion; because whoever lives in an ecclesial community that is harmonious, co-responsible and conscientious, certainly learns more easily to discern the call of the Lord. The care of vocations, therefore, demands a constant "education" for listening to the voice of God. This is what Eli did, when he helped the young Samuel to understand what God was asking of him and to put it immediately into action (cf. 1 Sam 3:9). Now, docile and faithful listening can only take place in a climate of intimate communion with God which is realized principally in prayer. According to the explicit command of the Lord, we must implore the gift of vocations, in the first place by praying untiringly and together to the "Lord of the harvest". The invitation is in the plural: "Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38). This invitation of the Lord corresponds well with the style of the "Our Father" (Mt 6:9), the prayer that he taught us and that constitutes a "synthesis of the whole Gospel" according to the well-known expression of Tertullian (cf. De Oratione, 1,6: CCL I, 258). In this perspective, yet another expression of Jesus is instructive: "If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven (Mt 18:19). The Good Shepherd, therefore, invites us to pray to the heavenly Father, to pray unitedly and insistently, that he may send vocations for the service of the Church as communion.

Harvesting the pastoral experience of past centuries, the Second Vatican Council highlighted the importance of educating future priests to an authentic ecclesial communion. In this regard, we read in Presbyterorum ordinis: "Exercising the office of Christ, the shepherd and head, according to their share of his authority, the priests, in the name of the Bishop, gather the family of God together as a brotherhood enlivened by one spirit. Through Christ they lead them in the Holy Spirit to God the Father" (n. 6). The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis echoes this statement of the Council, when it underlines that the priest is "the servant of the Church as communion because -- in union with the Bishop and closely related to the presbyterate -- he builds up the unity of the Church community in harmony of diverse vocations, charisms and services" (n. 16). It is indispensable that, within the Christian people, every ministry and charism be directed to full communion; and it is the duty of the Bishop and priests to promote this communion in harmony with every other Church vocation and service. The consecrated life, too, of its very nature, is at the service of this communion, as highlighted by my venerable predecessor John Paul II in the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata: "The consecrated life can certainly be credited with having effectively helped to keep alive in the Church the obligation of fraternity as a form of witness to the Trinity. By constantly promoting fraternal love, also in the form of common life, the consecrated life has shown that sharing in the Trinitarian communion can change human relationships and create a new type of solidarity" (n. 41).

At the centre of every Christian community is the Eucharist, the source and summit of the life of the Church. Whoever places himself at the service of the Gospel, if he lives the Eucharist, makes progress in love of God and neighbour and thus contributes to building the Church as communion. We can affirm that the "Eucharistic love" motivates and founds the vocational activity of the whole Church, because, as I wrote in the Encyclical Deus caritas est, vocations to the priesthood and to other ministries and services flourish within the people of God wherever there are those in whom Christ can be seen through his Word, in the sacraments and especially in the Eucharist. This is so because "in the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives. He loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love" (n. 17).

Lastly, we turn to Mary, who supported the first community where "all these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14), so that she may help the Church in today’s world to be an icon of the Trinity, an eloquent sign of divine love for all people. May the Virgin, who promptly answered the call of the Father saying, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord" (Lc 1:38), intercede so that the Christian people will not lack servants of divine joy: priests who, in communion with their Bishops, announce the Gospel faithfully and celebrate the sacraments, take care of the people of God, and are ready to evangelize all humanity. May she ensure, also in our times, an increase in the number of consecrated persons, who go against the current, living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, and give witness in a prophetic way to Christ and his liberating message of salvation. Dear brothers and sisters whom the Lord calls to particular vocations in the Church: I would like to entrust you in a special way to Mary, so that she, who more than anyone else understood the meaning of the words of Jesus, "My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Lk 8:21), may teach you to listen to her divine Son. May she help you to say with your lives: "Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God" (cf. Heb 10:7). With these wishes, I assure each one of you a special remembrance in prayer and from my heart I bless you all.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2007.



Pope's Letter to Chancellor Merkel
"Poverty Should Be Given the Highest Attention"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 23, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the Dec. 16 German-language letter Benedict XVI sent to Chancellor Angela Merkel on the occasion of the beginning of the German presidency of the European Union and the G8.

* * *

To Her Excellency
Dr Angela MERKEL
Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

On 17 July 2006, at the conclusion of the Saint Petersburg Summit, you announced that under your Presidency, the Group of the seven leading economic powers plus Russia (G8) would continue to keep the question of global poverty on its agenda. Subsequently, on 18 October last, the German Federal Government stated that assistance to Africa would be a key priority at the Heiligendamm Summit.

I therefore write to you in order to express the gratitude of the Catholic Church and my own personal appreciation for these announcements.

I welcome the fact that the question of poverty, with specific reference to Africa, now appears on the agenda of the G8; indeed, it should be given the highest attention and priority, for the sake of poor and rich countries alike. The fact that the German Presidency of the G8 coincides with the Presidency of the European Union presents a unique opportunity to tackle this issue. I am confident that Germany will exercise positively the leadership role that falls to her with regard to this question of global importance that affects us all.

At our meeting on 28 August last, you assured me that Germany shares the Holy See's concern regarding the inability of rich countries to offer the poorest countries, especially those from Africa, financial and trade conditions capable of promoting their lasting development.

The Holy See has repeatedly insisted that, while the Governments of poorer countries have a responsibility with regard to good governance and the elimination of poverty, the active involvement of international partners is indispensable. This should not be seen as an "extra" or as a concession which could be postponed in the face of pressing national concerns. It is a grave and unconditional moral responsibility, founded on the unity of the human race, and on the common dignity and shared destiny of rich and poor alike, who are being drawn ever closer by the process of globalization.

Trade conditions favourable to poor countries, including, above all, broad and unconditional access to markets, should be made available and guaranteed in lasting and reliable ways.

Provision must also be made for the rapid, total and unconditional cancellation of the external debt of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Measures should also be adopted to ensure that these countries do not fall once again into situations of unsustainable debt.

Developed countries must also recognize and implement fully the commitments they have made with regard to external aid.

Moreover, a substantial investment of resources for research and for the development of medicines to treat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other tropical diseases is needed. In this regard, the first and foremost scientific challenge facing developed countries is the discovery of a vaccine against malaria. There is also a need to make available medical and pharmaceutical technology and health care expertise without imposing legal or economic conditions.

Finally, the international community must continue to work for the substantial reduction of both the legal and the illegal arms trade, the illegal trade of precious raw materials, and the flight of capital from poor countries, as well as for the elimination of the practices of money-laundering and corruption of officials of poor countries.

While these challenges should be undertaken by all members of the international community, the G8 and the European Union should take the lead.

People from different religions and cultures throughout the world are convinced that achieving the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by the year 2015 is one of the most important tasks in today’s world. Moreover, they also hold that such an objective is indissolubly linked to world peace and security. They look to the Presidency, held by the German Government in the months ahead, to ensure that the G8 and the European Union undertake the measures necessary to overcome poverty. They are ready to play their part in such efforts and they support your commitment in a spirit of solidarity.

Invoking God's blessings on the work of the G8 and the European Union under the German Presidency, I avail myself of the occasion to renew to Your Excellency the assurance of my highest consideration.

From the Vatican, 16 December 2006


Chancellor Merkel's Letter to Pope
"Your Words of Encouragement Are Very Important to Me"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 23, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the Feb. 2 German-language letter Chancellor Angela Merkel sent to Benedict XVI in response to the letter he sent her on the occasion of the beginning of the German presidency of the European Union and the G8.

* * *

2 February 2007

His Holiness
Pope Benedict XVI
The Vatican City

Your Holiness,

I was delighted to read your letter of 16 December 2006 in which you extended your good wishes and shared your thoughts on our EU and G8 Presidency. I am especially pleased that you, as Head of the Catholic Church, support the priorities of the German EU and G8 Presidencies. Let me take this opportunity to tell you that your words of encouragement are very important to me.

We want to use the German G8 and EU Presidencies to push ahead with combating poverty and realizing the Millennium Development Goals. We are focusing here particularly on the development potential of and challenges facing the African continent. In the G8 Presidency, the emphasis is on the continent's economic development and governance as well as peace and security issues. For me it is crucial that G8 relations with Africa move towards a reform partnership. Alongside increased efforts on the part of African countries, we attach importance to greater commitment of the international communities.

Fighting HIV/AIDS and strengthening healthcare systems are important priorities, above all of the G8 Presidency. Our aim is to change the strategies for combating HIV/AIDS so that they take special account of the situation of women and girls. Yet all these efforts are only half measures if healthcare systems are not improved in the long term.

The challenges of transparency on financial and raw materials markets which you mention will be taken up in the G8 framework. Of prime importance here is promoting and extending the Extraction Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which enjoys our full support.

The debt relief initiatives you mention are an important factor in fighting poverty. The steps agreed at the G8 summits in Cologne (1999) and Gleneagles (2005) have given the countries whose debt has been cancelled financial scope which they can use to combat poverty in their countries. To implement the multilateral debt relief for the poorest highly indebted developing countries agreed in Gleneagles, the Federal Government pledged German participation to the tune of some 3.6 billion euro. The German Government is also supporting the setting up of a Debt Sustainability Framework. This is an important instrument for limiting the risk of the poorest countries to fall into excessive debt again. These formerly indebted countries have been able to increase their spending on combating poverty from 7% in 1999 to 9% of GDP in 2005 -- money which can be invested in schools and healthcare infrastructure.

Turning to trade, we have resolved to conclude the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and the ACP countries in such a way as to promote development.

Furthermore, we will use our EU and G8 Presidencies to move forward dialogue with emerging market economies. Countries such as Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa are becoming ever more important when it comes to solving global problems such as energy supply, climate change and raw materials. That is why we have set ourselves the ambitious goal of talking to these countries also about difficult issues. After all, only if all strong players in the world shoulder their responsibility will we be able to build more justice and peace.

I believe the priorities I have laid out can provide momentum for sustainable development and thereby help us shape globalization around the world in a spirit of fairness.

Let me thank you once more for your letter.

Yours sincerely,

Angela Merkel


Benedict XVI's Address to Papal Foundation
"You Are Making a Contribution to the Formation of Future Leaders"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is Benedict XVI's address at an audience he had today with the members of the Papal Foundation in the Apostolic Palace.

* * *

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to greet the members of The Papal Foundation on the occasion of your annual pilgrimage to Rome. This year our meeting is once again filled with the joy of the Easter season, in which the Church commemorates Christ's passover from death to life, the dawn of the new creation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May the same Spirit fill your hearts with gifts of wisdom, joy and peace, and may your pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles and martyrs renew your love of the Lord and his Church.

Since its inception, The Papal Foundation has sought to advance the Church’s mission by supporting specific charities close to the heart of the Successor of Peter in his solicitude for all the Churches (cf. 1 Cor 11:28). I willingly take this occasion to express my gratitude not only for the assistance which the Foundation has given to developing countries through grants supporting a variety of educational and charitable projects, but also through the many scholarships provided to Pontifical Universities here in Rome for lay faithful, priests and religious.

In this way, you are making a significant contribution to the formation of future leaders whose minds and hearts are shaped by the teaching of the Gospel, the wisdom of Catholic social teaching and a profound sense of communion with the universal Church in her service to the entire human family.

During this Easter season I encourage all of you to discover ever more fully in the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ's sacrificial love, the inspiration and strength needed to work ever more generously for the spread of God’s Kingdom and the growth of the civilization of love (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 90). With great affection I commend you and your families to the loving intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Lord.


Pope's Homily at His Birthday Mass
"One's Own Life Can Serve to Proclaim God's Mercy"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's homily at his birthday Mass on Monday.

* * *


St Peter's Square
Second Sunday of Easter, 15 April 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday is called "in Albis", in accordance with an old tradition. On this day, neophytes of the Easter Vigil were still wearing their white garment, the symbol of the light which the Lord gave them in Baptism. Later, they would take off the white garment but would have to introduce into their daily lives the new brightness communicated to them.

They were to diligently keep alight the delicate flame of truth and good which the Lord had kindled within them, in order to bring to this world a gleam of God's splendour and goodness.

The Holy Father, John Paul II, wanted this Sunday to be celebrated as the Feast of Divine Mercy: in the word "mercy", he summed up and interpreted anew for our time the whole mystery of Redemption. He had lived under two dictatorial regimes, and in his contact with poverty, neediness and violence he had a profound experience of the powers of darkness which also threaten the world of our time.

But he had an equally strong experience of the presence of God who opposed all these forces with his power, which is totally different and divine: with the power of mercy. It is mercy that puts an end to evil. In it is expressed God's special nature -- his holiness, the power of truth and love.

Two years ago now, after the First Vespers of this Feast, John Paul II ended his earthly life. In dying, he entered the light of Divine Mercy, of which, beyond death and starting from God, he now speaks to us in a new way.

Have faith, he tells us, in Divine Mercy! Become day after day men and women of God's mercy. Mercy is the garment of light which the Lord has given to us in Baptism. We must not allow this light to be extinguished; on the contrary, it must grow within us every day and thus bring to the world God's glad tidings.

In these days illumined in particular by the light of divine mercy, a coincidence occurs that is significant to me: I can look back over 80 years of life.

I greet all those who have gathered here to celebrate this birthday with me. I greet first of all the Cardinals, with a special, grateful thought for the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who has made himself an authoritative interpreter of your common sentiments. I greet the Archbishops and Bishops, including the Auxiliaries of the Diocese of Rome, of my Diocese; I greet the Prelates and other members of the Clergy, the men and women Religious and all the faithful present here.

I also offer respectful and grateful thoughts to the political figures and members of the Diplomatic Corps who have desired to honour me with their presence.

Lastly, I greet with fraternal affection His Eminence Ioannis, Metropolitan of Pergamon, personal envoy of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. To him I express my appreciation for this kind gesture and the hope that the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue may proceed with new enthusiasm.

We are gathered here to reflect on the completion of a long period of my life. Obviously, the liturgy itself must not be used to speak of oneself, of myself; yet, one's own life can serve to proclaim God's mercy.

"Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me", a Psalm says (66[65]:16). I have always considered it a great gift of Divine Mercy to have been granted birth and rebirth, so to speak, on the same day, in the sign of the beginning of Easter. Thus, I was born as a member of my own family and of the great family of God on the same day.

Yes, I thank God because I have been able to experience what "family" means; I have been able to experience what "fatherhood" means, so that the words about God as Father were made understandable to me from within; on the basis of human experience, access was opened to me to the great and benevolent Father who is in Heaven.

We have a responsibility to him, but at the same time he gives us trust so that the mercy and goodness with which he accepts even our weakness and sustains us may always shine out in his justice, and that we can gradually learn to walk righteously.

I thank God for enabling me to have a profound experience of the meaning of motherly goodness, ever open to anyone who seeks shelter and in this very way able to give me freedom.

I thank God for my sister and my brother, who with their help have been close to me faithfully throughout my life. I thank God for the companions I have met on my way and for the advisers and friends he has given to me.

I am especially grateful to him because, from the very first day of my life, I have been able to enter and to develop in the great community of believers in which the barriers between life and death, between Heaven and earth, are flung open. I give thanks for being able to learn so many things, drawing from the wisdom of this community which not only embraces human experiences from far off times: the wisdom of this community is not only human wisdom; through it, the very wisdom of God -- eternal wisdom -- reaches us.

In this Sunday's First Reading we are told that at the dawn of the newborn Church, people used to take the sick out into the squares so that when Peter passed by his shadow might fall on them: to this shadow they attributed a healing power. This shadow, in fact, was cast by the light of Christ and thus in itself retained something of the power of divine goodness.

From the very first, through the community of the Catholic Church, Peter's shadow has covered my life and I have learned that it is a good shadow -- a healing shadow precisely because it ultimately comes from Christ himself.

Peter was a man with all the human weaknesses, but he was above all a man full of passionate faith in Christ, full of love for him. It was through his faith and love that the healing power of Christ and his unifying force reached humanity, although it was mingled with all Peter's shortcomings. Let us seek Peter's shadow today in order to stand in the light of Christ!

Birth and rebirth, an earthly family and the great family of God: this is the great gift of God's multiple mercies, the foundation which supports us. As I continued on my path through life, I encountered a new and demanding gift: the call to the priestly ministry.

On the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul in 1951, as I faced this task, when we were lying prostrate on the floor of the Cathedral of Freising -- we were more than 40 companions -- and above us all the saints were invoked, I was troubled by an awareness of the poverty of my life.

Yes, it was a consolation that the protection of God's saints, of the living and the dead, was invoked upon us. I knew that I would not be left on my own. And what faith the words of Jesus, which we heard subsequently on the lips of the Bishop during the Ordination liturgy, inspire in us! "No longer do I call you servants, but my friends...". I have been able to experience this deeply: he, the Lord, is not only the Lord but also a friend. He has placed his hand upon me and will not leave me.

These words were spoken in the context of the conferral of the faculty for the administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and thus, in Christ's Name, to forgive sins. We heard the same thing in today's Gospel: the Lord breathes upon his disciples. He grants them his Spirit -- the Holy Spirit: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven...".

The Spirit of Jesus Christ is the power of forgiveness. He is the power of Divine Mercy. He makes it possible to start all over again -- ever anew. The friendship of Jesus Christ is the friendship of the One who makes us people who forgive, the One who also forgives us, raises us ceaselessly from our weakness and in this very way educates us, instils in us an awareness of the inner duty of love, of the duty to respond with our faithfulness to his trust.

In the Gospel passage for today we also heard the story of the Apostle Thomas' encounter with the Risen Lord: the Apostle is permitted to touch his wounds and thereby recognizes him -- over and above the human identity of Jesus of Nazareth, Thomas recognizes him in his true and deepest identity: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28).

The Lord took his wounds with him to eternity. He is a wounded God; he let himself be injured through his love for us. His wounds are a sign for us that he understands and allows himself to be wounded out of love for us.

These wounds of his: how tangible they are to us in the history of our time! Indeed, time and again he allows himself to be wounded for our sake. What certainty of his mercy, what consolation do his wounds mean for us! And what security they give us regarding his identity: "My Lord and my God!". And what a duty they are for us, the duty to allow ourselves in turn to be wounded for him!

God's mercy accompanies us daily. To be able to perceive his mercy it suffices to have a heart that is alert. We are excessively inclined to notice only the daily effort that has been imposed upon us as children of Adam.

If, however, we open our hearts, then as well as immersing ourselves in them we can be constantly aware of how good God is to us; how he thinks of us precisely in little things, thus helping us to achieve important ones.

With the increasing burden of responsibility, the Lord has also brought new assistance to my life. I repeatedly see with grateful joy how large is the multitude of those who support me with their prayers; I see that with their faith and love they help me carry out my ministry; I see that they are indulgent with my shortcomings and also recognize in Peter's shadow the beneficial light of Jesus Christ.

At this moment, therefore, I would like to thank the Lord and all of you with all my heart. I wish to end this Homily with a prayer of the holy Pope, St Leo the Great, that prayer which precisely 30 years ago I had written on the souvenir cards for my ordination:

"Pray to our good God that in our day he will be so good as to reinforce faith, multiply love and increase peace. May he render me, his poor servant, adequate for his task and useful for your edification, and grant me to carry out this service so that together with the time given to me my dedication may grow. Amen".


On Clement of Alexandria
"One of the Great Promoters of Dialogue Between Faith and Reason" (April 18, 2007)

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After a time of holidays, we return to our normal catechesis, despite the fact that the square is still visibly decorated for the feasts. With these catecheses, we return, as I said, to the theme previously begun. We have spoken about the Twelve Apostles, then the disciples of the apostles, and now we turn to the great personalities of the nascent Church, of the ancient Church.

Last time, we had spoken about St. Irenaeus of Lyons and today we will speak of Clement of Alexandria, a great theologian who was probably born in Athens, sometime around the turn of the second century. In Athens, he picked up a keen interest in philosophy that would make him one of the great promoters of dialogue between faith and reason in the Christian tradition.

While still a youth, he moved to Alexandria, the "symbolic city" of this fruitful nexus between cultures which characterized the Hellenistic age. He was a disciple of Pantaenus and even succeeded him in directing the catechetical school. Numerous sources say he was ordained a priest. During the persecution from 202-203, he fled Alexandria and took refuge in Caesarea, in Cappadocia, where he died in the year 215.

The most important of his works which still exist are the "Exhortation," the "Instructor" and the "Stromata." Although it seems that it was not the author's original intention, these works make for a real trilogy, adequate for efficiently accompanying the spiritual maturation of a Christian.

"The Exhortation," as the title itself implies, exhorts one who is beginning and searching for the path of faith. Moreover, "The Exhortation" coincides with a person: the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is an "exhorter" of those who decidedly begin the journey toward Truth.

Christ himself later becomes the "educator," that is, the "instructor" of those who, by virtue of baptism, have become sons and daughters of God. Christ himself, finally, is also "Didascalo," that is, the "Teacher," who proposes the deepest teachings. These are collected in Clement's third work, "The Stromata," a Greek word meaning "miscellanies." It is a composition that is not systematic, but rather deals with various arguments, and is the direct fruit of the ordinary teaching of Clement.

Taken together, Clement's catecheses accompany the catechumen and the baptized step by step, because, with the two "wings" of faith and reason, they lead to knowing the Truth, which is Christ, the Word of God. "Authentic gnosis" -- the Greek expression which means "knowledge" or "intelligence" -- can only be found in knowing the person of the truth. This is the edifice built by reason under the impulse of the supernatural principle. Therefore, the authentic "gnosis" is a development of the faith, drawn forth by Christ in the souls of those united to him. Clement later defines two levels of Christian life.

The first level: believing Christians who live the faith in an ordinary way, although with their horizons always open toward sanctity. The second level: the "gnostics," that is, those who lead a life of spiritual perfection. In any case, the Christian has to begin with the common base of the faith and by way of a path of searching, he should allow himself to be led by Christ and thus arrive to the knowledge of the Truth and the truths that make up the content of the faith.

This knowledge, Clement tells us, becomes for the soul a lived reality: It is not just a theory. Rather, it is a life force, a union with a transforming love. The knowledge of Christ is not just a thought, but a love that opens the eyes, transforms the person and creates communion with the "Logos," the divine Word that is truth and life. In this communion, which is the perfect knowledge and is love, the perfect Christian reaches contemplation and union with God.

Clement finally takes up doctrine, according to which the final end of the person consists in being like God. We have been created in the image and likeness of God, but this is also a challenge, a journey; in fact, the objective of life, the final destiny of the person consists in making himself like God. This is possible thanks to a connaturality with him, which the person has received at the moment of his creation, by which he is already the image of God. This connaturality enables him to know divine realities to which the person adheres above all by faith, and through the living of the faith, the practice of the virtues, can grow until he reaches the contemplation of God.

In this way, on the journey to perfection, Clement gives the same importance to moral requirements as to the intellectual ones. The two go together because it is not possible to know the truth without living it, nor to live the truth without knowing it. It is not possible to make oneself like God and contemplate him simply with a rational knowledge: In order to achieve this objective, it is necessary to live according to the "Logos," a life according to truth. And, therefore, good works have to accompany intellectual knowledge, as the shadow accompanies the body.

There are two virtues which particularly adorn the soul of the "authentic gnostic." The first is freedom from passions ("ap?theia"); the second is love, the true passion, which ensures intimate union with God. Love gives perfect peace, and enables the "authentic gnostic" to confront the greatest sacrifices, including the supreme sacrifice in the following of Christ, and brings him to rise to the level of living virtue. In this way, the ethical ideal of ancient philosophy, that is, the freedom from passions, is redefined by Clement and complemented by love, in the unending process which leads to being like God.

In this way, the thinker from Alexandria fosters the second great opportunity for dialogue between the Christian message and Greek philosophy. We know that St. Paul, in the Areopagus in Athens, where Clement was born, had made the first attempt at dialogue with Greek philosophy and for the most part, had failed, given that his listeners said, "We will listen to you at another time." Now Clement, takes up again this dialogue, and supremely ennobles it in the tradition of Greek philosophy.

As my venerable predecessor, John Paul II, wrote in his encyclical "Fides et Ratio," Clement of Alexandria arrived to an interpretation of philosophy as "instruction which prepared for Christian faith" (No. 38). And, in fact, Clement even affirmed that God had given philosophy to the Greeks "as their own Testament" ("Stromata," 6, 8, 67, 1).

For him, the tradition of Greek philosophy, almost like the Law for the Jews, is the context for "revelation." They are two currents that definitively direct toward the very "Logos." Clement decisively continues along the path of those who want to "give reason" for their faith in Jesus Christ.

He can serve as an example for Christians, for catechists and theologians of our time, who John Paul II exhorted in that same encyclical to "recover and express to the full the metaphysical dimension of truth in order to enter into a demanding critical dialogue with [?] contemporary philosophical thought."

We conclude with one of the expressions from the famous "Prayer to Christ, 'Logos'" with which Clement concludes the "Instructor." His prayer reads: "Show favor to your children ? grant us to live in peace, to arrive to your city, pass through the currents of sin without sinking into them, be transported with serenity by the Holy Spirit, by ineffable Wisdom: we, who by day and by night, until the last day, raise to you a hymn of thanksgiving to the one Father ? the Son, Instructor and Teacher, together with the Holy Spirit, Amen!" ("Instructor," 3, 12, 101).


VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's March 28 address to participants in the ninth International Youth Forum.

* * *
(Rocca di Papa, 28-31 March 2007)

President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

It gives me great pleasure to send my cordial greeting to you, Venerable Brother, to the Secretary, to those working with the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and to all those who are taking part in the 9th International Youth Forum on the theme "Witnessing to Christ in the world of work" that is taking place this week in Rocca di Papa. It is with particular affection that I direct my thoughts to the young delegates from the bishops' conferences and the international movements, associations and communities that have come from the five continents and who work in very different fields. I extend my respectful greetings to the distinguished speakers who have agreed to contribute to the meeting with their expertise and experience.

The theme is very much a topical issue and takes into account the transformations that have taken place in recent years in the fields of economics, technology and communications, changes that have radically changed the appearance and conditions of the labour market. The progress achieved has, on the one hand, given new hope to young people, but on the other it has created disturbing forms of marginalisation and exploitation with more and more situations of personal hardship. Because of the noticeable difference between the education and training received and the world of work, it is now more difficult for them to find employment that meets with their personal skills and studies, and there is no certainty that they will be able to maintain even unstable employment for any length of time. The process of globalisation taking place in the world entails a need for mobility that obliges numerous young people to emigrate and live far from their home countries and their families. This brings about an unsettling feeling of insecurity that undoubtedly has repercussions on their ability to not only dream and build up a project for the future, but even to commit themselves to matrimony and start a family. These are complex and delicate questions that must be faced in due course, keeping in mind the reality of our times while referring to the social doctrine of the Church. This is duly presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and especially in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

The attention of the Church in recent years has been constantly directed on the social question, and in particular on that of work. We remember the encyclical Laborem exercens published a little over twenty-five years ago, on 14 September 1981, by my well loved predecessor John Paul II. This reaffirmed and updated the great intuitions developed by Pope Leo XIII and Pius XI in the encyclicals Rerum novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo anno (1931), both written during the period of the industrialisation of Europe. In a context of economic liberalism conditioned by market forces, of competition and competitiveness, these pontifical documents forcefully call on the need to evaluate the human dimension of work and to protect the dignity of the person. In fact, the ultimate reference of every human activity can only be the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. A close analysis of the situation, in fact, shows that work is part of God's plan for humankind and that it is participation in his work of creation and redemption. Every human activity should be an occasion and place for the growth of individuals and society, the development of personal "talents" that should be appreciated and placed at the ordered service of the common good, in a spirit of justice and solidarity. For believers, moreover, the ultimate aim of work is the building up of the Kingdom of God.

While I invite you to treasure the conversations and reflections that take place over the next few days, I hope that this important assembly of young people may be a profitable occasion of spiritual and ecclesial growth for the participants, through the sharing of experiences and personal accounts, and common prayer and liturgies celebrated together. Today, more than ever, it is necessary and urgent to proclaim "the Gospel of Work", to live as Christians in the world of work and become apostles among workers. In order to fulfil this mission it is necessary to remain united to Christ through prayer and a deep sacramental life, and for this purpose, to hold Sunday in special high regard, for it is the day dedicated to the Lord. While I encourage young people not to lose heart when faced with these difficulties, I invite them to participate next Sunday in Saint Peter's Square in the solemn celebration of Palm Sunday and the 22nd World Youth Day, the final stage of preparation for the World Youth Day that will take place in Sydney Australia next year.

The theme for reflection this year is: "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34). Here I repeat what I wrote to young Christians all over the world, that there may be awakened in young Christians, "trust in a love that is true, faithful and strong; a love that generates peace and joy; a love that binds people together and allows them to feel free in respect for one another", and allows them to develop their abilities to the full. It is not simply a question of becoming more "competitive" and "productive", but it is necessary to be "witnesses of charity". It is only in this way that young people -- with the support of their respective parishes, movements and communities, in which it is possible to experience the greatness and vitality of the Church -- will be able to experience work as a vocation and true mission. To this end, Venerable Brother, I assure you of my prayers, with the heavenly protection of Mary and Saint Joseph, patron of workers, I send you and all those participating in the International Forum and all young Christian workers, a special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 28 March 2007

Benedictus PP XVI


Wednesday's Audience

April 11 Address on the Risen Christ
"We Cannot Keep the Great News to Ourselves"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience last Wednesday in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We meet each other today after the solemn Easter celebrations for our usual Wednesday audience, and it is my desire above all to renew to each of you the most fervent vows of well-wishing. I thank you for your presence here in such great numbers and I thank the Lord for the beautiful sun he has given us today.

In the Easter Vigil there resounded this announcement: "The Lord is truly risen, alleluia!" Now it is he himself who speaks to us: "I shall not die but live," he proclaims. To sinners he says: "Receive the remission of sins. Indeed I am your remission." To all, in the end, he repeats: "I am the Passover of salvation, the Lamb slain for you, I your ransom, I your life, I your resurrection, I your light, I your salvation, I your king. I will show you the Father." This is how a writer of the second century, Melito of Sardis, expresses himself, realistically interpreting the words of the Risen One ("On Easter," 102-103).

In these days, the liturgy recalls the different meetings with Jesus after his resurrection: with Mary Magdalene and the other women who had gone in the early morning to the tomb the day after the Sabbath; with the incredulous apostles who were together in the cenacle; with Thomas and other disciples. These different appearances of his constitute for us, too, an invitation to delve into the fundamental message of Easter; they stimulate us to retrace the spiritual journey of those who met Christ and recognized him in those first days after the events of Easter.

The Evangelist John tells us of how Peter and he himself, having heard the news from Mary Magdalene, ran, almost racing, to the tomb (cf. John 20:3ff). The Fathers of the Church saw in their hurried haste toward the empty tomb an exhortation to the only legitimate competition among believers: the race in seeking Christ.

And what should we say of Mary Magdalene? Weeping, she remains alongside the empty tomb, only desiring to know where they have taken her master. She finds him and recognizes him when he calls her by name (cf. John 20:11-18). We too, if we seek the Lord with a simple and sincere heart, will meet him. Indeed, he himself will come to meet us; he will make us recognize him, he will call us by name, he will bring us into the intimacy of his love.

Today, Wednesday in the octave of Easter, the liturgy brings us to meditate on another singular encounter with the Risen One, that of the two disciples of Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-35). Saddened over the death of their master, they return home and the Lord comes along to travel with them, but they do not recognize him. His words, commenting on the Scriptures that refer to him, cause a fire to burn in the disciples' hearts so that they ask him to stay with them when they arrive at their destination. When, at the end, he "takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks it and gives it to them" (Luke 24:30), their eyes are opened. But at that very instant Jesus disappears. They recognized him, therefore, when he disappeared.

Commenting on this episode of the Gospel, St. Augustine observes: "Jesus breaks the bread, they recognize him. Now we no longer say that we do not recognize the Christ! If we believe, we know him! Indeed, if we believe, we have him! They had Christ at their table, we have him in our soul!" He concludes: "Having Christ in your heart is much more than having him in your house: In fact our heart is closer to us than our house" (Sermon 232, VII, 7). Let us try truly to carry Jesus in our hearts.

In the prologue to the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke affirms that the risen Lord "shows himself (to the apostles) living, after his passion, with many proofs, appearing to them for forty days" (Acts 1:3). We must understand this well: When the sacred author says "he showed himself living" he does not want to say that Jesus was returned to his former life, as Lazarus. St. Bernard observes that "Pascha" (Easter), which we are celebrating, means "passage" and not "return," because Jesus has not returned to the previous situation, but rather he has "crossed a frontier" toward a more glorious, new, and definitive condition (cf. Sermon on Easter).

To Mary Magdalene the Lord said: "Do not cling to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (John 20:17). This is an expression that surprises us, especially when we compare it to what happens with the incredulous Thomas. There, in the cenacle, it was the Risen One himself who presented his hands and his side so that Thomas touch them and find the certainty that it was Jesus (cf. 20:27). In reality the two episodes are not opposed to each other; on the contrary, the one helps us understand the other.

Mary Magdalene wanted to have the same master as before, taking the cross to be a dramatic memory to forget. Now, however, there is no room for a merely human relationship with the Risen One. To encounter him one need not go back but place oneself into a new relationship with him: One must go forward! St. Bernard emphasizes this: Jesus "invites all of us to this new life, to this passage.… We do not see Christ if we turn backward" (Sermon on Easter). This is what happened to Thomas. Jesus showed him his wounds not so as to forget the cross, but to make it unforgettable even in the future.

It is toward the future that our gaze in now directed. The task of the disciple is to bear witness to the death and Resurrection of his master and his new life. For this reason Jesus invites his incredulous friend to "touch him": He wants to give direct testimony of his resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters, we too, like Mary Magdalene, Thomas and the other apostles, are called to be witnesses of the death and resurrection of Christ. We cannot keep the great news to ourselves. We must tell it to all the world: "We have seen the Lord!" (John 20:25).

May the Virgin Mary help us to fully taste the Easter joy, so that, sustained by the strength of the Holy Spirit, we become able in turn to spread it wherever we live and work.

Once again, Happy Easter to all of you!


Pope's Address on Easter Monday
"Become Messengers of Christ's Resurrection"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered on Easter Monday, April 9, before reciting the Regina Caeli with several thousand people who gathered in the courtyard of the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are still filled with the spiritual joy that the solemn celebrations of Easter truly bring to believers' hearts. Christ is risen! The liturgy devotes to this immense mystery not only a day -- it would be too little for such joy, but at least 50 days, that is, the entire Easter Season, which ends with Pentecost. Easter Sunday, moreover, is an absolutely special day which extends for the whole of this week until next Sunday and forms the Octave of Easter.

In the atmosphere of Paschal joy, today's liturgy takes us back to the sepulcher where, according to St. Matthew's account, impelled by their love for him, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to "visit" Jesus' tomb. The Evangelist tells us that he comes to meet them and says: "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me" (Matthew 28:10).

The joy they felt at seeing their Lord was truly indescribable and, filled with enthusiasm, they ran to tell the disciples.

The Risen One also repeats to us today, as to these women who stayed by Jesus during the Passion, not to be afraid to become messengers of the proclamation of his Resurrection. Those who encounter the Risen Jesus and entrust themselves docilely to him have nothing to fear. This is the message that Christians are called to spread to the very ends of the earth.

The Christian faith, as we know, is not born from the acceptance of a doctrine but from an encounter with a person, with Christ, dead and Risen.

In our daily lives, dear friends, there are so many opportunities to proclaim this faith of ours to others simply and with conviction, so that from our encounter their faith can grow.

And it is more urgent than ever that the men and women of our age know and encounter Jesus, and, also thanks to our example, allow themselves to be won over by him.

The Gospel says nothing about the Mother of the Lord, of Mary, but Christian tradition rightly likes to contemplate her while with joy greater than anyone else's she embraces her divine Son, whom she had held close when he was taken down from the Cross. Now, after the Resurrection, the Mother of the Redeemer rejoices with Jesus' "friends," who constitute the newborn Church.

As I renew my heartfelt Easter greetings to you all, I invoke her, the Regina Caeli [Queen of Heaven], so that she may keep alive in each one of us faith in the Resurrection and may make us messengers of the hope and love of Jesus Christ.

[After praying the Regina Caeli, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]

To all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for today's Regina Caeli, I extend a warm welcome. I pray that you will grow ever closer to the Risen Lord and share his Good News with all those you encounter. Upon all of you, I invoke the abundant Blessings of Almighty God.

A happy and holy Easter to you all!



On Divine Mercy
"A New Reality, Fruit of the Love of God"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the Regina Caeli with the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

To all of you I renew the wish for a happy Easter, on the Sunday that closes the octave of Easter and is traditionally called Sunday "in Albis." This Sunday is also called Divine Mercy Sunday according to the wish of my venerable predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, who died right after the first vespers of this celebration.

On this singular occasion this morning I celebrated, in St. Peter's Square, a holy Mass, accompanied by cardinals, bishops, and priests, by the faithful of Rome and many pilgrims, who wanted to be close to the Pope, on the eve of his 80th birthday. From the depths of my heart I renew my most sincere thanks, which I extend to the whole Church, which, like a true family, especially in these days, surrounds me with its affection.

This Sunday -- as I said -- ends the week or, more precisely, the "octave" of Easter, which the liturgy considers a single day: "the day the Lord has made" (Psalm 117:24). It is not a chronological but a spiritual time that God has opened in the fabric of days when he raised Christ from the dead. The Creator Spirit, breathing the new and eternal life into the interred body of Jesus of Nazareth, brought the work of creation to its completion, bringing about a "first fruit"; a first fruit of a new humanity that is at the same time the first fruit of a new world and a new era.

This renewal of the world can be summed up in a word: the same word that the risen Jesus pronounced as a greeting, and much more as an announcement of his victory to his disciples: "Peace be with you!" (Luke 24:36; John 20:19,21,26). Peace is the gift that Jesus left to his friends (cf. John 2:27) as a benediction that was destined for all people and all nations.

It is not a peace according to the mentality of the "world," as a balance of power, but it is a new reality, fruit of the love of God, of his mercy. It is the peace that Jesus Christ earned at the price of his blood and that he communicates to those who trust in him. "Jesus, I trust in you": In these words the faith of the Christian is summed up, a faith in the omnipotence of the merciful love of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, as I thank you again for your spiritual nearness on the occasion of my birthday and the anniversary of my election as the Successor of Peter, I entrust all of you to Mary "Mater Misericordiae," Mother of Jesus who is the incarnation of Divine Mercy.

With her help let us be renewed by the Spirit to cooperate in the work of peace that God is accomplishing in the world and that does not make noise, but that is realized in the countless acts of charity of all its sons.


Pope's Easter Vigil Homily
"We Are Free"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Holy Saturday at the Mass of the Easter Vigil, celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

From ancient times the liturgy of Easter day has begun with the words: "Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum" -- I arose, and am still with you; you have set your hand upon me. The liturgy sees these as the first words spoken by the Son to the Father after his resurrection, after his return from the night of death into the world of the living. The hand of the Father upheld him even on that night, and thus he could rise again.

These words are taken from Psalm 138, where originally they had a different meaning. That Psalm is a song of wonder at God's omnipotence and omnipresence, a hymn of trust in the God who never allows us to fall from his hands. And his hands are good hands. The Psalmist imagines himself journeying to the farthest reaches of the cosmos -- and what happens to him? "If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, 'Let only darkness cover me,' even the darkness is not dark to you; for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 138[139]:8-12).

On Easter day the Church tells us that Jesus Christ made that journey to the ends of the universe for our sake. In the Letter to the Ephesians we read that he descended to the depths of the earth, and that the one who descended is also the one who has risen far above the heavens, that he might fill all things (cf. 4:9ff.). The vision of the Psalm thus became reality. In the impenetrable gloom of death Christ came like light -- the night became as bright as day and the darkness became as light. And so the Church can rightly consider these words of thanksgiving and trust as words spoken by the Risen Lord to his Father: "Yes, I have journeyed to the uttermost depths of the earth, to the abyss of death, and brought them light; now I have risen and I am upheld for ever by your hands." But these words of the Risen Christ to the Father have also become words which the Lord speaks to us: "I arose and now I am still with you," he says to each of us. My hand upholds you. Wherever you may fall, you will always fall into my hands. I am present even at the door of death. Where no one can accompany you further, and where you can bring nothing, even there I am waiting for you, and for you I will change darkness into light.

These words of the Psalm, read as a dialogue between the Risen Christ and ourselves, also explain what takes place at Baptism. Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life. The passage of the Letter to the Romans which we have just read says, in words filled with mystery, that in Baptism we have been "grafted" onto Christ by likeness to his death. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ -- he takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through him, with him and in him; so that we live with him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands, and so we can say with Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." If we offer ourselves in this way, if we accept, as it were, the death of our very selves, this means that the frontier between death and life is no longer absolute. On either side of death we are with Christ and so, from that moment forward, death is no longer a real boundary. Paul tells us this very clearly in his Letter to the Philippians: "For me to live is Christ. To be with him (by dying) is gain. Yet if I remain in this life, I can still labor fruitfully. And so I am hard pressed between these two things. To depart -- by being executed -- and to be with Christ; that is far better. But to remain in this life is more necessary on your account" (cf. 1:21ff.). On both sides of the frontier of death, Paul is with Christ -- there is no longer a real difference. Yes, it is true: "Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me" (Psalm 138[139]: 5). To the Romans Paul wrote: "No one lives to himself and no one dies to himself. Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:7ff.).

Dear candidates for Baptism, this is what is new about Baptism: our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves. As a result we are never alone, even in death, but are always with the One who lives forever. In Baptism, in the company of Christ, we have already made that cosmic journey to the very abyss of death. At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go -- he who is Life itself.

Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ's journey that he "descended into hell." What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus' descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: "Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!" The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die -- this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. "The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light" (cf. Psalm 138[139]12). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice" (John 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings -- with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.

But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal -- what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God's memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. "Out of the depths I cry to you." Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free. In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil. Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends. The power by which he brings us with him. In union with his love, borne aloft on the wings of love, as persons of love, let us descend with him into the world's darkness, knowing that in this way we will also rise up with him. On this night, then, let us pray: Lord, show us that love is stronger than hatred, that love is stronger than death. Descend into the darkness and the abyss of our modern age, and take by the hand those who await you. Bring them to the light! In my own dark nights, be with me to bring me forth! Help me, help all of us, to descend with you into the darkness of all those people who are still waiting for you, who out of the depths cry unto you! Help us to bring them your light! Help us to say the "yes" of love, the love that makes us descend with you and, in so doing, also to rise with you. Amen.


After the Mass on Easter Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters throughout the world, men and women of good will, Christ is risen! Peace to you! Today we celebrate the great mystery, the foundation of Christian faith and hope: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, has risen from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. We listen today with renewed emotion to the announcement proclaimed by the angels on the dawn of the first day after the Sabbath, to Mary of Magdala and to the women at the sepulchre: “Why do you search among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here, he is risen!” (Lk 24:5-6).

It is not difficult to imagine the feelings of these women at that moment: feelings of sadness and dismay at the death of their Lord, feelings of disbelief and amazement before a fact too astonishing to be true.

But the tomb was open and empty: the body was no longer there. Peter and John, having been informed of this by the women, ran to the sepulchre and found that they were right. The faith of the Apostles in Jesus, the expected Messiah, had been submitted to a severe trial by the scandal of the cross. At his arrest, his condemnation and death, they were dispersed. Now they are together again, perplexed and bewildered. But the Risen One himself comes in response to their thirst for greater certainty. This encounter was not a dream or an illusion or a subjective imagination; it was a real experience, even if unexpected, and all the more striking for that reason. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘peace be with you!’” (Jn 20:19).

At these words their faith, which was almost spent within them, was re-kindled. The Apostles told Thomas who had been absent from that first extraordinary encounter: Yes, the Lord has fulfilled all that he foretold; he is truly risen and we have seen and touched him! Thomas however remained doubtful and perplexed. When Jesus came for a second time, eight days later in the Upper Room, he said to him: “put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing!” The Apostle’s response is a moving profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:27-28).

“My Lord and my God!” We too renew that profession of faith of Thomas. I have chosen these words for my Easter greetings this year, because humanity today expects from Christians a renewed witness to the resurrection of Christ; it needs to encounter him and to know him as true God and true man.

If we can recognize in this Apostle the doubts and uncertainties of so many Christians today, the fears and disappointments of many of our contemporaries, with him we can also rediscover with renewed conviction, faith in Christ dead and risen for us. This faith, handed down through the centuries by the successors of the Apostles, continues on because the Risen Lord dies no more. He lives in the Church and guides it firmly towards the fulfilment of his eternal design of salvation.

We may all be tempted by the disbelief of Thomas. Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, of sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test? Paradoxically the disbelief of Thomas is most valuable to us in these cases because it helps to purify all false concepts of God and leads us to discover his true face: the face of a God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself the wounds of injured humanity.

Thomas has received from the Lord, and has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of a faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being.

“By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24). This is the message Peter addressed to the early converts.

Those wounds that, in the beginning were an obstacle for Thomas’s faith, being a sign of Jesus’ apparent failure, those same wounds have become in his encounter with the Risen One, signs of a victorious love.

These wounds that Christ has received for love of us help us to understand who God is and to repeat: “My Lord and my God!” Only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon himself our wounds and our pain, especially innocent suffering, is worthy of faith.

How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. My thoughts go to recent events in Madagascar, in the Solomon Islands, in Latin America and in other regions of the world. I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons.

I look with apprehension at the conditions prevailing in several regions of Africa. In Darfur and in the neighbouring countries there is a catastrophic, and sadly to say underestimated, humanitarian situation. In Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the violence and looting of the past weeks raises fears for the future of the Congolese democratic process and the reconstruction of the country. In Somalia the renewed fighting has driven away the prospect of peace and worsened a regional crisis, especially with regard to the displacement of populations and the traffic of arms. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis and for this reason the Bishops of that country in a recent document indicated prayer and a shared commitment for the common good as the only way forward.

Likewise the population of East Timor stands in need of reconciliation and peace as it prepares to hold important elections. Elsewhere too, peace is sorely needed: in Sri Lanka only a negotiated solution can put an end to the conflict that causes so much bloodshed; Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability; In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country’s political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy. Finally, I cannot forget the difficulties faced daily by the Christian communities and the exodus of Christians from that blessed Land which is the cradle of our faith. I affectionately renew to these populations the expression of my spiritual closeness.

Dear Brothers and sisters, through the wounds of the Risen Christ we can see the evils which afflict humanity with the eyes of hope.

In fact, by his rising the Lord has not taken away suffering and evil from the world but has vanquished them at their roots by the superabundance of his grace. He has countered the arrogance of evil with the supremacy of his love. He has left us the love that does not fear death, as the way to peace and joy. “Even as I have loved you – he said to his disciples before his death – so you must also love one another” (cf. Jn 13:34).

Brothers and sisters in faith, who are listening to me from every part of the world! Christ is risen and he is alive among us. It is he who is the hope of a better future.

As we say with Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”, may we hear again in our hearts the beautiful yet demanding words of the Lord: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honour him” (Jn 12:26).

United to him and ready to offer our lives for our brothers (cf. 1 Jn 3:16), let us become apostles of peace, messengers of a joy that does not fear pain – the joy of the Resurrection. May Mary, Mother of the Risen Christ, obtain for us this Easter gift. Happy Easter to you all!


Benedict XVI's Easter Message
"A Renewed Witness to the Resurrection of Christ"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Easter message delivered today at midday before he imparted his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world).

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters throughout the world,
Men and women of good will!

Christ is risen! Peace to you! Today we celebrate the great mystery, the foundation of Christian faith and hope: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, has risen from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. We listen today with renewed emotion to the announcement proclaimed by the angels on the dawn of the first day after the Sabbath, to Mary of Magdala and to the women at the sepulcher: "Why do you search among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here, he is risen!" (Luke 24:5-6).

It is not difficult to imagine the feelings of these women at that moment: feelings of sadness and dismay at the death of their Lord, feelings of disbelief and amazement before a fact too astonishing to be true. But the tomb was open and empty: the body was no longer there. Peter and John, having been informed of this by the women, ran to the sepulcher and found that they were right. The faith of the Apostles in Jesus, the expected Messiah, had been submitted to a severe trial by the scandal of the cross. At his arrest, his condemnation and death, they were dispersed. Now they are together again, perplexed and bewildered. But the Risen One himself comes in response to their thirst for greater certainty. This encounter was not a dream or an illusion or a subjective imagination; it was a real experience, even if unexpected, and all the more striking for that reason. "Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'peace be with you!'" (John 20:19).

At these words their faith, which was almost spent within them, was re-kindled. The Apostles told Thomas who had been absent from that first extraordinary encounter: Yes, the Lord has fulfilled all that he foretold; he is truly risen and we have seen and touched him! Thomas however remained doubtful and perplexed. When Jesus came for a second time, eight days later in the Upper Room, he said to him: "put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing!" The Apostle's response is a moving profession of faith: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:27-28).

"My Lord and my God!" We too renew that profession of faith of Thomas. I have chosen these words for my Easter greetings this year, because humanity today expects from Christians a renewed witness to the resurrection of Christ; it needs to encounter him and to know him as true God and true man. If we can recognize in this Apostle the doubts and uncertainties of so many Christians today, the fears and disappointments of many of our contemporaries, with him we can also rediscover with renewed conviction, faith in Christ dead and risen for us. This faith, handed down through the centuries by the successors of the Apostles, continues on because the Risen Lord dies no more. He lives in the Church and guides it firmly towards the fulfillment of his eternal design of salvation.

We may all be tempted by the disbelief of Thomas. Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, of sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test? Paradoxically the disbelief of Thomas is most valuable to us in these cases because it helps to purify all false concepts of God and leads us to discover his true face: the face of a God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself the wounds of injured humanity. Thomas has received from the Lord, and has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of a faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being.

"By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). This is the message Peter addressed to the early converts. Those wounds that, in the beginning were an obstacle for Thomas's faith, being a sign of Jesus' apparent failure, those same wounds have become in his encounter with the Risen One, signs of a victorious love. These wounds that Christ has received for love of us help us to understand who God is and to repeat: "My Lord and my God!" Only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon himself our wounds and our pain, especially innocent suffering, is worthy of faith.

How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. My thoughts go to recent events in Madagascar, in the Solomon Islands, in Latin America and in other regions of the world. I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons. I look with apprehension at the conditions prevailing in several regions of Africa. In Darfur and in the neighboring countries there is a catastrophic, and sadly to say underestimated, humanitarian situation. In Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the violence and looting of the past weeks raises fears for the future of the Congolese democratic process and the reconstruction of the country. In Somalia the renewed fighting has driven away the prospect of peace and worsened a regional crisis, especially with regard to the displacement of populations and the traffic of arms. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis and for this reason the bishops of that country in a recent document indicated prayer and a shared commitment for the common good as the only way forward.

Likewise the population of East Timor stands in need of reconciliation and peace as it prepares to hold important elections. Elsewhere too, peace is sorely needed: in Sri Lanka only a negotiated solution can put an end to the conflict that causes so much bloodshed; Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability; In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country's political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy. Finally, I cannot forget the difficulties faced daily by the Christian communities and the exodus of Christians from that blessed land which is the cradle of our faith. I affectionately renew to these populations the expression of my spiritual closeness.

Dear brothers and sisters, through the wounds of the Risen Christ we can see the evils which afflict humanity with the eyes of hope. In fact, by his rising the Lord has not taken away suffering and evil from the world but has vanquished them at their roots by the superabundance of his grace. He has countered the arrogance of evil with the supremacy of his love. He has left us the love that does not fear death, as the way to peace and joy. "Even as I have loved you -- he said to his disciples before his death -- so you must also love one another" (cf. John 13:34).

Brothers and sisters in faith, who are listening to me from every part of the world! Christ is risen and he is alive among us. It is he who is the hope of a better future. As we say with Thomas: "My Lord and my God!", may we hear again in our hearts the beautiful yet demanding words of the Lord: "If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him" (John 12:26). United to him and ready to offer our lives for our brothers (cf. 1 John 3:16), let us become apostles of peace, messengers of a joy that does not fear pain - the joy of the Resurrection. May Mary, Mother of the Risen Christ, obtain for us this Easter gift. Happy Easter to you all.

[The Holy Father greeted pilgrims in 62 languages. In English, he said:]

May the grace and joy of the Risen Christ be with you all.


Pope's Easter Vigil Homily
"We Are Free"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Holy Saturday at the Mass of the Easter Vigil, celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

From ancient times the liturgy of Easter day has begun with the words: "Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum" -- I arose, and am still with you; you have set your hand upon me. The liturgy sees these as the first words spoken by the Son to the Father after his resurrection, after his return from the night of death into the world of the living. The hand of the Father upheld him even on that night, and thus he could rise again.

These words are taken from Psalm 138, where originally they had a different meaning. That Psalm is a song of wonder at God's omnipotence and omnipresence, a hymn of trust in the God who never allows us to fall from his hands. And his hands are good hands. The Psalmist imagines himself journeying to the farthest reaches of the cosmos -- and what happens to him? "If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, 'Let only darkness cover me,' even the darkness is not dark to you; for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 138[139]:8-12).

On Easter day the Church tells us that Jesus Christ made that journey to the ends of the universe for our sake. In the Letter to the Ephesians we read that he descended to the depths of the earth, and that the one who descended is also the one who has risen far above the heavens, that he might fill all things (cf. 4:9ff.). The vision of the Psalm thus became reality. In the impenetrable gloom of death Christ came like light -- the night became as bright as day and the darkness became as light. And so the Church can rightly consider these words of thanksgiving and trust as words spoken by the Risen Lord to his Father: "Yes, I have journeyed to the uttermost depths of the earth, to the abyss of death, and brought them light; now I have risen and I am upheld for ever by your hands." But these words of the Risen Christ to the Father have also become words which the Lord speaks to us: "I arose and now I am still with you," he says to each of us. My hand upholds you. Wherever you may fall, you will always fall into my hands. I am present even at the door of death. Where no one can accompany you further, and where you can bring nothing, even there I am waiting for you, and for you I will change darkness into light.

These words of the Psalm, read as a dialogue between the Risen Christ and ourselves, also explain what takes place at Baptism. Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life. The passage of the Letter to the Romans which we have just read says, in words filled with mystery, that in Baptism we have been "grafted" onto Christ by likeness to his death. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ -- he takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through him, with him and in him; so that we live with him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands, and so we can say with Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." If we offer ourselves in this way, if we accept, as it were, the death of our very selves, this means that the frontier between death and life is no longer absolute. On either side of death we are with Christ and so, from that moment forward, death is no longer a real boundary. Paul tells us this very clearly in his Letter to the Philippians: "For me to live is Christ. To be with him (by dying) is gain. Yet if I remain in this life, I can still labor fruitfully. And so I am hard pressed between these two things. To depart -- by being executed -- and to be with Christ; that is far better. But to remain in this life is more necessary on your account" (cf. 1:21ff.). On both sides of the frontier of death, Paul is with Christ -- there is no longer a real difference. Yes, it is true: "Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me" (Psalm 138[139]: 5). To the Romans Paul wrote: "No one lives to himself and no one dies to himself. Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:7ff.).

Dear candidates for Baptism, this is what is new about Baptism: our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves. As a result we are never alone, even in death, but are always with the One who lives forever. In Baptism, in the company of Christ, we have already made that cosmic journey to the very abyss of death. At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go -- he who is Life itself.

Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ's journey that he "descended into hell." What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus' descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: "Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!" The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die -- this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. "The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light" (cf. Psalm 138[139]12). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice" (John 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings -- with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.

But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal -- what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God's memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. "Out of the depths I cry to you." Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free. In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil. Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends. The power by which he brings us with him. In union with his love, borne aloft on the wings of love, as persons of love, let us descend with him into the world's darkness, knowing that in this way we will also rise up with him. On this night, then, let us pray: Lord, show us that love is stronger than hatred, that love is stronger than death. Descend into the darkness and the abyss of our modern age, and take by the hand those who await you. Bring them to the light! In my own dark nights, be with me to bring me forth! Help me, help all of us, to descend with you into the darkness of all those people who are still waiting for you, who out of the depths cry unto you! Help us to bring them your light! Help us to say the "yes" of love, the love that makes us descend with you and, in so doing, also to rise with you. Amen.


Papal Reflection After Way of the Cross
"Our God Is Not a Distant God"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's remarks at the conclusion of the Way of the Cross, celebrated at the Colosseum on Good Friday.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Following Jesus along the way of his passion we see not only Jesus' passion but we see all those who are suffering in the world. And this is the profound intention of the prayer of the Way of the Cross, to open our hearts, to help us to see with the heart.

The Fathers of the Church considered the greatest sin of the pagan world to be their insensitivity, their hardness of heart, and they loved the prophesy of the prophet Ezekiel: "I will take away your heart of stone and will give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).

Converting to Christ, becoming Christian, meant receiving a heart of flesh, a heart sensitive to the passion and the suffering of others. Our God is not a distant God, untouchable in his blessedness. Our God has a heart, indeed a heart of flesh. He became flesh precisely to suffer with us and to be with us in our sufferings. He became man to give us a heart of flesh and to awaken in us a love for those who suffer, for those in need.

Let us pray to the Lord in this hour for all those in the world who are suffering, let us pray to the Lord that he truly give us a heart of flesh, that he make us messengers of his love not only with words but with our entire life. Amen.


Benedict XVI's Holy Thursday Homily  (April 6, 2007)
"Jesus Is the New and True Lamb"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the homily Benedict XVI delivered Thursday for the Mass of the Lord's Supper, celebrated in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the reading from the Book of Exodus that we have just heard, the celebration of Israel's Passover is described as it was set out by Mosaic law. In the beginning, there could have been a spring holiday celebrated by nomads. However, for Israel, this had been transformed into a feast of commemoration, thanksgiving and, at the same time, hope.

At the heart of the Passover supper, ordained by the specific liturgical rules, was the lamb, as the symbol of liberation from slavery in Egypt. Thus, the paschal "Haggadah" was an integral part of the lamb dinner: the narrative recollection of the fact that it was God himself who had liberated Israel "with a raised hand."

He, the mysterious and hidden God, had been stronger than the pharaoh with all the power that he had at his disposition. Israel was not to forget that God personally had a hand in the history of his people, and that this history was continuously based on communion with God. Israel was not to forget God.

The words of the memorial service were surrounded by words of praise and thanksgiving taken from the Psalms. Giving thanks and blessing God reached its apex with the "berakha," which in Greek is called "eulogia" or "eucaristia": To bless God becomes a blessing for those who bless. The offering donated to God returns blessed to man.

All this erected a bridge from the past to the present and toward the future: The liberation of Israel had not yet come about. The nation still suffered like a small population in the middle of tensions between great powers. The thankful remembrance of the action of God in the past became at the same time both a plea and a source of hope: Bring to fruition what you have begun! Give us definitive freedom!

This supper, with it multiple meanings, was celebrated by Jesus with his disciples on the eve of his passion. Taking into account this context, we can understand the new Easter, which he gave to us in the holy Eucharist.

In the narrations of the Evangelists, there is an apparent contradiction between the Gospel of John, on one hand, and what, on the other hand, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us. According to John, Jesus died on the cross precisely at the moment in which, in the temple, the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. His death and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided.

This means that he died on the eve of Passover, and that, therefore, he could not have personally celebrated the paschal supper; at least this is what it would seem.

On the contrary, according to the three Synoptic Evangelists, the last supper of Jesus was a paschal supper, in its traditional form. He introduced the innovation of the gift of his body and blood. This contradiction, until a few years ago, seemed impossible to resolve.

The majority of the exegetes thought that John did not want to communicate to us the true historical date of the death of Jesus, but had opted for a symbolic date to make the deeper truth more evident: Jesus is the new and true lamb that spilled his blood for us all.

The discovery of the manuscripts of Qumran has led us to a convincing possible solution that, while not accepted by all, is highly probable. We can now say that what John referred to is historically correct. Jesus truly spilled his blood on the eve of Passover at the hour of the sacrifice of the lambs.

However, he celebrated Passover with his disciples probably according to the calendar of Qumran, that is to say, at least one day earlier -- he celebrated without a lamb, like the Qumran community who did not recognize the Temple of Herod and was waiting for a new temple.

Therefore, Jesus celebrated Passover without a lamb, no, not without a lamb: Instead of the lamb he gave himself, his body and his blood. In this way he foresaw his death coherently with his announcement: "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own" (John 10:18). The moment he offered his body and blood to the disciples, he truly fulfilled this statement. He himself offered his life. Only in this way the old Passover obtains its true meaning.

St. John Chrysostom, in his Eucharistic catechesis, once wrote: What are you saying Moses? That the blood of a lamb purifies man? That it saves them from death? How can the blood of an animal purify man? How can it save mankind, have power against death?

In fact, Chrysostom continues, the lamb can only be a symbol, and, therefore, the expression of the expectation and the hope in someone that would be capable of doing all that an animal couldn't do.

Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb and without the temple, and nevertheless, he was not lacking a lamb or a temple. He himself was the awaited lamb, the true one, the one that John the Baptist had foretold at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry: "Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

And he himself was the true temple, the living temple, the one in which God lives, in which we can find ourselves with God and adore him. His blood, the love of he who is at the same time Son of God and true man, one of us, this blood has the power to save. His love, this love in which he gives himself freely for us, is what saves us. The nostalgic action, in some sense inefficient, of the immolation of the innocent and immaculate lamb, found an answer in the one who became for us both lamb and temple.

In this way, in the center of the new Passover of Christ, we find the cross. The new gift brought by him proceeds from there. And in this way, it always remains in the holy Eucharist, by which we can celebrate with the apostles through the ages the new Passover.

From the cross of Christ proceeds the gift. "No one takes it away from me; I lay it down." Now, he offers it to us. The paschal "Haggadah," the commemoration of the salvific act of God, becomes a recollection of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, a remembrance that doesn't just recall the past, but attracts us toward the presence of the love of Christ. In this way, the "berakha," Israel's prayer of blessing and thanksgiving, becomes our Eucharistic celebration, in which the Lord blesses our gifts, the bread and wine, to give himself.

Let us ask the Lord to help us to understand ever more deeply this marvelous mystery, and to love it more and more. And within it, to love him more and more. Let us ask him to attract us more and more to him with holy Communion. Let us ask him to help us not to keep our lives for ourselves, but to surrender them to him, and in this way, to work with him so that all people find life, the authentic life that can only come from he who is the way, the truth and the life. Amen

On the Easter Triduum
"Today, Too, Christ Overcomes Sin and Death With His Love"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience today in St. Peter's Square. The reflection highlighted key moments of the Easter triduum.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the Lenten journey -- begun with Ash Wednesday -- comes to an end, today's liturgy of Holy Wednesday already introduces us into the dramatic atmosphere of the coming days, filled with the remembrance of the passion and death of Christ.

In fact, in today's liturgy, the Evangelist Matthew presents for our meditation the brief dialogue that occurred in the Upper Room between Jesus and Judas. "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" the traitor says to the Divine Teacher, who had prophesied: "Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me."

The Lord's answer was incisive: "You have said so" (cf. Matthew 26:14-25).

St. John concludes narrating the prophecy of the betrayal with a short, meaningful phrase: "It was night" (John 13:30).

When the traitor exits the Upper Room, darkness penetrates his heart -- it is an internal night -- discouragement grows in the spirits of the other disciples -- they too go toward the night -- while the shadows of abandonment and hate grow darker around the Son of Man, who prepares himself for the consummation of his sacrifice on the cross.

In the coming days, we will commemorate the supreme battle between Light and Darkness, between Life and Death.

We also have to place ourselves within this context -- aware of our own "night," of our sins and responsibilities -- if we want to spiritually benefit again from the paschal mystery, if we want to bring light to our hearts, by way of this mystery, which is the center point of our faith.

The beginning of the Easter triduum is Holy Thursday, tomorrow. During the Chrism Mass, which can be considered a prelude to the triduum, bishops of dioceses and their closest collaborators, the priests, surrounded by the people of God, renew the promises they made on the day of their priestly ordination.

Year after year, it is an intense moment of ecclesial communion, which highlights the gift of the ministerial priesthood which Christ left to his Church on the night before he died on the cross. And for each priest, it is a moving moment in the midst of the vigil of the passion, in which the Lord gave himself to us, gave us the sacrament of the Eucharist, and gave us the priesthood.

It is a day that moves our hearts. Later, the holy oils used for the sacraments are blessed: oil of catechumens, oil of the sick, and holy chrism. In the afternoon, entering into the Easter triduum, the community relives in the Mass "in Cena Domini" all that took place in the Last Supper. In the Upper Room, the Redeemer wanted to anticipate, with the sacrament of blood and wine made his body and his blood, the sacrifice of his life: He anticipated his death, the free gift of his life, offered as the definitive gift of himself to humanity.

With the washing of the feet, the gesture is repeated with which he, having loved his own in this world, loved them to the end (cf. John 13:1), and left his disciples, as a sort of trademark, this act of humility, love unto death.

After the Mass "in Cena Domini," the liturgy invites the faithful to remain in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, reliving Jesus' agony in Gethsemane. And we see how the disciples slept, leaving the Lord alone.

Today as well -- frequently -- we sleep -- we, his disciples. In this holy night of Gethsemane, we want to stay on guard; we do not want to leave the Lord alone in this hour. And in doing this, we can better understand the mystery of Holy Thursday, which encompasses the threefold, most-high gifts of the ministerial priesthood, the Eucharist and the new commandment of love, "agape."

Good Friday, which commemorates the happenings between Christ's condemnation to death and his crucifixion, is a day of penance, of fasting, of prayer, of participation in the passion of the Lord. At the prescribed hour, the Christian assembly retraces, with the help of the Word of God and liturgical actions, the history of human infidelity to the divine plan, which nevertheless is fulfilled precisely in this way. And we listen again to the moving narration of the sorrowful passion of the Lord.

Later, a long "prayer of the faithful" is directed to the heavenly Father, which includes all of the needs of the Church and the world. Then, the community adores the cross, and approaches the Eucharist, consuming the sacred species, reserved since the Mass "in Cena Domini" from the day before.

Commenting on Good Friday, St. John Chrysostom said: "Before, the cross meant disdain, but today it is venerated. Before, it was a symbol of condemnation, today it is the hope of salvation. It has truly been converted into a fount of infinite goods; it has liberated us from error, it has scattered our darkness, it has reconciled us with God. From being enemies of God, it has made us his family, from foreigners it has converted us to his neighbors: This cross is the destruction of enmity, the fount of peace, the coffer of our treasure" ("De cruce et latrone," I, 1, 4).

To live the passion of the Redeemer more intensely, Christian tradition has given rise to numerous manifestations of popular piety, among them, the well-known Good Friday processions, with the evocative rites which are repeated year after year. But there is one expression of piety, the Way of the Cross, that offers us year-round the opportunity to impress in our spirits ever more deeply the mystery of the cross, advancing with Christ along this path and thus, interiorly conforming ourselves to him.

We could say that the Way of the Cross teaches us, using an expression from St. Leo the Great, to "fix the eyes of our heart on Christ crucified and recognize in him our own humanity" (Sermon 15 on the Passion of the Lord). In this consists the true wisdom of Christianity, that we wish to learn with the Way of the Cross on Good Friday in the Colosseum.

Holy Saturday is a day in which the liturgy is hushed, the day of great silence, which invites Christians to foster an interior recollection, often difficult to maintain in our day, so as to prepare us for the Easter Vigil. In many communities, spiritual retreats and Marian prayer meetings are organized on this day, in union with the Mother of the Redeemer, who awaits the resurrection of the crucified Son with anxious confidence.

Finally, in the Easter Vigil, the veil of sadness, which surrounds the Church during the death and burial of the Lord, will be torn in two by the victorious cry: Christ has risen and has overcome death forever! Then we can truly understand the mystery of the cross and, as an ancient author writes: "As God creates wonders even from the impossible, so that we will know that only he can do as he wishes: From his death proceeds our life; from his wounds, our healing; from his fall, our resurrection, from his descent, our rising up" (Anonymous 14th).

Animated by a stronger faith, at the heart of the Easter Vigil, we welcome the newly baptized and renew our own baptismal promises. Thus, we will experience that the Church is always alive, always renewing itself, always beautiful and holy, because its foundation is Christ, who, having risen, will never die again.

Dear brothers and sisters, the paschal mystery, which the holy triduum allows us to relive, is not only a memory of a past reality. It is a current reality: Today, too, Christ overcomes sin and death with his love. Evil, in all of its forms, does not have the final word. The final triumph belongs to Christ, to truth, to love!

If we, with him, are willing to suffer and die, as St. Paul reminds us in the Easter Vigil, his life will become our life (cf. Romans 6:9). Our Christian existence is based on and grows from this certainty.

Invoking the intercession of Holy Mary, who followed Jesus on the path of the passion and the cross, and who embraced him when he was taken down from the cross, I hope that all of you will participate fervently in the Easter triduum, and will experience the joy of Easter with all of your loved ones.


Papal Address on the Internal Forum
"The Priest Is the Instrument of This Merciful Love of God"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 3, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's March 16 address to participants in a course on the internal forum.

* * *


Clementine Hall
Friday, 16 March 2007

Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood,

I welcome you today and address my cordial greeting to each one of you, participants in the Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary.

In the first place I greet Cardinal James Francis Stafford, Major Penitentiary, who I thank for the kind words he addressed to me, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, Regent of the Penitentiary, and all those present.

Today's meeting also offers me the opportunity to reflect together with you on the importance in our day of the Sacrament of Penance and to repeat the necessity for priests to prepare themselves to administer it with devotion and fidelity to the praise of God and for the sanctification of the Christian people, as they promise to their Bishop on the day of their priestly ordination.

In fact, it is one of the qualifying duties of the special ministry that they are called to exercise "in persona Christi". With the gestures and sacramental words the priest above all makes God's love visible, which was revealed fully in Christ.

In the administration of the Sacrament of Pardon and of Reconciliation, the priest -- as the Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls -- acts as "the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner" (n. 1465). What takes place in this Sacrament, therefore, is especially a mystery of love, a work of the merciful love of the Lord.

"God is love" (I Jn 4:16): in this simple affirmation the Evangelist John has enclosed the revelation of the entire mystery of the Triune God. And in meeting with Nicodemus, Jesus, foretelling his passion and death on the Cross, affirms: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).

We all need to draw from the inexhaustible fountain of divine love, which is totally manifested to us in the mystery of the Cross, in order to find authentic peace with God, with ourselves and with our neighbour. Only from this spiritual source is it possible to draw the indispensable interior energy to overcome the evil and sin in the ceaseless battle that marks our earthly pilgrimage toward the heavenly homeland.

The contemporary world continues to present contradictions so clearly outlined by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Gaudium et Spes, nn. 4-10): we see a humanity that would like to be self-sufficient, where more than a few consider it almost possible to do without God in order to live well; and yet how many seem sadly condemned to face the dramatic situations of an empty existence, how much violence there still is on the earth, how much solitude weighs on the soul of the humanity of the communications era!

In a word, it seems that today there is even loss of the "sense of sin", but in compensation the "guilt complex" has increased.

Who can free the heart of humankind from this yoke of death if not the One who by dying overcame for ever the power of evil with the omnipotence of divine love?

As St Paul reminded the Christians of Ephesus: "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ" (Eph 2:4).

The priest in the Sacrament of Confession is the instrument of this merciful love of God, whom he invokes in the formula of the absolution of sins: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and Resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace".

The New Testament speaks on every page of God's love and mercy, which are made visible in Christ. Jesus, in fact, who "receives sinners and eats with them" (Lk 15:2), and with authority affirms: "Man, your sins are forgiven you" (Lk 5:20), says: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:31-32).

The duty of the priest and the confessor is primarily this: to bring every person to experience the love of Christ, encountering him on the path of their own lives as Paul met him on the road to Damascus. We know the impassioned declaration of the Apostle to the Gentiles after that meeting which changed his life: "[he] loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

This is his personal experience on the way to Damascus: the Lord Jesus loved Paul and gave himself for him. And in Confession this is also our way, our way to Damascus, our experience: Jesus has loved me and has given himself for me.

May every person have this same spiritual experience and, as the Servant of God John Paul II said, rediscover "Christ as mysterium pietatis, the one in whom God shows us his compassionate heart and reconciles us fully with himself. It is this face of Christ that must be rediscovered through the Sacrament of Penance" (John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 37).

The priest, minister of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, must always consider it his duty to make transpire, in words and in drawing near to the penitent, the merciful love of God. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, to welcome the penitent sinner, to help him rise again from sin, to encourage him to amend himself, never making pacts with evil but always taking up again the way of evangelical perfection. May this beautiful experience of the prodigal son, who finds the fullness of divine mercy in the father, be the experience of whoever confesses in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Dear brothers, all this means that the priest engaged in the ministry of the Sacrament of Penance is himself motivated by a constant tending to holiness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church aims high in this demand when it affirms: "The confessor... should have a proven knowledge of Christian behaviour, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the Lord's mercy" (n. 1466).

To be able to fulfil this important mission, always interiorly united to the Lord, the priest must be faithful to the Church's Magisterium concerning moral doctrine, aware that the law of good and evil is not determined by the situation, but by God.

I ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, to sustain the ministry of priest confessors and to help every Christian community to understand ever more the value and importance of the Sacrament of Penance for the spiritual growth of every one of the faithful. To you present here and to the people dear to you, I impart my Blessing with affection.


Papal Homily at Juvenile Detention Center
"We Must Understand What Freedom Is"

ROME, APRIL 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's March 18 homily addressed to youth at a juvenile detention center in Rome.

* * *


Chapel of the Merciful Father
Fourth Sunday of Lent, 18 March 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Dear Boys and Girls,

I have willingly come to pay you a Visit, and the most important moment of our meeting is Holy Mass, where the gift of God's love is renewed: a love that comforts us and gives us peace, especially in life's difficult moments.

In this prayerful atmosphere I would like to address my greeting to each one of you: to the Hon. Mr Clemente Mastella, Minister of Justice, to whom I express a special "thank you"; to Mrs Melìta Cavallo, Department Head of Justice for Minors, to the other Authorities who have spoken, to those in charge, to the operators, teachers and personnel of this juvenile penitentiary, to the volunteers, to your relatives and to everyone present.

I greet the Cardinal Vicar and Auxiliary Bishop Benedetto Tùzia.

I greet in particular, Mons. Giorgio Caniato, General Inspector of the Prisons Chaplaincy, and your Chaplain, whom I thank for expressing your sentiments at the beginning of Holy Mass.

In the Eucharistic celebration it is Christ himself who becomes present among us; indeed, even more: he comes to enlighten us with his teaching -- in the Liturgy of the Word -- and to nourish us with his Body and his Blood -- in the Eucharistic Liturgy and in Communion.

Thus, he comes to teach us to love, to make us capable of loving and thereby capable of living. But perhaps you will say, how difficult it is to love seriously and to live well! What is the secret of love, the secret of life? Let us return to the Gospel [of the Prodigal Son].

In this Gospel three persons appear: the father and two sons. But these people represent two rather different life projects. Both sons lived peacefully, they were fairly well-off farmers so they had enough to live on, selling their produce profitably, and life seemed good.

Yet little by little the younger son came to find this life boring and unsatisfying: "All of life can't be like this", he thought: rising every day, say at six o'clock, then according to Israel's traditions, there must have been a prayer, a reading from the Holy Bible, then they went to work and at the end of the day another prayer.

Thus, day after day he thought: "But no, life is something more. I must find another life where I am truly free, where I can do what I like; a life free from this discipline, from these norms of God's commandments, from my father's orders; I would like to be on my own and have life with all its beauties totally for myself. Now, instead, it is nothing but work...".

And so he decided to claim the whole of his share of his inheritance and leave. His father was very respectful and generous and respected the son's freedom: it was he who had to find his own life project. And he departed, as the Gospel says, to a far-away country. It was probably geographically distant because he wanted a change, but also inwardly distant because he wanted a completely different life.

So his idea was: freedom, doing what I want to do, not recognizing these laws of a God who is remote, not being in the prison of this domestic discipline, but rather doing what is beautiful, what I like, possessing life with all its beauty and fullness.

And at first -- we might imagine, perhaps for a few months -- everything went smoothly: he found it beautiful to have attained life at last, he felt happy.

Then, however, little by little, he felt bored here, too; here too everything was always the same. And in the end, he was left with an emptiness that was even more disturbing: the feeling that this was still not life became ever more acute; indeed, going ahead with all these things, life drifted further and further away. Everything became empty: the slavery of doing the same things then also re-emerged. And in the end, his money ran out and the young man found that his standard of living was lower than that of swine.

It was then that he began to reflect and wondered if that really was the path to life: a freedom interpreted as doing what I want, living, having life only for me; or if instead it might be more of a life to live for others, to contribute to building the world, to the growth of the human community. ...

So it was that he set out on a new journey, an inner journey. The boy pondered and considered all these new aspects of the problem and began to see that he had been far freer at home, since he had also been a landowner contributing to building his home and society in communion with the Creator, knowing the purpose of his life and guessing the project that God had in store for him.

During this interior journey, during this development of a new life project and at the same time living the exterior journey, the younger son was motivated to return, to start his life anew because he now understood that he had taken the wrong track. I must start out afresh with a different concept, he said to himself; I must begin again.

And he arrived at the home of the father who had left him his freedom to give him the chance to understand inwardly what life is and what life is not. The father embraced him with all his love, he offered him a feast and life could start again beginning from this celebration.

The son realized that it is precisely work, humility and daily discipline that create the true feast and true freedom. So he returned home, inwardly matured and purified: he had understood what living is.

Of course, in the future his life would not be easy either, temptations would return, but he was henceforth fully aware that life without God does not work; it lacks the essential, it lacks light, it lacks reason, it lacks the great sense of being human. He understood that we can only know God on the basis of his Word.

We Christians can add that we know who God is from Jesus, in whom the face of God has been truly shown to us. The young man understood that God's Commandments are not obstacles to freedom and to a beautiful life, but signposts on the road on which to travel to find life.

He realized too that work and the discipline of being committed, not to oneself but to others, extends life. And precisely this effort of dedicating oneself through work gives depth to life, because one experiences the pleasure of having at last made a contribution to the growth of this world that becomes freer and more beautiful.

I do not wish at this point to speak of the other son who stayed at home, but in his reaction of envy we see that inwardly he too was dreaming that perhaps it would be far better to take all the freedoms for himself. He too in his heart was "returning home" and understanding once again what life is, understanding that it is truly possible to live only with God, with his Word, in the communion of one's own family, of work; in the communion of the great Family of God.

I do not wish to enter into these details now: let each one of us apply this Gospel to himself in his own way. Our situations are different and each one has his own world. Nonetheless, the fact remains that we are all moved and that we can all enter with our inner journey into the depths of the Gospel.

Only a few more remarks: the Gospel helps us understand who God truly is. He is the Merciful Father who in Jesus loves us beyond all measure.

The errors we commit, even if they are serious, do not corrode the fidelity of his love. In the Sacrament of Confession we can always start out afresh in life. He welcomes us, he restores to us our dignity as his children.

Let us therefore rediscover this sacrament of forgiveness that makes joy well up in a heart reborn to true life.

Furthermore, this parable helps us to understand who the human being is: he is not a "monad", an isolated being who lives only for himself and must have life for himself alone.

On the contrary, we live with others, we were created together with others and only in being with others, in giving ourselves to others, do we find life.

The human being is a creature in whom God has impressed his own image, a creature who is attracted to the horizon of his Grace, but he is also a frail creature exposed to evil but also capable of good. And lastly, the human being is a free person.

We must understand what freedom is and what is only the appearance of freedom.

Freedom, we can say, is a springboard from which to dive into the infinite sea of divine goodness, but it can also become a tilted plane on which to slide towards the abyss of sin and evil and thus also to lose freedom and our dignity.

Dear friends, we are in the Season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. In this Season of Lent, the Church helps us to make this interior journey and invites us to conversion, which always, even before being an important effort to change our behaviour, is an opportunity to decide to get up and set out again, to abandon sin and to choose to return to God.

Let us -- this is the imperative of Lent -- make this journey of inner liberation together.

Every time, such as today, that we participate in the Eucharist, the source and school of love, we become capable of living this love, of proclaiming it and witnessing to it with our life.

Nevertheless, we need to decide to walk towards Jesus as the Prodigal Son did, returning inwardly and outwardly to his father.

At the same time, we must abandon the selfish attitude of the older son who was sure of himself, quick to condemn others and closed in his heart to understanding, acceptance and forgiveness of his brother, and who forgot that he too was in need of forgiveness.

May the Virgin Mary and St Joseph, my Patron Saint whose Feast it will be tomorrow, obtain this gift for us; I now invoke him in a special way for each one of you and for your loved ones.


Papal Homily for Palm Sunday
"With the Cross, Jesus Opens Wide the Door of God"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered today, Palm Sunday. He did not give the customary Angelus address.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Palm Sunday procession we join ourselves to the crowd of disciples who, in festive joy, accompany the Lord in his entrance into Jerusalem. Like them we praise the Lord in a loud voice for all the great deeds we have seen. Yes, we too have seen and continue to see the great deeds of Christ: how he brings men and women to renounce the comforts of life and put themselves completely at the service of the suffering; how he gives courage to men and women to oppose violence and lies, to make a place in the world for truth; how he, in secret, leads men and women to do good for others, to bring about reconciliation where there was hate, to create peace where enmity reigned.

This procession is above all a joyous testimony that we give to Christ, in whom the face of God is made visible to us and thanks to whom the heart of God is open to all of us. In the Gospel of Luke, the account of the beginning of the procession on the outskirts of Jerusalem is composed in part on the model of the rite of coronation with which, according to the First Book of Kings, Solomon was made heir to David's kingship (cf. 1 Kings 1:33-35).

Thus the procession of palms is also a procession of Christ the King: We profess the kingship of Jesus Christ, we recognize Jesus as son of David, the true Solomon -- the King of peace and justice. Recognizing him as King means accepting him as the one who shows us the way, the one to whom we entrust ourselves and whom we follow. It means accepting his word every day as the valid criterion for our life. It means seeing in him the authority to whom we submit ourselves. We submit ourselves to him because his authority is the authority of truth.

The procession of palms is -- as it was then for the disciples -- above all an expression of joy, because we can know Jesus, because he allows us to be his friends, and because he has given us the key of life. This joy, that is at the beginning, is also, however, the expression of our "yes" to Jesus and of our availability to go with him wherever he takes us. The exhortation at the beginning of today's liturgy therefore rightly interprets the procession also as a symbolic representation of that which we call "the following of Christ": "Let us ask for the grace to follow him," we said. The expression "the following of Christ" is a description of the whole Christian existence. In what does it consist? What does "the following of Christ" mean concretely?

At the beginning, with the first disciples, the meaning was very simple and immediate: It meant that these persons had decided to leave their profession, their affairs, their whole life, to go with Jesus. It meant a new profession: that of disciple. The basic content of this profession was to go with the master, to entrust oneself entirely to his guidance. Thus the following was an external thing and at the same time something very internal.

The external aspect was walking behind Jesus in his travels through Palestine; the internal aspect was the new existential orientation, which no longer had its points of reference in matters, in the career that determined one's life previously, in one's personal will; instead one surrendered oneself totally to the will of an Other. Being at his service had by now become the reason for living. The renunciation that this demanded from what one once possessed, the detachment from self, we can see in a very clear way in certain scenes of the Gospel.

But with that, it is also evident what the following means and what its true essence is for us: It has to do with an interior change of life. It demands that I no longer be closed in considering my self-realization as the principal purpose of my life. It demands that I give myself freely to an Other -- for truth, for love, for God who, in Jesus Christ, precedes me and points out the way.

What we are talking about here is the fundamental decision to no longer consider utility and gain, career and success as the ultimate goal of life, but to recognize truth and love instead as the authentic criteria. We are talking about the choice between living for myself and giving myself -- for what is greater. And let us understand that truth and love are not abstract values; in Jesus Christ they have become a person. Following him, I enter into the service of truth and love. Losing myself, I find myself.

Let us return to the liturgy and to the procession of palms. The liturgy provides Psalm 24 for the song; this was also used in Israel as a processional song for the ascent of the temple mount. The psalm interprets the interior ascent of which the external ascent is an image, and explains to us once again what it means to ascend with Christ.

"Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?" the psalm asks, and it indicates two essential conditions. Those who ascend and really want to get to the top, to arrive at the true height, must be persons who ask themselves about God. They must be persons who look about themselves in search of God, in search of his face. My dear young friends, how important this is today: not allowing yourselves to be carried here and there by life; not being satisfied with what everyone thinks, says and does. Be attentive to God, seek God. We must not let the question about God dissolve in our souls. The desire for what is greater. The desire to know him -- his face …

The other very concrete condition for the ascent is this: "He who has innocent hands and a pure heart" can stand in the holy place. Innocent hands -- hands that are not used for acts of violence. They are hands that are not dirtied by corruption, by bribes. A pure heart -- when is the heart pure? That heart is pure that does not pretend and does not sully itself with lies and hypocrisy. A heart that remains transparent like water rises up, for it does not know duplicity. That heart is pure that does not weary itself with the drunkenness of pleasure; a heart whose love is true and not only a passion of the moment. Innocent hands and a pure heart: If we walk with Jesus, we will ascend and find purification that carry us truly to that height for which man is destined: friendship with God himself.

Psalm 24 that speaks of the ascent ends with an entrance liturgy before the temple gate: "Lift up your heads, O gates; rise up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may enter." In the old liturgy of Palm Sunday, the priest, once he arrived at the church doors, knocked loudly with the staff of the cross at the closed doors, which were then opened. It was a beautiful image of Jesus himself who, with the wood of the cross, with the power of his love which he gives, knocked from the side of the world on God's door; from the side of a world that was unable to find access to God.

With the cross, Jesus opens wide the door of God, the door between God and men. Now it is open. But also from the other side the Lord knocks with his cross: He knocks at the door of the world, at the doors of our hearts, which so often and in such great numbers are closed to God. And he speaks to us more or less in this way: If the proofs that God gives of himself in creation do not succeed in opening you to him; if the word of Scripture and the message of the Church leave you indifferent -- then look at me, your Lord and your God.

It is this call that in this hour we let penetrate our hearts. May the Lord help us to open the door of our heart, the heart of the world, so that he, the living God, might, in his Son, arrive in our time and touch our lives. Amen.


Papal Talk to Lourdes Group and a Movement for the Blind
"Experiences of Fraternal Sharing Based on the Gospel"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave March 17 to visitors from the Federation for Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and the Apostolic Movement for the Blind.

* * *


St Peter's Basilica?Saturday, 17 March 2007

Dear Friends of OFTAL and of the Apostolic Movement for the Blind,

I meet you with great joy in the Vatican Basilica, where you have taken part in the Eucharistic celebration at which Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State, to whom I offer a cordial greeting, has presided.

I greet Archbishop Angelo Comastri, Vicar General for Vatican City and Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica, and your Chaplains. I greet each one of you, and in particular Mons. Franco Degrandi, President of OFTAL, and Dr Francesco Scelzo, Vice-President of MAC, whom I thank for presenting to me your respective Associations, which came into being more or less at the same time.

In fact, the Apostolic Movement for the Blind was founded in 1928 through the insight and apostolic dynamism of Maria Motta, a sightless teacher from Monza endowed with profound faith and great strength of mind.

The Federation for Transport of the Sick to Lourdes (OFTAL), on the other hand, is celebrating its 75th anniversary. In fact, founded in 1913 by Mons. Alessandro Rastelli, a priest of the Diocese of Vercelli, it officially came into being in 1932, promoted by the Archbishop of that particular Church.

Your joint presence here today is providential, because both Associations, although they have many different aspects, have a fundamental one in common which I would like to highlight straightaway.

I refer to the fact that both MAC and OFTAL represent experiences of fraternal sharing based on the Gospel and capable of enabling people in difficulty, in this case the sick and the visually impaired, to participate fully in the life of the Ecclesial Community and to be builders of the civilization of love.

They are two institutions which, as the theme of the recent Ecclesial Convention in Verona said, bear witness to the Risen Christ, the hope of the world, demonstrating that faith and Christian friendship make it possible to overcome every condition of frailty together.

In this regard, the experience of the two Founders, Fr Rastelli and Maria Motta, is emblematic. The former went to Lourdes after an accident which confined him to a hospital for a month. The experience of sickness rendered him particularly sensitive to the message of the Immaculate Virgin, who called him to return to the Grotto of Massabielle, first in the company of a single sick person -- and this is very important! --, and then at the head of the first diocesan pilgrimage with more than 300 people, of whom 30 were sick.

For Maria Motta, sightless from birth, the visual limitation was not a hindrance to her vocation; indeed, the Spirit made her an apostle of those who cannot see and later caused her project to become more successful than she herself expected.

From that spiritual "network" which she had created, a proper association formed by diocesan groups present in every part of Italy developed and was approved by Blessed John XXIII with the name of "Apostolic Movement for the Blind". In this movement, learning the style of reciprocity and sharing, both the non-seeing and the seeing were committed to formation, to devote themselves to serving the Church's Apostolic Mission.

Each of the two associations contributed to building the Church with its own specific charism.

You, friends of OFTAL, offer the experience of the pilgrimage with the sick, a strong sign of faith and solidarity among people who come out of themselves and from the closed environment of their own problems to set out for a common goal, a spiritual place: Lourdes, the Holy Land, Loreto, Fatima and other shrines.

Thus, you help the People of God to keep alive the awareness of their nature as pilgrims in Christ's footsteps, which stands out clearly in Sacred Scripture.

Let us think of the Book of Exodus upon which the liturgy makes us meditate this Lenten Season: let us think of Jesus' public life which the Gospels present as a great pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where his "exodus" is to take place.

You, friends of MAC, are messengers in your turn of a typical experience which is your very own; that of walking together, the non-seeing side by side with the seeing. It is proof of how Christian love makes it possible to overcome handicaps and to live diversity positively, as an opportunity for openness to others, as attention to their problems but first of all to their gifts, and to mutual service.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Church is also in need of your contribution to respond faithfully and without reserve to the Lord's will. And of civil society one can likewise say: humanity needs your gifts, which are a prophecy of the Kingdom of God.

May limitations and scant resources not alarm you: God likes to carry out his works using poor means. He therefore asks you to make a generous faith available to him!

Basically, this is why you have come here: to implore at Peter's tomb the gift of a sounder faith.

Tomorrow you will be ending your pilgrimage at two of Rome's Marian sites: MAC at the Basilica of St Mary Major, and OFTAL at the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love. Set out, therefore, from this moment of grace, enlightened by the faith of Peter and Mary!

And with this faith, continue on your way, also accompanied by my prayers and my Blessing, which I impart with affection to those of you who are present here and to all your members and your loved ones.


On St. Irenaeus of Lyons
"The First Great Theologian of the Church" (March 28, 2007)

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience today in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on St. Irenaeus of Lyons.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In the catechesis on the great figures of the Church during the first centuries, today we reach the figure of an eminent personality, Irenaeus of Lyons. His biographical information comes from his own testimony, sent down to us by Eusebius in the fifth book of the "Storia Ecclesiastica."

Irenaeus was most probably born in Smyrna (today Izmir, in Turkey) between the years 135 and 140. There, while still a youth, he attended the school of Bishop Polycarp, for his part, a disciple of the apostle John. We do not know when he moved from Asia Minor to Gaul, but the move must have coincided with the first developments of the Christian community in Lyons: There, in 177, we find Irenaeus mentioned among the college of presbyters.

That year he was sent to Rome, bearer of a letter from the community of Lyons to Pope Eleutherius. The Roman mission took Irenaeus away from the persecution by Marcus Aurelius, in which at least 48 martyrs died, among them the bishop of Lyons himself, the 90-year-old Pothinus, who died of mistreatment in jail. Thus, on his return, Irenaeus was elected bishop of the city. The new pastor dedicated himself entirely to his episcopal ministry, which ended around 202-203, perhaps by martyrdom.

Irenaeus is above all a man of faith and a pastor. Like the Good Shepherd, he has prudence, a richness of doctrine, and missionary zeal. As a writer, he aims for a twofold objective: to defend true doctrine from the attacks of the heretics, and to clearly expound the truth of the faith. His two works still in existence correspond exactly to the fulfillment of these two objectives: the five books "Against Heresies," and the "Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching" (which could be called the oldest "catechism of Christian doctrine"). Without a doubt, Irenaeus is the champion in the fight against heresies.

The Church of the second century was threatened by so-called gnosticism, a doctrine which claimed that the faith taught by the Church was nothing more than symbolism for the simpleminded, those unable to grasp more difficult things. Instead, the initiated, the intellectuals -- they called themselves gnostics -- could understand what was behind the symbolism, and thus would form an elite, intellectual Christianity.

Obviously, this intellectual Christianity became more and more fragmented with different currents of thought, often strange and extravagant, yet attractive to many. A common element within these various currents was dualism, that is, a denial of faith in the only God, Father of all, creator and savior of humanity and of the world. To explain the evil in the world, they asserted the existence of a negative principle, next to the good God. This negative principle had created matter, material things.

Firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of Creation, Irenaeus refuted dualism and the gnostic pessimism that devalued corporal realities. He decisively affirmed the original holiness of matter, of the body, of the flesh, as well as of the spirit. But his work goes far beyond the refutation of heresies: In fact, one can say that he presents himself as the first great theologian of the Church, who established systematic theology. He himself speaks about the system of theology, that is, the internal coherence of the faith.

The question of the "rule of faith" and its transmission lies at the heart of his doctrine. For Irenaeus, the "rule of faith" coincides in practice with the Apostles' Creed, and gives us the key to interpret the Gospel, to interpret the creed in light of the Gospel. The apostolic symbol, a sort of synthesis of the Gospel, helps us understand what the Gospel means, how we must read the Gospel itself.

In fact, the Gospel preached by St. Irenaeus is the one he received from Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and the Gospel of Polycarp goes back to the apostle John, Polycarp having been John's disciple. Thus, the true teaching is not that invented by the intellectuals, rising above the simple faith of the Church. The true Gospel is preached by the bishops who have received it thanks to an uninterrupted chain from the apostles.

These men have taught nothing but the simple faith, which is also the true depth of the revelation of God. Thus, says Irenaeus, there is no secret doctrine behind the common creed of the Church. There is no superior Christianity for intellectuals. The faith publicly professed by the Church is the faith common to all. Only this faith is apostolic, coming from the apostles, that is, from Jesus and from God.

To adhere to this faith publicly taught by the apostles to their successors, Christians must observe what the bishops say. They must specifically consider the teaching of the Church of Rome, pre-eminent and ancient. This Church, because of its age, has the greatest apostolicity; in fact its origins come from the columns of the apostolic college, Peter and Paul. All the Churches must be in harmony with the Church of Rome, recognizing in it the measure of the true apostolic tradition and the only faith common to the Church.

With these arguments, very briefly summarized here, Irenaeus refutes the very foundation of the aims of the gnostics, of these intellectuals: First of all, they do not possess a truth that would be superior to the common faith, given that what they say is not of apostolic origin, but invented by them. Second, truth and salvation are not a privilege monopolized by a few, but something that everyone can reach through the preaching of the apostles' successors, and, above all, that of the Bishop of Rome.

By taking issue with the "secret" character of the gnostic tradition and by contesting its multiple intrinsic contradictions, Irenaeus concerns himself with illustrating the genuine concept of Apostolic Tradition, that we could summarize in three points.

a) The Apostolic Tradition is "public," not private or secret. For Irenaeus, there is no doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God. There is no teaching aside from this. Therefore, for one who wishes to know the true doctrine, it is enough to know "the Tradition that comes from the Apostles and the faith announced to men": tradition and faith that "have reached us through the succession of bishops" ("Adv. Haer." 3,3,3-4). Thus, the succession of bishops, personal principle, Apostolic Tradition, and doctrinal principle all coincide.

b) The Apostolic Tradition is "one." While gnosticism is divided into many sects, the Church's Tradition is one in its fundamental contents, which -- as we have seen -- Irenaeus calls "regula fidei" or "veritatis." And given that it is one, it creates unity among peoples, different cultures and different communities. It has a common content like that of truth, despite different languages and cultures.

There is a beautiful expression that Irenaeus uses in the book "Against Heresies": "The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points (of doctrine) just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world."

We can already see at this time -- we are in the year 200 -- the universality of the Church, its catholicity and the unifying force of truth, which unites these so-very-different realities, from Germany, to Spain, to Italy, to Egypt, to Libya, in the common truth revealed to us by Christ.

c) Finally, the Apostolic Tradition is, as he says in Greek, the language in which he wrote his book, "pneumatic," that is, spiritual, led by the Holy Spirit. In Greek, spirit is "pneuma." It is not a transmission entrusted to the abilities of more or less educated men, but the Spirit of God who guarantees faithfulness in the transmission of the faith.

This is the "life" of the Church, that which makes the Church always young, that is, fruitful with many charisms. Church and Spirit are inseparable for Irenaeus. This faith, we read in the third book of "Against Heresies," "which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also. ¡Ä For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace" (3,24,1).

As we can see, Irenaeus does not stop at defining the concept of Tradition. His tradition, uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always internally vivified by the Holy Spirit, which makes it alive again, allows it to be interpreted and understood in the vitality of the Church.

According to his teaching, the Church's faith must be preached in such a way that it appears as it must appear, that is "public," "one," "pneumatic," "spiritual." From each of these characteristics, one can glean a fruitful discernment of the authentic transmission of the faith in the Church of today.

More generally, in the doctrine of Irenaeus, human dignity, body and soul, is firmly rooted in Divine Creation, in the image of Christ and in the permanent work of sanctification of the Spirit. This doctrine is like the "main road" to clarify to all people of good will, the object and the limits of dialogue on values, and to give an ever new impulse to the missionary activities of the Church, to the strength of truth which is the source of all the true values in the world.


Papal Address on 50th Anniversary of Treaty of Rome
"You Have the Duty to Contribute to Building a New Europe"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered last Saturday to the participants in a conference organized by European bishops' conferences to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

The conference was entitled "50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome -- Values and prospects for tomorrow's Europe."

* * *


Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace,
March 24, 2007

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Honorable Parliamentarians,
Kind Ladies and Sirs!

I am particularly happy to receive such a large number of persons in this audience, which is taking place on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, dated March 25, 1957.

An important step was taken then for Europe, exhausted by the Second World War and desiring to build a future of peace and greater economic and social well-being, without dissolving or denying the different national identities.

I welcome Monsignor Andrianus Herman van Luyn, bishop of Rotterdam, president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, and I thank him for his kind words to me.

I greet the other prelates, the distinguished authorities and all those taking part in the convention promoted these days by the COMECE to reflect on Europe. Since March of about fifty years ago, this continent has been on a long road, which has led to the reconciliation of two "lungs" -- the East and the West -- tied together by a common history, but arbitrarily separated by a wall of injustice.

Economic integration stimulated political integration and encouraged the search, still ongoing, for an institutional structure adequate for a European Union that, by now, numbers 27 nations and aspires to becoming a global actor in the world.

During these years, the need to establish a healthy equilibrium between the economic and social dimensions has been felt more and more, through politics capable of producing wealth and increasing competition, without however omitting the legitimate expectations of the poor and the marginalized. But looking at the demographic side of things, we must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be walking along a path that could lead to its departure from history.

Apart from endangering economic growth, this could create enormous difficulties for social cohesion and, above all, favor dangerous individualism, oblivious to the consequences for the future. One could almost think that the European continent is in fact losing faith in its own future. Furthermore, as regards respect for the environment, for example, or the ordered access to energy resources and investments, incentives for solidarity are slow in coming, not only in the international sphere but also in the strictly national one.

The process itself of European unification is evidently not shared by all, due to the impression that various "chapters" in the European project have been "written" without considering the expectations of the citizens. From all this it is clear that a true European "common house" cannot be built without considering the identities of the people on our continent.

This identity is in fact a historical, cultural, and moral identity before it is a geographic, economic, or political one; an identity constituted by an ensemble of universal values that Christianity contributed to forging and which thus gave to Christianity not only an historical but a foundational role for Europe.

These values, which make up the soul of the continent, must remain in the Europe of the third millennium as "ferment" for civilization. If in fact these values should disappear, how could the "old" continent continue to function as "leaven" for the entire world? If, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the governments of the Union wish to "be nearer" to their citizens, how can they exclude an element essential to European identity such as Christianity, when a vast majority continues to identify with it?

Is it not surprising that today's Europe, while hoping to be seen as a community of values, more and more seems to contest that universal and absolute values exist? Does not this unique form of "apostasy" from itself, before even from God, lead to doubts about its identity?

In this way, one ends up spreading the conviction that the "weighing of goods" is the only way to moral discernment and that common good is synonymous with compromise. In reality, if compromise constitutes a legitimate equilibrium between different particular interests, it becomes a common evil every time it is made up of agreements damaging the nature of man.

A community built without respecting the true dignity of the human being, forgetting that each person is created in the image of God, ends up not doing good for anybody. This is why it is necessary for Europe to be on guard against this pragmatic attitude, widespread today, which systematically justifies compromise on essential human values, as if it was the inevitable acceptance of a minor evil.

This pragmatism, presented as balanced and realistic, at bottom is not, because it denies the dimension of values and ideals inherent to human nature. When atheistic and relativistic tendencies are woven into this pragmatism, in the end Christians as such are denied the very right to enter into the public discussion or, at the very least, their contribution is disqualified.

During this actual historical moment and faced with many challenges that mark it, the European Union, to be a valid guarantor of the state of rights and an efficient promoter of universal values, cannot but recognize with clarity the certain existence of a stable and permanent human nature, source of common rights for all individuals, including those who deny them. In this context, the right to conscientious objection should be protected, every time fundamental human rights are violated.

Dear friends, I know how difficult it is for Christians to strenuously defend this truth about the person. However do not tire of this and do not be discouraged! You know that you have the duty to contribute to building with God's help a new Europe, realistic but not cynical, rich in ideals and free of naïve illusions, inspired by the perennial and life-giving truth of the Gospel.

Therefore, you must be present in an active way in the public debate on a European level, knowing that this debate is now an integral part of the national debate, and along with this commitment there must be effective cultural action. Do not bend to the logic of power as an end in itself!

May Christ's admonition be a constant stimulus and support for you: "If the salt loses its flavor (…) It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men."

May the Lord make your every effort productive and help you to recognize and esteem the positive elements present in today's civilization, but denouncing with courage all that is contrary to human dignity.

I am sure that God will bless the generous effort by all who, in a spirit of service, work to build a common European house where every cultural, social and political contribution is directed toward the common good.

To you, already involved in different ways in this important human and evangelical project, I express my support and my most fervent encouragement. Above all, I assure you that I will remember you in prayer and, while I call upon the maternal protection of Mary, Mother of the Word made Flesh, I affectionately bless you and your families and communities from the heart.


On the Annunciation
"Mary's 'Yes' Is the Reflection of Christ's Own 'Yes'" (March 25, 2007)

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

March 25 is the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year it coincides with a Sunday of Lent and so will be celebrated tomorrow. In any case, I would like to linger over this stupendous mystery of the faith that we contemplate every day in the recitation of the Angelus.

The annunciation, narrated at the beginning of the Gospel of St. Luke, is a humble human event, hidden -- no one saw it, no one knew about it, but Mary -- but at the same time decisive for the history of humanity. When the Virgin pronounced her "yes" to the angel's announcement, Jesus was conceived and with him the era of history began which would be ratified at Easter as the "new and eternal covenant."

In reality, Mary's "yes" is the reflection of Christ's own "yes" when he entered the world, as is noted in the Letter to the Hebrews in an interpretation of Psalm 39: "As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God" (Hebrews 10:7). The Son's obedience is reflected in the Mother's and thus, by the meeting of these two "yeses," God was able to take on a human face. This is why the annunciation is also a Christological feast, because it celebrates a central mystery of Christ: his incarnation.

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your Word." Mary's reply to the angel is extended in the Church, which is called to make Christ present in history, offering its own availability so that God might continue to visit humanity with his mercy. The "yes" of Jesus and Mary is in this way renewed in the "yes" of the saints, especially the martyrs, who are killed because of the Gospel.

I emphasize this because yesterday, March 24, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, we celebrated the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Missionary Martyrs: bishops, priests, religious, and lay people who were cut down as they carried out their mission of evangelization and human betterment.

These missionary martyrs, as this year's theme says, are the "hope for the world," because they bear witness that the love of Christ is stronger than violence and hate. They did not seek out martyrdom, but they were ready to give their lives to remain faithful to the Gospel. Christian martyrdom is justified only as the supreme act of love for God and our brothers.

In this Lenten season we often contemplate the Madonna as on Calvary she seals the "yes" she pronounced at Nazareth. United to Christ, the testimony of the Father's love, Mary lived martyrdom of the soul. Let us call on her intercession with confidence, so that the Church, faithful to her mission, bear courageous witness to God's love before the whole world.

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In Italian, he said:]

Next Sunday we celebrate the solemn and suggestive liturgy of Palm Sunday, with which we begin Holy Week. In these circumstances the 22nd World Youth Day will take place.

This year's theme is Jesus' commandment: "As I have loved you, love one another" (John 13:34). To prepare ourselves for this day and the celebration of Easter, I invite the young people of the Diocese of Rome to a penitential liturgy that I will preside over on the afternoon of Thursday, March 29, in St. Peter's Basilica. Those who wish to may approach the sacrament of confession, a true encounter with God's love, which every man needs to live in joy and in peace.


Benedict XVI's Address to Communion and Liberation
"Movements Are Really Gifts of the Holy Spirit"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave to the lay movement Communion and Liberation on Saturday in St. Peter's Square. The ecclesial entity was celebrating the 25th anniversary of its pontifical recognition.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a really a great pleasure for me to welcome you here today, in this St Peter's Square on the occasion of the 25 anniversary of the pontifical recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. Perhaps we expected the sun, but even water is a sign of grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. I address my cordial greetings to each one of you, particularly to the prelates, the priests and the directors here present.

In particular I greet Father Julián Carrón, president of your fraternity, and I thank him for the fine and profound words addressed to me in the name of you all.

My first thought goes -- it's obvious -- to your founder Monsignor Luigi Giussani, to whom many memories tie me, since he had become a true friend to me. Our last meeting, as Father Carrón mentioned, took place in Milan Cathedral two years ago, when our beloved Pope John Paul II sent me to preside at his solemn funeral.

Through him the Holy Spirit aroused in the Church a movement -- yours -- that would witness the beauty of being Christians in an epoch in which the opinion was spreading that Christianity was something tiresome and oppressive to live. Father Giussani, then, set himself to reawaken in the youth the love for Christ, the way, the truth and the life, repeating that only he is the road toward the realization of the deepest desires of man's heart; and that Christ saves us not despite our humanity, but through it.

As I recalled in the homily at his funeral, this courageous priest, who grew up in a home poor in bread but rich in music, as he himself liked to say, right from the start was touched, or rather wounded by the desire for beauty, and not any kind of beauty, but he was searching for beauty itself, the infinite beauty that he found in Christ. How can we not recall Father Giussani's many encounters with my venerated predecessor John Paul II?

On an anniversary dear to you, the Pope pointed out that the original educative innovation lies in reproposing in a fascinating way, in tune with contemporary culture, the Christian event, perceived as the source of new values and capable of giving direction to the whole of existence. The event that changed the life of the founder wounded, so to speak, the lives of very many of his spiritual children, and gave rise to the many religious and ecclesial experiences that form the history of your vast and articulated spiritual family.

Communion and Liberation is a communitarian experience of faith, born in the Church not from a will to organize of the hierarchy, but originated from a renewed encounter with Christ and thus, we can say, from an impulse that derives ultimately from the Holy Spirit. Still today, this offers itself as an opportunity to live the Christian faith in a deep and up-to-date way, on one hand with a total fidelity and communion with the Successor of Peter and with the pastors who ensure the government of the Church, and on the other hand with a spontaneity and a freedom that permit new and prophetic apostolic and missionary realizations.

Dear friends, your movement thus inserts itself in that vast flourishing of associations and movements and new ecclesial realities providentially aroused in the Church by the Holy Spirit after the Second Vatican Council. Every gift of the Spirit finds itself in its origin and necessarily at the service of the building up of the Body of Christ, offering a witness of the immense charity of God for the life of all men. The reality of the ecclesial movements is therefore a sign of the fecundity of the Spirit of the Lord, so that the victory of the risen Christ be manifested in the world, and the missionary task entrusted to the whole Church be realized.

In the message to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements, May 27, 1998, John Paul II repeated, that in the Church there is no contrast or contraposition between the institutional dimension and the charismatic dimension, of which the movements are a meaningful expression, because both are co-essential to the divine constitution of the People of God, and in the Church even the essential institutions are charismatic, and, in any case, the charisms, in one way or another, have to institutionalise themselves in order to have cohesion and continuity.

Both originated by the same Holy Spirit for the same Body of Christ concur together so as to make present the Mystery and the salvific work of Christ in the world. This explains the attention with which the Pope and the pastors look at the wealth of the charismatic gifts in the present day.

In this regard, during a recent meeting with the clergy and parish priests of Rome, recalling St. Paul's invitation in the first letter to the Thessalonians not to quench the charisms, I said that if the Lord gives us new gifts we ought to be grateful, even though they can be uncomfortable together. At the same time, since the Church is one, if the movements are really gifts of the Holy Spirit, they must insert themselves more into the community of the Church, thus in patient dialogue with the pastors they can constitute constructive elements for the today's Church and tomorrow's.

Dear brothers and sisters, on another occasion very meaningful for you, John Paul II entrusted you with this mandate, and I quote, "Go out into the whole world to bring the truth, the beauty and the peace that are met in the encounter with Christ the redeemer."

Father Giussani made those words the program of the whole movement, and for Communion and Liberation it was the start of a missionary period that took you to 80 countries. Today I invite you to go ahead on this road with a deep, personalized faith, solidly rooted in the living Body of Christ, the Church which guarantees Jesus' contemporaneity with us.

Let us conclude this meeting directing our thought to Our Lady, in the recitation of the Angelus. As we know Father Giussani had great devotion for her, nourished by the invocation "Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam," and by the recitation of Dante Alighieri's Hymn to the Virgin, that you repeated earlier this morning.

May the Holy Virgin accompany you and help you to pronounce generously your yes to the will of God in every circumstance. You can count, dear friends, on my constant recollection in prayer, while with affection I bless all of you here present and the whole of your spiritual family.


Papal Address to Circolo San Pietro
"Yours Is a Silent Witness of Love for Human Life"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's March 8 address to the members of the "Circolo San Pietro."

Hall of Popes
Thursday, 8 March 2007

Dear Friends,

Thank you for coming to this meeting, with which you wish to renew the sentiments of affection and devotion that bind your Sodality to the Successor of the Apostle Peter.

I offer you all my cordial greeting. I greet the members of the General Presidency of your praiseworthy Circle, and especially Don Leopoldo dei Duchi Torlonia, the President, to whom I also express my gratitude for his kind words on your behalf, describing your liturgical and charitable activities.

I extend my thoughts to your Chaplain, your families and all who work in various capacities in the activities you organize.

This annual meeting, which now has a long tradition, takes place in connection with the Feast of the Chair of St Peter in order to highlight your Circle's special fidelity to the Holy See -- which you wish to emphasize -- and to present to the Pope the Collection of the traditional Peter's Pence which you organize in the parishes and institutions of the Diocese of Rome.

The ancient collection of Peter's Pence, which in a certain way already existed in the early Christian Communities, stems from an awareness that every member of the faithful is also called to provide material support for the work of evangelization, and at the same time to go generously to the aid of the poor and needy, mindful of Jesus' words: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).

Thanks to the pooling of material resources, we read in the Acts of the Apostles, "There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the Apostles' feet" (Acts 4:34ff.); and further, "The disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea" (Acts 11:29).

This ecclesial practice developed down the centuries, adapted to the different requirements of the times, and still continues today. In every diocese and in every parish and religious community, Peter's Pence are collected every year and sent to the centre of the Church to be redistributed as required by the needs and requests that the Pope receives from every corner of the earth.

There have been times in the Church's history when the financial support donated to the Successor of Peter by Christians turned out to be quite considerable, as can be clearly understood from what, for example, Blessed Pius IX wrote in his Encyclical Saepe Venerabilis, promulgated on 5 August 1871: "We received in greater abundance than usual the Peter's Pence with which the poor and the rich spare no efforts to come to the aid of the poverty made known to us; and in addition, there are the many, various and most noble gifts and a splendid tribute of Christian art and genius, particularly suited to highlighting the twofold, spiritual and regal power which God has conferred upon us" (Ench. Enc., 2, n. 452, p. 609; in the Tablet 38 [26 Aug. 1871], 274).

In our time too, the Church continues to spread the Gospel and to cooperate in building a more fraternal and supportive humanity. And it is precisely thanks to Peter's Pence that she can accomplish her mission of evangelization and human advancement.

I am therefore grateful to you for your commitment in collecting the donations of the people of Rome, which are, as your President emphasized, a sign of their gratitude for the pastoral and charitable activity of the Successor of Peter.

I know that you are motivated by zeal and generosity: may the Lord reward you and make your ecclesial service fruitful, and may he also help you to implement every initiative of your Circle.

Among its projects, I would like in particular to recall the precious service you have been offering for more than six years to the Sacred Heart Hospice, where the daily presence of your volunteers is a comfort to the sick and their relatives: yours is a silent but especially eloquent witness of love for human life, which deserves attention and respect to its very last breath.

Dear friends, we are in the Lenten Season, during which the liturgy reminds us that together with the commitment to prayer and fasting we should combine attention to our brothers and sisters, especially those in difficulty, by going to their aid with gestures and acts of material and spiritual support.

Today, I repeat to you the invitation I addressed to every Christian in my Message for Lent, that is, my hope that this liturgical season may be for everyone "a renewed experience of God's love given to us in Christ, a love that each day we, in turn, must "re-give' to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need" (Message for Lent 2007, 21 November 2006; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 February 2007, p. 7).

As I express once again my gratitude for your visit today, I encourage you to continue your charitable work enthusiastically, and your formal duty of welcoming the faithful in the Vatican Basilica and at the celebrations at which the Pope presides.

I entrust you to the motherly protection of Mary, whom you invoke as Salus Populi Romani. With these sentiments, as I assure you of my remembrance in prayer for you and for your initiatives, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you all.


Papal Address to Fabbrica di San Pietro
"You Who Work Here Are 'Living Stones'"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's March 14 address to the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office in charge of construction matters related to St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *


Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
dear Friends,

I am very pleased to have this meeting with you at the headquarters of an ancient and distinguished Papal Institution: the Fabric of St Peter's. I first greet Archbishop Angelo Comastri, Archpriest of St Peter's Basilica and your President, who has expressed your common sentiments. I then greet Bishop Vittorio Lanzani, Delegate of the Fabric, and each one of you.

You work in the Apostle's venerable Basilica which is the heart of the Catholic Church, a vibrant heart, thanks to the Holy Spirit who always keeps it alive but also thanks to the activity of those who daily ensure it fulfils its role.

As Archbishop Comastri recalled, just over 500 years have passed since the foundation stone of the second Vatican Basilica was laid: yet, it is still alive and young, it is not a museum, it is a spiritual organism and even the stones feel its vitality!

You who work here, first among others, are the "living stones", as the Apostle Peter wrote, living stones of the spiritual edifice which is the Church.

I am happy to have this meeting with you, even if it is brief, to close the celebrations of the fifth centenary of the Vatican Basilica, where you carry out your duties.

I would like to take this opportunity to recall at this moment all your colleagues who preceded you in the past 500 years. I express my gratitude to you for all that you do with commitment and competence to enable this "heart" of the Church, as I said above, to continue to beat with perennial vitality, attracting men and women of the whole world and helping them to have a spiritual experience that marks their life.

In fact, thanks to your contribution, almost always unseen but always appropriate, a great many people, pilgrims from all parts of the world, are able to make the most of their pilgrimage or simply their visit to the Vatican Basilica, and take back with them in their hearts a message of faith and hope: a certainty of having seen not only great works of art but of being in contact with the Church alive, with the Apostle Peter and in the end, with Christ.

Once again, I thank and encourage you: always do your work as an act of love for the Church, for St Peter and hence, for Christ.

I entrust you all, you and your loved ones, to the special protection of St Peter and, as I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and ask you to reciprocate by praying for me, I cordially bless you all.


On St. Justin Martyr
He Considered Christianity the "True Philosophy" (March 21, 2007)

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With these catecheses we are reflecting on the great figures of the early Church. Today, we will talk about St. Justin, philosopher and martyr, the most important among the apologist fathers of the second century.

The term "apologist" refers to those ancient Christian writers who wanted to defend the new religion from the weighty accusations of the pagans and the Jews, and to spread Christian doctrine in terms understandable for the times.

Thus, the apologists have a twofold objective: the properly apologetic one, that is, to defend newborn Christianity (in fact, the Greek word "apologhía" means defend); and the "missionary" objective, which seeks to explain the faith using language and ideas which were understandable to their contemporaries.

Justin was born around the year 100, near the ancient city of Sichem, in Samaria, in the Holy Land. For a long time he searched for truth, passing through the various schools of traditional Greek philosophy.

Finally -- as he himself tells in the first chapters of his "Dialogue with Trypho" -- a mysterious person, an old man he met on the beach, initially unsettles Justin by showing him that it is impossible for the human person to satisfy the desire for the divine with human strengths alone.

Then, this man pointed to the ancient prophets as the ones who could show Justin the path to God and "true philosophy." Before leaving, the old man exhorts him to pray so that the doors of light would be opened to him.

The story symbolizes a crucial moment in Justin's life: At the end of a long philosophical journey in search of truth, he comes to find Christianity. He then founded a school in Rome, where, for free, he initiated his students into the new religion, which he considered the true philosophy.

In this religion, in fact, he had found the truth and, therefore, the way to live uprightly. Because of this he was denounced and decapitated around the year 165, under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the emperor-philosopher to whom Justin had dedicated an "Apologia."

His two "Apologies" and the "Dialogue with Trypho" are the only works of his still in existence. In them, Justin aims above all to show the divine projects of creation and of salvation brought about by Christ, the "Logos," that is, the eternal Word, eternal Reason, creative Reason.

Every person, as a rational creature, participates in the "Logos," carrying within himself a "seed," and can perceive glimmers of truth. In this way, the same "Logos," who had revealed himself as a prophetic image to the Jews in the Old Covenant, had also partially revealed himself, as with "seeds of truth," in Greek philosophy.

Thus, Justin concludes, given that Christianity is a historical and personal manifestation of the "Logos" in its entirety, "all that is beautiful which has been expressed by anyone, belongs to us Christians" (II Apologia 13,4). In this way, Justin, even while contesting Greek philosophy for its contradictions, decidedly directs any philosophical truth toward the "Logos," justifying from a rational viewpoint the unusual "pretension" of truth and the universality of the Christian religion.

If the Old Testament tends toward Christ in the same way that a figure tends toward the reality which it represents, Greek philosophy also tends toward Christ and the Gospel, just as a part tends toward union with the whole.

And he says that these two realities, the Old Testament and Greek philosophy, are like two roads leading to Christ, to the "Logos." This is why Greek philosophy cannot be opposed to evangelical truth, and Christians may confidently draw from it, as if it was their own possession. This is why my venerable predecessor, Pope John Paul II, defined Justin as a "pioneer of a positive engagement with philosophical thinking -- albeit with cautious discernment. Although he continued to hold Greek philosophy in high esteem after his conversion, Justin claimed with power and clarity that he had found in Christianity 'the only sure and profitable philosophy,' ("Dialogue with Trypho" 8,1)" ("Fides et Ratio," No. 38).

On the whole, the person and the work of Justin mark the ancient Church's decisive option for philosophy, because of reason, instead of pagan religions. In fact, the first Christians refused any compromise with the pagan religion. They considered it idolatry, even at the cost of being accused as "impious" and "atheists." In particular and especially in his first "Apology," Justin harshly criticized the pagan religion and its myths, which he considered diabolical "disorientations" on the path to truth.

Instead, philosophy represented the privileged meeting place for paganism, Judaism and Christianity, precisely at the level of critiquing the pagan religion and its false myths.

Another apologist, Justin's contemporary, Bishop Melito of Sardis, defined the new religion as "our philosophy …" ("Hist. Eccl." 4,26,7).

In fact, the pagan religion did not walk along the path of the "Logos," but insisted on following its myths even if recognized by Greek philosophy as inconsistent with the truth. Therefore, the fall of the pagan religion was inevitable: It was the logical consequence of detaching religion from the truth of things, reducing it to a fake collection of ceremonies, traditions and customs.

Justin, and with him other apologists, took the position of the Christian faith as the God of the philosophers instead of the false gods of the pagan religion. It was a choice for the truth of being versus the myth of traditions. Some decades after Justin, Tertullian defined the same option of the Christians with a perennially valid phrase: "Dominus noster Christus veritatem se, non consuetudinem, cognominavit -- Christ said he was the truth, not the tradition" ("De virgin. vel." 1,1).

Note that the term "consuetudo," used here by Tertullian with reference to the pagan religion, may be translated in modern languages with expressions like "cultural fashions" or "fads."

In an era such as ours, marked by relativism in the debate on values and on religion -- as well as in interreligious dialogue -- this is a lesson that should not be forgotten. With this objective, and here I'll conclude, I again present to you the words of the mysterious old man that Justin found by the sea: "You, above all, pray that the doors of light will be opened for you. For, no one can see nor understand if God and his Christ do not give him understanding" ("Dial." 7,3).


On the Eucharist
"It Nourishes That Profound Joy in Believers"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I have just returned from the Juvenile Detention Center in the Casal di Marmo in Rome. I went there to visit on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, which we call in Latin "Laetare" (rejoice) from the first word of the entrance antiphon of the liturgy of today's Mass.

Today the liturgy invites us to rejoice because Easter is drawing near, the day of Christ's victory over sin and death. But where do we find the source of Christian joy if not in the Eucharist, which Christ has left us as spiritual food while we are pilgrims on earth? In every age the Eucharist nourishes that profound joy in believers that makes us all one with love and with peace. This joy has its origin in our communion with God and with our brothers.

Last Tuesday the postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" was presented. This document has as its theme the Eucharist as source and summit of the life and mission of the Church. I elaborated this theme, gathering the fruits of the 11th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that took place in the Vatican in October 2005.

I plan to return to such an important text but at the moment I would like to underline that it is an expression of the faith of the universal Church in the eucharistic mystery, and that it places itself in continuity with the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of my venerated predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II.

In this document I wanted, among other things, to highlight its connection with the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est": That is why I chose "Sacramentum Caritatis" as the title, retrieving St. Thomas Aquinas' beautiful definition of the Eucharist (cf. Summa Theologiae III, q. 73, a. 3, ad 3), "sacrament of charity."

Yes, in the Eucharist, Christ wanted to give to us his love, which led him to offer his life for us on the cross.

During the Last Supper, washing the disciples' feet, Jesus left us the commandment of love: "Love one another as I have loved you," (John 13:34). But because this is possible only so long as we remain united with him, as branches of the vine (John 15:1-8), he chose to stay with us in the Eucharist, and this is what makes it possible for us to remain in him.

Therefore, when we nourish ourselves in faith with his body and his blood, his love passes into us and renders us able in turn to give our lives for the brethren (cf. 1 John 3:16). From here flows Christian joy, the joy of love.

The "eucharistic woman" par excellence is Mary, the masterpiece of divine grace: God's love made her immaculate and "in his presence in charity" (Ephesians 1:4). God placed St. Joseph -- whose liturgical solemnity we will celebrate tomorrow -- by her side, to guide the Redeemer.

I particularly invoke this great saint so that believing, celebrating, and living with faith the Eucharistic mystery, the people of God will be pervaded by the love of Christ and will spread the fruits of joy and peace through all humanity.


Papal Address to University Students (Marian vigil)
"Intellectual Charity as a Force of the Human Spirit" (March 15, 2007)

Paul VI Audience Hall
Saturday, 10 March 2007

Dear Young University Students,

I am very pleased to address my cordial greeting to you at the end of the Marian Vigil which the Vicariate of Rome has organized on the occasion of the European University Students' Day.

I thank Cardinal Camillo Ruini and Mons. Lorenzo Leuzzi, as well as those who have cooperated in the initiative: the Academic Institutions, the Conservatories, the Ministry for Universities and Research and the Ministry for Communications.

I congratulate the conductors of the orchestra and of the large choir, as well as you, dear musicians and choir members. As I welcome you, Roman friends, my thoughts turn with equal affection to your peers who, thanks to radio and television link-ups, have been able to take part in this moment of prayer and reflection in several Cities of Europe and Asia: Prague, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Bologna, Krakow, Turin, Manchester, Manila, Coimbra, Tirana and Islamabad-Rawalpindi. This "network", set up with the collaboration of the Vatican Television Centre, Vatican Radio and Telespazio, is truly a sign of the times, a sign of hope.

It is a "network" which demonstrates its full value if we reflect on the theme of today's vigil: "Intellectual charity for a new Europe-Asia cooperation".

It is evocative to think of intellectual charity as a force of the human spirit capable of bringing together the formation processes of the new generations.

More globally, intellectual charity can unite the existential journey of young people who, while living very far away from one another, succeed in feeling bound to one another on the level of interior inquiry and witness.

This evening, we will build a spiritual bridge between Europe and Asia, a Continent of very rich spiritual traditions where several of humanity's oldest and most noble cultural traditions developed. Consequently, how important this meeting is!

The young university students of Rome have made themselves champions of brotherhood under the banner of intellectual love; they seek a solidarity that is not motivated by financial or political interests but by study and the search for truth.

In brief, we are in a true "university" perspective, that is, a perspective of the community of knowledge that is one of the constitutive elements of Europe. Thank you, dear young people.

I now address those who are connected with us in the different cities and nations.

In Czech:

Dear young people who have gathered together in Prague, may friendship with Christ always enlighten your studies and your personal growth!

In English:

Dear university students from Calcutta, Hong Kong, Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Manchester and Manila, may you bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ takes nothing away from us but brings to fulfilment our deepest longings for life and truth!

In Polish:

Dear friends in Krakow, always treasure the teachings that venerable Pope John Paul II bequeathed to young people, and in a special way, to university students!

In Portuguese:

Dear university students of Coimbra, may the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, be your guide so that you will become true disciples and witnesses of Christian wisdom!

In Albanian:

Dear young people of Tirana, strive to build the new Albania as protagonists, drawing on the Christian roots of Europe!

In Italian:

Dear university students of Bologna and Turin, ensure that the construction of the new humanism, based on creative dialogue between faith and reason, does not lack your original and creative contribution!

Dear friends, we are living the Lenten Season and the liturgy continually urges us to strengthen the way in which we follow Christ. This Vigil too, in accordance with the tradition of the World Youth Days, can be considered a stage in the spiritual pilgrimage guided by the Cross.

And the mystery of the Cross is not unconnected with the theme of intellectual charity, indeed, it illumines it.

Christian wisdom is the wisdom of the Cross: may Christian students and especially Christian teachers interpret every reality in the light of the mystery of God's love, whose loftiest and fullest revelation is the Cross.

Once again, dear young people, I entrust to you the Cross of Christ: welcome it, embrace it, follow it. It is the tree of life!

At its foot you will always find Mary, Mother of Jesus. With her, Seat of Wisdom, turn your gaze to the One who was pierced for our sake (cf. Jn 19:37), contemplate the inexhaustible source of love and truth, and you too will be able to become joyful disciples and witnesses.

This is the wish that I express to each one of you. I accompany it wholeheartedly with prayer and with my Blessing, which I willingly extend to all your loved ones.


Benedict XVI's Address on Paul VI
"A Firm and Wise Helmsman of the Barque of Peter"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the March 3 address Benedict XVI gave to members of the Paul VI Institute.

* * *


Saturday, 3 March 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome each one of you who belong to the Scientific Committee and to the Executive Committee of the Paul VI Institute, sponsored by Brescia's "Society for Christian Education" for the purpose of encouraging the study of the life, thought and work of this unforgettable Pontiff.

I greet you all cordially, starting with the Cardinals present. In particular, I greet Dr Giuseppe Camadini and thank him for the words he has addressed to me in his capacity as President of your Institute.

I then offer a special greeting to Bishop Giulio Sanguineti, Pastor of the Diocese in which my venerable Predecessor was born, baptized and ordained a priest. I am also grateful to him for all he does authoritatively to support and accompany the activity of such a praiseworthy Institute.

Thank you, dear friends, for offering me as a gift copies of all your publications to date. This is an immense series of volumes that testify to the considerable amount of work you have done in more than 25 years.

As was said, I too have had an opportunity to become acquainted with your Institute's activities. I have admired its faithfulness to the Magisterium as well as its intention to honour a great Pontiff, whose apostolic yearning you have made it your business to highlight by rigorous research work and high-grade scientific and ecclesial initiatives.

I feel closely and personally bound to the Servant of God Paul VI because of the trust he showed me in appointing me Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977 and, three months later, enrolling me in the College of Cardinals.

He was called by divine Providence to take the helm of the barque of Peter to steer her through a historical period marked by numerous challenges and problems.

In thinking back over the years of his Pontificate, it is striking to note the missionary zeal that motivated him and impelled him to undertake demanding Apostolic Journeys even to distant nations in order to make prophetic gestures of great ecclesial, missionary and ecumenical importance.

He was the first Pope to go to the Land where Christ lived and from which Peter set out on his journey to Rome. That Visit, only six months after his election as Supreme Pastor of the People of God and while the Second Vatican Council was underway, had a clear symbolic meaning. He showed the Church that the path of her mission is to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

This was precisely what Pope Paul VI sought to do during his Petrine ministry, which he always exercised with wisdom and prudence in complete fidelity to the Lord's command.

In fact, the secret of the pastoral action that Paul VI carried out with tireless dedication, at times adopting difficult and unpopular decisions, lies precisely in his love for Christ, a love vibrant with moving words to be found in all his teachings. His soul as a Pastor was totally consumed with missionary zeal, nourished by a sincere desire for dialogue with humanity. His prophetic invitation, several times repeated, to renew the world troubled by anxieties and violence through the "civilization of love", sprang from a total entrustment of himself to Jesus, Redeemer of man.

How can I forget, for example, the words I too heard in the Vatican Basilica, when I was taking part as an expert in the Second Vatican Council at the opening of the Second Session on 29 September 1963?

"Christ, our principle", Paul VI said with deep feeling, and I can still hear his voice, "Christ, our Way and our Guide! Christ, our hope and our destination.... No other light shines out at this meeting except for Christ's, Light of the world; no other truth than the words of the Lord, our one Teacher, concerns our hearts; no other aspiration guides us than the desire to be absolutely faithful to him" (Teachings of Paul VI, I [1963], 170-171). And until he drew his last breath, his thought, his energy and his action were for Christ and for the Church.

The name of this Pontiff, whose greatness public opinion understood on the occasion of his death, continues to be specially linked to the Second Vatican Council. If it was John XXIII who organized and inaugurated the Council, it was left to Paul VI, his Successor, to bring it to completion with an expert, delicate and firm hand. The government of the Church in the post-conciliar period was equally exacting for Pope Montini.

Even when he had to tolerate suffering and sometimes violent attacks, he did not let himself be conditioned by misunderstanding and criticism, but on every occasion remained a firm and wise helmsman of the barque of Peter.

As the years pass, the importance of his Pontificate for the Church and for the world, and likewise, the value of his lofty Magisterium which has inspired his Successors and to which I too continue to refer, appear ever more clearly.

I therefore willingly take this opportunity today to pay him homage, as I encourage you, dear friends, to persevere with the work you started some time ago.

Making my own the exhortation addressed to you by our beloved Pope John Paul II, I gladly repeat to you: "Study Paul VI lovingly.... Study him with scientific thoroughness.... Study him with the conviction that his spiritual heritage continues to enrich the Church and can nourish the consciences of the men of today, who are so much in need of "words of eternal life'" (Address to the Scientific and the Executive Committee of the Paul VI Institute, 26 January 1980; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 4 February, p. 15).

Dear brothers and sisters, thank you once again for your visit; I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and I bless you with affection, and your families and all the projects of the Paul VI Institute of Brescia.


On St. Ignatius of Antioch
"Truly a Doctor of Unity" (March 14, 2007)

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Like last Wednesday, today we are talking about the protagonists in the young Church. Last week, we spoke about Pope Clement I, third successor to St. Peter. Today, we will talk about St. Ignatius, who was "the third bishop of Antioch in Syria, from the year 70 to 107," the year of his martyrdom.

At that time, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch were the three great cities of the Roman Empire. The Council of Nicaea mentions the three "primacies": that of Rome, and Alexandria and Antioch participate, in a certain sense, in a "primacy."

St. Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch, which is now located in Turkey. Here, in Antioch, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, a blossoming Christian community was emerging: Its first bishop was the apostle Peter as is stated in tradition, and "there for the first time the disciples were called Christians" (Act 11:26).

Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth-century historian, dedicates an entire chapter of his Storia Ecclesiastica to the life and works of Ignatius (3,36).

"From Syria," he writes, "Ignatius was sent to Rome to be thrown to the animals, because of his testimony to Christ. Traveling through Asia, under the severe care of the guards" (which he calls "ten leopards" in his Letter to the Romans, 5:1), "in each city where he stopped, with preaching and admonitions, he reinforced the Churches; above all, he would exhort heatedly to watch out for heresy, which were beginning to come about and recommended not straying from the apostolic tradition."

The first stop on Ignatius' trip toward martyrdom was the city of Smyrna, whose bishop was St. Polycarp, a disciple of St. John. Here, Ignatius wrote four letters, respectively to the Church of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome.

Eusebius continues: "Having left Smyrna, Ignatius came to Troas, and from there sent new letters": two to the Churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna, and one to Bishop Polycarp.

Eusebius completes the list of letters, which have come to us from the first-century Church like a precious treasure. Reading these texts, one can feel the freshness of the faith of the generation that had still known the apostles. We can also feel in these letters the ardent love of a saint. Finally from Troas, the martyr reached Rome, where, in the Flavian Amphitheater, he was thrown to the lions.

No other Church Father expressed as intensely as Ignatius the wish for union with Christ and life in him. This is why we have read the Gospel of the vine, which according to the Gospel of St. John is Jesus.

Two spiritual currents can be found in St. Ignatius: St. Paul's tending toward union with Christ and St. John's concentrating on life in him. In turn, these two currents merge into "imitation of Christ" many times proclaimed by Ignatius as my or our God.

Therefore Ignatius begs the Roman Christians to not postpone his martyrdom, because he was "impatient to join Jesus Christ." And explains: "It is beautiful for me to die going toward ('eis') Jesus Christ, rather than reigning to the ends of the earth. I look for him, who died for me, I want him, who was resurrected for us. … Let me imitate the Passion of my God!" (Romans 5-6).

In these expressions of burning love we can see the specific Christological realism typical of the Church of Antioch, evermore attentive to the incarnation of the Son of God and his true and concrete humanity. Ignatius writes to the Smyrnaeans, "He is truly of the line of David … truly born of a virgin … truly was he nailed for us" (1,1).

Ignatius' irresistible tension toward union with Christ founds a real "mystique of unity." He defines himself as "a man who has been given the duty of unity" (Philadelphians 8,1).

For Ignatius, union is "above all a prerogative of God who being three," is one in absolute union. He often repeats that God is union and only in God can this be found in the pure and original state. The union to be reached in this world by Christians is but an imitation, the closest possible to the divine archetype. In this way, Ignatius elaborates a vision of the Church, closely recalling certain expression of the Letter to the Corinthians by Clement of Rome.

For example, he writes to the Christians of Ephesus: "Wherefore it is fitting that you should run in accordance with the will of your bishop, a thing you also do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison you may with one voice sing" (4,1-2).

And after having advised the Smyrnaeans to not "undertake anything regarding the Church without the bishop" (8,1), he confides to Polycarp: "I offer my life for those obeying the bishop, the presbyters and the deacons. May I, with them, have a part with God. Work together one with the other, fight together, run together, suffer together, sleep and wake together as administrators of God, his assessors and servants. Please him under whom you fight and from whom you receive grace. May none of you be found deserting. May your baptism remain a shield, faith as a helmet, charity as a lance, patience as armor" (6,1-2).

In general, in Ignatius' letters, we can see a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between the two aspects characteristic of Christian life: on one hand the hierarchical structure of the ecclesial community, and on the other hand, the fundamental union that links all the faithful in Christ. Therefore the roles cannot be opposed. On the contrary, the insistence on communion of the faithful among themselves and with their pastors is continually formulated through eloquent images and analogies: the harp, the chords, the tone, the concert, the symphony. The specific responsibility of the bishops, the presbyters and the deacons in the building of the community is evident. To them above all, the invitation to love and union is valid.

Ignatius writes to the Magnesians, taking up Jesus' prayer during the Last Supper: "Be as one. One supplication, one mind one hope in love. … Come all to Jesus Christ as the only temple of God, as the one altar; he is one, and proceeding from the one Father, he remained in union with him, and returned to him in union" (7,1-2).

Ignatius was the first one in Christian literature to give the Church the adjective "Catholic," that is, "universal." He states: "Where Jesus Christ is, so is the Catholic Church" (Smyrnaeans 8,2).

It is in the service of union to the Catholic Church that the Christian community of Rome exercises a sort of primacy in love: "In Rome, it presides worthy of God, venerable worthy of being called blessed. … Presiding over charity, who bears the law of Christ and the name of Father" (Romans, prologue).

As we can see, Ignatius is "truly a doctor of unity": unity of God and unity of Christ (despite the various heresies that had begun to spread and divided humanity and divinity in Christ), unity of the Church, unity of the faithful "in faith and charity, of which there is nothing more excellent" (Smyrnaeans 6,1).

In conclusion, the realism of Ignatius invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to a progressive synthesis between configuration to Christ (union with him, life in him) and dedication to his Church (union with the bishop, generous service to the community and the world).

In other words, one must achieve a synthesis between communion of the Church within itself and the mission of proclamation of the Gospel to others, until one dimension speaks through the other, and believers are evermore "in possession of that indivisible spirit that is Jesus Christ himself" (Magnesians 15).

Imploring this "grace of union" of the Lord, and with the conviction of presiding charity throughout the Church (cf. Romans, prologue), I wish you the same desire that ends the Letter by Ignatius to the Trallians: "Love one another with an undivided heart. My spirit is offered in sacrifice for you not only now, but also when you have reached God. … In Christ may you be found without sin" (13). And we pray that the Lord may help us in achieving this unity and to be found without sin, because love purifies the spirit.


Pope's Letter to the Camaldolese Order
On the Life of St. Peter Damian (Feb 20, 2007)

* * *
To Rev. Fr Guido Innocenzo Gargano, Superior of the Monastery of San Gregorio al Celio

Today's Feast of St Peter Damian offers me the pleasant opportunity to address a cordial greeting to all the members of the worthy Camaldolese Order, as well as to those who admire and are inspired by the figure and work of this great Gospel witness. He was one of the protagonists of Medieval Church history and undoubtedly the most prolific writer of the 11th century.

The 1,000th anniversary of his birth is an especially appropriate occasion to examine closely the aspects characterizing his multifacetted personality as scholar, hermit and man of the Church, but especially as a person in love with Christ.

In his life, St Peter Damian was proof of a successful synthesis of hermitic and pastoral activity. As a hermit, he embodied that Gospel radicalism and unreserved love for Christ, so well expressed in the Rule of St Benedict: "Prefer nothing, absolutely nothing, to the love of Christ".

As a man of the Church, he worked with farsighted wisdom and when necessary also made hard and courageous decisions. The whole of his human and spiritual life was played out in the tension between his life as a hermit and his ecclesiastical duty.

St Peter Damian was above all a hermit, indeed, the last theoretician of the hermitic life in the Latin Church exactly at the time of the East-West schism. In his interesting work entitled The Life of Blessed Romuald, he left us one of the most significant fruits of the monastic experience of the undivided Church. For him, the hermitic life was a strong call to rally all Christians to the primacy of Christ and his lordship.

It is an invitation to discover Christ's love for the Church, starting from his relationship with the Father; a love that the hermit must in turn nourish with, for and in Christ, in regard to the entire People of God. St Peter Damian felt the presence of the universal Church in the hermitic life so strongly that he wrote in his ecclesiological treatise entitled Dominus Vobiscum that the Church is at the same time one in all and all in each one of her members.

This great holy hermit was also an eminent man of the Church who made himself available to move from the hermitage to go wherever his presence might be required in order to mediate between contending parties, were they Churchmen, monks or simple faithful.

Although he was radically focused on the unum necessarium, he did not shirk the practical demands that love for the Church imposed upon him. He was impelled by his desire that the Ecclesial Community always show itself as a holy and immaculate Bride ready for her heavenly Bridegroom, and expressed with a lively ars oratoria his sincere and disinterested zeal for the Church's holiness.

Yet, after each ecclesial mission he would return to the peace of the hermitage at Fonte Avellana and, free from all ambition, he even reached the point of definitively renouncing the dignity of Cardinal so as not to distance himself from his hermitic solitude, the cell of his hidden existence in Christ.

Lastly, St Peter Damien was the soul of the "Riforma gregoriana", which marked the passage from the first to the second millennium and whose heart and driving force was St Gregory VII. It was, in fact, a matter of the application of institutional decisions of a theological,disciplinary and spiritual character which permitted a greater libertas Ecclesiae in the second millennium. They restored the breath of great theology with reference to the Fathers of the Church and in particular, to St Augustine, St Jerome and St Gregory the Great. With his pen and his words he addressed all: he asked his brother hermits for the courage of a radical self-giving to the Lord which would as closely as possible resemble martyrdom; he demanded of the Pope, Bishops and ecclesiastics a high level of evangelical detachment from honours and privileges in carrying out their ecclesial functions; he reminded priests of the highest ideal of their mission that they were to exercise by cultivating purity of morals and true personal poverty.

In an age marked by forms of particularism and uncertainties because it was bereft of a unifying principle, Peter Damien, aware of his own limitations -- he liked to define himself as peccator monachus -- passed on to his contemporaries the knowledge that only through a constant harmonious tension between the two fundamental poles of life -- solitude and communion -- can an effective Christian witness develop. Does not this teaching also apply to our times? I gladly express the hope that the celebration of the Millennium of his birth may not only contribute to rediscovering the timeliness and depth of his thought and action, but may also be an appropriate opportunity for a personal and communitarian spiritual renewal, starting constantly from Jesus Christ, "the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb 13:8).

I assure a remembrance in prayer for you and for all the Camaldolese Monk Hermits to whom I send a special Apostolic Blessing, gladly extending it to all those who share their spirituality.

From the Vatican, 20 February 2007



Pope Benedict's post-synodal Exhortation on the Eucharist
(Feb 22,'07)


Papal Address to Officials of Academy for Life
"Formation of a True Conscience Is Indispensable"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the Feb. 24 address Benedict XVI delivered to those participating in the general assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

* * *


Clementine Hall
Saturday, 24 February 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is a true joy for me to receive the Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life in this Audience, held on the occasion of the 13th General Assembly, and those who are participating at this Congress on the theme: " The Christian conscience in support of the right to life".

I greet Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, the Archbishops and Bishops present, brother priests, the Congress speakers and all of you, gathered from various countries. I greet in particular, Archbishop Elio Sgreccia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, whom I thank for the kind words addressed to me and for the work he does together with the Vice-President, the Chancellor and the Board of Directors who carry out the delicate and vast tasks of the Pontifical Academy.

The theme to which you have called the participants' attention, and therefore also that of the Ecclesial Community and of public opinion, is very significant: the Christian conscience, in fact, has an internal need to nourish and strengthen itself with the multiple and profound motivations that work in favour of the right to life.

It is a right that must be sustained by all, because it is the first fundamental right of all human rights. The Encyclical Evangelium Vitae strongly affirms this: "Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded" (n. 2).

The same Encyclical recalls that "believers in Christ must defend and promote this right, aware as they are of the wonderful truth recalled by the Second Vatican Council: "By his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every human being' (Gaudium et Spes, n. 22). This saving event reveals to humanity not only the boundless love of God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son' (Jn 3:16), but also the incomparable value of every human person" (ibid.).

Therefore, the Christian is continually called to be ever alert in order to face the multiple attacks to which the right to life is exposed. In this he knows that he can count on motives that are deeply rooted in the natural law and that can therefore be shared by every person of upright conscience.

In this perspective, above all after the publication of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, much has been done to make the subject matter of these motivations better known in the Christian community and in civil society, but it must be admitted that the attacks on the right to life throughout the world have broadened and multiplied, also assuming new forms.

The pressures to legalize abortion are increasing in Latin American countries and in developing countries, also with recourse to the liberalization of new forms of chemical abortion under the pretext of safeguarding reproductive health: policies for demographic control are on the rise, notwithstanding that they are already recognized as dangerous also on the economic and social plane.

At the same time, the interest in more refined biotechnological research is growing in the more developed countries in order to establish subtle and extensive eugenic methods, even to obsessive research for the "perfect child", with the spread of artificial procreation and various forms of diagnosis tending to ensure good selection.

A new wave of discriminatory eugenics finds consensus in the name of the presumed well-being of the individual, and laws are promoted especially in the economically progressive world for the legalization of euthanasia.

All of this comes about while, on another front, efforts are multiplying to legalize cohabitation as an alternative to matrimony and closed to natural procreation.

In these situations the conscience, sometimes overwhelmed by the powerful collective media, is insufficiently vigilant concerning the gravity of the problems at play, and the power of the strongest weakens and seems to paralyze even people of good will.

For this reason it is necessary to appeal to the conscience, and in particular, to the Christian conscience. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, "Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right" (n. 1778).

From this definition it emerges that the moral conscience, to be able to judge human conduct rightly, above all must be based on the solid foundation of truth, that is, it must be enlightened to know the true value of actions and the solid criteria for evaluation. Therefore, it must be able to distinguish good from evil, even where the social environment, pluralistic culture and superimposed interests do not help it do so.

The formation of a true conscience, because it is founded on the truth, and upright, because it is determined to follow its dictates without contradictions, without betrayal and without compromises, is a difficult and delicate undertaking today, but indispensable.

Unfortunately, many factors hinder this undertaking. In the first place, in the current phase of secularization, called post-modern and marked by disputable forms of tolerance, not only is the rejection of Christian tradition growing, but distrust for the capacity of reason to perceive the truth also distances us from the taste for reflection.

According to some, for individual conscience to be unbiased it must free itself both from references to tradition and those based on human reason.

Hence, the conscience, which as an act of reason aims at the truth of things, ceases to be light and becomes a simple screen upon which the society of the media projects the most contradictory images and impulses.

One must be re-educated to the desire to know authentic truth, to defend one's own freedom of choice in regard to mass behaviour and the lures of propaganda, to nourish passion for moral beauty and a clear conscience. This is the delicate duty of parents and educators who assist them; and it is the duty of the Christian community with regard to its faithful.

Concerning the Christian conscience, its growth and nourishment, one cannot be content with fleeting contact with the principal truths of faith in infancy, but a programme of accompaniment is necessary along the various stages of life, opening the mind and the heart to welcome the fundamental duties upon which the existence of the individual and the community rest.

Only in this way will it be possible to prepare youth to comprehend the values of life, love, marriage and the family. Only in this way can they be brought to appreciate the beauty and the sanctity of the love, joy and responsibility of being parents and collaborators of God in giving life.

In the absence of a continuous and qualified formation, the capacity for judgment of the problems posed by biomedicine in the areas of sexuality, new-born life, procreation, and also in the way to treat and care for patients and the weaker sectors of society, becomes even more problematic.

It is certainly necessary to speak about the moral criteria that regard these themes with professionals, doctors and lawyers, to engage them to elaborate a competent judgment of conscience, and if need be, also a courageous objection of conscience, but an equal need rises from the basic level for families and parish communities in the process of the formation of youth and adults.

Under this aspect, next to Christian formation, whose aim is the knowledge of the Person of Christ, of his Word and Sacraments in the itinerary of faith of children and adolescents, one must consistently fuse the discourse on moral values that regard the body, sexuality, human love, procreation, respect for life at every moment, at the same time with valid and precise motives, reporting behaviour contrary to these primary values.

In this specific field the work of priests must be opportunely flanked by the commitment of lay educators, also specialists, dedicated to the duty to guide the ecclesial reality with their knowledge enlightened by faith.

Therefore, I ask the Lord to send among you, dear brothers and sisters, and among those dedicated to science, medicine, law and politics, witnesses endowed with true and upright consciences in order to defend and promote the "splendour of the truth" and to sustain the gift and mystery of life.

I trust in your help dearest professionals, philosophers, theologians, scientists and doctors. In a society at times chaotic and violent, with your cultural qualifications, by teaching and by example, you can contribute to awakening in many hearts the eloquent and clear voice of conscience.

The Second Vatican Council teaches us that "man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 16). The Council has offered wise directives so that "the faithful should learn to distinguish carefully between the rights and the duties which they have as belonging to the Church and those which fall to them as members of the human society", and "they will strive to unite the two harmoniously, remembering that in every temporal affair they are to be guided by a Christian conscience, since not even in temporal business may any human activity be withdrawn from God's dominion" (Lumen Gentium, n. 36).

For this very reason the Council exhorts lay believers to welcome "what is decided by the Pastors as teachers and rulers of the Church", and then recommends that "Pastors... should recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice" and concludes that "[m]any benefits for the Church are to be expected from this familiar relationship between the laity and the Pastors" (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 37).

When the value of human life is at stake, this harmony between the magisterial function and the committed laity becomes singularly important: life is the first good received from God and is fundamental to all others; to guarantee the right to life for all and in an equal manner for all is the duty upon which the future of humanity depends. The importance of your study meeting emerges also from this perspective.

I entrust the work and the results to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, whom the Christian tradition hails as the true "Mother of all the living". May she assist and guide you! To seal this wish I willingly impart to all of you, to your families and collaborators, the Apostolic Blessing.


Benedict XVI's Address to Media Council
"Safeguard the Common Good ... Uphold the Truth"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 9, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered today in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace to the participants of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

* * *

Your Eminences,

Dear Brother Bishops,

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am glad to welcome you to the Vatican today on the occasion of the annual Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. My thanks go firstly to Archbishop Foley, President of the Council, for his kind introductory comments. To all of you, I wish to express my gratitude for your commitment to the apostolate of social communications, the importance of which cannot be underestimated in our increasingly technological world.

The field of social communications is fast-changing. While the print media struggles to maintain circulation, other forms of media such as radio, television and the Internet are developing at an extraordinary rate. Against the backdrop of globalization, this ascendancy of the electronic media coincides with its increasing concentration in the hands of a few multinational conglomerates whose influence crosses all social and cultural boundaries.

What have been the outcomes and effects of this rise in the media and entertainment industries? I know this question is one that commands your close attention. Indeed, given the media's pervasive role in shaping culture, it concerns all people who take seriously the well-being of civic society.

Undoubtedly much of great benefit to civilization is contributed by the various components of the mass media. One need only think of quality documentaries and news services, wholesome entertainment, and thought-provoking debates and interviews. Furthermore, in regard to the Internet it must be duly recognized that it has opened up a world of knowledge and learning that previously for many could only be accessed with difficulty, if at all. Such contributions to the common good are to be applauded and encouraged.

On the other hand, it is also readily apparent that much of what is transmitted in various forms to the homes of millions of families around the world is destructive. By directing the light of Christ's truth upon such shadows the Church engenders hope. Let us strengthen our efforts to encourage all to place the lit lamp on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the home, the school, and society (cf. Mt 5:14-16)!

In this regard, my message for this year's World Communications Day draws attention to the relationship between the media and young people. My concerns are no different from those of any mother or father, or teacher, or responsible citizen. We all recognize that "beauty, a kind of mirror of the divine, inspires and vivifies young hearts and minds, while ugliness and coarseness have a depressing impact on attitudes and behavior" (No. 2). The responsibility to introduce and educate children and young people into the ways of beauty, truth and goodness is therefore a grave one. It can be supported by media conglomerates only to the extent that they promote fundamental human dignity, the true value of marriage and family life, and the positive achievements and goals of humanity.

I appeal again to the leaders of the media industry to advise producers to safeguard the common good, to uphold the truth, to protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family. And in encouraging all of you gathered here today, I am confident that care will be taken to ensure that the fruits of your reflections and study are effectively shared with particular Churches through parish, school and diocesan structures.

To all of you, your colleagues and the members of your families at home I impart my Apostolic Blessing.


Pope's Meeting With Roman Clergy
"Contemplation Is Expressed in Works of Charity"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the first part of the Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Feb. 22 session of questions-and-answers with Roman clergy.

Parts 2 and 3 will be published on Friday and Sunday.

* * *


Hall of Blessings
Thursday, 22 February 2007

The first question was addressed to the Holy Father by Mons. Pasquale Silla, Rector at the Shrine of Santa Maria del Divino Amore at Castel di Leva, not far from Rome. Mons. Silla recalled Benedict XVI's Visit to the Shrine on 1 May 2006 and his request to the parish community for powerful prayer for the Bishop of Rome and his collaborators, as well as for the priests and faithful of the Diocese. In response to this request, the community of Our Lady of Divine Love attempted to give the best possible quality to prayer in all its forms, especially liturgical prayer: one of the results of this commitment is the Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist that will begin at the Shrine on 25 March. In the field of charity, the Shrine is concentrating on broadening its outreach, especially in the area of welfare for minors, families and the elderly. In this perspective, Mons. Silla asked Pope Benedict XVI for practical instructions to enable the Shrine to play an increasingly effective role in the Diocese.

Pope Benedict XVI: I would like first of all to say that I am glad and happy to feel here that I am truly the Bishop of a large Diocese. The Cardinal Vicar said that you are expecting light and comfort. And I must say that to see so many priests of all generations is light and comfort to me. Above all, I have already learned something from the first question, and to my mind this is another essential element of our Meeting. Here I can hear the actual living voices of parish priests and their pastoral experiences; thus, above all I can learn about your concrete situation, your queries, your experiences and your difficulties, and live them not only in the abstract but in authentic dialogue with real parish life.

I now come to the first question. It seems to me, basically, that you have also supplied the answer as to what this Shrine can do. ... I know that this Marian Shrine is the one best loved by the people of Rome. During the several Visits I paid to the ancient Shrine, I also felt the age-old devotion. One senses the presence of the prayer of generations and one can almost tangibly feel Our Lady's motherly presence.

In the encounter with Mary, it is truly possible to experience an encounter with the centuries-old Marian devotion as well as with the desires, needs, sufferings and joys of the generations. Thus, this Shrine, visited by people with their hopes, questions, requests and sufferings, is an essential factor for the Diocese of Rome.

We are seeing more and more that Shrines are a source of life and faith in the universal Church, hence, also in the Church of Rome. In my Country, I had the experience of making pilgrimages on foot to our national Shrine of Altötting. It is an important popular mission.

Young people in particular go there. As pilgrims walking for three days, they experience the atmosphere of prayer and an examination of conscience and rediscover, as it were, their Christian awareness of the faith. These three days of pilgrimage on foot are days of confession and prayer, they are a true journey towards Our Lady, towards the family of God and also towards the Eucharist.

Pilgrims go on foot to Our Lady, and with Our Lady they go to the Lord, to the Eucharistic encounter, preparing themselves for interior renewal with confession. They live anew the Eucharistic reality of the Lord who gives himself, just as Our Lady gave her own flesh to the Lord, thereby opening the door to the Incarnation.

Our Lady gave her flesh for the Incarnation and thereby made possible the Eucharist, where we receive the Flesh that is Bread for the world. In going to the encounter with Our Lady, young people themselves learn to offer their own flesh, their daily life, so that it may be given over to the Lord. And they learn to believe and little by little to say "yes" to the Lord.

I would therefore say, to return to the question, that the Shrine as such, as a place of prayer, confession and the celebration of the Eucharist, provides a great service in the Church today for the Diocese of Rome. I therefore think that the essential service, of which, moreover, you have spoken in practical terms, is precisely that of providing a place of prayer, of sacramental life and of a life of practised charity.

If I have understood correctly, you spoke of four dimensions of prayer. The first is personal. And here Mary shows us the way. St Luke says twice that the Virgin Mary "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (2:19; cf. 2:51). She was a person in conversation with God, with the Word of God and also with the events through which God spoke to her.

The Magnificat is a "fabric" woven of words from Sacred Scripture. It shows us how Mary lived in a permanent conversation with the Word of God, and thus, with God himself. Then of course, in life with the Lord, she was also always in conversation with Christ, with the Son of God and with the Trinitarian God. Therefore, let us learn from Mary and speak personally with the Lord, pondering and preserving God's words in our lives and hearts so that they may become true food for each one of us. Thus, Mary guides us at a school of prayer in personal and profound contact with God.

The second dimension you mentioned is liturgical prayer. In the Liturgy, the Lord teaches us to pray, first of all giving us his Word, then introducing us through the Eucharistic Prayer to communion with the mystery of his life, the Cross and the Resurrection.

St Paul once said we do not even know what to ask for: "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26); we do not know how to pray or what to say to God. God, therefore, has given us words of prayer in the Psalter, in the important prayers of the Sacred Liturgy, and precisely in the Eucharistic liturgy itself. Here, he teaches us how to pray.

We enter into the prayer that was formed down the centuries under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and we join in Christ's conversation with the Father. Thus, the Liturgy, above all, is prayer: first listening and then a response, in the Responsorial Psalm, in the prayer of the Church and in the great Eucharistic Prayer. We celebrate it well if we celebrate it with a "prayerful" attitude, uniting ourselves with the Mystery of Christ and his exchange as Son with the Father.

If we celebrate the Eucharist in this way, first as listening and then as a response, hence, as prayer, using the words pointed out to us by the Holy Spirit, then we are celebrating it well. And through our prayer in common, people are attracted to joining the ranks of God's children.

The third dimension is that of popular piety. An important Document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments speaks of this popular piety and tells us how to "guide it". Popular piety is one of our strengths because it consists of prayers deeply rooted in people's hearts. These prayers even move the hearts of people who are somewhat cut off from the life of the Church and who have no special understanding of faith.

All that is required is to "illuminate" these actions and "purify" this tradition so that it may become part of the life of the Church today.

Then comes Eucharistic Adoration. I am very grateful because Eucharistic Adoration is being increasingly renewed. During the Synod on the Eucharist, the Bishops talked a great deal about their experiences, of how new life is being restored to communities with this adoration, and also with nocturnal adoration, and how, precisely in this way, new vocations are also born.

I can say that I will shortly be signing the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, which will then be available to the Church. It is a Document offered precisely for meditation. It will be a help in the liturgical celebration as well as in personal reflection, in the preparation of homilies and in the celebration of the Eucharist. And it will also serve to guide, enlighten and revitalize popular piety.

Lastly, you spoke to us of the Shrine as a place of caritas. I think this is very logical and necessary. A little while ago I read what St Augustine said in Book X of his Confessions: "I was tempted and I now understand that it was a temptation to enclose myself in contemplative life, to seek solitude with you, O Lord; but you prevented me, you plucked me from it and made me listen to St Paul's words: "Christ died for us all. Consequently, we must die with Christ and live for all'. I understood that I cannot shut myself up in contemplation; you died for us all. Therefore, with you, I must live for all and thus practise works of charity. True contemplation is expressed in works of charity. Therefore, the sign for which we have truly prayed, that we have experienced in the encounter with Christ, is that we exist "for others'".

This is what a parish priest must be like. And St Augustine was a great parish priest. He said: "In my life I also always longed to spend my life listening to the Word in meditation, but now -- day after day, hour after hour -- I must stand at the door where the bell is always ringing, I must comfort the afflicted, help the poor, reprimand those who are quarrelsome, create peace and so forth".

St Augustine lists all the tasks of a parish priest, for at that time the Bishop was also what the Kadi in Islamic countries is today. With regard to problems of civil law, let us say, he was the judge of peace: he had to encourage peace between the litigants. He therefore lived a life that for him, a contemplative, was very difficult. But he understood this truth: thus, I am with Christ; in existing "for others", I am in the Crucified and Risen Lord.

I think this is a great consolation for parish priests and Bishops. Even if little time is left for contemplation, in being "for others", we are with the Lord.

You spoke of other concrete elements of charity that are very important. They are also a sign for our society, in particular for children, for the elderly, for the suffering. I therefore believe that with these four dimensions of life he has given us the answer to your question: What should we do at our Shrine?

Fr Maurizio Secondo Mirilli, Parochial Vicar of Santa Bernadette Soubirous Parish and head of the Diocesan Youth Programme, emphasized the demanding task incumbent on priests in their mission to instil faith in the new generations. Fr Mirilli asked the Pope for a word of guidance on how to transmit the joy of the Christian faith to youth, especially in the face of today's cultural challenges, and also asked him to point out the priority topics on which to focus in order to help young men and women to encounter Christ in practice.

Pope Benedict XVI: Thank you for your work for teenagers. We know that the young really must be a priority of our pastoral work because they dwell in a world far from God. And in our cultural context it is not easy to encounter Christ, the Christian life and the faith life.

Young people require so much guidance if they are truly to find this path. I would say -- even if I unfortunately live rather far away from them and so cannot provide very practical instructions -- that the first element is, precisely and above all, guidance. They must realize that living the faith in our time is possible, that it is not a question of something obsolete but rather, that it is possible to live as Christians today and so to find true goodness.

I remember an autobiographical detail in St Cyprian's writings. "I lived in this world of ours", he says, "totally cut off from God because the divinities were dead and God was not visible. And in seeing Christians I thought: it is an impossible life, this cannot be done in our world! Then, however, meeting some of them, joining their company and letting myself be guided in the catechumenate, in this process of conversion to God, I gradually understood: it is possible! And now I am happy at having found life. I have realized that the other was not life, and to tell the truth", he confesses, "even beforehand, I knew that that was not true life".

It seems to me to be very important that the young find people -- both of their own age and older -- in whom they can see that Christian life today is possible, and also reasonable and feasible. I believe there are doubts about both these elements: about its feasibility, because the other paths are very distant from the Christian way of life, and about its reasonableness, because at first glance it seems that science is telling us quite different things and that it is therefore impossible to mark out a reasonable route towards faith in order to show that it is something attuned to our time and our reason.

Thus, the first point is experience, which also opens the door to knowledge. In this regard, the "catechumenate" lived in a new way -- that is, as a common journey through life, a common experience of the possibility of living in this way -- is of paramount importance.

Only if there is a certain experience can one also understand. I remember a piece of advice that Pascal gave to a non-believer friend. He told him: "Try to do what a believer does, then you will see from this experience that it is all logical and true".

I would say that one important aspect is being shown to us at this very moment by Lent. We cannot conceive of immediately living a life that is 100 percent Christian without doubts and without sins. We have to recognize that we are journeying on, that we must and can learn, and also, gradually, that we must convert. Of course, fundamental conversion is a definitive act. But true conversion is an act of life that is achieved through the patience of a lifetime. It is an act in which we must not lose trust and courage on the way.

We must recognize exactly this: we cannot make ourselves perfect Christians from one moment to the next. Yet, it is worth going ahead, being true to the fundamental option, so to speak, then firmly persevering in a process of conversion that sometimes becomes difficult.

Indeed, it can happen that I feel discouraged so that I am in a state of crisis and want to give up everything instantly. We should not allow ourselves to give up immediately, but should take heart and start again. The Lord guides me, the Lord is generous and with his forgiveness I make headway, also becoming generous to others. Thus, we truly learn love for our neighbour and Christian life, which implies this perseverance in forging ahead.

As for the important topics, I would say that it is important to know God. The subject "God" is essential. St Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians: "Remember that you were at that time... having no hope and without God.... But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near" (Eph 2: 12-13). Thus, life has a meaning that guides me even through difficulties.

It is therefore necessary to return to God the Creator, to the God who is creative reason, and then to find Christ, who is the living Face of God. Let us say that here there is a reciprocity. On the one hand, we have the encounter with Jesus, with this human, historical and real figure; little by little, he helps me to become acquainted with God; and on the other, knowing God helps me understand the grandeur of Christ's Mystery which is the Face of God.

Only if we manage to grasp that Jesus is not a great prophet or a world religious figure but that he is the Face of God, that he is God, have we discovered Christ's greatness and found out who God is. God is not only a distant shadow, the "primary Cause", but he has a Face. His is the Face of mercy, the Face of pardon and love, the Face of the encounter with us. As a result, these two topics penetrate each other and must always go together.

Then of course, we have to realize that the Church is our vital travelling companion on our journey. In her, the Word of God lives on and Christ is not only a figure of the past but is present. We must therefore rediscover sacramental life, sacramental forgiveness, the Eucharist and Baptism as a new birth.

On the Easter Vigil, in his last mystagogical Catechesis, St Ambrose said: "Until now we have spoken of moral topics; it is now time to speak of the Mystery". He offered guidance in moral experience, in the light of God of course, but which then opens to the Mystery. I believe that today these two things must penetrate each other: a journey with Jesus who increasingly unfolds the depths of his Mystery. Thus, one learns to live as a Christian, one learns the importance of forgiveness and the greatness of the Lord who gives himself to us in the Eucharist.

On this journey, we are naturally accompanied by the saints. Despite their many problems, they lived and were true and living "interpretations" of Sacred Scripture. Each person has his saint from whom he can best learn what living as a Christian means. There are the saints of our time in particular, and of course there is always Mary, who remains the Mother of the Word. Rediscovering Mary helps us to make progress as Christians and to come to know the Son.

Fr Franco Incampo, Rector of the Church of Santa Lucia del Gonfalone, presented his experience of the integral interpretation of the Bible, on which his Community has embarked together with the Waldensian Church. "We have set ourselves to listen to the Word", he said. "It is an extensive project. What is the value of the Word in the Ecclesial Community? Why are we so unfamiliar with the Bible? How can we further knowledge of the Bible so that the Word will also train the community to have an ecumenical approach?".

Pope Benedict XVI: You certainly have a more practical experience of how to do this. I can say in the first place that we will soon be celebrating the Synod on the Word of God. I have already been able to look at the Lineamenta worked out by the Synod Council and I think that the various dimensions of the Word's presence in the Church appear clearly in it.

The Bible as a whole is of course enormous; it must be discovered little by little, for if we take the individual parts on their own, it is often hard to understand that this is the Word of God: I am thinking of certain sections of the Book of Kings with the Chronicles, with the extermination of the peoples who lived in the Holy Land. Many other things are difficult.

Even Qoheleth can be taken out of context and prove extremely difficult: it seems to theorize desperation, because nothing is lasting and even the Preacher dies in the end, together with the foolish. We had the Reading from it in the Breviary just now.

To my mind, a preliminary point would be to read Sacred Scripture in its unity and integrity. Its individual parts are stages on a journey and only by seeing them as a whole, as a single journey where each section explains the other, can we understand this.

Let us stay, for example, with Qoheleth. First, there was the word of wisdom according to which the good also live well: that is, God rewards those who are good. And then comes Job and one sees that it is not like this and that it is precisely those who are righteous who suffer the most. Job seems truly to have been forgotten by God.

Then come the Psalms of that period where it is said: But what does God do? Atheists and the proud have a good life, they are fat and well-nourished, they laugh at us and say: But where is God? They are not concerned with us and we have been sold like sheep for slaughter. What do you have to do with us, why is it like that?

The time comes when Qoheleth asks: But what does all this wisdom amount to? It is almost an existentialist book, in which it is said: "all is vanity". This first journey does not lose its value but opens onto a new perspective that leads in the end to the Cross of Christ, "the Holy One of God", as St Peter said in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John. It ends with the Crucifixion. And in this very way is revealed God's wisdom, which St Paul was later to explain to us.

Therefore, it is only if we take all things as a journey, step by step, and learn to interpret Scripture in its unity, that we can truly have access to the beauty and richness of Sacred Scripture.

Consequently, one should read everything, but always mindful of the totality of Sacred Scripture, where one part explains the other, one passage on the journey explains the other. On this point, modern exegesis can also be of great help to us.

Let us take, for example, the Book of Isaiah. When the exegetes discovered that from chapter 40 on the author was someone else -- Deutero-Isaiah, as he was then called -- there was a moment of great panic for Catholic theologians.

Some thought that in this way Isaiah would be destroyed and that at the end, in chapter 53, the vision of the Servant of God was no longer that of Isaiah who lived almost 800 years before Christ. "What shall we do?", people wondered.

We now realize that the whole Book is a process of constantly new interpretations where one enters ever more deeply into the mystery proposed at the beginning, and that what was initially present but still closed, unfolds increasingly. In one Book, we can understand the whole journey of Sacred Scripture, which is an ongoing reinterpretation, or rather, a new and better understanding of all that had been said previously.

Step by step, light dawns and the Christian can grasp what the Lord said to the disciples at Emmaus, explaining to them that it was of him that all the Prophets had spoken. The Lord unfolds to us the last re-reading; Christ is the key to all things and only by joining the disciples on the road to Emmaus, only by walking with Christ, by reinterpreting all things in his light, with him, Crucified and Risen, do we enter into the riches and beauty of Sacred Scripture.

Therefore, I would say that the important point is not to fragment Sacred Scripture. The modern critic himself, as we now see, has enabled us to understand that it is an ongoing journey. And we can also see that it is a journey with a direction and that Christ really is its destination. By starting from Christ, we start the entire journey again and enter into the depths of the Word.

To sum up, I would say that Sacred Scripture must always be read in the light of Christ. Only in this way can we also read and understand Sacred Scripture in our own context today and be truly enlightened by it. We must understand this: Sacred Scripture is a journey with a direction. Those who know the destination can also take all those steps once again now, and can thus acquire a deeper knowledge of the Mystery of Christ.

In understanding this, we have also understood the ecclesiality of Sacred Scripture, for these journeys, these steps on the journey, are the steps of a people. It is the People of God who are moving onwards. The true owner of the Word is always the People of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, and inspiration is a complex process: the Holy Spirit leads the people on, the people receive it.

Thus, it is the journey of a people, the People of God. Sacred Scripture should always be interpreted well. But this can happen only if we journey on within this subject, that is, the People of God which lives, is renewed and re-constituted by Christ, but continues to dwell in its own identity. I would therefore say that there are three interrelated dimensions. The historical dimension, the Christological dimension and the ecclesiological dimension -- of the People on their way -- converge. A complete reading is one where all three dimensions are present. Therefore, the liturgy -- the common liturgy prayed by the People of God -- remains the privileged place for understanding the Word; this is partly because it is here that the interpretation becomes prayer and is united with Christ's prayer in the Eucharistic Prayer.

I would like to add here one point that has been stressed by all the Fathers of the Church. I am thinking in particular of a very beautiful text by St Ephraim and of another by St Augustine in which he says: "If you have understood little, admit it and do not presume that you have understood it all. The Word is always far greater than what you have been able to understand".

And this should be said now, critically, with regard to a certain part of modern exegesis that thinks it has understood everything and that, therefore, after the interpretation it has worked out, there is nothing left to say about it. This is not true. The Word is always greater than the exegesis of the Fathers and critical exegesis because even this comprehends only a part, indeed, a minimal part. The Word is always greater, this is our immense consolation. And on the one hand it is lovely to know that one has only understood a little. It is lovely to know that there is still an inexhaustible treasure and that every new generation will rediscover new treasures and journey on with the greatness of the Word of God that is always before us, guides us and is ever greater. One should read the Scriptures with an awareness of this.

St Augustine said: the hare and the donkey drink from the fountain. The donkey drinks more but each one drinks his fill. Whether we are hares or donkeys, let us be grateful that the Lord enables us to drink from his water.

Fr Gerardo Raul Carcar, a Schönstatt Father who arrived in Rome from Argentina six months ago and today is Vicar Cooperator of the Parish of San Girolamo at Corviale, said that Ecclesial Movements and new communities are a providential gift for our time. These are entities with a creative impetus, they live the faith and seek new forms of life to find the right place in the Church's mission. Fr Carcar asked the Pope for advice on how he should fit into them to develop a real ministry of unity in the universal Church.

Pope Benedict XVI: So I see that I must be briefer. Thank you for your question. I think you mentioned the essential sources of all that we can say about Movements. In this sense, your question is also an answer.

I would like to explain immediately that in recent months I have been receiving the Italian Bishops on their ad limina visits and so have been able to find out a little more about the geography of the faith in Italy. I see many very beautiful things together with the problems that we all know. I see above all that the faith is still deeply rooted in the Italian heart even if, of course, it is threatened in many ways by today's situations.

The Movements also welcome my fatherly role as Pastor. Others are more critical and say that Movements are out of place. I think, in fact, that situations differ and everything depends on the people in question.

It seems to me that we have two fundamental rules of which you spoke. The first was given to us by St Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians: do not extinguish charisms. If the Lord gives us new gifts we must be grateful, even if at times they may be inconvenient. And it is beautiful that without an initiative of the hierarchy but with an initiative from below, as people say, but which also truly comes from on High, that is, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, new forms of life are being born in the Church just as, moreover, they were born down the ages.

At first, they were always inconvenient. Even St Francis was very inconvenient, and it was very hard for the Pope to give a final canonical form to a reality that by far exceeded legal norms. For St Francis, it was a very great sacrifice to let himself be lodged in this juridical framework, but in the end this gave rise to a reality that is still alive today and will live on in the future: it gives strength, as well as new elements, to the Church's life.

I wish to say only this: Movements have been born in all the centuries. Even St Benedict at the outset was a Movement. They do not become part of the Church's life without suffering and difficulty. St Benedict himself had to correct the initial direction that monasticism was taking. Thus, in our century too, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, has given us new initiatives with new aspects of Christian life. Since they are lived by human people with their limitations, they also create difficulties. So the first rule is: do not extinguish Christian charisms; be grateful even if they are inconvenient.

The second rule is: the Church is one; if Movements are truly gifts of the Holy Spirit, they belong to and serve the Church and in patient dialogue between Pastors and Movements, a fruitful form is born where these elements become edifying for the Church today and in the future.

This dialogue is at all levels. Starting with the parish priest, the Bishops and the Successor of Peter, the search for appropriate structures is underway: in many cases it has already borne fruit. In others, we are still studying.

For example, we ask ourselves whether, after five years of experience, it is possible to confirm definitively the Statutes for the Neocatechumenal Way, whether a trial period is necessary or whether, perhaps, certain elements of this structure need perfecting.

In any case, I knew the Neocatechumens from the very outset. It was a long Way, with many complications that still exist today, but we have found an ecclesial form that has already vastly improved the relationship between the Pastor and the Way. We are going ahead like this! The same can be said for other Movements.

Now, as a synthesis of the two fundamental rules, I would say: gratitude, patience and also acceptance of the inevitable sufferings. In marriage too, there is always suffering and tension. Yet, the couple goes forward and thus true love matures. The same thing happens in the Church's communities: let us be patient together.

The different levels of the hierarchy too -- from the parish priest to the Bishop, to the Supreme Pontiff -- must continually exchange ideas with one another, they must foster dialogue to find together the best road. The experiences of parish priests are fundamental and so are the experiences of the Bishop, and let us say, the universal perspectives of the Pope have a theological and pastoral place of their own in the Church.

On the one hand, these different levels of the hierarchy as a whole and on the other, all life as it is lived in the parish context with patience and openness in obedience to the Lord, really create new vitality in the Church.

Let us be grateful to the Holy Spirit for the gifts he has given to us. Let us be obedient to the voice of the Spirit, but also clear in integrating these elements into our life; lastly, this criterion serves the concrete Church and thus patiently, courageously and generously, the Lord will certainly guide and help us.


On St. Clement of Rome
"The Church Has a Sacramental, Not Political Structure"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 7, 2007 (ZENIT.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at today's general audience. The Pope is beginning a new cycle of catecheses on the Apostolic Fathers, starting with St. Clement of Rome.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During the past few months we have meditated upon the figures of each individual apostle and the first witnesses of the Christian faith, those mentioned in the New Testament writings. Now, we will turn our attention to the Apostolic Fathers, that is, to the first and second generation of the Church after the apostles. This way we can see how the Church's path started in history.

St. Clement, Bishop of Rome during the last years of the first century, is the third successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimonial of his life is that written by St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon until 202. He asserts that Clement "had seen the apostles … had met with them," and "still had their preaching in his ears, and their tradition before his eyes" (Adv. Haer. 3,3,3). Later testimonials, between the fourth and sixth centuries, give Clement the title of martyr.

This Bishop of Rome's authority and prestige were such that various writings were attributed to him, but the only certain one is the Letter to the Corinthians.

Eusebius of Caesarea, the great "archivist" of Christian origins, presents it with these words: "One letter by Clement has been sent down to us recognized as authentic, great and admirable. It was written by him on behalf of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth. … We know that for a long time, and still today, this letter is read publicly during the reunions of the faithful" (Hist. Eccl. 3,16).

An almost canonical characteristic was attributed to this letter. At the beginning of the text, written in Greek, Clement is sorry if "the multiple and calamitous events" (1,1), made for a tardy intervention. These "events" can be identified with the persecution of Domitian; therefore, the date this letter was written goes back to a time directly after the death of the emperor and toward the end of the persecution, that is to say just after 96.

Clement's intervention -- we are still in the first century -- was called upon because of the serious problems the Church of Corinth was undergoing; the priests of the community, in fact, had been deposed by some young upstarts. The painful event is remembered, once again by St. Irenaeus who writes, "Under Clement, having given rise to a rather serious contrast between the Corinthian brothers, the Church of Rome sent the Corinthians a very important letter to reconcile them in peace to renew their faith and to announce the tradition, a tradition they had so newly received from the apostles" (Adv. Haer. 3,3,3).

Therefore, we could say that this letter is a first exercise of a Primate of Rome after the death of St. Peter. Clement's letter touches upon topics dear to St. Paul who had written two great letters to the Corinthians, in particular the theological dialectic, always pertinent, between the indicative of salvation and the imperative of moral commitment.

First, there is the proclamation of saving grace. The Lord foresees us and gives us forgiveness, gives us his love, the grace of being Christians, his brothers and sisters. This is an announcement that fills our life with joy and gives certitude to our actions. The Lord always foresees our acts with his goodness and the goodness of the Lord is always greater than all of our sins.

We must, however, commit ourselves in a coherent way to this gift that we have received and answer the proclamation of salvation with a generous and courageous path toward conversion. Looking at the Pauline model, the novelty is that Clement follows the doctrinal part and the practical part with a "great prayer," which practically concludes the letter.

The immediate occasion of the letter opened to the Bishop of Rome the possibility for vast intervention on the identity of the Church and its mission. If there were abuses in Corinth, Clement notes, the reason should be looked for in the weakening of charity and the necessary Christian virtues. This is why he calls all the faithful to humility and brotherly love, two virtues, truly the basis for being part of the Church. "We are the portion of the Holy One," he says, "let us do all those things which pertain to holiness" (30,1).

In particular, the Bishop of Rome recalls that the Lord himself, "where and by whom he desires these things to be done, he himself has fixed by his own supreme will, in order that all things, being piously done according to his good pleasure, may be acceptable unto him. … For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to the laymen" (40,1-5: note that here, in this letter from the end of the first century, for the first time in Christian literature the Greek term "laikós" appears which means "member of the laos," that is "the people of God").

This way, referring to the liturgy of ancient Israel, Clement reveals his ideal of the Church. This is gathered by his "one spirit of grace poured down upon us," which shows through the different members of the Body of Christ, in which all, joined without division are "members one of the other" (46,6-7).

The clear distinction between the "laymen" and the hierarchy does not mean, in any way, a contraposition but only the organic connection of a body, of an organism with different functions. In fact, the Church is not a place for confusion and anarchy, where someone can do whatever he wants at any time; each one in this organism with an articulated structure practices his ministry according to the vocation received.

As pertains to the heads of the communities, Clement specifies clearly the doctrine of apostolic succession. The laws that regulate this derive from God himself in an ultimate analysis. The Father sent Jesus Christ, who in turn sent the apostles. These then sent out the first heads of the communities, and established that they would be followed by worthy men. Therefore, all proceeds in "an orderly way, according to the will of the word of God" (42).

With these words, with these phrases, St. Clement underlines that the Church has a sacramental structure, not a political structure. God's actions that come to us in the liturgy precede our decisions and our ideas. The Church is above all a gift of God and not a creature of ours and therefore this sacramental structure not only guarantees the common order but also the precedence of the gift of God that we all need.

Finally, the "great prayer" confers a cosmic breath to the preceding discussion. Clement praises and thanks God for his great providence of love, who created the world and continued to save it and bless it. Particular relevance is given to the invocation for the governing body. After the New Testament texts, this represents the oldest prayer for political institutions. Thus, on the morrow of the persecution, Christians, well aware that the persecutions would continue, did not cease to pray for those very authorities that had condemned them unjustly.

The motive is above all Christological: One must pray for persecutors, as Jesus did on the cross. But this prayer also contains a teaching that guides, in the course of the centuries, the attitude of Christians in the face of politics and the state.

In praying for the authorities, Clement recognizes the legitimacy of the political institutions in the order established by God. At the same time, he manifests his concern that the authorities be docile to God and "exercise the power that God has given them in peace and gentleness with compassion" (61,2).

Caesar is not all. Another sovereignty emerges, whose origin and essence are not of this world, but "from above": It is that of Truth, which merits the right to be heard also in confrontations with the state."

Thus Clement's letter faces numerous themes of continuous actuality. This is more significant inasmuch as it represents, since the first century, solicitude of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all other churches.

With the same spirit we make our invocations as the "great prayer," where the Bishop of Rome becomes the voice for the entire world, "Yea, Lord, make your face to shine upon us for good in peace, that we may be shielded by your mighty hand ... we praise you through the high priest and guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to you both now and from generation to generation and for evermore. Amen" (60-61).

[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the early Church, we now turn to the Apostolic Fathers. Saint Clement, Bishop of Rome and third successor of Peter, lived in the last years of the first century. He had met the apostles personally. Clement wrote an important letter to the Church in Corinth at a time when the Christian community was deeply divided. He encourages them to renew their faith in the message received from the apostles and to be reconciled with one another. In this way, he shows the essential connection between the content of the Gospel and the way we live. This connection is essential to Clement's ideal for the Church, in which the hierarchical structure is intrinsically ordered to the service of charity. Laity and hierarchy are not opposed, but organically connected in the mystery of the one body. According to Clement, not only the Church, but also the entire cosmos reflects God's providential love and mercy. Clement concludes his letter by praising God for this marvelous order. Let us join him as we beg the Lord to "make his face shine upon us in goodness and peace. Amen."

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's audience, especially the groups from Scotland, Denmark, Japan, Canada and the United States of America. May your pilgrimage renew your love for the Lord and his Church, and may God bless you all!


Papal Address at End of Retreat
"You Have Taught Us to Elevate Our Hearts"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave March 3, at the conclusion of spiritual exercises.

* * *


Redemptoris Mater Chapel
Saturday, 3 March 2007

Your Eminence,

On behalf of all of us gathered here, I would like to say "thank you" to you for the marvellous inspirational presentation you have given us this week.

At Holy Mass, before the Eucharistic Prayer, we respond every day to the invitation, "Lift up your hearts" with the words, "We lift them up to the Lord". And I fear that this response is often more ritual than existential.

But during this week you have truly taught us to rise, to elevate our hearts, to soar upwards towards the invisible, towards the true reality. And you have also given us the key to respond every day to the challenges of this reality.

During your first conference I became aware that in the in-lay of my prie-dieu the Risen Christ is shown surrounded by flying angels. These angels, I thought, can fly because they are not regulated by the gravity of the earth's material things but by the gravity of the Risen One's love; and that we would be able to fly if we were to step outside material gravity and enter the new gravity of the love of the Risen One.

You have really helped us to come out of this gravitational force of everyday things, to enter into this other gravity of the Risen One and thus, to rise to on high. We thank you for this.

I would also like to say "thank you" because you have given us a very acute and precise diagnosis of our situation today, and you have especially shown us how, behind so many phenomena of our time that appear to be very far from religion and from Christ, there is a question, an expectation, a desire; and that the one true response to this ever-present desire precisely in our time is Christ.

Thus, you have helped us to follow Christ more courageously and to have greater love for the Church, the "Immaculata ex maculatis", as you taught us together with St Ambrose.

Lastly, I would like to say "thank you" for your realism, your humour and your concreteness; even for the somewhat audacious theology of your maid: I should not dare to submit these words, "The Lord may have his faults", to the judgment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith! But in any case, we have been able to learn and your thoughts, dear Cardinal, will accompany us for more than the weeks to come.

Our prayers are with you. Thank you.


Benedict XVI's Letter to Cardinal Biffi
"You Helped Us to Meditate on the Lordship of Christ"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the letter Benedict XVI sent the preacher of this year's Lenten spiritual exercises, Cardinal Giacomo Biffi.

* * *


To His Eminence Cardinal Giacomo Biffi
Archbishop emeritus of Bologna

While the Spiritual Exercises come to a successful conclusion, with this Message I wish to express to you, dear Brother, my cordial thanks and deep appreciation for the service you have rendered to me and to my Collaborators in the Roman Curia, guiding us with your stimulating meditations.

With that richness and depth of thought well known to us, you have impelled us to turn our mind and heart toward "the things that are above" (Col 3:1-2), as was suggested by the theme -- of Pauline inspiration -- for these days of prayer and reflection.

Starting with the two liturgical invitations which, so to speak, initiate the Lenten journey: "Repent and believe in the Gospel"; "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return", you helped us to meditate on the lordship of Christ over the cosmos and history, on his blessed Passion, on the mystery of the Church and on the Eucharist, as well as on the relationship of these supernatural realities with the world.

To complete and enhance the theological and spiritual reflections of each day, you wisely presented certain figures as "witnesses" who, in various ways and with different styles, guided and sustained us on our journey toward Christ, fullness of life for every person and for the entire universe.

How can I thank you, dear Cardinal, for such a precious gift? The Lord alone knows and can reward you as you deserve. On my part and, I am certain, also on the part of those who have benefited from your meditations, I wish to assure you of our fervent remembrance in prayer for you yourself and for the intentions dearest to your heart.

And to make this bond of prayer stronger and more effective, I entrust it to the heavenly intercession of Mary Most Holy. "May the soul of Mary be in everyone": I, in turn, would like to address this beautiful exhortation with which, echoing St Ambrose, you brought the Exercises to culmination, as a heartfelt wish to you, dear Brother, while I wholeheartedly renew my Apostolic Blessing and extend it to all your loved ones.

From the Vatican, 3 March 2007



On the Transfiguration
"To Pray Is Not to Evade Reality"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

On this Second Sunday of Lent, the Evangelist Luke underlines that Jesus went up the mountain "to pray" (9:28) together with the apostles Peter, James and John and, "as he was praying" (9:29) the luminous mystery of his transfiguration took place.

For the three apostles, to go up on the mountain meant to be involved in Jesus' prayer, who often withdrew to pray, especially at dawn or after sundown, and sometimes during the whole night. However, on that occasion alone, on the mountain, he wished to manifest to his friends the interior light that invaded him when he prayed: His face -- we read in the Gospel -- his countenance was altered and his raiment became dazzling, reflecting the splendor of the divine person of the Incarnate Word (cf. Luke 9:29).

There is another detail in St. Luke's narrative which is worth underlining: It indicates the object of Jesus' conversation with Moses and Elijah, who appeared next to him when transfigured. The Evangelist narrates that they "spoke of his departure (in Greek, 'exodos'), which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem" (9:31).

Therefore, Jesus listens to the Law and the prophets that speak to him of his death and resurrection. In his intimate dialogue with his Father, he does not leave history, he does not flee from the mission for which he came into the world, though he knows that to attain glory he will have to go through the cross. What is more, Christ enters this mission more profoundly, adhering with all his being to the will of the Father, and he shows us that true prayer consists precisely in uniting our will to the Father's.

Therefore, for a Christian to pray is not to evade reality and the responsibilities it entails, but to assume them to the end, trusting in the faithful and inexhaustible love of the Lord. For this reason, the proof of the Transfiguration is, paradoxically, the agony in Gethsemane (cf. Luke 22:39-46). Given the imminence of the passion, Jesus experiences mortal anguish and entrusts himself to the divine will; at that moment his prayer is a pledge of salvation for us all. Christ, in fact, would implore the heavenly Father to "save him from death" and, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes, "he was heard for his godly fear" (5:7). The Resurrection is proof that he was heard.

Dear Brothers and Sisters: Prayer is not something accessory, it is not "optional," but rather a question of life or death. Only one who prays, that is, who entrusts himself to God with filial love, can enter into eternal life, which is God himself. During this season of Lent, let us pray to Mary, mother of the Incarnate Word and teacher of the spiritual life, to teach us to pray as her Son did so that our life is transformed by the light of his presence.


Papal Address to Confessors
"The Conscious Means of a Wonderful Event of Grace"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the Feb 19. message Benedict XVI addressed to the confessors of the four papal basilicas in Rome.

* * *


Clementine Hall
Monday, 19 February 2007

Dear Brothers,

I am happy to welcome you and I greet you with affection, beginning with Cardinal James Francis Stafford, Major Penitentiary, whom I thank for the kind words he addressed to me a few minutes ago. With him I greet the Regent, Mons. Gianfranco Girotti, and the members of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

This meeting offers me the opportunity to express my lively satisfaction above all to you, dear Father Confessors of the Papal Basilicas of the City, for the precious pastoral ministry that you carry out with diligent dedication.

At the same time I wish to extend a cordial thought to all the priests of the world who dedicate themselves with commitment to the ministry of the confessional.

The Sacrament of Penance, which has such importance in the Christian life, renders present the redemptive efficacy of Christ's Paschal Mystery. In imparting absolution, pronounced in the name and on behalf of the Church, the confessor becomes the conscious means of a wonderful event of grace.

With docile compliance to the Magisterium of the Church, he makes himself minister of the consoling mercy of God, he draws attention to the reality of sin, and at the same time he manifests the boundless renewing power of divine love, love that gives back life.

Therefore, confession becomes a spiritual rebirth that transforms the penitent into a new creature. Only God's grace can work this miracle, and it is accomplished through the words and gestures of the priest.

By experiencing the tenderness and pardon of the Lord, the penitent is more easily led to acknowledge the gravity of sin, is more resolved to avoid it in order to remain and grow in renewed friendship with him.

In this mysterious process of interior renewal the confessor is not a passive spectator, but persona dramatis, that is, an active instrument of divine mercy. Therefore, it is necessary that to a good spiritual and pastoral sensibility he unites a serious theological, moral and pedagogical preparation that enables him to understand the life of the person.

Furthermore, it is very useful for him to know the social, cultural and professional environment of those who approach the confessional in order to be able to offer appropriate advice and spiritual practices and orientations.

May the priest not forget that in this Sacrament he is called to take on the role of father, spiritual guide, teacher and educator. This demands constant updating: this is also the aim of the so-called "internal forum" promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary.

Dear priests, your ministry bears above all a spiritual character. To human wisdom, to theological preparation, therefore, one must add a profound spiritual disposition, nourished by prayerful contact with Christ, Master and Redeemer.

In virtue of presbyteral ordination, in fact, the confessor carries out a particular service "in persona Christi", with a fullness of human gifts that are strengthened by grace.

His model is Jesus, the One sent by the Father: the source from which to draw abundantly is the vivifying breath of the Holy Spirit. Before such a lofty responsibility human strength is surely inadequate, but the humble and faithful adherence to the salvific design of Christ renders us, dear brothers, witnesses of the universal Redemption worked by him, putting into effect the admonition of St Paul who says: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself... and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (II Cor 5:19).

To fulfil such a duty we must, above all, root this message of salvation in ourselves and let it transform us deeply. We cannot preach pardon and reconciliation to others if we are not personally penetrated by it. As it is true that in our ministry there are various ways and instruments to communicate the merciful love of God to our brethren, it is, however, in the celebration of this Sacrament that we can do it in the most complete and eminent way.

Christ has chosen us, dear priests, to be the only ones to be able to pardon sins in his Name: it concerns, then, a specific ecclesial service to which we must give priority.

How many people in difficulty seek the comfort and consolation of Christ! How many penitents find in confession the peace and joy that they sought for so long! How can one not recognize also in our age, marked by so many religious and social challenges, that this Sacrament also be rediscovered and proposed anew?

Dear brothers, let us follow the example of the saints, in particular those who, like you, were almost exclusively dedicated to the ministry of the confessional. Among them are St Jean-Marie Vianney, St Leopold Mandic, and closer to us, St Pio of Pietrelcina.

May they help you from heaven to be able to abundantly dispense the mercy and pardon of Christ. May Mary, Refuge of Sinners, obtain for you the strength, encouragement and hope to generously continue your indispensable mission.

I assure you of my heartfelt prayer, while with affection I bless you all.


Pope's Address to His Aides in Latin America
"The Spiritual Potential Is Truly Enormous"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Feb. 17 to the papal representatives in Latin American countries.

* * *


Consistory Hall
Saturday, 17 February 2007

Venerable Brothers,

I am very pleased to welcome you at the end of your meeting in preparation for the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopal Council [CELAM]. I offer a cordial greeting to each one of you, starting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State, whom I thank for his words expressing your common sentiments.

I thank the Cardinal Presidents of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate and the Heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia who have contributed to your work.

In particular, I take this opportunity to express once again to you, the Apostolic Nuncios present and all Papal Representatives, my appreciation of the important ecclesial service that you carry out, often among numerous difficulties due to the distance from your homeland, your frequent travels and also at times the social and political tensions in the places where you work. In carrying out your sensitive task, which is of course motivated by a deep spirit of faith, may each one of you feel accompanied by the esteem, affection and prayers of the Pope.

Every Apostolic Nuncio is called to consolidate the bonds of communion between the particular Churches and the Successor of Peter. Together with the Pastors and the entire People of God, he is entrusted with responsibility for promoting dialogue and collaboration with civil society in order to achieve the common good.

Papal Representatives are the presence of the Pope, who through them makes himself close to all those he is unable to meet personally and especially to those who live in conditions of hardship and suffering. Your ministry, dear Brothers, is a ministry of ecclesial communion and a service to peace and harmony in the Church and among peoples. Always be aware of the importance, grandeur and beauty of this mission of yours and strive tirelessly to carry it out with generous dedication.

Divine Providence has called you who are present here to carry out your service in Latin America, described by our beloved John Paul II -- who visited it several times -- as the "Continent of hope", as has already been said.

Please God, I will have the joy of coming into contact personally with the situation in those countries when I speak, God willing, at the opening of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American Bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in the coming month of May.

In a certain sense, this Assembly sums up and is a continuation of the previous General Conferences, while it is enriched by the many "post-conciliar" gifts of the Papal Magisterium -- in particular the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America springs to mind -- as well as the other fruit of the Catholic Church's synodal process.

The Assembly proposes to define the important priorities and to give a new impetus to the Church's mission at the service of the Latin American peoples in the concrete circumstances at the beginning of the 21st century.

This recapitulation refers to the Catholic tradition which, thanks to an extraordinary missionary epic, took shape and impressed its hallmark upon the cultural structure that has so far been a feature of the Latin American identity. This was the original vocation -- as my late Predecessor John Paul II said at Santo Domingo -- of "peoples whom the same geography, Christian faith, language and culture have joined together definitively in the course of history" (Address at CELAM's Fourth General Conference, 12 October 1992, n. 15; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 October, p. 8).

Starting with the theme of this important meeting: "Disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ so that our people may have life in him", you too have had the opportunity in these days to highlight certain challenges which the Church encounters in the vast area of Latin America, inserted into world dynamics and conditioned increasingly by the effects of globalization.

In the face of these challenges, the nations that make up Latin America seek in different ways to affirm their identity and their weight in the historical process of the contemporary world; they seek, all too often among numerous difficulties, to consolidate domestic peace within their own nation. Feeling like "sisters", they also aim to become a community united in peace and in cultural and economic development.

The Church, a sign and instrument of unity for the entire human race (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 1), naturally finds herself in tune with every legitimate aspiration of the peoples for greater harmony and cooperation, and makes her own contribution: that of the Gospel.

She hopes that in Latin American nations where constitutional Charters are limited to "granting" freedom of belief and worship but do not yet "recognize" religious freedom, reciprocal relations based on principles of autonomy and a healthy and respectful collaboration can be worked out as soon as possible.

This will enable Ecclesial Communities to develop their full potential for the benefit of society and of every individual human person, created in the image of God. A correct juridical formulation of these relations cannot but take into account the historical, spiritual, cultural and social role played by the Catholic Church in Latin America.

This role continues to be paramount, partly thanks to the fortunate blending of the old and rich sensitivity of the indigenous peoples with Christianity and the modern culture. Some sectors, as we know, point to the contrast between the wealth and depth of the pre-Colombian cultures and the Christian faith that is presented as imposed externally from outside or as alienating for the peoples of Latin America.

In fact, the encounter between these cultures and faith in Christ was a response inwardly expected by these cultures. This encounter, therefore, is not to be denied but deepened, and has created the true identity of the peoples of Latin America. Indeed, the Catholic Church is the institution which is the most respected by the Latin American population.

She is active in the life of the people, esteemed for the work she carries out in the sectors of education, health care and solidarity to the needy. Help for the poor and the fight against poverty are and remain a fundamental priority in the life of the Churches in Latin America. The Church also actively intervenes with her mediation, often requested on the occasion of internal conflicts.

Today, however, among other things, this consolidated presence must deal with the proselytism of sects and the growing influence of post-modern hedonistic secularism. If we are to find the right answers, we must think seriously about what makes the sects attractive. In the face of the challenges of this time in history, our communities are called to strengthen their adherence to Christ in order to witness to a mature and joyful faith, and -- despite all the problems -- the potential is truly enormous.

And the spiritual potential that Latin America has to draw on is truly enormous, where the mysteries of the faith are celebrated with fervent devotion and confidence in the future is nourished by the increase in the number of vocations to the priestly and Religious life.

It is of course necessary to accompany the young on the path of their vocation with great care, and to help priests and men and women religious to persevere in their vocation. Furthermore, an immense missionary and evangelizing potential is offered by the young who account for more than two thirds of the population, whereas family "feeling [is] a primordial trait of your Latin American culture", as my venerable Predecessor John Paul II said at the meeting in Puebla, Mexico, in January 1979 (Homily, Palafoxiano Seminary, Puebla, 28 January 1979; Puebla and Beyond, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, 1979, p. 78).

The family institution deserves priority attention; it is showing signs of breaking up under the pressure of lobbies that can have a negative effect on legislative processes. Divorce and de facto unions are on the rise, while adultery is viewed with unjustifiable tolerance.

It is necessary to reassert that marriage and the family are based on the deepest nucleus of the truth about man and his destiny; only on the rock of faithful and permanent conjugal love between a man and woman is it possible to build a community worthy of the human being.

I would like to highlight other religious and social topics on which you have been able to reflect.

I shall limit myself to mentioning the phenomenon of migration, closely linked to the family; the importance of school education and attention to values and to the conscience, to train mature lay people who can make a high-quality contribution to social and civil life; the education of the young with an appropriate vocation policy to accompany in particular seminarians and aspirants to the consecrated life in their formation process; the commitment to informing public opinion properly about the great ethical issues in accordance with the principles of the Church's Magisterium and an effective presence in the area of the media, also in order to respond to the challenge of the sects.

Ecclesial movements certainly constitute a valid resource for the apostolate, but they should be helped to stay in line with the Gospel and the Church's teaching, also when they work in the social and political realms. In particular, I feel it is my duty to reassert that it is not the task of ecclesiastics to head social or political groups, but of mature lay people with a professional training.

Dear Brothers, in these days you have reflected and discussed together. Above all you have prayed together. Let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, to grant that the fruits of this meeting and of the upcoming General Conference of the Latin American Bishops benefit the entire Church.

I thank you again for your work. On returning to your countries, please convey my cordial sentiments to the Pastors and the Christian Communities, the Governments and the peoples. Please assure your collaborators, the women religious and all who cooperate in the smooth functioning of the offices at your Nunciatures of the Pope's spiritual closeness. I cordially impart to one and all a special Apostolic Blessing.


Papal Address to Focolare and Sant'Egidio Friends
"Communion Among Charisms a 'Sign of the Times'"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Feb. 8 to the bishop-friends of the Focolare Movement and the Community of Sant'Egidio.

* * *


Clementine Hall
Thursday, 8 February 2007

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,

I am happy to welcome you to this special Audience and cordially greet all of you who have come from different nations of the world. I also address a particular thought to those who are here with us and belong to other Churches.

Some of you participate annually in this appointment of Bishop-Friends of the Focolare Movement, which has the theme: "Christ Crucified and abandoned, light in the cultural night".

I welcome this occasion to send Chiara Lubich my wishes and my Blessing, which I extend to all the members of the Movement she founded.

Others are taking part in the Ninth Convention of Bishop-Friends of the Sant'Egidio Community, addressing the topic so pertinent today: "The globalization of love". I greet Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, and with him, Professor Andrea Riccardi and the entire Community, who, on the anniversary of its founding, will gather this evening in the Basilica of St John Lateran for a solemn Eucharistic celebration.

I do not have all your names here, but naturally I greet all my dear Brothers, Bishops, Cardinals and all you dear Brothers of the Orthodox Church, all of you from my heart.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I would first like to tell you that your closeness to the two Movements, while emphasizing the vitality of these new aggregations of faithful, also manifests that communion among charisms which constitutes a typical "sign of the times".

It seems to me that these encounters of the charisms of the unity of the Church in the diversity of gifts are a very encouraging and important sign.

The Post-Synodal Exhortation Pastores Gregis recalls that: "The relationships of exchange between Bishops... go well beyond their institutional meetings" (n. 59). It is what occurs also in conventions such as yours, where not only collegiality is experienced, but an episcopal fraternity that draws from the sharing of the ideals promoted by the Movements a stimulus to render more intense the communion of hearts, to make stronger the reciprocal support and a more active commitment to show the Church as a place of prayer and charity, a home of mercy and peace.

My venerable Predecessor, John Paul II, has presented the Movements and New Communities which have come into being in these years as a providential gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, in order to respond in an effective way to the challenges of our time. And you know that this is also my conviction.

When I was still a professor and then Cardinal, I had the occasion to express my conviction that Movements are really a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. And precisely as the encounter of the charisms, they also show the richness of both gifts and unity in the faith.

For example, could one forget last year's extraordinary Pentecost Vigil that witnessed the joint participation of many Movements and Ecclesial Associations? The emotion I felt in participating in St Peter's Square in such an intense spiritual experience is still alive in me.

I repeat to you what I said then to the faithful gathered from every part of the world, and that is, that the multiplicity and the unity of the charisms and ministries are inseparable in the life of the Church.

The Holy Spirit wants the multiformity of the Movements at the service of the one Body, which is the Church. And this comes about through the ministry of those he has placed to sustain the Church of God: the Bishops in communion with the Successor of Peter.

This unity and multiplicity which comprises the People of God in some way also makes itself manifest today, with many Bishops being gathered here with the Pope, near to two different Ecclesial Movements, characterized by a strong missionary dimension.

In the rich Western world, where even though a relativistic culture is present, at the same time a widespread desire for spirituality is not missing, and your Movements witness the joy of the faith and the beauty of being Christian in great ecumenical openness.

In the vast depressed areas of the earth, they communicate the message of solidarity and draw near to the poor and the weak with that human and divine love that I wished to repropose to the attention of all in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

The communion between Bishops and Movements, therefore, provides a valid impulse for a renewed commitment by the Church in announcing and witnessing to the Gospel of hope and charity in every corner of the world.

The Focolare Movement, precisely beginning from the heart of its spirituality which is Jesus crucified and abandoned, emphasizes the charism and the service of unity, which is realized in various social and cultural environments as, for example, the economic with the "economy of communion", and through the ways of ecumenism and of interreligious dialogue.

The Sant'Egidio Community, placing prayer and liturgy at the centre of its existence, wants to draw near to those who experience situations of hardship and social marginalization.

For the Christian, man, however distant, is never a stranger. Together it is possible to face with greater effort the challenges that summon us in a pressing way at the beginning of the third millennium: I think in the first place of the search for justice and peace and of the urgency of building a more fraternal and united world, beginning precisely with the countries from which some of you come and that are tried by bloody conflicts.

I refer especially to Africa, the Continent that I carry in my heart and that I hope will finally know a time of stable peace and true development. The next Synod of African Bishops will surely be an opportune moment to show the great love that God has for the beloved African population.

Dear friends, the original fraternity that exists between you and the Movements you befriend, bids you to carry together "one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2), as the Apostle recommends, especially concerning evangelization, love for the poor and the cause of peace.

May the Lord render your spiritual and apostolic initiatives ever more effective. I accompany you with prayer and gladly impart the Apostolic Blessing to you present here, to the Focolare Movement and the Sant'Egidio Community, and to the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care.


On Contemplating Christ Crucified
"Eloquent Message of Love"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This year, the Lenten message is inspired in the verse of John's Gospel, which in turn goes back to a messianic prophecy of Zechariah: "They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (John 19:37).

The beloved disciple, present with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the other women on Calvary, was an eyewitness of the thrust of the spear which pierced Christ's side, so that blood and water came out (cf. John 19:31-34). This gesture of an unknown Roman soldier, destined to be lost in oblivion, was imprinted on the eyes and heart of the apostle, who recounted it in his Gospel. In the course of the centuries, how many conversions have taken place precisely thanks to the eloquent message of love that he receives who contemplates Jesus crucified!

Therefore, we enter the Lenten season with our gaze fixed on Jesus' side. In the encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est" (cf. No. 12), I wished to underline that only by gazing on Jesus, dead on the cross for us, can we know and contemplate this fundamental truth: "God is love" (1 John 4:8,16). "In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move" ("Deus Caritas Est," No. 12).

Contemplating the Crucified with the eyes of faith, we can understand profoundly what sin is, its tragic gravity, and at the same time the incommensurable power of the Lord's forgiveness and mercy. During these days of Lent, let us not distance our hearts from this mystery of profound humanity and lofty spirituality.

On contemplating Christ, let us feel at the same time that we are contemplated by him. He whom we ourselves have pierced with our faults does not cease to shed over the world an inexhaustible torrent of merciful love. May humanity understand that only from this source is it possible to draw the spiritual energy indispensable to build that peace and happiness for which every human being is ceaselessly searching.

Let us pray to the Virgin Mary, whose soul was pierced next to her Son's cross, to obtain for us the gift of a firm faith. That, guiding us on our Lenten journey, she may help us leave everything that impedes us from listening to Christ and his word of salvation.

In particular, entrust to the Virgin Mary the week of Spiritual Exercises that will begin this afternoon in the Vatican, and in which I and my collaborators of the Roman Curia will participate.

Dear brothers and sisters: Please support me with your prayer and I will be happy to do the same in the recollection of the retreat, invoking divine power on each one of you, on your families and your communities.


Papal Address to Italian Volunteers
"You Contribute to the Spreading of the Gospel of God's Love"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Feb. 10 in Paul VI Hall to members of the Confederation of Misericordie d'Italia, a voluntary service group.

* * *

Dear friends of Misericordie d'Italia,

I am happy to receive you and address my welcome to all of you present here, grateful for this visit that offers me the occasion to know you better.

I greet the President of your Confederation and I thank dear Cardinal Antonelli for the kind words he has addressed to me in the name of all of you.

The Misericordie -- it is only right to emphasize -- are the most ancient form of organized voluntary service in the world.

In fact, they go back to the initiative of St Peter Martyr of Verona, who in 1244, in Florence, gathered some citizens of every age and social condition desiring to "honor God with works of mercy to one's neighbor", in a totally free, unobtrusive way.

Today, the Confederation of the Misericordie d'Italia embodies some 700 confraternities -- as you eloquently call them -- especially centered around Tuscany but present throughout the national territory, in particular in the central and southern regions.

To this, the numerous groups of blood donors called "Fratres" must be added. So more than 100,000 belong to your beneficent organization; they are committed in a permanent way in the social health-care field.

The variety of your input, besides being a response to the emerging needs of society, is a sign of zeal, of a "creativity" in charity that stems from a beating heart whose "motor" is love for humankind in difficulty.

This is exactly why you merit appreciation: with your presence and action you contribute to the spreading of the Gospel of God's love for all people.

In fact, how can we not recall the impressive Gospel passage where St Matthew calls us to encounter the Lord definitively? Then, as Jesus himself said, the Judge of the world will ask us if in the course of our existence we have given the hungry to eat, the thirsty to drink; if we have welcomed the foreigner and opened the door of our hearts to the needy.

In a word, at the Last Judgment God will ask us if we have loved, not in an abstract way, but concretely, with deeds (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

Reading anew these lines, it always truly touches my heart that Jesus, the Son of Man and final Judge, precedes us with this act, making himself man, making himself poor and thirsty, and lastly, he embraces us, drawing us to his Heart. And so God does what he wants us to do: to be open to others and to live love, not with words, but in practice. At the end of his life, St. John of the Cross loved to repeat that we will be judged on love.

What is necessary even today, indeed, especially in this our epoch marked by so many human and spiritual challenges, is for Christians to proclaim with their works the merciful love of God!

Every baptized person must "live the Gospel". In fact, many people who do not welcome Christ and his exigent teachings easily are nevertheless sensitive to the witness of those who communicate his message through the concrete witness of charity.

Love is a language that directly reaches the heart and opens it to trust. I exhort you, then, as St Peter did to the first Christians, to be ever ready to reply to anyone who asks you the reason "for the hope that is in you" (1 Pt 3:15).

I would then like to add another reflection: the reality of your association constitutes a typical example of the importance that your "Christian roots" have in Italy and in Europe. Your confraternities, the Misericordie, are a very realistic living and viable manifestation of these Christian roots.

Nowadays, the Misericordie are not an ecclesial aggregation, but their historic roots remain unequivocally Christian. The very name "Misericordie" expresses it, and it is also manifested by the fact, already recalled, that at your origins are the initiative of a Saint.

Now, for the roots to continue to bring forth fruit, they must stay alive and well. For this reason you opportunely propose to your members regular periods of qualification and formation, to increasingly deepen the human and Christian motivation of your activity.

The risk, in effect, is that volunteerism can turn into simple activism. If, instead, the spiritual side remains alive, it can communicate to others more than the materially necessary things: it can offer one's neighbor in difficulty a loving look that is needed (cf. "Deus Caritas Est," n. 18).

Lastly, I would like to show you a third reason why you are appreciated. Together with other volunteer associations, you carry out an important educational role, such as contributing to keep alive the sensitivity to noble values such as fraternity and disinterested help to whoever finds himself in difficulty.

In particular, youth can benefit from the experience of volunteer work because, if it is done well, it can become a "school of life" for them that helps them to give their own existence a meaning and higher and more prolific value.

May the Misericordie help them to grow in the dimension of service to one's neighbor and to discover a great Gospel truth: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20: 35; cf. "Deus Caritas Est," n. 30).

Dear friends, tomorrow, 11 February, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the World Day of the Sick reaches its 15th anniversary. This year our attention is addressed in a special way to persons afflicted with incurable diseases. To many of them, you also, dear friends, dedicate your service.

May the Immaculate Virgin, Mother of Mercy, watch over your confraternity, indeed, watch over each member of the Misericordie d'Italia. May she help you to fulfill your mission with authentic love, thus contributing to the spread of God's love in the world, the source of life for every human being.

To you present here, to the whole Misericordie d'Italia, and to the blood donors Fratres I impart my heartfelt Blessing.


Papal Address to Delegates of Paris-based Academy
"Always Uphold the Truth About Man"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 23, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered to the members of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of Paris, whom he received in audience Feb. 10.

* * *


Saturday, 10 February 2007

Mr Permanent Secretary,
Your Eminence,
Dear Academic Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

With pleasure, I welcome you today, members of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences. First, I thank Mr Michel Albert, Permanent Secretary, for the words with which he has expressed your delegation's sentiments, and also for the medal that recalls my entry as a Foreign Associate Member of your noble Institution.

The Academy of Moral and Political Sciences is a place of exchange and debate, which proposes reflections to help all citizens and legislators to "find the forms of political organization most favorable to the public good and to the development of the individual".

In fact, the reflections and actions of the Authorities and of the citizens must be centered on two elements: respect for each human being and the quest for the common good.

In today's world it is more than ever urgent to invite our contemporaries to a renewed attention to these two elements. In effect, the development of subjectivism, which makes each one tend to consider himself as the only point of reference and to hold that what he thinks has the character of truth, exhorts us to form consciences on fundamental values that cannot be mocked without putting man and society itself in danger, and upon the objective criteria of a decision that presupposes an act of reason.

As I emphasized during my Conference on The New Covenant held before your Academy in 1995, the human person is "constitutively a being in relationship", called to consider himself ever more responsible to his brothers and sisters in humanity.

The question asked by God from the very first text of Scripture must resound constantly in the heart of everyone: "What have you done [for]... your brother?".

The sense of fraternity and solidarity and the sense of the common good are founded on the vigilant respect of one's brethren and on the organization of society, granting a place to everyone so that they can live in dignity, have a roof and what is necessary for their own existence and for that of the family for which they are responsible.

It is in this spirit that one must understand the motion that you approved last October regarding the rights of man and freedom of expression, which are part of the fundamental rights, being careful never to mock the fundamental dignity of the person and of human groups and to respect their religious beliefs.

Allow me to recall to your attention the figure of Andre «Á Dimitrijevitch Sakharov, whom I succeeded in the Academy. This outstanding personality reminds us that it is necessary, in private and public life, to have the courage to say the truth and to follow it, to be free with respect to the surrounding world that often tends to impose its viewpoint and the behavior to adopt.

True freedom consists in proceeding along the way of truth according to one's vocation, knowing that each person must render an account of his own life to his Creator and Savior.

It is important that we know how to propose to youth a similar path, reminding them that true development is not at whatever cost, and inviting them not to be content to follow every trend presented to them. Hence, they will be able to discern with courage and tenacity the way of freedom and happiness, which presupposes fulfilling a certain number of requirements made with effort, sacrifice and the necessary renunciation so as to act well.

One of the challenges for our contemporaries, and in particular for youth, consists in not accepting to live merely in exteriority, in appearance, but in the development of the interior life, the unifying environment of being and acting, the place of recognizing our dignity as sons and daughters of God called to freedom, not separating ourselves from the font of life but remaining connected to it.

That gladdens man's heart is the recognition of being a son or daughter of God; it is a beautiful and good life under the gaze of God, as are also the victories obtained over evil and against deceit. By permitting each person to discover that life has a sense and that he or she is responsible for it, we open the way to a maturation of the person and to a reconciled humanity that seeks the common good.

The Russian intellectual Sakharov is an example of this; while his exterior freedom was obstructed during the Communist period, his interior freedom, which no one could touch, authorized him to speak out firmly in defense of his compatriots in the name of the common good.

It is important also today that man does not allow himself to be hampered by exterior chains such as relativism, the search for power and profit at any cost, drugs, disordered relationships, confusion in regard to matrimony and the non-recognition of the human person in all phases of his or her existence from conception to its natural end, which suggests that there can be periods when the human being would not really exist.

We must have the courage to remind our contemporaries what man is and what humanity is. I invite the civil Authorities and the people with a role in the transmission of values to always uphold the truth about man.

At the conclusion of our meeting, permit me to hope that through your works, the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, together with other institutions, can always help people to build a better life and to build up a society where it is beautiful to live as brothers and sisters. This is the wish, united to prayer, that I raise to the Lord for you, your families and all the members of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences.


Papal Address on Natural Law
"The Only Valid Bulwark Against Arbitrary Power"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Feb. 12 to the participants of the International Congress on Natural Law, organized by the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome.

* * *


Clementine Hall
Monday, 12 February 2007

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Esteemed Professors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with particular pleasure that I welcome you at the beginning of the Congress' work in which you will be engaged in the following days on a theme of considerable importance for the present historical moment, namely, the natural moral law.

I thank Bishop Rino Fisichella, Rector Magnificent of the Pontifical Lateran University, for the sentiments expressed in the address with which he has introduced this meeting.

There is no doubt that we are living in a moment of extraordinary development in the human capacity to decipher the rules and structures of matter, and in the consequent dominion of man over nature.

We all see the great advantages of this progress and we see more and more clearly the threat of destruction of nature by what we do.

There is another less visible danger, but no less disturbing: the method that permits us to know ever more deeply the rational structures of matter makes us ever less capable of perceiving the source of this rationality, creative Reason. The capacity to see the laws of material being makes us incapable of seeing the ethical message contained in being, a message that tradition calls lex naturalis, natural moral law.

This word for many today is almost incomprehensible due to a concept of nature that is no longer metaphysical, but only empirical. The fact that nature, being itself, is no longer a transparent moral message creates a sense of disorientation that renders the choices of daily life precarious and uncertain.

Naturally, the disorientation strikes the younger generations in a particular way, who must in this context find the fundamental choices for their life.

It is precisely in the light of this contestation that all the urgency of the necessity to reflect upon the theme of natural law and to rediscover its truth common to all men appears. The said law, to which the Apostle Paul refers (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is written on the heart of man and is consequently, even today, accessible.

This law has as its first and general principle, "to do good and to avoid evil." This is a truth which by its very evidence immediately imposes itself on everyone. From it flows the other more particular principles that regulate ethical justice on the rights and duties of everyone.

So does the principle of respect for human life from its conception to its natural end, because this good of life is not man's property but the free gift of God. Besides this is the duty to seek the truth as the necessary presupposition of every authentic personal maturation.

Another fundamental application of the subject is freedom. Yet taking into account the fact that human freedom is always a freedom shared with others, it is clear that the harmony of freedom can be found only in what is common to all: the truth of the human being, the fundamental message of being itself, exactly the lex naturalis.

And how can we not mention, on one hand, the demand of justice that manifests itself in giving unicuique suum and, on the other, the expectation of solidarity that nourishes in everyone, especially if they are poor, the hope of the help of the more fortunate?

In these values are expressed unbreakable and contingent norms that do not depend on the will of the legislator and not even on the consensus that the State can and must give. They are, in fact, norms that precede any human law: as such, they are not subject to modification by anyone. The natural law, together with fundamental rights, is the source from which ethical imperatives also flow, which it is only right to honor.

In today's ethics and philosophy of Law, petitions of juridical positivism are widespread. As a result, legislation often becomes only a compromise between different interests: seeking to transform private interests or wishes into law that conflict with the duties deriving from social responsibility.

In this situation it is opportune to recall that every juridical methodology, be it on the local or international level, ultimately draws its legitimacy from its rooting in the natural law, in the ethical message inscribed in the actual human being.

Natural law is, definitively, the only valid bulwark against the arbitrary power or the deception of ideological manipulation. The knowledge of this law inscribed on the heart of man increases with the progress of the moral conscience.

The first duty for all, and particularly for those with public responsibility, must therefore be to promote the maturation of the moral conscience. This is the fundamental progress without which all other progress proves non-authentic.

The law inscribed in our nature is the true guarantee offered to everyone in order to be able to live in freedom and to be respected in their own dignity.

What has been said up to this point has very concrete applications if one refers to the family, that is, to "the intimate partnership of life and the love which constitutes the married state... established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 48).

Concerning this, the Second Vatican Council has opportunely recalled that the institution of marriage has been "confirmed by the divine law", and therefore "this sacred bond ... for the good of the partner, of the children and of society no longer depends on human decision alone" (ibid.).

Therefore, no law made by man can override the norm written by the Creator without society becoming dramatically wounded in what constitutes its basic foundation. To forget this would mean to weaken the family, penalizing the children and rendering the future of society precarious.

Lastly, I feel the duty to affirm yet again that not all that is scientifically possible is also ethically licit. Technology, when it reduces the human being to an object of experimentation, results in abandoning the weak subject to the arbitration of the stronger. To blindly entrust oneself to technology as the only guarantee of progress, without offering at the same time an ethical code that penetrates its roots in that same reality under study and development, would be equal to doing violence to human nature with devastating consequences for all.

The contribution of scientists is of primary importance. Together with the progress of our capacity to dominate nature, scientists must also contribute to help understand the depth of our responsibility for man and for nature entrusted to him.

On this basis it is possible to develop a fruitful dialogue between believers and non-believers; between theologians, philosophers, jurists and scientists, which can offer to legislation as well precious material for personal and social life.

Therefore, I hope these days of study will bring not only a greater sensitivity of the learned with regard to the natural moral law, but will also serve to create conditions so that this theme may reach an ever fuller awareness of the inalienable value that the lex naturalis possesses for a real and coherent progress of private life and the social order.

With this wish, I assure you of my remembrance in prayer for you and for your academic commitment to research and reflection, while I impart to all with affection the Apostolic Blessing.


On the 40 Days of Lent
"God Is Love and His Love Is the Secret of Our Happiness"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at today's general audience. The Pope dedicated his address to Ash Wednesday.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Ash Wednesday, which we celebrate today, is for us Christians a particular day, characterized by an intense spirit of recollection and reflection. We begin, in fact, the Lenten journey, time of listening to the word of God, of prayer and of penance. They are 40 days in which the liturgy will help us to relive the important phases of the mystery of salvation.

As we know, man was created to be a friend of God, but the sin of our first parents broke this relationship of trust and love and, as a consequence, humanity is incapable of fulfilling its original vocation.

Thanks, however, to the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, we have been rescued from the power of evil: Christ, in fact, writes the apostle John, has been the victim of expiation of our sins (cf. 1 John 2:2); and St. Peter adds: "Christ also died for sins once for all" (cf. 1 Peter 3:18).

On dying with Christ to sin, the baptized person is also reborn to a new life and is freely re-established in his dignity as son of God. For this reason, in the early Christian community, baptism was considered as the "first resurrection" (cf. Revelation 20:5; Romans 6:1-11; John 5:25-28).

From the beginning, therefore, Lent was lived as the time of immediate preparation for baptism, which is administered solemnly during the paschal vigil. The whole of Lent was a journey toward this great encounter with Christ, toward immersion in Christ and the renewal of life.

We are already baptized, but often baptism is not very effective in our daily life. Therefore, Lent is also for us a renewed "catechumenate" in which we again go out to encounter our baptism and rediscover and relive it in depth, to again be really Christians.

Therefore, Lent is an opportunity to "be" Christians "again," through a constant process of interior change and of progress in knowledge and love of Christ. Conversion never takes place once and for all, but is a process, an interior journey of our whole life. Certainly this journey of evangelical conversion cannot be limited to a particular period of the year: It is a journey of every day which must embrace our whole existence, every day of our lives.

From this point of view, for every Christian and for all ecclesial communities, Lent is the appropriate spiritual season to train with greater tenacity in the search for God, opening the heart to Christ.

St. Augustine said on one occasion that our life is the sole exercise of the desire to come close to God, of being able to let God enter into our being. "The whole life of the fervent Christian," he says, "is a holy desire." If this is so, in Lent we are invited even more to uproot "from our desires the roots of vanity" to educate the heart in the desire, that is, in the love of God. "God," says St. Augustine, "is all that we desire" (cf. "Tract. in Iohn," 4). And we hope that we really begin to desire God, and in this way desire true life, love itself and truth.

Particularly appropriate is Jesus' exhortation, recorded by the Evangelist Mark: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). The sincere desire for God leads us to reject evil and to do good. This conversion of the heart is above all a free gift of God, who created us for himself and has redeemed us in Jesus Christ: Our happiness consists in remaining in him (cf. John 15:3). For this reason, he himself anticipates our desire with his grace and supports our efforts of conversion.

But what does conversion really mean? Conversion means to seek God, to walk with God, to follow docilely the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ; to be converted is not an effort to fulfill oneself, because the human being is not the architect of his own destiny. We have not made ourselves. Therefore, self-fulfillment is a contradiction and is too little for us. We have a higher destiny.

We could say that conversion consists precisely in not considering ourselves "creators" of ourselves, thus discovering the truth, because we are not authors of ourselves. Conversion consists in accepting freely and with love that we depend totally on God, our true Creator, that we depend on love. This is not dependence but liberty.

To be converted means, therefore, not to pursue personal success, which is something that passes but that, abandoning all human security, we follow the Lord with simplicity and trust, so that Jesus will become for each one, as Teresa of Calcutta liked to say, "my all in all." Whoever lets himself be conquered by him is not afraid of losing his own life, because on the cross he loved us and gave himself for us. And, in fact, by losing our life out of love, we find it again.

I wished to underline the immense love God has for us in the message on the occasion of Lent, published a few days ago, so that Christians of the whole community can pause spiritually during the time of Lent, together with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, before him who on the cross consummated for humanity the sacrifice of his life (cf. John 19:25).

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, the cross is also for us, men and women of our time -- who all too often are distracted by earthly and momentary concerns and interests -- the definitive revelation of divine love and mercy. God is love and his love is the secret of our happiness. However, to enter into this mystery of love there is no other way than that of losing ourselves, of giving ourselves to the way of the cross.

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). For this reason, the Lenten liturgy, on inviting us to reflect and pray, stimulates us to value penance and sacrifice more, to reject sin and evil and to conquer egoism and indifference. Prayer, fasting and penance, works of charity toward brothers, become in this way spiritual paths that we must undertake to return to God in response to the repeated calls to conversion that the liturgy makes today (cf. Galatians 2:12-13; Matthew 6:16-18).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lenten period that we undertake today, with the austere and significant rite of the imposition of ashes, be for all a renewed experience of the merciful love of Christ, who on the cross shed his blood for us.

Let us listen to him with docility to learn "to regive" his love to our neighbor, especially those who are suffering and experiencing difficulties. This is the mission of every disciple of Christ, but to carry it out it is necessary to listen to his word and to nourish oneself assiduously on his body and blood. May the Lenten journey, which in the early Church was the journey to Christian initiation, to baptism and the Eucharist, be for us, the baptized, a "Eucharistic" time in which we take part with greater fervor in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

May the Virgin Mary -- who, after having shared the sorrowful passion of her divine Son, experienced the joy of resurrection -- accompany us during this Lent to the mystery of Easter, supreme revelation of the love of God.

A good Lent to all!


Papal Letter to Ex-Warsaw Archbishop
"Continue With Confidence and Serenity in Your Heart"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the letter Benedict XVI wrote to Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, following his resignation as archbishop of Warsaw. The letter was released today by the Vatican press office.

Archbishop Wielgus admitted his involvement with the Communist secret service and resigned as head of the Warsaw Archdiocese on Jan. 7, the day he was to be installed.

* * *

To Our Most Beloved Brother
Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus

I have read with care Your Excellency's beautiful letter of last January 8, and warmly thank you for the trust with which you opened your soul to me, showing the painful suffering of your heart during the whole of your life as priest and bishop, up to the resignation of the office of Archbishop of Warsaw.

In this last period I have shared in your sufferings and wish to assure you of my spiritual closeness and fraternal understanding.

In regard to the past, I am fully aware of the exceptional circumstances in which you carried out your service, when the Communist regime in Poland used all means to suffocate the liberties of citizens and, in a special way, of the clergy.

As Rector of the University of Lublin, and as Bishop of Plock, you have given proof of great devotion and profound love of Jesus Christ and of his Church.

When you presented your resignation a month ago, aware that the situation created did not allow you to begin the episcopal service with the indispensable authority, I saw clearly in this act a profound sensitivity for the good of the Church of Warsaw and of Poland, and also your humility and detachment from offices.

Above all I would like to encourage you to continue with confidence and serenity in your heart. I express the desire that you resume your activity at the service of Christ, in the way that is possible, so that you use your vast and profound knowledge and priestly devotion for the good of the beloved Church in Poland.

Today, as in the past, the episcopal mission is marked by suffering. May Our Lord sustain you with his grace. Of help also will by the friendship of brother bishops and of persons who have known and esteemed you.

With heartfelt sentiment, remembering you in constant prayer before the Lord and the Most Holy Virgin Mary, I impart to you from my heart a special Apostolic Blessing in the hope of abundant grace from heaven.

From the Vatican, February 12, 2007


Papal Homily at Cardinal Javierre's Funeral
"The Farewell Is Haloed With Hope and Joy"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Feb. 2 at Cardinal Antonio María Javierre Ortas' funeral Mass, held in St. Peter's Basilica.

The cardinal, who was born in Spain, was a former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

* * *



Altar of the Chair, St Peter's Basilica
Friday, 2 February 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Yesterday, the day after the liturgical memorial of St John Bosco, a spiritual son of his, our beloved Cardinal Antonio María Javierre Ortas, departed for Heaven. At the time of his departure, he was surrounded by the unanimous prayer for the repose of his soul that Salesians customarily raise for their deceased confreres and sisters on the very day after the Feast of their Founder.

Today, the Roman Curia, his friends and relatives join his Religious family on the day in which the liturgy commemorates the Presentation of the Lord at the temple.

The words of elderly Simeon as he clasped the Infant Jesus in his arms re-echo on this occasion with special emotion: "Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace -- now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word" (Lk 2:29). This is the prayer that the Church raises to God at nightfall and it is especially important to remember it today, thinking again of our Brother who has reached the end of his earthly life.

"Misercordias Domini in aeternum cantabo". Let us make our own these words from Cardinal Javierre Ortas' spiritual diary, as we accompany him on his journey to the Father's House.

He was born in Siétamo, in the Diocese of Huesca, on 21 February 1921. He was granted the gift of a long life, inspired from his youth by a pronounced missionary spirit. He would have liked, after the example of Don Bosco, to live out his vocation as a Salesian in direct contact with young people in a mission land but Providence summoned him to other offices.

Thus, he was an apostle in the university environment and in the milieus of the Roman Curia. However, he never missed an opportunity to carry out his intense spiritual activity in the essentially theological sphere, as well as in the broader domain of culture, especially by directing groups of professors and Religious and as chaplain to university students.

His was a faithful and generous service to the Church, always willing and cordial. Despite his venerable age, his departure was somewhat unexpected. Impelled by faith, but also by affection for his venerable figure, we are now gathered round the altar of the Lord, preparing to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice for him.

Christ's words that we have just heard in the Gospel ring out: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (Jn 6:51).

This is one of the sayings of Jesus that sums up the whole of his mystery. And it is comforting to listen to it and meditate upon it while we pray for a priestly soul who found in the Eucharist the centre of his life.

Intimate and persevering sacramental communion with the Body and Blood of Christ brings about a profound transformation of the person. The fruit of this inner process, which involves the whole person, is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians: "Mihi vivere Christus est" (Phil 1:21).

Thus, to die is a "gain", because only by dying is it possible to achieve fully that "being-in-Christ" of which Eucharistic Communion is a pledge on this earth.

Yesterday, I had in my hands several letters that Cardinal Javierre had written to beloved John Paul II in which this privileged reference to the Eucharist appears.

In 1992, when he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, he wrote: "I repeat on this occasion my unconditional desire for service. Your Holiness, I am relying on my sincere efforts to bring to completion the task you have entrusted to me. I imagine it gravitating totally around the EUCHARIST", written in capitals. "Everything is attracted to this barycentre".

Then on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his Priestly Ordination, he wrote in his letter thanking the Holy Father for his good wishes: "At the time of my ordination in Salamanca, the priesthood gravitated entirely around the Eucharist.... It is a joy to relive the sentiments of our ordination, aware that in the Eucharist, the Sacrament of his Sacrifice, Christ actualizes his one Priesthood to the full".

Our beloved late Cardinal is now joyfully participating in the Heavenly Banquet, the Messianic Feast mentioned by Isaiah in the First Reading, where death is swallowed up for ever and tears wiped from every face (cf. Is 25:8).

As we ourselves wait to take part in this eternal banquet of love, when the Lord pleases, we who are still pilgrims and he who has reached the goal are now brought together by the singing of the Responsorial Psalm that has resounded: "Dominus pascit me, et nihil mihi deerit: in loco pascuae, ibi me collocavit" (Ps 23[22]: 1-2). No, death does not frighten the person who lives in Christ; he experiences at every moment what the Psalmist says with trust: "Nam et si ambulavero in valle umbrae mortis, non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es" (23[22]: 4).

"Tu mecum es": these words refer to other words which the Risen Jesus addressed to the Apostles and which our Brother chose as his episcopal motto: "Ego vobiscum sum" (Mt 28:20).

In fact, Cardinal Javierre Ortas desired his personal existence and his ecclesial mission to be a message of hope; through his apostolate, after the example of St John Bosco, he strove to communicate to all that Christ is continually with us.

He, a son of the homeland of St Teresa and of St John of the Cross, prayed so often in his heart: "Let no one upset you, no one frighten you. One who holds fast to God lacks nothing. God alone suffices".

It is precisely because he was accustomed to living supported by these convictions that Cardinal Javierre Ortas, at the time of his retirement from active ministry in the Curia, was able to write anew to the Pope words steeped in hope: "It only remains for me to implore the Lord, in divine tones, to treat his Vicar kindly when, in the evening of life -- not far off -- the hour of examination on love strikes".

The coat-of-arms of our late Brother features a boat moored to two pillars; the boat is the Church, the helmsman is the Pope and the two pillars are the Eucharist and Our Lady. As a worthy Son of Don Bosco, the Cardinal was deeply devoted to Mary, whom he loved and venerated with the title: "Help of Christians". He sought to imitate the style of discreet and generous service of Our Lady, "Ancilla Domini" [Handmaid of the Lord].

He left his office as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments "on tiptoe", to devote himself to the service which on the contrary one must never give up: prayer. And now that the Heavenly Father has desired to have the Cardinal beside him, I am certain that in Heaven -- where we trust the Lord has welcomed him in his fatherly embrace -- he continues to pray for us.

I would like to conclude with a reflection that leads us to the embrace of the Redeemer.

"It is marvelous", he wrote, "to think that the series of sins of our life does not matter, that it suffices to raise our eyes and see the gesture of the Savior, who welcomes us one by one with infinite kindness in an extremely loving way. In this perspective", he ended, "the farewell is haloed with hope and joy".


Papal Address for Symposium of Secular Institutes
"God Is All and Will Be All In Your Lives"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI gave at the Vatican to the participants in the International Symposium of Secular Institutes on Feb. 3.

* * *

Clementine Hall

Saturday, 3 February 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters

I am pleased to be with you today, members of Secular Institutes whom I am meeting for the first time since my election to the Chair of the Apostle Peter. I greet you all with affection. I greet Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and I thank him for his words of filial devotion and spiritual closeness, also on your behalf. I greet Cardinal Cottier and the Secretary of your Congregation.

I greet the President of the World Conference of Secular Institutes, who has expressed the sentiments and expectations of all of you who have gathered here from different countries, from all the continents, to celebrate an International Symposium on the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia.

Sixty years have passed, as has already been said, since that 2 February 1947, when my Predecessor Pius XII promulgated this Apostolic Constitution, thereby giving a theological and juridical basis to an experience that matured in the previous decades and recognizing in Secular Institutes one of the innumerable gifts with which the Holy Spirit accompanies the Church on her journey and renews her down through all the ages.

That juridical act was not the goal but rather the starting point of a process that aimed to outline a new form of consecration: the consecration of faithful lay people and diocesan priests, called to live with Gospel radicalism precisely that secularity in which they are immersed by virtue of their state of life or pastoral ministry.

You are here today to continue to mark out that path plotted 60 years ago, which sees you as increasingly impassioned messengers in Jesus Christ of the meaning of the world and of history.

Your fervor is born from having discovered the beauty of Christ and of his unique way of loving, healing and meeting the needs of life and of enlivening and comforting it. And your lives aim to sing the praise of this beauty so that your being in the world may be a sign of your being in Christ.

Indeed, it is the mystery of the Incarnation that makes your integration in human events a place of theology: ("God so loved the world that he gave his only Son", Jn 3:16). The work of salvation was not wrought in opposition to the history of humankind but rather in and through it.

In this regard, the Letter to the Hebrews notes: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son" (1:1-2a).

This redeeming act was itself brought about in the context of time and history, and implies obedience to the plan of God inscribed in the work that came from his hands.

It is once again this same text from the Letter to the Hebrews, an inspired text, which points out: "When he said, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings' -- these are offered according to the law --, he then added, "Lo I have come to do your will'" (Heb 10: 8-9a).

These words of the Psalm and the Letter to the Hebrews, expressed through intra-Trinitarian dialogue, are words of the Son who says to the Father: "I have come to do your will". Thus, the Incarnation comes about: "Lo, I have come to do your will". The Lord involves us in his words which become our own: here I am, Lord, with the Son, to do your will.

In this way, the process of your sanctification is clearly marked out: self-sacrificing adherence to the saving plan manifested in the revealed Word, solidarity with history, the search for the Lord's will inscribed in human events governed by his Providence.

And at the same time, the characteristics of the secular mission are outlined: the witness to human virtues such as "righteousness and peace and joy" (Rom 14:17), the "good conduct" of which Peter speaks in his First Letter (cf. 2:12), echoing the Teacher's words: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven" (Mt 5:16).

Also part of the secular mission is the commitment to build a society that recognizes in the various environments the dignity of the person and the indispensable values for its total fulfilment: from politics to the economy, from education to the commitment to public health, from the management of services to scientific research.

The aim of every specific reality proper to and lived by the Christian, his own work and his own material interests that retain their relative consistency, is found in their being embraced by the same purpose for which the Son of God came into the world.

Therefore, may you feel challenged by every suffering, every injustice and every search for truth, beauty and goodness. This is not because you can come up with the solution to all problems; rather, it is because every circumstance in which human beings live and die is an opportunity for you to witness to God's saving work. This is your mission.

On the one hand, your consecration highlights the special grace that comes to you from the Spirit for the fulfilment of your vocation, and on the other, it commits you to total docility of mind, heart and will to the project of God the Father revealed in Jesus Christ, whom you have been called to follow radically.

Every encounter with Christ demands a profound change of attitude, but for some, as it was for you, the Lord's request is particularly demanding: you are asked to leave everything, because God is all and will be all in your lives. It is not merely a question of a different way of relating to Christ and of expressing your attachment to him, but of an option for God that requires of you constant, absolute and total trust in him.

Conforming your own lives to the life of Christ by entering into this words, conforming your own life to the life of Christ through the practice of the evangelical counsels, is a fundamental and binding feature which, in its specificity, demands the concrete and binding commitment of "mountaineers of the spirit", as venerable Pope Paul VI called you (Address to Participants in the First International Congress of Secular Institutes, 26 September 1970; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 8 October, p. 5).

The secular nature of your consecration brings to the fore, on the one hand, the means you use to fulfil it, that is, the means proper to every man and woman who live in ordinary conditions in the world, and on the other, the form of its development, that is, a profound relationship with the signs of the times which you are called to discern personally and as a community in the light of the Gospel.

Your charism has been authoritatively recognized several times precisely in this discernment in order for you to be a workshop of dialogue with the world, that "experimental workshop in which the Church ascertains practical ways for her relations with the world" (Pope Paul VI, Address to the Council of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and the International Union of Male and Female Superiors General, 6 November 1976; cf. ORE, 18 November, p. 3).

The enduring timeliness of your charism derives precisely from this, for this discernment must not take place from outside reality but from within it, through full involvement. This takes place in the daily relationships that you can weave in family and social relations, in professional activity, in the fabric of the civil and ecclesial communities.

The encounter with Christ and the act of following him, which impels and opens people, "must necessarily be reflected "ad extra' and expand naturally" in an encounter with one and all, for if God fulfils himself only in communion, it is also only in Trinitarian communion that human beings are fulfilled.

You are not called to establish special forms of living, of apostolic commitment or social intervention, but rather, forms that can come into being through personal relations, a source of prophetic riches. May your lives be like the yeast that leavens all the dough (cf. Mt 13:33), sometimes silent and hidden, but always with a positive and encouraging outreach capable of generating hope.

The place of your apostolate is therefore the whole human being, not only within the Christian community -- where the relationship materializes in listening to the Word and in sacramental life from which you draw to sustain your baptismal identity -- I say the place of your apostolate is the human being in his entirety, both within the Christian community and in the civil community, where relationships are formed in the search for the common good, in dialogue with all, called to witness to that Christian anthropology which constitutes a sensible proposal in a society bewildered and confused by its multicultural and multireligious profile.

You come from different countries and the cultural, political and even religious situations in which you live, work and grow old are different. In all of these situations, may you be seekers of the Truth, of the human revelation of God in life. We know it is a long journey, distressing at the present time, but its outcome is certain. Proclaim the beauty of God and of his creation.

Following Christ's example, be obedient to love, be men and women of gentleness and mercy, capable of taking to the highways of the world, doing only good. May yours be a life that is focused on the Beatitudes, that contradicts human logic to express unconditional trust in God, who wants human beings to be happy.

The Church also needs you to give completeness to her mission. Be seeds of holiness scattered by the handful in the furrows of history. Rooted in the freely given and effective action with which the Lord's Spirit guides human events, may you bear fruits of genuine faith, writing with your life and your witness trajectories of hope, writing them with the actions suggested by "creativity' in charity" (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," n. 50).

With these hopes, as I assure you of my constant prayers in support of your apostolic and charitable projects, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you.


Benedict XVI's Letter to South Korean President
"Promote the Common Good and Social Justice"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the letter Benedict XVI handed to Roh Moo-hyun, president of South Korea, on receiving him in audience today in the Vatican.

* * *

To His Excellency Mr. Roh Moo-hyun
President of the Republic of Korea

I am pleased to welcome Your Excellency to the Vatican and I thank you for your visit, which serves to strengthen the good relations that exist between your country and the Holy See. Your presence here is also a clear sign of your esteem for the Catholic Church. I would ask you to convey my affectionate greetings to the people of Korea, and to assure them of my prayers for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and throughout the region.

For over fifty years, the Korean people have suffered the consequences of division. Families have been split, close relatives have been separated from one another. Please let them know that I am spiritually close to them in their suffering. On compassionate grounds, I pray for a speedy solution to the problem which impedes so many from communicating with one another.

Sadly, the modern world is marked by an increasing number of threats to the dignity of human life. I wish therefore to commend all those in your country who work to uphold and defend the sanctity of life, marriage and the family, areas in which, as you know, the Catholic Church in Korea is particularly active. The risk of a nuclear arms race in the region is a further source of concern, fully shared by the Holy See. I urge all interested parties to make every effort to resolve the present tensions through peaceful means and to refrain from any gesture or initiative that might endanger the negotiations, while ensuring that the must vulnerable part of the North Korean population has access to humanitarian aid.

Mr. President, your country has experienced remarkable economic growth in recent times, for which I give thanks to God. At the same time, I am conscious that not all citizens are yet able to benefit fully from this increased prosperity. I therefore urge your Government to work in harmony with all those who seek to promote the common good and social justice.

In the meantime, I call upon Saint Andrew Kim Taegon and the Korean martyrs to protect the citizens of your beloved nation, and I assure you of my prayers and good wishes for all the people of Korea.

From the Vatican, 15 February 2007



Papal Address on World Day of the Sick
"It Is Important Not to Leave Them Abandoned"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sunday at the conclusion of the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on the occasion of the 15th World Day of the Sick.

* * *



Vatican Basilica
Sunday, 11 February 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is with great joy that I meet you here in the Vatican Basilica on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the annual World Day of the Sick, at the end of the Eucharistic celebration presided over by Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

To him, first of all, I address my greeting, which I extend to all of you present here: to the Archpriest of the Basilica, Archbishop Angelo Comastri, to the other Bishops, the priests and Religious. I greet the heads and members of the UNITALSI, who dedicate themselves to the transportation and care of the sick on pilgrimage and in other meaningful events.

I greet the heads and pilgrims of the "Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi" and those who will take part in this 15th Theological-Pastoral National Convention, both from Italy and abroad. I further greet the delegation of representatives of "Cammini d'Europa" [European Ways].

But my most cordial greeting is directed to you, dear sick people, to your families and the volunteers who care for you and accompany you with love today. Together with all of you I want to unite myself with those who today take part in the various events of the World Day of the Sick held in Seoul, South Korea. There, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, presides at the celebrations in my name.

Today is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, who a little less than 150 years ago appeared to a simple youth, St Bernadette Soubirous, showing herself as the Immaculate Conception.

Also in that apparition the Blessed Mother has shown herself as a tender mother to her children, recalling that the little, the poor are the beloved of God and to them the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed.

Dear friends, Mary, who with her faith accompanied her Son beneath the Cross, she who by a mysterious plan was associated to the sufferings of Christ her Son, never tires to exhort us to live and share with serene trust the experience of sorrow and sickness, offering it with faith to the Father, thus completing in our flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (cf. Col 1:24).

In this regard, I recall the words with which my venerable Predecessor Paul VI concluded the Apostolic Exhortation "Marialis Cultus": "Contemplated in the episodes of the Gospels and in the reality which she already possesses in the City of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary offers a calm vision and a reassuring word to modern man, torn as he often is between anguish and hope, defeated by the sense of his own limitations and assailed by limitless aspirations, troubled in his mind and divided in his heart, uncertain before the riddle of death, oppressed by loneliness while yearning for fellowship, a prey to boredom and disgust. She shows forth the victory of hope over anguish, of fellowship over solitude, of peace over anxiety, of joy and beauty over boredom and disgust, of eternal visions over earthly ones, of life over death" (n. 57).

They are words that shine light on our way, even when the sense of hope and the certainty of healing seem to vanish; they are words that I would like to be of special comfort to those who are struck by grave illnesses and pain.

And it is precisely to these our particularly tried brothers that today's World Day of the Sick is dedicated with special attention. We would like them to feel the material and spiritual closeness of the entire Christian community.

It is important not to leave them abandoned and in solitude while they try to face a very delicate moment in their life. Praiseworthy are those who with patience and love place their professional skills and human warmth at their service.

I think of doctors, nurses, health-care workers, volunteers, Religious and priests who without sparing themselves stoop down to them like the Good Samaritan, not considering their social condition, skin color or religious affiliation, but only their needs. In the face of every human being, and still more if tried and disfigured by sickness, shines the Face of Christ, who said: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).

Dear brothers and sisters, in a short while, this evening, a meaningful candlelight procession will reawaken the atmosphere that is created among pilgrims and those devoted to Lourdes. Our thought goes to the grotto of Massabielle, where human sorrows and hopes, fears and trust, meet.

How many pilgrims, comforted by the gaze of their Mother, find at Lourdes the strength to accomplish more easily the will of God even when it costs renunciation and pain, aware that, as the Apostle Paul affirms, all works to the good of those who love the Lord (cf. Rom 8:28).

May the candle that you hold alight in your hands be for you, dear brothers and sisters, the sign of a sincere desire to walk with Jesus, refulgence of peace, who shines in the darkness and urges us in our turn to be light and support for those near to us.

May no one, especially those who find themselves in the difficult situation of suffering, feel alone and abandoned.

I entrust you all this evening to the Virgin Mary. She, after having known unspeakable suffering, was assumed into Heaven, where she awaits us and where we too hope to be able to share one day the glory of her Divine Son, the joy without end.

With these sentiments I impart my Blessing to all of you present here and to those dear to you.


Women of the Early Church
"The Feminine Presence Was in No Way Secondary" (February 14, 2007)

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We come today to the end of the journey among the witnesses of early Christianity, mentioned in the writings of the New Testament. And we take advantage of the last stage of this first journey to focus our attention on the many feminine figures who played an effective and precious role in spreading the Gospel.

Their testimony cannot be forgotten, in keeping with what Jesus himself said about the woman who anointed his head shortly before his passion: "Truly I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9).

The Lord wants these witnesses of the Gospel, these figures who have made their contribution so that faith in him would grow, to be known and their memory to remain alive in the Church. Historically we can distinguish the role of women in primitive Christianity, during Jesus' earthly life and during the vicissitudes of the first Christian generation.

Of course, as we know, Jesus chose 12 men among his disciples as fathers of the new Israel "to be with him, and to be sent out to preach" (Mark 3:14-15). This fact is obvious but, in addition to the Twelve, pillars of the Church, fathers of the new People of God, many women were also chosen and numbered among the disciples.

I can only mention briefly those who found themselves on the path of Jesus himself, beginning with the prophetess Anna (cf. Luke 2:36-38), coming then to the Samaritan woman (cf. John 4:1-39), the Syrophoenician woman (cf. Mark 7:24-30), the woman with the hemorrhage (cf. Matthew 9:20-22) and the forgiven woman sinner (cf. Luke 7:36-50).

Nor will I consider the protagonists of some of his effective parables, for example, the woman who makes the bread (Matthew 13:33), the woman who loses the silver coin (Luke 15:8-10), or the vexing widow before the judge (Luke 18:1-8).

More significant for our discussion are the women who played an active role in the context of Jesus' mission. Above all, our thoughts go naturally to the Virgin Mary, who with her faith and maternal endeavor collaborated in a unique way in our redemption, to the point that Elizabeth was able to call her "blessed among women" (Luke 1:42), adding: "Blessed is she who believed" (Luke 1:45).

Becoming a disciple of Christ, Mary manifested at Cana her complete trust in him (cf. John 2:5) and followed him to the foot of the cross, where she received a maternal mission from him for all his disciples of all times, represented by John (cf. John 19:25-27).

There are, moreover, several women who in different ways gravitated around the figure of Jesus with functions of responsibility. The women who followed Jesus to serve him with their properties are an eloquent example of this. Luke gives us some names: Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna "and many others" (cf. Luke 8:2-3). Later, the Gospels tell us that the women, unlike the Twelve, did not abandon Jesus in the hour of his passion (cf. Matthew 27:56.61; Mark 15:40).

Outstanding among these women, in particular, is the Magdalene, who not only was present at the Passion, but also became the first witness and herald of the Risen One (cf. John 20:1,11-18). To Mary of Magdala, in fact, St. Thomas Aquinas dedicates the singular description "apostle of the apostles" ("apostolorum apostola"), dedicating a beautiful commentary to her: "Just as a woman had announced to the first man the words of death, so also a woman was the first to announce to the apostles the words of life" ("Super Ioannem," CAI publishers, Paragraph 2519).

Moreover, in the ambit of the early Church the feminine presence was in no way secondary. This is the case of the four daughters of "deacon" Philip, whose names are not mentioned, residents in Caesarea, all of them gifted, as St. Luke says, with the "gift of prophecy," that is, of the faculty to speak publicly under the action of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 21:9). The brevity of the news does not allow for more precise deductions.

We owe to St. Paul a more ample documentation on woman's dignity and ecclesial role. He begins with the fundamental principle, according to which, for the baptized "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28), that is, all united in the same nature, though each one with specific functions (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27-30).

The Apostle admits as something normal that woman can "prophesy" in the Christian community (1 Corinthians 11:5), that is, pronounce herself openly under the influence of the Holy Spirit, on the condition that it is for the edification of the community and in a dignified manner. Therefore, the famous exhortation "the women should keep silence in the churches" must be relativized (1 Corinthians 14:34).

The much-discussed problem on the relationship between the first phrase -- women can prophesy in church -- and the other -- they cannot speak -- that is, the relationship between these two indications which are seemingly contradictory, we leave for the exegetes.

It is not something that must be discussed here. Last Wednesday we already met with Prisca, or Priscilla, wife of Aquila, who in two cases is mentioned surprisingly before her husband (cf. Acts 18:18; Romans 16:3): Both are described explicitly by Paul as his "sun-ergous," or collaborators (Romans 16:3).

There are other observations that must not be neglected. It is necessary to state, for example, that the brief Letter to Philemon is addressed by Paul also to a woman called "Apphia" (cf. Philemon 2). Latin and Syrian translations of the Greek text add to the name "Apphia" the description "soror carissima" (ibid.), and it must be said that in the community of Colossae they must have had an important role. In any case, she is the only woman mentioned by Paul among the recipients of one of his letters.

In other passages, the Apostle mentions a certain Phoebe whom he calls "diakonos" of the church of Cenchreae, the small port city east of Corinth (cf. Romans 16:1-2). Although at that time the title still did not have a specific ministerial value of a hierarchical character, it expresses a genuine exercise of responsibility on the part of this woman in favor of that Christian community.

Paul requests that she be received cordially and "help her in whatever she may require," and then adds: "For she has been a benefactor to many and to me as well." In the same epistolary context, the Apostle, with delicate lines recalls other names of women: a certain Mary, and then Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis, "beloved," as well as Julia, of whom he writes openly that they "have worked hard for you" or "have worked hard in the Lord" (Romans 16:6,12a,12b,15), thus underlining their intense ecclesial commitment.

Moreover, two women, called Euodia and Syntyche, are distinguished in the church of Philippi (Philippians 4:2): Paul's appeal to mutual agreement suggests that the two women carried out an important function within that community.

In sum, the history of Christianity would have developed very differently if the generous contribution of many women had not taken place. For this reason, as my venerated and beloved predecessor, John Paul II, wrote in the apostolic letter "Mulieris Dignitatem": "Therefore, the Church gives thanks for each and every woman. ... The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: She gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness" (No. 31).

As we see, the praise refers to women in the course of the history of the Church and is expressed in the name of the whole ecclesial community. We also join ourselves to this appreciation, giving thanks to the Lord because he leads his Church, from generation to generation, making use indistinctly of men and women, who are able to make their faith and baptism fruitful for the good of the whole ecclesial Body for the greater glory of God.


Papal Message for Lent 2007
"They Shall Look on Him Whom They Have Pierced"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is Benedict XVI's message for Lent 2007. It was issued today by the Vatican press office.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"They shall look on Him whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37). This is the biblical theme that this year guides our Lenten reflection. Lent is a favourable time to learn to stay with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, close to Him who on the Cross, consummated for all mankind the sacrifice of His life (cf. Jn 19:25). With a more fervent participation let us direct our gaze, therefore, in this time of penance and prayer, at Christ crucified who, dying on Calvary, revealed fully for us the love of God. In the Encyclical Deus caritas est, I dwelt upon this theme of love, highlighting its two fundamental forms: agape and eros.

God's love: agape and eros

The term agape, which appears many times in the New Testament, indicates the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other. The word eros, on the other hand, denotes the love of one who desires to possess what he or she lacks and yearns for union with the beloved. The love with which God surrounds us is undoubtedly agape. Indeed, can man give to God some good that He does not already possess? All that the human creature is and has is divine gift. It is the creature then, who is in need of God in everything. But God's love is also eros. In the Old Testament, the Creator of the universe manifests toward the people whom He has chosen as His own a predilection that transcends every human motivation. The prophet Hosea expresses this divine passion with daring images such as the love of a man for an adulterous woman (cf. 3:1-3). For his part, Ezekiel, speaking of God's relationship with the people of Israel, is not afraid to use strong and passionate language (cf. 16:1-22). These biblical texts indicate that eros is part of God's very heart: the Almighty awaits the "yes" of His creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride. Unfortunately, from its very origins, mankind, seduced by the lies of the Evil One, rejected God's love in the illusion of a self-sufficiency that is impossible (cf. Gn 3:1-7). Turning in on himself, Adam withdrew from that source of life who is God Himself, and became the first of "those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage" (Heb 2:15). God, however, did not give up. On the contrary, man's "no" was the decisive impulse that moved Him to manifest His love in all of its redeeming strength.

The Cross reveals the fullness of God's love

It is in the mystery of the Cross that the overwhelming power of the heavenly Father's mercy is revealed in all of its fullness. In order to win back the love of His creature, He accepted to pay a very high price: the blood of His only begotten Son. Death, which for the first Adam was an extreme sign of loneliness and powerlessness, was thus transformed in the supreme act of love and freedom of the new Adam. One could very well assert, therefore, together with Saint Maximus the Confessor, that Christ "died, if one could say so, divinely, because He died freely" (Ambigua, 91, 1956). On the Cross, God's eros for us is made manifest. Eros is indeed -- as Pseudo-Dionysius expresses it -- that force "that does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved" (De divinis nominibus, IV, 13: PG 3, 712). Is there more "mad eros" (N. Cabasilas, Vita in Cristo, 648) than that which led the Son of God to make Himself one with us even to the point of suffering as His own the consequences of our offences?

"Him whom they have pierced"

Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced in the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the Cross, it is God Himself who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. The Apostle Thomas recognized Jesus as "Lord and God" when he put his hand into the wound of His side. Not surprisingly, many of the saints found in the Heart of Jesus the deepest expression of this mystery of love. One could rightly say that the revelation of God's eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of His agape. In all truth, only the love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instills a joy, which eases the heaviest of burdens. Jesus said: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32). The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome His love and allow ourselves to be drawn to Him. Accepting His love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ "draws me to Himself" in order to unite Himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with His own love.

Blood and water

"They shall look on Him whom they have pierced." Let us look with trust at the pierced side of Jesus from which flow "blood and water" (Jn 19:34)! The Fathers of the Church considered these elements as symbols of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Through the water of Baptism, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, we are given access to the intimacy of Trinitarian love. In the Lenten journey, memorial of our Baptism, we are exhorted to come out of ourselves in order to open ourselves, in trustful abandonment, to the merciful embrace of the Father (cf. Saint John Chrysostom, Catecheses, 3,14ff). Blood, symbol of the love of the Good Shepherd, flows into us especially in the Eucharistic mystery: "The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation … we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving" (Encyclical Deus caritas est, 13). Let us live Lent then, as a "Eucharistic" time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed. Contemplating "Him whom they have pierced" moves us in this way to open our hearts to others, recognizing the wounds inflicted upon the dignity of the human person; it moves us, in particular, to fight every form of contempt for life and human exploitation and to alleviate the tragedies of loneliness and abandonment of so many people. May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God's love given to us in Christ, a love that each day we, in turn, must "regive" to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need. Only in this way will we be able to participate fully in the joy of Easter. May Mary, Mother of Beautiful Love, guide us in this Lenten journey, a journey of authentic conversion to the love of Christ. I wish you, dear brothers and sisters, a fruitful Lenten journey, imparting with affection to all of you, a special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 21 November 2006.



On World Day of the Sick
"Offer Integral Care ... Human Support" (Februray 11, 2007)

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Church remembers today the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette, which occurred Feb. 11, 1858, in the grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, a miraculous event which has made that town, located in the French Pyrenees, a world center of pilgrimages and of intense Marian spirituality.

In that place, now almost 150 years ago, the Virgin's appeal for prayer and penance resounds forcefully, an almost permanent echo of the invitation with which Jesus began his pilgrimage in Galilee: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).

That shrine has become, moreover, the object of numerous sick pilgrims, who on listening to Mary Most Holy, receive the encouragement to accept their sufferings and to offer them for the salvation of the world, uniting them to those of Christ crucified.

Because of this link between Lourdes and human suffering, 15 years ago, our beloved John Paul II wished that the World Day of the Sick be celebrated on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

This year, the heart of this celebration will be in the city of Seoul, capital of South Korea, where I have sent as my representative Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. To him and to all those gathered there, I send my cordial greetings.

I would like to extend my greetings to health agents worldwide, aware of the importance in our society of their service to the sick, above all, I wish to express my spiritual closeness and affection to our sick brothers and sisters, with a special remembrance for those who are affected by particularly serious or painful illnesses: Our attention is dedicated in particular to them on this day.

It is necessary to support the development of palliative treatments that offer integral care and dispense to incurably sick people that human support and spiritual accompaniment they so need.

This afternoon, in St. Peter's Basilica, numerous sick people and pilgrims will gather around Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who will preside at the Eucharistic celebration. At the end of the Holy Mass, I will have the joy, as last year, of meeting with them, reliving the spiritual climate that is felt in the Grotto of Massabielle. With the Angelus, prayer, I would now like to commend to the protection of the Immaculate Virgin, the sick and those suffering in body and spirit throughout the world.


Pope's Address to Interreligious Foundation
"A Vital Need for Our Time"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Feb. 1 when he received in audience members of the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue.

* * *

Dear Friends,

It is a joy for me, having been one of the founding members of the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue, to meet you again and to welcome you today at the Vatican. I greet in particular His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan whom I have the pleasure to meet on this occasion.

I thank H.E. Metropolitan Damaskinos of Andrianoupolis, your President, who has presented to me the first result of your work: a joint edition of the three Sacred Books of the three monotheistic religions in their original language and in chronological order. Indeed, this was the very first project we conceived of in creating the Foundation together, so as to "make a specific and positive contribution to the dialogue between cultures and religions".

As I have said on several occasions, in continuation with the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" and with my beloved Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, we, Jews, Christians and Muslims are called to develop the bonds that unite us.

Indeed, it was this idea that led us to create this Foundation which aims to seek "the most essential and authentic message that the three monotheistic religions, namely, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, can address to the world of the 21st century", to give a new impetus to interreligious and intercultural dialogue by means of our common research and by highlighting and disseminating everything in our respective spiritual heritages that helps to strengthen fraternal ties between our communities of believers.

Consequently, the Foundation had to work out an instrument of reference that would help us overcome misunderstandings and prejudices and offer a common platform for future work. Thus, you have produced this beautiful edition of the three books which are the source of our religious beliefs, creators of culture, that have made a deep mark on peoples and to which we are indebted today.

The reinterpretation, and for some people, the discovery of the texts that so many people across the world venerate as sacred, demands mutual respect in trusting dialogue. Our contemporaries expect of us a message of harmony and peace and the practical expression of our common willingness to help them achieve their legitimate aspiration to live in justice and peace.

They are entitled to expect of us a strong sign of renewed understanding and reinforced cooperation in accordance with the actual objective of the Foundation, which proposes to offer "to the world in this way a sign of hope and the promise of divine Blessings that always accompanies charitable action".

The Foundation's work will contribute to a growing awareness of everything in the different cultures of our time which is in conformity with divine wisdom and serves human dignity, the better to discern and reject everything that usurps God's name and deforms man's humanity.

Thus, we are invited to engage in a common task of reflection. This is a labor of reason for which I wholeheartedly appeal, with you, to be able to examine God's mystery in the light of our respective religious traditions and wisdom so as to discern the values likely to illumine the men and women of all the peoples on earth, whatever their culture and religion.

For this reason it is henceforth invaluable to have at our disposal a common reference point, thanks to the work you have done. Thus, we will be able to make headway in interreligious and intercultural dialogue which today is more necessary than ever: a true dialogue, respectful of differences, courageous, patient and persevering, which finds its strength in prayer and is nourished by the hope that dwells in all who believe in God and put their trust in him.

Our respective religious traditions all insist on the sacred character of the life and dignity of the human person. We believe that God will bless our initiatives if they converge for the good of all his children and enable them to respect each other in brotherhood world-wide.

Together with all people of good will, we aspire to peace. That is why I insist once again: interreligious and intercultural research and dialogue are not an option but a vital need for our time.

May the Almighty bless your work and grant an abundance of his Blessings to you and to your loved ones!


Pope's Address at Vaccine Project Launch
"Every Service Rendered to the Poor Is a Service Rendered to Peace"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 9, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today when he received in audience today representatives of the Advance Market Commitment project, formed to provide to the world's poor vaccines that will help to prevent pneumonia and meningitis.

* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you, the finance ministers of Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and Russia, as well as other ministers, distinguished international leaders and important international figures, including the Queen of Jordan and the President of the World Bank. I thank Minister Tommaso Padoa Schioppa for his courteous words of greeting offered on your behalf. Our meeting today is a most welcome one, since it takes place as part of the launching of a pilot program aimed at developing and producing vaccines against pandemic diseases, and making them available to poorer countries. This worthy initiative, entitled Advance Market Commitment, is meant to help resolve one of the most pressing challenges in preventative healthcare, one which particularly affects nations already suffering from poverty and serious needs. It has the further merit of bringing together public institutions and the private sector in an effort to find the most effective means of intervening in this area.

Our gathering takes place just before the World Day of the Sick, held annually on 11 February, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is an occasion for the Church to call public attention to the plight of the suffering, and this year it focuses on those with incurable diseases, many of whom are in the terminal stage. In this context, I wholeheartedly encourage your efforts for this new program and its goal of advancing scientific research directed to the discovery of new vaccines. Such vaccines are urgently needed to prevent millions of human beings, including countless children, from dying each year of infectious diseases, especially in those areas of our world at greatest risk. In this era of globalized markets, we are all concerned about the growing gap between the standard of living in countries enjoying great wealth and a high level of technological development, and that of underdeveloped countries where poverty persists and is even increasing.

The creative and promising initiative launched today seeks to counter this trend, since it aims to create "future" markets for vaccines, primarily those capable of preventing infant mortality. I assure you of the Holy See's full support of this humanitarian project, which is inspired by that spirit of human solidarity which our world needs in order to overcome every form of selfishness and to foster the peaceful coexistence of peoples. As I said in my Message for this year's World Day of Peace, every service rendered to the poor is a service rendered to peace, for "at the origin of many tensions that threaten peace are surely the many unjust inequalities still tragically present in our world" (No. 6).

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I will pray for each of you that Almighty God will assist your endeavors to accomplish this important work. Upon you and your loved ones, I cordially invoke his blessings of wisdom, strength and peace.


Papal Address on World Day of Consecrated Life
"That God Reign in Our Will, in Our Hearts, in the World"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave in St. Peter's Basilica on the World Day of Consecrated Life, Feb. 2.

* * *


Vatican Basilica
Friday, 2 February 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am glad to meet you at the end of the Eucharistic Celebration that has gathered you in this Basilica this year too, on an occasion so meaningful for you who belong to Congregations, Institutes, Societies of Apostolic Life and New Forms of Consecrated Life; you constitute a particularly important element of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Today's liturgy recalls the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, the feast chosen by my venerable Predecessor, John Paul II, as the "Day of Consecrated Life".

With great pleasure I address my cordial greetings to each one of you present here, beginning with Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of your Dicastery, to whom I am grateful for his kind words on your behalf. I then greet the Secretary and all the members of the Congregation which looks after a vital sector of the Church. Today's celebration is especially appropriate for asking the Lord for the gift of an ever more consistent and incisive presence of men and women religious and consecrated persons in the Church journeying along the roads of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Feast day we are celebrating reminds us that your Gospel witness, to be truly effective, must stem from a response without reserve to the initiative of God who has consecrated you to him with a special act of love.

Just as the elderly Simeon and Anna longed to see the Messiah before they died and spoke of him "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (cf. Lk 2:26,38) so also in our time, especially among young people, there is a widespread need to encounter God.

Those who are chosen by God for the consecrated life make this spiritual longing their own in a definitive way. In it, in fact, they have one expectation: the Kingdom of God: that God reign in our will, in our hearts, in the world. In them burns a unique thirst for love which can be quenched by the Eternal One alone.

By their example they proclaim to a world which is often bewildered but, in fact, increasingly in search of meaning, that God is the Lord of life and that his "steadfast love is better than life" (Ps 63[62]:4[3]).

By choosing obedience, poverty and chastity for the Kingdom of Heaven, they demonstrate that any attachment or love for people and things is incapable of definitively satisfying the heart; that earthly existence is a longer or shorter period of waiting for the "face-to-face" encounter with the divine Bridegroom, an expectation to be lived with an ever vigilant heart, to be ready to recognize and welcome him when he comes.

Consecrated life, therefore, is by its nature a total and definitive, unconditional and passionate response to God (cf. "Vita Consecrata," n. 17). And so, when one renounces everything to follow Christ, when one gives to him all that one holds most dear, braving every sacrifice as did the divine Teacher, the consecrated person who follows in Christ's footsteps necessarily also becomes "a sign of contradiction", because his/her way of thinking and living is often in opposition to the logic of the world, as it is almost always presented in the media.

Indeed, in choosing Christ we let ourselves be "conquered" by him without reserve. How many people thirsting for the truth are struck by this courage and attracted by those who do not hesitate to give their life, their own life, for their belief.

Is not this the radical evangelical fidelity to which every consecrated person is called in our time too? Let us give thanks to the Lord so that many Religious men and women in all the corners of the earth may continue to offer a supreme and faithful witness of love to God and to the brethren, a witness that is often marked by the blood of martyrdom. Let us also thank God so that these examples may continue to inspire in the souls of many young people the desire to follow Christ always in an intimate and total way.

Dear brothers and sisters, never forget that the consecrated life is a divine gift and that it is the Lord in the first place who ensures its success in accordance with his plans. This certainty that the Lord leads us to a successful conclusion despite our weakness; this certainty must be a comfort to you, protecting you from the temptation of discouragement in the face of the inevitable difficulties of life and the many challenges of the modern epoch. Indeed, in the difficult period in which we live many Institutes may feel a sense of dismay at the failings they discover within them and the many obstacles they encounter in carrying out their mission.

Today that Child Jesus who is presented at the Temple is alive among us and invisibly supports us so that we may cooperate faithfully with him in the work of salvation, and he does not abandon us.

Today's liturgy is particularly evocative because it is marked by the symbol of light. The solemn procession with candles which you made at the beginning of the celebration points to Christ, the true light of the world who shines in the night of history and illumines every seeker of the truth. Dear consecrated men and women, burn with this flame and make it radiant with your life so that a gleam of the brightness that shone from Jesus, the splendour of the truth, may shine everywhere.

By dedicating yourselves exclusively to him (cf. "Vita Consecrata," n. 15), you witness to the fascination of the truth of Christ and the joy that derives from love for him. In contemplation and in activity, in solitude and in fraternity, in service to the poor and the lowly, in personal guidance and in the modern areopaghi, be ready to proclaim and to witness that God is Love and that to love him is sweet.

May Mary, the Tota Pulchra, teach you to transmit to men and women today this divine fascination that must transpire from your words and actions. As I express to you my grateful appreciation for the service you render to the Church, I assure you of my constant remembrance in prayer and I warmly bless you all.


On Aquila and Priscilla
"Every House Can Be Transformed Into a Small Church"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at today's general audience. The Pope spoke about Aquila and Priscilla, a married couple active in the early Church.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Taking a step forward in this kind of portrait gallery of the witnesses to Christian faith that we started a few weeks ago, today we consider a married couple. The couple in question are Priscilla and Aquila, who have their place among the circle of numerous collaborators drawn to the apostle Paul, and whom I already briefly mentioned last Wednesday. Based on the information we have, this married couple developed a very active role at the time of the post-paschal origins of the Church.

The names of Aquila and Priscilla are Latin, but the man and woman who bear them were of Jewish origin. However, Aquila, at least, came geographically from the Diaspora of northern Anatolia, which overlooks the Black Sea, in what is now Turkey; while Priscilla, whose name is sometimes abbreviated to Prisca, was probably a Jew originating from Rome (cf. Acts 18:2).

In any case, it is from Rome that they arrive at Corinth, where Paul met them at the beginning of the 50s; there he became associated with them, since, as Luke tells us, they also practiced Paul's trade of tentmakers for domestic use, and he was even welcomed into their home (cf. Acts 18:3).

The reason for their coming to Corinth was the decision of Emperor Claudius to expel from Rome the Jews living in the city. The Roman historian Suetonius tells us that he expelled the Jews because "they were rioting on account of someone named Chrestus" (cf. "The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Claudius," 25).

One can see that he did not know the name well -- instead of Christ he writes "Chrestus" -- and that he only had a very confused idea about what had happened. In any case, there were disagreements within the Jewish community about the issue of whether Jesus was the Christ. And these problems were the reason the emperor simply expelled all Jews from Rome.

One can deduce from this that the couple had already embraced the Christian faith in Rome during the 40s, and had now found in Paul someone who not only shared with them this faith, that Jesus is the Christ, but who was also an apostle, personally called by the Risen Lord. Therefore, their first encounter is in Corinth, where they welcome him into their home and they work together making tents.

In a second moment, they move to Ephesus, in Asia Minor. There they played a decisive role in completing the formation of the Alexandrian Jew, Apollo, of whom we spoke last Wednesday. Since he only had a superficial knowledge of the Christian faith, "Priscilla and Aquila heard him, then took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26).

When the apostle Paul writes his First Letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus, together with his characteristic greetings, he explicitly mentions "Aquila and Prisca, together with the church at their house" (1 Corinthians 16:19).

In this way we come to know the hugely important role this couple played in the sphere of the primitive Church: that of welcoming in their own home the group of local Christians when they got together to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist.

It is precisely that type of gathering that in Greek is called "ekklesìa" -- the Latin word is "ecclesia" -- the Italian "chiesa" -- that means assembly, gathering. So, in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, the Church gets together, the Church summoned by Christ, which celebrates here the Sacred Mysteries.

In this way we can see the very birth of the reality of the Church in the homes of the believers. Christians, in fact, until around the third century, did not have their own places of worship: At first, they gathered in Jewish synagogues, until the original symbiosis between the Old and New Testament was dissolved and the Church of the people was forced to give itself its own identity, always deeply rooted in the Old Testament.

Then, after this "split," they gather in the homes of Christians, which in this way become "Church." And finally, in the third century, authentic buildings for Christian worship were born.

But here, in the first half of the first century as in the second century, Christian houses become true and proper "church." As I have said, they read Scripture together and celebrated the Eucharist. That was what used to happen, for example, in Corinth, where Paul mentions a certain "Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church" (Romans 16:23), or in Laodicea, where the community would get together in the house of a certain Nympha (Colossians 4:15), or in Colossae, where the gathering would take place in the house of a certain Archippus (cf. Philemon 2).

Having subsequently returned to Rome, Aquila and Priscilla continue to develop that most precious function in the capital of the empire as well. Paul, in fact, writing to the Romans, sends this precise greeting: "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles; greet also the church at their house" (Romans 16:3-5).

What extraordinary praise is found in these words! And it is the apostle Paul, no less, who offers it! He explicitly recognizes in them two true and important collaborators of his apostolate.

The reference to their having risked their lives for him is probably linked to an intervention in his favor during an imprisonment of his, perhaps in Ephesus itself (cf. Acts 19:23; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

And that Paul should associate all the Churches of the Gentiles with his own gratitude, although the statement may seem to be hyperbole, allows us, in any case, to intuit how great their range of action and their influence for the good of the Gospel was.

Later hagiographic tradition has conferred singular importance on Priscilla, even if the problem remains of her identification with another Priscilla who was a martyr. In any case, here in Rome we have both a church dedicated to St. Prisca on the Aventine, and the Catacombs of Priscilla on Via Salaria.

In this way, the memory of a woman who has surely been an active person of great value in the history of Roman Christianity is perpetuated. One thing is certain: Together with the gratitude of those first Churches, of which Paul speaks, our own must be added, since due to the faith and apostolic commitment of faithful lay people, of families, of married couples such as Priscilla and Aquila, Christianity has reached our generation.

It was not only able to grow thanks to the apostles who announced it. In order to take root in peoples' land, in order to develop in a living way, it was necessary that there be the commitment of these families, of these couples, of these Christian communities, of faithful lay people who offered "humus" to the growth of faith.

And it is always in this way that the Church grows. In particular, this couple proves just how important the action of Christian spouses is. When these are supported by faith and a strong spirituality, their courageous commitment to and in the Church becomes natural.

Their daily community of life is prolonged and somehow sublimated in the taking on of a public responsibility for the good of the Body of Christ, even if just a small part of it. This is how it was in the first generation and this is how it will often be.

One further lesson we cannot neglect to take from their example: Every house can be transformed into a small church. Not only in the sense that, therein, Christian love, typically made of altruism and mutual care, should reign, but even more in the sense that the whole of family life, founded on faith, is called to revolve around the sole lordship of Jesus Christ.

Not by chance, in the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul compares the relationship of matrimony to the spousal communion between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Even more, we can maintain that the Apostle shapes the life of the whole Church on that of the family. And the Church, in reality, is the family of God.

For this reason we honor Aquila and Priscilla as models of conjugal life, responsibly committed to the service of the entire Christian community. And we find in them the model of the Church, family of God for all times.


On Christian Unity
"It Is Not We Who Organize the Unity of the Church"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Jan. 25 at vespers. It was the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and the closing of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The ceremony, held in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, was attended by representatives of other Christian confessions of Rome, including Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop Gennadios of Italy; Bishop John Flack, director of the Anglican Communion's Center of Rome; and Pastor Holger Milkau, dean of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Italy.

* * *

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Thursday, 25 January 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During the "Week of Prayer" that will conclude this evening, the common entreaty addressed to the Lord for Christian unity was intensified in the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities across the world. Together, we meditated on the words of Mark's Gospel that have just been proclaimed: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7:37), the biblical theme suggested by the Christian Communities of South Africa.

The situations of racism, poverty, conflict, exploitation, sickness and suffering in which they find themselves because of the impossibility of being able to make themselves understood in their needs, gives rise in them to an acute need to hear the word of God and to speak courageously.

Is not being deaf and mute, that is, being unable either to listen or to speak, a sign of a lack of communion and a symptom of division? Division and the inability to communicate, a consequence of sin, are contrary to God's plan. This year Africa has given us a theme for reflection of great religious and political importance, because the ability "to speak" and "to listen" is an essential condition for building the civilization of love.

The words "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" are good news that proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God and the healing of the inability to communicate and of division. This message is rediscovered in all Jesus' preaching and work. Wherever he went, whether traveling through villages, cities or the countryside, the people "laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well" (Mk 6:56).

The healing of the deaf-mute, on which we have meditated in these days occurred while Jesus, having left the region of Tyre, was making his way to the Sea of Galilee through the so-called "Decapolis", a multi-ethnic and multi-religious district (cf. Mk 7:31), an emblematic situation even in our day.

As elsewhere, in the Decapolis too, they presented a sick man to Jesus, a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment (moghìlalon), begging him to lay his hands upon him because they considered him a man of God.

Jesus took the man aside from the multitude and performed gestures that infer a salvific contact: he put his fingers into his ears, and touched the tongue of the sick man with his own saliva, then, looking up to Heaven, he commanded: "Be opened!". He spoke this command in Aramaic (Ephphatha), in all likelihood the language of the people present and of the deaf-mute himself. The Evangelist translated this term into Greek as (dianoìchthe-ti). The ears of the deaf man were opened, his tongue was released, and "he spoke plainly" (ortho-s).

Jesus exhorted them to say nothing about the miracle. But the more he exhorted them, "the more zealously they proclaimed it" (Mk 7:36). And the comment full of wonder of those who had been there recalls the preaching of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7:37).

The first lesson we draw from this biblical episode, also recalled in the rite of Baptism, is that listening, in the Christian perspective, is a priority.

In this regard, Jesus says explicitly: "Blessed ... are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Lk 11:28). Indeed, to Martha worried about many things, he said that "one thing is needful" (Lk 10:42). And from the context it becomes evident that this "one thing" is the obedient listening to the Word. Therefore, listening to the Word of God is a priority for our ecumenical commitment. Indeed, it is not we who act or who organize the unity of the Church. The Church does not make herself or live of herself, but from the creative Word that comes from the mouth of God.

To listen to the word of God together; to practice the lectio divina of the Bible, that is, reading linked with prayer; letting ourselves be amazed by the newness of the Word of God that never ages and is never depleted; overcoming our deafness to those words that do not correspond with our prejudices and our opinions; to listen and also to study, in the communion of believers of all ages; all these things constitute a path to be taken in order to achieve unity in the faith as a response to listening to the Word.

Anyone who listens to the Word of God can and must speak and transmit it to others, to those who have never heard it, or who have forgotten it and buried under the thorny troubles and deceptions of the world (cf. Mt 13:22).

We must ask ourselves: have not we Christians become perhaps too silent? Do we not perhaps lack the courage to speak out and witness as did those who witnessed the healing of the deaf-mute in the Decapolis? Our world needs this witness; above all, it is waiting for the common testimony of Christians.

Therefore listening to the God who speaks also implies a reciprocal listening, the dialogue between the Churches and the Ecclesial Communities. Honest and loyal dialogue is the typical and indispensable instrument in the quest for unity.

The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council emphasized that if Christians do not know each other reciprocally, progress on the path of communion is unthinkable. Indeed, in dialogue we listen and communicate; we confront one another and, with God's grace, it is possible to converge on his Word, accepting its demands that apply to all.

The Council Fathers did not expect listening and dialogue to be helpful for ecumenical progress alone, but they added a perspective which refers to the Catholic Church herself: "From such dialogue" the conciliar text states, "will emerge still more clearly what the situation of the Catholic Church really is" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 9).

It is indispensable "that the doctrine be clearly presented in its entirety" for a dialogue that confronts, discusses and overcomes the divergences that still exist among Christians, but of course, "the manner and order in which Catholic belief is expressed should in no way become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren" (ibid., n. 11).

It is necessary to speak correctly (orthos) and in a comprehensible way. The ecumenical dialogue entails evangelical fraternal correction and leads to a reciprocal spiritual enrichment in the sharing of authentic experiences of faith and Christian life.

For this to happen, we must tirelessly implore the help of God's grace and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. This is what the Christians of the whole world did during this special "Week" or what they will do in the Novena that precedes Pentecost, as on every appropriate occasion, raising their trusting prayer that all Christ's disciples may be one, and that, in listening to the Word, they may be able to give a concordant witness with the men and women of our time.

In this atmosphere of intense communion, I would like to address my cordial greeting to all those present: to the Cardinal Archpriest of this Basilica and to the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and to the other Cardinals, to my venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood, to the Benedictine monks, to the men and women Religious, to the lay people who represent the entire diocesan community of Rome.

I would especially like to greet the brethren from the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities who have taken part in the celebration, thereby renewing the important tradition of concluding the "Week of Prayer" together on the day when we commemorate the striking conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus.

I am pleased to point out that the tomb of the Apostle to the Gentiles, where we are today, has recently undergone investigation and study, subsequent to which it was decided to make it visible to pilgrims by a timely adjustment under the main altar. I express my congratulations on this important initiative.

To the intercession of St Paul, untiring builder of the unity of the Church, I entrust the fruits of listening and of the common witness we have been able to experience in the numerous fraternal meetings and dialogues that took place during 2006, both with the Eastern Churches and with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West.

In these events, it was possible to perceive the joy of brotherhood, together with regret that the tensions endure, keeping ever alive the hope that the Lord kindles within us.

Let us thank all those who helped to intensify the ecumenical dialogue with prayer, with the offering of their suffering and with their tireless action. It is above all to Our Lord Jesus Christ that we render our fervent thanks for everything.

May the Virgin Mary obtain that we may achieve as soon as possible the ardent desire of her divine Son: "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17:21).


Papal Message for 22nd Youth Day
"A 'Discovery' of Love"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 5, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the message Benedict XVI wrote to young people, for the diocesan-level World Youth Day, to be observed April 1.

* * *

"Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34)

My dear young friends,

On the occasion of the 22nd World Youth Day that will be celebrated in the dioceses on Palm Sunday, I would like to propose for your meditation the words of Jesus: "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34).

Is it possible to love?

Everybody feels the longing to love and to be loved. Yet, how difficult it is to love, and how many mistakes and failures have to be reckoned with in love! There are those who even come to doubt that love is possible. But if emotional delusions or lack of affection can cause us to think that love is utopian, an impossible dream, should we then become resigned? No! Love is possible, and the purpose of my message is to help reawaken in each one of you -- you who are the future and hope of humanity --, trust in a love that is true, faithful and strong; a love that generates peace and joy; a love that binds people together and allows them to feel free in respect for one another. Let us now go on a journey together in three stages, as we embark on a "discovery" of love.

God, the source of love

The first stage concerns the source of true love. There is only one source, and that is God. Saint John makes this clear when he declares that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16). He was not simply saying that God loves us, but that the very being of God is love. Here we find ourselves before the most dazzling revelation of the source of love, the mystery of the Trinity: in God, one and triune, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, but it is a person; it is the Holy Spirit.

The Cross of Christ fully reveals the love of God

How is God-Love revealed to us? We have now reached the second stage of our journey. Even though the signs of divine love are already clearly present in creation, the full revelation of the intimate mystery of God came to us through the Incarnation when God himself became man. In Christ, true God and true Man, we have come to know love in all its magnitude. In fact, as I wrote in the Encyclical Deus caritas est, "the real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts -- an unprecedented realism" (n. 12). The manifestation of divine love is total and perfect in the Cross where, we are told by Saint Paul, "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" (Rm 5:8). Therefore, each one of us can truly say: "Christ loved me and gave himself up for me" (cf Eph 5:2). Redeemed by his blood, no human life is useless or of little value, because each of us is loved personally by Him with a passionate and faithful love, a love without limits. The Cross, -- for the world a folly, for many believers a scandal --, is in fact the "wisdom of God" for those who allow themselves to be touched right to the innermost depths of their being, "for God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength" (1 Cor 1:25). Moreover, the Crucifix, which after the Resurrection would carry forever the marks of his passion, exposes the "distortions" and lies about God that underlie violence, vengeance and exclusion. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sins of the world and eradicates hatred from the heart of humankind. This is the true "revolution" that He brings about: love.

Loving our neighbor as Christ loves us

Now we have arrived at the third stage of our reflection. Christ cried out from the Cross: "I am thirsty" (Jn 19:28). This shows us his burning thirst to love and to be loved by each one of us. It is only by coming to perceive the depth and intensity of such a mystery that we can realize the need and urgency to love him as He has loved us. This also entails the commitment to even give our lives, if necessary, for our brothers and sisters sustained by love for Him. God had already said in the Old Testament: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18), but the innovation introduced by Christ is the fact that to love as he loves us means loving everyone without distinction, even our enemies, "to the end" (cf Jn 13:1).

Witnesses to the love of Christ

I would like to linger for a moment on three areas of daily life where you, my dear young friends, are particularly called to demonstrate the love of God. The first area is the Church, our spiritual family, made up of all the disciples of Christ. Mindful of his words: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35), you should stimulate, with your enthusiasm and charity, the activities of the parishes, the communities, the ecclesial movements and the youth groups to which you belong. Be attentive in your concern for the welfare of others, faithful to the commitments you have made. Do not hesitate to joyfully abstain from some of your entertainments; cheerfully accept the necessary sacrifices; testify to your faithful love for Jesus by proclaiming his Gospel, especially among young people of your age.

Preparing for the future

The second area, where you are called to express your love and grow in it, is your preparation for the future that awaits you. If you are engaged to be married, God has a project of love for your future as a couple and as a family. Therefore, it is essential that you discover it with the help of the Church, free from the common prejudice that says that Christianity with its commandments and prohibitions places obstacles to the joy of love and impedes you from fully enjoying the happiness that a man and woman seek in their reciprocal love. The love of a man and woman is at the origin of the human family and the couple formed by a man and a woman has its foundation in God's original plan (cf Gen 2:18-25). Learning to love each other as a couple is a wonderful journey, yet it requires a demanding "apprenticeship". The period of engagement, very necessary in order to form a couple, is a time of expectation and preparation that needs to be lived in purity of gesture and words. It allows you to mature in love, in concern and in attention for each other; it helps you to practice self-control and to develop your respect for each other. These are the characteristics of true love that does not place emphasis on seeking its own satisfaction or its own welfare. In your prayer together, ask the Lord to watch over and increase your love and to purify it of all selfishness. Do not hesitate to respond generously to the Lord's call, for Christian matrimony is truly and wholly a vocation in the Church. Likewise, dear young men and women, be ready to say "yes" if God should call you to follow the path of ministerial priesthood or the consecrated life. Your example will be one of encouragement for many of your peers who are seeking true happiness.

Growing in love each day

The third area of commitment that comes with love is that of daily life with its multiple relationships. I am particularly referring to family, studies, work and free time. Dear young friends, cultivate your talents, not only to obtain a social position, but also to help others to "grow". Develop your capacities, not only in order to become more "competitive" and "productive", but to be "witnesses of charity". In addition to your professional training, also make an effort to acquire religious knowledge that will help you to carry out your mission in a responsible way. In particular, I invite you to carefully study the social doctrine of the Church so that its principles may inspire and guide your action in the world. May the Holy Spirit make you creative in charity, persevering in your commitments, and brave in your initiatives, so that you will be able to offer your contribution to the building up of the "civilization of love". The horizon of love is truly boundless: it is the whole world!

"Dare to love" by following the example of the saints

My dear young friends, I want to invite you to "dare to love". Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death forever through love (cf Rev 5:13). Love is the only force capable of changing the heart of the human person and of all humanity, by making fruitful the relations between men and women, between rich and poor, between cultures and civilizations. This is shown to us in the lives of the saints. They are true friends of God who channel and reflect this very first love. Try to know them better, entrust yourselves to their intercession, and strive to live as they did. I shall just mention Mother Teresa. In order to respond instantly to the cry of Jesus, "I thirst", a cry that had touched her deeply, she began to take in the people who were dying on the streets of Calcutta in India. From that time onward, the only desire of her life was to quench the thirst of love felt by Jesus, not with words, but with concrete action by recognizing his disfigured countenance thirsting for love in the faces of the poorest of the poor. Blessed Teresa put the teachings of the Lord into practice: "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40). The message of this humble witness of divine love has spread around the whole world.

The secret of love

Each one of us, my dear friends, has been given the possibility of reaching this same level of love, but only by having recourse to the indispensable support of divine Grace. Only the Lord's help will allow us to keep away from resignation when faced with the enormity of the task to be undertaken. It instills in us the courage to accomplish that which is humanly inconceivable. Contact with the Lord in prayer grounds us in humility and reminds us that we are "unworthy servants" (cf Lk 17:10). Above all, the Eucharist is the great school of love. When we participate regularly and with devotion in Holy Mass, when we spend a sustained time of adoration in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it is easier to understand the length, breadth, height and depth of his love that goes beyond all knowledge (cf Eph 3:17-18). By sharing the Eucharistic Bread with our brothers and sisters of the Church community, we feel compelled, like Our Lady with Elizabeth, to render "in haste" the love of Christ into generous service towards our brothers and sisters.

Towards the encounter in Sydney

On this subject, the recommendation of the apostle John is illuminating: "Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth" (1 Jn 3:18-19). Dear young people, it is in this spirit that I invite you to experience the next World Youth Day together with your bishops in your respective dioceses. This will be an important stage on the way to the meeting in Sydney where the theme will be: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). May Mary, the Mother of Christ and of the Church, help you to let that cry ring out everywhere, the cry that has changed the world: "God is love!" I am together with you all in prayer and extend to you my heartfelt blessing.

From the Vatican, 27 January 2007



On Pro-life Day in Italy
"Must Not Be Denied to Anyone" (February 4, 2007)

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today Pro-life Day is being observed in Italy, promoted by the episcopal conference with the theme "Love and Desire Life."

I cordially greet all those who have gathered in St. Peter's Square to witness to their commitment in favor of life, from conception until natural death. I join the Italian bishops to renew the appeal, launched several times also by my venerated predecessors, to all men and women of good will to receive the great and mysterious gift of life.

Life, which is the work of God, must not be denied to any one, not even the smallest and defenseless newborn, and much less so when he has serious handicaps. At the same time, echoing the pastors of the Church in Italy, I urge you not to fall into the deception of thinking that one can dispose of life to the point of "legitimizing its interruption with euthanasia, masking it perhaps with a veil of human mercy."

The "Week of Life and Family" begins today in the Diocese of Rome, an important occasion to pray and reflect on the family, which is the "cradle" of life and of every vocation.

We know well that the family, based on marriage, constitutes the natural environment for the birth and education of children and, therefore, to ensure the future of the whole of humanity.

However, we also know that it is going through a profound crisis and that it must face numerous challenges.

Therefore, it is necessary to defend, protect and value it in its unique and irreplaceable character. If this commitment is first of all the duty of spouses, it is also a priority duty of the Church and of all public institutions to support the family through pastoral and political initiatives, which take into account the real needs of spouses, of the elderly and of the new generations.

A peaceful family atmosphere, enlightened by faith and the holy fear of God, also favors the rise and flowering of vocations at the service of the Gospel. I am referring in particular, not only to those called to follow Christ on the path of the priesthood, but also to men and women religious, consecrated persons, whom we remembered last Friday on the World Day of Consecrated Life.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray so that with a constant effort in favor of life and of the family our communities may become places of communion and hope, in which is renewed, despite the many difficulties, the great "yes" of authentic love to the reality of the human being and of the family, according to the original plan of God.

Let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that respect will grow for the sacred character of life, that there will be ever greater awareness of genuine family needs, and that the number will increase of those who contribute to bring about in the world the civilization of love.


Papal Address to Capranica College
"Quality of the Clergy Depends on Seriousness of Their Formation"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered on Jan. 19 to the seminarians and priests of the Capranica College of Rome on the 550th anniversary of its foundation.

I am pleased to welcome you just before the Feast of your Patroness, St Agnes. I greet you all with affection, starting with the Cardinal Vicar, Camillo Ruini, and Archbishop Pio Vigo, who form the Episcopal Commission in charge of the College. I greet the Rector, Mons. Ermenegildo Manicardi. I extend a special welcome to you, dear students, who belong to the community of the oldest ecclesiastical college of Rome.

Five hundred and fifty years have passed since that 5 January 1457 when Cardinal Domenico Capranica, Archbishop of Fermo, founded the College that was named after him. He bequeathed to it all his property and his palace near Santa Maria in Aquiro, so that it could house young students called to the priesthood.

The newborn institution was the first of its kind in Rome; initially reserved for young Romans and young men from Fermo, it later extended hospitality to students from other regions of Italy and of different nationalities.

Cardinal Capranica died less than two years later, but his foundation had already started on the way it has followed until today, undergoing only 10 years of closure from 1798 to 1807 during the so-called Roman Republic.

Two Popes studied at the Capranica: Pope Benedict XV, whom you rightly consider "Parens alter" because of the special affection he always felt for your house, and then, if for a shorter period, the Servant of God Pius XII. My venerable Predecessors, some of whom visited you on special occasions, have always demonstrated their benevolence towards your College.

Our meeting today also takes place not only close to the Memorial of St Agnes but also in the context of an important anniversary for your institution. In this historical and spiritual perspective, it is useful to ask what motives impelled Cardinal Capranica to found this provident work, and what value they still have for you today.

It is necessary, in the first place, to remember that the founder had direct experience of the colleges of the Universities of Padua and of Bologna where he himself had been a student, as well as those of Sienna, Florence and Perugia. These institutions had developed in order to house young scholars who did not belong to wealthy families.

By altering several elements of these models, he conceived of one that would be exclusively destined to training future priests, with preferential attention to less well-off candidates. Thus, he anticipated by more than a century the establishment of "seminaries" decreed by the Council of Trent.

However, we have not yet focused on the basic reason for this provident initiative: it was the conviction that the quality of the clergy depends on the seriousness of their formation.

Now, in Cardinal Capranica's time, there was no careful selection of aspirants to sacred Orders: they were sometimes examined in literature and song, but not in theology, morals and canon law, with foreseeable negative repercussions on the Ecclesial Community.

This is why, in the Constitutions of his College, the Cardinal imposed on theology students knowledge of the best authors, especially Thomas Aquinas; on law students, the doctrine of Pope Innocent III, and on them all, Aristotelian ethics.

Further, not content with the lessons of the Studium Urbis, he guaranteed supplementary lessons provided by specialists directly within the College itself.

This curriculum was integrated into a framework of integral formation centered on the spiritual dimension. It was supported by the pillars of the Sacraments of the Eucharist -- daily -- and of Penance -- at least monthly -- and sustained by the pious practices prescribed or suggested by the Church.

Great importance was given to charity, both in ordinary fraternal life and in assistance to the sick, as well as to what today we call "pastoral experience". Indeed, it established that on feast days, students would serve in the cathedral and in other local churches.

An effective support in the students' formation was also provided by the style of the community itself, including strong participation in decisions concerning life in the College.

Here we find the same fundamental disposition that was later to be made by the diocesan seminaries, of course, for the latter with a fuller sense of belonging to the particular Church; the choice, that is, of a serious human, cultural and spiritual formation, open to the requirements proper to the time and place.

Dear friends, let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy and St Agnes, that the Almo Collegio Capranica may continue on its way, faithful to its long tradition and to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

Dear students, I hope that every day you will renew your offering to God and to the Holy Church from the bottom of your hearts, conforming ever more closely to Christ, the Good Shepherd, who has called you to follow him and to work in his vineyard.

I thank you for this pleasant visit and, as I assure you of my prayers, I impart with affection a special Apostolic Blessing to you and to your loved ones.


Papal Address to Roman Rota
Marriage: "A Bond Which Is Unique and Definitive"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave to the members of the Roman Rota, the Church's central appellate court, delivered Tuesday in the Clementine Hall.

* * *

Dear Prelate Auditors,

Officials and Collaborators of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, I am particularly pleased to meet you once again on the occasion of the inauguration of the judicial year.

I cordially greet the College of Prelate Auditors, starting with the Dean, Bishop Antoni Stankiewicz, whom I thank for his words introducing our meeting. I then greet the Officials, the Advocates and the other Collaborators of this Tribunal, as well as the Members of the Studio Rotale and all those present. I willingly take this opportunity to renew to you the expression of my esteem and, at the same time, to reaffirm the importance of your ecclesial ministry in as vital a sector as judicial activity. I am very mindful of the valuable work you are required to carry out diligently and scrupulously on behalf of this Apostolic See and with its mandate. Your sensitive task of service to the truth in justice is supported by the illustrious traditions of this Tribunal, which each one of you must feel bound to respect.

Last year, at my first meeting with you, I sought to explore ways to overcome the apparent antithesis between the institution of causes of the nullity of marriage and genuine pastoral concern. In this perspective, the love of truth emerges as a point of convergence between processual research and the pastoral service of the person. We must not forget, however, that in causes of the nullity of marriage, the legal truth presupposes the "truth of the marriage" itself. Yet the expression "truth of the marriage" loses its existential importance in a cultural context that is marked by relativism and juridical positivism, which regard marriage as a mere social formalization of emotional ties.

Consequently, not only is it becoming incidental, as human sentiments can be, but it is also presented as a legal superstructure of the human will that can be arbitrarily manipulated and even deprived of its heterosexual character.

This crisis of the meaning of marriage is also influencing the attitude of many of the faithful. The practical effects of what I have called "the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture" with regard to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, (cf. Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2005; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 4 January 2006, p. 4), is felt especially acutely in the sphere of marriage and the family.

Indeed, it seems to some that the conciliar teaching on marriage, and in particular, the description of this institution as "intima communitas vitae et amoris" [the intimate partnership of life and love] (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, "Gaudium et Spes," n. 48), must lead to a denial of the existence of an indissoluble conjugal bond because this would be a question of an "ideal" to which "normal Christians" cannot be "constrained".

In fact, the conviction that the pastoral good of the person in an irregular marital situation requires a sort of canonical regularization, independently of the validity or nullity of his/her marriage, independently, that is, of the "truth" of his/her personal status, has also spread in certain ecclesiastical milieus. The process of the declaration of matrimonial nullity is actually considered as a legal means for achieving this objective, according to a logic in which the law becomes the formalization of subjective claims. In this regard, it should first be pointed out that the Council certainly described marriage as intima communitas vitae et amoris, but this partnership is determined, in accordance with the tradition of the Church, by a whole set of principles of the divine law which establish its true and permanent anthropological meaning (cf. ibid.).

Furthermore, the Magisteriums of Paul VI and John Paul II, as well as the legislative action of both the Latin and Eastern Codes, have followed up the Council in faithful hermeneutical continuity with regard to both the doctrine and the discipline of marriage and indeed, persevered in its effort for "reform' or "renewal in continuity' (cf. Address to the Roman Curia, op. cit.). This development was based on the indisputable presupposition that marriage has a truth of its own -- that is, the human knowledge, illumined by the Word of God, of the sexually different reality of the man and of the woman with their profound needs for complementarity, definitive self-giving and exclusivity -- to whose discovery and deepening reason and faith harmoniously contribute.

The anthropological and saving truth of marriage -- also in its juridical dimension -- is already presented in Sacred Scripture. Jesus' response to those Pharisees who asked his opinion about the lawfulness of repudiation is well known: "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one'? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt 19: 4-6).

The citations of Genesis (1: 27; 2: 24) propose the matrimonial truth of the "principle", that truth whose fullness is found in connection with Christ's union with the Church (cf. Eph 5: 30-31) and was the object of such broad and deep reflections on the part of Pope John Paul II in his cycles of catecheses on human love in the divine design.

On the basis of this dual unity of the human couple, it is possible to work out an authentic juridical anthropology of marriage. In this sense, Jesus' conclusive words are especially enlightening: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder". Every marriage is of course the result of the free consent of the man and the woman, but in practice their freedom expresses the natural capacity inherent in their masculinity and femininity.

The union takes place by virtue of the very plan of God who created them male and female and gives them the power to unite for ever those natural and complementary dimensions of their persons.

The indissolubility of marriage does not derive from the definitive commitment of those who contract it but is intrinsic in the nature of the "powerful bond established by the Creator" (John Paul II, Catechesis, General Audience, 21 November 1979, n. 2; ORE, 26 November 1979, p, 1).

People who contract marriage must be definitively committed to it because marriage is such in the plan of creation and of redemption. And the essential juridical character of marriage is inherent precisely in this bond which represents for the man and for the woman a requirement of justice and love from which, for their good and for the good of all, they may not withdraw without contradicting what God himself has wrought within them.

It is necessary to study this aspect further, not only in consideration of your role as canon lawyers, but also because the overall understanding of the institution of marriage must also include clarity with regard to its juridical dimension. However, conceptions of the nature of this relationship can be radically divergent. For positivism, the legality of the conjugal bond would be solely the result of the application of a formally valid and effective human norm. In this way, the human reality of life and conjugal love remains extrinsic to the "juridical" institution of marriage. A hiatus is created between law and human existence which radically denies the possibility of an anthropological foundation of the law.

The traditional role of the Church is quite different in the understanding of the juridical dimension of the conjugal union following the teachings of Jesus, of the Apostles and of the Holy Fathers. St Augustine, for instance, in citing St Paul, forcefully affirms: "Cui fidei [coniugali] tantum iuris tribuit Apostolus, ut eam potestatem appellaret, dicens: Mulier non habet potestatem corporis sui, sed vir; similiter autem et vir non habet potestatem corporis sui, sed mulier (I Cor 7: 4)" ("De Bono Coniugali," 4, 4).

St Paul who so profoundly explains in his Letter to the Ephesians the "mysterion mega" of conjugal love in relation to Christ's union with the Church (5: 22-31), did not hesitate to apply to marriage the strongest legal terms to designate the juridical bond by which spouses are united in their sexual dimension. So too, for St Augustine, lawfulness is essential in each one of the three goods (proles, fides, sacramentum) that form the backbone of his doctrinal exposition on marriage.

With regard to the subjective and libertarian relativization of the sexual experience, the Church's tradition clearly affirms the natural juridical character of marriage, that is, the fact that it belongs by nature to the context of justice in interpersonal relations.

In this perspective, the law is truly interwoven with life and love as one of the intrinsic obligations of its existence. Therefore, as I wrote in my first Encyclical, "From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfil its deepest purpose" ("Deus Caritas Est," n. 11).

Thus, love and law can be united to the point of ensuring that husband and wife mutually owe to one another the love with which they spontaneously love one another: the love in them is the fruit of their free desire for the good of one another and of their children; which, moreover, is also a requirement of love for one's own true good.

All the activity of the Church and of the faithful in the context of the family, must be based on this truth about marriage and its intrinsic juridical dimension. In spite of this, as I recalled earlier, the relativistic mindset, in more or less open or subtle ways, can also insinuate itself into the ecclesial community.

You are well aware that this is a risk of our time which is sometimes expressed in a distorted interpretation of the canonical norms in force. One must react to this tendency with courage and faith, constantly applying the hermeneutic of renewal in continuity and not allowing oneself to be seduced by forms of interpretation that involve a break with the Church's tradition.

These paths lead away from the true essence of marriage, as well as from its intrinsic juridical dimension and, under various more or less attractive names, seek to conceal a false conjugal reality.

So it is that the point is sometimes reached of maintaining that nothing is right or wrong in a couple's relationship, provided it corresponds with the achievement of the subjective aspirations of each party. In this perspective, the idea of marriage "in facto esse" oscillates between merely factual relations and the juridical-positivistic aspect, overlooking its essence as an intrinsic bond of justice between the persons of the man and of the woman.

The contribution of ecclesiastical tribunals to overcoming the crisis of the meaning of marriage, in the Church and in civil society, could seem to some people of somewhat secondary or minor importance.

However, precisely because marriage has an intrinsically juridical dimension, being wise and convinced servants of justice in this sensitive and most important sector has the significant value of witness and is of deep reassurance to all. Dear Prelate Auditors, you are committed on a front in which responsibility for the truth makes itself felt in a special way in our times.

In being faithful to your task, make sure that your action fits harmoniously into an overall rediscovery of the beauty of that "truth about marriage", the truth of the "principle", which Jesus fully taught us and of which the Holy Spirit continually reminds us in the Church today.

Dear Prelate Auditors, Officials and collaborators, these are the considerations to which I felt impelled to call your attention, in the certainty that I would find in you judges and magistrates ready to share and make your own so important and serious a doctrine.

To each and every one I express in particular my pleasure and my total confidence that the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota, an effective and authoritative manifestation of the juridical wisdom of the Church, will continue to carry out consistently its own, far from easy munus, at the service of the divine plan followed by the Creator and the Redeemer in the institution of marriage.

As I invoke divine help upon your work, I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you all.


Papal Speech to Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue Panel
"May Thirst for the Good News Strengthen Our Resolve to Work"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered today to the members of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue.

* * *

Dear Brothers in Christ,

It is with great joy that I welcome you, the members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, on the occasion of your fourth plenary meeting. Through you, I gladly extend fraternal greetings to my Venerable Brothers, the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches: His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, His Holiness Patriarch Zakka I Iwas, His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, His Holiness Patriarch Paulus, His Holiness Patriarch Antonios I and His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Didymus I.

Your meeting concerning the constitution and the mission of the Church is of great importance for our common journey toward the restoration of full communion. The Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches share an ecclesial patrimony stemming from apostolic times and the first centuries of Christianity. This "heritage of experience" should shape our future "guiding our common path toward the re-establishment of full communion" (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 56).

We have been entrusted by the Lord Jesus with the mandate "Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). Many people today are still waiting for the truth of the Gospel to be brought to them. May their thirst for the Good News strengthen our resolve to work and pray diligently for that unity required for the Church to exercise her mission in the world, according to the prayer of Jesus "that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23).

Many of you come from countries of the Middle East. The difficult situation which individuals and Christian communities face in the region is a cause of deep concern for us all. Indeed, Christian minorities find it difficult to survive in the midst of such a volatile geopolitical panorama and are often tempted to emigrate. In these circumstances, Christians of all traditions and communities in the Middle East are called to be courageous and steadfast in the power of the Spirit of Christ (cf. Christmas Message to Catholics Living in the Middle East Region, 21 December 2006). May the intercession and example of the many martyrs and saints, who have given courageous witness to Christ in these lands, sustain and strengthen the Christian communities in their faith!

Thank you for your presence today and for your ongoing commitment to the path of dialogue and unity. May the Holy Spirit accompany you in your deliberations. To all of you, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.


On Paul's Collaborators (January 31, 2007)
"Holiness Doesn't Consist in Not Making Mistakes or Never Sinning"

* * *

Continuing our journey among the leaders of the Christian origins, today we look at other collaborators of St. Paul. We must acknowledge that the Apostle is an eloquent example of a man open to collaboration: In the Church, he does not want to do everything on his own, but makes use of numerous and diverse colleagues.

We cannot reflect on all these precious helpers, as they are many. Suffice it to recall, among others, Epaphras (cf. Colossians 1:7; 4:12; Philemon 23), Epaphroditus (cf. Philippians 2:25; 4:18), Tychicus (cf. Acts 20:4; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12), Urbanus (cf. Romans 16:9), Gaius and Aristarchus (cf. Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2; Colossians 4:10).

And women such as Phoebe (cf. Romans 16:1), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (cf. Romans 16:12), Persis, mother of Rufus, of whom he says, "also his mother and mine" (cf. Romans 16:12-13), not forgetting spouses such as Prisca and Aquila (cf. Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19).

Today, among this great army of men and women collaborators of St. Paul, we are interested in three of these persons who had a particularly significant role in the evangelization of the origins: Barnabas, Silas and Apollos.

"Barnabas," which means "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36) or "son of consolation," is the nickname of a Levite Jew born a native of Cyprus. Having moved to Jerusalem, he was one of the first to embrace Christianity, after the Lord's resurrection.

With great generosity, he sold a field that belonged to him, giving the money to the Apostles for the needs of the Church (cf. Acts 4:37). He became the guarantor of Saul's conversion to the Christian community of Jerusalem, which still mistrusted its former persecutor (cf. Acts 9:27).

Sent to Antioch of Syria, he went to look for Paul in Tarsus, where he had gone, and spent a whole year with him, dedicating himself to the evangelization of that important city, in whose Church Barnabas was known as prophet and doctor (cf. Acts 13:1).

So Barnabas, at the moment of the first conversions of pagans, understood that Saul's hour had arrived; Saul had gone to Tarsus, his city. He went there to look for him. In that important moment he virtually restored Paul to the Church; he gave it, in a certain sense, once again, the Apostle of the Gentiles.

From the Church of Antioch, Barnabas was sent on mission, together with Paul, undertaking the Apostle's so-called first missionary journey. In reality, it was Barnabas' missionary journey, given that he was the person in charge. Paul joined him as a collaborator, crossing the regions of Cyprus and central-south Anatolia, in present-day Turkey, through the cities of Atalia, Perga, Antioch of Psidia, Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe (cf. Acts 13-14).

Together with Paul he then went to the so-called Council of Jerusalem where, after a profound examination of the question, the Apostles with the elders decided to abandon the practice of circumcision (cf. Acts 15:1-35).

Only thus, in the end, did they allow it officially to be the Church of the pagans, a Church without circumcision: We are children of Abraham simply through faith in Christ.

The two, Paul and Barnabas, confronted each other later, at the start of the second missionary journey, because Barnabas wanted to get John Mark as a companion, while Paul did not want to, given that the youth had separated from them in the previous journey (cf. Acts 13:13; 15:36-40).

Hence, also among saints there are oppositions, discords and controversies. And this is very consoling for me, as we see that the saints have not "fallen from heaven."

They are men like us, with complicated problems. Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning. Holiness grows with the capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.

And in this way, Paul, who had been somewhat hard and bitter with Mark, in the end meets him again. In the last letters of St. Paul, to Philemon and in the second to Timothy, Mark appears precisely as "my collaborator."

We are not made saints because we never make a mistake, but because of our capacity to forgive and reconcile. And we can all learn this way of holiness. In any case, Barnabas, with John Mark, returned to Cyprus (cf. Acts 15:39) around the year 49.

From then on all traces of him were lost. Tertullian attributes to him the Letter to the Hebrews, which is not improbable as, being of the tribe of Levi, Barnabas might have been interested in the topic of priesthood. And the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Jesus' priesthood for us in an extraordinary way.

Silas, another of Paul's companions, is the Greek form of a Hebrew name (perhaps "sheal": to request, to invoke), which constitutes the same root of the name "Saul" (which also proceeds the Latin form "Silvanus").

The name Silas is only mentioned in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, whereas Silvanus appears in Paul's letters. He was a Jew from Jerusalem, one of the first to become a Christian, and he enjoyed great esteem in that Church (cf. Acts 15:22), being considered a prophet (cf. Acts 15:32).

He was in charge of taking "to the brethren of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia" (Acts 15:23) the decisions made by the Council of Jerusalem and of explaining them.

Evidently they thought that he was able to carry out a sort of mediation between Jerusalem and Antioch, between Judeo-Christians and Christians of pagan origin, and in this way serve the unity of the Church in the diversity of rites and origins.

When Paul separated from Barnabas, he took Silas as his new fellow traveler (cf. Acts 15:40). With Paul, he arrived in Macedonia (in the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea), where he stayed, while Paul continued to Athens and afterward to Corinth.

Silas reached him in Corinth, where he collaborated in the preaching of the Gospel; in fact, in Paul's second letter to that Church, he speaks of "Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I" (2 Corinthians 1:19).

This explains why he appears as co-author, along with Paul and Timothy, of the two Letters to the Thessalonians.

This also seems important to me. Paul does not act as a "soloist," as an isolated individual, but together with these collaborators in the "we" of the Church.

This "I" of Paul is not an isolated "I," but an "I" in the "we" of the Church, in the "we" of the apostolic faith.

And Silvanus is mentioned also at the end of the First Letter of Peter, when one reads: "By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you" (5:12).

Thus we also see the communion of the Apostles. Silvanus serves Paul, serves Peter, because the Church is one and the missionary proclamation is one.

The third companion of Paul that we wish to recall today is Apollos, probable abbreviation of Apollonius or Apolodorous. Despite its being a name of pagan origin, he was a fervent Jew of Alexandria of Egypt.

In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes him as an "eloquent man, well versed in the Scriptures ... fervent in spirit" (18:24-25).

Apollos' arrival on the scene of the first evangelization took place in the city of Ephesus: He had traveled there to preach and there he had the good fortune of meeting the Christian spouses Priscilla and Aquila (cf. Acts 18:26), who "took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately" (cf. Acts 18:26).

From Ephesus he crossed to Achaia until he arrived in the city of Corinth: He arrived there with the support of a letter of the Christians of Ephesus, who asked the Corinthians to give him a good reception (cf. Acts 18:27).

In Corinth, as Luke writes, "he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus" (Acts 18:27-28).

His success in that city had a problematic ending, as some members of that Church, fascinated by his manner of speaking, opposed others in his name (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4-6; 4:6).

Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians expresses his appreciation for Apollos' work, but reproaches the Corinthians for lacerating the Body of Christ, separating in opposing factions.

He draws an important lesson from what happened: Both Apollos and I, he says, are no more than "diakonoi," that is, simple ministers, through whom you came to the faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5).

Each one has a different task in the field of the Lord: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave growth. ... for we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building" (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

On returning to Ephesus, Apollos resisted Paul's invitation to return immediately to Corinth, postponing the journey to a later date, which we ignore (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:12).

We have no more news of him, though some experts think that he is the possible author of the Letter to the Hebrews, whose author, according to Tertullian, was Barnabas.

These three men shine in the firmament of witnesses of the Gospel by a common characteristic, in addition to each one's personal characteristics. In common, in addition to the Jewish origin, they have the dedication to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, as well as the fact that the three were collaborators of the Apostle Paul.

In this original evangelizing mission they found the meaning of life and thus they are presented to us as luminous models of selflessness and generosity.

Let us think, finally, once again, of that phrase of St. Paul: Both Apollos and I are ministers of Jesus, each one in his way, as it is God who gives growth. This is valid for us also today, for the Pope, as well as for cardinals, bishops, priests and laity.

We are all humble ministers of Jesus. We serve the Gospel in the measure that we can, according to our gifts, and we ask God to make his Gospel, his Church grow today.


On the Faith-Reason Synthesis
"A Precious Patrimony for Western Civilization" (January 28, 2007)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

The liturgical calendar remembers today St. Tomas Aquinas, great doctor of the Church. With his charism of philosopher and theologian, he offers a valid model of harmony between reason and faith, dimensions of the human spirit, which are fully realized when they meet and dialogue.

According to the thought of St. Thomas, human reason, to say it as such, "breathes," that is, it moves on a wide, open horizon in which it can experience the best of itself. Nonetheless, when man limits himself to think only of material and experimental objects, he closes himself to the questions of life, about himself and about God, impoverishing himself.

The relationship between faith and reason is a serious challenge for the present prevailing culture in the Western world, and it is precisely for this reason that our beloved John Paul II wrote an encyclical, which was entitled precisely "Fides et Ratio" -- "Faith and Reason." I also took up this argument recently, in the address to the University of Regensburg.

In reality, the modern development of the sciences brings countless positive effects, which must always be acknowledged. At the same time, however, it must be admitted that the tendency to consider true only that which can be experienced constitutes a limitation for human reason and produces a terrible schizophrenia, evident to all, because of which rationalism and materialism, and hypertechnology and unbridled instincts, coexist.

It is urgent, therefore, to rediscover in a new way human rationality open to the light of the divine 'Logos' and to its perfect revelation that is Jesus Christ, Son of God made man. When Christian faith is authentic it does not mortify freedom or human reason; then, why should faith and reason be afraid of one another, if on meeting one another and dialoguing they can express themselves in the best way?

Faith implies reason and perfects it, and reason, illuminated by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and of spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing when it is open to the contents of faith; what is more, the latter calls for its free and conscious adherence.

With an amply extended wisdom, St. Thomas Aquinas established a prolific confrontation with the Arabic and Jewish thought of his time, in such a way that he is considered as an always-present teacher of dialogue with other cultures and religious. He knew to introduce this Christian synthesis between reason and faith that represents a precious patrimony for Western civilization, to which recourse can be taken also today to dialogue effectively with the great cultural and religious traditions of the East and South of the world.

Let us pray so that Christians, especially those in the academic and cultural realm, are more able to express the reasonable character of their faith and to witness to it with a dialogue inspired by love. We ask this gift of our Lord through the intercession of St. Thomas Aquinas, and above all Mary, Seat of Wisdom.

[After praying the Angelus, the Pope made an appeal for peace in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip]

In recent days, violence has again bloodied Lebanon. It is unacceptable that this path is undertaken to defend one's political reasons. I feel immense sadness for this beloved population. I know that many Lebanese feel the temptation to abandon all hope and feel themselves disoriented by all that is happening.

I make mine the firm words pronounced by His Beatitude Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir to denounce these fratricidal confrontations. Together with him and the other religious leaders, I invoke the help of God so that all Lebanese without distinction might be able and willing to work together to make of their homeland an authentic common home, surmounting those egoistic attitudes that prevent them from being truly dedicated to their country. (cf. "A Hope for Lebanon," 94, apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II). To the Christians of Lebanon, I repeat my exhortation to be promoters of a genuine dialogue between the different communities, and I invoke over all the protection of Our Lady of Lebanon.

I also desire, that violence in the Gaza Strip end as soon as possible. I wish to express my spiritual closeness to the entire population and assure them of my prayers so that the will might prevail in all to work together for the common good, undertaking peaceful paths to overcome differences and tensions.


Pope's Address to Finns on St. Henrik's Day
"The Holy Spirit Is the Real Protagonist of the Ecumenical Endeavor"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today in English to an ecumenical delegation from Finland, on the occasion of the feast of St. Henrik, patron of the nation.

* * *

Dear Bishops Peura and Wróbel,
Distinguished Friends,

With joy I welcome you, the members of the ecumenical delegation from Finland, as you visit Rome on the occasion of the feast of Saint Henrik, Patron of your nation.

Your presence here coincides with this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The theme of the week -- "he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" -- (Mark 7:37), illustrates how Jesus frees all of us from spiritual deafness, enabling us to hear his saving word and to proclaim it to others. This charge of common witness in word and deed nurtures our ecumenical journey. In drawing us closer to Christ, converting us to his truth and love, it draws us closer to one another.

In recent times relations between Christians in Finland have developed in a way that offers much hope for the future of ecumenism. Readily they pray and work together, bearing common public witness to the word of God. It is precisely this convincing testimony to the guiding and saving truths of the Gospel that all men and women seek or need to hear. On the part of Christians this demands courage. Indeed, as I suggested at the Ecumenical Vespers during my visit to Bavaria, behind any "weakening of the theme of justification and of forgiveness of sins is ultimately a weakening of the theme of our relationship with God. In this sense our first task will perhaps be to rediscover in a new way the living God present in our lives, in our time, and in our society."

In the Joint Declaration on Justification, Lutherans and Catholics have covered a considerable distance theologically. Further work remains and so it is encouraging that the Nordic Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in Finland and Sweden is examining the topic "Justification in the Life of the Church." I hope and pray that these conversations will effectively contribute to the quest for full and visible unity of the Church, while at the same time offering an ever clearer response to the fundamental questions affecting life and society.

Confident in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is the real protagonist of the ecumenical endeavor (cf. "Unitatis Redintegratio," 1;4), let us continue to pray and work for the building of closer bonds of love and cooperation between Lutherans and Catholics in Finland. Upon you and all the beloved people of Finland I invoke God's abundant blessings of peace and joy.


Papal Address to Roman Politicians
"Suffering Man Belongs to Us"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered in Italian on Jan. 11 at his traditional new-year meeting with local civil officials.

* * *


Clementine Hall
Thursday, 11 January 2007

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is the second time I have the pleasure of receiving you at the beginning of the year for the traditional exchange of greetings. I am grateful to you for coming here and offer my cordial and respectful greetings to Hon. Mr Pietro Marrazzo, President of the Regional Board of Lazio, to Hon. Mr Walter Veltroni, Mayor of Rome, and to Hon. Mr Enrico Gasbarra, President of the Province of Rome. I sincerely thank them for their kind words, also on behalf of the Boards they head. With them, I greet the Presidents of the respective Council Assemblies and all of you who are gathered here.

Our meeting is a favourable opportunity for strengthening and consolidating those deep, ancient and tenacious bonds that unite the Successor of Peter with this City, unique in the world, with its Province and with the entire Lazio Region.

Through you, I express my affection, closeness and pastoral concern to each one of the citizens and inhabitants of Rome and of Lazio and its cities, towns and suburbs; a land in which Christianity has put down particularly visible roots down the centuries and produced works of beauty and fruits of good, demonstrating in practice how true a friend of men and women God made man actually is.

This legacy of goodness and beauty is now in a certain sense also entrusted to you as public administrators, with full respect for the healthy secularity of your functions. Moreover, this is a natural context for collaboration between the Church and the civil society you represent. The integral human good of the populations of Rome and Lazio are certainly protected and increased by this cooperation.

In this spirit, I would like to draw your attention to certain matters of common interest and great importance and timeliness. To do so, I draw inspiration from a very recent experience that brought me deep joy: my Visit last week to the Soup Kitchen of the Diocesan Caritas of Rome on the Colle Oppio.

On that occasion, in naming the Soup Kitchen after my unforgettable Predecessor, John Paul II, I repeated the words he spoke in the very same place 15 years ago: "Suffering man belongs to us".

Yes, dear Representatives of the Administrative Boards of Rome and of Lazio, every suffering person belongs to the Church and at the same time to all the brethren in humanity. Thus, the suffering belong also and in a special way to your responsibility as public administrators.

I cannot but rejoice, therefore, in the collaboration that has existed for quite some time between the ecclesial bodies and your Administrations for the purpose of alleviating and going to the help of the many forms of poverty, financial and also human and relational, which afflict a considerable number of people and families, especially among immigrants.

There is then the immense field of health care that requires an enormous, coordinated effort to guarantee people suffering from physical or psychological illnesses prompt and appropriate treatment: also in this area, the Church and Catholic organizations are pleased to offer their collaboration, in the light of the great principles of the sacredness of human life from conception to its natural end, and of the centrality of the sick person. I trust in your readiness to encourage this collaboration, which will undoubtedly benefit the entire population.

This same concern for the human being that impels us to be close to the poor and the sick makes us attentive to that fundamental human good of the family based on marriage. Today, the intrinsic value and authentic motivations of marriage and the family need to be understood better. To this end, the Church's pastoral commitment has been considerable and must increase further.

But a twofold policy of and for the family, which calls into question the responsibility of its members, is also necessary. In other words, it is a matter of increasing initiatives that can make the forming of a family and subsequently having and raising children easier and less burdensome for young couples; that encourage the employment of youth, contain housing costs as much as possible and increase the number of kindergartens and nursery schools.

Indeed, those projects that aim to attribute to other forms of union inappropriate legal recognition, inevitably lead to weakening and destabilizing the legitimate family founded on marriage and appear to be dangerous and counterproductive.

Educating the new generations is the pastoral priority on which the Diocese of Rome is currently focusing attention. The social and civil importance of this problem certainly escapes none of you.

Therefore, while I am grateful for the support you already offer to certain forms of the Church's educational commitment, including the after-school recreation facilities, I am confident that in this area too it will be possible to develop a fruitful collaboration with respect for the temperament and tasks proper to each one of those concerned.

Distinguished Authorities, there are many other problems, often very complex, that you must face every day in order to foster the financial, social and cultural development of Rome and Lazio. I consequently assure you of my closeness and my prayers for you and for the lofty responsibilities you are called to exercise. May the Lord guide your steps and illumine your decisions.

With these sentiments, I warmly impart to each one of you my Apostolic Blessing, which I willingly extend to your families and to all who live and work in Rome, in its Province and throughout Lazio.


Pope's Homily on Feast of Baptism of the Lord
"Every Child Who Is Born Brings Us God's Smile"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Jan. 7 during Mass on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Mass was celebrated in the Sistine Chapel.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This year too, we are meeting for a real family celebration, the Baptism of 13 children in this wonderful Sistine Chapel, where with their creativity, Michelangelo and other outstanding artists achieved masterpieces that illustrate the wonders of the history of salvation.

I would like immediately to greet all of you present here: the parents, the godparents, the relatives and friends who accompany these newborn babies at such an important moment for their lives and for the Church. Every child who is born brings us God's smile and invites us to recognize that life is his gift, a gift to be welcomed with love and preserved with care, always and at every moment.

The Christmas Season, which ends precisely today, has made us contemplate the Child Jesus in the poor grotto of Bethlehem, lovingly tended by Mary and Joseph. God entrusts every child who is born to his parents: so how important is the family founded on marriage, the cradle of life and love! The House of Nazareth where the Holy Family lived is the model and school of simplicity, patience and harmony for all Christian families. I pray the Lord that your families too may be welcoming places where these little ones can not only grow in good health but also in faith and love for God, who today, with Baptism, makes them his children.

The Rite of Baptism of these children is taking place on the day in which we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, an event which, as I said, brings the Christmas Season to a close.

So far, we have heard the account of the Evangelist Luke, who presents Jesus who remained hidden in the crowd while he went to John the Baptist to be baptized. Jesus had also been baptized, and, St Luke tells us, "was praying" (3:21). Jesus speaks with his Father. And we may be certain that he did not only speak for himself but also of us and for us; he also spoke of me, of each one of us and for each one of us.

And then the Evangelist tells us that above the Lord in prayer, Heaven was opened.

Jesus entered into contact with the Father, Heaven opened above him. At this moment we can think that Heaven has also opened here, above these children of ours who, through the Sacrament of Baptism, come into contact with Jesus. Heaven opens above us in the Sacrament. The more we live in contact with Jesus in the reality of our Baptism, the more Heaven will open above us. And from Heaven -- let us return to the Gospel -- that day a voice came which said to Jesus: "You are my beloved Son" (Lk 3:22).

In Baptism, the Heavenly Father also repeats these words for each one of these infants. He says: "You are my child". Baptism is adoption and admission into God's family, into communion with the Most Holy Trinity, into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For this very reason, Baptism should be administered in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. These words are not merely a formula; they are reality. They mark the moment when your children are reborn as children of God. From being the children of human parents, they also become the children of God in the Son of the living God.

However, we must now meditate on the words in the Second Reading of this liturgy where St Paul tells us: "He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Ti 3:5).

A washing of regeneration: Baptism is not only a word, it is not only something spiritual but also implies matter. All the realities of the earth are involved. Baptism does not only concern the soul. Human spirituality invests the totality of the person, body and soul. God's action in Jesus Christ is an action of universal efficacy. Christ took flesh and this continues in the sacraments in which matter is taken on and becomes part of the divine action.

We can now ask precisely why water should be the sign of this totality. Water is the element of fertility. Without water there is no life. Thus, in all the great religions water is seen as the symbol of motherhood, of fruitfulness. For the Church Fathers, water became the symbol of the maternal womb of the Church.

Tertullian, a Church writer of the second and third centuries, said something surprising. He said: "Never is Christ without water". By these words, Tertullian meant that Christ is never without the Church. In Baptism we are adopted by the Heavenly Father, but in this family that he establishes there is also a mother, Mother Church. Man cannot have God as Father, the ancient Christian writers were already saying, unless he has the Church as mother.

We perceive in a new way that Christianity is not merely an individual, spiritual reality, a simple subjective decision that I take, but something real and concrete, we could also say something material. Adoption as children of God, of the Trinitarian God, is at the same time being accepted into the family of the Church, it is admission as brothers and sisters into the great family of Christians. And only if, as children of God, we are integrated as brothers and sisters into the reality of the Church can we say "Our Father", to our Heavenly Father. This prayer always implies the "we" of God's family.

Now, however, let us return to the Gospel in which John the Baptist says: "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming ... he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Lk 3:16).

We have seen water; but now the question is unavoidable: of what does the fire that St John the Baptist referred to consist? To see this reality of the fire, present in Baptism with water, we must note that John's baptism was a human gesture, an act of penance, a human impulse for God, to ask the forgiveness of sins and the chance to begin a new life. It was only a human desire, a step towards God with their own effort.

Now this is not enough. The distance would be too great. In Jesus Christ we see that God comes to meet us. In Christian Baptism, instituted by Christ, we do not only act with the desire to be cleansed through the prayer to obtain forgiveness.

In Baptism God himself acts, Jesus acts through the Holy Spirit. In Christian Baptism the fire of the Holy Spirit is present. God acts, not only us. God is present here today. He takes on your children and makes them his own.

But naturally, God does not act in a magical way. He acts only with our freedom. We cannot renounce our freedom. God challenges our freedom, invites us to cooperate with the fire of the Holy Spirit. These two things must go together. Baptism will remain throughout life a gift of God, who has set his seal on our souls. But it will then be our cooperation, the availability of our freedom to say that "yes" which makes divine action effective.

These children of yours, whom we will now baptize, are not yet able to collaborate, to manifest their faith. For this reason, your presence, dear fathers and mothers, and yours, dear godfathers and godmothers, acquires a special value and significance. Always watch over your little ones, so that they may learn to know God as they grow up, love him with all their strength and serve him faithfully. May you be their first educators in faith, offering together with your teaching also the examples of a coherent Christian life. Teach them to pray and to feel as living members of the concrete family of God, of the Ecclesial Community.

The attentive study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church or of the Compendium of this Catechism can offer you important help. It contains the essential elements of our faith and can be a particularly useful and immediate means, for you yourselves, to grow in the knowledge of the Catholic faith and to transmit it integrally and faithfully to your children. Above all, do not forget that it is your witness, it is your example, that has the greatest effect on the human and spiritual maturation of your children's freedom. Even caught up in the sometimes frenetic daily activities, do not neglect to foster prayer, personally and in the family, which is the secret of Christian perseverance.

Let us entrust these children and their families to the Virgin Mother of Jesus, Our Saviour, presented in today's liturgy as the beloved Son of God: may Mary watch over them and accompany them always, so that they can fully carry out the project of salvation which God has for each one. Amen.


On Migrant Families
"Weakened and at Times Disfigured by Life's Trials" (January 14, 2007)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

This Sunday we observe the annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Therefore, I address to all men of good will and, in particular, to Christian communities, a special message dedicated to migrant families.

We can contemplate the Holy Family of Nazareth, image of all families, as it reflects the image of God, guarded in the heart of every human family, even when it is weakened and at times disfigured by life's trials.

The Evangelist Mark recounts that, shortly after Jesus' birth, St. Joseph was obliged to travel to Egypt, taking with him the child and its Mother, to flee from King Herod's persecution (cf. Matthew 2:13-15).

In the drama of the family of Nazareth we can perceive the painful condition of so many migrants, especially refugees, the exiled, the displaced and the persecuted. We recognize, in particular, the difficulties of the migrant family as such: the difficult conditions of life, the humiliations, inconveniences and fragility.

In fact, the phenomenon of human mobility is very widespread and diversified. According to recent United Nations estimates, migrants impelled by financial reasons number almost 200 million; refugees number 9 million and international students some 2 million.

To this great number of brothers and sisters must be added the internally displaced and irregular migrants, keeping in mind that each one of them has, in one way or another, a family. Therefore, it is important to care for migrants and their families through the help of specific legislative, juridical and administrative protections, as well as through a network of services, listening centers and structures of social and pastoral assistance.

I hope that soon a balanced management will be established of the migratory flows and of human mobility in general, so that it will bring benefits to the whole human family, beginning with concrete measures that favor regular migration and family regrouping, paying special attention to women and minors.

Also in the huge field of international migrations, the human person must always be placed at the center. The just integration of families in social, economic and political systems is only achieved on one hand, by respecting the dignity of all immigrants and, on the other hand, by immigrants recognizing the values of the host society.

Dear friends, the reality of migrations must never be seen just as a problem, but also and above all as a great resource for humanity's progress. And the migrant family is especially a resource, if it is respected as such, and does not suffer irreparable lacerations, but is able to remain united or to regroup, and to fulfill its mission as the cradle of life and first sphere of a person's education.

Together we ask this of the Lord, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and of St. Francesca Xavier Cabrini, patroness of migrants.


Papal Address on Epiphany
"Christ Is Light, and Light Cannot Darken" (January 6, 2007)

Vatican Basilica
Saturday, 6 January 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We celebrate with joy the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the "manifestation" of Christ to the peoples who are represented by the Magi, mysterious figures who came from the East. We celebrate Christ, the destination of the pilgrimage of peoples in search of salvation.

In the First Reading we listened to the Prophet, inspired by God, to contemplate Jerusalem as a beacon of light which guides all the peoples on their journey through the darkness and fog of the earth.

The glory of the Lord shines on the holy City and attracts first of all his own children, displaced and dispersed, but also, at the same time, the pagan nations who come to Zion from all sides as to a common homeland, enriching it with their goods (cf. Is 60:1-6).

The Second Reading presents what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, that is, through God's loving designs the convergence of Jews and Gentiles in the one Church of Christ was "the mystery" made manifest in the fullness of time, the "grace" of which God had made him steward (cf. Eph 3:2-3,5-6).

In a little while we will say in the Preface: "Today, you revealed in Christ your eternal plan of salvation and showed him as the light of all peoples".

Twenty centuries have passed since that mystery was revealed and brought about in Christ, but it has not yet reached fulfillment. My beloved Predecessor, John Paul II, began his Encyclical on the Church's mission by writing: "As the second Millennium after Christ's Coming draws to an end, an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning" ("Redemptoris Missio," n. 1).

Several spontaneous questions arise: in what sense is Christ still the lumen gentium, the Light of the peoples, today? What point -- if one can so describe it -- has the universal journey of the peoples toward God reached? Is it in a phase of progress or of regression? And further: who are the Magi today? How, thinking of today's world, should we interpret these mysterious figures of the Gospel?

To answer these questions, I would like to return to what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said in this regard. And I am pleased to add that immediately after the Council, the Servant of God, Paul VI, exactly 40 years ago on precisely 26 March 1967, dedicated to the development of the peoples his Encyclical "Populorum Progressio."

The whole of the Second Vatican Council was truly stirred by the longing to proclaim Christ, the Light of the world, to contemporary humanity. In the heart of the Church, from the summit of her hierarchy, emerged the impelling desire, awakened by the Spirit, for a new epiphany of Christ in the world, a world that the modern epoch had profoundly transformed and that, for the first time in history, found itself facing the challenge of a global civilization in which the centre could no longer be Europe or even what we call the West and the North of the world.

The need to work out a new world political and economic order was emerging but, at the same time and above all, one that would be both spiritual and cultural, that is, a renewed humanism.

This observation became more and more obvious: a new world economic and political order cannot work unless there is a spiritual renewal, unless we can once again draw close to God and find God in our midst.

Before the Second Vatican Council, the enlightened minds of Christian thinkers had already intuited and faced this epochal challenge.

Well, at the beginning of the third millennium, we find ourselves in the midst of this phase of human history that now focuses on the word "globalization".

Moreover, we realize today how easy it is to lose sight of the terms of this same challenge, precisely because we are involved in it: this risk is heavily reinforced by the vast expansion of the mass media.

Although, on the one hand, the media increase information indefinitely, on the other, they seem to weaken our capacity for critical synthesis. Today's Solemnity can offer us this perspective, based on the manifestation of a God who revealed himself in history as the Light of the world to guide humanity and lead it at last into the Promised Land where freedom, justice and peace reign. And we see more and more clearly that on our own we cannot foster justice and peace unless the light of a God who shows us his Face is revealed to us, a God who appears to us in the manger of Bethlehem, who appears to us on the Cross.

Who then are the "Magi" of today, and what point has their "journey" and our "journey" reached?

Dear brothers and sisters, let us return to that special moment of grace, the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council on 8 December 1965, when the Council Fathers addressed certain "Messages" to all humanity.

The first was addressed "To Rulers" and the second, "To Men of Thought and Science". These are two categories of people who, in a certain way, we can see portrayed in the evangelical figures of the Magi.

I would then like to add a third category, to which the Council did not address a message but which was very present in its attention in the conciliar Decree "Nostra Aetate." I am referring to the spiritual leaders of the great non-Christian religions. Two thousand years later, we can thus recognize in the figures of the Magi a sort of prefiguration of these three constitutive dimensions of modern humanism: the political, scientific and religious dimensions.

The Epiphany shows them to us in a state of "pilgrimage", that is, in a movement of seeking, often somewhat confused, whose point of arrival, in short, is Christ, even if the star is sometimes hidden.

At the same time, the Epiphany shows to us God who in turn is on pilgrimage, a pilgrimage to man. There is not only the pilgrimage of man towards God; God himself has set out towards us: who is Jesus, in fact, if not God who has, so to speak, come out of himself to meet humanity? It was out of love that he made himself history in our history; out of love that he came to bring us the seed of new life (cf. Jn 3:3-6) and sow it in the furrows of our earth so that it might sprout, flower and bear fruit.

Today, I would like to make my own those Messages of the Council which have lost nothing of their timeliness. For instance, one reads in the Message addressed to Rulers: "Your task is to be in the world the promoters of order and peace among men. But never forget this: It is God, the living and true God, who is the Father of men. And it is Christ, his eternal Son, who came to make this known to us and to teach us that we are all brothers. He it is who is the great artisan of order and peace on earth, for he it is who guides human history and who alone can incline hearts to renounce those evil passions which beget war and misfortune".

How can we fail to recognize in these words of the Council Fathers the luminous trail of a journey which alone can transform the history of the nations and the world?

And further, in the "Message to Men of Thought and Science" we read: "Continue your search without tiring and without ever despairing of the truth", and this, in fact, is the great danger: losing interest in the truth and seeking only action, efficiency and pragmatism! "Recall the words of one of your great friends, St Augustine: "Let us seek with the desire to find, and find with the desire to seek still more'. Happy are those who, while possessing the truth, search more earnestly for it in order to renew it, deepen it and transmit it to others. Happy also are those who, not having found it, are working toward it with a sincere heart. May they seek the light of tomorrow with the light of today until they reach the fullness of light".

This was said in these two Council Messages. Today, it is more necessary than ever to flank the leaders of nations and researchers and scientists with the leaders of the great non-Christian religious traditions, inviting them to face one another with the light of Christ, who came not to abolish but to bring to fulfillment what God's hand has written in the religious history of civilization, especially in the "great souls" who helped to build up humanity with their wisdom and example of virtue.

Christ is light, and light cannot darken but can only illuminate, brighten, reveal. No one, therefore, should be afraid of Christ and his message! And if, down through history, Christians as limited people and sinners have sometimes betrayed him by their behavior, this makes it even clearer that the light is Christ and that the Church reflects it only by remaining united to him.

"We have seen his star in the East, and have come to adore the Lord" (Gospel acclamation, cf. Mt 2: 2).

What amazes us each time when we listen to these words of the Magi is that they prostrated themselves before a simple baby in his mother's arms, not in the setting of a royal palace but, on the contrary, in the poverty of a stable in Bethlehem (cf. Mt 2:11).

How was this possible? What convinced the Magi that the Child was "the King of the Jews" and the King of the peoples? There is no doubt that they were persuaded by the sign of the star that they had seen "in its rising" and which had come to rest precisely over the place where the Child was found (cf. Mt 2:9). But even the star would not have sufficed had the Magi not been people inwardly open to the truth.

In comparison with King Herod, beset with his interests of power and riches, the Magi were directed toward the goal of their quest and when they found it, although they were cultured men, they behaved like the shepherds of Bethlehem: they recognized the sign and adored the Child, offering him the precious and symbolic gifts that they had brought with them.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us too pause in spirit to contemplate the image of the adoration of the Magi. It contains a demanding and ever timely message. It is demanding and ever timely, first of all for the Church, which, reflected in Mary, is called to show to mankind Jesus, nothing but Jesus.

Indeed, he is the All and the Church exists solely to remain united to him and to make him known to the world. May the Mother of the Incarnate Word help us to be docile disciples of her Son, the Light of the nations!

The example of the Magi of that time is also an invitation to the Magi of today to open their minds and hearts to Christ and to offer him the gifts of their research. I would like to repeat to them, and to all the people of our time: do not be afraid of Christ's light! His light is the splendor of the truth. Let yourselves be enlightened by him, all peoples of the earth; let yourselves be enveloped by his love and you will find the way of peace. So may it be.


Papal Message to Catholics in Mideast
"Peace Warrants Great Sacrifices on the Part of All"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Dec. 21message to Catholics living in the Middle East.

* * *

To My Beloved Brother Bishops, Priests, and Lay Faithful in the Middle East

Bathed in the light of Christmas, we contemplate the presence of the Word who has pitched his tent among us. He is the "light that shines in the darkness" and that "gave us power to become children of God" (cf. Jn 1:5, 12). At this most significant time for the Christian faith, I wish to address a special word to you, Catholic brothers and sisters, who live in the Middle East region: I feel spiritually present in each of your particular Churches, even the smallest, sharing with you the worries and the hope with which you await the Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace. To all of you I say with the biblical greeting used by Saint Francis of Assisi: may the Lord give you peace.

I greet with affection the communities that are, or feel like, a "little flock" either due to the diminished numbers of their brothers and sisters (cf. Lk 12:32), or because they are immersed in a society composed of a majority of believers from other religions, or due to the serious hardships and difficulties being currently experienced by some of the nations in this area. I am thinking above all of countries marked by strained relations and often marred by brutally violent incidents which, as well as causing widespread destruction, strike without pity helpless and innocent people. The daily news coming from the Middle East shows a growth of alarming situations, seemingly with no possible escape. They are events which naturally give rise, in those involved, to recriminations and rage, leading them to thoughts of retaliation and revenge.

We know that these are not Christian sentiments; to give in to them would leave us callous and spiteful, far from that "gentleness and lowliness" which Jesus Christ proposed to us as the model of behaviour (cf. Mt 11:29). Indeed, we could lose the opportunity to make a properly Christian contribution to the solution of the grave problems of our time. It would not be at all wise, especially now, to spend our time asking who has suffered the most or presenting an account of injustices suffered, listing the reasons which reinforce one's own argument. This has often happened in the past, with results which to say the least were disappointing. Suffering in the end affects everyone, and when one person suffers he should first of all wish to understand how much someone else in a similar situation suffers. Patient and humble dialogue, achieved through listening to each other and being intent upon understanding someone else's situation has already born positive results in many countries previously devastated by violence and revenge. A little more trust in the compassion of others, especially those suffering, cannot but bear efficacious results. Today, many parties rightly plead for this interior disposition.

The Catholic communities in your countries are never far from my thoughts and in this season of Christmas I think of them with a heightened sense of concern. The star seen by the Magi brings us to your lands, the star which guided them to see the child with Mary his mother (cf. Mt 2:11). It is in the East that Jesus offered his life and "made the two into one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph 2:14). There he said to his disciples: "Go into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). There the Master's disciples were for the first time called Christians (cf. Acts 11:26). There the Church of the great Fathers was born and grew, and varying and rich spiritual and liturgical traditions blossomed.

To you, dear brothers and sisters, heirs of these traditions, I express with affection my personal closeness in this situation of human insecurity, daily suffering, fear and hope which you are living. I repeat to your communities the words of the Redeemer: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give to you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32). You can rely on my full solidarity with you in your current circumstances. In this regard, I am sure that I speak for the universal Church. Thus neither individual Catholics nor their communities, should feel alone or abandoned. Your Churches are accompanied in their difficult journey by prayer and by the charitable support of the particular Churches throughout the whole world, according to the example and spirit of the early Church (cf. Acts 11:29--30).

In the present circumstances, marked little by light and too much by darkness, it is a cause of consolation and hope for me to know that the Christian communities in the Middle East, whose intense suffering I am well aware of, continue to be vital and active communities, resolute in bearing witness to their faith with their specific identity in the societies in which they are situated. They wish to contribute in a constructive manner to the urgent needs of their respective societies and the whole region. Saint Peter, writing his First Letter to a rather poor and marginalized community, persecuted and held in little regard by the society of that time, did not hesitate to say that their difficult situation should be considered a "grace" (cf. 1 Pt 1:7--11). In fact, is it not a grace to be able to participate in the sufferings of Christ, uniting oneself to the action with which he took unto himself our sins in order to atone for them? May Catholic communities, often living in difficult situations, be aware of the powerful force which emanates from suffering accepted with love. Such suffering can change the hearts of others and the heart of the world. I encourage each of you therefore to carry on with perseverance, comforted by the knowledge of the "price" with which Christ has redeemed us (cf. 1 Cor 6:20). Certainly, the response to one's Christian vocation is much more difficult for the members of minority communities, often numerically of little significance. Nevertheless, as your Patriarchs wrote in their Pastoral Letter of Easter 1992, "the light can be faint in a house yet lighten up the whole house. Salt is a negligible element in foods, but it is salt which gives them flavour. Very little yeast is in dough, yet it is the leaven which prepares it to become bread." In making these words my own I encourage the Catholic Bishops to persevere in their ministry, cultivating unity among themselves and always remaining close to their flock. Know that the Pope shares the concerns, hopes and exhortations expressed in their annual pastoral letters, and also in the daily exercise of their sacred duties. He encourages them in their effort to sustain and reinforce in faith, hope and charity the flock entrusted to them. The presence of their communities in the various countries of the region constitutes, among other things, something which can greatly encourage ecumenism.

For some time now it has become clear that many Christians are leaving the Middle East, to such an extent that the Holy Places are at risk of being reduced to archaeological sites, void of any ecclesial life. Undoubtedly, minorities find it difficult to survive in the midst of dangerous geopolitical situations, cultural conflicts, economic and strategic interests, and forms of aggression which claim justification from a social or religious basis. In fact, many Christians eventually give in to the temptation to emigrate. Often the damage done is practically irreparable. One must not forget, however, that simply being together and living through common suffering has a healing effect on wounds and disposes people to thoughts and deeds of reconciliation and peace. This in turn gives rise to a habitual, fraternal dialogue, which in time and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, can become a broader dialogue in the cultural, social and political spheres. Believers moreover are confidently aware of a hope that does not delude, because it is rooted in the presence of the Risen One. From him comes the commitment of faith and our active love of neighbour (cf. 1 Th 1:3). Even in the most distressing situations Christian hope teaches us that passive resignation and pessimism are the great threat which can thwart the unfolding of our baptismal vocation. They bring about distrust, fear, self--pity, fatalism and flight.

In the present situation Christians are called to be courageous and steadfast in the power of the Spirit of Christ, knowing that they can count on the closeness of their brothers and sisters in the faith scattered throughout the world. Saint Paul, writing to the Romans, declares that there is no comparison between the sufferings of this present time and the future glory that awaits us (cf. 8:18). Likewise Saint Peter, in his First Letter reminds us that we Christians, even when afflicted by various trials, have a higher hope that fills our heart with joy (cf. 1:6). Saint Paul again, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians states with conviction that "the God of all consolation… comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction" (1:3--4). We know well that the consolation promised by the Holy Spirit does not consist merely of nice words, but in a broadening of mind and heart, that allows us to understand our own situation in the wider picture of all creation labouring in the act of giving birth while awaiting the revelation of the sons of God (cf. Rom 8:19--25). From this perspective it is possible to think more of our neighbour's sufferings than of our own, more of common ills than private ones. We can strive to do something so that others may understand that their sufferings are recognized and understood, and that we have the will, as far as possible, to remedy them.

Through you, my dearly beloved, I wish to make an appeal to your fellow citizens, men and women of the different Christian confessions, of different religions and all who honestly seek peace, justice and solidarity by listening and sincere dialogue. I say to you all: persevere with courage and trust! I appeal to those who hold positions of responsibility in guiding events to cultivate that sensitivity, attentiveness and closeness which surpasses schemes and strategies so that they can build societies that are more peaceful and just, truly respectful of every human being.

You are well aware, dear brothers and sisters, of my ardent desire that Providence will allow me to make a pilgrimage to the Land made holy by the events of Salvation History. I hope to be able to pray in Jerusalem, "the cherished homeland of all the spiritual descendants of Abraham, who hold it so dearly" (cf. John Paul II, Redemptionis Anno, AAS LXXVI, 1984, 625). I am convinced that it can rise up as "a symbol of encounter, of union and peace for the whole human family" (ibid p. 629). While we await the fulfilment of this desire, I encourage you to continue along the path of trust, with acts of friendship and good will. I refer both to the simple, daily deeds practiced for years in your region by so many good and humble people who have always treated others with consideration, and also to those deeds considered heroic, inspired by authentic respect for human dignity and the desire to find solutions to situations of grave hostility. Peace is such an important and urgent good that it warrants great sacrifices on the part of all.

As my venerable predecessor, Pope John Paul II, wrote: "there is no peace without justice". It is necessary therefore that the rights of all be recognized and upheld. Pope John Paul II however added: "there is no peace without forgiveness". Agreements opening the way to dialogue and future cooperation are not normally reached without coming to terms with past errors. In this case forgiveness is an indispensable condition if we wish to be free to build a new future. Works of solidarity are born and developed from forgiveness offered and received. Many such initiatives have already been undertaken in your region by the Church, governments and non--governmental organizations.

The song of the Angels over the stable of Bethlehem – "peace on earth to those whom God loves" – takes on during these days its full meaning and produces now those fruits that in eternal life will exist fully. I hope that the Christmas season will be marked by an end to or at least a reprieve from so much suffering. May it give to families that extra hope which is necessary to persevere in the arduous task of promoting peace in a world so wounded and divided. Dear brothers and sisters, be assured that along this path you are accompanied by the fervent prayers of the Pope and the whole Church. May the intercession and example of so many martyrs and saints, who have given courageous witness to Christ in your lands, sustain and strengthen you in your faith. And may the Holy Family of Nazareth watch over your worthy resolutions and commitments.

With these sentiments, I cordially impart to each one of you a special Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of my affection and closeness.

From the Vatican, 21 December 2006



On St. Stephen
"He Teaches Us to Love the Cross" (January 10, 2007)

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

After the holidays, we return to our catecheses. I meditated with you on the figures of the Twelve Apostles and on St. Paul. Then we began to reflect on other figures of the nascent Church. So today we wish to pause on the person of St. Stephen, celebrated by the Church on the day after Christmas. St. Stephen is the most representative of a group of seven companions. Tradition sees in this group the seed of the future ministry of deacons, though we must point out that this name is not present in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Stephen's importance, in any case, is clear by the fact that, in this important book, Luke dedicates two whole chapters to him.

Luke's account begins by showing a subdivision that took place within the primitive Church of Jerusalem: It was made up completely of Christians of Jewish origin, but among the latter some were natives of the land of Israel and were called "Hebrews," while others came from the Jewish faith in the Old Testament from the diaspora of the Greek tongue and were called "Hellenists." Thus the problem began to take shape: The neediest among the Hellenists, especially widows devoid of any social support, ran the risk of being neglected in assistance for their daily sustenance.

In order to overcome these difficulties, the apostles, reserving for themselves prayer and the ministry of the word as their main task, decided to appoint "seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" to this duty, that is, to charitable social service. As Luke writes, with this objective and by invitation of the apostles, the disciples elected seven men. We have their names. They are: "Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them" (Acts 6:5-6).

The gesture of the imposition of hands can have several meanings. In the Old Testament, the gesture has above all the meaning of transmitting an important duty, as Moses did with Joshua (Cf. Numbers 27:18-23), thus designating his successor. Following this line, the Church of Antioch would also use this gesture to send Paul and Barnabas on mission to the peoples of the world (Cf. Acts 13:3). Reference is made to a similar imposition of hands upon Timothy, to transmit an official duty, in two letters that St. Paul addressed to him (Cf. 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). The fact that it referred to an important action, which had to be carried out after a discernment is deduced from what is read in the first letter to Timothy: "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor participate in another man's sins" (5:22).

Therefore, we see that the gesture of the imposition of hands takes place in the line of a sacramental sign. In the case of Stephen and his companions it is certainly about the official transmission, on the part of the apostles, of a duty and at the same time of imploring for the grace to exercise it.

What is most important is that, in additional to charitable services, Stephen also carried out a task of evangelization among his fellow countrymen, the so-called "Hellenists." Luke, in fact, stresses the fact that he, "full of grace and power" (Acts 6:8), presents in Jesus' name a new interpretation of Moses and of the very Law of God, rereads the Old Testament in the light of the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This rereading of the Old Testament, a Christological rereading, provokes the reactions of the Jews who interpret his words as blasphemous (Cf. Acts 6:11-14). For this reason, he is sentenced to stoning. And St. Luke transmits to us the saint's last discourse, a synthesis of his preaching.

As Jesus explained to the disciples of Emmaus that the whole of the Old Testament speaks of him, of his cross and of his resurrection, so St. Stephen, following Jesus' teaching, reads the whole of the Old Testament in a Christological key. He demonstrates that the mystery of the cross is at the center of the history of salvation narrated in the Old Testament, he truly shows that Jesus, the crucified and risen one, is the new and authentic "temple."

Precisely this "no" to the temple and its worship provokes the condemnation of St. Stephen who, in that moment -- St. Luke tells us -- on turning his gaze to heaven saw the glory of God and Jesus at his right hand. And looking up to heaven, to God and to Jesus, St. Stephen said: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). It was followed by his martyrdom, which in fact was conformed with the Passion of Jesus himself, as he gives his own spirit to the Lord Jesus and prays so that the sin of his killers not be held against them (Cf. Acts 7:59-60).

The place of Stephen's martyrdom in Jerusalem is situated traditionally just beyond the Damascus Gate in the north, where in fact the church of St. Stephen now is, near the well-known "Ecole Biblique" of the Dominicans. The murder of Stephen, Christ's first martyr, was followed by a local persecution against Jesus' disciples (Cf. Acts 8:1), the first verified in the history of the Church. It was the concrete opportunity that drove the group of Hebrew-Hellenist Christians to flee Jerusalem and be scattered. Expelled from Jerusalem, they became itinerant missionaries. "Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). The persecution and consequent scattering became mission. The Gospel was thus propagated in Samaria, Phoenicia, and Syria, until reaching the great city of Antioch where, according to Luke, it was proclaimed for the first time to the pagans (Cf. Acts 11:19-20) and where the name "Christians" resounded for the first time (Acts 11:26).

In particular, Luke specifies that those who stoned Stephen "laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:58), the same one who from persecutor would become a famous Apostle of the Gospel. This means that the young Saul must have heard Stephen's preaching, and knew the main contents. And St. Paul was probably among those who, following and listening to this discourse, "were enraged" and "ground their teeth against him" (Acts 7:54). Thus we can see the wonders of Divine Providence: Saul, hardened adversary of Stephen's vision, after the encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, takes up the Christological interpretation of the Old Testament made by the first martyr, furthers and completes it, and thus becomes the "Apostle to the Gentiles." The law is fulfilled, he teaches, in the cross of Christ. And faith in Christ, communion with the love of Christ, is the true fulfillment of the whole Law. This is the content of Paul's preaching. He thus shows that the God of Abraham becomes the God of all. And all believers in Christ Jesus, as sons of Abraham, become sharers in the promises. Stephen's vision is fulfilled in St. Paul's mission.

Stephen's story tells us much. For example, it teaches us that we must never disassociate the social commitment of charity from the courageous proclamation of the faith. He was one of the seven entrusted above all with charity. But it was not possible to disassociate charity from proclamation. Thus, with charity, he proclaims Christ crucified, to the point of also accepting martyrdom. This is the first lesson that we can learn from the figure of St. Stephen: Charity and proclamation always go together.

St. Stephen speaks to us above all of Christ, of Christ crucified and risen as the center of history and of our life. We can understand that the Cross occupies always a central place in the life of the Church and also in our personal lives. Passion and persecution will never be lacking in the history of the Church. And, precisely persecution becomes, according to Tertullian's famous phrase, source of mission for the new Christians. I quote his words: "We multiply every time we are harvested by you: The blood of Christians is a seed" ("Apologetico" 50,13: "Plures efficimur quoties metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis christianorum").

But also in our lives the cross, which will never be lacking, becomes a blessing. And, accepting the cross, knowing that it becomes and is a blessing, we learn the joy of the Christian, even in moments of difficulty. The value of the testimony is irreplaceable, as the Gospel leads to him and the Church is nourished on him. St. Stephen teaches us to learn these lessons, he teaches us to love the cross, as it is the way through which Jesus always makes himself present again among us.


Pope's 2007 Address on State of the World
"An Opportunity to Strengthen Our Hope and Deepen Our Commitment"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.

* * *

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you here today, for this traditional ceremony in which we exchange greetings. Although it is an annual event, it is by no means a mere formality; rather, it is an opportunity to strengthen our hope and to deepen our commitment to serve the cause of peace and the development of individuals and peoples.

Firstly, I should like to thank the Dean, Ambassador Giovanni Galassi, for the kind words that he has addressed to me on your behalf. I also extend a particular greeting to the Ambassadors who are present at this meeting for the first time. To all of you I offer my most cordial good wishes and I assure you of my prayers that the year 2007 will bring happiness and peace to you and your families, to your staff and to all peoples and their leaders.

At the start of the year, we are invited to turn our attention to the international situation, so as to focus upon the challenges that we are called to address together.

Among the key issues, how can we not think of the millions of people, especially women and children, who lack water, food, or shelter? The worsening scandal of hunger is unacceptable in a world which has the resources, the knowledge, and the means available to bring it to an end. It impels us to change our way of life, it reminds us of the urgent need to eliminate the structural causes of global economic dysfunction and to correct models of growth that seem incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment and for integral human development, both now and in the future. Once again I invite the leaders of the wealthiest nations to take the necessary steps to ensure that poor countries, which often have a wealth of natural resources, are able to benefit from the fruits of goods that are rightfully theirs. From this point of view, the delay in implementing the commitments undertaken by the international community during the last few years is another cause of concern. So it is to be hoped that the trade negotiations of the "Doha Development Round" of the World Trade Organization will be resumed, and that the process of debt cancellation and reduction for the poorest countries will be continued and accelerated. At the same time, these processes must not be made conditional upon structural adjustments that are detrimental to the most vulnerable populations.

Equally, in the area of disarmament, symptoms of a developing crisis are multiplying, linked to difficulties in negotiations over conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction and also to the rise in global military expenditure. Security issues -- aggravated by terrorism, which is to be utterly condemned -- must be approached from a global and far-sighted perspective.

As far as humanitarian crises are concerned, we should note that the organizations dealing with them need greater support, so that they can be equipped to provide protection and assistance to the victims. Another concern which looms ever larger is that of the movement of persons: millions of men and women are forced to leave their homes or their native lands because of violence or in order to seek more dignified living conditions. It is an illusion to think that migration can be blocked or checked simply by force. Migration and the problems to which it gives rise must be addressed humanely, with justice and compassion.

How can we not be alarmed, moreover, by the continuous attacks on life, from conception to natural death? Such attacks do not even spare regions with a traditional culture of respecting life, such as Africa, where there is an attempt to trivialize abortion surreptitiously, both through the Maputo Protocol and through the Plan of Action adopted by the Health Ministers of the African Union -- shortly to be submitted to the Summit of Heads of State and Heads of Government. Equally, there are mounting threats to the natural composition of the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, and attempts to relativize it by giving it the same status as other radically different forms of union. All this offends and helps to destabilize the family by concealing its specific nature and its unique social role. Other forms of attack on life are sometimes committed in the name of scientific research. There is a growing conviction that research is subject only to the laws that it chooses for itself and that it is limited only by its own possibilities. This is the case, for example, in attempts to legitimize human cloning for supposedly therapeutic ends.

This overview of matters of concern must not distract our attention from the positive elements characteristic of the modern age. I should like to mention first of all the growing awareness of the importance of dialogue between cultures and between religions. This is a vital necessity, particularly in view of the challenges we all face regarding the family and society. I want to draw attention, moreover, to numerous initiatives in this area aimed at building common foundations for harmonious co-existence.

It is also timely to note the growing awareness shown by the international community of the enormous challenges of our time, and the efforts made to transform this awareness into concrete action. Within the United Nations Organization, the Council for Human Rights was established last year, and it is to be hoped that this will focus its activity on defense and promotion of the fundamental rights of the person, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom. Speaking of the United Nations, I feel I must mention with gratitude His Excellency Mr Kofi Annan for the work accomplished during his time in office as Secretary-General. I also express my best wishes for his successor, Mr Ban Ki-moon, who has recently assumed his new responsibilities.

Within the framework of development, various initiatives have been undertaken to which the Holy See has not failed to pledge its support, at the same time reiterating that these projects must not supplant the commitment of developed countries to devote 0.7% of their gross domestic product to international aid. Another important element in the collective struggle to eliminate poverty, in addition to aid -- which one can only hope will expand -- is a greater awareness of the need to combat corruption and to promote good governance. We must also encourage and continue the efforts that have been made to guarantee human rights to individuals and peoples, for the sake of more effective protection of civilian populations.

In considering the political situation in the various continents, we find even more reasons for concern and reasons for hope. At the outset, we note that peace is often fragile and even mocked. We cannot forget the African Continent. The drama of Darfur continues and is being extended to the border regions of Chad and the Central African Republic. The international community has seemed powerless for almost four years, despite initiatives intended to bring relief to the populations in distress and to arrive at a political solution. Only by active cooperation between the United Nations, the African Union, the governments and other interested parties will these methods achieve results. I invite all those concerned to act with determination: we cannot accept that so many innocent people continue to suffer and die in this way.

The situation in the Horn of Africa has recently become more serious, with the resumption of hostilities and the internationalization of the conflict. While calling upon all parties to lay down their arms and to enter negotiations, I should like to invoke the memory of Sister Leonella Sgorbati, who gave her life in the service of the least fortunate, and prayed that her murderers be forgiven. May her example and her witness inspire all those who truly seek the good of Somalia. With regard to Uganda, we must pray for the progress of negotiations between the parties, in order to hasten the end of that cruel conflict which has even seen numerous children enlisted and forced to become soldiers. This would allow the many displaced persons to return home and to resume a dignified way of life. The contribution of religious leaders and the recent appointment of a Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations augur well. I repeat: we must not forget Africa with its numerous situations of war and tension. We must remember that only negotiations between the various protagonists can open the way to a just settlement of the conflicts and offer a glimpse of progress towards the establishment of lasting peace.

The Great Lakes Region has seen much bloodshed over the years through merciless wars. Recent positive developments are to be welcomed with interest and hope, especially the conclusion of the period of political transition in Burundi and, more recently, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet it is urgent that these countries commit themselves to restoring the proper functioning of the rule of law, in order to disarm the warlords and allow society to develop. In Rwanda, I pray that the long process of national reconciliation after the genocide may finally result in justice, but also in truth and forgiveness. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, with the participation of a delegation from the Holy See and representatives of numerous national and regional Episcopal conferences of Central and Eastern Africa, affords a glimpse of new hopes. Finally, I should like to mention the Ivory Coast, urging the embattled parties to create a climate of mutual trust that can lead to disarmament and peace. And I should like to speak of Southern Africa: in the countries of this region, millions of people are reduced to a situation of great vulnerability that clamors for the attention and the support of the international community.

Among the positive signs for Africa is the wish expressed by the international community to keep its attention focused on this continent. Likewise, the strengthening of Africa's continental and regional institutions bears witness to the desire of the countries concerned to take increasing charge of their own destiny. Moreover, we must pay tribute to the laudable attitude of the people who commit themselves with determination every day, on the ground, to promote projects which contribute to the development and the organization of economic and social life.

The apostolic journey that I shall undertake next May to Brazil gives me the opportunity to turn my attention towards that great country, which awaits me with joy, and towards the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean. The improvement in certain economic indicators, the commitment to combat drug-trafficking and corruption, the various processes of integration, the efforts to improve access to education, to fight unemployment and to reduce inequalities in the distribution of revenues -- these are all signs to be viewed with satisfaction. If these developments are consolidated, they will be able to make a decisive contribution to overcoming the poverty that afflicts vast sectors of the population and to increasing the stability of institutions. In the light of the elections that took place last year in several countries, it should be emphasized that democracy is called to take into account the aspirations of the citizens as a whole, and to promote increasing respect for all the components of society, according to the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and justice. Yet the practice of democracy must not be allowed to turn into the dictatorship of relativism, by proposing anthropological models incompatible with the nature and dignity of the human person.

My attention is focused in a special way on certain individual countries -- notably Colombia, where the long internal conflict has provoked a humanitarian crisis, especially as far as displaced persons are concerned. Every effort must be made to bring peace to the country, to return to families their loved ones who have been kidnapped, to restore security and normal life for millions of people. Such signs will give confidence to everyone, including those who have been implicated in the armed struggle. Our attention is also turned towards Cuba. In voicing the hope that all of its inhabitants may realize their legitimate aspirations, amid concern for the common good, I should like to renew the appeal made by my venerable Predecessor: "Let Cuba open itself to the world, and let the world open itself to Cuba." Mutual openness to other countries can only bring benefits to all concerned. Not far away, the people of Haiti continue to live in great poverty surrounded by violence. I pray that the interest of the international community -- manifested among other things by the conferences of donors that took place in 2006 -- will lead to the consolidation of institutions and will allow the people to become the architects of their own development, amid a climate of reconciliation and harmony.

The Asian continent includes countries characterized by very large populations and significant economic development. I am thinking of China and India, countries that are in rapid expansion, and I hope that their growing presence on the international stage will bring with it benefits for their own populations and for other nations. Likewise, I pray for Vietnam, recalling its recent entry into the World Trade Organization. My thoughts go out to the Christian communities. In most Asian countries, they tend to be small but lively communities, with a legitimate desire to be able to live and act in a climate of religious liberty. This is not only a primordial right but it is a condition that will enable them to contribute to the material and spiritual progress of society, and to be sources of cohesion and harmony.

In East Timor, the Catholic Church intends to continue making her contribution, notably in the fields of education, healthcare and national reconciliation. The political crisis experienced by this young State, and by other countries in the region, highlights a certain fragility in the processes of democratization. Dangerous sources of tension are lurking in the Korean Peninsula. The goal of reconciling the Korean people and maintaining the Peninsula as a nuclear-free zone -- which will bring benefits to the entire region -- must be pursued within the context of negotiations. It is important to avoid gestures that could compromise the talks, and likewise to avoid making their results a condition for the humanitarian aid destined for the most vulnerable sectors of the North Korean population.

I would like to draw your attention to two other Asian countries that give cause for concern. In Afghanistan, in recent months, we can only deplore the notable increase in violence and terrorist attacks. This has rendered the way out of the crisis more difficult, and it weighs heavily on the local population. In Sri Lanka, the failure of the Geneva negotiations between the Government and the Tamil Movement has brought with it an intensification of the conflict, causing great suffering among the civilian population. Only the path of dialogue can ensure a better and safer future for all.

The Middle East is also a source of great anxiety. For this reason I decided to write a Christmas letter to the Catholics of the region, expressing my solidarity and spiritual closeness to them all, and encouraging them to remain in the region, as I am sure that their witness will be of assistance and support for a future of peace and fraternity. I renew my urgent appeal to all parties involved in the complex political chessboard of the region, hoping for a consolidation of the positive signs noted in recent weeks between Israelis and Palestinians. The Holy See will never tire of reiterating that armed solutions achieve nothing, as we saw in Lebanon last summer. In fact, the future of that country depends upon the unity of all its components, and upon fraternal relations between its different religious and social groupings. This would constitute a message of hope for all. It is no longer possible to be satisfied with partial or unilateral solutions. In order to put an end to the crisis and to the sufferings it causes among the population, a global approach is needed, which excludes no one from the search for a negotiated settlement, taking into account the legitimate interests and aspirations of the different peoples involved. In particular, the Lebanese have a right to see the integrity and sovereignty of their country respected; the Israelis have a right to live in peace in their State; the Palestinians have a right to a free and sovereign homeland. When each of the peoples in the region sees that its expectations are taken into consideration and thus feels less threatened, then mutual trust will be strengthened. This trust will grow if a country like Iran, especially in relation to its nuclear program, agrees to give a satisfactory response to the legitimate concerns of the international community. Steps taken in this direction surely help to stabilize the whole region, especially Iraq, putting an end to the appalling violence which disfigures that country with bloodshed, and offering an opportunity to work for reconstruction and reconciliation between all its inhabitants.

Closer to us, in Europe, two new countries, Bulgaria and Romania, nations with a long Christian tradition, have joined the European Union. As the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome approaches, some reflection on the Constitutional Treaty would seem appropriate. I hope that the fundamental values that are at the basis of human dignity will be fully protected, particularly religious freedom in all its dimensions and the institutional rights of Churches. Likewise, one cannot ignore the undeniable Christian heritage of the continent, which has greatly contributed to the formation of European nations and European peoples. The fiftieth anniversary of the rising of Budapest, celebrated last October, calls to mind the dramatic events of the twentieth century, and it prompts all Europeans to build a future free from oppression and from ideological conditioning, to establish bonds of friendship and fraternity, and to show concern and solidarity towards the poor and the weak. Likewise, the tensions of the past must be purified by promoting reconciliation at all levels, since this alone opens the way to the future and gives hope. I also appeal to all those on European soil who are tempted by terrorism, to cease from all such activity: actions of this kind only lead to more violence and create fear among populations -- they are simply a dead end. And I must also mention the various "frozen conflicts" and today's recurring tensions linked to energy resources, in the hope that they will find a rapid and definitive solution.

I pray that the Balkan region will arrive at the stability so ardently desired, particularly through the integration of the nations concerned into continental structures with the support of the international community. The establishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Montenegro, which has recently entered peacefully into the family of nations, and the Fundamental Accord signed with Bosnia-Hercegovina are signs of the Holy See's constant concern for the Balkan region. As the moment approaches in which the statute of Kosovo will be defined, the Holy See asks all concerned to strive with far-sighted wisdom, flexibility and moderation, so that a solution may be found which respects the rights and legitimate expectations of all.

The situations I have mentioned constitute a challenge that touches us all -- a challenge to promote and consolidate all the positive elements in the world, and to overcome, with good will, wisdom and tenacity, all that causes injury, degradation and death. It is by respecting the human person that peace can be promoted, and it is by building peace that the foundations of an authentic integral humanism are laid. This is where I find the answer to the concern for the future voiced by so many of our contemporaries. Yes, the future can be serene if we work together for humanity. Man, created in the image of God, has an incomparable dignity; man, who is so worthy of love in the eyes of his Creator that God did not hesitate to give his own Son for him. That is the great mystery of Christmas, which we have just celebrated, and which continues to spread its joyful atmosphere over our meeting today. In her commitment to serve humanity and to build peace, the Church stands alongside all people of good will and she offers impartial cooperation. Together, each in his place and with his respective gifts, let us work to build an integral humanism which alone can guarantee a world of peace, justice and solidarity. In expressing this hope, I also pray to the Lord for all of you, for your families, for your staff, and for the peoples that you represent.


Papal Letter to Cardinal Arinze
On the Occasion of the 43rd Anniverary of "Sacrosanctum Concilium"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's letter of to Cardinal Francis Arinze on the occasion of the study day in honor of the 43rd anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council constitution on the sacred liturgy, "Sacrosanctum Concilium."

* * *

To My Venerable Brother, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

I am pleased to offer my cordial greeting to you and to those taking part in the Study Day organized by this Dicastery on the anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium." After reflecting in the past on the Roman Martyrology and on Sacred Music, you are now preparing to examine in depth the theme: "Sunday Mass for the sanctification of the Christian People". Because of its spiritual and pastoral implications, this is a very timely topic.

The Second Vatican Council teaches that "the Church celebrates the Paschal Mystery every seventh day, which day is appropriately called the "Lord's Day' or "Sunday'" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," n. 106).

Sunday remains the fertile foundation and at the same time the fundamental nucleus of the liturgical year which originated in Christ's Resurrection, thanks to which the features of eternity were impressed on time.

Thus, Sunday is, so to speak, a fragment of time imbued with eternity, for its dawn saw the Crucified and Risen Christ enter victorious into eternal life.

With the event of the Resurrection, creation and redemption reach their fulfillment. On the "first day after Saturday", the women and then the Disciples, meeting the Risen One, understood that this was "the day which the Lord has made" (Ps 118[117]:24), "his" day, the "Dies Domini." In fact, this is what the liturgy sings: "O first and last day, radiant and shining with Christ's triumph".

From the very outset, this has been a stable element in the perception of the mystery of Sunday: "The Word", Origen affirms, "has moved the feast of the Sabbath to the day on which the light was produced and has given us as an image of true repose, Sunday, the day of salvation, the first day of the light in which the Savior of the world, after completing all his work with men and after conquering death, crossed the threshold of Heaven, surpassing the creation of the six days and receiving the blessed Sabbath and rest in God" (Comment on Psalm 91).

Inspired by knowledge of this, St Ignatius of Antioch asserted: "We are no longer keeping the Sabbath, but the Lord's Day" (Ad Magn. 9, 1).

For the first Christians, participation in the Sunday celebrations was the natural expression of their belonging to Christ, of communion with his Mystical Body, in the joyful expectation of his glorious return.

This belonging was expressed heroically in what happened to the martyrs of Abitene, who faced death exclaiming, "Sine dominico non possumus": without gathering together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist, we cannot live.

How much more necessary it is today to reaffirm the sacredness of the Lord's Day and the need to take part in Sunday Mass!

The cultural context in which we live, often marked by religious indifference and secularism that blot out the horizon of the transcendent, must not let us forget that the People of God, born from "Christ's Passover, Sunday", should return to it as to an inexhaustible source, in order to understand better and better the features of their own identity and the reasons for their existence.

The Second Vatican Council, after pointing out the origin of Sunday, continued: "On this day Christ's faithful are bound to come together into one place. They should listen to the Word of God and take part in the Eucharist, thus calling to mind the Passion, Resurrection and Glory of the Lord Jesus and giving thanks to God who "has begotten them again, through the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, unto a living hope'" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," n. 106).

Sunday was not chosen by the Christian community but by the Apostles, and indeed by Christ himself, who on that day, "the first day of the week", rose and appeared to the disciples (cf. Mt 28:1; Mk 16: 9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; I Cor 16: 2), and appeared to them again "eight days later" (Jn 20:26).

Sunday is the day on which the Risen Lord makes himself present among his followers, invites them to his banquet and shares himself with them so that they too, united and configured to him, may worship God properly.

Therefore, as I encourage people to give ever greater importance to the "Lord's Day", I am eager to highlight the central place of the Eucharist as a fundamental pillar of Sunday and of all ecclesial life. Indeed, at every Sunday Eucharistic celebration, the sanctification of the Christian people takes place as it will take place until the Sunday that never sets, the day of the definitive encounter of God with his creatures.

In this perspective, I express the hope that the Study Day promoted by this Dicastery on such a timely theme will contribute to the recovery of the Christian meaning of Sunday in the context of pastoral care and in every believer's life.

May the "Day of the Lord" that could well be called "the lord of days" regain all its importance and be perceived and lived to the full in the celebration of the Eucharist, from which the Christian community grows authentically and on which it depends (cf. "Presbyterorum Ordinis," n. 6).

As I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and invoke upon each one the motherly protection of Mary Most Holy, I warmly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, Venerable Brother, to your collaborators and to all the participants in this important meeting.

From the Vatican, 27 November 2006



On the Baptism of the Lord
"Holiness Constitutes the Vocation of All the Baptized" (January 7, 2007)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated, which closes the Christmas season. The liturgy proposes to us the narrative of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, according to St. Luke's account (cf. 3:15-16.21-22). The Evangelist narrates that, while Jesus was at prayer, after having received baptism among the many who were attracted by the precursor's preaching, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. At that moment, a voice resounded from on high: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22).

Jesus' baptism in the Jordan is recalled and highlighted, though in a different manner, by all the Evangelists. It formed part, in fact, of the apostolic preaching, as it constituted the starting point of a series of events and words on which the apostles were to give testimony (cf. Acts 1:21-22; 10:37-41). The apostolic community considered it very important, not only because in that circumstance, for the first time in history, the manifestation was taking place of the Trinitarian mystery in a clear and complete manner, but also because with that event Jesus' public ministry began on the roads of Palestine.

Jesus' baptism in the Jordan is the anticipation of his baptism of blood on the cross, and it is also a symbol of all the sacramental activity with which the Redeemer would enact the salvation of humanity. For this reason, the patristic tradition has paid much attention to this feast, which is the most ancient after Easter. "In the baptism of Christ," sings the liturgy of today, "the world is sanctified, sins are forgiven; in the water and in the Spirit we become new creatures" ("Antiphon to the Benedictus," Office of Lauds).

There is a profound relationship between Christ's baptism and our baptism. In the Jordan, the heavens were opened (cf. Luke 3:21) to indicate that the Savior opened to us the way of salvation and that we can follow it precisely thanks to the new birth "of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5), which takes place in baptism. In it, we are introduced in the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, we die and rise with him, we are clothed in him, as the Apostle Paul underlines on several occasions (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27). The commitment that arises from baptism consists therefore in "listening" to Jesus, that is, to believe in him and follow him docilely doing his will, the will of God. In this way, each one of us can aspire to holiness, a goal that, as the Second Vatican Council reminded, constitutes the vocation of all the baptized. May we be helped by Mary, mother of the beloved Son of God, to always be faithful to our baptism.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the Angelus the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims gathered for this Angelus prayer. Today's liturgical celebration of the baptism of the Lord reminds us that through faith and baptism all humanity is called to share in the life of God revealed in Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son. May this mystery of light inspire all of us to live fully the new life of grace bestowed upon us at our baptism and to be faithful witnesses of Christ before the world. God bless you and your families!


Papal Homily at Vespers on December 31
"God's Style Required a Long Period of Preparation"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered on Dec. 31 at vespers and the Te Deum. After the celebration, the Pope visited the crib set up in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Authorities,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are gathered in the Vatican Basilica to give thanks to the Lord at the end of the year and to sing the Te Deum together. I cordially thank all of you for wishing to join me on such an important occasion.

In the first place, I greet the Cardinals, my venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, the men and women Religious, the consecrated persons and all the lay faithful who represent the entire Ecclesial Community of Rome. In particular I greet the Mayor of Rome and the other Authorities present.

Greatest event in history

On this evening of 31 December, two different perspectives intersect: one is linked to the end of the civil year, the other to the liturgical Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God, which concludes the Octave of Holy Christmas. The first event is common to all, the second concerns believers. Their intersection confers a special character upon this evening celebration, in a particular spiritual atmosphere that is conducive to reflection.

The first, most evocative, theme is linked to the dimension of time.

In the last hours of every solar year we participate in some worldly "rites" which in the contemporary context are mainly marked by amusement and often lived as an evasion from reality, as it were, to exorcise the negative aspects and propitiate improbable good luck. How different the attitude of the Christian Community must be!

The Church is called to live these hours, making the Virgin Mary's sentiments her own. With her, the Church is invited to keep her gaze fixed on the Infant Jesus, the new Sun rising on the horizon of humanity and, comforted by his light, to take care to present to him "the joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted" ("Gaudium et Spes," n. 1).

Consequently, two different evaluations of the dimension of "time" confront each other, one quantitative and the other qualitative.

On the one hand, the solar cycle with its rhythms; on the other, what St Paul called the "fullness of time" (cf. Gal 4: 4), that is, the culminating moment of the history of the universe and of the human race when the Son of God was born in the world. The time of the promises was fulfilled and, when Mary's pregnancy reached its term, "the earth", a Psalm says, "yielded its increase" (Ps 67[66]: [7]6).

The coming of the Messiah, foretold by the Prophets, is qualitatively the most important event of all history, on which it confers its ultimate and full meaning. It is not historical and political coordinates that condition God's choice, but on the contrary, the event of the Incarnation that "fills" history with value and meaning.

We, who come 2,000 years after that event, can affirm this, so to speak, also a posteriori, after having known the whole life of Jesus, until his death and Resurrection. We are witnesses at the same time of his glory and his humility, of the immense value of his coming and of God's infinite respect for us human beings and for our history.

He did not fill time by pouring himself into it from on high, but "from within", making himself a tiny seed to lead humanity to its full maturation.

God's style required a long period of preparation to reach from Abraham to Jesus Christ, and after the Messiah's coming, history did not end but continued its course, apparently the same but in reality visited by God and oriented to the Lord's second and definitive Coming at the end of time. We might say that Mary's Motherhood is a real symbol and sacrament of all this, an event at the same time human and divine.

In the passage from the Letter to the Galatians that we have just heard, St Paul said: "God sent forth his Son, born of woman" (Gal 4:4). Origen commented: "Note well that he did not say, "born by means of a woman' but "born of a woman'" (Comment on the Letter to the Galatians, PG 14, 1298).

Mary, truly God's Mother

This acute observation of the great exegete and ecclesiastical writer is important: in fact, if the Son of God had been born only "by means of" a woman, he would not truly have taken on our humanity, something which instead he did by taking flesh "of" Mary. Mary's motherhood, therefore, is true and fully human.

The fundamental truth about Jesus as a divine Person who fully assumed our human nature is condensed in the phrase: "God sent forth his Son born of woman". He is the Son of God, he is generated by God and at the same time he is the son of a woman, Mary. He comes from her. He is of God and of Mary.

For this reason one can and must call the Mother of Jesus the Mother of God. This title, rendered in Greek as "Theotokos," probably appeared for the first time in the very region of Alexandria, Egypt, precisely where Origen lived in the first half of the third century. However, she was dogmatically defined as such only two centuries later, in 431 by the Council of Ephesus, a city to which I had the joy of going on pilgrimage a month ago during my Apostolic Visit to Turkey.

Indeed, thinking back to that unforgettable Visit, how could I fail to express all my filial gratitude to the Holy Mother of God for the special protection which she granted to me in those days of grace?

"Theotokos," Mother of God: every time we recite the Hail Mary we address the Virgin with this title, imploring her to pray "for us sinners".

At the end of a year, we feel a special need to call on the motherly intercession of Mary Most Holy for the city of Rome, for Italy, for Europe and for the whole world. Let us entrust to Mary, who is the Mother of Mercy incarnate, particularly those situations to which the Lord's grace alone can bring peace, comfort and justice.

The Virgin heard the Angel announcing her divine Motherhood say to her: "With God nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:37). Mary believed and for this reason she is blessed (cf. Lk 1:45). What is impossible to man becomes possible to the one who believes (cf. Mk 9:23).

Thus, as 2006 draws to a close and the dawn of 2007 can already be glimpsed, let us ask the Mother of God to obtain for us the gift of a mature faith: a faith that we would like to resemble hers as far as possible, a clear, genuine, humble and at the same time courageous faith, steeped in hope and enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God, a faith devoid of all fatalism and wholly set on cooperating with the divine will in full and joyful obedience and with the absolute certainty that God wants nothing but love and life, always and for everyone.

Obtain for us, O Mary, an authentic, pure faith. May you always be thanked and blessed, Holy Mother of God! Amen!


On the Epiphany
"The Wise Men Are the First Fruits of the Gentiles" (January 6)

* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters:

The solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates Christ's manifestation to the Wise Men, an event to which St. Matthew attaches great importance (cf. Matthew 2:1-12). He narrates in his Gospel that some "Wise Men" -- probably Persian religious leaders -- arrived in Jerusalem guided by a "star," a luminous heavenly phenomenon interpreted by them as a sign of the birth of the new king of the Jews.

No one in the city knew anything; what is more, Herod, the king on the throne, was very disturbed by the news and conceived the tragic plan of the "killing of the innocents" to eliminate the newly born rival. The Wise Men, on the contrary, allowed themselves to be guided by the sacred Scriptures, in particular, by Micah's prophecy, according to which, the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, located some 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem (cf. 5:2). Following that direction, they saw the star again and, full of joy, followed it until it paused above a hovel. They entered and saw the Child with Mary; they prostrated themselves before him and, in homage to his royal dignity, offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Why is this event so important? Because with it began the adherence of the pagan peoples to faith in Christ, according to the promise that God had made to Abraham, to which the book of Genesis makes reference: "all the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you" (Genesis 12:3). Just as Mary, Joseph and the shepherds of Bethlehem represent the people of Israel that received the Lord, so the Wise Men are the first fruits of the gentiles, also called to form part of the Church, new people of God, which is no longer based on ethnic, linguistic or cultural homogeneity, but only on common faith in Jesus, Son of God.

For this reason, Christ's epiphany is at the same time, the Church's epiphany, that is, the manifestation of her vocation and universal mission. In this context, I joyfully address a cordial greeting to the beloved brothers and sisters of the Eastern Churches that, following the Julian Calendar, celebrate Holy Christmas tomorrow: I affectionately wish them abundance of Christian peace and prosperity.

I like to recall, moreover, that on the occasion of Epiphany, the World Day of Missionary Children is observed. It is the feast of Christian children who live joyfully the gift of faith and pray that the light of Jesus will reach all the children of the world.

I thank the children of "Holy Childhood," present in 110 countries, as they are precious cooperators of the Gospel and apostles of Christian solidarity in favor of the neediest. I encourage educators to cultivate in little ones the missionary spirit, so that impassioned missionaries will arise among them, witnesses of God's tenderness and proclaimers of his love.

We now turn to the Virgin Mary, star of evangelization: That through her intercession Christians throughout the world may live as children of the light and lead men to Christ, authentic light of the world.


Benedict XVI's Evaluation of 2006
Address to the Roman Curia

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's address, delivered Dec. 22, to cardinals, archbishops, bishops and superior prelates, in which he evaluated the year 2006.

* * *


Clementine Hall

Friday, 22 December 2006

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Presbyterate, Dear Brethren,

I meet you today with great joy and address my cordial greeting to each one of you. I thank you for being present at this traditional appointment held close to holy Christmas. I especially thank Cardinal Angelo Sodano for the words with which he has expressed the sentiments of everyone here, inspired by the central theme of the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est. On this important occasion I would like to express my gratitude to him once more for the service to the Pope and to the Holy See that he has carried out for so many years as Secretary of State, and I ask the Lord to reward him for the good that he has done with his wisdom and his zeal for the Church's mission.

At the same time, I desire to offer a special greeting to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone for the new task that I have entrusted to him. I gladly extend these sentiments to all those who have entered the service of the Roman Curia or of the Governorate this year, while we remember with affection and gratitude those whom the Lord has called from this life to himself.

The year that is coming to an end, as you have said, Your Eminence, lives on in our memory; deeply impressed upon it are the horrors of the war near the Holy Land as well as the general danger of a clash between cultures and religions - a danger that hangs threateningly over our time in history.

The problem of ways towards peace has thus become a challenge of primary importance for all who are concerned about humankind. This is true in particular for the Church, for which the promise that accompanied her at the outset also means a responsibility and a task: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Lk 2: 14).

The Angel's greeting to the shepherds on the night of Christ's birth in Bethlehem reveals an unbreakable link between the relationship of men and women with God and their own mutual relationships.

Peace on earth cannot be found without reconciliation with God, without harmony between Heaven and earth.

This correlation of the theme "God" with the theme "peace" was the decisive aspect of my four Apostolic Journeys this year: I would like to review them here. First of all was my Pastoral Visit to Poland, the Country in which our beloved Pope John Paul II was born. For me, the journey to his Homeland was an intimate duty of gratitude for all that he gave to me personally and above all to the Church and to the world during the quarter century of his service.

His greatest gift to all of us was his steadfast faith and the radicalism of his dedication. His motto was "Totus tuus". It reflected his whole being. Yes, he gave himself without reserve to God, to Christ, to the Mother of Christ, to the Church: to the service of the Redeemer and to the redemption of man. He held nothing back. He let the flame of faith consume him to his inmost depths. He showed us how, as people of today, it is possible to believe in God, the Living God who made himself close to us in Christ. He showed us that a definitive and radical dedication of one's whole life is possible, and that, precisely in giving oneself, life becomes great and immense and fruitful.

In Poland, everywhere I went I encountered the joy of faith. "The joy of the Lord is your strength" -- this word which amid the wretchedness of the new beginning, the scribe Ezra cried out to the People of Israel who had just returned from the Exile (Neh 8: 10), can be experienced tangibly here. I was deeply struck by the great cordiality with which I was welcomed everywhere. The people saw in me the Successor of Peter to whom is entrusted the pastoral ministry for the entire Church.

They saw the one to whom, despite all his human frailty, the word of the Risen Lord is addressed then as today: "Tend my sheep" (cf. Jn 21: 15-19); they saw the Successor of the one to whom Jesus had said, in the district of Caesarea Philippi, "you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church" (Mt 16: 18). Peter, on his own, was not a rock; he was a weak and unsteady man. Nonetheless, the Lord wished to make Peter himself a rock, to show that through a weak human being, he himself firmly sustains his Church and keeps her united.

Thus, the Visit to Poland was for me a celebration of catholicity in the deepest sense. Christ is our peace and reunites the separated: over and above all the differences in the historical epochs and cultures, he is reconciliation. Through the Petrine Ministry we experience this unifying force of faith which, starting from many peoples ever anew, builds the one People of God. We truly experienced with joy that, coming from many peoples, we form the one People of God: his Holy Church.

For this reason the Petrine Ministry can be the visible sign that guarantees this unity and forms a concrete unit. Once again, I want to thank the Church in Poland explicitly and with all my heart for this moving experience of catholicity.

My travels in Poland could not omit a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, to that place of the cruelest barbarities, the attempt to wipe out the People of Israel, and thus render their election by God vain and indeed, to banish God himself from history.

It was a source of great comfort to me at that moment to see a rainbow appearing in the sky as, before the horrors of that place, I cried out to God like Job, shaken by the dread of his apparent absence but at the same time supported by the certainty that even in his silence he does not cease to be and remain with us. The rainbow was, as it were, a response: Yes, I exist, and the words of the promise, of the Covenant which I spoke after the flood, are still valid today (cf. Gn 9: 12-17).

The Visit to Valencia, Spain, was under the banner of the theme of marriage and the family. It was beautiful to listen, before the people assembled from all continents, to the testimonies of couples -- blessed by a numerous throng of children -- who introduced themselves to us and spoke of their respective journeys in the Sacrament of Marriage and in their large families.

They did not hide the fact that they have also had difficult days, that they have had to pass through periods of crisis. Yet, precisely through the effort of supporting one another day by day, precisely through accepting one another ever anew in the crucible of daily trials, living and suffering to the full their initial "yes", precisely on this Gospel path of "losing oneself", they had matured, rediscovered themselves and become happy. Their "yes" to one another in the patience of the journey and in the strength of the Sacrament with which Christ had bound them together, had become a great "yes" to themselves, their children, to God the Creator and to the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Thus, from the witness of these families a wave of joy reached us, not a superficial and scant gaiety that is all too soon dispelled, but a joy that developed also in suffering, a joy that reaches down to the depths and truly redeems man.

Before these families with their children, before these families in which the generations hold hands and the future is present, the problem of Europe, which it seems no longer wants to have children, penetrated my soul. To foreigners this Europe seems to be tired, indeed, it seems to be wishing to take its leave of history. Why are things like this? This is the great question. The answers are undoubtedly very complex. Before seeking these answers, it is only right to thank the many married couples in our Europe who still say "yes" to children today and accept the trials that this entails: social and financial problems, as well as worries and struggles, day after day; the dedication required to give children access to the path towards the future. In mentioning these difficulties, perhaps the reasons also become clearer why for many the risk of having children appears too great.

A child needs loving attention. This means that we must give children some of our time, the time of our life. But precisely this "raw material" of life -- time -- seems to be ever scarcer. The time we have available barely suffices for our own lives; how could we surrender it, give it to someone else? To have time and to give time - this is for us a very concrete way to learn to give oneself, to lose oneself in order to find oneself.

In addition to this problem comes the difficult calculation: what rules should we apply to ensure that the child follows the right path and in so doing, how should we respect his or her freedom? The problem has also become very difficult because we are no longer sure of the norms to transmit; because we no longer know what the correct use of freedom is, what is the correct way to live, what is morally correct and what instead is inadmissible.

The modern spirit has lost its bearings, and this lack of bearings prevents us from being indicators of the right way to others. Indeed, the problem goes even deeper. Contemporary man is insecure about the future. Is it permissible to send someone into this uncertain future? In short, is it a good thing to be a person? This deep lack of self assurance -- plus the wish to have one's whole life for oneself -- is perhaps the deepest reason why the risk of having children appears to many to be almost unsustainable. In fact, we can transmit life in a responsible way only if we are able to pass on something more than mere biological life, and that is, a meaning that prevails even in the crises of history to come and a certainty in the hope that is stronger than the clouds that obscure the future.

Unless we learn anew the foundations of life - unless we discover in a new way the certainty of faith -- it will be less and less possible for us to entrust to others the gift of life and the task of an unknown future.

Connected with that, finally, is also the problem of definitive decisions: can man bind himself for ever? Can he say a "yes" for his whole life? Yes, he can. He was created for this. In this very way human freedom is brought about and thus the sacred context of marriage is also created and enlarged, becoming a family and building the future.

At this point, I cannot be silent about my concern about the legislation for de facto couples. Many of these couples have chosen this way because -- at least for the time being -- they do not feel able to accept the legally ordered and binding coexistence of marriage. Thus, they prefer to remain in the simple de facto state. When new forms of legislation are created which relativize marriage, the renouncement of the definitive bond obtains, as it were, also a juridical seal.

In this case, deciding for those who are already finding it far from easy becomes even more difficult. Then there is in addition, for the other type of couple, the relativization of the difference between the sexes.

The union of a man and a woman is being put on a par with the pairing of two people of the same sex, and tacitly confirms those fallacious theories that remove from the human person all the importance of masculinity and femininity, as though it were a question of the purely biological factor.

Such theories hold that man -- that is, his intellect and his desire -- would decide autonomously what he is or what he is not. In this, corporeity is scorned, with the consequence that the human being, in seeking to be emancipated from his body -- from the "biological sphere" -- ends by destroying himself.

If we tell ourselves that the Church ought not to interfere in such matters, we cannot but answer: are we not concerned with the human being? Do not believers, by virtue of the great culture of their faith, have the right to make a pronouncement on all this? Is it not their -- our -- duty to raise our voices to defend the human being, that creature who, precisely in the inseparable unity of body and spirit, is the image of God? The Visit to Valencia became for me a quest for the meaning of the human being.

In our minds let us travel to Bavaria -- Munich, Altötting, Regensburg and Freising. There, I was able to live unforgettably beautiful days of encounter with faith and with the faithful of my Homeland. The great theme of my Journey to Germany was God. The Church must speak of many things: of all the issues connected with the human being, of her own structure and of the way she is ordered and so forth. But her true and -- under various aspects -- only theme is "God".

Moreover, the great problem of the West is forgetfulness of God. This forgetfulness is spreading. In short, all the individual problems can be traced back to this question, I am sure of it.

Therefore, on that Journey, my main purpose was to shed clear light on the theme "God", also mindful of the fact that in several parts of Germany there are a majority of non-baptized persons for whom Christianity and the God of faith seem to belong to the past.

Speaking of God, we are touching precisely on the subject which, in Jesus' earthly preaching, was his main focus. The fundamental subject of this preaching is God's realm, the "Kingdom of God". This does not mean something that will come to pass at one time or another in an indeterminate future. Nor does it mean that better world which we seek to create, step by step, with our own strength. In the term "Kingdom of God", the word "God" is a subjective genitive. This means: God is not something added to the "Kingdom" which one might even perhaps drop.

God is the subject. Kingdom of God actually means: God reigns. He himself is present and crucial to human beings in the world. He is the subject, and wherever this subject is absent, nothing remains of Jesus' message.

Therefore, Jesus tells us: the Kingdom of God does not come in such a way that one may, so to speak, line the wayside to watch its arrival. "The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you!" (cf. Lk 17: 20ff.).

It develops wherever God's will is done. It is present wherever there are people who are open to his arrival and so let God enter the world. Thus, Jesus is the Kingdom of God in person: the man in whom God is among us and through whom we can touch God, draw close to God. Wherever this happens, the world is saved.

Two topics made an impression during the days of my Visit to Bavaria. They were and are linked to the theme of God: "the priesthood" and "dialogue". Paul calls Timothy -- and in him, the Bishop and in general the priest -- "man of God" (I Tm 6: 11). This is the central task of the priest: to bring God to men and women. Of course, he can only do this if he himself comes from God, if he lives with and by God. This is marvelously expressed in a verse of a priestly Psalm that we -- the older generation -- spoke during our admittance to the clerical state: "The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup, you hold my lot" (Ps 16[15]5).

The priest praying in this Psalm interprets his life on the basis of the distribution of territory as established in Deuteronomy (cf. 10: 9). After taking possession of the Land, every tribe obtained by the drawing of lots his portion of the Holy Land and with this took part in the gift promised to the forefather Abraham.

The tribe of Levi alone received no land: its land was God himself. This affirmation certainly had an entirely practical significance. Priests did not live like the other tribes by cultivating the earth, but on offerings. However, the affirmation goes deeper. The true foundation of the priest's life, the ground of his existence, the ground of his life, is God himself.

The Church in this Old Testament interpretation of the priestly life -- an interpretation that also emerges repeatedly in Psalm 119[118] -- has rightly seen in the following of the Apostles, in communion with Jesus himself, as the explanation of what the priestly mission means. The priest can and must also say today, with the Levite: "Dominus pars hereditatis meae et calicis mei". God himself is my portion of land, the external and internal foundation of my existence.

This theocentricity of the priestly existence is truly necessary in our entirely function-oriented world in which everything is based on calculable and ascertainable performance. The priest must truly know God from within and thus bring him to men and women: this is the prime service that contemporary humanity needs. If this centrality of God in a priest's life is lost, little by little the zeal in his actions is lost. In an excess of external things the centre that gives meaning to all things and leads them back to unity is missing. There, the foundation of life, the "earth" upon which all this can stand and prosper, is missing.

Celibacy, in force for Bishops throughout the Eastern and Western Church and, according to a tradition that dates back to an epoch close to that of the Apostles, for priests in general in the Latin Church, can only be understood and lived if is based on this basic structure.

The solely pragmatic reasons, the reference to greater availability, is not enough: such a greater availability of time could easily become also a form of egoism that saves a person from the sacrifices and efforts demanded by the reciprocal acceptance and forbearance in matrimony; thus, it could lead to a spiritual impoverishment or to hardening of the heart.

The true foundation of celibacy can be contained in the phrase: Dominus pars -- You are my land. It can only be theocentric. It cannot mean being deprived of love, but must mean letting oneself be consumed by passion for God and subsequently, thanks to a more intimate way of being with him, to serve men and women, too. Celibacy must be a witness to faith: faith in God materializes in that form of life which only has meaning if it is based on God.

Basing one's life on him, renouncing marriage and the family, means that I accept and experience God as a reality and that I can therefore bring him to men and women. Our world, which has become totally positivistic, in which God appears at best as a hypothesis but not as a concrete reality, needs to rest on God in the most concrete and radical way possible.

It needs a witness to God that lies in the decision to welcome God as a land where one finds one's own existence. For this reason, celibacy is so important today, in our contemporary world, even if its fulfillment in our age is constantly threatened and questioned.

A careful preparation during the journey towards this goal and persevering guidance on the part of the Bishop, priest friends and lay people who sustain this priestly witness together, is essential. We need prayer that invokes God without respite as the Living God and relies on him in times of confusion as well as in times of joy. Consequently, as opposed to the cultural trend that seeks to convince us that we are not capable of making such decisions, this witness can be lived and in this way, in our world, can reinstate God as reality.

The other great subject linked to the theme of God is that of dialogue. The inner circle of the complex dialogue which today requires the common commitment of all Christians to unity became clear in the Ecumenical Vespers in the Regensburg Cathedral, where, in addition to the brothers and sisters of the Catholic Church, I was able to meet many friends of Orthodoxy and Evangelical Christianity. We were all gathered together to recite the Psalms and listen to the Word of God, and it is no small thing that this unity was granted to us.

The meeting with the University was dedicated -- as befitted the place -- to the dialogue between faith and reason.

On the occasion of my meeting with the philosopher Jürgen Habermas a few years ago in Munich, he said that we would need thinkers who could translate the encoded convictions of the Christian faith into the language of the secularized world to make them newly effective.

In fact, the world's urgent need of the dialogue between faith and reason is becoming ever more obvious.

Immanual Kant, in his day, saw the essence of illuminism expressed in the so-called "sapere aude": in the courage of thought that does not allow itself to be embarrassed by any prejudice.

Well, since then, the cognitive capacity of the human being, his dominion over matter by the power of thought, has made progress that would have been inconceivable at the time.

However, the power the human being holds in his hands, which science has increased, is increasingly becoming a danger that threatens the human being himself and the world.

Reason oriented totally to taking the world in hand, no longer accepts limits. It is already on the point of dealing with the person merely as matter of its own production and power.

Our knowledge is growing but at the same time, a progressive blinding of reason with regard to its own foundations and the criteria that give it direction and meaning is being recorded.

Faith in that God, who is in person the creative Reason of the universe, must be accepted by science in a new way as a challenge and a chance.

Reciprocally, this faith must recognize anew its intrinsic immensity and its own reasonableness. Reason needs the Logos which was at the beginning and is our light. Faith, for its part, needs the conversation with modern reason to take stock of its own greatness and to correspond to its own responsibilities. And this is what I sought to highlight in my lesson at Regensburg. It is a matter which is certainly not solely academic: it addresses the future of us all.

In Regensburg the dialogue between the religions was only marginally touched on and in a twofold perspective. Secularized reason is unable to enter into a true dialogue with the religions. It remains closed to the question of God, and this will end by leading to the clash of cultures.

The other perspective concerned the affirmation that the religions must encounter one another in the common task of putting themselves at the service of the truth and thus, of the human being. My Visit to Turkey afforded me the opportunity to show also publicly my respect for the Islamic Religion, a respect, moreover, which the Second Vatican Council (cf. Declaration "Nostra Aetate," n. 3) pointed out to us as an attitude that is only right.

I would like here to express once again my gratitude to the Authorities of Turkey and to the Turkish People, who welcomed me with such immense hospitality and offered me unforgettable days of encounter.

In a dialogue to be intensified with Islam, we must bear in mind the fact that the Muslim world today is finding itself faced with an urgent task. This task is very similar to the one that has been imposed upon Christians since the Enlightenment, and to which the Second Vatican Council, as the fruit of long and difficult research, found real solutions for the Catholic Church.

It is a question of the attitude that the community of the faithful must adopt in the face of the convictions and demands that were strengthened in the Enlightenment.

On the one hand, one must counter a dictatorship of positivist reason that excludes God from the life of the community and from public organizations, thereby depriving man of his specific criteria of judgment.

On the other, one must welcome the true conquests of the Enlightenment, human rights and especially the freedom of faith and its practice, and recognize these also as being essential elements for the authenticity of religion.

As in the Christian community, where there has been a long search to find the correct position of faith in relation to such beliefs -- a search that will certainly never be concluded once and for all --, so also the Islamic world with its own tradition faces the immense task of finding the appropriate solutions in this regard.

The content of the dialogue between Christians and Muslims will be at this time especially one of meeting each other in this commitment to find the right solutions. We Christians feel in solidarity with all those who, precisely on the basis of their religious conviction as Muslims, work to oppose violence and for the synergy between faith and reason, between religion and freedom. In this sense, the two dialogues of which I have spoken penetrate each other.

In Istanbul, lastly, I was once again able to live happy hours of ecumenical closeness in my meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Some days ago he wrote me a letter in which the words of gratitude welling up from the depths of his heart reminded me very vividly of the experience of communion of those days.

We felt we were brothers, not only on the basis of words and historical events, but from the depths of the soul; that we were united by the common faith of the Apostles ever in our thoughts and personal feelings.

We experienced a profound unity in faith, and we pray to the Lord yet more insistently that he will quickly also grant full unity in the common breaking of the Bread.

My deep gratitude and fraternal prayers are addressed at this time to Patriarch Bartholomew and his faithful, as well as to the various Christian communities which I was able to meet in Istanbul. Let us hope and pray that religious freedom, which corresponds with the intimate nature of faith and is recognized in the principles of the Turkish Constitution, may find in suitable juridical forms, as well as in the daily life of the Patriarchate and the other Christian communities, an increasingly practical fulfillment.

"Et erit iste pax" -- this will be peace, the Prophet Micah says (5: 4) about the future ruler of Israel, whose birth in Bethlehem he announces. The Angels said to the shepherds grazing their flocks in the fields around Bethlehem: "on earth peace among men", the expected One has arrived (Lk 2: 14).

He himself, Christ, the Lord, said to his disciples: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you" (Jn 14: 27). It is from these words that the liturgical greeting developed: "Peace be with you".

This peace that is communicated in the liturgy is Christ himself. He gives himself to us as peace, as reconciliation beyond all frontiers. Wherever he is welcomed, islands of peace develop. We human beings would have liked Christ to banish all wars once and for all, to destroy weapons and establish universal peace. But we have to learn that peace cannot be attained only from the outside with structures, and that the attempt to establish it with violence leads only to ever new violence.

We must learn that peace -- as the Angel of Bethlehem said -- is connected with eudokia, with the opening of our hearts to God.

We must learn that peace can only exist if hatred and selfishness are overcome from within. The human being must be renewed from within, must become new and different. Thus, peace in this world always remains weak and fragile. We suffer from this. For this very reason we are called especially to let ourselves be penetrated within by God's peace and to take his power into the world. All that was wrought in and through the Sacrament of Baptism must be fulfilled in our lives: the dying of the former self, hence, the rebirth of the new. And we will pray to the Lord insistently over and over again: Please move hearts! Make us new people! Help the reason of peace to overcome the irrationality of violence! Make us bearers of your peace!

May the Virgin Mary, to whom I entrust you and your work, obtain this grace for us. I extend to each one of you present here and to all your loved ones, my most fervent good wishes, and as a sign of our joy, tomorrow will be a free day for the Curia to prepare well, physically and spiritually, for Christmas. I impart my Apostolic Blessing with affection to the collaborators of the various Dicasteries and Offices of the Roman Curia and of the Governatorate of Vatican City State. Merry Christmas and very many good wishes also for the New Year!


Papal Homily on New Year's Day: Mary Mother of God
"Let Us Begin This New Year by Looking at Mary" (January 1, 2007)



St Peter's Basilica

Monday, 1 January 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As in a mosaic, today's liturgy contemplates different events and messianic situations, but attention is especially focused on Mary, Mother of God. Eight days after Jesus' birth, we commemorate the Mother, the Theotokos, the one who gave birth to the Child who is King of Heaven and earth for ever (cf. Entrance Antiphon; Sedulius).

The liturgy today meditates on the Word made man and repeats that he is born of the Virgin. It reflects on the circumcision of Jesus as a rite of admission to the community and contemplates God who, by means of Mary, gave his Only-Begotten Son to lead the "new people". It recalls the name given to the Messiah and listens to it spoken with tender sweetness by his Mother. It invokes peace for the world, Christ's peace, and does so through Mary, Mediatrix and Cooperator of Christ (cf. "Lumen Gentium," nn. 60-61).

We are beginning a new solar year which is a further period of time offered to us by divine Providence in the context of the salvation inaugurated by Christ. But did not the eternal Word enter time precisely through Mary? In the Second Reading we have just listened to, the Apostle Paul recalls this by saying that Jesus was born "of woman" (Gal 4: 4).

In today's liturgy the figure of Mary, true Mother of Jesus, God-man, stands out. Thus, today's Solemnity is not celebrating an abstract idea but a mystery and an historic event: Jesus Christ, a divine Person, is born of the Virgin Mary who is his Mother in the truest sense.

Today too, Mary's virginity is highlighted, in addition to her motherhood. These are two prerogatives that are always proclaimed together, inseparably, because they complement and qualify each other. Mary is Mother, but a Virgin Mother; Mary is a virgin, but a Mother Virgin. If either of these aspects is ignored, the mystery of Mary as the Gospels present her to us, cannot be properly understood.

As Mother of Christ, Mary is also Mother of the Church, which my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI chose to proclaim on 21 November 1964 at the Second Vatican Council. Lastly, Mary is the Spiritual Mother of all humanity, because Jesus on the Cross shed his blood for all of us and from the Cross he entrusted us all to her maternal care.

Let us begin this new year, therefore, by looking at Mary whom we received from God's hands as a precious "talent" to be made fruitful, a providential opportunity to contribute to bringing about the Kingdom of God.

In this atmosphere of prayer and gratitude to the Lord for the gift of a new year, I am pleased to address my respectful thoughts to the distinguished Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See who have desired to take part in today's solemn Celebration.

I cordially greet Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State. I greet Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and the members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and express to them my deep gratitude for the commitment with which they daily promote these values, so fundamental to social life.

For this World Day of Peace, I addressed the customary Message to the Governors and Leaders of Nations, as well as to all men and women of good will. Its theme this year is: The human person, the heart of peace.

I am deeply convinced that "respect for the person promotes peace and that, in building peace, the foundations are laid for an authentic integral humanism" (Message for World Peace Day, 1 January 2007, n. 1).

This commitment is especially incumbent on every Christian who is called "to be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defence of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights" (Message, n. 16). Precisely because he is created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1: 27), every human individual without distinction of race, culture or religion, as a person is clothed in God's same dignity. For this reason he should be respected, nor can any reason ever justify an arbitrary use of him, as if he were an object.

In the face of the threats to peace that are unfortunately ever present, the situations of injustice and violence that persist in various areas of the earth and the continuing armed conflicts often overlooked by the majority of public opinion, as well as the danger of terrorism that clouds the serenity of peoples, it is becoming more necessary than ever to work for peace together. This, as I recalled in my Message, is "both gift and task" (n. 3): a gift to implore with prayer and a task to be carried out with courage, never tiring.

The Gospel narrative we have heard portrays the scene of the shepherds of Bethlehem, who after hearing the Angel's announcement go to the grotto to worship the Child (cf. Lk 2: 16). Should we not look again at the dramatic situation marking the very Land in which Jesus was born? How can we not entreat God with insistent prayers for the day of peace to arrive as soon as possible in that region too, the day on which the current conflict that has lasted far too long will be resolved?

If a peace agreement is to endure, it must be based on respect for the dignity and rights of every person. I express to the representatives of the nations present here my hope that the International Community will muster its forces so that a world may be built in God's Name in which the essential human rights are respected by all. For this to happen, people must recognize that these rights are not only based on human agreements but "on man's very nature and his inalienable dignity as a person created by God" (Message, n. 13).

Indeed, were the constitutive elements of human dignity entrusted to changeable human opinions, even solemnly proclaimed human rights would end by being weakened and variously interpreted. "Consequently, it is important for international agencies not to lose sight of the natural foundation of human rights. This would enable them to avoid the risk, unfortunately ever-present, of sliding towards a merely positivistic interpretation of those rights" (ibid.).

"The Lord bless you and keep you... lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace" (Nm 6: 24, 26). This is the formula of the Blessing we heard in the First Reading, taken from the Book of Numbers. The Lord's Name is repeated in it three times. This gives one an idea of the intensity and power of the Blessing, whose last word is "peace".

The biblical term shalom, which we translate as "peace", implies that accumulation of good things in which consists the "salvation" brought by Christ, the Messiah announced by the Prophets. We Christians therefore recognize him as the Prince of Peace. He became a man and was born in a grotto in Bethlehem to bring peace to people of good will, to all who welcome him with faith and love.

Thus, peace is truly the gift and commitment of Christmas: the gift that must be accepted with humble docility and constantly invoked with prayerful trust, the task that makes every person of good will a "channel of peace".

Let us ask Mary, Mother of God, to help us to welcome her Son and, in him, true peace. Let us ask her to sharpen our perception so that we may recognize in the face of every human person, the Face of Christ, the heart of peace!


Wednesday's Audience:  On the Message of Christmas
"God Has Manifested His Good Will Toward Everyone"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience last Wednesday, held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope delivered a reflection on the meaning of Christmas.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today's meeting takes place in the atmosphere of Christmas, permeated by the profound joy of the Savior's birth. We just celebrated, day before yesterday, this mystery, whose echo is prolonged in the liturgy of all these days. It is a mystery of light that the people of every age can relive in faith.

Resounding in our spirit are the words of John the Evangelist, whose feast we celebrate in fact today: "'Et Verbum caro factum est' -- the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). At Christmas, therefore, God has come to dwell among us, he has come for us, to stay with us. A question runs throughout these two thousand years of Christian history: But why did he do so? Why did God become man?"

The song that the angels intoned in the grotto of Bethlehem helps us to answer this question: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14). The canticle of Christmas night, which enters in the Gloria, is now a part of the liturgy as are the other three canticles of the New Testament, which refer to Jesus' birth and infancy: the Benedictus, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis.

While the last three are placed respectively in lauds, in the morning, in the evening prayer of vespers and the night prayer of compline, the Gloria is placed precisely in the holy Mass. Added since the second century to the words of the angels were some acclamations: "We praise you for your great glory, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks," and later, other invocations: "Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, who takes away the sins of the world ..." until formulating a graceful hymn of praise which was sung for the first time in the Christmas Mass and later on all feast days.

Placed at the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration, the Gloria underlines the existing continuity between the birth and death of Christ, between Christmas and Easter, inseparable aspects of the one and only mystery of salvation.

The Gospel recounts that the angelic multitude sang: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." The angels announce to the shepherds that Jesus' birth "is" glory for God in the highest heaven; and "is" peace on earth for the men with whom he is pleased.

Appropriately, therefore, these words are usually placed in the grotto as an explanation of the mystery of Christmas, which has taken place in the manger. The term "gloria" (doxa) indicates the splendor of God which arouses the grateful praise of creatures. St. Paul would say: It is "knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). "Peace" (eirene) synthesizes the fullness of the messianic gifts, the salvation that, as the Apostle also observes, is identified with Christ himself. "He is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14).

And finally is the reference to "men with whom he is pleased." "Good will" (eudokia), in common language, makes one think of the "good will" of men, but here rather is indicated God's "good will" toward men, which knows no limits. Here, therefore, is the message of Christmas: With Jesus' birth, God has manifested his good will toward everyone.

Let us return to the question: "Why did God become man?" St. Irenaeus writes: "The word has become the dispenser of the Father's glory for the usefulness of men.... The glory of God is the living man -- 'vivens homo' -- and the life of man consists in the vision of God" ("Adv. Haer," IV, 20.5.7).

God's glory is manifested, therefore, in the salvation of man, whom God has so loved "who gave him," as John's Gospel affirms, "his only Son so that he who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). So love is the ultimate reason for Christ's incarnation.

Eloquent in this respect is the reflection of the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who wrote: God "is not, in the first place, absolute power, but absolute love whose sovereignty is not manifested in keeping for himself what belongs to him, but in its abandonment" ("Mysterium Paschale," 1,14).

The God we contemplate in the manger is the God-Love. On this point, the proclamation of the angels resounds for us also as an invitation: "May there be glory to God in the highest heaven, may there be on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased."

The only way to glorify God and to build peace in the world consists in the humble and confident acceptance of the gift of Christmas: love. The song of the angels can then become a prayer to utter frequently, and not only in this Christmas season. A hymn of praise to God in the highest heaven and a fervent invocation of peace on earth, which is translated in a concrete commitment to build it with our lives. This is the commitment that Christmas entrusts to us.


On the Human Person
"The Pillar of the Whole Great Edifice of Peace"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today before reciting the midday Angelus with tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Beforehand, the Pope presided at a Mass on the solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. It was also World Day of Peace.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

At the beginning of the new year I am happy to address to all of you, present in St. Peter's Square, and to all those who are with us through radio and television, the most cordial wishes of peace and goodness! May the light of Christ, the sun that appeared on humanity's horizon, illuminate your way and accompany you throughout the whole of 2007!

With happy intuition, my venerated predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, wished the year to open under the protection of Mary Most Holy, venerated as Mother of God. The Christian community, which these days has remained in prayerful adoration before the manger, contemplates today with special love the Virgin Mother.

Be at one with her while she contemplates the newborn Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in the manger. Like Mary, the Church also remains in silence, to receive and keep the interior resonances of the word made flesh and not waste the divine-human warmth that radiates in his presence. He is God's blessing! The Church, like the Virgin, does but show Jesus, the Savior, to all and reflects on each one the light of his face, splendor of goodness and truth.

Today we contemplate Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, in his attribute of true "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:5). He "is our peace," who came to pull down the "wall of separation" that divides men and nations, that is, "enmity" (Ephesians 2:14).

Because of this Paul VI, of venerated memory, also wanted Jan. 1 to be the World Day of Peace: so that every new year begins in the light of Christ, the great pacifier of humanity. I renew today my desire for peace to the rulers and leaders of nations and of international organizations and to all men and women of good will.

I do so particularly with the special message I prepared -- with my collaborators of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace -- whose theme this year is: "The Human Person, Heart of Peace." The latter touches an essential point, the value of the human person, who is the pillar of the whole great edifice of peace. At present there is much talk about human rights, but it is often forgotten that they need a stable -- not relative or debatable -- foundation. And this can only be the person's dignity. Respect for this dignity begins with the recognition and protection of the person's right to freely live and profess his religion.

We address our prayer with confidence to the Holy Mother of God, so that sacred respect for every human person and rejection of war and violence will be developed in consciences. Help us, Mary, you who gave Jesus to the world, to receive from him the gift of peace and to be sincere and courageous builders of peace.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the Angelus, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present for this Angelus on the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Today we recall the wonderful mystery that through blessed Mary, virgin and mother, God has become man! Filled with awe, knowing that the world has been given a Savior, we give thanks to God.

Today is also the World Day of Peace. May Mary show us, in her son, the way of peace, and enlighten our vision so that we may recognize Christ's face in the face of every human person. Upon all of you, your families and communities I invoke God's abundant blessings of comfort and joy.

Happy New Year!


On the Holy Family
"Living Image of the Love of God"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Sunday, the feast of the Holy Family, before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

On this last Sunday of the year we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. I joyfully greet all families worldwide, wishing them the peace and love that Jesus has given us, coming among us at Christmas.

In the Gospel we do not find speeches on the family but an event that is worth more than any word: God willed to be born and to grow up in a human family. In this way, he has consecrated the family as the first and ordinary way of his encounter with humanity.

During his life in Nazareth, Jesus honored the Virgin Mary and righteous Joseph, being subject to their authority during the whole time of his infancy and adolescence (Luke 2:51-52). In this way, he made evident the primary value of the family in the education of a person. Jesus was introduced to the religious community by Mary and Joseph, frequenting the synagogue of Nazareth.

With them he learned how to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as narrated in the Gospel passage that the liturgy of the day proposes for our meditation. When he was 12 years old, he stayed behind in the temple, and his parents took three days to find him. With that gesture, he led them to understand that he had to "attend to his Father's business," that is, to the mission that God had entrusted to him (Luke 2:41-52).

This Gospel episode reveals the most authentic and profound vocation of the family: that of supporting each one of its members on the path of discovery of God and of the plan he has ordained for them. Mary and Joseph educated Jesus above all by their example: From his parents, he learned all the beauty of the faith, of the love of God and of his law, as well as the exigencies of justice, which finds its fulfillment in love (Romans 13:10).

From them he learned first of all that one must do God's will, and that the spiritual bond is worth more than that of blood. The Holy Family is truly the "prototype" of every Christian family that, united in the sacrament of marriage and nourished by the Word and the Eucharist, is called to carry out the marvelous vocation and mission of being a living cell not only of society but of the Church, sign and instrument of unity for the whole human race.

Let us now invoke together the protection of Mary Most Holy and of St. Joseph for every family, especially for those in difficulty. May they be supported so that they will be able to resist the disintegrating impulses of a certain contemporary culture which undermines the very basis of the family institution. May they may help Christian families throughout the world to be the living image of the love of God.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the Angelus, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

On this joyful feast of the Holy Family I am happy to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present for today's Angelus. In the Holy Family of Nazareth we are given the true model of a Christian home.

Let us resolve to make our own homes radiate with Christ's loving harmony and peace. Our hearts also turn today to all those for whom family life is marred by sadness, tragedy, or violence.

May they be uplifted by the hope which Jesus brings to each one of us. Upon all of you and your loved ones I invoke God's abundant blessings of joy and peace!

[In Polish, the Pope said:]

I greet all Poles. Let us thank God for the past year and for all the good received, particularly for the pilgrimage to Poland. I recall the itinerary in the footsteps of the Servant of God John Paul II and your testimony of faith.

Today, Sunday of the Holy Family, I pray that your families will be a worthy place of education for children and young people. May God bless you!


On Feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26
"He Died Forgiving and Praying"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Dec. 26, the feast of St. Stephen, before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

On the day after the solemnity of Christmas, we celebrate today the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr. At first glance, to join the memory of the "protomartyr" and the birth of the Redeemer might seem surprising because of the contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the tragedy of St. Stephen, stoned in Jerusalem during the first persecution against the nascent Church.

In reality, this apparent opposition is surmounted if we analyze in greater depth the mystery of Christmas. The Child Jesus, lying in the cave, is the only-begotten Son of God who became man. He will save humanity by dying on the cross.

Now we see him in swaddling clothes in the manger; after his crucifixion, he will again be wrapped in bandages and placed in the sepulcher. It is no accident that the Christmas iconography sometimes represents the divine newborn Child lying in a small sarcophagus, to indicate that the Redeemer was born to die, he was born to give his life in ransom for all.

St. Stephen was the first to follow in the steps of Christ with martyrdom: like the divine Master, he died forgiving and praying for his executioners (cf. Acts 7:60). During the first four centuries of Christianity all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs.

They are a countless multitude, which the liturgy calls "the white army of martyrs," (martyrum candidatus exercitus). Their death was not a reason for fear and sadness, but of spiritual enthusiasm, which always gave rise to new Christians. For believers, the day of death, and even more so, the day of martyrdom, is not the end of everything, but rather the "passage" to immortal life, it is the day of the final birth, the "dies natalis." Thus is understood the link that exists between the "dies natalis" of Christ and the "dies natalis" of St. Stephen. If Jesus had not been born on earth, men would not have been able to be born for heaven. Precisely because Christ was born, we are able to be "reborn."

Also Mary, who took the Redeemer in her arms in Bethlehem, suffered an interior martyrdom. She shared his Passion and had to take him, once again, in her arms when they took him down from the cross. To this Mother, who felt the joy of the birth and the anguish of the death of her divine Son, we entrust those who are persecuted and those who are suffering, in different ways, for witnessing and serving the Gospel.

With special spiritual closeness, I am also thinking of the Catholics who maintain their fidelity to the See of Peter without giving in to compromises, at times even at the cost of grave sufferings. The whole Church admires their example and prays that they will have the strength to persevere, knowing that their tribulations are a source of victory, though for the moment they might seem to be a failure.

To all, once again, happy Christmas!


Benedict XVI's Christmas Day Message
"In Post-modern Age, Perhaps Man Needs a Savior All the More"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 25, 2006 (ZENIT.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the Christmas Day address Benedict XVI delivered at midday from the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *

"Salvator noster natus est in mundo" (Roman Missal)

"Our Saviour is born to the world!" During the night, in our Churches, we again heard this message that, notwithstanding the passage of the centuries, remains ever new. It is the heavenly message that tells us to fear not, for "a great joy" has come "to all the people" (Lk 1:10). It is a message of hope, for it tells us that, on that night over two thousand years ago, there "was born in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). The Angel of Christmas announced it then to the shepherds out on the hills of Bethlehem; today the Angel repeats it to us, to all who dwell in our world: "The Saviour is born; he is born for you! Come, come, let us adore him!".

But does a "Saviour" still have any value and meaning for the men and women of the third millennium? Is a "Saviour" still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature's secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvellous codes of the human genome? Is a Saviour needed by a humanity which has invented interactive communication, which navigates in the virtual ocean of the internet and, thanks to the most advanced modern communications technologies, has now made the Earth, our great common home, a global village? This humanity of the twenty-first century appears as a sure and self-sufficient master of its own destiny, the avid proponent of uncontested triumphs.

So it would seem, yet this is not the case. People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism. Some people remain enslaved, exploited and stripped of their dignity; others are victims of racial and religious hatred, hampered by intolerance and discrimination, and by political interference and physical or moral coercion with regard to the free profession of their faith. Others see their own bodies and those of their dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence, at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress, solidarity and peace for all. And what of those who, bereft of hope, are forced to leave their homes and countries in order to find humane living conditions elsewhere? How can we help those who are misled by facile prophets of happiness, those who struggle with relationships and are incapable of accepting responsibility for their present and future, those who are trapped in the tunnel of loneliness and who often end up enslaved to alcohol or drugs? What are we to think of those who choose death in the belief that they are celebrating life?

How can we not hear, from the very depths of this humanity, at once joyful and anguished, a heart-rending cry for help? It is Christmas: today "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9) came into the world. "The word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14), proclaims the Evangelist John. Today, this very day, Christ comes once more "unto his own", and to those who receive him he gives "the power to become children of God"; in a word, he offers them the opportunity to see God's glory and to share the joy of that Love which became incarnate for us in Bethlehem. Today "our Saviour is born to the world", for he knows that even today we need him. Despite humanity's many advances, man has always been the same: a freedom poised between good and evil, between life and death. It is there, in the very depths of his being, in what the Bible calls his "heart", that man always needs to be "saved". And, in this post-modern age, perhaps he needs a Saviour all the more, since the society in which he lives has become more complex and the threats to his personal and moral integrity have become more insidious. Who can defend him, if not the One who loves him to the point of sacrificing on the Cross his only-begotten Son as the Saviour of the world?

"Salvator noster": Christ is also the Saviour of men and women today. Who will make this message of hope resound, in a credible way, in every corner of the earth? Who will work to ensure the recognition, protection and promotion of the integral good of the human person as the condition for peace, respecting each man and every woman and their proper dignity? Who will help us to realize that with good will, reasonableness and moderation it is possible to avoid aggravating conflicts and instead to find fair solutions? With deep apprehension I think, on this festive day, of the Middle East, marked by so many grave crises and conflicts, and I express my hope that the way will be opened to a just and lasting peace, with respect for the inalienable rights of the peoples living there. I place in the hands of the divine Child of Bethlehem the indications of a resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians, which we have witnessed in recent days, and the hope of further encouraging developments. I am confident that, after so many victims, destruction and uncertainty, a democratic Lebanon, open to others and in dialogue with different cultures and religions, will survive and progress. I appeal to all those who hold in their hands the fate of Iraq, that there will be an end to the brutal violence that has brought so much bloodshed to the country, and that every one of its inhabitants will be safe to lead a normal life. I pray to God that in Sri Lanka the parties in conflict will heed the desire of the people for a future of brotherhood and solidarity; that in Darfur and throughout Africa there will be an end to fratricidal conflicts, that the open wounds in that continent will quickly heal and that the steps being made towards reconciliation, democracy and development will be consolidated. May the Divine Child, the Prince of Peace, grant an end to the outbreaks of tension that make uncertain the future of other parts of the world, in Europe and in Latin America.

"Salvator noster": this is our hope; this is the message that the Church proclaims once again this Christmas day. With the Incarnation, as the Second Vatican Council stated, the Son of God has in some way united himself with each man and women (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 22). The birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, as Pope Saint Leo the Great noted. In Bethlehem the Christian people was born, Christ's mystical body, in which each member is closely joined to the others in total solidarity. Our Saviour is born for all. We must proclaim this not only in words, but by our entire life, giving the world a witness of united, open communities where fraternity and forgiveness reign, along with acceptance and mutual service, truth, justice and love.

A community saved by Christ. This is the true nature of the Church, which draws her nourishment from his Word and his Eucharistic Body. Only by rediscovering the gift she has received can the Church bear witness to Christ the Saviour before all people. She does this with passionate enthusiasm, with full respect for all cultural and religious traditions; she does so joyfully, knowing that the One she proclaims takes away nothing that is authentically human, but instead brings it to fulfilment. In truth, Christ comes to destroy only evil, only sin; everything else, all the rest, he elevates and perfects. Christ does not save us from our humanity, but through it; he does not save us from the world, but came into the world, so that through him the world might be saved (cf. Jn 3:17).

Dear brothers and sisters, wherever you may be, may this message of joy and hope reach your ears: God became man in Jesus Christ, he was born of the Virgin Mary and today he is reborn in the Church. He brings to all the love of the Father in heaven. He is the Saviour of the world! Do not be afraid, open your hearts to him and receive him, so that his Kingdom of love and peace may become the common legacy of each man and woman. Happy Christmas!


Papal Homily at Midnight Mass
"God Made Himself Small So That We Could Understand Him"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave at the Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have just heard in the Gospel the message given by the angels to the shepherds during that Holy Night, a message which the Church now proclaims to us: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:11-12). Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother's care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God's sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. Only in their hearts will the shepherds be able to see that this baby fulfils the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:5). Exactly the same sign has been given to us. We too are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger.

God's sign is simplicity. God's sign is the baby. God's sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby -- defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will -- we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. The Fathers of the Church, in their Greek translation of the Old Testament, found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Paul also quotes in order to show how God's new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: "God made his Word short, he abbreviated it" (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers interpreted this in two ways. The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small -- small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God's love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life.

And so we come to the second meaning that the Fathers saw in the phrase: "God made his Word short". The Word which God speaks to us in Sacred Scripture had become long in the course of the centuries. It became long and complex, not just for the simple and unlettered, but even more so for those versed in Sacred Scripture, for the experts who evidently became entangled in details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall perspective. Jesus "abbreviated" the Word -- he showed us once more its deeper simplicity and unity. Everything taught by the Law and the Prophets is summed up -- he says -- in the command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mt 22:37-40). This is everything -- the whole faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity. Yet now further questions arise: how are we to love God with all our mind, when our intellect can barely reach him? How are we to love him with all our heart and soul, when our heart can only catch a glimpse of him from afar, when there are so many contradictions in the world that would hide his face from us? This is where the two ways in which God has "abbreviated" his Word come together. He is no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of our heart. He has become a child for us, and in so doing he has dispelled all doubt. He has become our neighbour, restoring in this way the image of man, whom we often find so hard to love. For us, God has become a gift. He has given himself. He has entered time for us. He who is the Eternal One, above time, he has assumed our time and raised it to himself on high. Christmas has become the Feast of gifts in imitation of God who has given himself to us. Let us allow our heart, our soul and our mind to be touched by this fact! Among the many gifts that we buy and receive, let us not forget the true gift: to give each other something of ourselves, to give each other something of our time, to open our time to God. In this way anxiety disappears, joy is born, and the feast is created. During the festive meals of these days let us remember the Lord's words: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite those who will invite you in return, but invite those whom no one invites and who are not able to invite you" (cf. Lk 14:12-14). This also means: when you give gifts for Christmas, do not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back. This is what God has done: he invites us to his wedding feast, something which we cannot reciprocate, but can only receive with joy. Let us imitate him! Let us love God and, starting from him, let us also love man, so that, starting from man, we can then rediscover God in a new way!

And so, finally, we find yet a third meaning in the saying that the Word became "brief" and "small". The shepherds were told that they would find the child in a manger for animals, who were the rightful occupants of the stable. Reading Isaiah (1:3), the Fathers concluded that beside the manger of Bethlehem there stood an ox and an ass. At the same time they interpreted the text as symbolizing the Jews and the pagans -- and thus all humanity -- who each in their own way have need of a Saviour: the God who became a child. Man, in order to live, needs bread, the fruit of the earth and of his labour. But he does not live by bread alone. He needs nourishment for his soul: he needs meaning that can fill his life. Thus, for the Fathers, the manger of the animals became the symbol of the altar, on which lies the Bread which is Christ himself: the true food for our hearts. Once again we see how he became small: in the humble appearance of the host, in a small piece of bread, he gives us himself.

All this is conveyed by the sign that was given to the shepherds and is given also to us: the child born for us, the child in whom God became small for us. Let us ask the Lord to grant us the grace of looking upon the crib this night with the simplicity of the shepherds, so as to receive the joy with which they returned home (cf. Lk 2:20). Let us ask him to give us the humility and the faith with which Saint Joseph looked upon the child that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to let us look upon him with that same love with which Mary saw him. And let us pray that in this way the light that the shepherds saw will shine upon us too, and that what the angels sang that night will be accomplished throughout the world: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." Amen!


Pope's December 10 Homily at a Roman Parish
"The Word of God Rebuilds the City"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Dec. 10 when visiting Our Lady Star of Evangelization Parish, in Rome.

* * *



II Sunday of Advent, 10 December 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters of the
Parish of Our Lady Star of Evangelization,

I am pleased to be with you for the dedication of this beautiful new parish church: the first that I have dedicated to the Lord since I took up office as Bishop of Rome. The solemn liturgy for the dedication of a church is a moment of intense and common spiritual joy for all God's people who live in the area: I wholeheartedly join in your joy today.

I greet with affection the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Camillo Ruini, Bishop Paolino Schiavon, Auxiliary Bishop of the Southern Sector, and Auxiliary Bishop Ernesto Mandara, Secretary of the Roman Commission for the Preservation of Faith and for the Provision of New Churches in Rome. I extend my deep gratitude to them and to all who have contributed in various capacities to making this new parish centre a reality.

This church is being inaugurated during the Season of Advent, which the Diocese of Rome for the past 16 years has dedicated to increasing awareness and collecting funds in order to build new churches on the city's outskirts. It comes in addition to more than 50 parish complexes that have already been built in recent years, thanks to the financial efforts of the Vicariate, the contributions of numerous faithful and the attention of the civil Authorities.

I ask all the faithful and citizens of good will to persevere generously in this task so that neighbourhoods that are still without a church may have their parish centre as soon as possible.

Especially in our broadly secularized social context, the parish is a beacon that radiates the light of the faith and thus responds to the deepest and truest desires of the human heart, giving meaning and hope to the lives of individuals and families.

I greet your parish priest, the priests who work with him, the members of the Parish Pastoral Council and the other lay people involved in the various pastoral activities. I greet each one of you with affection. Your community is lively and young!

It is young because it was founded in 1989, and especially because of the effective beginning of its activities. It is young because in this North Torrino district the majority of families are young, so children and young people abound.

Thus, the laborious but fascinating task of educating children in the life and joy of faith is incumbent on your community. I am confident that together, in a spirit of sincere communion, you will be involved in preparation for the sacraments of Christian initiation and will help your children, who from now on will find here welcoming premises and adequate structures to grow in love and in fidelity to the Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters, we have dedicated a church -- a building in which God and man desire to meet: a house that unites us, in which we are attracted to God, and being with God unites us with one another.

The three Readings of this solemn liturgy are intended to show us under very different aspects the meaning of a sacred building as a house of God and a house of men and women.

We have before us, in these three Readings that we have heard, three important themes: the Word of God, which gathers people together, in the First Reading; the city of God, which in the Second Reading appears at the same time as a bride; and lastly, the profession of Jesus Christ as the Son of God Incarnate, expressed first of all by Peter, who thus founded the living Church which is manifest in the physical building of every church. Let us now listen more attentively to what the three Readings tell us.

First of all, there is the account of the rebuilding of the People of Israel, of the Holy City Jerusalem and of the temple subsequent to their return from the Exile. After the great optimism of the homecoming, the people -- on arrival -- found themselves facing a wasteland. How were they to rebuild it?

The external rebuilding, so necessary, could not proceed unless the people were first rebuilt as a people -- unless a common criterion of justice was developed that would unite them all and regulate the life and activity of each one.

The people who had returned needed, so to speak, a "constitution", a fundamental law for their life. And they knew that this constitution, if it was to be just and lasting, if it was to lead definitively to justice, could not be the result of their own autonomous intention.

True justice cannot be invented by man: rather, it has to be discovered. In other words, it must come from God, who is justice. The Word of God, therefore, rebuilds the city.

What the Reading tells us is a reminder of the Sinai event. It brings to life the event of Sinai: the holy Word of God, which shows men and women the way of justice, is solemnly read and explained. Thus, it becomes present as a force from within which builds the country anew. This happens on New Year's Day. God's Word ushers in a new year, it ushers in a period of history.

The Word of God is always a renewing force which gives meaning and order to our time. At the end of the Reading is joy: people are invited to the solemn banquet; they are urged to make a gift to those who have nothing and thereby to unite everyone in the joyful communion that is based on the Word of God.

This Reading ends in these beautiful words: the joy of the Lord is our strength. I believe that it is not difficult to see that these words of the Old Testament are really true for us today.

The church building exists so that God's Word may be listened to, explained and understood by us; it exists so that God's Word may be active among us as a force that creates justice and love. It exists in particular so that in it the celebration in which God wants humanity to participate may begin, not only at the end of time but already today. It exists so that the knowledge of justice and goodness may be awakened within us, and there is no other source for knowing and strengthening this knowledge of justice and goodness other than the Word of God. It exists so that we may learn to live the joy of the Lord who is our strength.

Let us pray to the Lord to gladden us with his Word; to gladden us with faith, so that this joy may renew us and the world!

Thus, may the reading of the Word of God, the renewal of the revelation of Sinai after the Exile, serve then for communion with God and among men and women. This communion is expressed in the rebuilding of the temple, the city and its walls.

The Word of God and the rebuilding of the city in the Book of Nehemiah are closely connected: on the one hand, without the Word of God there is neither city nor community; on the other, the Word of God does not remain only a discourse but leads to constructing, it is a Word that builds.

The following texts from the Book of Nehemiah on the construction of city walls seem at first reading to be very practical and even prosaic in their details. However, they constitute a truly spiritual and theological theme.

A prophetic word of that age states that God himself built a wall of fire to encircle Jerusalem (cf. Zec 2:8ff.). God himself is the city's living defence, and not only in that time but always. Thus, the Old Testament account introduces us into the vision of the Apocalypse, which we heard as the Second Reading.

I would like to stress two aspects of this vision. The city is the bride. It is not merely a building of stone. All that is said about the city in grandiose images refers to something alive: to the Church of living stones, where even now the future city is being formed.

It refers to the new people who, in the breaking of the bread, become one body with Christ (cf. I Cor 10:16ff.).

Just as in their love man and woman become "one flesh", so Christ and humanity gathered in the Church become through Christ's love "one spirit" (cf. I Cor 6:17; Eph 5:29ff.). Paul calls Christ the new, the last Adam: definitive man. And he calls him "a life-giving spirit" (I Cor 15:45). With him, we become one; with him, the Church becomes a life-giving spirit. The holy City, where there is no longer a temple because it is inhabited by God, is the image of this community that is formed from Christ.

The other aspect that I wanted to mention are the 12 foundations of the city, above which are the names of the Twelve Apostles. The foundations of the city are not built of material stones but of living beings -- they are the Apostles, with the witness of their faith. The Apostles remain the pillars that support the new city, the Church, through the ministry of Apostolic Succession: through the Bishops.

The candles we light on the walls of the church in the places where anointings will take place are reminiscent precisely of the Apostles: their faith is the true light that illumines the Church and at the same time, the foundation that supports the Church. The Apostles' faith is not something antiquated. Since it is a truth, it is the foundation on which we stand, the light by which we see.

We come to the Gospel. How often have we heard it! Peter's profession of faith is the steadfast foundation of the Church. With Peter, let us say to Jesus: "You are Christ, the Son of the living God". The Word of God is not only a word. In Jesus Christ it is present in our midst as a Person.

This is the deepest purpose of this sacred building's existence: the church exists so that in it we may encounter Christ, Son of the living God. God has a Face. God has a Name. In Christ, God was made flesh and gave himself to us in the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist.

The Word is flesh. It is given to us under the appearances of bread and thus truly becomes the Bread on which we live. We live on Truth. This Truth is a Person: he speaks to us and we speak to him. The Church is the place of our encounter with the Son of the living God and thus becomes the place for the encounter among ourselves. This is the joy that God gives us: that he made himself one of us, that we can touch him and that he dwells among us. The joy of God is our strength.

Thus, the Gospel finally introduces us into the period in which we live today. It leads us towards Mary, whom we honour as the Star of Evangelization.

At a crucial time in history, Mary offered herself, her body and soul, to God as a dwelling place. In her and from her the Son of God took flesh. Through her the Word was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14).

Thus, it is Mary who tells us what Advent is: going forth to meet the Lord who comes to meet us; waiting for him, listening to him, looking at him.

Mary tells us why church buildings exist: they exist so that room may be made within us for the Word of God; so that within us and through us the Word may also be made flesh today.

Thus, we greet her as the Star of Evangelization: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us so that we may live the Gospel. Help us not to hide the light of the Gospel under the bushel of our meagre faith. Help us by virtue of the Gospel to be the light of the world, so that men and women may see goodness and glorify the Father who is in Heaven (cf. Mt 5:14ff.). Amen!


A Christmas Surprise
"Tonight He Will Come" (December 24, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters: The celebration of the holy birth is here.

Today's vigil prepares us to live intensely the mystery that tonight's liturgy will invite us to contemplate with the eyes of faith.

In the divine infant, who we will place in the manger, our salvation is made manifest. In the God made man for us, we all feel loved, taken in, we discover that we are worthy and unique before the eyes of the Creator.

The birth of Christ helps us to be conscientious of what human life is worth, the life of each human being, from the first instant until natural death.

To whomever opens their heart to this "baby wrapped in swaddling clothes," who lies "in a manger" (cf. Luke 12:12), is offered the possibility of seeing with new eyes the reality of everyday. He will delight in the ability of the interior seduction of the love of God that can transform even pain into joy.

Dear friends, let us prepare to encounter Jesus, the Emanuel, God with us. By his birth in the poverty of Bethlehem, he wants to accompany each one of us on our life journey. In this world, from the moment that he decided to make it his home, no one is a stranger.

It is true, we are all here in passing, but it is Jesus who makes us feel as if we are at home on this Earth, made holy by his presence. He asks us, nonetheless, to make is a hospitable home for all. This is precisely the surprise give of Christmas: Jesus came for each one of us and in him we have become brothers.

From here comes the commitment to overcome each day more our prejudices, to take down the walls, and to eliminate those differences that divide us, or even worse, that set people and nations against one another, so as to build together a world of justice and peace.

With these sentiments, dear brothers and sisters, we will live these last hours that separate us from Christmas, preparing ourselves spiritually to receive the Child Jesus. Tonight he will come for us. And he will also enter us, to live in the heart of each one of us.

For this to take place it is indispensable that we be available and ready to receive him, and be willing to give him room in our hearts, in our families and in our cities. May his birth not find us unprepared to celebrate Christmas, forgetting that he is precisely the protagonist of the celebration.

May Mary help us to maintain the indispensable interior recollection necessary to experience the profound joy that the birth of our Redeemer offers. To her let us direct our prayer, thinking in particular of those that live Christmas sad and alone, sick and suffering: May the Virgin bring consolation to all of them.


Pope's Christmas Address to Rome's Students
"Fix Your Gaze on the Child" (December 14, 2006)


St Peter's Basilica
Thursday, 14 December 2006

Dear Friends,

This year too, I have the welcome opportunity of meeting the Roman university world and of exchanging greetings with you for Holy Christmas, which is now at hand. I greet Cardinal Camillo Ruini who has presided at the Eucharistic celebration and guided you in reflection on the liturgical texts. I next thank the Rector of the Rome III University and the young student, both of whom have spoken on behalf of your learned assembly. I offer my affectionate greeting to each and every one.

We are meeting just before Christmas, which is the feast of gifts, as I recalled last Sunday when I visited the new Roman parish dedicated to Our Lady Star of Evangelization. Christmas gifts evoke the gift par excellence which the Son of God made of himself and offered to us in the Incarnation.

For this reason, Christmas is appropriately emphasized by the many gifts that people give to one another in these days. But it is important that the principal Gift of which all other gifts are a symbol not be forgotten. Christmas is the day on which God gave himself to humanity, and in the Eucharist this gift of his becomes, so to speak, perfect.

Under the appearance of a little piece of bread, as I said to the children of the above-mentioned Roman parish who are preparing for First Communion and Confirmation, it is really Jesus who gives himself and wishes to enter our hearts.

Dear young people, this year you are reflecting precisely on the theme of the Eucharist, as you follow the spiritual and pastoral programme prepared by the Diocese of Rome.

The Eucharistic mystery is the privileged point of convergence between the various contexts of Christian life, including that of intellectual research.
Encountered in the liturgy and contemplated in adoration, Jesus in the Eucharist is like a "prism" through which one can penetrate further into reality, in the ascetic and mystical, the intellectual and speculative, as well as the historical and moral perspectives.

In the Eucharist, Christ is really present and Holy Mass is a living memorial of his Pasch. The Blessed Sacrament is the qualitative centre of the cosmos and of history. Therefore, it constitutes an inexhaustible source of thought and action for anyone who sets out to seek the truth and desires to cooperate with it.
It is, so to speak, a "concentrate" of truth and love. It not only illumines human knowledge, but also and above all human action and human life, in accordance with "the truth in love" (Eph 4:15), as St Paul said, in the daily task of acting as Jesus himself did.

Thus, the Eucharist fosters in those who nourish themselves on it with perseverance and faith a fruitful unity between contemplation and action.

Dear friends, let us enter into the mystery of Christmas, now approaching, through the "door" of the Eucharist; in the grotto of Bethlehem let us adore the Lord himself who, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, desired to make himself our spiritual food to transform the world from within, starting with the human heart.

I know that for many of you, university students of Rome, it is now a custom at the beginning of the academic year to go on a special diocesan pilgrimage to Assisi, and I know that many of you took part in the recent one, too.

Well, were not St Francis and St Clare both "conquered" by the Eucharistic Mystery? In the Eucharist they experienced the love of God, that same love which, in the Incarnation, impelled the Creator of the world to make himself little, indeed, the smallest one and the servant of all.

Dear friends, as you prepare for Holy Christmas, may you nourish the same sentiments as these great Saints, so beloved by the Italian People. Like them, fix your gaze on the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (cf. Lk 2:7,12,16).

Learn from the Virgin Mary, the first person to contemplate the humanity of the Incarnate Word, the humanity of Divine Wisdom. In the Baby Jesus, with whom she had infinite and silent conversations, she recognized the human Face of God, so that the mysterious Wisdom of the Son was impressed on the Mother's mind and heart.

So it was that Mary became the "Seat of Wisdom", and with this title is venerated in particular by the Roman Academic Community.

A special Icon is dedicated to the Sedes Sapientiae. From Rome it has already visited various countries on a pilgrimage to university institutions. It is present here today, so that it may be passed on from the delegation which has come here from Bulgaria to the one which has come from Albania.

I greet with affection the representatives of both these Nations and express the wish that per Mariam their respective academic communities may advance ever further in their search for truth and goodness, in the light of Divine Wisdom.

I warmly address this wish to each one of you present here and I accompany it with a special Blessing which I willingly extend to all your loved ones. Merry Christmas!


Pre-Christmas Reflection: "Many Think That God Is a Stranger"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 20, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today's general audience, held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope delivered a reflection on the meaning of Christmas.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"The Lord is at hand: come let us adore him!" With this invocation, the liturgy invites us in these last days of Advent, to draw close as though on tiptoes to the cave of Bethlehem, where the extraordinary event took place that changed the course of history: the birth of the Redeemer.

On Christmas Eve, we will place ourselves once again before the Crib to contemplate, astonished, the "Word made flesh." Sentiments of joy and gratitude, like in every year, are renewed in our hearts as we hear the melodies of Christmas carols, which sing of, in so many languages, the same, extraordinary miracle. The Creator of the universe, out of love, came to make his dwelling among men. In the Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul affirms that Christ, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (2:6). He appeared in human form, adds the Apostle, humbling himself. At holy Christmas we will relive the realization of this sublime mystery of grace and mercy.

St. Paul adds: "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). The Chosen People had waited for centuries for the Messiah, but they imagined him as a powerful and victorious leader, who would free his own from the oppression of foreigners.

The Savior, however, was born in silence and total poverty. He came as a light that enlightens all men -- says John the Evangelist -- "and his own people received him not" (John 1:9,11). However, the Apostle adds: "But to all who received him … he gave power to become children of God" (ibid., 1:12). The promised light enlightened the hearts of those who persevered in vigilant and active expectation.

The liturgy of Advent exhorts us also to be sober and vigilant, so as not to be overcome by the weight of sin and excessive worldly concerns. In fact, being vigilant and praying we will be able to recognize and receive the splendor of Christ's Christmas. In one of his homilies St. Maximus of Turin, a bishop who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries, affirmed: "Time alerts us that Christ's Christmas is near. The world, with its own anxieties, speaks of the imminence of something that will renew it and hopes with patient waiting that the brilliance of a more brilliant sun will lighten its darkness.... This expectation of creation also leads us to await the rising of Christ, new Sun" (Sermon 61a, 1-3). Creation itself, therefore, leads us to discover and recognize the One who must come.

But the question is: Does humanity of our time still await a Savior? The impression is that many think that God is foreign to their own interests. It would seem they have no need of him; they live as if he did not exist and, worse still, as if he were an "obstacle" that must be removed so they can be fulfilled. Even among believers, we are certain, some allow themselves to be drawn by seductive chimeras and distracted by deceitful doctrines which propose illusory shortcuts to attain happiness.

However, despite its contradictions, anxieties and dramas, and perhaps because of them, today's humanity seeks a way of renewal, of salvation, a Savior and awaits, sometimes unconsciously, the coming of the Lord who renews the world and our lives; the coming of Christ, the only true Redeemer of man and of all men. It is true, false prophets continue to propose a "cheap" salvation, which always ends by causing harsh deceptions. In fact, the history of the last 50 years shows the search for a "cheap" Savior and manifests all the disillusions that have derived from it.

We Christians have the task to spread, with the testimony of life, the truth of Christmas, which Christ brings to all men and women of good will. On being born in the poverty of the stable, Jesus comes to offer to all the only joy and peace that can satisfy the expectations of the human spirit.

But, how can we prepare ourselves to open our hearts to the Lord who comes? The spiritual attitude of vigilant and prayerful waiting continues to be the Christian's fundamental characteristic during this time of Advent. It is the attitude that characterizes the protagonists of the time: Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds, the Wise Men, the simple and humble people, but, above all, Mary's and Joseph's waiting! The latter, more than any other, experienced in the first person the emotion and trepidation for the Child about to be born. It is not difficult to imagine how they spent the last days, waiting to take the newborn in their arms.

May their attitude be ours, dear brothers and sisters. In this connection, let us hear the exhortation of St. Maximus, bishop of Turin, mentioned earlier: "While we prepare to welcome the Lord's Christmas, let us put on clean, stainless garments. I am speaking of the soul's garment, not the body's. We do not have to be clothed in silk garments, but in good works! Luxurious garments can cover parts of the body, but do not adorn the conscience!" (ibid.).

May the Child Jesus, being born among us, not find us distracted or dedicated simply to decorating our homes with lights. Rather, in our spirit and in our families let us decorate a worthy dwelling in which he feels welcomed with faith and love. May the Virgin and St. Joseph help us live the mystery of Christmas with new wonder and pacifying serenity.

With these sentiments, I wish to express to all of you here present and to your families my most heartfelt wishes for a holy and happy Christmas, remembering in particular those who are in difficulty or suffering in body and in spirit. Happy Christmas to you all!

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"The Lord is at hand: come let us adore him!" In these last days of Advent, the liturgy invites us to draw close to the stable of Bethlehem contemplating in awe the birth of the Redeemer. Full of joy and thanksgiving we recall how the Creator of the universe, out of love, came to dwell among us. For many centuries Israel had awaited the Messiah, imagining him as a powerful and victorious leader. Instead, the Savior was born in absolute poverty, and the true light, who enlightens all people, was not accepted by his own (cf. John 1:9-12).

Do we still await the Savior? Today many consider God irrelevant, an obstacle to success. Even believers sometimes seek tempting but illusory short cuts to happiness. And yet, perhaps even because of this confusion, humanity seeks a Savior and awaits the coming of Christ, the one true Redeemer. We, Christians, through our witness against those who offer a "cheap salvation," defend the truth of Christmas which Christ brings to every person of goodwill.

Let us then with Mary and Joseph prepare to open our hearts to the Lord who is at hand. Do not be distracted by the trappings! Be watchful and pray! In this way our homes will welcome Jesus with faith and love.

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today. May these final days of Advent be full of spiritual wonder. To you and your loved ones, especially those who may be in difficulty or suffering, I extend my best wishes for a happy and holy Christmas!


Benedict XVI on the Goal of Diocesan Newspapers
"A Means of Gospel Penetration"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 20, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of an address Benedict XVI delivered Nov. 25 to the Federation of Italian Catholic Weeklies.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet you with joy and gratitude for your kind visit. I offer my cordial greeting to all, and first to Bishop Giuseppe Betori, Secretary of the Italian Bishops' Conference, and Fr Giorgio Zucchelli, President of the Italian Federation of Catholic Weeklies, whom I thank for interpreting your common sentiments.

I extend my greeting to the editors of the more than 160 diocesan papers and to the many collaborators who contribute in various capacities to publishing the individual weeklies. I greet the Editor and journalists of SIR Agency as well as the Editor of the daily, Avvenire.

I am particularly grateful to you because, at the end of your Congress on the theme "Catholics in politics: Scattered or free?", you have wished to visit the Successor of the Apostle Peter. You thus renew the attestation of your faithfulness to the Church, to whose service you dedicate your human and professional energies every day. In this regard, I also feel duty bound to thank you for the work of sensitization to the initiatives of good of the Successor of Peter for the needs of the universal Church that you carry out among the faithful.

The Federation of Italian Catholic Weeklies, which includes, as your President has just said, the diocesan newspapers, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in these days.

Indeed, it was on 27 November 1966 that your predecessors decided to join forces and to pool the intellectual and creative potential of the various information services that were already carrying out a useful service in Italian Dioceses. The initiative was born from the desire to give greater visibility and effectiveness to the presence and pastoral action of the Church, whose commitment it intended to support, especially at the most demanding moments.

Leafing through your weeklies of the past four decades, one can retrace the life of the Church and society in Italy: in so many of the events that marked it the social and religious changes are remarkable. These events and changes were punctually recorded and commented upon in these pages and special attention was paid to the daily life of the parishes and diocesan communities.

In the face of a multifaceted action that endeavored to tear up the Christian roots of Western civilization, the special role of instruments of social communication with a Catholic slant is to educate the mind and form public opinion in accordance with the Gospel spirit. Their task is to serve the truth courageously, helping public opinion to look at, interpret and live the situation with God's eyes.

The objective of the diocesan paper is to offer to all a message of truth and hope, emphasizing the events and situations in which the Gospel is lived, in which good and truth triumph and in which, with hard work and creativity, people weave and repair the human fabric of small community realities.

Dear friends, the rapid development of the means of social communication and the arrival of many and advanced technologies in the media sector have not rendered your role useless. Indeed, in some aspects, it has become even more significant and important, because it gives a voice to the local communities that are not properly represented in the major newspapers.

The pages of your publications, recounting and fostering the vitality and apostolic zeal of individual communities, constitute a precious vehicle of information and a means of Gospel penetration. Your far-reaching circulation witnesses to the importance of your presence -- that was also fittingly recognized at the recent Convention of the Italian Church in Verona. You are even able to reach where it is impossible for traditional pastoral means to have any effect.

Your weeklies, furthermore, are rightly described as the "people's papers", for they keep in touch with the events and life of local persons and pass on the popular traditions and rich cultural and religious patrimony of your towns and cities. In recounting daily events, you make known that quiet reality woven of faith and goodness that constitutes the genuine fabric of Italian society.

Continue, dear friends, to make your papers a network of connections that facilitates relations and encounters with individual citizens and institutions, as well as among associations, the various social groups, parishes and ecclesial movements.

Continue to be "papers of the people and among the people", training grounds for comparison and loyal discussion among different opinions so as to encourage authentic dialogue, indispensable for the growth of both civil and ecclesial communities.

You can also carry out this service in the social and political milieus.

If, in fact, as you reaffirmed at your Convention, the legitimate pluralism of political decisions has nothing to do with the cultural diaspora of Catholics, your weeklies can represent certain significant meeting "places" for attentive discernment destined for the lay faithful involved in the social and political arenas, to initiate dialogue and find shared convergences and objectives in serving the Gospel and the common good.

Dear friends, to bring your important task to completion, it is first necessary that you yourselves nurture a constant and profound relationship with Christ in prayer, in listening to his Word and in an intense sacramental life.

It is necessary at the same time that you continue to be active and responsible members of the Ecclesial Community in communion with your Pastors. As editors, editorial staff and administrators of Catholic weeklies, rest assured, you do not carry out merely "any kind of job"; rather, you are "cooperators" in the great evangelizing mission of the Church. May you never be discouraged by the difficulties that abound nor by the obstacles that can sometimes even seem insurmountable. Past experience shows that people need sources of information like your newspapers.

I entrust your Federation and the vast public readership of the diocesan weeklies to the Virgin Mary. May she help you in the daily service which you diligently carry out.

As I also invoke upon you the heavenly intercession of St Francis de Sales, patron of journalists, I warmly bless you all, together with your relatives and your diocesan communities.


Pope's Address to New Ambassador of Uganda
"To Strive for a Balanced Blend of the Old and the New"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 19, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered last Thursday to the new ambassador of Uganda to the Holy See, Princess Elizabeth Bagaya, when she presented her letters of credence.

* * *

Your Excellency,

I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Uganda to the Holy See. I thank you for the greetings which you have conveyed on behalf of His Excellency Mr Yoweri Museveni, President of the Republic, and I gladly reciprocate with good wishes and the assurance of my prayers for His Excellency and the people of Uganda.

Your country, situated at the heart of the Great Lakes Region, shares many of the characteristics present in African culture. Some of these splendid values come clearly to mind: the respect which should be given to every human life from conception to natural death, the place of the family as the corner-stone of society, and an inspiring sense of the sacred.

I have followed closely the challenges facing the African Continent, some of which have presented themselves with varying degrees of urgency in your homeland. Sadly these events often arise from human pride and violence. As the people of your nation aspire to a future of peaceful stability, your Government is faced with the pressing obligation of responding decisively to the needs of all who suffer the tragic effects of prolonged violence in the North. The international community is impelled to give proper attention to the grave humanitarian crisis affecting more than a million people in the region. Many Ugandans and some international organizations have been working diligently, often at great risk to their own lives, to assist these displaced and marginalized people, but the situation calls for increasing cooperation in order to create an environment of security and stability.

Uganda can make progress toward authentic integral development by remaining faithful to her own roots. In this regard, your nation must continue to strive for a balanced blend of the old and the new, always fostering respect for the family and the wider community, material progress and cultural enrichment, together with individual freedom and national solidarity. One of the keys to ensuring the success of a democracy lies in participation in, and encouragement of sincere and fruitful dialogue. The mutual exchange of opinions and ideas is not always easy. Good governance, however, requires that those with different opinions be heard, respected and involved in the decision-making process. It is only in such an atmosphere of understanding and cooperation that true and lasting progress can be realized and sustained. In this context, it is my hope that those in authority will do all in their power to ensure that the Church remains an important partner in this exchange of ideas by assigning her the juridical guarantees that recognize her freedom to carry out the divine mission entrusted to her. Her desire is to promote hope and courage through the proclamation of the Good News to all God's people (cf. "Ecclesia in Africa," 14).

I would reassure you that the Catholic Church is sincerely committed to assisting all efforts to promote peace. As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, it is the Church's duty to foster and elevate all that is true, all that is good, and all that is beautiful in the human community by consolidating peace among men for the glory of God (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 76). In this regard, the Holy See is hopeful that the Second Summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, which begins today, will raise hopes for a future of security based on dialogue and cooperation. In the various conflicts some agreements have been reached and a number of those under arms have returned home, availing themselves of the new climate of reconciliation. I remain confident that this regional momentum will be sustained and that those in authority will do all in their power to see that the expectations raised in the hearts of so many are brought to fulfilment. I pray that Almighty God will grant renewed wisdom and courage to those in positions of responsibility so that all parties will return to dialogue and the quest for peaceful and lasting solutions.

It is encouraging to hear of the progress your country is making in promoting long-term development through the reduction of poverty and the extension of educational opportunities. The high proportion of young people in your population gives vitality and renewed hope to the nation. Collaboration between the Church and civil society has yielded many blessings in Uganda, above all in education, in health-care and in the struggle against HIV/Aids, where statistics confirm the practical value of a policy of prevention based on continence and the promotion of faithfulness in marriage. It is my sincere hope that the people of Uganda will continue to draw increasing benefits from this support.

Your Excellency, I assure you of my prayers for the success of your mission as your country's representative to the Holy See. You may be certain that the various departments of the Roman Curia will be ready to assist you. I invoke Almighty God's abundant blessings upon you and upon the beloved people of Uganda.


Benedict XVI's Address to B'nai B'rith Delegation
"Our Troubled World Needs the Witness of People of Good Will"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered today to members of a delegation from B'nai B'rith International.

* * *

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to greet this delegation from B'nai B'rith International on the occasion of your visit to the Vatican. Following the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council's Declaration "Nostra Aetate" in 1965, leaders of B'nai B'rith have visited the Holy See on numerous occasions. Today, in the spirit of understanding, respect and mutual appreciation which is developing between our communities, I welcome you, and through you, all those whom you represent.

Much has been achieved in the past four decades of Jewish-Catholic relations, and we must be grateful to God for the remarkable transformation that has taken place on the basis of our common spiritual patrimony. It is this rich heritage of faith which enables our communities not only to enter into dialogue, but also to be partners in working together for the good of the human family. Our troubled world needs the witness of people of good will inspired by the truth, revealed on the first page of the Scriptures, that all men and women are created in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27), and thus possess an inalienable dignity and worth.

Jews and Christians are called to work together for the healing of the world by promoting the spiritual and moral values grounded in our faith convictions. If we give a clear example of fruitful cooperation, our voice in responding to the needs of the human family will be all the more convincing.

On the occasion of your visit, I reiterate my unfailing hope and prayer for peace in the Holy Land. Peace can only come about if it is the concern of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, expressed in genuine interreligious dialogue and concrete gestures of reconciliation. All believers are challenged to show that it is not hatred and violence, but understanding and peaceful cooperation which open the door to that future of justice and peace which is God's promise and gift.

During this holy season, I cordially invoke upon you and your families an abundance of divine blessings. Shalom alechem!


Papal Address to New Ambassador of Lesotho
"The Only Sure Foundation for a Stable Society"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered last Thursday to the new ambassador of Lesotho to the Holy See, Makase Nyaphisi, when he presented his letters of credence.

* * *

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to welcome you at the start of your mission and to accept the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Lesotho to the Holy See. I thank you for your kind words and for the greetings you bring from King Letsie III. Please convey to His Majesty my respectful good wishes and the assurance of my prayers for the well-being of all the people of your nation.

As you have observed, you are beginning your mandate shortly after your country's celebration of forty years of independence. In offering renewed congratulations on this significant milestone in Lesotho's history, I would like to reaffirm the Holy See's support and encouragement for your Government as it seeks to strengthen the foundations of democracy and to promote peace and stability within the whole region. In this regard, the recent decision to adopt a new flag symbolizing a nation "at peace with itself and its neighbors", expresses a laudable commitment to these noble goals. Moreover, I am aware that the people of Lesotho themselves have had more than one occasion in the last forty years to demonstrate their resilience and their admirable determination to pursue the path of peace and democracy, whatever pressures to the contrary there may be.

Regrettably, the serious challenges of poverty and food shortage currently facing your people pose serious obstacles to the achievement of your country's objectives. Economic activity has a moral character, and to the degree that every person is responsible for everyone else, the wealthier nations have a duty in solidarity and justice to promote the development of all (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 333). In a world where communications and trade have taken on a global dimension, this duty is all the more evident and the means to discharge it are more readily available. As you know, the Holy See is committed to support the efforts of the international community to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and likewise all initiatives aimed at a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities for economic growth. At the same time, she continues to urge governments that receive assistance to be assiduous in cultivating accountability, honesty, and commitment to the rule of law as necessary conditions for ensuring that the aid they receive is used to benefit those most in need (cf. "Ecclesia in Africa," 113). In this regard, I am gratified to hear Your Excellency's words concerning the high priority that the Kingdom of Lesotho has assigned to the fight against corruption, and I offer you every encouragement in this worthy Endeavour.

The scourge of AIDS, which afflicts so many millions in the African Continent, has brought untold suffering to the people of your country. Please be assured of the deep concern of the Catholic Church to do all it can to bring relief to those affected by this cruel disease, and also to their families. In the faces of the sick and the dying, Christians recognize the face of Christ, and it is he whom we serve when we offer help and consolation to the afflicted (cf. Mt 25:31-40). At the same time, it is vitally important to communicate the message that fidelity within marriage and abstinence outside it are the best ways to avoid infection and to halt the spread of the virus. Indeed, the values that flow from an authentic understanding of marriage and family life constitute the only sure foundation for a stable society.

In this regard, I want to assure Your Excellency of the willingness of the Catholic community in Lesotho to continue to play its part in educating future generations of citizens in the values that sustain and promote a healthy social environment. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, Catholic schools aim to conduct the human formation of their students in "an atmosphere animated by a spirit of liberty and charity based on the Gospel" ("Gravissimum Educationis," 8). They set out to shape and direct the ideals of the young in a way that will enable them to assume their adult responsibilities with generosity and integrity, for the good of the whole of society. I know that the Government of Lesotho appreciates the work done by Catholic educators and will carry on providing them with the encouragement they need as they dedicate themselves to this noble task in the name of Christ Our Lord.

Your Excellency, I pray that the diplomatic mission which you begin today will further strengthen the already fruitful relations existing between the Holy See and your country. I assure you that the various departments of the Roman Curia are always ready to offer help and support in the fulfillment of your duties. With my sincere good wishes, I invoke upon you, your family, and all the people of Lesotho, God's abundant blessings.


Pope's Homily at Vespers of First Sunday of Advent
"The Church Gives Voice to Our Expectation of God"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Dec. 2 at the vespers of the First Sunday of Advent.

* * *

Vatican Basilica
Saturday, 2 December 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The first antiphon of this evening's celebration is presented as the opening of the Advent Season and re-echoes as the antiphon of the entire liturgical year. Let us listen to it again: "Proclaim to the peoples: God our Saviour is coming".

At the beginning of a new yearly cycle, the liturgy invites the Church to renew her proclamation to all the peoples and sums it up in two words "God comes". These words, so concise, contain an ever new evocative power.

Let us pause a moment to reflect: it is not used in the past tense -- God has come, -- nor in the future -- God will come, -- but in the present: "God comes".

At a closer look, this is a continuous present, that is, an ever-continuous action: it happened, it is happening now and it will happen again. In whichever moment, "God comes".

The verb "to come" appears here as a theological verb, indeed theological, since it says something about God's very nature.

Proclaiming that "God comes" is equivalent, therefore, to simply announcing God himself, through one of his essential and qualifying features: his being the God-who-comes.

Advent calls believers to become aware of this truth and to act accordingly. It rings out as a salutary appeal in the days, weeks and months that repeat: Awaken! Remember that God comes! Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today, now!

The one true God, "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob", is not a God who is there in Heaven, unconcerned with us and our history, but he is the-God-who-comes.

He is a Father who never stops thinking of us and, in the extreme respect of our freedom, desires to meet us and visit us; he wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us.

His "coming" is motivated by the desire to free us from evil and death, from all that prevents our true happiness. God comes to save us.

The Fathers of the Church observe that the "coming" of God -- continuous and, as it were, co-natural with his very being -- is centred in the two principal comings of Christ: his Incarnation and his glorious return at the end of time (cf. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 15,1: PG 33, 870). The Advent Season lives the whole of this polarity.

In the first days, the accent falls on the expectation of the Lord's Final Coming, as the texts of this evening's celebration demonstrate.

With Christmas approaching, the dominant note instead is on the commemoration of the event at Bethlehem, so that we may recognize it as the "fullness of time".

Between these two "manifested" comings it is possible to identify a third, which St Bernard calls "intermediate" and "hidden", and which occurs in the souls of believers and, as it were, builds a "bridge" between the first and the last coming.

"In the first", St Bernard wrote, "Christ was our redemption; in the last coming he will reveal himself to us as our life: in this lies our repose and consolation" (Discourse 5 on Advent, 1).

The archetype for that coming of Christ, which we might call a "spiritual incarnation", is always Mary. Just as the Virgin Mother pondered in her heart on the Word made flesh, so every individual soul and the entire Church are called during their earthly pilgrimage to wait for Christ who comes and to welcome him with faith and love ever new.

The liturgy of Advent thus casts light on how the Church gives voice to our expectation of God, deeply inscribed in the history of humanity; unfortunately, this expectation is often suffocated or is deviated in false directions.

As a Body mystically united to Christ the Head, the Church is a sacrament, that is, a sign and an effective instrument of this waiting for God.

To an extent known to him alone, the Christian community can hasten his Final Coming, helping humanity to go forth to meet the Lord who comes.

And she does this first of all, but not exclusively, with prayer.

Next, essential and inseparable from prayer are "good works", as the prayer for this First Sunday of Advent declares, and in which we ask the Heavenly Father to inspire in us "the desire to go with good works" to Christ who comes.

In this perspective, Advent is particularly suited to being a season lived in communion with all those who -- and thanks be to God they are numerous -- hope for a more just and a more fraternal world.

In this commitment to justice, people of every nationality and culture, believers and non-believers, can to a certain extent meet. Indeed, they are all inspired by a common desire, even if their motivations are different, for a future of justice and peace.

Peace is the goal to which the whole of humanity aspires! For believers "peace" is one of the most beautiful names of God, who wants all his children to agree with one another, as I also had the opportunity to recall on my Pilgrimage in Turkey in the past few days.

A hymn of peace rang out in Heaven when God became man and was born of a woman in the fullness of time (cf. Gal 4:4).

Let us therefore begin this new Advent -- a time granted to us by the Lord of time -- by reawakening in our hearts the expectation of the God-who-comes and the hope that his Name will be hallowed, that his Kingdom of justice and peace will come, that his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Let us allow the Virgin Mary, Mother of the God-who-comes and Mother of Hope, to guide us in this waiting.

May she whom we will celebrate as Immaculate in a few days obtain for us that we be found holy and immaculate in love at the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory for ever and ever. Amen.



 VATICAN CITY, DEC 16, 2006 (VIS) - This morning, during a private audience with Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins C.M.F., president of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Pope authorized the congregation to promulgate the decrees concerning the following causes:


 - Blessed Szymon of Lipnica, Polish, priest of the Order of Friars Minor (1439-1482).

  - Blessed Antonio de Santa Ana (ne Antonio Galvao de Franca), Brazilian, priest of the Order of Alcantarine or Discalced Friars Minor, and founder of the Convent of Conceptionist Sisters (1739-1822).

  - Blessed Charles of St. Andrew (ne Johannes Andreas Houben), Dutch, priest of the Congregation of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1821-1893).

  - Blessed Marie Eugenie de Jesus (nee Anne-Eugenie Milleret de Brou), French, foundress of the Institute of Sisters of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (1817-1898).

  - Venerable Servant of God Carlo Liviero, Italian, bishop of Citta di Castello and founder of the Congregation of Little Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart (1866-1932).

  - Venerable Servant of God Stanislaus of Jesus Mary (ne Jana Papczynski), Polish, priest and founder of the Congregation of Marian Clerics of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary (1631-1701).

  - Venerable Servant of God Celina Chludzinska, Polish, widow and foundress of the Congregation of Sisters of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1833-1913).

  - Venerable Servant of God Marie Celine of the Presentation (nee Jeanne-Germaine Castang), French, nun of the Second Order of St. Francis (1878-1897).


  - Servants of God Manuel Gomez Gonzalez, Spanish, diocesan priest born in 1877, and Adilio Daronch, Brazilian, lay person born in 1908, both killed in Feijao Miudo, Brazil, in 1924.

  - Servant of God Albertina Berkenbrock, Brazilian, lay person born in 1919, killed in 1931.

  - Servant of God Eufrasio of the Baby Jesus (ne Eufrasio Barredo Fernandez), Spanish, born in 1897, priest of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, killed during religious persecution in Spain in 1934.

  - Servants of God Lorenzo, Virgilio and 44 companions of the Institute of Brothers of the Marist Schools, Spanish, killed during religious persecution in Spain in 1936.

  - Enrique Izquierdo Palacios and 13 companions, Spanish, of the Order of Friars Preachers, killed during religious persecution in Spain in 1936.

  - Servants of God Ovidio Beltran, Hermenegildo Lorenzo, Luciano Pablo, Estanislao Victor and Lorenzo Santiago, Spanish, members of the Institute of Brothers of the Christian Schools, and Jose Maria Canovas Martinez, Spanish, parish helper, killed during religious persecution in Spain in 1936.

  - Servants of God Maria del Carmen, Rosa and Magdalena Fradera Ferragutcasas, Spanish, religious of the Congregation of Daughters of the Blessed and Immaculate Heart of Mary, killed during religious persecution in Spain in 1936.

  - Servant of God Lindalva Justo de Oliviera, Brazilian, of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, born in 1953, killed in 1993 in Sao Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.


  - Servant of God Mamerto Esquiu, Argentinean (1826-1883), of the Order of Friars Minor, bishop of Cordoba, Argentina.

  - Servant of God Salvatore Micalizzi, Italian (1856-1937), professed priest of the Congregation of the Mission.

  - Servants of God Jose Olallo Valdes, Cuban (1820-1889), professed religious of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God.

  - Servant of God Stefan Kaszap, Hungarian (1916-1935), novice of the Society of Jesus.


Pope's Address to New Envoy From Kyrgyzstan
"Economic Development Contains a Moral Aspect"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 17, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered last Thursday to the new ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to the Holy See, Maratbek Salievic Bakiev, during the ceremony in which the envoy presented his letters of credence.

* * *

Mr Ambassador,

It is with pleasure that I welcome you to the Vatican today and accept the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kyrgyz Republic to the Holy See. On this significant occasion I would ask you kindly to convey my cordial greetings to His Excellency President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the people of your country. Assure them of my gratitude for their good wishes and of my prayers for the nation's peace and well-being.

The Church's diplomatic relations form a part of her mission of service to the international community. Her engagement with civil society is anchored in the conviction that the task of building a more just world must acknowledge and consider man's supernatural vocation. The Holy See strives therefore to promote an understanding of the human person who "receives from God his essential dignity and with it the capacity to transcend every social order so as to move towards truth and goodness" ("Centesimus Annus," 38). From this understanding the Church assists the vast array of cultures and nations that constitute our world to articulate and protect the universal values which safeguard the dignity of every person and serve the common good.

The extraordinary natural beauty of Kyrgyzstan is a blessing for your nation. Such dramatic evidence of the hand of the Creator gladdens the hearts of your people and helps them lift their thoughts towards the Almighty. Indeed, the people of Kyrgyzstan know well the importance of religious freedom and understand that if the spiritual dimension of persons is repressed or even denied, the soul of a nation is crushed. During the tragic epoch of intimidation in Central Asian history, while the supremacy of force endured, religious believers in your country nurtured a hope for freedom and justice, a future in which the supremacy of truth about the human person and the purpose of society would prevail. Today, that hope is experienced in a variety of ways including the tolerance demonstrated between religious and ethnic communities, the respect for the role of the family at the heart of your society, and the flourishing of your nation's fine arts. Such traits and values, which have in fact long adorned your history, assume a heightened importance of regional significance when we consider Kyrgyzstan's unique geographical position as a cultural crossroads.

As the Kyrgyz Republic continues to forge its national identity, it must be borne in mind that the important component of economic development contains a moral aspect, of crucial importance to the well-being and peaceful progress of a nation. It is here that the demand for justice is satisfied (cf. "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," 10). The right to meaningful work and an acceptable standard of living, the assurance of a fair distribution of goods and wealth, and the responsible use of natural resources all depend upon a concept of growth which is not limited to merely satisfying material necessities. Instead, such a notion must also highlight the dignity of every human person -- the proper subject of all progress -- and thereby enhance the common good of all humanity.

The legitimate aspirations of economic development are intrinsically linked to the principles and practices which favor the civic stability necessary for prosperity. Your country has already taken some steps towards protecting the fundamental rights of citizens and promoting democratic practices. Responsible and transparent governance free of interference, the maintenance of law and order, freedom of the press, and public participation in the civic institutions committed to the genuine development of the nation, all have their particular role in contributing to a culture of peace and collaboration. I encourage your government in its efforts to ensure that this process does not stall but indeed is strengthened.

Mr Ambassador, the members of the Catholic Church in your country are very few. Enjoying friendly relations with the Muslim and Orthodox communities, they are eager to reach out impartially to all peoples of Kyrgyzstan. Already their charitable activity extends from University teaching to prison visiting and to caring for the handicapped. This forms part of the Church's commitment to practical and concrete love for every human being and in a special way for the poor. In providing these services she desires neither power nor privilege, but only the freedom to express her belief in the "unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor" ("Deus Caritas Est," 16) through works of goodness, justice and peace. I am confident that as new social and spiritual needs arise in your land the Catholic community will respond generously and wisely.

Your Excellency, as you enter the diplomatic community accredited to the Holy See, I assure you of the willing assistance of the various offices and agencies of the Roman Curia. You have kindly noted that the relations existing between the Kyrgyz Republic and the Holy See are friendly and based on mutual respect and cooperation. May your mission serve to strengthen these bonds of understanding. With my sincere good wishes, I invoke upon you, your family and all your fellow citizens the abundant blessings of Almighty God.


Papal Address to New Danish Ambassador
"A Healthy Democracy Requires a Solid Ethical Foundation"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered Thursday to Lars Moller, the new ambassador of Denmark to the Holy See, during the ceremony to present his letters of credence.

* * *

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to receive you and to accept the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador and Minister Plenipotentiary of Denmark to the Holy See. I am grateful for the message of greetings which you have brought from Queen Margrethe II. I recall with pleasure my meeting with Her Majesty last spring and I ask you kindly to convey to her my own warm greeting, together with my prayerful good wishes for the happiness and prosperity of the Danish people.

In this, the twenty-fifth year since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Denmark, I wish to express the Holy See's esteem for your country's efforts to promote an effective solidarity with poorer nations by supporting integral development and by working to alleviate the tragic situation of poverty, violence, hunger and disease which weighs upon so much of the human family. Denmark has been in the forefront of international efforts to implement the Millennium Development Goals and has generously contributed to the establishment of mechanisms for security and peace-building in areas of the world scarred by armed conflicts. These praiseworthy initiatives have been inspired by a sober recognition that global problems require global solutions. Coordination between national governments, the various institutions and agencies of the international community, and the many regional and local bodies committed to strengthening the social fabric, represent a sure path to increased respect for fundamental human rights and the promotion of justice and peace at every level.

I am grateful for your words of appreciation for the Holy See's presence and contribution within the international community. This service to peace is grounded in a firm conviction, inspired by faith, of the unity of the human family and the God-given dignity and rights of each person. Peace, in the words of the prophet Isaiah (32:17), is the fruit of justice, but it is also the fruit of love, which surpasses what justice alone can ensure (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 78). In her proclamation of the Gospel and her service of charity, the Church wishes to cooperate with all men and women of good will in building a global community in which hatred and intolerance, injustice and violence will give way to mutual understanding, reconciliation and generous cooperation in the pursuit of the common good. Only such cooperation, capable of transcending national, ethnic and religious boundaries, can ultimately prevail against the many contemporary threats to peace, including the scourge of international terrorism and the ideologies which inspire it.

As the Danish people confront complex political and ethical issues which will determine the future of your society, the nation's rich heritage of Christian faith can serve as a source of wisdom and inspiration in the demanding task of respecting Denmark's distinct identity and cultural heritage, while addressing the challenges of the present time. A vigorous public life benefits from the contribution of believers and a creative dialogue with the nation's religious tradition and values, since a healthy democracy requires a solid ethical foundation and respect for "the moral structure of freedom" (cf. "Ecclesia in Europa," 98). For her part, the Church is ready "to contribute to the purification of reason and reawaken those moral forces without which just structures are neither set in place nor prove effective in the long run" ("Deus Caritas Est," 29). I assure you that Denmark's Catholic community, though small in number, desires to play its part, in cooperation with other Christian believers, in this work of discernment and the elaboration of wise and far-sighted social policies. This is especially so with regard to the fundamental role and mission of the family founded upon marriage, the education of children, respect for God's gift of life from conception to natural death, and the responsible stewardship of the environment.

Mr Ambassador, as you begin your mission, I offer my best wishes for the work you will undertake in the service of your nation, and I assure you of the constant readiness of the offices of the Roman Curia to assist you in the fulfillment of your responsibilities. I am confident that your representation will help to consolidate the good relations existing between the Holy See and Denmark. Upon you and your family, and upon all the beloved Danish people, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.


Pope's Address to New Syrian Ambassador
"Great Sadness at the Cycle of Death and Destruction"

VATICAN CITY, December 14, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is Benedict XVI's address to Hakram Obeid, the new Syrian ambassador to the Holy See, during the ceremony to present his letters of credence.

* * *

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Syrian Arab Republic to the Holy See. I thank you for your words and for the greetings which you bring from your President, Mr Bachar Al Assad. Please assure him of my sincere good wishes and my continuing prayers for the well-being and prosperity of your nation.

As you have indicated, Syria from ancient times has witnessed a great flowering of civilizations and religions. Your capital city, Damascus, is dear to Christians as the site of Saint Paul's baptism, following his dramatic experience of conversion during his journey there. And many great saints have led lives of exemplary holiness on Syrian soil. For centuries now, there have been harmonious relations between the Christian and Muslim communities in your country. Syria, then, is uniquely placed to offer to the world an example of peaceful coexistence and tolerance between the followers of different religions. In this regard, I can assure you of the support of the Holy See for the efforts your Government has made both at home and abroad to promote dialogue between religions and cultures. As I recently had occasion to reaffirm, "all people are linked by profound solidarity with one another, and must be encouraged to assert their historical and cultural differences not for the sake of confrontation, but in order to foster mutual respect" (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, Ankara, 28 November 2006).

You have spoken of your Government's concern over the annexation of the Golan Heights by Israel in 1967. With a heavy heart, I note that a wide range of territorial and other disputes have led to armed conflicts in recent times that threaten the peace and stability of the entire Middle East. Repeatedly I have pleaded for a cessation of violence in Lebanon, in the Holy Land and in Iraq. The world looks on with great sadness at the cycle of death and destruction, as innocent people continue to suffer and targeted individuals are kidnapped or assassinated. Like many impartial observers, the Holy See believes that solutions are possible within the framework of international law through the implementation of the relevant United Nations resolutions. In this regard, I have frequently urged that the various nations of the Middle East should be supported in their aspirations to live in peace within secure internationally recognized borders.

The Church, as you know, emphatically rejects war as a means of resolving international disputes, and has often pointed out that it only leads to new and still more complicated conflicts. Sadly, from the current situation in the Middle East it is only too evident that this is the case. In particular, the scourge of terrorism increases the fear and insecurity experienced by so many in the region today (cf. Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, 9) and in this regard, I am glad to note your words about the Syrian Government's commitment to counter this growing threat to peace and stability. The world looks especially to countries with significant influence in the Middle East in the hopeful expectation of signs of progress towards the resolution of these long-standing conflicts.

The Catholic community in Syria, as you know, is eager to play its part in national life, in cooperation with fellow Christians from the various Eastern Churches represented there. Your country is certainly fertile ground for progress in ecumenical relations between the followers of Christ and I would like to pledge the continued support of the Catholic Church for this important work. Indeed, I was recently able to do so publicly when I had the joy of visiting the Ecumenical Patriarch in the Phanar; together we signed a Common Declaration expressing the commitment of both Catholic and Orthodox Churches to work in every way towards the goal of full visible communion. I particularly appreciate the recent legislation implemented by the Syrian Government to recognize the juridical status of the Catholic Churches present in your country, in accordance with the norms of canon law. This step augurs well for a future of growing reciprocal understanding between the members of different Churches and different religions in Syria. Moreover, it sets the scene for increasing cooperation between the Church and the Government, that should facilitate the discovery of a solution to differences, such as the question of Church property taken over by the State. It is a sign of real maturity in relations when such matters can be discussed with openness, honesty and mutual respect.

Your Excellency, I am confident that the noble task which you begin today will consolidate these good relations between the Syrian Arab Republic and the Holy See. In offering you my best wishes for the success of your mission, I would like to assure you that the various departments of the Roman Curia are always glad to provide help and support in the fulfillment of your duties. Upon you, your family and all the people of Syria I cordially invoke God's abundant blessings.


Papal Message for World Day of the Sick 2007
"The Need for More Palliative Care Centers"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 13, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is Benedict XVI's message for the World Day of the Sick, to be observed on Feb. 11, the principal venue being Seoul, South Korea.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On 11 February 2007, when the Church keeps the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Fifteenth World Day of the Sick will be celebrated in Seoul, Korea. A number of meetings, conferences, pastoral gatherings and liturgical celebrations will take place with representatives of the Church in Korea, health care personnel, the sick and their families. Once again the Church turns her eyes to those who suffer and calls attention to the incurably ill, many of whom are dying from terminal diseases. They are found on every continent, particularly in places where poverty and hardship cause immense misery and grief. Conscious of these sufferings, I will be spiritually present at the World Day of the Sick, united with those meeting to discuss the plight of the incurably ill in our world and encouraging the efforts of Christian communities in their witness to the Lord's tenderness and mercy.

Sickness inevitably brings with it a moment of crisis and sober confrontation with one's own personal situation. Advances in the health sciences often provide the means necessary to meet this challenge, at least with regard to its physical aspects. Human life, however, has intrinsic limitations, and sooner or later it ends in death. This is an experience to which each human being is called, and one for which he or she must be prepared. Despite the advances of science, a cure cannot be found for every illness, and thus, in hospitals, hospices and homes throughout the world we encounter the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are incurably and often terminally ill. In addition, many millions of people in our world still experience in sanitary living conditions and lack access to much-needed medical resources, often of the most basic kind, with the result that the number of human beings considered "incurable" is greatly increased.

The Church wishes to support the incurably and terminally ill by calling for just social policies which can help to eliminate the causes of many diseases and by urging improved care for the dying and those for whom no medical remedy is available. There is a need to promote policies which create conditions where human beings can bear even incurable illnesses and death in a dignified manner. Here it is necessary to stress once again the need for more palliative care centers which provide integral care, offering the sick the human assistance and spiritual accompaniment they need. This is a right belonging to every human being, one which we must all be committed to defend.

Here I would like to encourage the efforts of those who work daily to ensure that the incurably and terminally ill, together with their families, receive adequate and loving care. The Church, following the example of the Good Samaritan, has always shown particular concern for the infirm. Through her individual members and institutions, she continues to stand alongside the suffering and to attend the dying, striving to preserve their dignity at these significant moments of human existence. Many such individuals -- health care professionals, pastoral agents and volunteers -- and institutions throughout the world are tirelessly serving the sick, in hospitals and in palliative care units, on city streets, in housing projects and parishes.

I now turn to you, my dear brothers and sisters suffering from incurable and terminal diseases. I encourage you to contemplate the sufferings of Christ crucified, and, in union with him, to turn to the Father with complete trust that all life, and your lives in particular, are in his hands. Trust that your sufferings, united to those of Christ, will prove fruitful for the needs of the Church and the world. I ask the Lord to strengthen your faith in his love, especially during these trials that you are experiencing. It is my hope that, wherever you are, you will always find the spiritual encouragement and strength needed to nourish your faith and bring you closer to the Father of Life. Through her priests and pastoral workers, the Church wishes to assist you and stand at your side, helping you in your hour of need, and thus making present Christ's own loving mercy towards those who suffer.

In conclusion, I ask ecclesial communities throughout the world, and particularly those dedicated to the service of the infirm, to continue, with the help of Mary, Salus Infirmorum, to bear effective witness to the loving concern of God our Father. May the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, comfort those who are ill and sustain all who have devoted their lives, as Good Samaritans, to healing the physical and spiritual wounds of those who suffer. United to each of you in thought and prayer, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord.

From the Vatican, 8 December 2006



Pope's World Day of Peace Message 2007
"Both Gift and Task"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 13, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's message for World Day of Peace 2007.

* * *

1 JANUARY 2007


1. At the beginning of the new year, I wish to extend prayerful good wishes for peace to Governments, leaders of nations and all men and women of good will. In a special way, I invoke peace upon all those experiencing pain and suffering, those living under the threat of violence and armed aggression, and those who await their human and social emancipation, having had their dignity trampled upon. I invoke peace upon children, who by their innocence enrich humanity with goodness and hope, and by their sufferings compel us all to work for justice and peace. Out of concern for children, especially those whose future is compromised by exploitation and the malice of unscrupulous adults, I wish on this World Day of Peace to encourage everyone to reflect on the theme: "The Human Person, the Heart of Peace." I am convinced that respect for the person promotes peace and that, in building peace, the foundations are laid for an authentic integral humanism. In this way a serene future is prepared for coming generations.

The human person and peace: gift and task

2. Sacred Scripture affirms that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). As one created in the image of God, each individual human being has the dignity of a person; he or she is not just something, but someone, capable of self-knowledge, self-possession, free self-giving and entering into communion with others. At the same time, each person is called, by grace, to a covenant with the Creator, called to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his place(1). From this supernatural perspective, one can understand the task entrusted to human beings to mature in the ability to love and to contribute to the progress of the world, renewing it in justice and in peace. In a striking synthesis, Saint Augustine teaches that "God created us without our aid; but he did not choose to save us without our aid(2)." Consequently all human beings have the duty to cultivate an awareness of this twofold aspect of gift and task.

3. Likewise, peace is both gift and task. If it is true that peace between individuals and peoples -- the ability to live together and to build relationships of justice and solidarity -- calls for unfailing commitment on our part, it is also true, and indeed more so, that peace is a gift from God. Peace is an aspect of God's activity, made manifest both in the creation of an orderly and harmonious universe and also in the redemption of humanity that needs to be rescued from the disorder of sin. Creation and Redemption thus provide a key that helps us begin to understand the meaning of our life on earth. My venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II, addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations on 5 October 1995, stated that "we do not live in an irrational or meaningless world ... there is a moral logic which is built into human life and which makes possible dialogue between individuals and peoples(3)." The transcendent "grammar", that is to say the body of rules for individual action and the reciprocal relationships of persons in accordance with justice and solidarity, is inscribed on human consciences, in which the wise plan of God is reflected. As I recently had occasion to reaffirm: "we believe that at the beginning of everything is the Eternal Word, Reason and not Unreason(4)." Peace is thus also a task demanding of everyone a personal response consistent with God's plan. The criterion inspiring this response can only be respect for the "grammar" written on human hearts by the divine Creator.

From this standpoint, the norms of the natural law should not be viewed as externally imposed decrees, as restraints upon human freedom. Rather, they should be welcomed as a call to carry out faithfully the universal divine plan inscribed in the nature of human beings. Guided by these norms, all peoples -- within their respective cultures -- can draw near to the greatest mystery, which is the mystery of God. Today too, recognition and respect for natural law represents the foundation for a dialogue between the followers of the different religions and between believers and non-believers. As a great point of convergence, this is also a fundamental presupposition for authentic peace.

The right to life and to religious freedom

4. The duty to respect the dignity of each human being, in whose nature the image of the Creator is reflected, means in consequence that the person can not be disposed of at will. Those with greater political, technical, or economic power may not use that power to violate the rights of others who are less fortunate. Peace is based on respect for the rights of all. Conscious of this, the Church champions the fundamental rights of each person. In particular she promotes and defends respect for the life and the religious freedom of everyone. Respect for the right to life at every stage firmly establishes a principle of decisive importance: life is a gift which is not completely at the disposal of the subject. Similarly, the affirmation of the right to religious freedom places the human being in a relationship with a transcendent principle which withdraws him from human caprice. The right to life and to the free expression of personal faith in God is not subject to the power of man. Peace requires the establishment of a clear boundary between what is at man's disposal and what is not: in this way unacceptable intrusions into the patrimony of specifically human values will be avoided.

5. As far as the right to life is concerned, we must denounce its widespread violation in our society: alongside the victims of armed conflicts, terrorism and the different forms of violence, there are the silent deaths caused by hunger, abortion, experimentation on human embryos and euthanasia. How can we fail to see in all this an attack on peace? Abortion and embryonic experimentation constitute a direct denial of that attitude of acceptance of others which is indispensable for establishing lasting relationships of peace. As far as the free expression of personal faith is concerned, another disturbing symptom of lack of peace in the world is represented by the difficulties that both Christians and the followers of other religions frequently encounter in publicly and freely professing their religious convictions. Speaking of Christians in particular, I must point out with pain that not only are they at times prevented from doing so; in some States they are actually persecuted, and even recently tragic cases of ferocious violence have been recorded. There are regimes that impose a single religion upon everyone, while secular regimes often lead not so much to violent persecution as to systematic cultural denigration of religious beliefs. In both instances, a fundamental human right is not being respected, with serious repercussions for peaceful coexistence. This can only promote a mentality and culture that is not conducive to peace.

The natural equality of all persons

6. At the origin of many tensions that threaten peace are surely the many unjust inequalities still tragically present in our world. Particularly insidious among these are, on the one hand, inequality in access to essential goods like food, water, shelter, health; on the other hand, there are persistent inequalities between men and women in the exercise of basic human rights.

A fundamental element of building peace is the recognition of the essential equality of human persons springing from their common transcendental dignity. Equality on this level is a good belonging to all, inscribed in that natural "grammar" which is deducible from the divine plan of creation; it is a good that cannot be ignored or scorned without causing serious repercussions which put peace at risk. The extremely grave deprivation afflicting many peoples, especially in Africa, lies at the root of violent reactions and thus inflicts a terrible wound on peace.

7. Similarly, inadequate consideration for the condition of women helps to create instability in the fabric of society. I think of the exploitation of women who are treated as objects, and of the many ways that a lack of respect is shown for their dignity; I also think -- in a different context --of the mindset persisting in some cultures, where women are still firmly subordinated to the arbitrary decisions of men, with grave consequences for their personal dignity and for the exercise of their fundamental freedoms. There can be no illusion of a secure peace until these forms of discrimination are also overcome, since they injure the personal dignity impressed by the Creator upon every human being(5).

The "ecology of peace"

8. In his Encyclical Letter "Centesimus Annus", Pope John Paul II wrote: "Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God's gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed(6)." By responding to this charge, entrusted to them by the Creator, men and women can join in bringing about a world of peace. Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a "human" ecology, which in turn demands a "social" ecology. All this means that humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology. Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa. It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable link between peace with creation and peace among men. Both of these presuppose peace with God. The poem-prayer of Saint Francis, known as "the Canticle of Brother Sun", is a wonderful and ever timely example of this multifaceted ecology of peace.

9. The close connection between these two ecologies can be understood from the increasingly serious problem of energy supplies. In recent years, new nations have entered enthusiastically into industrial production, thereby increasing their energy needs. This has led to an unprecedented race for available resources. Meanwhile, some parts of the planet remain backward and development is effectively blocked, partly because of the rise in energy prices. What will happen to those peoples? What kind of development or non-development will be imposed on them by the scarcity of energy supplies? What injustices and conflicts will be provoked by the race for energy sources? And what will be the reaction of those who are excluded from this race? These are questions that show how respect for nature is closely linked to the need to establish, between individuals and between nations, relationships that are attentive to the dignity of the person and capable of satisfying his or her authentic needs. The destruction of the environment, its improper or selfish use, and the violent hoarding of the earth's resources cause grievances, conflicts and wars, precisely because they are the consequences of an inhumane concept of development. Indeed, if development were limited to the technical-economic aspect, obscuring the moral-religious dimension, it would not be an integral human development, but a one-sided distortion which would end up by unleashing man's destructive capacities.

Reductive visions of man

10. Thus there is an urgent need, even within the framework of current international difficulties and tensions, for a commitment to a human ecology that can favour the growth of the "tree of peace". For this to happen, we must be guided by a vision of the person untainted by ideological and cultural prejudices or by political and economic interests which can instil hatred and violence. It is understandable that visions of man will vary from culture to culture. Yet what cannot be admitted is the cultivation of anthropological conceptions that contain the seeds of hostility and violence. Equally unacceptable are conceptions of God that would encourage intolerance and recourse to violence against others. This is a point which must be clearly reaffirmed: war in God's name is never acceptable! When a certain notion of God is at the origin of criminal acts, it is a sign that that notion has already become an ideology.

11. Today, however, peace is not only threatened by the conflict between reductive visions of man, in other words, between ideologies. It is also threatened by indifference as to what constitutes man's true nature. Many of our contemporaries actually deny the existence of a specific human nature and thus open the door to the most extravagant interpretations of what essentially constitutes a human being. Here too clarity is necessary: a "weak" vision of the person, which would leave room for every conception, even the most bizarre, only apparently favours peace. In reality, it hinders authentic dialogue and opens the way to authoritarian impositions, ultimately leaving the person defenceless and, as a result, easy prey to oppression and violence.

Human rights and international organizations

12. A true and stable peace presupposes respect for human rights. Yet if these rights are grounded on a weak conception of the person, how can they fail to be themselves weakened? Here we can see how profoundly insufficient is a relativistic conception of the person when it comes to justifying and defending his rights. The difficulty in this case is clear: rights are proposed as absolute, yet the foundation on which they are supposed to rest is merely relative. Can we wonder that, faced with the "inconvenient" demands posed by one right or another, someone will come along to question it or determine that it should be set aside? Only if they are grounded in the objective requirements of the nature bestowed on man by the Creator, can the rights attributed to him be affirmed without fear of contradiction. It goes without saying, moreover, that human rights imply corresponding duties. In this regard, Mahatma Gandhi said wisely: "The Ganges of rights flows from the Himalaya of duties." Clarity over these basic presuppositions is needed if human rights, nowadays constantly under attack, are to be adequately defended. Without such clarity, the expression "human rights" will end up being predicated of quite different subjects: in some cases, the human person marked by permanent dignity and rights that are valid always, everywhere and for everyone, in other cases a person with changing dignity and constantly negotiable rights, with regard to content, time and place.

13. The protection of human rights is constantly referred to by international bodies and, in particular, the United Nations Organization, which set itself the fundamental task of promoting the human rights indicated in the 1948 Universal Declaration. That Declaration is regarded as a sort of moral commitment assumed by all mankind. There is a profound truth to this, especially if the rights described in the Declaration are held to be based not simply on the decisions of the assembly that approved them, but on man's very nature and his inalienable dignity as a person created by God. Consequently it is important for international agencies not to lose sight of the natural foundation of human rights. This would enable them to avoid the risk, unfortunately ever-present, of sliding towards a merely positivistic interpretation of those rights. Were that to happen, the international bodies would end up lacking the necessary authority to carry out their role as defenders of the fundamental rights of the person and of peoples, the chief justification for their very existence and activity.

International humanitarian law and the internal law of States

14. The recognition that there exist inalienable human rights connected to our common human nature has led to the establishment of a body of international humanitarian law which States are committed to respect, even in the case of war. Unfortunately, to say nothing of past cases, this has not been consistently implemented in certain recent situations of war. Such, for example, was the case in the conflict that occurred a few months ago in southern Lebanon, where the duty "to protect and help innocent victims" and to avoid involving the civilian population was largely ignored. The heart-rending situation in Lebanon and the new shape of conflicts, especially since the terrorist threat unleashed completely new forms of violence, demand that the international community reaffirm international humanitarian law, and apply it to all present-day situations of armed conflict, including those not currently provided for by international law. Moreover, the scourge of terrorism demands a profound reflection on the ethical limits restricting the use of modern methods of guaranteeing internal security. Increasingly, wars are not declared, especially when they are initiated by terrorist groups determined to attain their ends by any means available. In the face of the disturbing events of recent years, States cannot fail to recognize the need to establish clearer rules to counter effectively the dramatic decline that we are witnessing. War always represents a failure for the international community and a grave loss for humanity. When, despite every effort, war does break out, at least the essential principles of humanity and the basic values of all civil coexistence must be safeguarded; norms of conduct must be established that limit the damage as far as possible and help to alleviate the suffering of civilians and of all the victims of conflicts(7).

15. Another disturbing issue is the desire recently shown by some States to acquire nuclear weapons. This has heightened even more the widespread climate of uncertainty and fear of a possible atomic catastrophe. We are brought back in time to the profound anxieties of the "cold war" period. When it came to an end, there was hope that the atomic peril had been definitively overcome and that mankind could finally breathe a lasting sigh of relief. How timely, in this regard, is the warning of the Second Vatican Council that "every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation(8)." Unfortunately, threatening clouds continue to gather on humanity's horizon. The way to ensure a future of peace for everyone is found not only in international accords for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also in the determined commitment to seek their reduction and definitive dismantling. May every attempt be made to arrive through negotiation at the attainment of these objectives! The fate of the whole human family is at stake!

The Church as safeguard of the transcendence of the human person

16. Finally, I wish to make an urgent appeal to the People of God: let every Christian be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defence of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights.

With gratitude to the Lord for having called him to belong to his Church, which is "the sign and safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person"(9) in the world, the Christian will tirelessly implore from God the fundamental good of peace, which is of such primary importance in the life of each person. Moreover, he will be proud to serve the cause of peace with generous devotion, offering help to his brothers and sisters, especially those who, in addition to suffering poverty and need, are also deprived of this precious good. Jesus has revealed to us that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8) and that the highest vocation of every person is love. In Christ we can find the ultimate reason for becoming staunch champions of human dignity and courageous builders of peace.

17. Let every believer, then, unfailingly contribute to the advancement of a true integral humanism in accordance with the teachings of the Encyclical Letters "Populorum Progressio" and "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis", whose respective fortieth and twentieth anniversaries we prepare to celebrate this year. To the Queen of Peace, the Mother of Jesus Christ "our peace" (Eph 2:14), I entrust my urgent prayer for all humanity at the beginning of the year 2007, to which we look with hearts full of hope, notwithstanding the dangers and difficulties that surround us. May Mary show us, in her Son, the Way of peace, and enlighten our vision, so that we can recognize Christ's face in the face of every human person, the heart of peace!

From the Vatican, 8 December 2006.

(1) Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 357.
(2) Sermo 169, 11, 13: PL 38, 923.
(3) No. 3.
(4) Homily at Islinger Feld, Regensburg, 12 September 2006.
(5) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the world (31 May 2004), 15-16.
(6) No. 38.
(7) In this regard, the Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates strict and precise criteria: cf. 2307-2317.
(8) Pastoral Constitution "Gaudium et Spes," 80.
(9) Ibid., 76.

[Text issued by the Holy See]

© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana



Redemptoris Mater Chapel
Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Dear Confreres,

The texts we have just heard -- the Reading, the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel -- have a common theme that could be summarized in the phrase: "God never fails". Or more precisely: initially God always fails, he lets human freedom exist and this freedom constantly says "no"; but God's imagination, the creative power of his love, is greater than the human "no". With every human "no" a new dimension of his love is bestowed and he finds a new and greater way to bring about his "yes" to man, history and creation.

In the great hymn to Christ in the Letter to the Philippians with which we began, we listened first of all to an allusion to the story of Adam, who was not satisfied with God's friendship; it was not enough for him because he himself wanted to be a god. He considered friendship as a dependence and considered himself a god, as though he could exist solely by himself. He therefore said "no" in order to become a god himself and in this very way, he threw himself down from his exalted position.

God "failed" in Adam -- and likewise, to all appearances, throughout history. But God did not fail, for now he becomes a man himself and so begins a new humanity; he roots God's being in a human being in an irrevocable way and descended to the deepest abysses of man's being: he humbled himself even unto the Cross. He overcame pride with the humility and the obedience of the Cross. And in this way what Isaiah had foretold (chapter 45) came to pass.

At the time when Israel was living in exile and had disappeared from the map, the Prophet predicted that the whole world -- "every knee" -- would bend before this powerless God. And the Letter to the Philippians confirms it: it has now happened.

Through the Cross of Christ, God made himself close to the peoples, he came out of Israel and became the God of the world. And now the cosmos kneels before Jesus Christ, and this is something we too can experience in a marvelous way today: on all the continents, even in the most humble of huts, the Crucifix is present.

The God who had "failed" now through his love truly brings man to bend his knee and thus overcomes the world with his love.

We sang the second part of the Psalm of the Passion as the Responsorial Psalm. It is the Psalm of the righteous sufferer, in the first place suffering Israel who, before the mute God who abandoned it, cries: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me? ... Now I am almost spent ... you do not act ... you do not answer ... why have you forsaken me?" (cf. 22[21]). Jesus identifies himself with the suffering Israel, with the suffering just ones of every age abandoned by God, and he cries out at God's abandonment; the pain of being forgotten he carries to the Heart of God himself, and in this way transforms the world.

The second part of the Psalm, the part that we recited, tells us the result of this: the poor will eat and be satisfied. It is the universal Eucharist that derives from the Cross. God now satisfies man throughout the world, the poor who are in need of him. He gives them the satiety they need: he gives God, he gives himself.

The Psalm then says: "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord". The universal Church derives from the Cross. God goes beyond Judaism to embrace the whole world, to unite it in the banquet of the poor.

And lastly, the Gospel message: again, the failure of God. Those who were invited first declined, they did not come.

God's hall remains empty, the banquet seemed to have been prepared in vain. This is what Jesus experienced in the last stages of his activity: official groups, the authorities, say "no" to God's invitation, which is he himself. They do not come. His message, his call, ends in the human "no".

However, God did not fail here, either. The empty hall becomes an opportunity to invite a larger number of people. God's love, God's invitation is extended. Luke recounts this in two episodes.

First, the invitation is addressed to the poor, the abandoned, those who were never invited by anyone in the city. In this way, God did what we heard in yesterday's Gospel reading.

(Today's Gospel is part of a small symposium in the setting of a meal at a Pharisee's house. There are four texts: first, the healing of the man with dropsy; then, the words about the lowest places; then, the teaching about not inviting friends who would invite you back but those who are really hungry, who cannot reciprocate the invitation; and then appropriately, our account follows).

God now does what he told the Pharisee to do: he invites those who possess nothing, who are truly hungry, who cannot invite him back, who cannot give him anything.

The second episode follows. He departs from the city to go on the country roads: the homeless are invited. We may suppose that Luke means these two episodes in the sense that the first to enter the hall are Israel's poor and later -- because there were not enough of them since God's space was larger -- the invitation extends beyond the Holy City to the world of the peoples. Those who do not at all belong to God, who are outside, are now invited to fill the hall. And Luke, who has handed down this Gospel to us, certainly saw in anticipation, in a figurative way, the events recounted later in the Acts of the Apostles, where precisely this happens.

Paul always begins his mission in the synagogue with those who are invited first; and only when the authoritative figures excuse themselves and he remains alone with a small group of poor people does he go to the Gentiles.

Thus, the Gospel through this ever new way of the Cross becomes universal, it influences everything, eventually even Rome.

In Rome, Paul summons the heads of the synagogue and proclaims to them the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God in his Person. However, the authorities excuse themselves and he takes his leave of them with these words: Well, since you will not listen, this message will be proclaimed to the Gentiles and they will listen to it. With such confidence he concludes the message of failure: they will listen; the Church of the Gentiles will be built. And she was built and continues to be built.

During the "ad limina" visits, I hear of many serious and tiresome things, but always -- precisely from the Third World -- I also hear this: that people listen, that they come, that even today the message spreads along the roads to the very ends of the earth and that people crowd into God's hall for his banquet.

Consequently, we should ask ourselves: what does all this mean for us?

First of all, it means one certainty: God does not fail. He "fails" continuously, but for this very reason he does not fail, because through this he finds new opportunities for far greater mercy and his imagination is inexhaustible.

He does not fail because he finds ever new ways to reach people and to open wider his great house so that it is completely filled.

He does not fail because he does not shrink from the prospect of asking people to come and sit at his table, to eat the food of the poor in which the precious gift is offered, God himself. God does not fail, not even today. Even if we come up against many "noes", we can be sure of it.

From the whole of this history of God, starting with Adam, we can conclude: God never fails.

Today too, he will find new ways to call men, and he wants to have us with him as his messengers and servants.

Precisely in our time we know very well how those who were invited first say "no". Indeed, Western Christianity, the new "first guests", now largely excuse themselves, they do not have time to come to the Lord. We know the churches that are ever more empty, seminaries continue to be empty, religious houses that are increasingly empty; we are familiar with all the forms in which this "no, I have other important things to do" is presented. And it distresses and upsets us to be witnesses of these excuses and refusals of the first guests, who in reality should know the importance of the invitation and should feel drawn in that direction.

What should we do?

First of all, we should ask ourselves: why is this happening?

In his Parable the Lord mentions two reasons: possessions and human relations, which involve people to the extent that they no longer feel the need for anything else to fill their time and therefore their interior existence.

St Gregory the Great in his explanation of this text sought to delve into it further and wondered: how can a man say "no" to the greatest thing that exists; that he has no time for what is most important; that he can lock himself into his own existence?

And he answers: in reality, they have never had an experience of God; they have never acquired a "taste" for God; they have never experienced how delightful it is to be "touched" by God! They lack this "contact" -- and with it, the "taste for God". And only if we, so to speak, taste him, only then can we come to the banquet.

St Gregory cites the Psalm from which today's Communion Antiphon is taken: Taste, try it and see; taste and then you will see and be enlightened! Our task is to help people so they can taste the flavor for God anew.

In another homily, St Gregory the Great deepened further the same question and asked himself: how can it be that man does not even want to "taste" God?

And he responds: when man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive and sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing.

When he overuses all the other organs, the empirical ones, it can happen that it is precisely the sense of God that suffers, that this organ dies, and man, as St Gregory says, no longer perceives God's gaze, to be looked at by him, the fact that his precious gaze touches me!

I maintain that St Gregory the Great has described exactly the situation of our time -- in fact, his was an age very similar to ours. And the question still arises: what should we do?

I hold that the first thing to do is what the Lord tells us today in the First Reading, and which St Paul cries to us in God's Name: "Your attitude must be Christ's -- 'Touto phroneite en hymin ho kai en Christo Iesou'".

Learn to think as Christ thought, learn to think with him! And this thinking is not only the thinking of the mind, but also a thinking of the heart.

We learn Jesus Christ's sentiments when we learn to think with him and thus, when we learn to think also of his failure, of his passage through failure and of the growth of his love in failure.

If we enter into these sentiments of his, if we begin to practice thinking like him and with him, then joy for God is awakened within us, confident that he is the strongest; yes, we can say that love for him is reawakened within us. We feel how beautiful it is that he is there and that we can know him -- that we know him in the face of Jesus Christ who suffered for us.

I think this is the first thing: that we ourselves enter into vital contact with God -- with the Lord Jesus, the living God; that in us the organ directed to God be strengthened; that we bear within us a perception of his "exquisiteness".

This also gives life to our work, but we also run a risk: one can do much, many things in the ecclesiastical field, all for God ..., and yet remain totally taken up with oneself, without encountering God. Work replaces faith, but then one becomes empty within.

I therefore believe that we must make an effort above all to listen to the Lord in prayer, in deep interior participation in the sacraments, in learning the sentiments of God in the faces and the suffering of others, in order to be infected by his joy, his zeal and his love, and to look at the world with him and starting from him.

If we can succeed in doing this, even in the midst of the many "noes", we will once again find people waiting for him who may perhaps often be odd -- the parable clearly says so -- but who are nevertheless called to enter his hall.

Once again, in other words: it is a matter of the centrality of God, and not just any god but the God with the Face of Jesus Christ. Today, this is crucial.

There are so many problems one could list that must be solved, but none of them can be solved unless God is put at the centre, if God does not become once again visible to the world, if he does not become the determining factor in our lives and also enters the world in a decisive way through us.

In this, I believe that the future of the world in this dramatic situation is decided today: whether God -- the God of Jesus Christ -- exists and is recognized as such, or whether he disappears.

We are concerned that he be present. What must we do? As the last resort? Let us turn to him! We are celebrating this votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, calling upon him: "Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium. Flecte quod est rigidum, fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium".

Let us invoke him so that he will irrigate, warm and straighten, so that he will pervade us with the power of his sacred flame and renew the earth. Let us pray for this with all our hearts at this time, in these days. Amen.


Pope's Nov. 7 Address to Swiss Bishops
"We Ourselves Cannot Invent Faith"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 11, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Nov. 7 during a meeting with the bishops of Switzerland. They were concluding their "ad limina" pastoral visit, which had been interrupted in 2005 due to Pope John Paul II's failing health.

Sala Bologna
Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Confreres,

I would like first of all to offer you a cordial welcome and to express my joy at now being granted to complete your Pastoral Visit, cut short in 2005, and thus to work together again on the panorama of issues that concern us.

I still have a vivid memory of the "ad limina" visit in 2005, when at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith we spoke of the problems that will be discussed once again in these days. I still clearly recall the atmosphere at that time of inner commitment to ensuring that the Word of God would be lively and would reach the hearts of the people of our time so that the Church might be full of life. In our common situation, rendered difficult by the secularized culture, let us seek to understand the mission entrusted to us by the Lord and to carry it out as best we can.

I have been unable to prepare a proper Address; in view of the individual aspects of the great mass of problems we will be touching on, I only want to make a few "trial attempts" that do not intend to come up with definitive assertions but only to initiate our conversation. This is a meeting of the Swiss Bishops and various Dicasteries of the Curia, in which each area of our pastoral task is identified and made visible. I shall try to make a few comments on some of them.

In keeping with my past, I will begin with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or rather, with the topic of faith.

Earlier, in my Homily [see page 6], I endeavored to say that in all the anguish of our time, faith must truly have priority. Two generations ago, it might still have been presumed natural: one grew up in the faith; in a certain way, faith was simply present as part of life and did not need any special seeking. It needed to be formed and deepened, but seemed something perfectly obvious.

Today, the opposite seems natural: in other words, that it is basically impossible to believe, and that God is actually absent. The faith of the Church, in any case, seems something that belongs to the distant past.

Thus, even practicing Christians are of the opinion that it is right to choose for oneself, from the overall faith of the Church, those things one considers still sustainable today. And especially, people also set about fulfilling their proper duty to God through their commitment to human beings, so to speak, at the same time.

This, however, is the beginning of a sort of "justification through works": the human being justifies himself and the world, in which he does what clearly seems necessary yet completely lacks the inner light and spirit.

Consequently, I believe it is important to acquire a fresh awareness of the fact that faith is the centre of all things -- "Fides tua te salvum fecit", the Lord said over and over again to those he healed. It was not the physical touch, it was not the external gesture that was operative, but the fact that those sick people believed. And we too can only serve the Lord energetically if our faith thrives and is present in abundance.

In this context, I want to emphasize two crucial points.

First: faith is above all faith in God. In Christianity it is not a matter of an enormous bundle of different things; all that the Creed says and the development of faith has achieved exists only to make our perception of the Face of God clearer. He exists and he is alive; we believe in him; we live before him, in his sight, in being with him and from him. And in Jesus Christ, he is, as it were, with us bodily.

To my mind, this centrality of God must appear in a completely new light in all our thoughts and actions.

Furthermore, this is what enlivens activities which, on the contrary, can easily lapse into activism and become empty.

This is the first point I want to stress: faith actually looks to God with determination and thus impels us in turn to look to God and set out towards him.

The other thing concerns the fact that we ourselves cannot invent faith, composing it with "sustainable" pieces, but we believe together with the Church. We cannot understand all that the Church teaches, nor must all of it be present in every life.

Yet, it is important that we are co-believers in the great "I" of the Church, in her living "We", and thereby find ourselves in the great community of faith, in that great subject in which the "You" of God and the "I" of man truly touch each other; in which the past of the words of Scripture becomes the present, times flow into one another, the past is present and, opening itself to the future, allows into time the brightness of eternity, of the Eternal One.

This complete form of faith, expressed in the Creed, a faith in and with the Church as a living subject in which the Lord works: it is this form of faith that we must seek to put truly at the heart of our endeavors.

Today too, we see it very clearly: wherever development has been exclusively encouraged without nourishing the soul, it causes harm. Moreover, technological skills are indeed increasing, but they result above all in new possibilities of destruction.

If, as well as aid to developing countries, as well as learning all that the human being is able to do, all that human intelligence has invented and that human determination makes possible, the human heart is not illuminated at the same time and God's power does not arrive, human beings learn above all to destroy.

And for this reason I believe that missionary responsibility must once again become strong within us: if our faith makes us glad, let us feel bound to speak of it to others. The extent to which people will be able to accept it will then be in God's hands.

I would now like to move on from this topic to "Catholic Education", touching on two areas.

One thing which I believe is a cause of "concern" -- in the positive sense of the word -- to all of us, is the fact that future priests and other teachers and preachers of the faith must receive a good theological training; we therefore need good theological faculties, good major seminaries and qualified theology teachers who not only impart knowledge but inculcate in students an intelligent faith so that faith becomes intelligence and intelligence, faith.

In this regard, I have a very specific wish.

Our exegesis has progressed by leaps and bounds. We truly know a great deal about the development of texts, the subdivision of sources, etc., we know what words would have meant at that time.... But we are increasingly seeing that if historical and critical exegesis remains solely historical and critical, it refers the Word to the past, it makes it a Word of those times, a Word which basically says nothing to us at all; and we see that the Word is fragmented, precisely because it is broken up into a multitude of different sources.

With "Dei Verbum," the Council told us that the historical-critical method is an essential dimension of exegesis because, since it is a "factum historicum," it is part of the nature of faith. We do not merely believe in an idea; Christianity is not a philosophy but an event that God brought about in this world, a story that he pieced together in a real way and forms with us as history.

For this reason, in our reading of the Bible, the serious historical aspect with its requirements must be truly present: we must effectively recognize the event and, precisely in his action, this "making of history" on God's part.

"Dei Verbum" adds, however, that Scripture, which must consequently be interpreted according to historical methods, should also be read in its unity and must be read within the living community of the Church. These two dimensions are absent in large areas of exegesis.

The oneness of Scripture is not a purely historical and critical factor but indeed in its entirety, also from the historical viewpoint, it is an inner process of the Word which, read and understood in an ever new way in the course of subsequent "relectures," continues to develop.

This oneness itself, however, is ultimately a theological fact: these writings form one Scripture which can only be properly understood if they are read in the "analogia fidei" as a oneness in which there is progress towards Christ, and inversely, in which Christ draws all history to himself; and if, moreover, all this is brought to life in the Church's faith.

In other words, I would very much like to see theologians learn to interpret and love Scripture as the Council desired, in accordance with "Dei Verbum": may they experience the inner unity of Scripture -- something that today is helped by "canonical exegesis" (still to be found, of course, in its timid first stages) -- and then make a spiritual interpretation of it that is not externally edifying but rather an inner immersion in the presence of the Word.

It seems to me a very important task to do something in this regard, to contribute to providing an introduction to living Scripture as an up-to-date Word of God beside, with and in historical-critical exegesis. I do not know how this should be done in practice, but I think that in the academic context and at seminaries, as well as in an introductory course, it will be possible to find capable teachers to ensure that this timely encounter with Scripture in the faith of the Church -- an encounter on whose basis proclamation subsequently becomes possible -- can take place.

The other thing is catechesis. Precisely in the past 50 years or so, it has come a long way in its methodology.

On the other hand, however, since much has been lost in anthropology and in the search for reference points, all too often catechesis does not even reach the content of the faith.

I can understand this since, even at the time when I was a parochial vicar -- some 56 years ago --, it was already very difficult to proclaim the faith in pluralistic schools with numerous non-believing parents and children, because it appeared to be a totally foreign and unreal world.

Today, of course, the situation is even worse. Yet, it is important in catechesis, which includes the contexts of school, parish, community, etc., that faith be expounded fully, in other words, that children truly learn what "creation" is, what the "history of salvation" brought about by God is, and who Jesus Christ is, what the sacraments are and what is the object of our hope....

I think that we must all do our utmost for a renewal of catechesis in which the courage to witness to our faith and find ways to make it understood and accepted is fundamental.

Today, religious ignorance has sunk to an abysmal level. And yet in Germany, children are given at least 10 years of catechesis, so basically, they ought to know many things.

For this reason, we should certainly reflect seriously on our possibilities of finding ways to communicate knowledge, even simply, so that the culture of faith may be present.

And now, for some remarks on "Divine Worship". The Year of the Eucharist gave us much in this regard. I can say that the Post-Synodal Exhortation is at a good point. It will certainly be a great enrichment.

In addition, we have received the Document of the Congregation for Divine Worship on the proper celebration of the Eucharist, which is very important.

I believe that subsequent to all this it will slowly become clear that the Liturgy is not a "self-manifestation" of the community through which, as people say, it makes its entrance onto the scene; rather, it is the exit of the community from merely "being-its-self", its access to the great banquet of the poor and its entry into the vast living community in which God himself nourishes us. This universal character of the Liturgy must once again penetrate the awareness of one and all.

In the Eucharist we receive something that we cannot do, but instead enter something greater that becomes our own, precisely when we give ourselves to this thing that is greater, truly seeking to celebrate the Liturgy as the Church's Liturgy.

Furthermore, connected with this there is also the famous problem of the homily. From the purely functional viewpoint I can understand it very well: perhaps the parish priest is weary or has already preached again and again, or perhaps he is elderly and overburdened with tasks.

As a result, if there should be a pastoral assistant skilled in interpreting the Word of God convincingly, one might spontaneously ask: why should not the pastoral assistant speak; he is better at it so the people will draw greater benefit from it.

This, however, is the purely functional viewpoint. Instead, people should take into account the fact that the homily is not a discursive interruption in the Liturgy but part of the sacramental event, and that it brings the Word of God into the present of this community.

It is the moment when this community as a subject truly wants to be called into question, to be brought to listen to and accept the Word. This means that the homily itself is part of the mystery, of the celebration of the mystery, and therefore cannot simply be detached from it.

Above all, however, I think it is also important not to reduce the priest to the sacrament and to jurisdiction -- in the conviction that all his other tasks could be done equally well by others -- but to preserve the integrity of his office.

Moreover, the priesthood is only beautiful if the mission to be carried out is kept intact, without having bits and pieces chopped off here and there.

And the priest's duty to connect the sacrifice with the Word, which is an integral part of the whole, has always been part of this role, even in the Old Testament.

From the purely practical viewpoint, we must then, of course, see to providing priests with the necessary help so that they are also able to carry out properly the ministry of the Word. As a rule, this interior oneness, both of the essence of the Eucharistic Celebration and of the essence of the priestly ministry, is of great importance.

The second subject I would like to talk about concerns the Sacrament of Penance, whose practice in the past 50 years or thereabouts has gradually diminished. Thanks be to God, cloisters, abbeys and shrines exist where people go on pilgrimage, where their hearts are opened and also prepared for confession.

We must truly learn this Sacrament anew. From a purely anthropological viewpoint it is important, on the one hand, to recognize sin and on the other, to practice forgiveness. The widespread absence of an awareness of sin is a disturbing phenomenon of our time.

Thus, the gift of the Sacrament of Penance not only consists in the reception of forgiveness, but also and above all in being aware of our need for forgiveness. With this Sacrament we are purified, we are inwardly transformed and subsequently able to understand others even better and to forgive them.

For the human being, the recognition of sin is elementary -- he is ill if he no longer perceives it --, and the liberating experience of being granted forgiveness is equally important for him. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the crucial place where both these things take place.

In this Sacrament, furthermore, faith becomes something completely personal; it is no longer concealed in collectivity. If man faces up to this challenge and in his need of forgiveness presents himself defenseless, as it were, before God, he then has the moving experience of a quite personal encounter with the love of Jesus Christ.

Lastly, I would like once again to focus attention on the ministry of the Bishop. Basically, we have already been talking about it implicitly all this time.

It seems to me important that Bishops, as the successors of the Apostles, on the one hand truly bear responsibility for the local Churches which the Lord has entrusted to them, ensuring that the Church as the Church of Jesus Christ grows and lives.

On the other hand, they must open the local Churches to the universal dimension. Given the difficulties the Orthodox encounter with the Autocephalous Churches as well as the problems of our Protestant friends in the face of the disintegration of the regional Churches, we realize the great significance of universality and the importance of the Church being open to totality, to become in universality a Church which is truly one.

The Church is only capable of this if she is active in her own local area. This communion must be nurtured by the Bishops together with the Successor of Peter in the spirit of a conscious succession to the College of the Apostles.

We must all strive continuously to find the right balance in this mutual relationship so that the local Church may live her authenticity, and that the universal Church may likewise be enriched by it so that both will give and receive, and thus the Lord's Church will grow.

Bishop Grab mentioned the ecumenical difficulties: this is an area I can only entrust to all your hearts. In Switzerland, you are confronted daily with this task which is tiring but also creates joy.

On the one hand, I think personal relationships are important, where we recognize and esteem one another in an immediate way as believers, and as spiritual persons purify ourselves and help one another in turn.

On the other, as Bishop Grab said, it is a question of guaranteeing the essential values and framework of our society, since they come from God.

In this area, all of us -- Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox -- have a great, joint task. And I am glad that awareness of this is growing.

In the West it is the Church in Greece which, in spite of some occasional problems with the Latins, always says very clearly: in Europe, we can only carry out our task if we work together for the great Christian heritage. The Church in Russia is also seeing this ever more clearly and likewise, our Protestant friends are aware of this fact.

I believe that if we learn to act together in this field, we could achieve a large degree of unity, even where full theological and sacramental unity are not yet possible.

To conclude, I would once again like to express to you my joy at your visit, as I wish you many fruitful exchanges during these days.


Pope's Nov. 9 Address to Swiss Bishops
"Prayer Is Hope in Action"

VATICAN CITY,  Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Nov. 9 at the conclusion of his meeting with the bishops of Switzerland, who were on their visit to Rome.

* * *



Thursday, 9 November 2006

I would first like to thank you all for this meeting, which seems very important to me as an exercise of collegial affection, an expression of our common responsibility for the Church and for the Gospel in the world at this time. Thank you for everything!

I am sorry that because of other commitments, especially the "ad limina" visits -- in these days it is the turn of the German bishops -- I was unable to be with you.

I would have really liked to hear the voice of the Swiss Bishops -- but perhaps there will be other opportunities -- and of course, also to hear the dialogue of the Roman Curia and the Swiss Bishops: in the Roman Curia too, the Holy Father always speaks as responsible for the whole Church.

Thank you, therefore, for this meeting, which it seems to me is a help to us all because it is an experience of the Church's unity as well as of the hope that accompanies us in all the difficulties that surround us.

In addition, I would like to ask you to excuse me for having come without a prepared text on the very first day; I had of course given it some thought, but I did not have the time to write. And so, once again now, I am presenting myself with this impoverishment, but it might be right also for a Pope to be poor in all senses at this time in the Church's history.

In any case, I am unable to offer you a grand Discourse now as would have been fitting after a meeting with these results.

I must say, in fact, that I had already read the summary of your discussions and I have listened to it just now with great attention: it seems a very well thought out and rich text. It truly responds to the essential questions that concern us, both for the unity of the Church as a whole and for the specific issues of the Church in Switzerland. It seems to me that it really plots the path for the years to come and demonstrates our common desire to serve the Lord. It is a very rich text.

In reading it, I thought: it would be somewhat absurd if I were now to start once again to treat the topics discussed thoroughly and intensely over the past three days. I see here the condensed and rich result of the work done; to add anything further to the individual points would, I think, be very difficult, partly because the result of the work is known to me but not the actual voices of those who spoke during the discussions.

I therefore thought that perhaps it would be right this evening, at the conclusion, to return once again to the important topics which occupy us and are, in short, the basis of all the details -- even if obviously each detail is important.

In the Church, the institution is not merely an external structure while the Gospel is purely spiritual. In fact, the Gospel and the Institution are inseparable because the Gospel has a body, the Lord has a body in this time of ours. Consequently, issues that seem at first sight merely institutional are actually theological and central, because it is a matter of the realization and concretization of the Gospel in our time.

The best thing to do now, therefore, would be to stress once again the great perspectives within which the whole of our reflection takes place. Allow me with the indulgence and generosity of the members of the Roman Curia, to continue in German, because we have excellent interpreters who would otherwise be left idle.

I have thought of two specific themes of which I have already spoken and which I would now like to examine further.

Let us return, therefore, to the subject of "God". The words of St Ignatius spring to mind: "The Christian is not the result of persuasion, but of power" ("Epistula ad Romanos" 3, 3). We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details, but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity.

I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and '90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.

If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith -- a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us.

In this perspective I would now like to continue by completing last Tuesday's reflections and to stress once again: what matters above all is to tend one's personal relationship with God, with that God who revealed himself to us in Christ.

Augustine repeatedly emphasized the two sides of the Christian concept of God: God is Logos and God is Love -- to the point that he completely humbled himself, assuming a human body and finally, giving himself into our hands as bread. We must always keep in mind and help others to keep in mind these two aspects of the Christian conception of God.

God is "Spiritus Creator", he is Logos, he is reason. And this is why our faith is something that has to do with reason, can be passed on through reason and has no cause to hide from reason, not even from the reason of our age. But precisely this eternal, immeasurable reason is not merely a mathematics of the universe and far less, some first cause that withdrew after producing the Big Bang.

This reason, on the contrary, has a heart such as to be able to renounce its own immensity and take flesh. And in that alone, to my mind, lies the ultimate, true greatness of our conception of God. We know that God is not a philosophical hypothesis, he is not something that perhaps exists, but we know him and he knows us. And we can know him better and better if we keep up a dialogue with him.

This is why it is a fundamental task of pastoral care to teach people how to pray and how to learn to do so personally, better and better. Today, schools of prayer and prayer groups exist; it is obvious that people want them. Many seek meditation elsewhere because they think that they will not be able to find a spiritual dimension in Christianity.

We must show them once again not only that this spiritual dimension exists but that it is the source of all things. To this end, we must increase the number of these schools of prayer, for praying together, where it is possible to learn personal prayer in all its dimensions: as silent listening to God, as a listening that penetrates his Word, penetrates his silence, sounds the depths of his action in history and in one's own person; and to understand his language in one's life and then to learn to respond in prayer with the great prayers of the Psalms of the Old Testament and prayers of the New.

By ourselves, we do not possess words for God, but words have been given to us: the Holy Spirit himself has already formulated words of prayer for us; we can enter them, we can pray with them and thus subsequently, also learn personal prayer ever better; we can "learn" God and thus become sure of him even if he is silent -- we can become joyful in God.

This intimate being with God, hence, the experience of God's presence, is what makes us, so to speak, experience ever anew the greatness of Christianity, and then also helps us to find our way through all the trivialities among which, of course, it must also be lived and -- day after day, in suffering and loving, in joy and sorrow -- put into practice.

And from this viewpoint one perceives, in my opinion, the significance of the Liturgy also as precisely a school of prayer, where the Lord himself teaches us to pray and where we pray together with the Church, both in humble, simple celebrations with only a few of the faithful and also in the feast of faith.

In various conversations, I have perceived now, once again at this very moment, on the one hand, how important for the faithful silence in their contact with God is, and on the other, the feast of faith, how important it is to be able to live festive celebration.

The world also has its feast days. Nietzsche actually said: We can only celebrate if God does not exist. But this is absurd: only if God exists and touches us can there be true festivity. And we know that these feasts of faith open people's hearts wide and create impressions that are helpful for the future. I saw once again during my Pastoral Visits to Germany, Poland and Spain that faith there is lived as a festive celebration and that it accompanies people and guides them.

In this context I would like to mention something else that struck me and made a lasting impression.

In St Thomas Aquinas' last work that remained unfinished, the Compendium Theologiae which he intended to structure simply according to the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, the great Doctor began and partly developed his chapter on hope. In it he identified, so to speak, hope with prayer: the chapter on hope is at the same time the chapter on prayer.

Prayer is hope in action. And in fact, true reason is contained in prayer, which is why it is possible to hope: we can come into contact with the Lord of the world, he listens to us, and we can listen to him. This is what St Ignatius was alluding to and what I wanted to remind you of today, once again: "ou peismones to ergon, alla megethous estin ho Christianismos" ("Ad Rom." 3, 3) -- the truly great thing in Christianity, which does not dispense one from small, daily things but must not be concealed by them either, is this ability to come into contact with God.

The second thing that I have remembered in these very days concerns morals.

I often hear it said that people today have a longing for God, for spirituality, for religion, and are starting once again to see the Church as a possible conversation partner from which, in this regard, they can receive something. (There was a period in which this was basically sought only in other religions).

Awareness is growing: the Church especially conveys spiritual experience; she is like a tree where the birds can make their nests even if they want to fly away again later -- but she is precisely also a place where one can settle for a certain time.

Instead, what people find more difficult is the morality that the Church proclaims. I have pondered on this -- I have been pondering on it for a long time -- and I see ever more clearly that in our age morality is, as it were, split in two.

Modern society not merely lacks morals but has "discovered" and demands another dimension of morality, which in the Church's proclamation in recent decades and even earlier perhaps has not been sufficiently presented. This dimension includes the great topics of peace, non-violence, justice for all, concern for the poor and respect for creation. They have become an ethical whole which, precisely as a political force, has great power and for many constitutes the substitution or succession of religion.

Instead of religion, seen as metaphysical and as something from above -- perhaps also as something individualistic --, the great moral themes come into play as the essential which then confers dignity on man and engages him.

This is one aspect: this morality exists and it also fascinates young people, who work for peace, for non-violence, for justice, for the poor, for creation. And there are truly great moral themes that also belong, moreover, to the tradition of the Church. The means offered for their solution, however, are often very unilateral and not always credible, but we cannot dwell on this now. The important topics are present.

The other part of morality, often received controversially by politics, concerns life. One aspect of it is the commitment to life from conception to death, that is, its defense against abortion, against euthanasia, against the manipulation and man's self-authorization in order to dispose of life.

People often seek to justify these interventions with the seemingly great purpose of thereby serving the future generations, and it even appears moral to take human life into one's own hands and manipulate it.

However, on the other hand, the knowledge also exists that human life is a gift that demands our respect and love from the very first to its very last moments, also for the suffering, the disabled and the weak.

The morality of marriage and the family also fit into this context. Marriage is becoming, so to speak, ever more marginalized.

We are aware of the example of certain countries where legislation has been modified so that marriage is no longer defined as a bond between a man and a woman but a bond between persons; with this, obviously, the basic idea is destroyed and society from its roots becomes something quite different.

The awareness that sexuality, eros and marriage as a union between a man and a woman go together -- "and they become one flesh" (Gn 2:24) -- this knowledge is growing weaker and weaker; every type of bond seems entirely normal -- they represent a sort of overall morality of non-discrimination and a form of freedom due to man.

Naturally, with this the indissolubility of marriage has become almost a utopian idea which many public figures seem precisely to contradict. So it is that even the family is gradually breaking up.

There are of course many explanations for the problem of the sharp decline in the birth rate, but certainly a decisive role is also played in this by the fact that people want to enjoy life, that they have little confidence in the future and that they feel the family is no longer viable as a lasting community in which future generations may grow up.

In these contexts, therefore, our proclamation clashes with an awareness, as it were, contrary to society and with a sort of anti-morality based on a conception of freedom seen as the faculty to choose autonomously with no pre-defined guidelines, as non-discrimination, hence, as the approval of every type of possibility.

Thus, it autonomously establishes itself as ethically correct, but the other awareness has not disappeared. It exists, and I believe we must commit ourselves to reconnecting these two parts of morality and to making it clear that they must be inseparably united.

Only if human life from conception until death is respected is the ethic of peace possible and credible; only then may non-violence be expressed in every direction, only then can we truly accept creation and only then can we achieve true justice.

I think that this is the great task we have before us: on the one hand, not to make Christianity seem merely morality, but rather a gift in which we are given the love that sustains us and provides us with the strength we need to be able to "lose our own life". On the other hand, in this context of freely given love, we need to move forward towards ways of putting it into practice, whose foundation is always offered to us by the Decalogue, which we must interpret today with Christ and with the Church in a progressive and new way.

These, therefore, were the themes I thought I should and could elaborate. I thank you for your indulgence and your patience. Let us hope that the Lord will help us all on our journey!