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On the Trip to the UN and the US
"I Have Had the Joy of Announcing 'Christ Our Hope'"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 30, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.

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Even if a few days have already passed since my return, I would like to dedicate the catechesis of today, as I normally do, to the apostolic trip that I made to the United Nations and the United States of America this past April 15 to 21. Before all, I renew my most cordial appreciation to the U.S. episcopal conference, as well as President Bush, for having invited me and for the warm welcome they have given me. And I would like to extend my thanks to all those in Washington and New York who came to greet me and manifest their love for the Pope, or who have accompanied and supported me with prayer and with the offering of their sacrifices.

As we know, the occasion of my trip was the bicentennial of the elevation of the country's first diocese, Baltimore, to a metropolitan see, and the foundation of the sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville. On this characteristically ecclesial anniversary, I have had the joy of personally visiting, for the first time as the Successor of Peter, the dear people of the United States of America, to confirm the Catholics in their faith, to renew and increase fraternity with all Christians, and to announce to everyone the message of "Christ Our Hope," as the theme of the trip said.

In the meeting with the president, in his residence, I was able to pay homage to this great country, which from the beginning has been constructed based on a pleasing joining together of religious, ethical and political principles, and continues to be a valid example of healthy secularism, where the religious dimension, in the diversity of its expressions, is not only tolerated but valued as the "soul" of the nation and the fundamental guarantee of the rights and duties of the human being.

In this context, the Church can carry out its mission of evangelization and human promotion with freedom and commitment and, at the same time, can be a stimulus for a country such as the United States, to which everyone looks as one of the principal agents on the international scene, so that it is oriented toward global solidarity, ever more necessary and urgent, and toward the patient exercise of dialogue in international relations.

Naturally, the mission and the role of the ecclesial community were at the center of the meeting with the bishops that took place in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington. In the liturgical context of vespers, we praised the Lord for the path traveled by the people of God in the United States, for the zeal of its pastors, and for the fervor and the generosity of its faithful, which is manifested with a high esteem and openness to the faith, and in innumerable charitable and humanitarian initiatives within the country and outside it.

At the same time, I was able to support my brothers in the episcopate in their difficult task of sowing the Gospel in a society marked by many contradictions, which threaten the coherence of the faithful and of the clergy themselves. I encouraged them to raise their voices on current moral and social questions and to form the lay faithful so that they be good "leaven" in the civil community, starting from the fundamental cell that is the family. In this sense, I exhorted them to re-propose the sacrament of matrimony as a gift and indissoluble commitment between a man and a woman, the natural environment for the welcoming and education of children. The Church and the family, together with schools, especially those of Christian inspiration, should cooperate to offer youth a solid moral education, but in this task the agents of communication and entertainment also have a great responsibility.

Thinking of the sorrowful situation of the sexual abuse of minors committed by ordained ministers, I wanted to express to the bishops my closeness, encouraging them in the commitment to heal the wounds and to reinforce their relationships with their priests. Responding to some questions asked by the bishops, I highlighted a few important aspects: the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and "natural law"; the healthy concept of freedom, which is understood and fulfilled in love; the ecclesial dimension of the Christian experience; the demand to announce in new ways, especially to youth, "salvation" as the plenitude of life, and to educate them in prayer, from which sprouts the generous response to the call of the Lord.

In the great and festive Eucharistic celebration in Nationals Park stadium in Washington, we invoked the Holy Spirit upon the Church in the United States of America, so that firmly rooted in the faith transmitted by its fathers, profoundly united and renewed, it will face present and future challenges with courage and hope -- that hope that "does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).

One of these challenges is certainly that of education, and for this reason, in the Catholic University of America, I met with rectors of universities and Catholic educational centers, with the diocesan leaders responsible for teaching, and with representatives of professors and students. The educational task is an integral part of the mission of the Church, and the U.S. Church community has always been very committed in this field, offering at the same time a great social and cultural service to the entire country. It is important that this can continue. And it is in the same way important to take care of the quality of the Catholic centers of education so that in them, [students] are formed truly according to "the extent of the full stature" of Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:13), joining together faith and reason, truth and liberty. With joy, therefore, I have confirmed the formators in their precious commitment to intellectual charity.

In a country like the United States of America, with a multicultural vocation, the meetings with representatives of other religions have taken on special importance: in Washington, in the John Paul II Cultural Center, with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains; in New York, the visit to the synagogue. Moments, especially this latter one, which were very cordial, which have confirmed the common commitment to dialogue and the promotion of peace and spiritual and moral values. In [a country] that can consider itself the homeland of religious liberty, I wanted to recall that this should always be defended with a joint effort, so as to avoid any kind of discrimination or prejudice. And I stressed the great responsibility of the religious representatives, both in teaching respect and nonviolence, and in nourishing the deepest questions of human consciousness. The ecumenical celebration, in the parish church of St. Joseph, was also characterized by great cordiality. Together, we asked the Lord that he increase in Christians the capacity of giving reasons, also with an ever greater unity, for their unique hope (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) based in a common faith in Jesus Christ.

The other principal objective of my tripe was the visit to the central offices of the United Nations Organization: the fourth visit of a Pope, after that of Paul VI in 1965 and the two visits of John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995. In the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Providence permitted me to confirm, in the most great and authoritative supranational assembly, the value of this declaration, recalling its universal basis, that is, the dignity of the human person created by God in his image and likeness to cooperate in the world with his great design of life and peace.

Respect for human rights is rooted, as well as in peace, in "justice," that is, in an ethical order valid in all times and for all peoples, which can be summarized in the famous maxim: "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you," or, expressed positively in the words of Jesus, "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you" (Matthew 7:12). Upon this base, which constitutes the characteristic contribution of the Holy See to the United Nations Organization, I renewed and I renew again today, the commitment of the Catholic Church in contributing to strengthen international relations, characterized by the principles of responsibility and solidarity.

Other moments of my stay in New York have remained firmly etched in my spirit. In St. Patrick's Cathedral, in the heart of Manhattan, truly a "house of prayer for all peoples," I celebrated holy Mass for the priests and consecrated persons who had come from all parts of the country. I will never forget the warmth with which they congratulated me for the third anniversary of my election to the See of Peter. It was a moving moment, in which I experienced in a tangible way all of the support of the Church for my ministry. I could say the same about my meeting with youth and seminarians, which was held precisely in the diocesan seminary, preceded by a very significant meeting with handicapped boys and girls and their families.

I proposed to youth -- who by their nature are thirsting for truth and love -- some figures of men and women who have given an exemplary testimony of the Gospel in the lands of the United States, the Gospel of the truth that frees in love, in service, in life given for others. In seeing the darkness that today threatens their lives, youth can find in the saints the light that dissipates it: the light of Christ, hope for all men.

This hope, stronger than sin and death, motivated the emotion-swelled moment that I spent in silence at the crater of ground zero where I lit a candle, praying for all the victims of that terrible tragedy. Finally, my visit culminated with the celebration of the Eucharist in Yankee Stadium in New York: I still carry in my heart that festival of faith and brotherhood, with which we celebrated the 200 years of the oldest dioceses of North America. The original little flock has progressed enormously, enriching itself with the faith and the traditions of successive waves of immigration. To this Church, which now faces the challenges of the present, I have had the joy of announcing anew "Christ Our Hope" of yesterday, today and forever.

Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to unite yourselves with me in thanksgiving for the encouraging results of this apostolic trip and in the supplication to God, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, that it produces abundant fruits for the Church in the United States and in all parts of the world.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

My recent Apostolic Journey to the United Nations and the United States of America was inspired by the theme, "Christ our Hope". I am most grateful to all who helped in any way to make the Journey a success. My visit was meant to encourage the Catholic community in America, especially our young people, to bear consistent witness to the faith, and to carry on the Church's mission, especially with regard to education and concern for the poor. American society traditionally values religious freedom and the need for faith to play its part in building a sound civic life. In my meetings with President Bush, and with Christian leaders and representatives of other religions, I reaffirmed the Church's commitment to cooperation in the service of understanding, peace and spiritual values. My address to the United Nations stressed the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grounds respect for human dignity in a universally valid ethical order. In a particular way, my visit to Ground Zero, charged with sober silence and prayer, was a moving testimony to the hope which is stronger than evil and death. I ask all of you to join me in praying that this Visit will bear abundant spiritual fruit for the growth of the faith in America and for the unity and peace of the whole human family.

I offer a warm welcome to the participants in the third Christian-Buddhist Symposium, meeting in Castel Gandolfo during these days. Upon all of you and upon the English-speaking pilgrims from England, Ireland, Scandinavia, Malta, South Africa, Korea, Thailand, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Christ.

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On the Mission of Priests
"Sowing the Joy of the Gospel in the World"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 27, 2008 - Here is a translation of the greeting Benedict XVI gave today before praying the Regina Caeli with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

A few moments ago we concluded a celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica in which I ordained 29 new priests. This is a time every year of special grace and festivity: The lifeblood of the Church and society has been renewed and recirculated in them. If the presence of priests is indispensable for the life of the Church, it is also something precious for all.

In the Acts of the Apostles one reads that the Deacon Philip brought the Gospel to a city of Samaria; the people adhered to his preaching with enthusiasm and also saw the miracles that he worked for the sick; “and there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). As I reminded the new presbyters in the course of the liturgical celebration, this is the meaning of the Church’s missions and particularly the mission of priests: Sowing the joy of the Gospel in the world!

Where Christ is preached with the power of the Holy Spirit and he is accepted with an open soul, society, though it be full of problems, becomes a “city of joy” -- which is also the title of a book about the work of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. This then is the wish I have for the newly ordained priests, for whom I invite all to pray: That where they are sent they may spread the joy and hope that flow from the Gospel.

In truth this is also the message that I brought last week to the United States of America, on an apostolic voyage that had these words as its motto: “Christ our hope.” I give thanks to God for abundantly blessing this singular missionary experience of mine and deigning to make me an instrument of the hope of Christ for that Church and that country. At the same time I thank God because I too was confirmed in hope by American Catholics: Indeed, I discovered a tremendous vitality and a decisive will to live and to witness to the faith in Jesus. Next Wednesday, during the general audience, I will speak more about this visit of mine to America.

Today many Eastern Churches, following the Julian Calendar, celebrate the great solemnity of Easter. I would like to express my fraternal spiritual nearness to these brothers and sisters of ours. I cordially greet them, praying that the God who is one and three will confirm them in the faith, fill them with the splendorous light that emanates from the resurrection of the Lord and to comfort them in the difficult situations that they often find themselves living and witnessing to the Gospel. I invite all to join with me in invoking the Mother of God, that the road of dialogue and collaboration that was started upon sometime ago will soon lead to a more complete communion among all the disciples of Christ, that they may be a luminous sign of hope for all humanity.

[After reciting the Regina Caeli, the Pope said in Italian:]

The news from some African countries continues to cause profound suffering and much concern. I ask you not to forget about these tragic events and the brothers and sisters who are involved in them! I ask you to pray for them and to be their voice!

In Somalia, especially in Mogadishu, bitter armed conflicts are worsening the humanitarian crisis of this dear people, which for too many years has been oppressed by brutality and misery.

Darfur, despite a momentary glimmer of hope, remains a tragedy without end for hundreds of thousands of defenseless and abandoned persons.

Finally, Burundi. After the recent bombardments that struck and terrorized the capital city of Bujumbura and also affected the apostolic nunciature, and in the face of the threat of a new civil war, I invite all the parties involved to take up again without delay the way of dialogue and reconciliation.

I ask the local political authorities, the leaders of the international community and every person of goodwill not to give up on efforts to bring and end to the violence and the honor the commitments that have been made, in a way that will provide a solid basis for peace and development. We entrust our petitions to Mary, Queen of Africa.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

[In English, the Pope said:]

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Regina Caeli. In today's Gospel Our Lord speaks to us of the mystery of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May we always remain faithful to this divine communion by living the commandments that he has given us. God's blessings of joy and peace be with you all!

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Benedict XVI on Martyrs of the 20th Century
"Strive to Imitate Their Courage and Perseverance"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 27, 2008 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered April 7 at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island in Rome. The visit marked the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Community of Sant'Egidio, and the basilica is the site of a memorial of those who have died for the faith during the 20th century.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We may see our meeting in the ancient Basilica of St Bartholomew on Tiber Island as a pilgrimage in memory of the martyrs of the 20th century, countless men and women, known and unknown, who shed their blood for the Lord in the 1900s. It is a pilgrimage guided by the Word of God which, like a lamp to our feet, a light on our way (cf. Ps 119[118]: 105), brightens the life of every believer with its light. This church was especially designated by my beloved Predecessor John Paul II as a place for the memorial of the 20th century martyrs and entrusted by him to the Community of Sant'Egidio, which this year is thanking the Lord for the 40th anniversary of its foundation.

I greet with affection the Cardinals and Bishops who have wished to take part in this liturgy. I greet Prof. Andrea Riccardi, Founder of the Sant'Egidio Community, and I thank him for his words; I greet Prof. Marco Impagliazzo, President of the Community, the Chaplain, Mons. Matteo Zuppi, as well as Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni-Narni-Amelia.

In this place full of memories let us ask ourselves: why did these martyr brothers and sisters of ours not seek to save the irreplaceable good of life at all costs? Why did they continue to serve the Church in spite of grave threats and intimidation? In this Basilica where the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew are preserved and the mortal remains of St Adalbert venerated, we hear the resonance of the eloquent witness of those who, not only in the 1900s but from the very beginning of the Church, putting love into practice, offered their lives to Christ in martyrdom.

In the icon set above the main altar, which portrays some of these witnesses of faith, the words of the Book of Revelation stand out: "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation" (Rv 7: 13). The old man who asks who the people dressed in white are and where they came from is told: "They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rv 7: 14). At first it appears a strange answer. However, in the coded language of the Seer of Patmos it contains a precise reference to the clear flame of love that impelled Christ to pour out his blood for us. By virtue of that blood, we have been purified. Sustained by that flame, the martyrs too poured out their blood and were purified in love: in the love of Christ who made them capable of sacrificing themselves for love in their turn.

Jesus said: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15: 13). Every witness of faith lives this "greater love" and, after the example of the Divine Teacher, is ready to sacrifice his life for the Kingdom. In this way we become friends of Christ; thus, we are conformed to him, accepting the extreme sacrifice without limiting the gift of love and the service of faith.

Stopping by the six altars that commemorate the Christians who fell under the totalitarian violence of Communism, Nazism, those killed in America, Asia and Oceania, in Spain and Mexico, in Africa, we retrace in spirit numerous sorrowful events of the past century. So many fell while they were carrying out the evangelizing mission of the Church: their blood mingled with that of the indigenous Christians to which they had transmitted the faith.

Others, often in a minority condition, were killed in hatred of the faith. Lastly, many sacrificed themselves, undaunted by threats and dangers, in order not to abandon the needy, the poor or the faithful entrusted to them. They were Bishops, priests, men and women religious and faithful lay people. How many they are! At the Ecumenical Jubilee Commemoration for the new martyrs celebrated at the Colosseum on 7 May 2000, the Servant of God John Paul II said that these brothers and sisters of ours in the faith stand as a vast panorama of Christian humanity in the 20th century, a panorama of the Gospel of the Beatitudes, lived even to the shedding of blood. And he was in the habit of repeating that Christ's witness to the point of bloodshed speaks with a stronger voice than the divisions of the past.

It is true: it seems as though violence, totalitarianism, persecution and blind brutality got the upper hand, silencing the voices of the witnesses to the faith who humanly speaking appeared to be defeated by history. But the Risen Jesus illumines their testimony and thus we understand the meaning of martyrdom. Tertullian says of this: "Plures efficimur quoties metimur a vobis: sanguis martyrum semen christianorum -- Our numbers increase every time we are cut down by you: the blood of martyrs is the seed of [new] Christians" (Apol. 50, 13; CCC, PL 1,603).

A force that the world does not know is active in defeat, in the humiliation of those who suffer for the Gospel: "for when I am weak", the Apostle Paul exclaims, "then I am strong" (II Cor 12: 10). It is the power of love, defenseless and victorious even in apparent defeat. It is the force that challenges and triumphs over death.

This 21st century also opened under the banner of martyrdom. When Christians are truly the leaven, light and salt of the earth, they too become the object of persecution, as was Jesus; like him they are "a sign of contradiction". Fraternal life in common and the love, faith and decisions in favour of the lowliest and poorest that mark the existence of the Christian community sometimes give rise to violent aversion. How useful it is then to look to the shining witness of those who have preceded us in the sign of heroic fidelity to the point of martyrdom!

And in this ancient Basilica, thanks to the care of the Sant'Egidio Community, the memory of so many witnesses to the faith who died in recent times is preserved and venerated. Dear friends of the Community of Sant'Egidio, looking at these heroes of the faith, may you too strive to imitate their courage and perseverance in serving the Gospel, especially among the poorest. Be builders of peace and reconciliation among those who are enemies or who fight one another. Nourish your faith by listening to and meditating on the Word of God, daily prayer and active participation in Holy Mass. Authentic friendship with Christ will be the basis of your mutual love. Sustained by his Spirit you will be able to help build a more fraternal world. May the Blessed Virgin, Queen of Martyrs, sustain you and help you to be genuine witnesses of Christ.

Amen.

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Benedict XVI on Role of Grandparents
Be "a Living Presence in the Family, in the Church and in Society"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 25, 2008 - Here is the April 5 address Benedict XVI gave upon meeting with participants of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council of the Family. The theme of the assembly was "Grandparents: Their Witness and Presence in the Family."

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Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to meet you at the end of the 18th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family on the theme: "Grandparents: their witness and presence in the family". I thank you for accepting my suggestion at the Meeting in Valencia when I said: "In no way should [grandparents] ever be excluded from the family circle. They are a treasure which the younger generation should not be denied, especially when they bear witness to their faith" (Address at the Fifth World Meeting of Families, Valencia, 8 July 2006). I greet in particular Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, Archbishop of Cebu and a member of the Committee of the Presidency, who has expressed your common sentiments, and I address an affectionate thought to dear Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo who has guided this Dicastery with passion and competence for 18 years. We miss him and offer him our best wishes for a prompt recovery, together with our prayers.

The theme you have discussed is very familiar to all. Who does not remember their grandparents? Who can forget their presence and their witness by the domestic hearth? How many of us bear their names as a sign of continuity and gratitude! It is a custom in families, after their departure, to remember their birthdays with the celebration of Mass for the repose of their souls and if possible, a visit to the cemetery. These and other gestures of love and faith are a manifestation of our gratitude to them. They gave themselves, they sacrificed themselves for us, and in certain cases also gave their lives.

The Church has always paid special attention to grandparents, recognizing them as a great treasure from both the human and social, as well as religious and spiritual viewpoints. My venerable Predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II - we have just celebrated the third anniversary of the latter's death - emphasized on various occasions the Ecclesial Community's respect for the elderly, for their dedication and their spirituality. In particular, during the Jubilee of the Year 2000, John Paul II summoned the world's elderly to St Peter's Square in September and said on that occasion: "Despite the limitations brought on by age, I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God!". These words were contained in the Letter that about a year earlier, in October 1999, he had addressed to the elderly and which have preserved intact their human, social and cultural timeliness.

Your Plenary Assembly has discussed the theme of grandparents' presence in the family, the Church and society with a look that can include the past, present and future. Let us briefly analyze these three moments. In the past, grandparents had an important role in the life and growth of the family. Even with their advancing age they continued to be present with their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren, giving a living witness of caring, sacrifice and a daily gift of themselves without reserve. They were witnesses of a personal and community history that continued to live on in their memories and in their wisdom. Today, the economic and social evolution has brought profound transformations to the life of families. The elderly, including many grandparents, find themselves in a sort of "parking area": some realize they are a burden to their family and prefer to live alone or in retirement homes with all the consequences that such decisions entail.

Unfortunately, it seems that the "culture of death" is advancing on many fronts and is also threatening the season of old-age. With growing insistence, people are even proposing euthanasia as a solution for resolving certain difficult situations. Old age, with its problems that are also linked to the new family and social contexts because of modern development, should be evaluated carefully and always in the light of the truth about man, the family and the community. It is always necessary to react strongly to what dehumanizes society. Parish and diocesan communities are forcefully challenged by these problems and are seeking today to meet the needs of the elderly. Ecclesial movements and associations exist which have embraced this important and urgent cause. It is necessary to join forces to defeat together all forms of marginalization, for it is not only they - grandfathers, grandmothers, senior citizens - who are being injured by the individualistic mindset, but everyone. If grandparents, as is said often and on many sides, are a precious resource, it is necessary to put into practice coherent choices that allow them to be better valued.

May grandparents return to being a living presence in the family, in the Church and in society. With regard to the family, may grandparents continue to be witnesses of unity, of values founded on fidelity and of a unique love that gives rise to faith and the joy of living. The so-called new models of the family and a spreading relativism have weakened these fundamental values of the family nucleus. The evils of our society - as you justly observed during your work - are in need of urgent remedies. In the face of the crisis of the family, might it not be possible to set out anew precisely from the presence and witness of these people - grandparents - whose values and projects are more resilient? Indeed, it is impossible to plan the future without referring to a past full of significant experiences and spiritual and moral reference points. Thinking of grandparents, of their testimony of love and fidelity to life, reminds us of the Biblical figures of Abraham and Sarah, of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Joachim and Anne, as well as of the elderly Simeon and Anna and even Nicodemus: they all remind us that at every age the Lord asks each one for the contribution of his or her own talents.

Let us now turn our gaze towards the sixth World Meeting of Families which will be celebrated in Mexico in January 2009. I greet and thank Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico, present here, for all he has already done in these months of preparation together with his collaborators. All Christian families of the world look to this Nation, "ever faithful" to the Church, which will open the doors to all the families of the world. I invite the Ecclesial Communities, especially family groups, movements and associations of families, to prepare themselves spiritually for this event of grace. Venerable and dear Brothers, I thank you once again for your visit and for the work you have done during these days; I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and cordially impart the Apostolic Blessing to you and to your loved ones.

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Benedict XVI's Address to United Nations
"Human Rights ... Must Be Respected As an Expression of Justice"

NEW YORK, APRIL 18, 2008 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to the U.N. General Assembly. The Pope spoke first in French, then in English.

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Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I begin my address to this Assembly, I would like first of all to express to you, Mr President, my sincere gratitude for your kind words. My thanks go also to the Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, for inviting me to visit the headquarters of this Organization and for the welcome that he has extended to me. I greet the Ambassadors and Diplomats from the Member States, and all those present. Through you, I greet the peoples who are represented here. They look to this institution to carry forward the founding inspiration to establish a "centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends" of peace and development (cf. Charter of the United Nations, article 1.2-1.4). As Pope John Paul II expressed it in 1995, the Organization should be "a moral centre where all the nations of the world feel at home and develop a shared awareness of being, as it were, a ‘family of nations’" (Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 50th Anniversary of its Foundation, New York, 5 October 1995, 14).

Through the United Nations, States have established universal objectives which, even if they do not coincide with the total common good of the human family, undoubtedly represent a fundamental part of that good. The founding principles of the Organization -- the desire for peace, the quest for justice, respect for the dignity of the person, humanitarian cooperation and assistance -- express the just aspirations of the human spirit, and constitute the ideals which should underpin international relations. As my predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II have observed from this very podium, all this is something that the Catholic Church and the Holy See follow attentively and with interest, seeing in your activity an example of how issues and conflicts concerning the world community can be subject to common regulation. The United Nations embodies the aspiration for a "greater degree of international ordering" (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 43), inspired and governed by the principle of subsidiarity, and therefore capable of responding to the demands of the human family through binding international rules and through structures capable of harmonizing the day-to-day unfolding of the lives of peoples. This is all the more necessary at a time when we experience the obvious paradox of a multilateral consensus that continues to be in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a few, whereas the world’s problems call for interventions in the form of collective action by the international community.

Indeed, questions of security, development goals, reduction of local and global inequalities, protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate, require all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law, and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet. I am thinking especially of those countries in Africa and other parts of the world which remain on the margins of authentic integral development, and are therefore at risk of experiencing only the negative effects of globalization. In the context of international relations, it is necessary to recognize the higher role played by rules and structures that are intrinsically ordered to promote the common good, and therefore to safeguard human freedom. These regulations do not limit freedom. On the contrary, they promote it when they prohibit behaviour and actions which work against the common good, curb its effective exercise and hence compromise the dignity of every human person. In the name of freedom, there has to be a correlation between rights and duties, by which every person is called to assume responsibility for his or her choices, made as a consequence of entering into relations with others. Here our thoughts turn also to the way the results of scientific research and technological advances have sometimes been applied. Notwithstanding the enormous benefits that humanity can gain, some instances of this represent a clear violation of the order of creation, to the point where not only is the sacred character of life contradicted, but the human person and the family are robbed of their natural identity. Likewise, international action to preserve the environment and to protect various forms of life on earth must not only guarantee a rational use of technology and science, but must also rediscover the authentic image of creation. This never requires a choice to be made between science and ethics: rather it is a question of adopting a scientific method that is truly respectful of ethical imperatives.

Recognition of the unity of the human family, and attention to the innate dignity of every man and woman, today find renewed emphasis in the principle of the responsibility to protect. This has only recently been defined, but it was already present implicitly at the origins of the United Nations, and is now increasingly characteristic of its activity. Every State has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made. If States are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments. The action of the international community and its institutions, provided that it respects the principles undergirding the international order, should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty. On the contrary, it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage. What is needed is a deeper search for ways of pre-empting and managing conflicts by exploring every possible diplomatic avenue, and giving attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation.

The principle of "responsibility to protect" was considered by the ancient "ius gentium" as the foundation of every action taken by those in government with regard to the governed: at the time when the concept of national sovereign States was first developing, the Dominican Friar Francisco de Vitoria, rightly considered as a precursor of the idea of the United Nations, described this responsibility as an aspect of natural reason shared by all nations, and the result of an international order whose task it was to regulate relations between peoples. Now, as then, this principle has to invoke the idea of the person as image of the Creator, the desire for the absolute and the essence of freedom. The founding of the United Nations, as we know, coincided with the profound upheavals that humanity experienced when reference to the meaning of transcendence and natural reason was abandoned, and in consequence, freedom and human dignity were grossly violated. When this happens, it threatens the objective foundations of the values inspiring and governing the international order and it undermines the cogent and inviolable principles formulated and consolidated by the United Nations. When faced with new and insistent challenges, it is a mistake to fall back on a pragmatic approach, limited to determining "common ground", minimal in content and weak in its effect.

This reference to human dignity, which is the foundation and goal of the responsibility to protect, leads us to the theme we are specifically focusing upon this year, which marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document was the outcome of a convergence of different religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and the workings of society, and to consider the human person essential for the world of culture, religion and science. Human rights are increasingly being presented as the common language and the ethical substratum of international relations. At the same time, the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights all serve as guarantees safeguarding human dignity. It is evident, though, that the rights recognized and expounded in the Declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative design for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks. This great variety of viewpoints must not be allowed to obscure the fact that not only rights are universal, but so too is the human person, the subject of those rights.

[The Pope continued in English]

The life of the community, both domestically and internationally, clearly demonstrates that respect for rights, and the guarantees that follow from them, are measures of the common good that serve to evaluate the relationship between justice and injustice, development and poverty, security and conflict. The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security. Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace.

The common good that human rights help to accomplish cannot, however, be attained merely by applying correct procedures, nor even less by achieving a balance between competing rights. The merit of the Universal Declaration is that it has enabled different cultures, juridical expressions and institutional models to converge around a fundamental nucleus of values, and hence of rights. Today, though, efforts need to be redoubled in the face of pressure to reinterpret the foundations of the Declaration and to compromise its inner unity so as to facilitate a move away from the protection of human dignity towards the satisfaction of simple interests, often particular interests. The Declaration was adopted as a "common standard of achievement" (Preamble) and cannot be applied piecemeal, according to trends or selective choices that merely run the risk of contradicting the unity of the human person and thus the indivisibility of human rights.

Experience shows that legality often prevails over justice when the insistence upon rights makes them appear as the exclusive result of legislative enactments or normative decisions taken by the various agencies of those in power. When presented purely in terms of legality, rights risk becoming weak propositions divorced from the ethical and rational dimension which is their foundation and their goal. The Universal Declaration, rather, has reinforced the conviction that respect for human rights is principally rooted in unchanging justice, on which the binding force of international proclamations is also based. This aspect is often overlooked when the attempt is made to deprive rights of their true function in the name of a narrowly utilitarian perspective. Since rights and the resulting duties follow naturally from human interaction, it is easy to forget that they are the fruit of a commonly held sense of justice built primarily upon solidarity among the members of society, and hence valid at all times and for all peoples. This intuition was expressed as early as the fifth century by Augustine of Hippo, one of the masters of our intellectual heritage. He taught that the saying: Do not do to others what you would not want done to you "cannot in any way vary according to the different understandings that have arisen in the world" (De Doctrina Christiana, III, 14). Human rights, then, must be respected as an expression of justice, and not merely because they are enforceable through the will of the legislators.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As history proceeds, new situations arise, and the attempt is made to link them to new rights. Discernment, that is, the capacity to distinguish good from evil, becomes even more essential in the context of demands that concern the very lives and conduct of persons, communities and peoples. In tackling the theme of rights, since important situations and profound realities are involved, discernment is both an indispensable and a fruitful virtue.

Discernment, then, shows that entrusting exclusively to individual States, with their laws and institutions, the final responsibility to meet the aspirations of persons, communities and entire peoples, can sometimes have consequences that exclude the possibility of a social order respectful of the dignity and rights of the person. On the other hand, a vision of life firmly anchored in the religious dimension can help to achieve this, since recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favours conversion of heart, which then leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism and war, and to promote justice and peace. This also provides the proper context for the inter-religious dialogue that the United Nations is called to support, just as it supports dialogue in other areas of human activity. Dialogue should be recognized as the means by which the various components of society can articulate their point of view and build consensus around the truth concerning particular values or goals. It pertains to the nature of religions, freely practised, that they can autonomously conduct a dialogue of thought and life. If at this level, too, the religious sphere is kept separate from political action, then great benefits ensue for individuals and communities. On the other hand, the United Nations can count on the results of dialogue between religions, and can draw fruit from the willingness of believers to place their experiences at the service of the common good. Their task is to propose a vision of faith not in terms of intolerance, discrimination and conflict, but in terms of complete respect for truth, coexistence, rights, and reconciliation.

Human rights, of course, must include the right to religious freedom, understood as the expression of a dimension that is at once individual and communitarian – a vision that brings out the unity of the person while clearly distinguishing between the dimension of the citizen and that of the believer. The activity of the United Nations in recent years has ensured that public debate gives space to viewpoints inspired by a religious vision in all its dimensions, including ritual, worship, education, dissemination of information and the freedom to profess and choose religion. It is inconceivable, then, that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights. The rights associated with religion are all the more in need of protection if they are considered to clash with a prevailing secular ideology or with majority religious positions of an exclusive nature. The full guarantee of religious liberty cannot be limited to the free exercise of worship, but has to give due consideration to the public dimension of religion, and hence to the possibility of believers playing their part in building the social order. Indeed, they actually do so, for example through their influential and generous involvement in a vast network of initiatives which extend from Universities, scientific institutions and schools to health care agencies and charitable organizations in the service of the poorest and most marginalized. Refusal to recognize the contribution to society that is rooted in the religious dimension and in the quest for the Absolute – by its nature, expressing communion between persons – would effectively privilege an individualistic approach, and would fragment the unity of the person.

My presence at this Assembly is a sign of esteem for the United Nations, and it is intended to express the hope that the Organization will increasingly serve as a sign of unity between States and an instrument of service to the entire human family. It also demonstrates the willingness of the Catholic Church to offer her proper contribution to building international relations in a way that allows every person and every people to feel they can make a difference. In a manner that is consistent with her contribution in the ethical and moral sphere and the free activity of her faithful, the Church also works for the realization of these goals through the international activity of the Holy See. Indeed, the Holy See has always had a place at the assemblies of the Nations, thereby manifesting its specific character as a subject in the international domain. As the United Nations recently confirmed, the Holy See thereby makes its contribution according to the dispositions of international law, helps to define that law, and makes appeal to it.

The United Nations remains a privileged setting in which the Church is committed to contributing her experience "of humanity", developed over the centuries among peoples of every race and culture, and placing it at the disposal of all members of the international community. This experience and activity, directed towards attaining freedom for every believer, seeks also to increase the protection given to the rights of the person. Those rights are grounded and shaped by the transcendent nature of the person, which permits men and women to pursue their journey of faith and their search for God in this world. Recognition of this dimension must be strengthened if we are to sustain humanity’s hope for a better world and if we are to create the conditions for peace, development, cooperation, and guarantee of rights for future generations.

In my recent Encyclical, Spe Salvi, I indicated that "every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs" (no. 25). For Christians, this task is motivated by the hope drawn from the saving work of Jesus Christ. That is why the Church is happy to be associated with the activity of this distinguished Organization, charged with the responsibility of promoting peace and good will throughout the earth. Dear Friends, I thank you for this opportunity to address you today, and I promise you of the support of my prayers as you pursue your noble task.

Before I take my leave from this distinguished Assembly, I should like to offer my greetings, in the official languages, to all the Nations here represented.

Peace and Prosperity with God’s help!

[The Pope repeated the above greeting in French, Spanish, Arab, Chinese and Russian]

Peace and Prosperity with God’s help!

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Papal Address to UN Staff
"I Would Like to Express My Personal Appreciation"

NEW YORK, APRIL 18, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today to the staff of the United Nations.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Here, within a small space in the busy city of New York, is housed an Organization with a worldwide mission to promote peace and justice.

I am reminded of the similar contrast in scale between Vatican City State and the world in which the Church exercises her universal mission and apostolate. The sixteenth-century artists who painted the maps on the walls of the Apostolic Palace reminded the Popes of the vast extent of the known world. In those frescoes, the Successors of Peter were offered a tangible sign of the immense outreach of the Church's mission at a time when the discovery of the New World was opening up unforeseen horizons.

Here in this glass palace, the art on display has its own way of reminding us of the responsibilities of the United Nations Organization. We see images of the effects of war and poverty, we are reminded of our duty to strive for a better world, and we rejoice in the sheer diversity and exuberance of human culture, manifested in the wide range of peoples and nations gathered together under the umbrella of the international community.

On the occasion of my visit, I wish to pay tribute to the invaluable contribution made by the administrative staff and the many employees of the United Nations, who carry out their duties with such great dedication and professionalism every day -- here in New York, in other UN centres, and at special missions all over the world. To you, and to those who have gone before you, I would like to express my personal appreciation and that of the whole Church. We remember especially the many civilians and peace-keepers who have sacrificed their lives in the field for the good of the peoples they serve -- in 2007 alone there were forty-two of them. We also remember the vast multitude who dedicate their lives to work that is never sufficiently acknowledged, often in difficult circumstances.

To all of you -- translators, secretaries, administrative personnel of every kind, maintenance and security staff, development workers, peace-keepers and many others -- thank you, most sincerely. The work that you do makes it possible for the Organization to continue exploring new ways of achieving the goals for which it was founded.

The United Nations is often spoken of as the "family of nations". By the same token, the headquarters here in New York could be described as a home, a place of welcome and concern for the good of family members everywhere. It is an excellent place in which to promote growth in understanding and collaboration between peoples. Rightly, the staff of the United Nations are selected from a wide range of cultures and nationalities. The personnel here constitute a microcosm of the whole world, in which each individual makes an indispensable contribution from the perspective of his or her particular cultural and religious heritage. The ideals that inspired the founders of this institution need to take shape here and in every one of the Organization's missions around the world in the mutual respect and acceptance that are the hallmarks of a thriving family.

In the internal debates of the United Nations, increasing emphasis is being placed on the "responsibility to protect". Indeed this is coming to be recognized as the moral basis for a government's claim to authority. It is also a feature that naturally appertains to a family, in which stronger members take care of weaker ones. This Organization performs an important service, in the name of the international community, by monitoring the extent to which governments fulfill their responsibility to protect their citizens. On a day-to-day level, it is you who lay the foundations on which that work is built, by the concern you show for one another in the workplace, and by your solicitude for the many peoples whose needs and aspirations you serve in all that you do.

The Catholic Church, through the international activity of the Holy See, and through countless initiatives of lay Catholics, local Churches and religious communities, assures you of her support for your work. I assure you and your families of a special remembrance in my prayers.

May Almighty God bless you always and comfort you with his grace and his peace, so that through the care you offer to the entire human family, you can continue to be of service to him.

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Benedict XVI's Address to US Bishops
"The People of This Country Are Known for Their Great Vitality and Creativity"

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today to the bishops of the United States at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. At the end he answers three questions posed to him by the prelates.

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Dear Brother Bishops,

It gives me great joy to greet you today, at the start of my visit to this country, and I thank Cardinal George for the gracious words he has addressed to me on your behalf. I want to thank all of you, especially the Officers of the Episcopal Conference, for the hard work that has gone into the preparation of this visit. My grateful appreciation goes also to the staff and volunteers of the National Shrine, who have welcomed us here this evening. American Catholics are noted for their loyal devotion to the see of Peter. My pastoral visit here is an opportunity to strengthen further the bonds of communion that unite us. We began by celebrating Evening Prayer in this Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a shrine of special significance to American Catholics, right in the heart of your capital city. Gathered in prayer with Mary, Mother of Jesus, we lovingly commend to our heavenly Father the people of God in every part of the United States.

For the Catholic communities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Louisville, this is a year of particular celebration, as it marks the bicentenary of the establishment of these local Churches as Dioceses. I join you in giving thanks for the many graces granted to the Church there during these two centuries. As this year also marks the bicentenary of the elevation of the founding see of Baltimore to an Archdiocese, it gives me an opportunity to recall with admiration and gratitude the life and ministry of John Carroll, the first Bishop of Baltimore - a worthy leader of the Catholic community in your newly independent nation. His tireless efforts to spread the Gospel in the vast territory under his care laid the foundations for the ecclesial life of your country and enabled the Church in America to grow to maturity. Today the Catholic community you serve is one of the largest in the world, and one of the most influential. How important it is, then, to let your light so shine before your fellow citizens and before the world, "that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16).

Many of the people to whom John Carroll and his fellow Bishops were ministering two centuries ago had travelled from distant lands. The diversity of their origins is reflected in the rich variety of ecclesial life in present-day America. Brother Bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" (cf. Sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty). These are the people whom America has made her own.

Of those who came to build a new life here, many were able to make good use of the resources and opportunities that they found, and to attain a high level of prosperity. Indeed, the people of this country are known for their great vitality and creativity. They are also known for their generosity. After the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, and again after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Americans displayed their readiness to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in need. On the international level, the contribution made by the people of America to relief and rescue operations after the tsunami of December 2004 is a further illustration of this compassion. Let me express my particular appreciation for the many forms of humanitarian assistance provided by American Catholics through Catholic Charities and other agencies. Their generosity has borne fruit in the care shown to the poor and needy, and in the energy that has gone into building the nationwide network of Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools and universities. All of this gives great cause for thanksgiving.

America is also a land of great faith. Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshipping community. They have confidence in God, and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse. Respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness - a fact which has contributed to this country's attraction for generations of immigrants, seeking a home where they can worship freely in accordance with their beliefs.

In this connection, I happily acknowledge the presence among you of Bishops from all the venerable Eastern Churches in communion with the Successor of Peter, whom I greet with special joy. Dear Brothers, I ask you to assure your communities of my deep affection and my continued prayers, both for them and for the many brothers and sisters who remain in their land of origin. Your presence here is a reminder of the courageous witness to Christ of so many members of your communities, often amid suffering, in their respective homelands. It is also a great enrichment of the ecclesial life of America, giving vivid expression to the Church's catholicity and the variety of her liturgical and spiritual traditions.

It is in this fertile soil, nourished from so many different sources, that all of you, Brother Bishops, are called to sow the seeds of the Gospel today. This leads me to ask how, in the twenty-first century, a bishop can best fulfill the call to "make all things new in Christ, our hope"? How can he lead his people to "an encounter with the living God", the source of that life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks (cf. Spe Salvi, 4)? Perhaps he needs to begin by clearing away some of the barriers to such an encounter. While it is true that this country is marked by a genuinely religious spirit, the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior. Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death? Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.

For an affluent society, a further obstacle to an encounter with the living God lies in the subtle influence of materialism, which can all too easily focus the attention on the hundredfold, which God promises now in this time, at the expense of the eternal life which he promises in the age to come (cf. Mk 10:30). People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God. They need to be given opportunities to drink from the wells of his infinite love. It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain (cf. Spe Salvi, 31), our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded to cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with "Christ Jesus, our hope" (1 Tim 1:1).

In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy, it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them. This emphasis on individualism has even affected the Church (cf. Spe Salvi, 13-15), giving rise to a form of piety which sometimes emphasizes our private relationship with God at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community. Yet from the beginning, God saw that "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen 2:18). We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love - for God and for our neighbor. If we are truly to gaze upon him who is the source of our joy, we need to do so as members of the people of God (cf. Spe Salvi, 14). If this seems counter-cultural, that is simply further evidence of the urgent need for a renewed evangelization of culture.

Here in America, you are blessed with a Catholic laity of considerable cultural diversity, who place their wide-ranging gifts at the service of the Church and of society at large. They look to you to offer them encouragement, leadership and direction. In an age that is saturated with information, the importance of providing sound formation in the faith cannot be overstated. American Catholics have traditionally placed a high value on religious education, both in schools and in the context of adult formation programs. These need to be maintained and expanded. The many generous men and women who devote themselves to charitable activity need to be helped to renew their dedication through a "formation of the heart": an "encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others" (Deus Caritas Est, 31). At a time when advances in medical science bring new hope to many, they also give rise to previously unimagined ethical challenges. This makes it more important than ever to offer thorough formation in the Church's moral teaching to Catholics engaged in health care. Wise guidance is needed in all these apostolates, so that they may bear abundant fruit; if they are truly to promote the integral good of the human person, they too need to be made new in Christ our hope.

As preachers of the Gospel and leaders of the Catholic community, you are also called to participate in the exchange of ideas in the public square, helping to shape cultural attitudes. In a context where free speech is valued, and where vigorous and honest debate is encouraged, yours is a respected voice that has much to offer to the discussion of the pressing social and moral questions of the day. By ensuring that the Gospel is clearly heard, you not only form the people of your own community, but in view of the global reach of mass communication, you help to spread the message of Christian hope throughout the world.

Clearly, the Church's influence on public debate takes place on many different levels. In the United States, as elsewhere, there is much current and proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of view of morality, and the Catholic community, under your guidance, needs to offer a clear and united witness on such matters. Even more important, though, is the gradual opening of the minds and hearts of the wider community to moral truth. Here much remains to be done. Crucial in this regard is the role of the lay faithful to act as a "leaven" in society. Yet it cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the Church's teaching on today's key ethical questions. Once again, it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life.

In this regard, a matter of deep concern to us all is the state of the family within society. Indeed, Cardinal George mentioned earlier that you have included the strengthening of marriage and family life among the priorities for your attention over the next few years. In this year's World Day of Peace Message I spoke of the essential contribution that healthy family life makes to peace within and between nations. In the family home we experience "some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them" (no. 3). The family is also the primary place for evangelization, for passing on the faith, for helping young people to appreciate the importance of religious practice and Sunday observance. How can we not be dismayed as we observe the sharp decline of the family as a basic element of Church and society? Divorce and infidelity have increased, and many young men and women are choosing to postpone marriage or to forego it altogether. To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person. Hence we have an alarming decrease in the number of Catholic marriages in the United States together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise to live out the demands of an indissoluble lifelong commitment, is simply absent. In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.

As my predecessor, Pope John Paul II taught, "The person principally responsible in the Diocese for the pastoral care of the family is the Bishop ... he must devote to it personal interest, care, time, personnel and resources, but above all personal support for the families and for all those who … assist him in the pastoral care of the family" (Familiaris Consortio, 73). It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life. This message should resonate with people today, because it is essentially an unconditional and unreserved "yes" to life, a "yes" to love, and a "yes" to the aspirations at the heart of our common humanity, as we strive to fulfill our deep yearning for intimacy with others and with the Lord.

Among the countersigns to the Gospel of life found in America and elsewhere is one that causes deep shame: the sexual abuse of minors. Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior. As you strive to eliminate this evil wherever it occurs, you may be assured of the prayerful support of God's people throughout the world. Rightly, you attach priority to showing compassion and care to the victims. It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.

Responding to this situation has not been easy and, as the President of your Episcopal Conference has indicated, it was "sometimes very badly handled". Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood, you have been able to adopt more focused remedial and disciplinary measures and to promote a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people. While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work in bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the people entrusted to their care, it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm. In this regard, your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society.

If they are to achieve their full purpose, however, the policies and programs you have adopted need to be placed in a wider context. Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person. This brings us back to our consideration of the centrality of the family and the need to promote the Gospel of life. What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike. All have a part to play in this task - not only parents, religious leaders, teachers and catechists, but the media and entertainment industries as well. Indeed, every member of society can contribute to this moral renewal and benefit from it. Truly caring about young people and the future of our civilization means recognizing our responsibility to promote and live by the authentic moral values which alone enable the human person to flourish. It falls to you, as pastors modelled upon Christ, the Good Shepherd, to proclaim this message loud and clear, and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores. Moreover, by acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your Dioceses, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined, collective response.

Priests, too, need your guidance and closeness during this difficult time. They have experienced shame over what has occurred, and there are those who feel they have lost some of the trust and esteem they once enjoyed. Not a few are experiencing a closeness to Christ in his Passion as they struggle to come to terms with the consequences of the crisis. The Bishop, as father, brother and friend of his priests, can help them to draw spiritual fruit from this union with Christ by making them aware of the Lord's consoling presence in the midst of their suffering, and by encouraging them to walk with the Lord along the path of hope (cf. Spe Salvi, 39). As Pope John Paul II observed six years ago, "we must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community", leading to "a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church" (Address to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April 2002, 4). There are many signs that, during the intervening period, such purification has indeed been taking place. Christ's abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light: all things are indeed being made new in Christ Jesus our hope.

At this stage a vital part of your task is to strengthen relationships with your clergy, especially in those cases where tension has arisen between priests and their bishops in the wake of the crisis. It is important that you continue to show them your concern, to support them, and to lead by example. In this way you will surely help them to encounter the living God, and point them towards the life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks. If you yourselves live in a manner closely configured to Christ, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep, you will inspire your brother priests to rededicate themselves to the service of their flocks with Christ-like generosity. Indeed a clearer focus upon the imitation of Christ in holiness of life is exactly what is needed in order for us to move forward. We need to rediscover the joy of living a Christ-centred life, cultivating the virtues, and immersing ourselves in prayer. When the faithful know that their pastor is a man who prays and who dedicates his life to serving them, they respond with warmth and affection which nourishes and sustains the life of the whole community.

Time spent in prayer is never wasted, however urgent the duties that press upon us from every side. Adoration of Christ our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament prolongs and intensifies the union with him that is established through the Eucharistic celebration (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 66). Contemplation of the mysteries of the Rosary releases all their saving power and it conforms, unites and consecrates us to Jesus Christ (cf. Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11, 15). Fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours ensures that the whole of our day is sanctified and it continually reminds us of the need to remain focused on doing God's work, however many pressures and distractions may arise from the task at hand. Thus our devotion helps us to speak and act in persona Christi, to teach, govern and sanctify the faithful in the name of Jesus, to bring his reconciliation, his healing and his love to all his beloved brothers and sisters. This radical configuration to Christ, the Good Shepherd, lies at the heart of our pastoral ministry, and if we open ourselves through prayer to the power of the Spirit, he will give us the gifts we need to carry out our daunting task, so that we need never "be anxious how to speak or what to say" (Mt 10:19).

As I conclude my words to you this evening, I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. May she who carried within her womb the hope of all the nations intercede for the people of this country, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son. My dear Brother Bishops, I assure each of you here present of my deep friendship and my participation in your pastoral concerns. To all of you, and to your clergy, religious and lay faithful, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Risen Lord.

* * *

1. The Holy Father is asked to give his assessment of the challenge of increasing secularism in public life and relativism in intellectual life, and his advice on how to confront these challenges pastorally and evangelize more effectively.

I touched upon this theme briefly in my address. It strikes me as significant that here in America, unlike many places in Europe, the secular mentality has not been intrinsically opposed to religion. Within the context of the separation of Church and State, American society has always been marked by a fundamental respect for religion and its public role, and, if polls are to be believed, the American people are deeply religious. But it is not enough to count on this traditional religiosity and go about business as usual, even as its foundations are being slowly undermined. A serious commitment to evangelization cannot prescind from a profound diagnosis of the real challenges the Gospel encounters in contemporary American culture.

Of course, what is essential is a correct understanding of the just autonomy of the secular order, an autonomy which cannot be divorced from God the Creator and his saving plan (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 36). Perhaps America's brand of secularism poses a particular problem: it allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the Churches, but at the same time it can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator. Faith becomes a passive acceptance that certain things "out there" are true, but without practical relevance for everyday life. The result is a growing separation of faith from life: living "as if God did not exist". This is aggravated by an individualistic and eclectic approach to faith and religion: far from a Catholic approach to "thinking with the Church", each person believes he or she has a right to pick and choose, maintaining external social bonds but without an integral, interior conversion to the law of Christ. Consequently, rather than being transformed and renewed in mind, Christians are easily tempted to conform themselves to the spirit of this age (cf. Rom 12:3). We have seen this emerge in an acute way in the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion.

On a deeper level, secularism challenges the Church to reaffirm and to pursue more actively her mission in and to the world. As the Council made clear, the lay faithful have a particular responsibility in this regard. What is needed, I am convinced, is a greater sense of the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and the natural law on the one hand, and, on the other, the pursuit of authentic human good, as embodied in civil law and in personal moral decisions. In a society that rightly values personal liberty, the Church needs to promote at every level of her teaching - in catechesis, preaching, seminary and university instruction - an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life. In a word, the Gospel has to be preached and taught as an integral way of life, offering an attractive and true answer, intellectually and practically, to real human problems. The "dictatorship of relativism", in the end, is nothing less than a threat to genuine human freedom, which only matures in generosity and fidelity to the truth.

Much more, of course, could be said on this subject: let me conclude, though, by saying that I believe that the Church in America, at this point in her history, is faced with the challenge of recapturing the Catholic vision of reality and presenting it, in an engaging and imaginative way, to a society which markets any number of recipes for human fulfillment. I think in particular of our need to speak to the hearts of young people, who, despite their constant exposure to messages contrary to the Gospel, continue to thirst for authenticity, goodness and truth. Much remains to be done, particularly on the level of preaching and catechesis in parishes and schools, if the new evangelization is to bear fruit for the renewal of ecclesial life in America.

2. The Holy Father is asked about "a certain quiet attrition" by which Catholics are abandoning the practice of the faith, sometimes by an explicit decision, but often by distancing themselves quietly and gradually from attendance at Mass and identification with the Church.

Certainly, much of this has to do with the passing away of a religious culture, sometimes disparagingly referred to as a "ghetto", which reinforced participation and identification with the Church. As I just mentioned, one of the great challenges facing the Church in this country is that of cultivating a Catholic identity which is based not so much on externals as on a way of thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church's living tradition.

The issue clearly involves factors such as religious individualism and scandal. Let us go to the heart of the matter: faith cannot survive unless it is nourished, unless it is "formed by charity" (cf. Gal 5:6). Do people today find it difficult to encounter God in our Churches? Has our preaching lost its salt? Might it be that many people have forgotten, or never really learned, how to pray in and with the Church?

Here I am not speaking of people who leave the Church in search of subjective religious "experiences"; this is a pastoral issue which must be addressed on its own terms. I think we are speaking about people who have fallen by the wayside without consciously having rejected their faith in Christ, but, for whatever reason, have not drawn life from the liturgy, the sacraments, preaching. Yet Christian faith, as we know, is essentially ecclesial, and without a living bond to the community, the individual's faith will never grow to maturity. Indeed, to return to the question I just discussed, the result can be a quiet apostasy.

So let me make two brief observations on the problem of "attrition", which I hope will stimulate further reflection.

First, as you know, it is becoming more and more difficult, in our Western societies, to speak in a meaningful way of "salvation". Yet salvation - deliverance from the reality of evil, and the gift of new life and freedom in Christ - is at the heart of the Gospel. We need to discover, as I have suggested, new and engaging ways of proclaiming this message and awakening a thirst for the fulfillment which only Christ can bring. It is in the Church's liturgy, and above all in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that these realities are most powerfully expressed and lived in the life of believers; perhaps we still have much to do in realizing the Council's vision of the liturgy as the exercise of the common priesthood and the impetus for a fruitful apostolate in the world.

Second, we need to acknowledge with concern the almost complete eclipse of an eschatological sense in many of our traditionally Christian societies. As you know, I have pointed to this problem in the Encyclical Spe Salvi. Suffice it to say that faith and hope are not limited to this world: as theological virtues, they unite us with the Lord and draw us toward the fulfillment not only of our personal destiny but also that of all creation. Faith and hope are the inspiration and basis of our efforts to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God. In Christianity, there can be no room for purely private religion: Christ is the Savior of the world, and, as members of his Body and sharers in his prophetic, priestly and royal munera, we cannot separate our love for him from our commitment to the building up of the Church and the extension of his Kingdom. To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair, it loses its very soul.

Let me conclude by stating the obvious. The fields are still ripe for harvesting (cf. Jn 4:35); God continues to give the growth (cf. 1 Cor 3:6). We can and must believe, with the late Pope John Paul II, that God is preparing a new springtime for Christianity (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 86). What is needed above all, at this time in the history of the Church in America, is a renewal of that apostolic zeal which inspires her shepherds actively to seek out the lost, to bind up those who have been wounded, and to bring strength to those who are languishing (cf. Ez 34:16). And this, as I have said, calls for new ways of thinking based on a sound diagnosis of today's challenges and a commitment to unity in the service of the Church's mission to the present generation.

3. The Holy Father is asked to comment on the decline in vocations despite the growing numbers of the Catholic population, and on the reasons for hope offered by the personal qualities and the thirst for holiness which characterize the candidates who do come forward.

Let us be quite frank: the ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of a local Church. There is no room for complacency in this regard. God continues to call young people; it is up to all of us to to encourage a generous and free response to that call. On the other hand, none of us can take this grace for granted.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers. He even admits that the workers are few in comparison with the abundance of the harvest (cf. Mt 9:37-38). Strange to say, I often think that prayer - the unum necessarium - is the one aspect of vocations work which we tend to forget or to undervalue!

Nor am I speaking only of prayer for vocations. Prayer itself, born in Catholic families, nurtured by programs of Christian formation, strengthened by the grace of the sacraments, is the first means by which we come to know the Lord's will for our lives. To the extent that we teach young people to pray, and to pray well, we will be cooperating with God's call. Programs, plans and projects have their place; but the discernment of a vocation is above all the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and his disciples. Young people, if they know how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God's call.

It has been noted that there is a growing thirst for holiness in many young people today, and that, although fewer in number, those who come forward show great idealism and much promise. It is important to listen to them, to understand their experiences, and to encourage them to help their peers to see the need for committed priests and religious, as well as the beauty of a life of sacrificial service to the Lord and his Church. To my mind, much is demanded of vocation directors and formators: candidates today, as much as ever, need to be given a sound intellectual and human formation which will enable them not only to respond to the real questions and needs of their contemporaries, but also to mature in their own conversion and to persevere in life-long commitment to their vocation. As Bishops, you are conscious of the sacrifice demanded when you are asked to release one of your finest priests for seminary work. I urge you to respond with generosity, for the good of the whole Church.

Finally, I think you know from experience that most of your brother priests are happy in their vocation. What I said in my address about the importance of unity and cooperation within the presbyterate applies here too. There is a need for all of us to move beyond sterile divisions, disagreements and preconceptions, and to listen together to the voice of the Spirit who is guiding the Church into a future of hope. Each of us knows how important priestly fraternity has been in our lives. That fraternity is not only a precious possession, but also an immense resource for the renewal of the priesthood and the raising up of new vocations. I would close by encouraging you to foster opportunities for ever greater dialogue and fraternal encounter among your priests, and especially the younger priests. I am convinced that this will bear great fruit for their own enrichment, for the increase of their love for the priesthood and the Church, and for the effectiveness of their apostolate.

Dear Brother Bishops. with these few observations, I once more encourage all of you in your ministry to the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, and I commend you to the loving intercession of Mary Immaculate, Mother of the Church.

* * *

Before leaving, I would like to pause to acknowledge the immense suffering endured by the people of God in the Archdiocese of New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina, as well as their courage in the challenging work of rebuilding. I would like to present Archbishop Alfred Hughes with a chalice, which I hope will be accepted as a sign of my prayerful solidarity with the faithful of the Archdiocese, and my personal gratitude for the tireless devotion which he and Archbishops Philip Hannan and Francis Schulte showed toward the flock entrusted to their care.

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Pontiff's Address at White House
"Faith Sheds New Light on All Things"

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 16, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today at the welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, on the first full day of his apostolic trip to the United States.

* * *

Mr. President,

Thank you for your gracious words of welcome on behalf of the people of the United States of America. I deeply appreciate your invitation to visit this great country. My visit coincides with an important moment in the life of the Catholic community in America: the celebration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the elevation of the country’s first Diocese -- Baltimore -- to a metropolitan Archdiocese, and the establishment of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville. Yet I am happy to be here as a guest of all Americans. I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society. America’s Catholics have made, and continue to make, an excellent contribution to the life of their country. As I begin my visit, I trust that my presence will be a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, and strengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly to the life of this nation, of which they are proud to be citizens.

From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the "self-evident truth" that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations.

In the next few days, I look forward to meeting not only with America’s Catholic community, but with other Christian communities and representatives of the many religious traditions present in this country. Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard. As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience -- almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24). Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that "in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation", and a democracy without values can lose its very soul (cf. Centesimus Annus, 46). Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent "indispensable supports" of political prosperity.

The Church, for her part, wishes to contribute to building a world ever more worthy of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). She is convinced that faith sheds new light on all things, and that the Gospel reveals the noble vocation and sublime destiny of every man and woman (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10). Faith also gives us the strength to respond to our high calling, and the hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society. Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.

For well over a century, the United States of America has played an important role in the international community. On Friday, God willing, I will have the honor of addressing the United Nations Organization, where I hope to encourage the efforts under way to make that institution an ever more effective voice for the legitimate aspirations of all the world’s peoples. On this, the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity – as brothers and sisters dwelling in the same house and around that table which God’s bounty has set for all his children. America has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes. I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress. In this way, coming generations will be able to live in a world where truth, freedom and justice can flourish -- a world where the God-given dignity and rights of every man, woman and child are cherished, protected and effectively advanced.

Mr. President, dear friends: as I begin my visit to the United States, I express once more my gratitude for your invitation, my joy to be in your midst, and my fervent prayers that Almighty God will confirm this nation and its people in the ways of justice, prosperity and peace. God bless America!

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Bush's Welcome to Benedict XVI
"We Need Your Message That 'God Is Love'"

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address U.S. President George Bush gave today upon welcoming Benedict XVI to the White House.

* * *

Holy Father, Laura and I are privileged to have you here at the White House. We welcome you with the ancient words commended by Saint Augustine: "Pax Tecum." Peace be with you.

You've chosen to visit America on your birthday. Well, birthdays are traditionally spent with close friends, so our entire nation is moved and honored that you've decided to share this special day with us. We wish you much health and happiness -- today and for many years to come. (Applause.)

This is your first trip to the United States since you ascended to the Chair of Saint Peter. You will visit two of our greatest cities and meet countless Americans, including many who have travelled from across the country to see with you and to share in the joy of this visit. Here in America you'll find a nation of prayer. Each day millions of our citizens approach our Maker on bended knee, seeking His grace and giving thanks for the many blessings He bestows upon us. Millions of Americans have been praying for your visit, and millions look forward to praying with you this week.

Here in America you'll find a nation of compassion. Americans believe that the measure of a free society is how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us. So each day citizens across America answer the universal call to feed the hungry and comfort the sick and care for the infirm. Each day across the world the United States is working to eradicate disease, alleviate poverty, promote peace and bring the light of hope to places still mired in the darkness of tyranny and despair.

Here in America you'll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. When our Founders declared our nation's independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the "laws of nature, and of nature's God." We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart, and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built.

Here in America, you'll find a nation that is fully modern, yet guided by ancient and eternal truths. The United States is the most innovative, creative and dynamic country on earth -- it is also among the most religious. In our nation, faith and reason coexist in harmony. This is one of our country's greatest strengths, and one of the reasons that our land remains a beacon of hope and opportunity for millions across the world.

Most of all, Holy Father, you will find in America people whose hearts are open to your message of hope. And America and the world need this message. In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that "God is love." And embracing this love is the surest way to save men from "falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism."

In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred, and that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved" -- (applause) -- and your message that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary."

In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this "dictatorship of relativism," and embrace a culture of justice and truth. (Applause.)

In a world where some see freedom as simply the right to do as they wish, we need your message that true liberty requires us to live our freedom not just for ourselves, but "in a spirit of mutual support."

Holy Father, thank you for making this journey to America. Our nation welcomes you. We appreciate the example you set for the world, and we ask that you always keep us in your prayers. (Applause.)

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Joint Vatican-US Statement on Pope
WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 16, 2008 - Here is the final statement released jointly by the Vatican and the United States, after Benedict XVI and President George Bush met today at the White House.

* * *

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush met today in the Oval Office of the White House.

President Bush, on behalf of all Americans, welcomed the Holy Father, wished him a happy birthday, and thanked him for the spiritual and moral guidance, which he offers to the whole human family. The President wished the Pope every success in his Apostolic Journey and in his address at the United Nations, and expressed appreciation for the Pope’s upcoming visit to “Ground Zero” in New York.

During their meeting, the Holy Father and the President discussed a number of topics of common interest to the Holy See and the United States of America, including moral and religious considerations to which both parties are committed: the respect of the dignity of the human person; the defense and promotion of life, matrimony and the family; the education of future generations; human rights and religious freedom; sustainable development and the struggle against poverty and pandemics, especially in Africa. In regard to the latter, the Holy Father welcomed the United States’ substantial financial contributions in this area. The two reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents. They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights.

The Holy Father and the President devoted considerable time in their discussions to the Middle East, in particular resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict in line with the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, their mutual support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, and their common concern for the situation in Iraq and particularly the precarious state of Christian communities there and elsewhere in the region. The Holy Father and the President expressed hope for an end to violence and for a prompt and comprehensive solution to the crises which afflict the region.

The Holy Father and the President also considered the situation in Latin America with reference, among other matters, to immigrants, and the need for a coordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the well being of their families.

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Press Conference Aboard Papal Flight
"I Go to the United States With Joy"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 16, 2008 - Here is a translation of the press conference Benedict XVI gave on the plane en route to the United States on Tuesday.

The transcription was provided today by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office. Father Lombardi acted as a moderator during the press conference.

* * *

Father Lombardi: Your Holiness, welcome! On behalf of all my colleagues here present, I thank you for your very kind availability in coming to greet us and also for giving us some indications and ideas for following this trip. This is your second intercontinental trip, your first as Holy Father to America, to the United States and the United Nations. An important and very awaited trip. To begin with, would you like to tell us something about your sentiments, the hopes with which you face this journey and what is your fundamental objective, from your point of view?

Benedict XVI: My trip has above all two objectives. The first objective is the visit to the Church in America, in the United States. There is a particular motive: The Diocese of Baltimore, 200 years ago, was elevated to the status of metropolis and at the same time, four other dioceses were born -- New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Louisville. So it is a great jubilee for this nucleus of the Church in the United States, a moment of reflection about the past and above all of reflection about the future, about how to respond to the great challenges of our time, in the present and with sights set on the future. And naturally, the interreligious encounter and the ecumenical encounter form part of this trip too, particularly also an encounter in the synagogue with our Jewish friends, on the eve of their feast of Passover. Therefore, this is the religious-pastoral aspect of the Church in the United States in this moment of our history, and the encounter with all the others in this common brotherhood that links us in a common responsibility.

I would like in this moment to also give thanks to President Bush, who will come to the airport, will set aside a lot of time for conversation and will receive me on the occasion of my birthday.

Second objective, the visit to the United Nations. Also here there is a particular motive: 60 years have passed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is the anthropological base, the founding philosophy of the United Nations, the human and spiritual base on which it is constructed. Thus it is really a moment of reflection, a moment to again become aware of this important stage in history. In the Universal Declaration of Human Right, various cultural traditions have blended together, above all an anthropology that recognizes in man the subject of rights, coming before all institutions, with common values that must be respected by everyone. Therefore, this visit, which takes place precisely in a moment of a values crisis, seems to me important to reconfirm both that everything began in this moment and to recover it for our future.

Father Lombardi: Let us move now to the questions that you have turned in during these days and that some of you will ask the Holy Father. Let's begin with the question from John Allen, who I don't think needs an introduction because he is very well known as a Vatican commentator in the United States.

Q: Holy Father, I ask the question in English, if you allow me, and maybe, if it could be possible, if we could have a phrase, a word in English, we would be very thankful. The question: The Church that you will find in the United States is a large Church, a living Church, but also a Church that suffers, in a certain sense, above all because of the recent crisis due to sexual abuses. The American people are awaiting a word from you, a message from you about this crisis. What will be your message for this suffering Church?

Benedict XVI [in English]: It is a great suffering for the Church in the United States and for the Church in general, for me personally, that this could happen. If I read the history of these events, it is difficult for me to understand how it was possible for priests to fail in this way the mission to give healing, to give God's love to these children. I am ashamed and we will do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen in future. I think we have to act on three levels: the first is at the level of justice and the political level. I will not speak at this moment about homosexuality: this is another thing. We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry; it is absolutely incompatible and who is really guilty of being a pedophile cannot be a priest. So at this first level we can do justice and help the victims, because they are deeply affected; these are the two sides of justice: one, that pedophiles cannot be priests and the other, to help in any possible way the victims.

Then, there's a pastoral level. The victims will need healing and help and assistance and reconciliation: this is a big pastoral engagement and I know that the bishops and the priests and all Catholic people in the United States will do whatever possible to help, to assist, to heal. We have made a visitation of the seminaries and we will do all that is possible in the education of seminarians for a deep spiritual, human and intellectual formation for the students. Only sound persons can be admitted to the priesthood and only persons with a deep personal life in Christ and who have a deep sacramental life. So, I know that the bishops and directors of seminarians will do all possible to have a strong, strong discernment because it is more important to have good priests than to have many priests. This is also our third level, and we hope that we can do and we have done and we will do in the future all that is possible to heal these wounds.

Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness. Another theme about which we've had many questions from our colleagues is that of immigration -- the presence in U.S. society of Spanish-speaking people as well. And because of this, the question will be asked by our colleague Andrés Leonardo Beltramo Álvarez, who is from an information agency of Mexico.

Q: Your Holiness, I will ask the question in Italian, and then if you want, you can make your comments in Spanish. ... A greeting, just a greeting. ... There is an enormous growth in Hispanic presence also in the Church in the United States in general: The Catholic community is becoming ever more bilingual and ever more bicultural. At the same time, there exists in the society an increasing anti-immigration movement. The situation of the immigrants is characterized by unstable situations and discrimination. Do you intend to speak of this problem and to invite America to welcome immigrants, many of whom are Catholic?

Benedict XVI: I cannot speak in Spanish but mis saludos y mi bendición para todos los hispánicos [my greetings and my blessing for the Hispanic people.] I certainly will touch on this point. I have received various "ad limina" visits from the Central American bishops and also from South America, and I have seen the amplitude of this problem, above all the grave problem of the separation of families. And this is truly dangerous for the social, moral and human fabric of these countries. Nevertheless, one must differentiate between measures that must be adopted right away and long-term solutions.

The fundamental solution is that there would no longer exist the need to emigrate because there would be in one's own country sufficient work, a sufficient social fabric, such that no one has to emigrate. Therefore we should all work for this objective, for a social development that permits offering citizens work and a future in their land of origin. And also about this point, I would like to speak with the president, because above all the United States should help with the aim that these countries can develop in this way. This is in the interest of everyone, not just of these countries, but of the world, and also of the United States.

Besides this, short-term measures: It is very important to help the families above all. In the light of the conversations that I have had with the bishops, the principal problem is that there be protection for the families, that they not be destroyed. What can be done should be done. In the same way, naturally, all that is possible must be done to work against the instability of the situations and against all the violations, and to help so that they can have a truly dignified life where they find themselves in this moment.

I would like to also say that there are many problems, many sufferings, but there is also a lot of hospitality! I know that above all the American episcopal conference collaborates a lot with the Latin American episcopal conferences in the face of needed help. With all the sorrowful things, let's not forget also so much true humanity, so many positive actions that also exist.

Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness. Now a question that refers to American society: precisely about the role of religious values in American society. We give the floor to our colleague Andrea Tornielli, who is a Vatican reporter for an Italian newspaper:

Q: Holy Father, when you received the new ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, [she] mentioned as a positive value the public recognition of religion in the United States. I would like to ask you if you consider it as a possible model also for secularized Europe, or if you think that there can also be the risk that religion and the name of God can be used to justify certain policies, or even war.

Benedict XVI: Certainly in Europe, we cannot simply copy the United States: We have our history. But all of us should learn from each other. What I find fascinating in the United States is that they began with a positive concept of secularism, because this new people was formed by communities and people who had fled from the state churches and wanted to have a lay state, secular, that would open possibilities to all confessions, for all the types of religious exercise. In this way, an intentionally secular state was born: They were against a state church.

But the state should be secular precisely out of love for religion in its authenticity, which can be lived only with liberty. And in this manner we find this mix of a state that is intentionally and decidedly secular, but precisely because of a religious will, to give authenticity to religion. We already know that Alexis de Tocqueville, studying America, saw that the secular institutions live with a moral consensus that exists in fact among the citizens.

This seems to me a fundamental and positive model. One must consider that in Europe, meanwhile, 200 years have passed, more than 200 years, with a lot of developments. Now there exists also in the United States the assault of a new secularism, of everything being diverse, and therefore, before, the problem was the immigration, but the situation has become more complicated and diverse over the course of history. But the basis, the fundamental model, seems to me all the same today, worthy of having it present also in Europe.

Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness. And now a last theme regarding your visit to the United Nations, and this last question falls to John Thavis, who is the Rome director of the Catholic news agency of the United States.

Q: Holy Father, the Pope is frequently thought of as the conscience of humanity, and also because of this your address at the United Nations is much awaited. I would like to ask: Do you think that a multilateral institution like the United Nations can safeguard the principles takes as "non-negotiables" by the Catholic Church, that is, the fundamental principles of natural law?

Benedict XVI: That is precisely the objective of the United Nations: that it safeguard the common values of humanity, upon which the peaceful coexistence of the nations is based: the observance of justice and the development of justice. I have already briefly mentioned that it seems to me very important that the basis of the United Nations be precisely the idea of human rights, of the rights that express non-negotiable values, that come before all institutions and are the basis of all institutions. And it is important that there exist this convergence between cultures that have found a consensus on the fact that these values are fundamental, that they are inscribed in the very being of the human [person]. To renew this awareness that the United Nations, with its peacemaking function, can work only if has the common basis of the values that are expressed afterward in "rights" that should be observed by everyone; to confirm this fundamental idea and to actualize it as much as possible is one objective of my mission.

Finally, given that at the beginning Father Lombardi asked me about my sentiments, I want to say "I go to the United States with joy!" I have been in the United States various times before; I am familiar with this great country; I am familiar with the great vivacity of the Church despite all the problems and I am content to be able to meet, in this historical moment both for the Church and for the United Nations, this great people and this great Church. Thank you to everyone!

Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness, on behalf of all of us. We truly renew our desires for this trip: that it may have all the fruits you hope for, and that we also, together with you, await. Thank you and have a good trip!

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Papal Greeting to Russian People
"I Wish Peace and Well-being and a Spirit of Mutual Love"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 16, 2008 - Here is a translation of a personal address by Benedict XVI to the Russian people, which was broadcast today by the Russian state television channel Vesti. The greeting was in Italian and Russian.

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Dear citizens of the Russian Federation,

I am grateful for the invitation offered me to extend to you my cordial greetings and I gladly take this opportunity to express the esteem, affection and high regard in which the successor of Peter and the Catholic Church have always held your people and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russia is truly great, in a variety of different ways -- in her sheer geographical scale, in her long history, in her magnificent spirituality, in her multiplicity of artistic expression. During the past century the horizon of your noble land, like that of other regions on the European continent, was obscured by shadows of suffering and violence, shadows that were however opposed and overcome by the splendid light of so many martyrs -- Orthodox, Catholics and other believers, who perished under the oppression of ferocious persecutions. The love of Christ even unto martyrdom, which unites them, reminds us of the urgent need to restore unity among Christians, a duty to which the Catholic Church feels herself to be irrevocably committed. Both the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church are moving in this direction.

I remember well that a delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate was present at the Second Vatican Council, and I have followed the contacts with Russian Orthodoxy that have taken place since then. In recent years these contacts have been intensifying, especially among the faithful, the priests and the bishops.

What are we to say then of the interreligious and intercultural dialogue which is another of the priority commitments of the Catholic Church and also, I believe, of the Russian Orthodox Church? Conscious of the spiritual gift of which they are the stewards and while firmly retaining their own proper identity, Christians are called to meet with the followers of other religions and to establish with them a fruitful dialogue in truth and charity.

To this end I pray and hope that the millennial ecclesial experience of Russia may continue to enrich the Christian horizon in a spirit of sincere service to the Gospel and to the men of today. And now a greeting in the Russian language:

[The Pope continued in Russian]

I am delighted to be able to address myself, in the Russian language, to the people and government of this great land of Russia, so dear to me. I extend my warmest greetings to our beloved Orthodox brothers and sisters, especially to his Holiness, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, and also to the Catholic bishops and their communities. To all of you I wish peace and well-being and a spirit of mutual love, and I invoke the blessing of God upon you all.

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Pope's Homily at Nationals Stadium
"Americans Have Always Been a People of Hope"

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 17, 2008 - Here is the homily Benedict XVI gave today during Mass at Washington Nationals stadium.


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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"Peace be with you!" (Jn 20:19). With these, the first words of the Risen Lord to his disciples, I greet all of you in the joy of this Easter season. Before all else, I thank God for the blessing of being in your midst. I am particularly grateful to Archbishop Wuerl for his kind words of welcome.

Our Mass today brings the Church in the United States back to its roots in nearby Maryland, and commemorates the bicentennial of the first chapter of its remarkable growth -- the division by my predecessor, Pope Pius VII, of the original Diocese of Baltimore and the establishment of the Dioceses of Boston, Bardstown (now Louisville), New York and Philadelphia. Two hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole. The Church in the United States is now called to look to the future, firmly grounded in the faith passed on by previous generations, and ready to meet new challenges -- challenges no less demanding than those faced by your forebears -- with the hope born of God’s love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5).

In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles (cf. Lk 22:32). I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and established as judge of the living and the dead (cf. Acts 2:14ff.). I have come to repeat the Apostle’s urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country. As we have heard throughout this Easter season, the Church was born of the Spirit’s gift of repentance and faith in the risen Lord. In every age she is impelled by the same Spirit to bring to men and women of every race, language and people (cf. Rev 5:9) the good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ.

The readings of today’s Mass invite us to consider the growth of the Church in America as one chapter in the greater story of the Church’s expansion following the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In those readings we see the inseparable link between the risen Lord, the gift of the Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and the mystery of the Church. Christ established his Church on the foundation of the Apostles (cf. Rev 21:14) as a visible, structured community which is at the same time a spiritual communion, a mystical body enlivened by the Spirit’s manifold gifts, and the sacrament of salvation for all humanity (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8). In every time and place, the Church is called to grow in unity through constant conversion to Christ, whose saving work is proclaimed by the Successors of the Apostles and celebrated in the sacraments. This unity, in turn, gives rise to an unceasing missionary outreach, as the Spirit spurs believers to proclaim "the great works of God" and to invite all people to enter the community of those saved by the blood of Christ and granted new life in his Spirit.

I pray, then, that this significant anniversary in the life of the Church in the United States, and the presence of the Successor of Peter in your midst, will be an occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God’s Kingdom.

The world needs this witness! Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole? It is a time of great promise, as we see the human family in many ways drawing closer together and becoming ever more interdependent. Yet at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries; increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of God. The Church, too, sees signs of immense promise in her many strong parishes and vital movements, in the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis. At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel.

"Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!" (cf. Ps 104:30). The words of today’s Responsorial Psalm are a prayer which rises up from the heart of the Church in every time and place. They remind us that the Holy Spirit has been poured out as the first fruits of a new creation, "new heavens and a new earth" (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1), in which God’s peace will reign and the human family will be reconciled in justice and love. We have heard Saint Paul tell us that all creation is even now "groaning" in expectation of that true freedom which is God’s gift to his children (Rom 8:21-22), a freedom which enables us to live in conformity to his will. Today let us pray fervently that the Church in America will be renewed in that same Spirit, and sustained in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel to a world that longs for genuine freedom (cf. Jn 8:32), authentic happiness, and the fulfillment of its deepest aspirations!

Here I wish to offer a special word of gratitude and encouragement to all those who have taken up the challenge of the Second Vatican Council, so often reiterated by Pope John Paul II, and committed their lives to the new evangelization. I thank my brother Bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, parents, teachers and catechists. The fidelity and courage with which the Church in this country will respond to the challenges raised by an increasingly secular and materialistic culture will depend in large part upon your own fidelity in handing on the treasure of our Catholic faith. Young people need to be helped to discern the path that leads to true freedom: the path of a sincere and generous imitation of Christ, the path of commitment to justice and peace. Much progress has been made in developing solid programs of catechesis, yet so much more remains to be done in forming the hearts and minds of the young in knowledge and love of the Lord. The challenges confronting us require a comprehensive and sound instruction in the truths of the faith. But they also call for cultivating a mindset, an intellectual "culture", which is genuinely Catholic, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith’s vision to bear on the urgent issues which affect the future of American society.

Dear friends, my visit to the United States is meant to be a witness to "Christ our Hope". Americans have always been a people of hope: your ancestors came to this country with the expectation of finding new freedom and opportunity, while the vastness of the unexplored wilderness inspired in them the hope of being able to start completely anew, building a new nation on new foundations. To be sure, this promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land; one thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves. Yet hope, hope for the future, is very much a part of the American character. And the Christian virtue of hope -- the hope poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the hope which supernaturally purifies and corrects our aspirations by focusing them on the Lord and his saving plan -- that hope has also marked, and continues to mark, the life of the Catholic community in this country.

It is in the context of this hope born of God’s love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors. No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church. Great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation, and to ensure that children -- whom our Lord loves so deeply (cf. Mk 10:14), and who are our greatest treasure -- can grow up in a safe environment. These efforts to protect children must continue. Yesterday I spoke with your Bishops about this. Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt. Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do. And above all, pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out his gifts upon the Church, the gifts that lead to conversion, forgiveness and growth in holiness.

Saint Paul speaks, as we heard in the second reading, of a kind of prayer which arises from the depths of our hearts in sighs too deep for words, in "groanings" (Rom 8:26) inspired by the Spirit. This is a prayer which yearns, in the midst of chastisement, for the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ’s own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his Cross. With this prayer, may the Church in America embrace ever more fully the way of conversion and fidelity to the demands of the Gospel. And may all Catholics experience the consolation of hope, and the Spirit’s gifts of joy and strength.

In today’s Gospel, the risen Lord bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and grants them the authority to forgive sins. Through the surpassing power of Christ’s grace, entrusted to frail human ministers, the Church is constantly reborn and each of us is given the hope of a new beginning. Let us trust in the Spirit’s power to inspire conversion, to heal every wound, to overcome every division, and to inspire new life and freedom. How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the sacrament of Penance! The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God’s merciful word of pardon and peace, needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.

"In hope we were saved!" (Rom 8:24). As the Church in the United States gives thanks for the blessings of the past two hundred years, I invite you, your families, and every parish and religious community, to trust in the power of grace to create a future of promise for God’s people in this country. I ask you, in the Lord Jesus, to set aside all division and to work with joy to prepare a way for him, in fidelity to his word and in constant conversion to his will. Above all, I urge you to continue to be a leaven of evangelical hope in American society, striving to bring the light and truth of the Gospel to the task of building an ever more just and free world for generations yet to come.

Those who have hope must live different lives! (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way towards that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church, and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior. To him be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[The Pope continued in Spanish]

Dear Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters:

I want to greet you with the same words that the Risen Jesus spoke to his apostles, "Peace be with you" (John 20:19). May the joy of knowing that the Lord has triumphed over death and sin help you to be, wherever you are, witnesses of his love and sowers of the hope that he came to bring us and that never disappoints.

Do not allow yourselves to be overcome by pessimism, inertia or problems. Instead, faithful to the commitments you acquired in your baptism, go deeper each day in the knowledge of Christ and allow your hearts to be conquered by his love and pardon.

The Church in the United States, welcoming in its bosom so many of its immigrant children, has been growing also thanks to the vitality of the testimony of faith from Spanish-speaking faithful. For this, the Lord calls you to continue contributing to the future of the Church in this country and the spreading of the Gospel. Only if you are united to Christ and among yourselves, will your evangelizing testimony be credible and bloom with copious fruits of peace and reconciliation in the midst of a world many times marked by division and conflicts.

The Church hopes much from you. In your generous commitment, do not let it down. "What you have received freely, give freely" (Matthew 10:8).

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Benedict XVI's Address to Catholic Educators
"Freedom Is Not an Opting out, it Is an Opting In"

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 17, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today to a meeting of more than 400 Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America.
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Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Professors, Teachers and Educators,

"How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news" (Rom 10:15-17). With these words of Isaiah quoted by Saint Paul, I warmly greet each of you -- bearers of wisdom -- and through you the staff, students and families of the many and varied institutions of learning that you represent. It is my great pleasure to meet you and to share with you some thoughts regarding the nature and identity of Catholic education today. I especially wish to thank Father David O'Connell, President and Rector of the Catholic University of America. Your kind words of welcome are much appreciated. Please extend my heartfelt gratitude to the entire community - faculty, staff and students - of this University.

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord's disciples, the Church.

The dynamic between personal encounter, knowledge and Christian witness is integral to the diakonia of truth which the Church exercises in the midst of humanity. God's revelation offers every generation the opportunity to discover the ultimate truth about its own life and the goal of history. This task is never easy; it involves the entire Christian community and motivates each generation of Christian educators to ensure that the power of God's truth permeates every dimension of the institutions they serve. In this way, Christ's Good News is set to work, guiding both teacher and student towards the objective truth which, in transcending the particular and the subjective, points to the universal and absolute that enables us to proclaim with confidence the hope which does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5:5). Set against personal struggles, moral confusion and fragmentation of knowledge, the noble goals of scholarship and education, founded on the unity of truth and in service of the person and the community, become an especially powerful instrument of hope.

Dear friends, the history of this nation includes many examples of the Church's commitment in this regard. The Catholic community here has in fact made education one of its highest priorities. This undertaking has not come without great sacrifice. Towering figures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other founders and foundresses, with great tenacity and foresight, laid the foundations of what is today a remarkable network of parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being of the Church and the nation. Some, like Saint Katharine Drexel, devoted their lives to educating those whom others had neglected -- in her case, African Americans and Native Americans. Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society.

This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.

Some today question the Church's involvement in education, wondering whether her resources might be better placed elsewhere. Certainly in a nation such as this, the State provides ample opportunities for education and attracts committed and generous men and women to this honorable profession. It is timely, then, to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the Church's primary mission of evangelization?

All the Church's activities stem from her awareness that she is the bearer of a message which has its origin in God himself: in his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal himself and to make known the hidden purpose of his will (cf. Eph 1:9; Dei Verbum, 2). God's desire to make himself known, and the innate desire of all human beings to know the truth, provide the context for human inquiry into the meaning of life. This unique encounter is sustained within our Christian community: the one who seeks the truth becomes the one who lives by faith (cf. Fides et Ratio, 31). It can be described as a move from "I" to "we", leading the individual to be numbered among God's people.

This same dynamic of communal identity -- to whom do I belong? -- vivifies the ethos of our Catholic institutions. A university or school's Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction -- do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self -- intellect and will, mind and heart -- to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God's creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.

From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary "crisis of truth" is rooted in a "crisis of faith". Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God's testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals. Again, we see why fostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to his loving truth is indispensable in Catholic institutions of learning. Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in -- a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves. A particular responsibility therefore for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief. It is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth. In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the fullness of the life of faith which is given to us in the Church.

Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society. They become places in which God's active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ's "being for others" (cf. ibid., 28).

The Church's primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation's fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person's dignity. At times, however, the value of the Church's contribution to the public forum is questioned. It is important therefore to recall that the truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another (cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV: DS 3017; St. Augustine, Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43). The Church's mission, in fact, involves her in humanity's struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths. Drawing upon divine wisdom, she sheds light on the foundation of human morality and ethics, and reminds all groups in society that it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis of praxis. Far from undermining the tolerance of legitimate diversity, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus attainable, and helps to keep public debate rational, honest and accountable. Similarly the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board.

With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith. This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality which, in rejecting metaphysics, denies the foundations of faith and rejects the need for a moral vision. Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her the entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, God's creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is revealed as Goodness itself. Far from being just a communication of factual data - "informative" - the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing - "performative" (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness. In this way you will also help to form their conscience which, enriched by faith, opens a sure path to inner peace and to respect for others.

It comes as no surprise, then, that not just our own ecclesial communities but society in general has high expectations of Catholic educators. This places upon you a responsibility and offers an opportunity. More and more people - parents in particular - recognize the need for excellence in the human formation of their children. As Mater et Magistra, the Church shares their concern. When nothing beyond the individual is recognized as definitive, the ultimate criterion of judgment becomes the self and the satisfaction of the individual's immediate wishes. The objectivity and perspective, which can only come through a recognition of the essential transcendent dimension of the human person, can be lost. Within such a relativistic horizon the goals of education are inevitably curtailed. Slowly, a lowering of standards occurs. We observe today a timidity in the face of the category of the good and an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth and a reluctance to admit imperfection and mistakes. And particularly disturbing, is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of 'risk', bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love.

How might Christian educators respond? These harmful developments point to the particular urgency of what we might call "intellectual charity". This aspect of charity calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love. Indeed, the dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated. In practice "intellectual charity" upholds the essential unity of knowledge against the fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth. It guides the young towards the deep satisfaction of exercising freedom in relation to truth, and it strives to articulate the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life. Once their passion for the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, young people will surely relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of what they ought to do. Here they will experience "in what" and "in whom" it is possible to hope, and be inspired to contribute to society in a way that engenders hope in others.

Dear friends, I wish to conclude by focusing our attention specifically on the paramount importance of your own professionalism and witness within our Catholic universities and schools. First, let me thank you for your dedication and generosity. I know from my own days as a professor, and I have heard from your Bishops and officials of the Congregation for Catholic Education, that the reputation of Catholic institutes of learning in this country is largely due to yourselves and your predecessors. Your selfless contributions - from outstanding research to the dedication of those working in inner-city schools - serve both your country and the Church. For this I express my profound gratitude.

In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church's munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.

Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.

I wish also to express a particular word of encouragement to both lay and Religious teachers of catechesis who strive to ensure that young people become daily more appreciative of the gift of faith. Religious education is a challenging apostolate, yet there are many signs of a desire among young people to learn about the faith and practice it with vigor. If this awakening is to grow, teachers require a clear and precise understanding of the specific nature and role of Catholic education. They must also be ready to lead the commitment made by the entire school community to assist our young people, and their families, to experience the harmony between faith, life and culture.

Here I wish to make a special appeal to Religious Brothers, Sisters and Priests: do not abandon the school apostolate; indeed, renew your commitment to schools especially those in poorer areas. In places where there are many hollow promises which lure young people away from the path of truth and genuine freedom, the consecrated person's witness to the evangelical counsels is an irreplaceable gift. I encourage the Religious present to bring renewed enthusiasm to the promotion of vocations. Know that your witness to the ideal of consecration and mission among the young is a source of great inspiration in faith for them and their families.

To all of you I say: bear witness to hope. Nourish your witness with prayer. Account for the hope that characterizes your lives (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) by living the truth which you propose to your students. Help them to know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy. With Saint Augustine, let us say: "we who speak and you who listen acknowledge ourselves as fellow disciples of a single teacher" (Sermons, 23:2). With these sentiments of communion, I gladly impart to you, your colleagues and students, and to your families, my Apostolic Blessing.

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Papal Address to Interreligious Leaders
"A United Society Can Indeed Arise From a Plurality of Peoples"

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today to an interreligious meeting at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. The theme of the meeting was "Peace Our Hope."

* * *

My dear friends,

I am pleased to have this occasion to meet with you today. I thank Bishop Sklba for his words of welcome, and I cordially greet all those in attendance representing various religions in the United States of America. Several of you kindly accepted the invitation to compose the reflections contained in today's program. For your thoughtful words on how each of your traditions bears witness to peace, I am particularly grateful. Thank you all.

This country has a long history of cooperation between different religions in many spheres of public life. Interreligious prayer services during the national feast of Thanksgiving, joint initiatives in charitable activities, a shared voice on important public issues: these are some ways in which members of different religions come together to enhance mutual understanding and promote the common good. I encourage all religious groups in America to persevere in their collaboration and thus enrich public life with the spiritual values that motivate your action in the world.

The place where we are now gathered was founded specifically for promoting this type of collaboration. Indeed, the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center seeks to offer a Christian voice to the "human search for meaning and purpose in life" in a world of "varied religious, ethnic and cultural communities" (Mission Statement). This institution reminds us of this nation's conviction that all people should be free to pursue happiness in a way consonant with their nature as creatures endowed with reason and free will.

Americans have always valued the ability to worship freely and in accordance with their conscience. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian and observer of American affairs, was fascinated with this aspect of the nation. He remarked that this is a country in which religion and freedom are "intimately linked" in contributing to a stable democracy that fosters social virtues and participation in the communal life of all its citizens. In urban areas, it is common for individuals from different cultural backgrounds and religions to engage with one another daily in commercial, social and educational settings. Today, in classrooms throughout the country, young Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and indeed children of all religions sit side-by-side, learning with one another and from one another. This diversity gives rise to new challenges that spark a deeper reflection on the core principles of a democratic society. May others take heart from your experience, realizing that a united society can indeed arise from a plurality of peoples -- "E pluribus unum": "out of many, one" -- provided that all recognize religious liberty as a basic civil right (cf. Dignitatis Humanae, 2).

The task of upholding religious freedom is never completed. New situations and challenges invite citizens and leaders to reflect on how their decisions respect this basic human right. Protecting religious freedom within the rule of law does not guarantee that peoples -- particularly minorities -- will be spared from unjust forms of discrimination and prejudice. This requires constant effort on the part of all members of society to ensure that citizens are afforded the opportunity to worship peaceably and to pass on their religious heritage to their children.

The transmission of religious traditions to succeeding generations not only helps to preserve a heritage; it also sustains and nourishes the surrounding culture in the present day. The same holds true for dialogue between religions; both the participants and society are enriched. As we grow in understanding of one another, we see that we share an esteem for ethical values, discernable to human reason, which are revered by all peoples of goodwill. The world begs for a common witness to these values. I therefore invite all religious people to view dialogue not only as a means of enhancing mutual understanding, but also as a way of serving society at large. By bearing witness to those moral truths which they hold in common with all men and women of goodwill, religious groups will exert a positive influence on the wider culture, and inspire neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens to join in the task of strengthening the ties of solidarity. In the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "no greater thing could come to our land today than a revival of the spirit of faith".

A concrete example of the contribution religious communities make to civil society is faith-based schools. These institutions enrich children both intellectually and spiritually. Led by their teachers to discover the divinely bestowed dignity of each human being, young people learn to respect the beliefs and practices of others, thus enhancing a nation's civic life.

What an enormous responsibility religious leaders have: to imbue society with a profound awe and respect for human life and freedom; to ensure that human dignity is recognized and cherished; to facilitate peace and justice; to teach children what is right, good and reasonable!

There is a further point I wish to touch upon here. I have noticed a growing interest among governments to sponsor programs intended to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue. These are praiseworthy initiatives. At the same time, religious freedom, interreligious dialogue and faith-based education aim at something more than a consensus regarding ways to implement practical strategies for advancing peace. The broader purpose of dialogue is to discover the truth. What is the origin and destiny of mankind? What are good and evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence? Only by addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the peace and security of the human family, for "wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace" (Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, 3).

We are living in an age when these questions are too often marginalized. Yet they can never be erased from the human heart. Throughout history, men and women have striven to articulate their restlessness with this passing world. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Psalms are full of such expressions: "My spirit is overwhelmed within me" (Ps 143:4; cf. Ps 6:6; 31:10; 32:3; 38:8; 77:3); "why are you cast down, my soul, why groan within me?" (Ps 42:5). The response is always one of faith: "Hope in God, I will praise him still; my Savior and my God" (Ps 42:5, 11; cf. Ps 43:5; 62:5). Spiritual leaders have a special duty, and we might say competence, to place the deeper questions at the forefront of human consciousness, to reawaken mankind to the mystery of human existence, and to make space in a frenetic world for reflection and prayer.

Confronted with these deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of mankind, Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth. He, we believe, is the eternal Logos who became flesh in order to reconcile man to God and reveal the underlying reason of all things. It is he whom we bring to the forum of interreligious dialogue. The ardent desire to follow in his footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue (cf. Lk 10:25-37; Jn 4:7-26).

Dear friends, in our attempt to discover points of commonality, perhaps we have shied away from the responsibility to discuss our differences with calmness and clarity. While always uniting our hearts and minds in the call for peace, we must also listen attentively to the voice of truth. In this way, our dialogue will not stop at identifying a common set of values, but go on to probe their ultimate foundation. We have no reason to fear, for the truth unveils for us the essential relationship between the world and God. We are able to perceive that peace is a "heavenly gift" that calls us to conform human history to the divine order. Herein lies the "truth of peace" (cf. Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace).

As we have seen then, the higher goal of interreligious dialogue requires a clear exposition of our respective religious tenets. In this regard, colleges, universities and study centers are important forums for a candid exchange of religious ideas. The Holy See, for its part, seeks to carry forward this important work through the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, and various Pontifical Universities.

Dear friends, let our sincere dialogue and cooperation inspire all people to ponder the deeper questions of their origin and destiny. May the followers of all religions stand together in defending and promoting life and religious freedom everywhere. By giving ourselves generously to this sacred task -- through dialogue and countless small acts of love, understanding and compassion -- we can be instruments of peace for the whole human family.
Peace upon you all!

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pontiff's Greeting to Jewish Community
"The Past 40 Years Has Fundamentally Changed Our Relationship for the Better"

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the greeting and message Benedict XVI gave today to the Jewish community.

* * *

My dear friends,

I extend special greetings of peace to the Jewish community in the United States and throughout the world as you prepare to celebrate the annual feast of Pesah. My visit to this country has coincided with this feast, allowing me to meet with you personally and to assure you of my prayers as you recall the signs and wonders God performed in liberating his chosen people. Motivated by our common spiritual heritage, I am pleased to entrust to you this message as a testimony to our hope centered on the Almighty and his mercy.

* * *

To the Jewish community on the Feast of Pesah

My visit to the United States offers me the occasion to extend a warm and heartfelt greeting to my Jewish brothers and sisters in this country and throughout the world. A greeting that is all the more spiritually intense because the great feast of Pesah is approaching. "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever" (Exodus 12: 14). While the Christian celebration of Easter differs in many ways from your celebration of Pesah, we understand and experience it in continuation with the biblical narrative of the mighty works which the Lord accomplished for his people.

At this time of your most solemn celebration, I feel particularly close, precisely because of what Nostra Aetate calls Christians to remember always: that the Church "received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles" (Nostra Aetate, 4). In addressing myself to you I wish to re-affirm the Second Vatican Council's teaching on Catholic-Jewish relations and reiterate the Church's commitment to the dialogue that in the past forty years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.

Because of that growth in trust and friendship, Christians and Jews can rejoice together in the deep spiritual ethos of the Passover, a memorial (zikkarôn) of freedom and redemption. Each year, when we listen to the Passover story we return to that blessed night of liberation. This holy time of the year should be a call to both our communities to pursue justice, mercy, solidarity with the stranger in the land, with the widow and orphan, as Moses commanded: "But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this" (Deuteronomy 24: 18).

At the Passover Sèder you recall the holy patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the holy women of Israel, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachael and Leah, the beginning of the long line of sons and daughters of the Covenant. With the passing of time the Covenant assumes an ever more universal value, as the promise made to Abraham takes form: "I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing... All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you" (Genesis 12: 2-3). Indeed, according to the prophet Isaiah, the hope of redemption extends to the whole of humanity: "Many peoples will come and say: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths'" (Isaiah 2: 3). Within this eschatological horizon is offered a real prospect of universal brotherhood on the path of justice and peace, preparing the way of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 62: 10).

Christians and Jews share this hope; we are in fact, as the prophets say, "prisoners of hope" (Zachariah 9: 12). This bond permits us Christians to celebrate alongside you, though in our own way, the Passover of Christ's death and resurrection, which we see as inseparable from your own, for Jesus himself said: "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4: 22). Our Easter and your Pesah, while distinct and different, unite us in our common hope centered on God and his mercy. They urge us to cooperate with each other and with all men and women of goodwill to make this a better world for all as we await the fulfillment of God's promises.

With respect and friendship, I therefore ask the Jewish community to accept my Pesah greeting in a spirit of openness to the real possibilities of cooperation which we see before us as we contemplate the urgent needs of our world, and as we look with compassion upon the sufferings of millions of our brothers and sisters everywhere. Naturally, our shared hope for peace in the world embraces the Middle East and the Holy Land in particular. May the memory of God's mercies, which Jews and Christians celebrate at this festive time, inspire all those responsible for the future of that region-where the events surrounding God's revelation actually took place-to new efforts, and especially to new attitudes and a new purification of hearts!

In my heart I repeat with you the psalm of the paschal Hallel (Psalm 118: 1-4), invoking abundant divine blessings upon you: "O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. Let Israel say, 'His steadfast love endures forever.' . . . Let those who fear the Lord say, 'His steadfast love endures forever'."

From the Vatican, 14 April 2008

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On the Call to Evangelize
"Christian Marriage Is Also a Missionary Vocation"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 13, 2008 - Here is a translation of the greeting Benedict XVI gave today before praying the Regina Caeli with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, in which the liturgy presents Jesus to us as the Good Shepherd, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated. On every continent, church communities are united in invoking the Lord to ask him for numerous and holy vocations to the priesthood, the consecrated and missionary life, and Christian matrimony, meditating on the theme: Vocations at the Service of the Church on Mission. This year, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2008 is framed within the perspective of the Pauline year, which will begin next June 28, to celebrate 2,000 years since the birth of the Apostle Paul, the missionary par excellence.

According to the experience of the Apostle to the Gentiles, who the Lord called to be a "minister of the Gospel," vocation and mission are inseparable. He is, therefore, a model for all Christians, in particular, for the "ad vitam" missionaries, that is, those men and women who dedicate themselves totally to announcing Christ to those who still have not known him: a vocation which continues to maintain all of its validity.

This missionary service is carried out, in the first place, by priests in offering the Word of God and the sacraments, and in manifesting the healing presence of Jesus Christ with their pastoral charity for everyone, above all for the ill, the little ones and the poor. We give thanks to God for these our brothers, who give themselves without reserve to pastoral ministry, sometimes sealing their fidelity to Christ with the sacrifice of their lives, as happened yesterday to two religious assassinated in Guinea and Kenya. To them we direct our thankful admiration, as well as our prayers for their souls.

We pray also that there be an increasing number of those who decide to radically live the Gospel through the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience -- men and women who have a primary role in evangelization. Some of them dedicate themselves to contemplation and prayer, others to a multifaceted educational and charitable work. All of them, nevertheless, are united in the same objective: to give witness to the primacy of God over all and to spread his Kingdom in every sphere of society.

Many of them, as the Servant of God Paul VI wrote, "are enterprising and their apostolate is often marked by an originality, by a genius that demands admiration. They are generous: Often they are found at the outposts of the mission, and they take the greatest of risks for their health and their very lives."

Finally, it mustn't be forgotten that Christian marriage is also a missionary vocation: The couple, in fact, is called to live the Gospel in the family, in the workplace and in parish and civil communities. In certain cases, moreover, they offer their valuable contribution to the missions "ad gentes."

Dear brothers and sisters: Let us invoke the maternal protection of Mary for the many vocations that exist in the Church so that they are developed with an intense missionary character. To her, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace, I also commend the special missionary experience that I will live in the next few days with the apostolic trip to the United States and the visit to the United Nations, as I ask all of you to accompany me with your prayers.

[After praying the Regina Caeli, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today. This Tuesday I leave Rome for my visit to the United Nations Organization and the United States of America. With the various groups I shall meet, my intention is to share our Lord's word of life. In Christ is our hope! Christ is the foundation of our hope for peace, for justice, and for the freedom that flows from God's law fulfilled in his commandment to love one another. Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you all to pray for the success of my visit, so that it may be a time of spiritual renewal for all Americans. Upon each of you present, I invoke the protection and guidance of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

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On the Call to Evangelize
"Christian Marriage Is Also a Missionary Vocation"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 13, 2008 - Here is a translation of the greeting Benedict XVI gave today before praying the Regina Caeli with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, in which the liturgy presents Jesus to us as the Good Shepherd, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated. On every continent, church communities are united in invoking the Lord to ask him for numerous and holy vocations to the priesthood, the consecrated and missionary life, and Christian matrimony, meditating on the theme: Vocations at the Service of the Church on Mission. This year, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2008 is framed within the perspective of the Pauline year, which will begin next June 28, to celebrate 2,000 years since the birth of the Apostle Paul, the missionary par excellence.

According to the experience of the Apostle to the Gentiles, who the Lord called to be a "minister of the Gospel," vocation and mission are inseparable. He is, therefore, a model for all Christians, in particular, for the "ad vitam" missionaries, that is, those men and women who dedicate themselves totally to announcing Christ to those who still have not known him: a vocation which continues to maintain all of its validity.

This missionary service is carried out, in the first place, by priests in offering the Word of God and the sacraments, and in manifesting the healing presence of Jesus Christ with their pastoral charity for everyone, above all for the ill, the little ones and the poor. We give thanks to God for these our brothers, who give themselves without reserve to pastoral ministry, sometimes sealing their fidelity to Christ with the sacrifice of their lives, as happened yesterday to two religious assassinated in Guinea and Kenya. To them we direct our thankful admiration, as well as our prayers for their souls.

We pray also that there be an increasing number of those who decide to radically live the Gospel through the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience -- men and women who have a primary role in evangelization. Some of them dedicate themselves to contemplation and prayer, others to a multifaceted educational and charitable work. All of them, nevertheless, are united in the same objective: to give witness to the primacy of God over all and to spread his Kingdom in every sphere of society.

Many of them, as the Servant of God Paul VI wrote, "are enterprising and their apostolate is often marked by an originality, by a genius that demands admiration. They are generous: Often they are found at the outposts of the mission, and they take the greatest of risks for their health and their very lives."

Finally, it mustn't be forgotten that Christian marriage is also a missionary vocation: The couple, in fact, is called to live the Gospel in the family, in the workplace and in parish and civil communities. In certain cases, moreover, they offer their valuable contribution to the missions "ad gentes."

Dear brothers and sisters: Let us invoke the maternal protection of Mary for the many vocations that exist in the Church so that they are developed with an intense missionary character. To her, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace, I also commend the special missionary experience that I will live in the next few days with the apostolic trip to the United States and the visit to the United Nations, as I ask all of you to accompany me with your prayers.

[After praying the Regina Caeli, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today. This Tuesday I leave Rome for my visit to the United Nations Organization and the United States of America. With the various groups I shall meet, my intention is to share our Lord's word of life. In Christ is our hope! Christ is the foundation of our hope for peace, for justice, and for the freedom that flows from God's law fulfilled in his commandment to love one another. Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you all to pray for the success of my visit, so that it may be a time of spiritual renewal for all Americans. Upon each of you present, I invoke the protection and guidance of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

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Pope's Address to Participants of Salesian General Chapter
"Don Bosco Is a Shining Example of a Life Marked by Apostolic Zeal"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 10, 2008 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave March 31 upon receiving in audience the participants of the 26th General Chapter of the Congregation of Don Bosco.

* * *

Your Eminence, Dear Members of the General Chapter of the Salesian Congregation, I am pleased to meet you today as your Chapter is now reaching its conclusion. I first of all thank Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva, Rector Major, for the sentiments he has expressed on behalf of you all, confirming the Congregation's will to work with the Church and for the Church always, in full harmony with the Successor of Peter. I thank him too for the generous service he has carried out in the past six years and offer him my good wishes for his recent renewal in office. I also greet the members of the new General Council who will help the Rector Major in his task of animation and in the governance of your whole Congregation. ?In the Message I addressed to the Rector Major at the beginning of the Chapter, and through him to you, the Chapter Members, I expressed certain expectations that the Church has of you Salesians and I also offered several ideas for the progress of your Congregation. Today, I intend to take up again and examine some of these recommendations in the light of the work you are doing. Your 26th Chapter is being celebrated in a period of great social, economic and political change, of heightened ethical, cultural and environmental problems and unresolved conflicts between races and nations. Moreover, in our time, communication between peoples is more intense, there are new opportunities for knowledge and dialogue and a livelier exchange on the spiritual values that give meaning to life. ?In particular, the appeals young people make to us and especially their questions about the fundamental problems are linked to their intense longing for a full life, authentic love and constructive freedom. They are situations that test the Church and her ability to proclaim Christ's Gospel today with its promise full of hope. I therefore warmly hope that the entire Salesian Congregation, thanks to the results of your General Chapter, may live with renewed dynamism and fervour the mission for which, through the maternal intervention of Mary, Help of Christians, the Holy Spirit brought it into being in the Church. I want today to encourage you and all Salesians to continue on the path of this mission in full fidelity to your original charism, already in the context of the upcoming second centenary of Don Bosco's birth. ?With the theme "Give me souls, take away all else", your General Chapter's aim was to revive apostolic zeal in every Salesian and throughout the Congregation. This will help give Salesians a better defined profile so that they may become increasingly aware of their identity as people consecrated "for the glory of God" and increasingly on fire with pastoral zeal "for the salvation of souls".
Strong religious vocations

Don Bosco wanted the choice of consecrated life to guarantee the continuity of his charism in the Church. Today too, the Salesian movement can only grow in fidelity to its charism if a strong and vital nucleus of consecrated people continues to form its core. ?Thus, in order to strengthen the identity of the Congregation as a whole your first commitment consists in reinforcing the vocation of each Salesian so that he may live in full fidelity to his call to the consecrated life. ?The entire Congregation must strive to be ceaselessly "a living memorial of Jesus' way of living and acting as the Incarnate Word in relation to the Father and in relation to the brethren" (Vita Consecrata, n. 22). May Christ be the centre of your lives!

It is necessary to let oneself be seized by him and to start out afresh from him always. May everything else be counted "as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus" and as "refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3: 8). It is here that ardent love for the Lord Jesus is born, the aspiration to identify oneself with him, assuming his sentiments and way of life, trusting abandonment in the Father and dedication to the evangelizing mission that must characterize every Salesian: he must feel chosen to follow the obedient, poor and chaste Christ in conformity with Don Bosco's teaching and example. The secularization process gaining ground in contemporary culture unfortunately does not spare even communities of consecrated life. For this reason it is necessary to watch over forms and lifestyles that risk weakening Gospel witness as well as rendering pastoral action ineffective and the vocational response fragile.

I therefore ask you to help your confreres preserve and revive their faithfulness to the call. Jesus' prayer to the Father before his Passion, asking that he keep in his name all the disciples that he had given him and that none of them be lost (cf. Jn 17: 11-12), is particularly appropriate for vocations of special consecration. "The spiritual life must therefore have first place in the programme" of your Congregation (Vita Consecrata, n. 93). ?May the Word of God and the Liturgy be sources of Salesian spirituality! In particular, may lectio divina, practised daily by every Salesian, and the Eucharist celebrated every day in the community, nourish and support Salesian spirituality! From this will be born the authentic spirituality of apostolic dedication and ecclesial communion.

The flourishing of your Congregation will be guaranteed by fidelity to the Gospel lived "sine glossa" and to your Rule of Life, particularly an austere way of life and Gospel poverty practised consistently, with faithful love for the Church and the generous gift of yourselves to youth, especially the neediest and most disadvantaged. Don Bosco is a shining example of a life marked by apostolic zeal, lived at the service of the Church in the Congregation and in the Salesian Family. At the school of St Joseph Cafasso, your Founder learned to make his own the motto "Give me souls, take away all else", as the synthesis of a model of pastoral action inspired by the figure and spirituality of St Francis de Sales. ?This model fits into the horizon of the absolute primacy of God's love, a love that succeeds in shaping passionate personalities eager to contribute to Christ's mission to set the whole earth ablaze with the fire of his love (cf. Lk 12: 49).

Precious good of souls

Besides the ardour of God's love, another characteristic of the Salesian model is awareness of the inestimable value of "souls". This perception by contrast generates an acute sense of sin and its devastating consequences in time and in eternity. The apostle is called to cooperate with the Saviour's redeeming action in order that no one be lost. "Saving souls", precisely as St Peter said, was thus Don Bosco's raison d'être. His immediate successor, Bl. Michele Rua, summed up the life of your beloved Father and Founder in these words: "He did not give way, he did not speak, did not turn his hand to any task that did not aim at the salvation of young people.... He truly had only their souls at heart". This is what Bl. Michele Rua said of Don Bosco.

Today, it is also urgently necessary to nourish this passion in every Salesian's heart. Thus, he will not hesitate to venture daringly into the most difficult milieus of evangelizing action for young people, especially for those who are materially and spiritually the poorest.?He will have the patience and courage even to propose to young people that they live in total dedication in consecrated life. He will have an open mind in order to identify the new needs of young people and listen to their prayers for help, possibly leaving to others areas that have already been consolidated by pastoral interventions.

For this reason the Salesian will face the totalizing demands of the mission with a simple, poor and austere life, sharing the living conditions of the poorest of the poor, and will have the joy of giving more to those who have received less in their lives. ?May his apostolic enthusiasm become so contagious that others also catch it. The Salesian thus becomes a champion of what the apostolate means, helping first of all young people to know and love the Lord Jesus, to let themselves be fascinated by him, to cultivate evangelizing commitment, to love their own peers, to be apostles to other young people like St Dominic Savio, Bl. Laura Vicuña and Bl. Zepherin Namuncurà and the five young Blessed Martyrs of the Oratory of Poznan.?Dear Salesians, may you be committed to forming lay people with apostolic hearts, inviting them all to walk in the holiness of life that develops courageous disciples and authentic apostles.
The challenges of educating

In the Message I addressed to the Rector Major at the beginning of your General Chapter, I wished to present in spirit to all Salesians the Letter I recently sent to the faithful of Rome concerning the anxiety about what I called a great educational emergency. ?"Educating has never been an easy undertaking and seems to be becoming increasingly difficult today; thus, many parents and teachers are tempted to give up their task and do not even succeed in understanding what the mission entrusted to them truly is. Indeed, too many uncertainties, too many doubts are circulating in our society and our culture, too many distorted images are transmitted by the media. "It thus becomes difficult to propose to the new generations something valid and reliable, rules of conduct and worthwhile objectives to which to devote one's life" (Address at the Presentation of a Letter on "The Urgent Task of Education", 23 February 2008; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 March, p. 5).

Actually, the most serious aspect of the educational crisis is the sense of discouragement that overcomes many educators, parents and teachers in particular as they face the difficulties of their task today. I therefore wrote in the Letter cited: "The soul of education, as of the whole of life, can only be a dependable hope. Today, our hope is threatened on many sides and we even risk becoming, like the ancient pagans, people "having no hope and without God in the world', as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Ephesus (Eph 2: 12).

"What may be the deepest difficulty for a true educational endeavour consists precisely in this: the fact that at the root of the crisis of education lies a crisis of trust in life", which is basically nothing other than distrust in the God who called us to life. ?In the education of youth it is extremely important that the family play an active role. Families frequently have difficulty in facing the challenges of education; they are often unable to make their own contribution or are absent.

The special tenderness and commitment to young people that are characteristic of Don Bosco's charism must be expressed in an equal commitment to the involvement and formation of families.

Your youth ministry, therefore, must be decisively open to family ministry. Caring for families does not mean taking people away from work for young people; on the contrary, it means making it more permanent and effective. ?I thus encourage you to deepen the forms of this commitment on which you have set out; this will prove advantageous to the education and evangelization of the young. ?In the face of these multiple tasks, your Congregation must assure its members in particular a sound formation.

The Church urgently needs people with a solid and profound faith, an up-dated cultural training, genuine human sensitivity and a strong pastoral sense. She needs consecrated people who devote their lives to being on these boundaries. Only in this way will it be possible to evangelize effectively, proclaiming the God of Jesus Christ and thus the joy of life.

Your Congregation must therefore devote itself to this formative commitment as one of its priorities. It must continue to take great pains in training its members without being satisfied with mediocrity, overcoming the difficulties of vocational weakness, encouraging solid spiritual guidance and guaranteeing educational and pastoral quality in continuing formation.

I conclude by thanking God for the presence of your charism at the service of the Church. I encourage you in achieving the goals that your General Chapter will propose to the entire Congregation. I assure you of my prayers for the implementation of what the Spirit will suggest to you for the good of youth, families and all the lay people involved in the spirit and mission of Don Bosco.?With these sentiments and as a pledge of abundant heavenly gifts, I now impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.

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On St. Benedict of Norcia
"The Great Monk Is Still a True Teacher"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 9, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to talk about St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, and also the patron saint of my papacy. I will begin with a few words from Pope St. Gregory the Great who wrote the following about St. Benedict: “The man of God who shone on this earth with so many miracles does not shine any less for the eloquence with which he knew how to present his teaching” (Dial. II, 36).

The Great Pope wrote these words in the year 592: The holy monk had died barely 50 years earlier and was still alive in the memories of the people and above all in the blossoming religious order he founded. St. Benedict, through his life and work, had a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture.

The most important source of information on his life is the second book of the Dialogues by Pope St. Gregory the Great. It is not a biography as such. According to the ideas of the time, he wanted to demonstrate by using a real person -- St. Benedict -- how someone who abandons himself to God can reach the heights of contemplation. He offers us a model of human life characterized as an ascent toward the peak of perfection.

Pope St. Gregory the Great tells us in the book of the Dialogues about the many miracles performed by the saint. Here too he did not want to simply recount a strange event, but rather demonstrate how God, by warning, helping and even punishing, intervenes in real situations in the life of man. He wanted to show that God is not a distant hypothesis situated at the beginning of the world, but rather that he is present in the life of man, of all men.

This perspective of the "biography" is also explained in the light of the general context of the times: Between the fifth and sixth centuries the world suffered a terrible crisis in values and institutions, caused by the collapse of the Roman Empire, the invasion of new people and the decline of customs. By presenting St. Benedict as a "shining light," Gregory wanted to show the way out of “this dark night of history” (cfr. John Paul II, Teachings, II/1, 1979, p. 1158), the terrible situation here in the city of Rome.

In fact, the work of St. Benedict and his Rule in particular are bearers of a genuine spiritual turmoil, which changed the face of Europe over the centuries and whose effects were felt way beyond his time and the borders of his own country. Following the collapse of the political unity created by the Roman Empire, it revived a new spiritual and cultural unity -- that of Christian faith, shared among the people of the Continent. This is how the Europe we know today was born.

The birth of St. Benedict is dated around the year 480. He was born, according to Pope St. Gregory, “ex provincia Nursiae” -- in the region of Norcia. His parents were well off and sent him to be educated in Rome. He did not stay long in the eternal city however. Pope St. Gregory offers a very likely explanation for this. He points out that the young Benedict was disgusted by the way of life of many of his fellow students who led unprincipled lives and he did not want to fall into the same trap. He wanted only to please God “soli Deo placere desiderans” (II Dial., Prol 1).

Therefore, even before he completed his studies, Benedict left Rome and withdrew to the solitude of the mountains east of Rome. Initially he stayed in the village of Effide (now: Affile), where for some time he affiliated himself with a "religious community" of monks, and then became a hermit living in Subiaco, which was close by. For three years he lived completely alone in a cave there. In the High Middle Ages, this cave became the "heart" of a Benedictine monastery called "Sacro Speco." His time in Subiaco was a period of solitude spent with God and was for Benedict a time in which he matured.

Here he endured and overcame the three fundamental human temptations: the temptation of self-assertion and the desire to place oneself at the center of things; the temptation of the senses; and finally, the temptation of anger and revenge.

Benedict firmly believed that only after conquering these temptations would he be able to say anything useful to others in need. And so, having pacified his soul, he was fully able to control the drive to put oneself first, and so became a creator of peace. Only then did he decide to found his first monasteries in the valley of Anio, near Subiaco.

In the year 529 he left Subiaco to establish himself in Montecassino. Some have explained this move as a flight from the interference of a jealous local clergyman, but this is not likely, as the priest's sudden death did not lead Benedict to move back again (II Dial. 8). In truth, he took this decision because he had entered into a new phase of monastic experience and personal maturity.

According to Gregory the Great his exodus from the remote valley of Anio to Mount Cassio -- which dominates the vast planes around it -- is symbolic of his character. A monastic life of isolation has it's place, but a monastery also has a public aim in the life of the Church and society as a whole. It must serve to make faith visible as a force of life. In fact, when Benedict died on March 21, 547, through his Rule and the Benedictine order that he founded, he left us a legacy that bore fruit all over the world in the subsequent centuries, and continues to do so today.

In the whole of the second book of the Dialogues, Gregory shows us how the life of St. Benedict was immersed in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer you cannot experience God. Benedict's spirituality was not cut off from reality. In the turmoil and confusion of the times, Benedict lived under the gaze of God. He never lost sight of the duties of everyday life and of man and his necessities. In seeing God he understood the reality of man and his mission. In his Rule he explains monastic life as “a school at the service of the Lord” (Prol. 45), and he asks his monks "not to place anything ahead of the work of God" (that is, the Divine Office and the Liturgy of the Hours)(43,3). He underlines, however, that the act of prayer is in the first instance the act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which is then translated into concrete action. “Every day the Lord expects us to respond to his holy teaching with action” (Prol. 35).

The life of a monk therefore becomes a fruitful symbiosis of action and contemplation, “so that God is glorified in everything” (57,9). In contrast to an egocentric and easy self-fulfillment, often extolled today, the first and irrefutable duty of a disciple of St. Benedict is a sincere search for God (58,7) on the road traced by a humble and obedient Christ (5,13), the love of whom nothing should be allowed to stand in the way (4,21; 72,11).

It is in this way, in serving others, that Benedict becomes a man of service and peace. By showing obedience through his actions with a faith driven by love (5,2), the monk acquires humility (5,1), to which the Rule dedicates a whole chapter (7). In this way man becomes more like Christ and attains true self-fulfillment as a creature in God's own image.

The obedience of the disciple must be matched by the wisdom of the Abbot, who “takes the place of Christ” (2,2; 63,13) in a monastery. His role, outlined mainly in the second chapter of the Rule, with a description of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as Gregory the Great writes, “the Saint could not teach what he himself had not lived” (Dial. II, 36). The Abbot must be both a loving father and a strict teacher (2,24), a true educator.

Inflexible when it comes to vices, he is called upon to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27,8) to “assist rather than dominate” (64,8), to “point out more with actions than words all that is good and holy,” and to “ illustrate the divine commandments by setting an example” (2,12).

In order to be capable of making responsible decisions, the Abbot must also be someone who listens to “the advice of his brothers” (3,2), because “God often reveals the most apt solution to the youngest person” (3,3). This attitude makes the Rule, written almost 15 centuries ago very current! A man with public responsibility, even in small circles, must always be a man who knows how to listen and to learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule as “minimal, just an initial outline” (73,8); in reality, however, it offers useful advice not only to monks, but to anyone looking for guidance on the path to God. Through his capacity, his humanity, and his sober ability to discern between what is essential and what is secondary in the spiritual life, he is still a guiding light today.

Paul VI, by proclaiming St. Benedict the patron saint of Europe on October 24, 1964, recognized the wonderful work accomplished by the saint through the Rule toward creating the civilization and culture of Europe.

Today, Europe -- deeply wounded during the last century by two world wars and the collapse of great ideologies now revealed as tragic utopias -- is searching for it's own identity. A strong political, economic and legal framework is undoubtedly important in creating a new, unified and lasting state, but we also need to renew ethical and spiritual values that draw on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise we cannot construct a new Europe.

Without this vital lifeblood, man remains exposed to the ancient temptation of self-redemption -- a utopia, which caused in various ways in 20th-century Europe, as pointed out by Pope John Paul II, “an unprecedented regression in the tormented history of humanity” (Teachings, XIII/1, 1990, p. 58).

In the search for true progress, let us listen to the Rule of St. Benedict and see it as a guiding light for our journey. The great monk is still a true teacher in whose school we can learn the art of living a true humanism.

[Translation by Giustina Montaque]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today is concerned with Saint Benedict, the Father of Western monasticism. The most important source of information on his life is the Second Book of the Dialogues of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. Writing in a time of turmoil and moral decadence following the fall of the Roman Empire, Pope Gregory believed that the life and Rule of Benedict could be a light leading the people of Europe out of darkness.

Benedict was born in 480 in the region of Nursia. He came to Rome to study but soon left the city so as to live in silence and to please God alone. He spent some time in a religious community before becoming a hermit in a cave. After struggling victoriously against the fundamental human temptations of pride, sensuality and anger, he decided to found a monastery at Subiaco. Years later he established a new community on a mountain, Montecassino, to symbolize the public role of a monastery called to be a light shining for the good of the Church and society. Indeed, when he died in 547 Saint Benedict left behind a thriving spiritual family and a Rule, which invites us to search for God in prayer, obedience and humility while attending faithfully to daily duties and to those in need.

In 1964 Pope Paul VI proclaimed Saint Benedict Patron of Europe recognizing the role that his teaching and his disciples had played in shaping Europe’s spiritual life and culture. Let us continue to pray that Europe’s new unity may be enlightened and nourished by a religious and moral renewal drawn from its Christian roots.

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Benedict XVI's Message to the United States
"I Am Coming, Sent by Jesus Christ, to Bring You His Word of Life"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2008 - Here is the text of the video-message that Benedict XVI sent to the people of the United States on the occasion of his imminent visit to Washington, D.C., and New York. His visit will take place April 15-20.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the United States of America,

The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you! In just a few days from now, I shall begin my apostolic visit to your beloved country. Before setting off, I would like to offer you a heartfelt greeting and an invitation to prayer. As you know, I shall only be able to visit two cities: Washington and New York. The intention behind my visit, though, is to reach out spiritually to all Catholics in the United States. At the same time, I earnestly hope that my presence among you will be seen as a fraternal gesture towards every ecclesial community, and a sign of friendship for members of other religious traditions and all men and women of good will. The risen Lord entrusted the Apostles and the Church with his Gospel of love and peace, and his intention in doing so was that the message should be passed on to all peoples.

At this point I should like to add some words of thanks, because I am conscious that many people have been working hard for a long time, both in Church circles and in the public services, to prepare for my journey. I am especially grateful to all who have been praying for the success of the visit, since prayer is the most important element of all. Dear friends, I say this because I am convinced that without the power of prayer, without that intimate union with the Lord, our human endeavours would achieve very little. Indeed this is what our faith teaches us. It is God who saves us, he saves the world, and all of history. He is the Shepherd of his people. I am coming, sent by Jesus Christ, to bring you his word of life.

Together with your Bishops, I have chosen as the theme of my journey three simple but essential words: "Christ our hope". Following in the footsteps of my venerable predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II, I shall come to United States of America as Pope for the first time, to proclaim this great truth: Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture and social condition. Yes, Christ is the face of God present among us. Through him, our lives reach fullness, and together, both as individuals and peoples, we can become a family united by fraternal love, according to the eternal plan of God the Father. I know how deeply rooted this Gospel message is in your country. I am coming to share it with you, in a series of celebrations and gatherings. I shall also bring the message of Christian hope to the great Assembly of the United Nations, to the representatives of all the peoples of the world.

Indeed, the world has greater need of hope than ever: hope for peace, for justice, and for freedom, but this hope can never be fulfilled without obedience to the law of God, which Christ brought to fulfillment in the commandment to love one another. Do to others as you would have them do to you, and avoid doing what you would not want them to do. This "golden rule" is given in the Bible, but it is valid for all people, including non-believers. It is the law written on the human heart; on this we can all agree, so that when we come to address other matters we can do so in a positive and constructive manner for the entire human community.

[The Pope continued in Spanish]

I direct a cordial greeting to Spanish-speaking Catholics and manifest my spiritual closeness, in particular to the youth, the ill, the elderly and those who are in moments of difficulty of feel themselves in need. I express my heartfelt desire to be with you soon in this beloved nation. In the meantime, I encourage you to pray intensely for the pastoral fruits of my imminent apostolic trip and to keep high the flame of hope in the resurrected Christ.

[Translation by ZENIT]

Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends in the United States, I am very much looking forward to being with you. I want you to know that, even if my itinerary is short, with just a few engagements, my heart is close to all of you, especially to the sick, the weak, and the lonely. I thank you once again for your prayerful support of my mission. I reach out to every one of you with affection, and I invoke upon you the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Que la Virgen María les acompañe y proteja. Que Dios les bendiga. [May the Virgen Mary accompany and protect you. May God bless you.]

May God bless you all.

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Pope's Address to Bishops of the Antilles
"Be Audacious Witnesses to the Light of Christ"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 7, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today upon receiving in audience prelates from the Antilles Episcopal Conference, who have just completed their five-yearly visit.
* * *

Dear Brother Bishops,

"What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as servants" (2 Cor 4:5). With these stirring words of Saint Paul I cordially welcome you, the Bishops of the Antilles. I thank Archbishop Burke for the kind sentiments expressed on your behalf and I warmly reciprocate them and assure you of my prayers for yourselves and those entrusted to your pastoral care. Your visit ad Limina Apostolorum is an occasion to strengthen your commitment to make the face of Jesus increasingly visible within the Church and society through consistent witness to the Gospel.

The great ‘drama’ of Holy Week and the joyful liturgical season of Easter express the very essence of the hope which defines us as Christians. Jesus, who indicates to us the way beyond even death, is the one who shows us how to overcome trials and fear. He is the true teacher of life (cf. Spe Salvi, 6). Indeed, filled with the light of Christ we too illuminate the way which dispels all evil, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride (cf. Exsultet).

The image of the paschal light I trust, dear Brothers, will draw you forward as you engage with the considerable challenges you face. Your own reports articulate with frankness both the light and the shadows cast upon your Dioceses. Undoubtedly the religious soul of the peoples of your region is capable of great things! Generosity of heart and openness of mind attest to a spirit willing to be shaped by the truth and love of our Lord. Yet there is also much that seeks to quench the dimly burning wick (cf. Is 42:3). To varying degrees, your shores have been battered by negative aspects of the entertainment industry, exploitative tourism and the scourge of the arms and drugs trade; influences which not only undermine family life and unsettle the foundations of traditional cultural values, but tend to affect negatively local politics.

Brothers, against this disturbing backdrop, stand tall as heralds of hope! Be audacious witnesses to the light of Christ, which gives families direction and purpose, and be bold preachers of the power of the Gospel, which must permeate their way of thinking, standards of judgement, and norms of behaviour. I am confident that your lived testimony to God’s extraordinary "yes" to humanity (cf. 2 Cor 1:20) will encourage your peoples to reject destructive social trends and to seek ‘faith in action’, embracing all that begets the new life of Pentecost!

Pastoral renewal is an indispensable task for each of your Dioceses. Already there are examples where this challenge has been embraced with enthusiasm; it must include priests, Religious and the lay faithful. Of vital importance is the tireless promotion of vocations together with the guidance and ongoing formation of priests. You are the primary formators of your priests and, supported by the laity, you bear the responsibility for assiduous and prudent encouragement of vocations. Your solicitude for the human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation of your seminarians and priests is a sure expression of your care and concern for the constant deepening of their pastoral commitment (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, 2).

I encourage you to support attentively Saint John Vianney and the Ugandan Martyrs Seminary, to supervise in a fatherly way especially your young priests and to offer regular programmes of ongoing formation necessary for building priestly identity (cf. ibid., 71). In turn, your priests will surely nurture their parish communities with growing maturity and spiritual wisdom. The establishment of a francophone seminary in the region is a welcome sign of hope; please convey to its staff and seminarians the assurance of my prayers.

The contribution of Religious Brothers, Priests and Sisters to the mission of the Church and the building up of civil society has been of immeasurable worth to your countries. Innumerable boys, girls and families have benefited from the selfless commitment of Religious to spiritual guidance, education, and social and medical work. Of special value and beauty is the life of prayer found in the contemplative communities of the region. Your pastoral concern for the decline in Religious vocations exemplifies your deep appreciation of consecrated life. I too appeal to your Religious communities, encouraging them to reaffirm their calling with confidence and, guided by the Holy Spirit, to propose afresh to young people the ideal of consecration and mission; the spiritual treasures of their respective charisms splendidly illuminate the paths by which the Lord calls young people to the adventure of the life of love offered to him for every member of the human family (cf. Vita Consecrata, 3).

[The Pope continued in French]

Dear Brothers, each one of you feels the great responsibility to do everything possible to support marriage and family life, which is the primary source of cohesion in communities and hence of vital importance in the eyes of the government authorities. In this perspective, the great network of Catholic schools throughout your region can make a great contribution. Values rooted in the way of truth presented by Christ illuminate the spirit and heart of young people and encourage them to continue along the path of faithfulness, responsibility and real freedom. Good young Christians make good citizens. I am sure that everything will be done to encourage the Catholicity of your schools, which, for generations, have offered a remarkable service to your people. In this way, I do not doubt that the young adults of your dioceses will know to discern their return, in an urgent way, to contribute to the economic and social development of region, because it will be an essential dimension of their Christian witness.

With fraternal affection I offer these reflections wishing to affirm you in your desire to intensify the summons to witness and evangelization which ensue from the encounter with Christ. United in your proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, go forward in hope! Please assure all your seminarians and priests, Religious, and lay faithful -- including in a special way the considerable immigrant communities -- of my prayers and spiritual communion. To you all, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

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Setting Out for Emmaus
"The Road That Leads There Is the Journey of Every Christian"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2008 - Here is a translation of the greeting Benedict XVI gave today before praying the Regina Caeli with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Gospel for this Sunday -- the 3rd Sunday of Easter -- is the celebrated account of the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-35). The story is told of two disciples of Christ who, on the day after the Sabbath, that is, the third day after Jesus’ death, sad and dejected, leave Jerusalem and set out for nearby village called, precisely, Emmaus.

Along the road, the risen Jesus comes and walks beside them but they do not recognize him. Seeing that they were disheartened, he explained, on the basis of the Scriptures, that the Messiah had to suffer and die to enter into his glory. Having entered into the house with them, he sat down at table with them, blessed the bread and broke it, and at that point they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight, leaving them full of wonder before the broken bread, new sign of his presence. And immediately the two returned to Jerusalem and told the other disciples what happened.

The location of Emmaus has not been identified with any certainty. There are different hypotheses, and this fact is not without its significance because it leaves us to think that in reality Emmaus represents every place: The road that leads there is the journey of every Christian, indeed, of every man. Along our roads the risen Jesus is our companion on the journey, to reignite in our hearts the warmth of faith and hope and the breaking of the bread of eternal life.

In the disciples' conversation with the unknown traveler the expression that the evangelist Luke puts in one of their mouths is striking: “We were hoping…” (24:21). This past tense verb says everything: We believed, we followed, we hoped …, but now it is all over. Even Jesus of Nazareth, who had shown himself to be a powerful prophet in deeds and words, failed, and we are disappointed.

This drama of the disciples of Emmaus is as a mirror of the situation of many Christians of our time. It seems that the hope of faith has failed. Faith itself enters into crisis because of negative experiences that make us feel like we are abandoned by the Lord. But this road to Emmaus on which we travel can become a way of purification and maturation of our believing in God.

Even today we can enter into conversation with Jesus listening to his word. Even today he breaks the bread for us and gives himself as our bread. And in this way the encounter with the risen Christ, which is possible even today, gives us a deeper and more authentic faith, tempered, so to speak, by the fire of the Easter event; a robust faith because it is nourished not by human ideas, but by the word of God and by his presence in the Eucharist.

This stupendous Gospel text already contains the structure of the Mass: in the first part the hearing of the word through the sacred Scriptures; in the second the Eucharistic liturgy and communion with Christ present in the sacrament of his Body and his Blood.

Nourished at this twofold table, the Church is unceasingly built up and renews itself day by day in faith, in hope and in charity. Through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, let us pray that every Christian and every community, reliving the experience of the disciples of Emmaus, rediscover the grace of the transforming encounter with the risen Lord.

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Benedict XVI's Address to Papal Foundation
"May Your Good Works Continue to Multiply"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 4, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today upon receiving in audience members of the Papal Foundation.

* * *

Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear Friends in Christ,

I extend a heartfelt welcome to you, the representatives of the Papal Foundation, as we continue to celebrate our Lord's glorious resurrection during this blessed Easter Season.

"The Lord has risen indeed!" This was the response of the Eleven after the disciples from Emmaus, who recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, rushed to join them in Jerusalem (cf. Lk 24:33-40). Their encounter with the Risen Lord turned their sorrow into joy, their disappointment into hope. Their testimony of faith instils in us the firm conviction that Christ lives in our midst, bestowing the gifts that empower us to be messengers of hope in the world today. The very source of the Church's service of love, as she strives to alleviate the suffering of the poor and weak, can be found in her unwavering faith that the Lord has definitively conquered sin and death; and that in serving her brothers and sisters, she serves the Lord himself until he comes again in glory (cf. Mt 25:31-46; "Deus Caritas Est," 19).

Dear friends, I am pleased to have this occasion to express my gratitude for the generous support the Papal Foundation offers through aid projects and scholarships which assist me in carrying out my Apostolic Ministry to the universal Church. I ask for your prayers, and I assure you of my own. May your good works continue to multiply, filling our brothers and sisters with the sure hope that Jesus never ceases to pour out his life for us in the sacraments so that we may provide for the material and spiritual needs of the whole human family (cf. "Deus Caritas Est," 25).

Commending you and your loved ones to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Risen Savior.

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Benedict XVI's Homily at Mass for John Paul II
"Death Was the Seal of an Existence Totally Given to Christ"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2008 .- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today when he celebrated Mass on the third anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

The date of April 2 has been imprinted in the Church's memory as the day the Servant of God Pope John Paul II [said] good-bye to this world. Let us again live with emotion the hours of that Saturday afternoon, when the news of his passing away was received by a great multitude of people in prayer who filled St. Peter's Square. For a few days, the Vatican Basilica and this Square truly became the heart of the world. An uninterrupted river of pilgrims paid homage to the remains of the venerated Pontiff and his funeral was a last testament of the esteem and the affection that he had won in the spirit of so many believers and people from all the corners of the earth.

Just like three years ago, today as well, just a short time has passed since Easter. The heart of the Church finds itself still submerged in the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord. In truth, we can interpret the entire life of my beloved predecessor, particularly his Petrine ministry, according to the sign of Christ resurrected. He felt an extraordinary faith in Him, and with Him, he maintained an intimate, unique, uninterrupted conversation. Among his many human and supernatural qualities, he had an exceptional spiritual and mystical sensitivity.

It was enough to see him praying: He literally submerged himself in God and it seemed that everything else during those moments was left outside. During the liturgical celebrations, he was attentive to the mystery being carried out, with a keen capacity to perceive the eloquence of God's word in the development of history, penetrating deeply into God's plan. Holy Mass, as he often repeated, was for him the center of the day and all his existence -- the "living and holy" reality of the Eucharist that gave him spiritual energy to guide the people of God on the path of history.

John Paul II died on the vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter, "the day the Lord made." The throes of death happened on this "day," in the new time-space that is the "eighth day," desired by the Holy Trinity through the work of the incarnate Word, dead and risen. Pope John Paul II showed on various occasions that already from before, during his life, and especially in the fulfilling of his mission as Supreme Pontiff, he was in some way submerged in this spiritual dimension

His pontificate, taken together and in many specific moments, presents itself to us as a sign and testimony of the resurrection of Christ. This paschal dynamism, which made of John Paul II's existence a total responding to the call of the Lord, could not be expressed except without a participation in the sufferings and the death of the divine Master and Redeemer. "This saying is trustworthy," the Apostle Paul says, "If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:11-12).

Since childhood, Karol Wojtyla had experienced the truth of these words, finding the cross on his path, in his family, with his people. Very soon he decided to carry it beside Jesus, following in his footsteps. He wanted to be his faithful servant to the point of welcoming the call to the priesthood as a gift and a commitment for all of his life. With Him, he lived, and with Him, he wanted to die. And all of this by way of the unique mediation of most holy Mary, mother of the Church, mother of the Redeemer, intimately and truly associated with the salvific mystery of his death and resurrection.

In this evocative reflection, the biblical readings just proclaimed guide us: "Be not afraid!" (Matthew 28:5). The words of the angel of the Resurrection, addressed to the women before the empty tomb, which we just heard, became a type of motto on the lips of Pope John Paul II, since the solemn beginnings of his Petrine ministry. He repeated them on various occasions to the Church and to the world on the journey toward the year 2000, and after having passed that historical time, as well as afterward, in the dawn of the third millennium. He always pronounced them with inflexible firmness, first raising up [his] crosier predominated by the cross, and later, when his physical energies were weakening, nearly clinging to it, until that last Good Friday, in which he participated in the Way of the Cross from his private chapel, embracing within his arms the cross.

We cannot forget that last and silent testimony of love for Jesus. That eloquent scene of human suffering and faith, in that last Good Friday, also indicated to believers and to the world the secret of every Christian life. That "be not afraid" was not based on human strength, nor on successes accomplished, but rather, only on the word of God, on the cross and resurrection of Christ. In the degree in which he was being stripped of everything, at the end, even of his very words, this total surrender to Christ manifested itself with increasing clarity. As it happened to Jesus, also in the case of John Paul II, words gave way at the end to the ultimate sacrifice, to the gift of self. And death was the seal of an existence totally given to Christ, conformed to him even physically with the traits of suffering and trusting abandonment to the arms of the heavenly Father. "Let me go to the house of the Father," these words -- report those who were at his side -- were his last words, the fulfillment of a life totally oriented to knowing and contemplating the face of the Lord.

Venerated and dear brothers: I give thanks to all of you for having united yourselves to me in this Mass for the soul of the beloved John Paul II. I address a particular thought to the participants in the first world congress on Divine Mercy, which begins precisely today, and which aims to go deeper in his rich magisterium on this theme. The mercy of God, he himself said, is a privileged key for interpreting his pontificate. He wanted the message of the merciful love of God to reach all men and women and he exhorted the faithful to be its witnesses. (Cf. Homily at the dedication of the Shrine of Divine Mercy, Aug. 17, 2002.)

For this reason, he wanted to elevate to the altars Sister Faustina Kowalska, a humble religious converted by the mysterious divine design into the prophetic messenger of divine mercy. The Servant of God John Paul II had known and personally lived the terrible tragedies of the 20th century, and he asked himself during a long time what could stop the advance of evil. The answer could only be found in the love of God. Only divine mercy, in fact, is capable of putting limits on evil; only the omnipotent love of God can topple the dominance of the evil ones and the destructive power of egotism and hate. For this reason, during his last visit to Poland, upon returning to his native land, he said, "Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind."

Let us give thanks to God because he has given the Church this faithful and courageous servant. Let us praise and bless the Virgin Mary for having ceaselessly watched over his person and his ministry for the benefit of the Christian people and all of humanity. And while we are offering for his chosen soul the redeeming Sacrifice, we ask him to continue interceding from heaven for each one of us, for me in a special way, who Providence has called to take up his inestimable spiritual heritage. May the Church, following his teaching and example, faithfully continue its evangelizing mission without compromises, spreading tirelessly the merciful love of Christ, fount of true peace for the entire world.

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On the Joy of Easter
"Christ's Resurrection Gives Us the Certainty of Our Own Resurrection"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 30, 2008 - Here is a translation of the greeting Benedict XVI gave last Wednesday during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters

"'Et resurrexit tertia die secundum Scripturas' -- on the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures." Every Sunday, we renew our profession of faith in the resurrection of Christ with the Creed. This amazing event is the keystone of Christianity. In the Church, everything is understood to derive from this wonderful mystery that altered the course of history and that is made present at every celebration of the Eucharist.

There is a liturgical time, however, when this reality, central to the Christian faith, in all its rich doctrine and inexhaustible vitality is presented to the faithful in a particularly strong fashion because more people rediscover it and live it more faithfully: Easter time. Each year during the "holy triduum of Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection," as St. Augustine calls it, the Church goes back over the final stages of Christ's life on earth in a climate of prayer and penitence: his being condemned to death, his journey to Calvary carrying the cross, the sacrifice he made for our salvation, and laying his body to rest. On the third day, the Church relives his resurrection; it is Easter, Jesus' journey from death to life, in which the ancient prophesies are completely fulfilled. All of the liturgies of Easter proclaim the certainty and the joy of Christ's resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must constantly strive to renew our adherence to Christ who died and rose again for us. His Easter is also our Easter because Christ's resurrection gives us the certainty of our own resurrection. The news of Christ's resurrection never ages and Jesus is always alive; he lives in the Gospel. "The faith of Christians," observes St. Augustine, "is the resurrection of Christ." The Acts of the Apostles explains this clearly: "God has provided confirmation for all by raising Jesus from the dead" (17:31).

The death of Jesus was not enough to prove he was truly the Son of God, the awaited Messiah. How many people, in the course of history, have given their lives for a cause they believed in! They did not come back. The death of our Lord demonstrates the enormous love he felt for us, even to the point of sacrificing himself. It is only through his Resurrection however that we are given "confirmation," the certainty that what he says is truth, a truth that applies to us too, forever. By resurrecting him, God glorified him. St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord and you believe with your heart that God resurrected him, you will be saved" (10:9).

It is important to reaffirm this truth which is fundamental to our faith. The historical truth of this has been well documented even if today as in the past there are people who in various ways doubt or even deny it occurred. The weakening of faith in the resurrection of Jesus in turn weakens the testimony of believers. In fact, if the Church's faith in the Resurrection were reduced, everything would stop and break up. On the other hand, adherence of the heart and mind to the belief in Christ's death and resurrection changes your life and lights up the lives of individuals and people everywhere.

Is it not this certainty in the risen Lord that inspires courage, bold prophecies and perseverance in the martyrs through the ages? Is it not this meeting with the living Christ which captivates and converts so many men and women who from the beginning of Christianity leave all they have to follow him and give their lives to serve the Gospel? If Christ has not risen, said the Apostle Paul, then our preaching is in vain and our faith is also in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). But he has risen!

The announcement which we constantly hear during these days is this: Christ is risen, he lives and we can meet him -- just as the women met him, the women who on the morning of the third day, the day after Saturday, went to the tomb; just as the disciples, surprised and upset by what the women had told them, met him; just as many other witnesses met him in the days following the resurrection. Even after the ascension, Jesus continued to be present among his friends just as he had promised: "I am with you every day until the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). The Lord is with you, with his Church, until the end of time. Illuminated by the Holy Spirit, the first members of the Church began making the Easter proclamation openly and without fear. This announcement handed down through the generations has now reached us too and is repeated each year at Easter with renewed vigor.

Particularly in these days of the Octave of Easter, the liturgy invites us personally to meet with the Risen Lord and to recognize his enlivening effect on historical events and on our daily lives. Today, Wednesday, for example, we are reminded of the moving story of the two disciples of Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-35). After the Crucifixion, overwhelmed with sadness and delusion, they disconsolately made their way home. While walking they talked to each other about what had happened over the past few days in Jerusalem. Jesus approached them, he began talking to them and teaching them, "Oh foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken ... was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? " (Luke 24:25-26).

Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. The teachings of Christ -- the explanation of the prophesies -- were for the disciples of Emmaus like an unexpected revelation, illuminating and comforting. Jesus provided a new key to reading the Bible and everything now seemed clear, all leading up to this moment. Won over by the words of this stranger, they asked him to stop and eat dinner with them. He accepted and sat down at the table with them. The Evangelist Luke tells us: "When he was at the table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them" (Luke 24:29-30). It was at that precise moment that the eyes of the two disciples were opened and they recognized him, "but he vanished from their sight" (Luke 24:31). Overcome with surprise and with joy, they said: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32).

The Lord walks with us and he explains the Scriptures throughout the whole of the liturgical year, but particularly in Holy Week and in Easter Week. He enables us to understand this mystery: Everything refers to him. This should make our hearts burn too so that our eyes may be opened. The Lord is with us and shows us the true path. Just as the two disciples recognized Jesus when he broke the bread, we too acknowledge his presence when we break the bread. The disciples of Emmaus recognized him and remembered those moments when Jesus broke the bread with them and in so doing anticipated his death and his resurrection, giving himself to his disciples.

Jesus breaks the bread for us and with us too, he is present with us in the holy Eucharist, he gives himself to us and opens our hearts. In the holy Eucharist and by reading his word, we too can meet and get to know Jesus by taking the consecrated bread and wine. Every Sunday, the community of the Church relives the Easter of the Lord and reaps from the savior his testament of love and brotherly service. Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of these days strengthens our faithful adherence to Christ who was crucified and resurrected. Above all, let us allow ourselves to feel the wonder of the Resurrection. May Mary help us to be messengers of the light and the joy of Easter. Again, I send you all my warmest wishes for a Happy Easter.

[Translation by Giustina Montaque]

[After his address, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to the international group of School Sisters of Saint Francis gathered in Rome. I also thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from Wales, Ireland, Indonesia, Japan, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Christ.

(c) Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On John Paul II and Divine Mercy
"All the Church Does Shows the Mercy God Feels for Man"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, MARCH 30, 2008- Here is a translation of the greeting Benedict XVI gave today before praying the Regina Caeli with thousands of people gathered in the patio of the pontifical residence at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

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Dear brothers and sisters:

During the Jubilee Year 2000, the dear Servant of God John Paul II established that in the whole Church the Sunday after Easter, besides being the Sunday "in albis" would be designated Divine Mercy Sunday. He did this together with the canonization of Faustina Kowalska, a humble Polish woman religious, who was born in 1905 and died in 1938, a zealous messenger of merciful Jesus.

Mercy is in reality the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God, the face with which he has revealed himself in the old covenant and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redeeming love. This merciful love also illumines the face of the Church, and is manifested, both by way of the sacraments, in particular that of reconciliation, and with works of communitarian and individual charity.

All that the Church says and does shows the mercy that God feels for man. When the Church has to remind about a neglected truth, or a betrayed good, it does it always motivated by a merciful love, so that men may have life and have it in abundance (cf. John 10:10). From divine mercy, which puts hearts at peace, also arises the authentic peace of the world, peace among peoples, cultures and religions.

Like Sister Faustina, John Paul II became in turn an apostle of divine mercy. On the night of that unforgettable Saturday, April 2, 2005, when he closed his eyes to this world, precisely the vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter was celebrated, and many observed the unique coincidence, which brought together a Marian dimension -- the first Saturday of the month -- and that of divine mercy.

In fact, his long and multifaceted pontificate finds here its central nucleus; all of his mission at the service of the truth about God, about man and peace in the world is summarized in this proclamation, as he himself said in Krakow-Lagiewniki in 2002, in inaugurating the great Shrine of Divine Mercy, "Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind." His message, like that of St. Faustina, presents the face of Christ, supreme revelation of the mercy of God. To contemplate constantly this face: This is the inheritance that he has left us, which we welcome with joy and make our own.

There will be special reflection about divine mercy in the coming days, due to the World Apostolic Congress on Divine Mercy, which will take place in Rome and will be inaugurated with the holy Mass, which, God willing, I will preside over in the morning of Wednesday, April 2, on the third anniversary of the death of the Servant of God John Paul II. Let us place the congress under the heavenly protection of most holy Mary, Mother of Mercy. We entrust to her the great cause of peace in the world so that the mercy of God achieves what is impossible with human strength alone, and instills the courage for dialogue and reconciliation.

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[After the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today. This Sunday's Gospel reminds us that through faith we recognize the presence of the Risen Lord in the Church, and that we receive from him the gift of the Holy Spirit. During this Easter season may we strengthen our desire to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ calling us to a life of peace and joy. Upon each of you present and your families, I invoke God's blessings of happiness and wisdom.

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Pope's Message for Easter
"The Resurrection of Jesus Is Essentially an Event of Love"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2008 - 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).

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Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum. Alleluia! I have risen, I am still with you. Alleluia! Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus, crucified and risen, repeats this joyful proclamation to us today: the Easter proclamation. Let us welcome it with deep wonder and gratitude!

Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum -- I have risen, I am still with you, for ever. These words, taken from an ancient version of Psalm 138 (v. 18b), were sung at the beginning of today’s Mass. In them, at the rising of the Easter sun, the Church recognizes the voice of Jesus himself who, on rising from death, turns to the Father filled with gladness and love, and exclaims: My Father, here I am! I have risen, I am still with you, and so I shall be for ever; your Spirit never abandoned me.

In this way we can also come to a new understanding of other passages from the psalm: "If I climb the heavens, you are there; if I descend into the underworld, you are there … Even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as clear as day; for you, darkness is like light" (Ps 138:8,12). It is true: in the solemn Easter vigil, darkness becomes light, night gives way to the day that knows no sunset. The death and resurrection of the Word of God incarnate is an event of invincible love, it is the victory of that Love which has delivered us from the slavery of sin and death. It has changed the course of history, giving to human life an indestructible and renewed meaning and value.

"I have risen and I am still with you, for ever." These words invite us to contemplate the risen Christ, letting his voice resound in our heart. With his redeeming sacrifice, Jesus of Nazareth has made us adopted children of God, so that we too can now take our place in the mysterious dialogue between him and the Father. We are reminded of what he once said to those who were listening: "All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Mt 11:27).

In this perspective, we note that the words addressed by the risen Jesus to the Father on this day -- "I am still with you, forever" -- apply indirectly to us as well, "children of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (cf. Rom 8:17). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we too rise to new life today, and uniting our voice with his, we proclaim that we wish to remain forever with God, our infinitely good and merciful Father.

In this way we enter the depths of the Paschal mystery. The astonishing event of the resurrection of Jesus is essentially an event of love: the Father’s love in handing over his Son for the salvation of the world; the Son’s love in abandoning himself to the Father’s will for us all; the Spirit’s love in raising Jesus from the dead in his transfigured body. And there is more: the Father’s love which "newly embraces" the Son, enfolding him in glory; the Son’s love returning to the Father in the power of the Spirit, robed in our transfigured humanity. From today’s solemnity, in which we relive the absolute, once-and-for-all experience of Jesus’s resurrection, we receive an appeal to be converted to Love; we receive an invitation to live by rejecting hatred and selfishness, and to follow with docility in the footsteps of the Lamb that was slain for our salvation, to imitate the Redeemer who is "gentle and lowly in heart", who is "rest for our souls" (cf. Mt 11:29).

Dear Christian brothers and sisters in every part of the world, dear men and women whose spirit is sincerely open to the truth, let no heart be closed to the omnipotence of this redeeming love! Jesus Christ died and rose for all; he is our hope -- true hope for every human being. Today, just as he did with his disciples in Galilee before returning to the Father, the risen Jesus now sends us everywhere as witnesses of his hope, and he reassures us: I am with you always, all days, until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). Fixing the gaze of our spirit on the glorious wounds of his transfigured body, we can understand the meaning and value of suffering, we can tend the many wounds that continue to disfigure humanity in our own day.

In his glorious wounds we recognize the indestructible signs of the infinite mercy of the God of whom the prophet says: it is he who heals the wounds of broken hearts, who defends the weak and proclaims the freedom of slaves, who consoles all the afflicted and bestows upon them the oil of gladness instead of a mourning robe, a song of praise instead of a sorrowful heart (cf. Is 61:1,2,3). If with humble trust we draw near to him, we encounter in his gaze the response to the deepest longings of our heart: to know God and to establish with him a living relationship in an authentic communion of love, which can fill our lives, our interpersonal and social relations with that same love. For this reason, humanity needs Christ: in him, our hope, "we have been saved" (cf. Rom 8:24).

How often relations between individuals, between groups and between peoples are marked not by love but by selfishness, injustice, hatred and violence! These are the scourges of humanity, open and festering in every corner of the planet, although they are often ignored and sometimes deliberately concealed; wounds that torture the souls and bodies of countless of our brothers and sisters. They are waiting to be tended and healed by the glorious wounds of our Risen Lord (cf. 1 Pet 2:24-25) and by the solidarity of people who, following in his footsteps, perform deeds of charity in his name, make an active commitment to justice, and spread luminous signs of hope in areas bloodied by conflict and wherever the dignity of the human person continues to be scorned and trampled. It is hoped that these are precisely the places where gestures of moderation and forgiveness will increase!

Dear brothers and sisters! Let us allow the light that streams forth from this solemn day to enlighten us; let us open ourselves in sincere trust to the risen Christ, so that his victory over evil and death may also triumph in each one of us, in our families, in our cities and in our nations. Let it shine forth in every part of the world. In particular, how can we fail to remember certain African regions, such as Dafur and Somalia, the tormented Middle East, especially the Holy Land, Iraq, Lebanon, and finally Tibet, all of whom I encourage to seek solutions that will safeguard peace and the common good! Let us invoke the fullness of his Paschal gifts, through the intercession of Mary who, after sharing the sufferings of the passion and crucifixion of her innocent Son, also experienced the inexpressible joy of his resurrection. Sharing in the glory of Christ, may she be the one to protect us and guide us along the path of fraternal solidarity and peace. These are my Easter greetings, which I address to all who are present here, and to men and women of every nation and continent united with us through radio and television. Happy Easter!

[Translation distributed by the Holy See]

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Benedict XVI's Easter Vigil Homily
"We Are Not Called to Darkness, But to Light"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2008 - 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In his farewell discourse, Jesus announced his imminent death and resurrection to his disciples with these mysterious words: "I go away, and I will come to you", he said (Jn 14:28). Dying is a "going away". Even if the body of the deceased remains behind, he himself has gone away into the unknown, and we cannot follow him (cf. Jn 13:36). Yet in Jesus’s case, there is something utterly new, which changes the world.

In the case of our own death, the "going away" is definitive, there is no return. Jesus, on the other hand, says of his death: "I go away, and I will come to you." It is by going away that he comes. His going ushers in a completely new and greater way of being present. By dying he enters into the love of the Father. His dying is an act of love. Love, however, is immortal. Therefore, his going away is transformed into a new coming, into a form of presence which reaches deeper and does not come to an end. During his earthly life, Jesus, like all of us, was tied to the external conditions of bodily existence: to a determined place and a determined time.

Bodiliness places limits on our existence. We cannot be simultaneously in two different places. Our time is destined to come to an end. And between the "I" and the "you" there is a wall of otherness. To be sure, through love we can somehow enter the other’s existence.

Nevertheless, the insurmountable barrier of being different remains in place. Yet Jesus, who is now totally transformed through the act of love, is free from such barriers and limits. He is able not only to pass through closed doors in the outside world, as the Gospels recount (cf. Jn 20:19). He can pass through the interior door separating the "I" from the "you", the closed door between yesterday and today, between the past and the future. On the day of his solemn entry into Jerusalem, when some Greeks asked to see him, Jesus replied with the parable of the grain of wheat which has to pass through death in order to bear much fruit. In this way he foretold his own destiny: these words were not addressed simply to one or two Greeks in the space of a few minutes.

Through his Cross, through his going away, through his dying like the grain of wheat, he would truly arrive among the Greeks, in such a way that they could see him and touch him through faith. His going away is transformed into a coming, in the Risen Lord’s universal manner of presence, in which he is there yesterday, today and for ever, in which he embraces all times and all places. Now he can even surmount the wall of otherness that separates the "I" from the "you". This happened with Paul, who describes the process of his conversion and his Baptism in these words: "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). Through the coming of the Risen One, Paul obtained a new identity. His closed "I" was opened. Now he lives in communion with Jesus Christ, in the great "I" of believers who have become -- as he puts it -- "one in Christ" (Gal 3:28).

So, dear friends, it is clear that, through Baptism, the mysterious words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper become present for you once more. In Baptism, the Lord enters your life through the door of your heart. We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another.

He passes through all these doors. This is the reality of Baptism: he, the Risen One, comes; he comes to you and joins his life with yours, drawing you into the open fire of his love. You become one, one with him, and thus one among yourselves. At first this can sound rather abstract and unrealistic. But the more you live the life of the baptized, the more you can experience the truth of these words. Believers -- the baptized -- are never truly cut off from one another. Continents, cultures, social structures or even historical distances may separate us.

But when we meet, we know one another on the basis of the same Lord, the same faith, the same hope, the same love, which form us. Then we experience that the foundation of our lives is the same. We experience that in our inmost depths we are anchored in the same identity, on the basis of which all our outward differences, however great they may be, become secondary. Believers are never totally cut off from one another. We are in communion because of our deepest identity: Christ within us. Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close (cf. Eph 2:13).

The Church expresses the inner reality of Baptism as the gift of a new identity through the tangible elements used in the administration of the sacrament. The fundamental element in Baptism is water; next, in second place, is light, which is used to great effect in the Liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Let us take a brief look at these two elements. In the final chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, there is a statement about Christ which does not speak directly of water, but the Old Testament allusions nevertheless point clearly to the mystery of water and its symbolic meaning. Here we read: "The God of peace … brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant" (13:20).

In this sentence, there is an echo of the prophecy of Isaiah, in which Moses is described as the shepherd whom the Lord brought up from the water, from the sea (cf. 63:11). Jesus appears as the new, definitive Shepherd who brings to fulfillment what Moses had done: he leads us out of the deadly waters of the sea, out of the waters of death. In this context we may recall that Moses’ mother placed him in a basket in the Nile. Then, through God’s providence, he was taken out of the water, carried from death to life, and thus -- having himself been saved from the waters of death -- he was able to lead others through the sea of death. Jesus descended for us into the dark waters of death.

But through his blood, so the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, he was brought back from death: his love united itself to the Father’s love, and thus from the abyss of death he was able to rise to life. Now he raises us from death to true life. This is exactly what happens in Baptism: he draws us towards himself, he draws us into true life. He leads us through the often murky sea of history, where we are frequently in danger of sinking amid all the confusion and perils. In Baptism he takes us, as it were, by the hand, he leads us along the path that passes through the Red Sea of this life and introduces us to everlasting life, the true and upright life. Let us grasp his hand firmly! Whatever may happen, whatever may befall us, let us not lose hold of his hand! Let us walk along the path that leads to life.

In the second place, there is the symbol of light and fire. Gregory of Tours recounts a practice that in some places was preserved for a long time, of lighting the new fire for the celebration of the Easter Vigil directly from the sun, using a crystal. Light and fire, so to speak, were received anew from heaven, so that all the lights and fires of the year could be kindled from them. This is a symbol of what we are celebrating in the Easter Vigil.

Through his radical love for us, in which the heart of God and the heart of man touched, Jesus Christ truly took light from heaven and brought it to the earth -- the light of truth and the fire of love that transform man’s being. He brought the light, and now we know who God is and what God is like. Thus we also know what our own situation is: what we are, and for what purpose we exist. When we are baptized, the fire of this light is brought down deep within ourselves. Thus, in the early Church, Baptism was also called the Sacrament of Illumination: God’s light enters into us; thus we ourselves become children of light.

We must not allow this light of truth, that shows us the path, to be extinguished. We must protect it from all the forces that seek to eliminate it so as to cast us back into darkness regarding God and ourselves. Darkness, at times, can seem comfortable. I can hide, and spend my life asleep. Yet we are not called to darkness, but to light. In our baptismal promises, we rekindle this light, so to speak, year by year. Yes, I believe that the world and my life are not the product of chance, but of eternal Reason and eternal Love, they are created by Almighty God. Yes, I believe that in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, in his Cross and resurrection, the face of God has been revealed; that in him, God is present in our midst, he unites us and leads us towards our goal, towards eternal Love.

Yes, I believe that the Holy Spirit gives us the word of truth and enlightens our hearts; I believe that in the communion of the Church we all become one Body with the Lord, and thus we encounter his resurrection and eternal life. The Lord has granted us the light of truth. This light is also fire, a powerful force coming from God, a force that does not destroy, but seeks to transform our hearts, so that we truly become men of God, and so that his peace can become active in this world.

In the early Church there was a custom whereby the Bishop or the priest, after the homily, would cry out to the faithful: "Conversi ad Dominum" -- turn now towards the Lord. This meant in the first place that they would turn towards the East, towards the rising sun, the sign of Christ returning, whom we go to meet when we celebrate the Eucharist. Where this was not possible, for some reason, they would at least turn towards the image of Christ in the apse, or towards the Cross, so as to orient themselves inwardly towards the Lord.

Fundamentally, this involved an interior event; conversion, the turning of our soul towards Jesus Christ and thus towards the living God, towards the true light. Linked with this, then, was the other exclamation that still today, before the Eucharistic Prayer, is addressed to the community of the faithful: "Sursum corda" -- "Lift up your hearts", high above the tangled web of our concerns, desires, anxieties and thoughtlessness -- "Lift up your hearts, your inner selves!" In both exclamations we are summoned, as it were, to a renewal of our Baptism: Conversi ad Dominum -- we must distance ourselves ever anew from taking false paths, onto which we stray so often in our thoughts and actions.

We must turn ever anew towards him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We must be converted ever anew, turning with our whole life towards the Lord. And ever anew we must allow our hearts to be withdrawn from the force of gravity, which pulls them down, and inwardly we must raise them high: in truth and love. At this hour, let us thank the Lord, because through the power of his word and of the holy Sacraments, he points us in the right direction and draws our heart upwards. Let us pray to him in these words: Yes, Lord, make us Easter people, men and women of light, filled with the fire of your love. Amen.

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Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
"What Have We Done With This Gift?"

ROME, MARCH 21, 2008 - Here is a transcription and translation of the reflection Benedict XVI offered today at the end of the Way of the Cross in the Roman Colosseum.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

This year too we have walked along the way of the cross, the Via Crucis, evoking again with faith the stages of the passion of Christ. Our eyes have turned to contemplate the sufferings and the anguish that our Redeemer had to bear in the hour of great sorrow, which entailed the highpoint of his earthly mission. Jesus dies on the cross and lies in the tomb. The day of Good Friday, so permeated by human sadness and religious silence, closes in the silence of meditation and prayer. In returning home, we too, like those who were present at the sacrifice of Jesus, beat our breasts, recalling what happened. Is it possible to remain indifferent before the death of the Lord, of the Son of God? For us, for our salvation he became man, so as to be able to suffer and die.

Brothers and sisters: Let us direct today our gaze toward Christ, a gaze frequently distracted by scattered and passing earthly interests. Let us pause to contemplate his cross. The cross, fount of life and school of justice and peace, is the universal patrimony of pardon and mercy. It is permanent proof of a self-emptying and infinite love that brought God to become man, vulnerable like us, unto dying crucified.

Through the sorrowful way of the cross, the men of all ages, reconciled and redeemed by the blood of Christ, have become friends of God, sons of the heavenly Father. "Friend," is what Jesus calls Judas and he offers him the last and dramatic call to conversion. "Friend," he calls each of us, because he is the authentic friend of everyone. Unfortunately, we do not always manage to perceive the depth of this limitless love that God has for us. For him, there is no distinction of race or culture. Jesus Christ died to liberate the humanity of old of their ignorance of God, of the circle of hate and violence, of the slavery to sin. The cross makes us brothers and sisters.

But let us ask ourselves, in this moment, what have we done with this gift, what have we done with the revelation of the face of God in Christ, with the revelation of the love of God that conquers hate. Many, in our age as well, do not know God and cannot encounter him in Christ crucified. Many are in search of a love or a liberty that excludes God. Many believe they have no need of God.

Dear friends: After having lived together the passion of Jesus, let us this night allow his sacrifice on the cross to question us. Let us permit him to challenge our human certainties. Let us open our hearts. Jesus is the truth that makes us free to love. Let us not be afraid: upon dying, the Lord destroyed sin and saved sinners, that is, all of us. The Apostle Peter writes: "He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24). This is the truth of Good Friday: On the cross, the Redeemer has made us adoptive sons of God who he created in his image and likeness. Let us remain, then, in adoration before the cross.

Christ, give us the peace we seek, the happiness we desire, the love the fills our heart thirsty for the infinite. This is our prayer for this night, Jesus, Son of God, who died for us on the cross and was resurrected on the third day.

Amen.

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On the Easter Triduum
"Love Is Stronger Than Hate, It Has Triumphed"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 19, 2008 - Here is a translation of the greetings Benedict XVI gave today to students participating in the international UNIV congress who had gathered at St. Peter's Basilica, and the catechesis he gave afterward during his weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall.

* * *

[Pope's greeting to students in St. Peter's Basilica]

[In English, he said]

Dear Friends,

I offer a cordial welcome to all of you who have come to Rome from various countries and universities to celebrate Holy Week together, and to take part in the International UNIV Congress. In this way, you will be able to benefit from moments of common prayer, cultural enrichment and a helpful exchange of the experiences gained from your association with the centres and activities of Christian formation sponsored by the Prelature of Opus Dei in your respective cities and nations.

[In Spanish, he said]

You know that with a serious personal commitment, inspired by the Gospel values, it is possible to respond adequately to the great questions of our time.

The Christian knows that there is an inseparable link between the truth, ethics and responsibility. Every authentic cultural expression contributes to form the conscience and encourage the person to better himself with the end of bettering society. In this way one feels responsible before the truth, at the service of which one must put one's own personal liberty.

This certainly has to do with a mission requiring commitment, and to fulfill it the Christian is called to follow Jesus, cultivating an intense friendship with him through prayer and contemplation.

To be friends of Christ, and to give testimony of him wherever we are, demands, furthermore, the strength to go against the grain, remembering the words of the Lord: You are in the world but not of the world (cf. John 15:19)

Do not be afraid, then, to be nonconformists when it is necessary; at your university, school and in all places.

[In Italian, he said]

Dear young people of UNIV, be leaven of hope in the world that desires to meet Jesus, often without knowing it. To better the world, make an effort above all to change yourselves through an intense sacramental life, especially through approaching the sacrament of penance, and participating assiduously in the celebration of the Eucharist.

I commend each one of you and your families to Mary, who never stopped contemplating the face of her son Jesus. I invoke over each one of you the protection of Saint Josemaría and of all the saints of your lands, while I heartily wish you a happy Easter.

[Catechesis in Paul VI Hall]

Dear brothers and sisters

We have reached the eve of the Easter triduum. The next three days are commonly known as 'holy' because they allow us to relive the event central to our Redemption. They lead us to the nucleus of Christian faith: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These three days could be considered one single day. They make up the heart and are the key to both the liturgical year and the life of the Church. At the end of Lent we also enter that climate which Christ himself experienced back then in Jerusalem.

We want to rekindle in ourselves the living memory of the suffering which our Lord endured for us and to joyously prepare ourselves for next Sunday “"the true Passover, which the Blood of Christ has covered with glory, the Passover on which the Church celebrates the Feast that is the origin of all feasts” as stated in the preface for Easter in the Ambrosian rite.

Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, the Church remembers the Last Supper during which our Lord, on the eve of his own passion and death, institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist and that of ministerial priesthood. On that same evening, Jesus gave us a new commandment, "mandatum novum," the commandment of brotherly love.

Tomorrow morning, before entering the Easter triduum, but very closely tied to it, the "Messa Crismale" will take place in every diocese during which the bishop and priests of the diocese renew their promises made at ordination.

Also, the oils used to celebrate the sacraments are blessed: the oil for the catechumen, the oil for the sick and the holy chrism. It is one of the most important moments in the life of every Christian diocese, which, gathered around it's pastor, strengthens it's unity and faith in Christ, the supreme and eternal priest.

In the evening during the "Cena Domini" Mass, we remember the Last Supper when Christ gave himself to all of us as the food of salvation, as the drug of immortality and the mystery of the Eucharist -- source and pinnacle of Christian life.

Through this sacrament of salvation the Lord offered and realized for all those who believe in him, the most intimate union possible between our lives and his. With the humble and most expressive gesture of washing someone's feet, we are reminded how much Christ did for his Apostles.

Washing their feet was a concrete way of exclaiming the primacy of his love, a love that serves even to the point of giving oneself, anticipating as well the supreme sacrifice of giving his life, which he was to do the following day on Calvary. According to a beautiful tradition, the faithful close on Holy Thursday for a vigil of prayer and Eucharistic adoration enabling them to relive the agonies that Christ suffered at Gethsemane more vividly.

On Good Friday we remember the passion, crucifixion and death of Christ. On this day the Church does not celebrate mass, but the Christian community gathers to consider the mystery of sin and evil that oppress humanity. They revisit, in the light of the word of God, the sufferings of Christ that atone for this evil.

After they have listened to the retelling of the passion of Christ, the congregation prays for all the necessities of the Church and of the world, they pay homage to the cross and take the consecrated bread and wine kept from the "Cena Domini" mass of the previous day.

By way of further invitation to consider the passion and death of the Redeemer, to express their love and to enable the faithful to participate in the suffering of Christ, Christian tradition has created popular processions and holy representations which aim to impress ever more deeply on the souls of the faithful a sense of having truly participated in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ.

The Via Crucis stands out among these. Over the years it has been enriched with many spiritual and artistic expressions linked to the sensitivities of the various cultures.

In many countries, sanctuaries with the name “Calvary” have been born which are accessible after a steep climb. In recalling the painful climb of the passion, it allows the faithful to participate in Jesus' climb toward the mount of the Cross, the mount of love offered right up to the end.

Holy Saturday is marked by a deep silence. The Churches are left undecorated and there are no particular liturgies set aside for this day. While waiting for the Resurrection, the faithful persevere in the wait with Mary by praying and meditating. A day of silence is necessary to ponder the reality of human life, the forces of evil and the enormous power of good unleashed by the passion and resurrection of Christ.

Great importance is given during this time to participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, indispensable for the purification of the heart and to prepare for the celebration of Easter completely renewed. We need to undertake this inner purification and renewal of ourselves at least once a year.

This Saturday of silence, of meditation, of forgiveness, of reconciliation leads into the Easter Vigil, which introduces the most important Sunday in history, the Sunday that marks the Passover of Christ.

The Church holds vigil next to the newly blessed fire and meditates on the great promise contained in the Old and New Testaments, of the conclusive liberation from the ancient slavery to sin and death. In the darkness of the night, the Easter candle is lit from the new fire as a symbol of Christ who rises again in glory.

Christ, the light of humanity, dispels any shadows in the heart and the spirit and illuminates all men who come into the world. Together with the lighting of the Easter candle, the great Easter announcement reverberates throughout the Church: Christ has truly risen, death no longer has any power over him. With his death he defeats evil forever and makes man a gift of God's own life.

It is tradition that Christ's followers received the sacrament of baptism during the Easter Vigil. This was to underline the participation of Christians in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. The joy, the light and the peace of Christ spread from the shining Easter night to fill the lives of the faithful in every Christian community and reaches into every area of space and time.

Dear brothers and sisters, during these special days let us guide our lives definitively toward a complete and decisive adherence to the designs of our celestial Father; let us renew our “yes” to the divine will as Jesus did with his sacrifice on the cross. The rites suggested for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the rich silence of prayer of Holy Saturday and the solemn Easter vigil provide us with the opportunity to deepen the feelings and the values of our Christian vocation unleashed by the Paschal mystery and to strengthen it by faithfully following Christ in all circumstances, just as he did, even to the point of giving up our own existence to him.

Remembering the mysteries of Christ also means a willing and complete adherence to the history of today, convinced that when we celebrate, it is reality. Let us include in our prayers the terrible facts and situations that afflict our brothers across the world. We know that hate, division and violence never have the last word in historical events. These holy days reawaken a great hope in us: Christ was crucified, yet he rose again and conquered the world.

Love is stronger than hate, it has triumphed and we should affiliate ourselves with this victory of love. We should therefore start again from Christ and work together with him for a world founded on peace, justice and love.

In this commitment that involves all of us, let us allow ourselves to be guided by Mary, who accompanied her divine son on the road to his passion and cross, and who participated with the strength of her faith in the realization of his plan of salvation.

With these thoughts I send you my best wishes for a happy and holy Easter to you, your loved ones and your communities.

[Translation by Giustina Montaque]

[After his address, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Easter Triduum, which the Church now prepares to celebrate, invites us to share in the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. These days are the heart of the liturgical year. On Holy Thursday the Church recalls the Last Supper. At the Chrism Mass, the Bishop and his priests renew their priestly promises and the sacramental oils are blessed. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates Jesus’ institution of the sacrament of his Body and Blood and his commandment that we should love one another. On Good Friday, we ponder the mystery of sin as we listen to the account of the Lord’s passion and venerate the wood of his Cross. Holy Saturday, a day of silence and prayer, prepares for the joy of the Easter Vigil, when the light of Christ dispels all darkness, and the saving power of his Paschal Mystery is communicated in the sacrament of Baptism.

May our sharing in these solemn celebrations deepen our conversion to Christ, particularly through the sacrament of Reconciliation, and our communion, in the hope of the resurrection, with all our suffering brothers and sisters throughout the world.

I offer a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrims from Ireland, Canada and the United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in the Lord!

[After his greetings, the Holy Father made the following appeal in Italian:]

I follow with deep unrest the news that in these days is coming from Tibet. My fatherly heart feels sadness and sorrow at the suffering of so many people. The mystery of the passion and death of Jesus, that we live again in this Holy Week, helps us to be particularly sensitive to their situation.

With violence, problems are not solved, only aggravated. I invite you to unite yourselves to my prayer, asking God all-powerful, source of light, to enlighten the minds of all and give to each one the courage to choose the path of dialogue and tolerance.

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Papal Message to Funeral of Focolare Founder
"I Give Thanks to God for the Service Chiara Has Offered to the Church"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2008 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's letter to his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who celebrated today the funeral Mass of the founder of the Focolare Movement, Chiara Lubich.

* * *

To Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state

I spiritually participate in the solemn liturgy with which the Christian community accompanies Chiara Lubich in her taking leave of this earth to enter the bosom of the heavenly Father. I renew with affection my profound condolences to the leaders of the whole Work of Mary -- Focolare Movement, as well as to those who have collaborated with this generous witness of Christ, who have given themselves without reserve to the spreading of the Gospel message in every ambit of contemporary society, always attentive to the "signs of the times."

There are many reasons to give thanks to the Lord for the gift he has given to the Church in this woman of intrepid faith, a meek messenger of hope and peace, founder of a great spiritual family that extends across multiple fields of evangelization.

Above all I would like to give thanks to God for the service Chiara has offered to the Church: a silent and incisive service, always in harmony with the magisterium of the Church. "The Popes," she said, "have always understood us." That is because Chiara and the Work of Mary have always tried to respond with docile fidelity to each one of their invitations and desires.

The uninterrupted list of each of my venerable predecessors, from the Servant of God Pius XII and Blessed John XXIII to the Servants of God Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II, is a concrete testimony. The thought of the Pope was for her a sure directional guide. Moreover, seeing the initiatives that she has started, one could even affirm that she had an almost prophetic capacity to intuit [that thought] and act on it in an anticipatory way.

Her heritage passes now to her spiritual family: May the Virgin Mary, constant model as a reference point for Chiara, help each member of Focolare to follow the same path, contributing to make the Church be ever more a house and school of communion, as dear John Paul II wrote after the Jubilee Year 2000.

May the God of hope receive the soul of our dear sister, [and] console and support the commitment of those who take on her spiritual testament. For this intention, I assure a particular memory in prayer, as I send to all those present in the sacred rite the apostolic blessing.

From the Vatican, 18 of March of 2008

Benedictus PP XVI

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Benedict XVI on the Sacrament of Confession
"It Is Not Sin That Is at the Heart of the Celebration, but Rather God

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 17, 2008 - Here is a L'Osservatore Romano translation of Benedict XVI's March 7 address to participants in an annual course on matters of conscience, organized by the Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

* * *

Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Confessors in the Roman Basilicas,

I am pleased to meet you at the end of the Course on the Internal Forum, which for some years now the Apostolic Penitentiary has organized during Lent. With its carefully planned programme, this annual meeting renders a precious service to the Church and helps to keep alive the sense of holiness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I therefore address my cordial thanks to the organizers, especially the Major Penitentiary, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, whom I greet and thank for his courteous words. Together with him, I greet and thank the Regent and staff of the Penitentiary as well as the praiseworthy Religious of various Orders who administer the Sacrament of Penance in the Papal Basilicas of the City. I also greet all those who are taking part in the Course.

Lent is an especially favourable season to meditate on the reality of sin in the light of God's infinite mercy, which the Sacrament of Penance expresses in its loftiest form. I therefore willingly take this opportunity to bring to your attention certain thoughts on the administration of this Sacrament in our time, in which the loss of the sense of sin is unfortunately becoming increasingly more widespread.

Loving against the tide of opinion

It is necessary today to assist those who confess to experience that divine tenderness to repentant sinners which many Gospel episodes portray with tones of deep feeling.

Let us take, for example, the passage in Luke's Gospel that presents the woman who was a sinner and was forgiven (cf. Lk 7:36-50). Simon, a Pharisee and a rich dignitary of the town, was holding a banquet at his home in honour of Jesus. In accordance with a custom of that time, the meal was eaten with the doors left open, for in this way the fame and prestige of the homeowner was increased. All at once, an uninvited and unexpected guest entered from the back of the room: a well-known prostitute.

One can understand the embarrassment of those present, which did not seem, however, to bother the woman. She came forward and somewhat furtively stopped at Jesus' feet. She had heard his words of pardon and hope for all, even prostitutes; she was moved and stayed where she was in silence. She bathed Jesus' feet with tears, wiped them dry with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with fragrant ointment.

By so doing, the sinner woman wanted to express her love for and gratitude to the Lord with gestures that were familiar to her, although they were censured by society.

Amid the general embarrassment, it was Jesus himself who saved the situation: "Simon, I have something to say to you". "What is it, Teacher?", the master of the house asked him. We all know Jesus' answer with a parable which we can sum up in the following words which the Lord addressed basically to Simon: "You see? This woman knows she is a sinner; yet prompted by love, she is asking for understanding and forgiveness. You, on the other hand, presume yourself to be righteous and are perhaps convinced that you have nothing serious for which to be forgiven".

The message that shines out from this Gospel passage is eloquent: God forgives all to those who love much. Those who trust in themselves and in their own merits are, as it were, blinded by their ego and their heart is hardened in sin.

Those, on the other hand, who recognize that they are weak and sinful entrust themselves to God and obtain from him grace and forgiveness.

It is precisely this message that must be transmitted: what counts most is to make people understand that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whatever the sin committed, if it is humbly recognized and the person involved turns with trust to the priest-confessor, he or she never fails to experience the soothing joy of God's forgiveness.

In this perspective your Course acquires considerable importance. It aims to prepare well-trained confessors from the doctrinal viewpoint who are able to make their penitents experience the Heavenly Father's merciful love.

Might it not be true that today we are witnessing a certain alienation from this Sacrament? When one insists solely on the accusation of sins - which must nevertheless exist and it is necessary to help the faithful understand its importance - one risks relegating to the background what is central, that is, the personal encounter with God, the Father of goodness and mercy. It is not sin which is at the heart of the sacramental celebration but rather God's mercy, which is infinitely greater than any guilt of ours.

It must be a commitment of pastors and especially of confessors to highlight the close connection that exists between the Sacrament of Reconciliation and a life oriented decisively to conversion.

It is necessary that between the practice of the Sacrament of Confession and a life in which a person strives to follow Christ sincerely, a sort of continuous "virtuous circle" be established in which the grace of the Sacrament may sustain and nourish the commitment to be a faithful disciple of the Lord.

Frequent recourse to Confession

The Lenten Season, in which we now find ourselves, reminds us that in our Christian life we must always aspire to conversion and that when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently the desire for Gospel perfection is kept alive in believers.

If this constant desire is absent, the celebration of the Sacrament unfortunately risks becoming something formal that has no effect on the fabric of daily life.

If, moreover, even when one is motivated by the desire to follow Jesus one does not go regularly to confession, one risks gradually slowing his or her spiritual pace to the point of increasingly weakening and ultimately perhaps even exhausting it.

Dear brothers, it is not difficult to understand the value in the Church of your ministry as stewards of divine mercy for the salvation of souls. Persevere in imitating the example of so many holy confessors who, with their spiritual insight, helped penitents to understand that the regular celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and a Christian life that aspires to holiness are inseparable elements of the same spiritual process for every baptized person. And do not forget that you yourselves are examples of authentic Christian life.

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy and of Hope, help you who are present here and all confessors to carry out zealously and joyfully this great service on which the Church's life so intensely depends.

I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and bless you with affection.

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Holy See Address to UN Human Rights Council
"Respect of the Person Is the Only Measure to Judge Any Policy"

GENEVA, MARCH 17, 2008 - Here is the address delivered March 5 by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Geneva, at the 7th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, under way through March 28.

* * *

Mr. President,

1. The current debates at the Human Rights Council (HRC) provide a useful supplement of reflection that leads us to the heart of the world’s expectations: a recognition of fundamental rights and their implementation. But underneath the statement of high ideals, different perceptions and convictions risk to build barriers and stifle concrete respect for people. Perhaps history can help us out of the impasse.

Walls and fences built to keep peoples apart have not blocked their movement in the long run nor prevented the flow of ideas and exchanges. At this moment in time dialogue appears more urgent than ever both to sustain mutual knowledge and to prevent dangerous misunderstandings. Now that the HRC has practically successfully completed its organizational structure and developed its operational mechanisms, an even more critical task is left to accomplish, the building of a larger sense of trust and a more precise understanding of the different points of departure and of the different visions that persist in the interpretation and daily implementations of human rights.

2. The core rules of human rights is often coloured by the historical experience and cultural traditions of the States and regions where it must be applied. In particular, it seems that at the root of various conflicting positions is the focus of attention placed on the relationship between persons and collectivities. Thus, it becomes important to clarify and identify where the source and foundation of human rights are found. In reality the very expression ‘human rights’ offers the key for an appropriate understanding because it deals exactly with what is ‘human’, that is the common link among every person and the foundation of human rights.

3. The great progress achieved in articulating human rights and in improving their application is due in large part to the wisdom of the framers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where the universal value of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person was deliberately agreed upon as the cornerstone of all rights. Avoiding a purely collectivist or individualistic approach to human rights, this historical document sets out rights as well as duties and thus it establishes a range of connections between the individual, community and society. In this way, rights attributed to groups or collective entities are rooted in the dignity inherent equally in each of their individual members.

This approach cannot be turned upside down by deriving fundamental rights of persons from the community to which they belong as if it were the subject of basic rights. If the latter were the case, the whole architecture of human rights would crumble. But human rights are universal, interdependent and indivisible: civil, political, economic, social and cultural, and all require effective implementation through an engagement at various levels of social life, of the village, the city, the nation and the international community through its institutions. An integral implementation of all human rights expresses the concrete position of the person in society. A new understanding of the tension between individual persons and community becomes possible by balancing the attention to the rights of the individual within a social dimension.

In this context, it remains a concerted responsibility to eliminate those destructive structures that see war, the arms race and unlimited military spending, unbridled profit and unfair trade as acceptable options since they undermine the universal protection of human rights. An essential expression of human dignity is the right to freedom of religion, and here as well the tension between individual persons and community takes on significant dimensions that demand new reflection stemming from the solid base of the UDHR and the two Covenants of 1966.

4. A person’s fundamental right to believe and to practice a specific religion, in the ways proper to it, provided these will not discriminate or condone i.a. torture genocide or slavery, is the juridical foundation of the organized form of that belief, of its functioning in freedom and of its preserving and defending its own specific identity. It is a bottom-up approach. With his fundamental rights, starting with that of religious freedom, the individual person contributes to defend the identity and the freedom of the organized form of his religion and develops harmoniously in relation to others.

Identities, however, cannot be used as a means to justify violations of human rights that are a common heritage of the entire human family and of every culture. Then, respect of the human person from conception to natural death is the only measure to judge any policy be it the fight against terrorism or the fight against hunger and underdevelopment. Dialogue and interaction become possible when our common human dignity is the guiding value. On its part, the State does not have the power to create human rights by enacting a law, but it has only the capacity to recognize and discipline their existence and ensure their protection, specifically in case of discrimination. Persons then can exercise their human rights individually and in community: it is a continuum for the common good.

Mr. President,

5. As the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has reminded the Council, present instruments protect religious freedom in its manifold manifestations and forbid any advocacy of national, racial and religious hatred that leads to discrimination or violence. The implementation in every country of existing human rights protection instruments, especially the UDHR and the related Covenants, is the best way to ensure respect of all beliefs and of a peaceful coexistence within pluralistic and interactive contemporary societies.

Unfortunately, victims of religious intolerance are particularly numerous where the international law of human rights is not incorporated into national legislations that risk in this way to allow impunity of violators of fundamental human rights. The way ahead includes a renewed engagement in appropriating through education the juridical instruments developed by international law. But it is not enough to communicate a series of documents. It is important to change attitudes, a long range process that transforms the person and ensure an effective support for dignity and freedoms such as freedom of religion and expression and freedom from want and fear.

6. In conclusion, Mr. President, allow me to recall the well known aspiration of Pope John XXIII, a still valid and timely message expressed in Pacem in Terris "that the United Nations Organization may be able progressively to adapt its structure and methods of operation to the magnitude and nobility of its tasks. May the day be not long delayed when every human being can find in this organization an effective safeguard of his personal rights; those rights, that is, which derive directly from his dignity as a human person, and which are therefore universal, inviolable and inalienable. This is all the more desirable in that men today are taking an ever more active part in the public life of their own nations, and in doing so they are showing an increased interest in the affairs of all peoples. They are becoming more and more conscious of being living members of the universal family of mankind." (n. 145)

The HRC, as the other organs of the United Nations, are called to realize this wish in our time. The human family and the peoples of the United Nations cannot wait another 60 years.

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Papal Address to Greek Envoy
"Paul's Memory Is Forever Planted in Her Soil"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 17, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave Saturday in English upon receiving in audience Miltiadis Hiskakis, the new ambassador of Greece to the Holy See.

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Your Excellency,
It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the letters by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Hellenic Republic to the Holy See. I am grateful for the courteous greeting which you have conveyed from His Excellency Mr Karolos Papoulias, and I would ask that you assure him, the leaders of your country and the people of Greece of my good wishes and prayers for their well-being and peace.

Recently, several significant encounters have strengthened the bonds of goodwill between Greece and the Holy See. In the wake of the Jubilee Year of 2000, my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II visited your country during his pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul. This led to an exchange of visits from Orthodox and Catholic delegations to and from Rome and Athens. In 2006, I was happy to receive your President here at the Vatican, and I was graced by a visit from His Beatitude Christodoulos, whose recent death Christians in your country and throughout the world continue to mourn. I pray that the Lord will grant this devoted pastor rest from his labours and bless him for his valiant efforts to mend the breach between Christians in the East and West. I avail myself of this occasion to extend to the new Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, His Beatitude Ieronymos, my sincere fraternal greetings of peace, together with an assurance of my constant prayers for his fruitful ministry and good health.

Let me also take this opportunity to reiterate my eagerness to work together as we travel the road towards Christian unity. In this regard, Your Excellency has highlighted the signs of hope emerging from the ecumenical meetings that have taken place over the past decades. Not only have these reaffirmed what Catholics and Orthodox already hold in common, but they have also opened the door to deeper discussions about the precise meaning of the Church's unity. Undoubtedly, honesty and trust will be required from all parties if the important questions raised by this dialogue are to continue to be addressed effectively. We take courage from the "new spirit" of friendship that has characterized our conversations, inviting all participants to ongoing conversion and prayer, which alone are able to ensure that Christians will one day attain the unity for which Jesus prayed so fervently (cf. Jn 17:21).

The imminent Jubilee dedicated to the bi-millennial anniversary of the birth of Saint Paul will be a particularly auspicious occasion to intensify our ecumenical endeavours, for Paul was a man who "left no stones unturned for unity and harmony among all Christians" (cf. Homily at the Vespers celebration of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, 28 June 2007). This brilliant "Apostle to the Gentiles" dedicated his energies to preaching the wisdom of the cross of Christ amidst the people of Greece, who were formed by the highly sophisticated Hellenistic culture. Because Paul's memory is forever planted in her soil, Greece will play an important role in this celebration. I am confident that the pilgrims who come to Greece in order to venerate the holy sites associated with his life and teaching will be embraced with the warm spirit of hospitality for which your nation is renowned.

The vibrant exchange between Hellenistic culture and Christianity allowed the former to be transformed by Christian teaching and the latter to be enriched by Greek language and philosophy. This enabled Christians to communicate the Gospel more coherently and persuasively throughout the world. Even today, visitors to Athens can contemplate Paul's words -- now etched on the monument overlooking the Areopagus -- which he proclaimed to the learned citizens of the polis. He spoke of the one God in whom "we live and move and have our being" (cf. Acts 17:16-34). Paul's powerful preaching of the mystery of Christ to the Corinthians, who highly esteemed their philosophical heritage (cf. 1 Cor 2:5), opened their culture to the salutary influence of the Word of God. His words still resound in the hearts of men and women today. They can help our contemporaries to appreciate more deeply their human dignity, and thus promote the good of the entire human family. It is my hope that the Pauline Year will become a catalyst that will spark reflection upon the history of Europe and stir its inhabitants to rediscover the inestimable treasure of values they have inherited from the integral wisdom of Hellenistic culture and the Gospel.

Mr Ambassador, I thank you for the assurance of your government's resolve to address administrative issues concerning the Catholic Church in your nation. Among these, the question of its juridical status is of particular significance. The Catholic faithful, though few in number, look forward to the favourable results of these deliberations. Indeed, when religious leaders and civil authorities work together to formulate fair legislation in regard to the life of local ecclesial communities, the spiritual welfare of the faithful and the good of all society are enhanced.

In the international arena, I commend Greece's efforts to promote peace and reconciliation, especially in the surrounding area of the Mediterranean basin. Her efforts to quell tensions and dispel the clouds of suspicion which have long stood in the way of a fully harmonious coexistence in the region will help to rekindle a spirit of goodwill between individuals and nations.

Finally, Mr Ambassador, I cannot help but recall the devastation caused by the wildfires that raged through Greece last summer. I continue to remember in my prayers those who were affected by this disaster, and I invoke God's grace and strength upon all those involved in the process of rebuilding. As you assume your responsibilities within the diplomatic community accredited to the Holy See, I offer you my prayerful good wishes for the success of your mission and assure you that the various offices of the Roman Curia will always be ready to assist you in your duties. I cordially invoke upon you and all the beloved people of Greece the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

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On Iraq and Sydney
"Enough With the Bloodshed"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 16, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today after Palm Sunday Mass and before reciting the midday Angelus with thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square.

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At the end of this solemn celebration in which we have meditated on Christ's Passion, I would like to recall the late Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Monsignor Paulos Faraj Rahho, who tragically died a few days ago. His beautiful witness of fidelity to Christ, to the Church and his people, whom he did not want to abandon despite numerous threats, moves me to cry out forcefully and with distress: Enough with the bloodshed, enough with the violence, enough with the hatred in Iraq! And at the same time I make an appeal to the Iraqi people, who for five years have endured the consequences of a war that has provoked upheaval in its civil and social life: Beloved Iraqi people, lift up your heads and let it be you yourselves who, in the first place, rebuild your national life! May reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and respect for the civil coexistence of tribes, ethnic groups and religious groups be the solidary way to peace in the name of God!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, I renew my cordial greeting. I address it in a special way to young people, come from many countries of the world on the occasion of the World Youth Day, which the beloved Servant of God John Paul II wanted to link with Palm Sunday. In this moment my thoughts turn to Sydney, in Australia, where the preparations are under way for the great meeting that I will have with the young people of the whole world from July 15 to 20 of this year. I thank the Italian bishops' conference, Cardinal Pell, the archbishop of Sydney, and his collaborators in particular, for all the work that they are doing with such commitment. I am also grateful to the Australian federal and state officials for the generous support offered to this important initiative. See you in Sydney!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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

I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here this Palm Sunday, when we acclaim Jesus, model of humility, our Messiah and King. In a special way I greet all the young people gathered in Rome. I am looking forward to seeing many of you, together with thousands of others from across the globe, at World Youth Day in Sydney. Today, I wish to recognize the preparatory work being undertaken by the Australian Bishops' Conference together with Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, and the organizing staff. Similarly I wish to acknowledge the spirit of generous cooperation shown by the Federal and the New South Wales governments, as well as the residents and business people of Sydney. Let us all pray for our young people, that World Youth Day will be a time of deep and lasting spiritual renewal. May the great events of Holy Week, in which we see love unfold in its most radical form, inspire you all to be courageous ‘witnesses of charity' to your friends, your communities and our world. Upon each of you present and your families, I invoke God's blessings of peace and wisdom.



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Papal Homily for Palm Sunday
"To Recognize God We Must Abandon the Pride That Blinds Us"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 16, 2008 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave at today's Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Year after year the Gospel passage for Palm Sunday relates to us Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Together with his disciples and a growing throng of pilgrims, he ascended from the plain of Galilee to the Holy City. Like steps in this ascent, the evangelists have transmitted three of Jesus' announcements of his passion, using this at the same time to sketch the interior ascent that was also occurring in this pilgrimage. Jesus is on his way to the temple -- toward the place where God, as Deuteronomy says, desired to "establish the dwelling" of his name (cf. 12:11; 14:23). The God who created heaven and earth has given a name, he has made himself available to be called upon, indeed, he has almost made himself touchable by men. No place can contain him and nevertheless, or precisely because of this, he himself gives himself a name, so that he, the true God, can personally be venerated there as the God in our midst.

From the story of the 12-year-old Jesus we know that he loved the temple as the house of his Father, as his paternal house. Now he comes again to this temple, but his journey goes beyond it: The ultimate goal of his ascent is the cross. It is the ascent that the letter to the Hebrews describes as an ascent to the tent that is not made of human hands, to the presence of God. The ascent to the presence of God passes through the cross. It is the ascent to that which is "love to the end" (cf. John 13:1), and is thus God's true mountain, the definitive place of contact between God and man.

During the entry into Jerusalem the people pay homage to Jesus as the Son of David with the words of Psalm 118 [117] of the pilgrims: "Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest of heavens!" (Matthew 21:9). Then he arrives at the temple. But there, where there should be the space of the meeting between God and man, he finds people selling animals and money changers who use the place of prayer for their business. It is true that the animals being sold there are destined for sacrifice in the temple. And because it was forbidden to use coins in the temple on which there were representations of the emperor, which were in conflict with the true God, it was necessary to exchange them for coins that did not bear idolatrous images.

But all of that could have been done elsewhere: The place that it had now appropriated was supposed to be the atrium for the pagans. The God of Israel was in fact the God of all peoples. And even if the pagans did not enter, so to speak, into the interior of revelation, they could nevertheless, in the atrium, associate themselves with prayer to the one God. The God of Israel, the God of all men, was always also awaiting their prayer, their seeking, their invocation. But now, the atrium was dominated by business, business that had been legalized by the competent authority, an authority which, for its part, had a part of the merchants' earnings.

The merchants were acting in a correct way according to the order that was in force, but the order itself was corrupt. "Greed is idolatry," says the letter to the Colossians (cf. 3:5). It is this idolatry that Jesus encounters and in the face of which he cites Isaiah: "My house shall be called a house of prayer" (Matthew 21:13; cf. Isaiah 56:7) and Jeremiah: "But you have made it a den of thieves" (Matthew 21:13; cf. Jeremiah 7:11). Against the badly interpreted order Jesus, with his prophetic gesture, defends the true order of things that is found in the Law and the Prophets.

As Christians, all of this must make us think today: Is our faith pure and open enough that, beginning from it, the "pagans" -- the persons today who are seeking and have their questions -- can also intuit the light of the one God, can associate themselves with our prayer in the atriums of faith and by their seeking perhaps become worshippers? Does the awareness that greed is idolatry also reach our heart and our life practices? Do we not perhaps also allow idols to enter even into the world of our faith? Are we disposed to let the Lord purify us again and again, allowing him to chase out of us and the Church what is contrary to him?

In the purification of the temple, however, there is more going on than the struggle against abuses. A new moment in history has been foretold. What Jesus had announced to the Samaritan woman in regard to her question about worship is now beginning: "The hour has come, and is now here, in which the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; because the Father seeks such worshippers" (John 4:23). The time in which animals were sacrificed to God has ended. Animal sacrifice had always been a miserable substitution, a gesture of nostalgia for the true way of worshiping God. On the life and work of Jesus the letter to the Hebrews offers as a motto a phrase from Psalm 40 [39]: "You did not want sacrifices or offerings, but a body you prepared for me" (Hebrews 10:5). The body of Christ, Christ himself, enters to take the place of the bloody sacrifices and the food offerings. Only the "love to the end," only the love for men for which he gives himself totally to God, this is the true worship, the true sacrifice. Worshipping in spirit and truth means worshiping in communion with him who is truth; worshipping in the communion of his body, in which the Holy Spirit unites us.

The evangelists tell us that in the trial against Jesus false witnesses are presented and they claim that Jesus said: "I can destroy God's temple and rebuild it in three days" (Matthew 26:61). Before Christ hanging on the cross some scoffers refer to the same words, screaming out: "You who will destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!" (Matthew 27:40). John, in his account of the purification of the temple, reports the true version of the words, as they came from the mouth of Jesus himself. Responding to a request for a sign, with which the Lord was supposed to legitimize himself, Jesus says: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it back up" (John 2:18 f.). John adds that, thinking again about this event after the resurrection, the disciples understood that Jesus had spoken of the temple of his body (cf. Jon 2:21 f.) It is not Jesus who destroys the temple; it is left to destruction by the attitude of those who transformed the place of meeting of all peoples with God into a "den of thieves," a place of business.

But, as always from the fall of Adam, the failure of men becomes an occasion for a still greater commitment on the part of God's love in regard to us. The hour of the temple of stone, the hour of the animal sacrifices had been left behind: The fact that Jesus now chases out the merchants does not only impede abuse, but indicates the new action of God. The new temple is formed: Jesus Christ himself, in whom God's love comes down to men. He, in his life, is the new and living temple. He, who passed through the cross and is risen, is the living space of spirit and life in which the right worship is realized. Thus, the purification of the temple, as the culmination of Jesus' solemn entry into Jerusalem is the sign both of the incumbent destruction of the building and the promise of the new temple; the promise of the kingdom of reconciliation and love that, in the communion with Christ, is established beyond every frontier.

St. Matthew, whose Gospel we hear this year, at the end of the Palm Sunday account, after the purification of the temple, reports to little events that have a prophetic character and once more make the true will of Jesus clear to us. Immediately after Jesus' words about the house of prayer of all peoples, the evangelist continues thus: "The blind and the lame drew near to him in the temple and he healed them." Furthermore, Matthew tells us that the children repeated the acclamation that the pilgrims made during the entry into the city: "Hosanna to the son of David!" (Matthew 21:14 f.).

To the trafficking in animals and the money exchange Jesus opposes his goodness that makes well again. It is the true purification of the temple. He does not come as a destroyer; he does not come with the sword of the revolutionary. He comes with the gift of healing. He dedicates himself to those who because of their infirmities have been pushed to the end of their life and to the margins of society. Jesus reveals God as he who loves, and his power as the power of love. And thus he says to us what will always be a part of the true worship of God: healing, serving, the goodness that makes well again.

And then there are the children who pay homage to Jesus as the Son of David and acclaim "Hosanna." Jesus told his disciples that, to enter into the kingdom of God, they had to become like children again. He himself, who embraces the whole world, made himself little to come to us, to direct us toward God. To recognize God we must abandon the pride that blinds us, that wants to drive us far away from God, as if God were our competitor. To meet God it is necessary to become capable of seeing with the heart. We must learn to see with a young heart that is not hindered by prejudices and blinded by interests. Thus, in the little ones who with a similar free and open heart recognize him, the Church has seen the image of the believers of every century, her own image.

Dear friends, in this hour we associate ourselves with the procession of the young people of that time -- a procession that passes through the whole of history. Together with the young people of the whole world let us go to meet Jesus. Let us allow him to guide us to God, to learn from God himself how to be men. With him we thank God, because with Jesus, the Son of David, he has given us a place of peace and reconciliation that embraces the whole world. Let us pray to him that we too become with him and beginning from him messengers of his peace, so that in us and around us his kingdom will grow.

Amen.

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On Boethius and Cassiodorus
"Both Were Anxious to Preserve the Heritage of Greek and Roman Learning"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2008 - Here is a translation of the catechesis Benedict XVI gave today at St. Peter's Basilica at the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to speak to you about two Christian writers; Boethius and Cassiodorus, who lived during some of the most troubled years in the Christian West, and in particular in the Italian peninsula.

Odoacre, king of a Germanic race called the Eruli rebelled and threatened the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476, but then quickly had to succumb to the Theodoric's Ostrogoths, who secured control of the Italian peninsula for several decades.

Boethius, born in Rome around 480 and descended from the noble line of the Anicii, entered public life when he was very young and attained the post of senator when he was still only 25 years old.

Faithful to the family tradition, he entered politics, convinced that the principles of Roman society could be integrated with the values of the new populations.

In this new era of an encounter between cultures, he considered it his personal mission to reconcile and join these two cultures -- the classical Roman culture with the culture of the Ostrogoths. He was actively involved in politics during Theodoric's rule, who initially held him in high esteem.

Despite being so active in public life, Boethius did not neglect his studies. In particular, he dedicated himself to a deeper understanding of subjects of a philosophical and religious nature. He also wrote manuals on geometry, music and astronomy, all with the intention of passing on the great Greek and Roman culture to the new generations of the new times. In his efforts to promote unity of the two cultures, he used Greek philosophy to put forward the Christian faith, again striving for a synthesis of the Roman Hellenic heritage and the evangelical message. It is precisely because of this that Boethius has been qualified as the last representative of ancient Roman culture and the first representative of the medieval intellectuals.

Without doubt, his most famous work is the "De consolatione philosophiae." He wrote this when in jail, to give some sense to the unjustified detention. He had in fact been accused of conspiring against King Theodoric for assuming the defense of a friend -- Senator Albino. This was just an excuse. The truth was that the Arian King Theodoric was a barbarian and suspected that Boethius sympathized with the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

He was tried and condemned to death and was executed on Oct. 23, 524 at only 44 years of age.

Precisely because of this dramatic end, he can truly speak from the heart of his experience to modern man, and above all to the many people who suffer the same fate because of the injustice present in many areas of “human justice.”

In this work, completed while in jail, he searches for comfort, he searches for light, and he searches for wisdom. He tells us that precisely in the situation in which he finds himself, he is able to distinguish between apparent goods -- these disappear in jail -- and true goods, such as real friendship which never disappears, even if you are in jail.

The greatest good is God: Boethius learned and now teaches us not to succumb to fatalism, which extinguishes hope. He teaches us that fate does govern our lives -- Providence does and Providence has a face. You can speak to Providence because Providence is God. So, even in jail it is still possible to pray, to talk to him who will save us. At the same time, even in these circumstances he retains a sense of the beauty of culture and recalls the teachings of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle -- he began translating these into Latin -- Cicero, Seneca and even poets like Tibullus and Virgilius.

Philosophy, in the sense of being the search for true wisdom, is according to Boethius, the true medicine for the soul (Book I). On the other hand, man can only test true happiness within himself (Book II). Boethius is able to make sense of his own personal tragedy in the light of wise text of the Old Testament (Wisdom 7:30-8:1), which he quotes: “ Wickedness cannot prevail against wisdom. Wisdom stretches from one border to the other and governs all things with a wonderful goodness” (Book III, 12: PL 63, col. 780). The so-called progress of evil therefore proves to be a lie (Book IV), and the providential nature of "adversa fortuna" is revealed.

The difficulties we experience in life not only reveal how fleeting this is but also prove useful in identifying and maintaining true relationships between men. The "adversa fortuna" allows us to distinguish true friends from false ones and makes us realize that nothing is more precious to man than true friendship. To accept suffering with a fatalistic attitude is very dangerous, the believer Boethius adds, because “it destroys the very root of the possibility of prayer and theological hope which are the foundations of the relationship between man and God” (Book V, 3: PL 63, col. 842).

The final plea of "De consolatione philosophiae" can be considered a synthesis of all the teachings which Boethius directs to himself and to all those who may find themselves in similar circumstances. This is what he writes while in jail: “Fight against your vices, dedicate yourselves to a virtuous life directed by hope which elevates your heart to the skies with humble prayer. The pain you have suffered may change, refuse to lie; it is an advantage to keep the supreme judge in your sights. He knows how things really stand” (Book V, 6: PL 63, col. 862). Every detainee, no matter what the reason of his incarceration, will understand how heavily this weighs upon you, especially if the situation is exacerbated -- as was the case with Boethius -- by the use of torture.

It is particularly reprehensible that someone should be tortured to death, as Boethius was -- he was recognized and celebrated by the city of Pavia in the liturgy as a martyr -- for no reason other than one’s own political and religious ideals. Boethius, symbol of the huge number of detainees, unjustly arrested from all the different times and regions in our history, is an objective doorway to contemplating the mystery of the Crucifixion on Golgotha.

Aurelius Cassiodorus, a contemporary of Boethius, was a Calabrian and was born in Squillace around 485 and died at Vivarium around 580. He was also of a good social standing and dedicated himself to political life and cultural commitment as few others did in the Western Roman Empire in his time. Perhaps the only ones equal to him in this double commitment were Boethius himself and the future Pope, Gregory the Great (590-604).

Conscious of the need not to allow the human and humanistic patrimony accumulated in the golden age of the Roman empire to vanish into oblivion, Cassiodorus collaborated generously -- and at the highest levels of political responsibility -- with the new peoples who had entered the confines of the empire and had now settled in Italy. He also set an example of how to join cultures, of dialogue and reconciliation.

Historical events prevented him from realizing his political and cultural dreams which aspired to create a synthesis between Italian, Roman and Christian traditions with the new Gothic culture. Those same events convinced him of the providence of the monastic movement, which was steadily growing in Christian lands. He decided to support them, dedicating to them all his wealth and his spiritual efforts.

His was the idea to entrust the monks with the task of recovering, preserving and transmitting to posterity the vast cultural property of the ancients, so that it would not get lost. This is why he founded Vivarium, a monastery organized in such a manner that the intellectual work of the monks was considered most precious and vital.

He also arranged that those monks who did not have an intellectual education should not only occupy themselves with material work, such as agriculture, but also with transcribing manuscripts and thereby help transmit the great culture to the future generations. This was to be done without losing focus of the Christian monastic and spiritual commitment and on charity toward the poor.

In his teaching -- spread in various works, above all in the essay "De anima e nelle Institutiones divinarum litterarum" -- prayer (cf. PL 69, col. 1108), which is nourished by sacred Scripture and especially by the assiduous contemplation of the Psalms (cf. PL 69, col 1149), always holds a central position as necessary nourishment for all.

This is how the erudite Calabrian scholar introduces his "Expositio in Psalterium": "After I rejected and left in Ravenna all the demands of a political career -- marked by the disgusting flavor of worldly concerns -- and having enjoyed the Psalter, a book that came from the heavens like an authentic honey of the soul, I plunged into it like a thirsty man to scrutinize it relentlessly without pause and let it permeate me with that healthy sweetness, after I had enough of the bitterness of the active life" (PL 70, col. 10).

The search for God, oriented toward his contemplation, notes Cassiodorus, remains the permanent aim of monastic life (cf. PL 69, col. 1107). He adds, however, that with the help of divine favor (cf. PL 69, col. 1131.1142), it is possible to reveal a better use of the holy word through the use of scientific breakthroughs, “secular” cultural instruments already in the possession of the Greeks and the Romans (cf. PL 69, col. 1140).

Cassiodorus himself was dedicated to philosophical, theological and exegetical studies, without being particularly creative, but was attentive to the intuitions that he recognized as valid in others. He devotedly read the writings of Jerome and Augustine whom he particularly respected.

Of Augustine he said: “There is so much richness in Augustine's work that it seems impossible to find anything which has not been dealt with in-depth by him” (cf. PL 70, col. 10).

Mentioning Jerome, he urged the monks at Vivarium: "Not only those who fight until the effusion of blood or those who live in virginity will achieve the victory palm, but also all those who, with God’s help, overcome the vices of the body and preserve a straight faith. But in order to win more easily against the requests of the world and its enticements -- always with the help of God -- staying in the world like pilgrims in a continuous journey, try first to ensure the help suggested in the first psalm, which recommends reflecting night and day on the law of the Lord. In fact, if all your attention is occupied by Christ the enemy will not find any opening to attack you" ("De Institutione Divinarum Scripturarum," 32: PL 69, col. 1147).

It is an admonishment we can relate to. We also live in times where cultures meet, where violence threatens to destroy culture, where we have a duty to pass on the great values and to teach the new generations the ways of peace and reconciliation. We will find this way by turning toward God and his human face, the God revealed to us in Christ.

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On the Resurrection of Lazarus
"The Last Great 'Sign' Worked by Jesus"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 9, 2008 - 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our Lenten journey we have arrived at the 5th Sunday, characterized by the Gospel that narrates the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). This is the last great “sign” worked by Jesus, and after it the high priests will convene the Sanhedrin and will decide to kill him; it is also decided that Lazarus himself will be killed. Lazarus was the living proof of Christ’s divinity and Christ is the Lord of life and death. In reality this Gospel passage shows Jesus as true Man and true God.

In the first place the evangelist insists on his friendship with Lazarus and the sisters Martha and Mary. He emphasizes that “Jesus loved them very much” (John 11:5), and for this reason wants to work the great prodigy. “Our friend Lazarus has died, but I am going to awaken him” (John 11:11). This is how he spoke to the disciples, expressing God’s view of physical death with the metaphor of sleep: God indeed sees it as sleep from which one can awaken. Jesus shows an absolute power in the face of this death: One sees it when he gives life back to the young son of the widow of Nain (cf. Luke 7:11-17) and to the 12-year-old daughter (cf. Mark 5:35-43). Of the young girl he says, “She is not dead but sleeping” (Mark 5:39), provoking the derision of those present. But in truth this is precisely what it is: The death of the body is a sleep from which God can awaken one at any moment.

This lordship over death does not impede Jesus from experiencing sincere compassion for the sorrow of parting. Seeing Mary and Martha crying and, along with those who had come to console them, Jesus too “is deeply moved and disturbed” and in the end “he wept” (John 11:33, 35). Jesus’ heart is divine-human: In him God and man have perfectly met, without separation and without confusion, he is the image, indeed, the incarnation of the God who is love, mercy, paternal and maternal tenderness, of the God who is Life. This is why he solemnly declares to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, he will live; whoever lives and believes in me, will never die.” And he adds: “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

It is a question that Jesus addresses to each one of us; a question that certainly overwhelms us, it overwhelms our ability to understand, and it asks us to entrust ourselves to him, as he has entrusted himself to the Father. Martha’s response is exemplary: “Yes, O Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27). Yes, O Lord! We too believe, despite our doubts and our darkness; we believe in you, because you have the words of eternal life; we want to believe in you, who gives us a trustworthy hope of life beyond life, of authentic and full life in your kingdom of light and peace.

We entrust this prayer to Mary Most Holy. May her intercession strengthen our faith and our hope in Jesus, especially in the moments of great trial and difficulty?

[After the Angelus the Pope said the following in Italian:]

In these last days, violence and horror have again bloodied the Holy Land, feeding a spiral of destruction and death that does not seem to have an end. As I invite you to insistently implore the Almighty Lord for the gift of peace for those regions, I desire to entrust to his mercy the many innocent victims and to express solidarity with the families and the wounded.

Moreover, I encourage the Israeli and Palestinian authorities in their proposal to continue to build, through negotiation, a peaceful and just future, and I ask all in the name of God to abandon the tortuous ways of hatred and vendetta and to responsibly travel the ways of dialogue and trust.

And this is also my wish for Iraq, while we are still concerned over the fate of His Excellency Monsignore Rahho and of many Iraqis who continue to suffer from a blind and absurd violence, certainly contrary to the wishes of God.

Next Thursday, March 13, at 5:30 in the evening, I will preside at a penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica for the young people of the Diocese of Rome. It will be a powerful moment of preparation for the 23rd World Youth Day which will celebrate on Palm Sunday and which will culminate in July with the great meeting in Sydney. Dear young people of Rome, I invite all of you to this appointment with the Mercy of God! To the priests and leaders I recommend that you promote this participation of young people making the words of the apostle Paul your own: “We are ambassadors of Christ … let yourselves be reconciled with God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

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On Leo the Great
"One of the Greatest Pontiffs Ever"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 5, 2008

Dear brothers and sisters,

Continuing on our journey with the Fathers of the Church, true guiding lights that shine from afar, in today's meeting we will look at a pope who in 1754 was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Benedict XIV: I am speaking, of course, of Leo the Great. As indicated by the name he is traditionally given, he was truly one of the greatest Pontiffs ever to have graced the See of Rome. He made an enormous contribution toward strengthening its authority and prestige. He was the first Bishop of Rome to adopt the name Leo, which has subsequently been adopted by a further 12 pontiffs. He is also the first pope of whom we have evidence of his preaching to the people who crowded around him during celebrations. It is natural to think of him in the context of the general Wednesday audiences; an appointment that has become in the last decades, a normal and expected way of meeting with the faithful and with many other visitors from all over the world.

Leo was born in Tuscia. He became deacon of the Church of Rome around 430 and with time worked his way up to a post of great importance. He stood out in this role and in 440 Galla Placidia who governed the Western Empire at the time, sent him to Gallia to help resolve what was a very difficult situation.

In the summer of that year, however, Pope Sisto III -- whose name is linked to the magnificent mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore -- died. It was Leo himself who succeeded him; he heard the news while pursuing his mission of peace in Gaul.

Once back in Rome, the new Pope was consecrated Sept. 29, 440. His papacy lasted 21 years and was without doubt one of the most important in the history of the Church. When he died Nov. 10, 461, the Pope was buried near St. Peter's tomb. To this day his remains are kept in one of the altars in the Vatican.

Pope Leo lived in very difficult times: repeated barbarian invasions, the progressive weakening of imperial power in the West and a lengthy social crisis forced the Bishop of Rome -- as was to happen to an even greater degree a century and a half later during the papacy of Gregory the Great -- to assume a role in the civil and political happenings of the time. This obviously served to increase the importance and prestige of the See of Rome.

Leo is particularly remembered for a certain incident in his life which occurred in 452 when the Pope met with Attila the Hun in Mantua and convinced him to desist from his invasion which had already devastated the northeastern regions of Italy. In so doing he saved the rest of the peninsula.

This important, memorable event has come to symbolize the Pontiff's efforts toward peace. Unfortunately, another papal initiative that took place three years later was not so successful. It was nevertheless indicative of astounding courage. In the spring of 455, Leo was not able to stop the Geiseric Vandals from invading and sacking Rome for two weeks. In any case, the gesture made by the Pope -- who went to meet the invader unarmed and surrounded by his clergy to try and convince him to stop -- prevented Rome from being set alight and saved the Basilica of St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John in which some of the terrified people of Rome had taken refuge.

We are well aware of Pope Leo’s actions, thanks to his beautiful sermons -- almost 100 of them are preserved in a superb and clear Latin -- and thanks to his letters, about 150. In his texts the Pontiff appears in all his greatness, at the service of the truth within charity, through an indefatigable exercise of the word that reveals him both a theologian and a shepherd.

Leo the Great, constantly aware of his believers and of the people of Rome, but also of the communion between the various Churches and their needs, was a supporter and an untiring promoter of the Roman primacy, offering himself as the authentic heir of Peter the Apostle: the numerous bishops attending the Council of Chalcedon -- mostly oriental -- were fully aware of this.

Taking place in the year 451, with 350 bishops, this council was the most important assembly ever to be celebrated in the history of the Church. Chalcedon represented the end goal of the Christology of the previous three ecumenical councils: Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381 and Ephesus in 431. Already in the 6th century, these four councils, which synthesized the faith of the early Church, were compared to the four Gospels, as Gregory the Great affirmed in a famous letter (I,24), in which he declared we should "to accept and venerate, like the four books of the Holy Gospel, the four Councils" because, he explains further, on them "the structure of the holy faith arises as on a keystone."

By rejecting the heresy of Eutiche, which denied the true human nature of God’s Son, the Council of Chalcedon affirmed the union in the one Person, without confusion and without separation, of the two natures, human and divine.

The Pope affirmed the faith in true God and true man Jesus Christ in an important doctrinal text directed to the bishop of Constantinople, the so-called "Tome to Flavianus," which was read in Chalcedon and was acclaimed by the attending bishops, registered in the, recorded in the acts of the Council in these words: "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo," the fathers of the council exclaimed together.

From this intervention, and from others made during the Christological controversy of those years, it is evident that the Pope felt the urgent responsibility of Peter’s Successor, whose role is unique in the Church, because "only to one Apostle was entrusted what was communicated to all the apostles,” as Leo affirms in one of his sermons on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (83,2).

The Pontiff managed to exercise such responsibilities, in the West like in the East, by intervening in various circumstances with prudence, determination and lucidity through his texts and his bound manuscripts. In so doing he demonstrated the importance of the Roman primacy then, as much as today, in order to effectively serve the communion that is a feature of the one and only Church of Christ.

Conscious of the historical significance of the times in which he was living and of the change that was taking place -- in a time of deep crisis -- from pagan to Christian Rome, through preaching and pastoral care, Leo the Great was able to stay close to the people and the faithful. He encouraged charity in a Rome that was suffering famine, refugees, injustice and poverty. He hindered pagan superstition and the actions of Manichean groups. He linked liturgy to the daily life of Christians by uniting, for example, the practice of fasting to charity and almsgiving, especially during the Four 'tempora' which marked the seasonal changes during the year. In particular Leo the Great taught his faithful -- even today his words apply to us -- that the Christian liturgy is not simply a way of remembering past events but to focus attention on invisible truths that operate in the lives of everyone. He stresses in a sermon (64,1-2) that we should celebrate Easter at any time of year “not as something from the past, but rather as an event of the present."

The Holy Pontiff insisted this is all part of an orchestrated event: Just as the Creator breathed life into man molded from the mud of the earth, after original sin, he sent his Son to into the world to give man back his dignity and to destroy the reign of the devil by means of a new life of grace.

This is the Christological mystery to which St. Leo the Great gave a vital and effective contribution with his letter to the Council of Ephesus, confirming during the council what St. Peter said to Caesarea-Philippi.

With Peter and like Peter he confessed: "You are Christ, the Son of the living God." God and man together, "not alien to mankind, but alien to sin" (cf. Serm. 64).

With the strength of his Christological faith he was a great bearer of peace and love. Hence he shows us the way: In faith we learn charity. Through St. Leo the Great we learn to believe in Christ, true God and true man, and to realize our faith every day in our actions for peace and in the love of our neighbor.


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Papal Address to Members of Jesuit General Congregation
"Rediscover the Fullest Meaning of Your Characteristic '4th Vow' of Obedience"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 4, 2008 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Feb. 21 upon receiving in audience members of the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus.

* * *

Dear Fathers of the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus,

I am pleased to welcome you today as your demanding work is reaching its conclusion. I thank the new Superior General, Fr Adolfo Nicolás, for expressing your sentiments and your commitment to respond to the expectations that the Church has of you. I spoke to you of this in the Message I addressed to Rev. Fr Kolvenbach and -- through him -- to the entire Congregation at the beginning of its work. I once again thank Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach for the valuable service he has rendered to your Order in governing it for almost a quarter of a century. I also greet the members of the new General Council and the Assistants who will help the Superior General in his most delicate task as the religious and apostolic guide of your entire Society.

Your Congregation is being held during a period of great social, economic and political change; of conspicuous ethical, cultural and environmental problems, of conflicts of all kinds; yet also of more intense communication between peoples, of new possibilities for knowledge and dialogue, of profound aspirations for peace. These are situations that deeply challenge the Catholic Church and her capacity for proclaiming to our contemporaries the word of hope and salvation. I therefore ardently hope that thanks to the results of your Congregation the entire Society of Jesus will be able to live out with renewed dynamism and fervour the mission for which the Spirit willed it in the Church and has preserved it for more than four and a half centuries with extraordinary apostolic fruitfulness. Today, in the ecclesial and social context that marks the beginning of this millennium, I would like to encourage you and your confreres to continue on the path of this mission in full fidelity to your original charism. As my Predecessors have said to you on various occasions, the Church needs you, relies on you and continues to turn to you with trust, particularly to reach those physical and spiritual places which others do not reach or have difficulty in reaching. Paul VI's words remain engraved on your hearts: "Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been and there is confrontation between the burning exigencies of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, here also there have been, and there are, Jesuits" (Address to the 32nd General Congregation of the Jesuits, 3 December 1974; ORE, 12 December, n. 2, p. 4.).

As the Formula of your Institute says, the Society of Jesus was founded in the first place "for the defence and propagation of the faith". In an age when new geographical horizons were unfolding, Ignatius' first companions placed themselves at the Pope's disposal so that "he might use them wherever he deemed it would be for the greater glory of God and the benefit of souls" (Autobiography, n. 85). Thus, they were sent to proclaim the Lord to peoples and cultures that did not yet know him. They did so with a courage and zeal that have lived on to our day as an exemplary inspiration. The name of Francis Xavier is the most famous of all, but how many others one could give! The new peoples, who do not know the Lord or who do not know him well so that they cannot recognize him as the Saviour, are distant today not so much from the geographical as rather from the cultural viewpoint. It is not oceans or immense distances that challenge the heralds of the Gospel but the boundaries resulting from an erroneous or superficial vision of God and man that stand between faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the commitment to justice.

The Church thus urgently needs people with a deep and sound faith, a well-grounded culture and genuine human and social sensitivity, of Religious and priests who dedicate their lives to being on these very frontiers to bear witness and to help people understand that on the contrary there is profound harmony between faith and reason, between the Gospel spirit, the thirst for justice and initiatives for peace. Only in this way will it be possible to make the Lord's true Face known to the many for whom he is still concealed or unrecognizable. The Society of Jesus should therefore give preferential attention to this. Faithful to its best tradition, it must persevere in taking great pains to form its members in knowledge and virtue and not to be content with mediocrity, since confrontation and dialogue with the very different social and cultural contexts and the diverse mentalities of today's world is one of the most difficult and demanding tasks. This quest for quality and for human, spiritual and cultural validity must also characterize the whole of the Jesuits' many-facetted formative and educative activities as they come into contact with people of every sort wherever they may happen to be.

In its history, the Society of Jesus has lived extraordinary experiences of proclamation and encounter between the Gospel and world cultures -- it suffices to think of Matteo Ricci in China, Roberto De Nobili in India or of the "Reductions" in Latin America. And you are rightly proud of them. I feel it is my duty today to urge you to set out once again in the tracks of your predecessors with the same courage and intelligence, but also with an equally profound motivation of faith and enthusiasm to serve the Lord and his Church. However, while you seek to recognize the signs of God's presence and work in every corner of the world, even beyond the bounds of the visible Church, while you strive to build bridges of understanding and dialogue with those who do not belong to the Church or have difficulty in accepting her outlook or messages, at the same time you must loyally take on the Church's fundamental duty to remain faithful to her mandate and to adhere totally to the Word of God and to the Magisterium's task of preserving the integral truth and unity of Catholic doctrine. This not only applies to the personal commitment of individual Jesuits: since you are working as members of an apostolic body, you must also take care that your work and institutions always maintain a clear and explicit identity, so that the goal of your apostolic activity is neither ambiguous nor obscure and that many others may share in your ideals and join you effectively and enthusiastically, collaborating in your commitment to serve God and man.

As you are well aware, since in the Spiritual Exercises you have often undertaken meditation on "the two flags" under St Ignatius' guidance, our world is the theatre of a battle between good and evil where powerful negative forces are at work. These are what cause the dramatic situations of spiritual and material enslavement of our contemporaries which you have several times declared you wished to combat, committing yourselves to the service of faith and the promotion of justice. These forces are manifest today in many ways but are especially evident in such overriding cultural trends as subjectivism, relativism, hedonism and practical materialism. This is the reason why I asked you for a renewed commitment to promoting and defending Catholic doctrine, "especially... its key points, under severe attack today by the secular culture" (Letter to Fr Kolvenbach, 10 January 2008), of which I gave some examples in my Letter. The themes, continuously discussed and called into question today, of the salvation of all humanity in Christ, of sexual morality, of marriage and the family, must be explored and illumined in the context of contemporary reality but preserving that harmony with the Magisterium which avoids causing confusion and dismay among the People of God.

I know and understand well that this is a particularly sensitive and demanding point for you and for some of your confreres, especially those involved in theological research, interreligious dialogue and dialogue with contemporary cultures. For this very reason I have invited you and also invite you today to reflect in order to rediscover the fullest meaning of your characteristic "fourth vow" of obedience to the Successor of Peter, which does not only involve the readiness to be sent on mission to distant lands but also -- in the most genuine Ignatian spirit of "feeling with the Church and in the Church" -- "to love and serve" the Vicar of Christ on earth with that "effective and affective devotion" which must make you his invaluable and irreplaceable collaborators in his service for the universal Church.

At the same time, I encourage you to continue and to renew your mission among the poor and with the poor. Unfortunately, new causes of poverty and marginalization are not absent in a world marked by grave financial and environmental imbalances, from globalization processes prompted by selfishness rather than solidarity and by devastating and senseless armed conflicts. As I was able to reaffirm to the Latin American Bishops gathered at the Shrine of Aparecida, "the preferential option for the poor is implicit in the Christological faith in the God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty (cf. II Cor 8: 9)". It is therefore natural that those who truly want to be a companion of Jesus really share in his love for the poor. For us, the option for the poor is not ideological but is born from the Gospel.

Situations of injustice and poverty in today's world are numerous and tragic, and if it is necessary to seek to understand them and fight their structural causes, it is also necessary to penetrate to the very heart of man, to extirpate the deep roots of evil and sin that cut him off from God, without forgetting to meet people's most urgent needs in the spirit of Christ's charity. Gathering and developing one of Fr Arrupe's last far-sighted intuitions, your Society continues to do praiseworthy work in the service for refugees, who are often the poorest of the poor and in need not only of material aid but also of the deeper spiritual, human and psychological closeness that is very much a part of your service.

Lastly, I ask you to focus special attention on that ministry of Spiritual Exercises which has been a characteristic feature of your Society from the outset. The Exercises are not only the source of your spirituality and the matrix of your Constitutions but also a gift which the Spirit of the Lord has made to the entire Church. It is your task to continue to make them a valuable and effective means for the spiritual growth of souls, for their initiation to prayer, to meditation in this secularized world where God seems to be absent. Only last week I myself benefited from the Spiritual Exercises, together with my closest collaborators of the Roman Curia, under the guidance of a distinguished confrere of yours, Cardinal Albert Vanhoye. In a time like ours when the confusion and multiplicity of messages and the speed of changes and situations makes it particularly difficult for our contemporaries to put order into their lives and respond with determination and joy to the call the Lord addresses to each one of us, the Spiritual Exercises are a particularly precious means and method with which to seek God, within us, around us and in all things, to know his will and to put it into practice.

In this spirit of obedience to God's will, to Jesus Christ, which also becomes humble obedience to the Church, I ask you to continue carrying out your Congregation's work and I join you in the prayer St Ignatius taught us at the end of the Exercises - a prayer which to me always seems too sublime in the sense that I hardly dare to say it, yet we must always be able to return to it: "Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom. My memory, my understanding and my will. All that I have and cherish you have given me. I surrender it all to be guided by your will. Your grace and your love are wealth enough for me. Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more" (n. 234).

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Papal Address at European University Day
"Western Civilization Has Partly Betrayed Its Gospel Inspiration"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 3, 2008 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's greeting to university students gathered Saturday in Paul VI Hall for the 6th European Day for Universities.

The event was linked via satellite to nine other European and American cities. The Pope prayed the rosary with the youth and then gave this address.

* * *

Dear university youth:

At the end of this Marian vigil, I greet with great joy all those who are here present and those who participated in prayer by way of satellite connection. I greet with recognition the cardinals and bishops, particularly those who have presided over the praying of the rosary in the connected places: Aparecida in Brazil, Avignon in France, Bucharest in Romania, Mexico City in Mexico, Havana in Cuba, Loja in Ecuador, Minsk in Belarus, Naples in Italy, Toledo in Spain, and Washington in the United States. Five places in Europe and five in the Americas. In fact, this initiative has the theme "Europe and the Americas Together to Build a Civilization of Love." And precisely regarding this theme, a congress has been held in these days in the Gregorian University; I send a cordial greeting to the participants.

The decision to highlight the relation of Europe in turn with another continent in a perspective of hope is an appropriate one: two years ago, Europe and Africa; last year, Europe and Asia; this year, Europe and America. Christianity is a profound and powerful link between the so-called old continent and what has been called the "New World." It is enough to think of the fundamental position that sacred Scripture and Christian liturgy occupy in the culture and art of European and American peoples. Unfortunately, so-called western civilization has partly betrayed its Gospel inspiration.

What is needed, then, is an honest and sincere reflection, an examination of conscience. It is necessary to discern between what serves to build the "civilization of love" according to the design that God revealed in Jesus Christ, and what runs counter to it.

I address myself now to you, dear youth. Youth have always been, in the history of Europe and the Americas, promoters of the evangelical drive. It is enough to think of youth like St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Francis of Assisi, and Blessed Karl Leisner in Europe; as well as of St. Martin of Porres, St. Rose of Lima and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in America.

Youth who are builders of the civilization of love! God calls you today, European youth and youth from the United States, to cooperate, alongside your peers all over the world, so that the lifeblood of the Gospel may renew the civilization of these two continents and of humanity entire.

The great European and American cities are becoming more and more cosmopolitan, but they often lack this lifeblood, which is capable of ensuring that differences do not become the cause of division and conflict but of mutual enrichment. The civilization of love is this "conviviality," that is, a respectful and peaceful coexistence that finds joy in its differences in the name of a shared vision, which Blessed Pope John XXIII founded on the four columns of love, truth, freedom and justice.

This, dear friends, is the duty I consign to you today: Be disciples of and witnesses to the Gospel, because the Gospel is the good seed of the Kingdom of God, in other words the civilization of love! Be builders of peace and of unity! A sign of this catholic unity, that is, universal and integral in the contents of the Christian faith that unites all of us, is the initiative of giving to each one of you the text of the encyclical "Spe Salvi," on CD in five languages. May the Virgin Mary watch over you, your families and your loved ones.

Now, I would like to greet in the various languages those who are united with us from other cities by way of satellite connection.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[The Holy Father proceeded to greet the youth in six languages. In English, he said:]

Dear University students of Washington DC, I send warm greetings to you! With the help of God, I will be in your city in April. With your assistance, may America remain faithful to its Christian roots and to its high ideals of freedom in truth and justice!

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Lent's Baptismal Journey
"Let Us Allow Jesus to Heal Us"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 2, 2008 - 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,

In these Sundays of Lent, through the texts of the Gospel of John, the liturgy leads us on a true and proper baptismal journey: Last Sunday Jesus promised the Samaritan woman the gift of "living water"; today, healing the blind man, Jesus reveals himself as the "light of the world"; next Sunday, resurrecting his friend Lazarus from the dead, he will present himself as "the resurrection and the light." Water, light, life: these are symbols of baptism, the sacrament that "immerses" believers in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, freeing them from the slavery of sin and granting them eternal life.

Let us pause briefly over the story of the man born blind (John 9:41). The disciples, according to the mentality that was common at that time, take for granted that his blindness is the consequence of his sin or his parents' sin. Jesus, however, rejects this view and affirms: "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him" (John 9:3).

What comfort these words offer us! They allow us to hear the living voice of God, who is provident and wise Love! Before the man marked by limitation and suffering Jesus does not think about possible faults, but about the will of God that created man for life. And so he solemnly declares: "We must do the works of the one who sent me ... While I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:5).

And he immediately takes action: With a little bit of earth and saliva he makes some mud and spreads it on the eyes of the blind man. This gesture alludes to the creation of man, which the Bible recounts with the symbol of earth that is formed and animated by the breath of God (cf. Genesis 2:7). "Adam," in fact, means "soil," and the human body is indeed composed of elements of the earth. Healing the man, Jesus brings about a new creation.

But that healing provokes a heated debate because Jesus performed it on the Sabbath, thereby transgressing a precept of the feast. Thus, at the end of the episode, Jesus and the blind man meet up again, both being chased out by the Pharisees: one because he violated the law and the other because, despite the healing, he remains marked as a sinner from birth.

To the blind man whom he healed Jesus reveals that he has come into the world for judgment, to separate the blind who can be healed from those who do not allow themselves to be healed because they presume that they are healthy. The tendency in man to construct an ideological system of security is strong: Even religion itself can become an element in this system, as can atheism, or secularism; but in constructing this system, one becomes blind to his own egoism.

Dear brothers, let us allow Jesus to heal us, Jesus who can and wants to give us the light of God! Let us confess our own blindnesses, our myopias, and above all that which the Bible calls the "great sin" (Psalm 18:14): pride. May Mary Most Holy help us in this, who, giving birth to Christ in the flesh, gave the world the true light.

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Papal Address to U.S. Envoy
"The Future of Humanity Cannot Depend on Mere Political Compromise"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 29, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today in English upon receiving in audience Mary Ann Glendon, the new ambassador of the United States to the Holy See.

* * *

Your Excellency,

It is a pleasure for me to accept the Letters by which you are accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America and to offer my cordial good wishes as you take up your new responsibilities in the service of your country. I am confident that the knowledge and experience born of your distinguished association with the work of the Holy See will prove beneficial in the fulfillment of your duties and enrich the activity of the diplomatic community to which you now belong. I also thank you for the cordial greetings which you have conveyed to me from President George W. Bush on behalf of the American people, as I look forward to my Pastoral Visit to the United States in April.

From the dawn of the Republic, America has been, as you noted, a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order. Your nation’s example of uniting people of good will, regardless of race, nationality or creed, in a shared vision and a disciplined pursuit of the common good has encouraged many younger nations in their efforts to create a harmonious, free and just social order. Today this task of reconciling unity and diversity, of forging a common vision and summoning the moral energy to accomplish it, has become an urgent priority for the whole human family, which is increasingly aware of its interdependence and the need for effective solidarity in meeting global challenges and building a future of peace for coming generations.

The experience of the past century, with its heavy toll of war and violence, culminating in the planned extermination of whole peoples, has made it clear that the future of humanity cannot depend on mere political compromise. Rather, it must be the fruit of a deeper consensus based on the acknowledgment of universal truths grounded in reasoned reflection on the postulates of our common humanity (cf. "Message for the 2008 World Day of Peace," 13). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose sixtieth anniversary we celebrate this year, was the product of a world-wide recognition that a just global order can only be based on the acknowledgment and defense of the inviolable dignity and rights of every man and woman. This recognition, in turn, must motivate every decision affecting the future of the human family and all its members. I am confident that your country, established on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed each human being with certain inalienable rights, will continue to find in the principles of the common moral law, enshrined in its founding documents, a sure guide for exercising its leadership within the international community.

The building of a global juridic culture inspired by the highest ideals of justice, solidarity and peace calls for firm commitment, hope and generosity on the part of each new generation (cf. "Spe Salvi," 25). I appreciate your reference to America’s significant efforts to discover creative means of alleviating the grave problems facing so many nations and peoples in our world. The building of a more secure future for the human family means first and foremost working for the integral development of peoples, especially through the provision of adequate health care, the elimination of pandemics like AIDS, broader educational opportunities to young people, the promotion of women and the curbing of the corruption and militarization which divert precious resources from many of our brothers and sisters in the poorer countries. The progress of the human family is threatened not only by the plague of international terrorism, but also by such threats to peace as the quickening pace of the arms race and the continuance of tensions in the Middle East. I take this occasion to express my hope that patient and transparent negotiations will lead to the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons and that the recent Annapolis Conference will be the first of a series of steps towards lasting peace in the region. The resolution of these and similar problems calls for trust in, and commitment to, the work of international bodies such as the United Nations Organization, which by their nature are capable of fostering genuine dialogue and understanding, reconciling divergent views, and developing multilateral policies and strategies capable of meeting the manifold challenges of our complex and rapidly changing world.

I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking. The Holy See is convinced of the great spiritual potential represented by such dialogue, particularly with regard to the promotion of nonviolence and the rejection of ideologies which manipulate and disfigure religion for political purposes, and justify violence in the name of God. The American people’s historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues -- a role at times contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life and public discourse -- is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow-citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God’s gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family.

Madam Ambassador, as you now undertake your high responsibilities in the service of your country, I renew my good wishes for the success of your work. Be assured that you may always count on the offices of the Holy See to assist and support you in the fulfillment of your duties. Upon you and your family, and upon all the beloved American people, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of wisdom, strength and peace.

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana



U.S. Ambassador's Address to Benedict XVI
"An Essential Element of Strong Friendship Is Ongoing Conversation"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 29, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Mary Ann Glendon, the new ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, gave today upon presenting her credentials to Benedict XVI.

* * *

Your Holiness,

It is a distinct honor and pleasure to present to you my credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Holy See. I extend warm greetings from President George W. Bush and the American people. I am grateful to President Bush for the opportunity to represent him and my country to the Holy See.

Your Holiness, in your message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace this year, you wrote “We do not live alongside one another purely by chance; all of us are progressing along a common path as men and women, and thus as brothers and sisters.” The United States of America believes that strong alliances, friendships and international institutions enable us to advance along that path through shared efforts to promote freedom, prosperity, and peace. We recognize a privileged place in such a partnership for the Holy See whose strong moral voice resonates in the hearts of men and women throughout the world.

An essential element of strong friendship is ongoing conversation -- a dialogue -- based on mutual respect, understanding and trust. This is particularly true for people of faith. The United States, in its desire to be a partner in interfaith dialogue, is working to amplify the many voices speaking out against the misuse of religion to promote terrorist violence and to support the efforts of those who are striving for greater interfaith understanding. We are encouraging conversations among cultures. In a new program called “Citizen Dialogue,” we have sent Muslim American citizens across the world to engage with citizens in Muslim communities. We have sponsored summer programs for young people, teaching respect for diversity. The U.S. understands that we are part of an increasingly interconnected world that calls on each of us -- no matter what our culture or faith -- to work for peace, life, and hope.

Your Holiness, this year marks the sixtieth anniversary of two important international documents that were the fruits of collaboration among persons of many different faiths and cultures -- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. These documents emerged from the darkness and horror of the Second World War. They stand today as beacons for the inalienable dignity and rights of the human person. They also stand as testimony to the progress that can be made through reason and good will even in troubled times. Today, both the United States and the Holy See actively promote the principles contained in those documents. It is my heartfelt desire that we will work together to commemorate the anniversary of both the Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention in a fitting manner.

The United States and the Holy See have collaborated in recent years on many projects to protect and enhance the dignity of the person. The United States is particularly proud of its initiatives to tackle trafficking in human beings. U.S. funded programs have provided anti-trafficking training and support to hundreds of women religious in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Similar programs for the clergy and male religious will be offered this year. We are confident that these combined efforts will eventually result in the elimination of trafficking in men, women and children.

Your Holiness, poverty, hunger and disease continue to plague too many regions of our world. For the United States, these are not only humanitarian issues but concerns that affect regional stability and security. We are striving, therefore, to provide impoverished nations with the economic and social tools that will empower them to seize hold of their own destiny. The United States is leading the struggle against global poverty with strong education initiatives and with humanitarian assistance programs like our new Millennium Challenge Account which are geared toward strengthening democracy, transparency, and the rule of law in developing nations. The United States is also in the forefront of efforts to combat global hunger. Today, more than half the world's food aid comes from the United States. In his State of the Union address, President Bush referred to an innovative proposal to provide food assistance by purchasing crops directly from farmers in the developing world, in order to build up local agriculture and help break the cycle of famine. The United States is also confronting the infectious diseases that are taking such a toll in developing nations. We are working to cut the number of malaria-related deaths in 15 African nations. Through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the United States is treating 1.4 million people. We can and will bring healing and hope to many more.

Your Holiness, the United States is an instrument of hope in the world because its people are compassionate and generous. That is why we are eager to work in partnership with the Holy See to enhance the lives of all the world’s people, but in particular, those who are caught up in the despair that comes from poverty, hunger and disease. Your Holiness, in your encyclical "Spe Salvi," you reminded us that “our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone.” It is our commitment to this essential human solidarity that inspires the compassionate actions of the United States in and for the human family.

We are particularly pleased that Your Holiness will visit the United States this coming spring. On your first visit to the U.S. as pontiff, you will find a warm welcome from a nation that understands the important contribution offered by people of faith in our society. You will be among friends. The seven pastoral visits made by your predecessor, Pope John Paul II, were opportunities for a conversation on the important issues of the day. We look forward to a similar dialogue during your own visit as you offer your message of hope and peace.

Your Holiness, in the 24 years of the formal diplomatic relationship between the United States and the Holy See, we have recognized in each other a solid and valuable partner dedicated to making the people of our world safer and more hopeful. As I take up my position as the eighth U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, I want to reaffirm the invaluable nature of that relationship in the quest for freedom, justice, peace and human dignity throughout the world.

Thank you, Your Holiness.

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On St. Augustine's Conversion
"A Journey That Remains a True Example for Each One of Us"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 26, 2008 - Here is a translation of the greetings Benedict XVI gave today at St. Peter's Basilica to those who could not be accommodated in Paul VI Hall for the general audience, and a translation of the catechesis he delivered in the Vatican auditorium. This is the fifth and final address the Pope has dedicated to the figure of St. Augustine.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we conclude our presentation of St. Augustine. Having dwelt on his life, his works, and some aspects of his writings, today I would like to return to the process of his interior conversion, which was one of the greatest conversions in Christian history.

It is to this journey in particular that I dedicated my reflections during my pilgrimage to Pavia last year, to pay homage to the mortal remains of this Father of the Church. In so doing, I wanted to demonstrate the admiration and reverence of the entire Catholic Church toward St. Augustine, and my own personal devotion and recognition of a figure with whom I feel I have close ties to due to the part he has played in my theological life, in my life as a priest and a pastor.

Even today it is possible to revisit the experiences of St. Augustine; above all this is thanks to the "Confessions," written in the praise of God and which is the basis of a more specific Western literary form -- the autobiography. That is, a personal expression of the knowledge of oneself.

Anyone who gets close to this extraordinary and fascinating book, which is still read by many today, will soon realize that the conversion of St. Augustine was not sudden or completed quickly, but it is better described as a journey that remains a true example for each one of us.

This journey culminated with his conversion and subsequent baptism, but was not concluded with the Easter vigil of 387, when the African rhetorician was baptized by Bishop Ambrose of Milan.

In fact, Augustine’s journey of conversion continued with humility until the end of his life. We can state that all the stages of his life -- and we can easily distinguish three phases -- together make up a single long conversion.

St. Augustine was from the start, a passionate seeker of the truth: He remained so his whole life. The first stage of his journey toward conversion was realized through his gradual approach to Christianity.

In reality, he received a Christian education from his mother, Monica, with whom he was always very close. Even though he lived an errant life in his youth, he was deeply tied to the love of Christ's name, as he himself underlined (cfr. "Confessions," III, 4, 8).

Philosophy, and especially Platonic philosophy, led him closer to Christ by revealing to him the existence of the Logos, or creative reason. The books of the philosophers showed him the existence of 'reason' from which the whole world is derived, but did not tell him how to reach this Logos, which seemed so inaccessible.

It was only through reading the letters of St. Paul, in the faith of the Catholic Church, that he came to a fuller understanding. This experience was summarized by Augustine in one of the most famous passages of the "Confessions." He tells us that in the torment of his reflections, he withdrew into a garden, when suddenly he heard a child's voice singing a lullaby he had never heard before: "Tolle, lege, tolle, lege," -- take and read, take and read (VIII, 12,29).

He was reminded at that moment of the conversion of Anthony, the father of monasticism. He hastily returned to the writings of Paul, which he had been looking at a short time before. His eyes fell on the passage of the Letter to the Romans, in which the apostle urges the abandonment of the pleasures of the flesh in favor of Christ (13:13-14).

He understood that those words were specifically meant for him. They came from God, through The Apostle, and showed him what he had to do in that moment. Augustine felt the dark cloud of doubt disperse and was free to give himself completely to Christ: “You converted my being to you,” he notes ("Confessions," VIII, 12,30). This was the first and decisive conversion.

It is thanks to his passion for men and for the truth that the African rhetorician arrived at the most important stage of his long journey; a passion that brought him to seek God, the great and inaccessible. His faith in Christ made him understand that God, seemingly so distant, was in truth not distant at all. In fact he has come near us, becoming one of us. In this sense his faith in Christ allowed Augustine to accomplish his long search for truth. Only a God who made himself 'touchable,' one of us, was a God to whom one could pray, for whom and with whom one could live.

This is a road to undertake with courage and humility, leading to a permanent purification, which everyone needs. That Easter vigil in 387, however, was not the end of Augustine’s journey. He returned to Africa and founded a small monastery where he retreated with a few friends, and dedicated himself to contemplation and study. This was his life's dream. He was called to completely dedicate his life to truth, in friendship with Christ, who is the truth. This dream lasted three years, until he was consecrated a priest in Hippo and destined to serve the believers, continuing to live with Christ and for Christ, but at the service of everyone.

This was very difficult for him, but since the beginning he understood that only by living for others, and not simply for his private contemplation, could he live with Christ and for Christ. So, by renouncing a life of only meditation, Augustine learned, not without difficulty, to put his knowledge at the disposal of others. He learned to communicate his faith to the ordinary people, and to live for them in what became his home town. He carryied out tirelessly a burdensome and generous activity that he describes in one of his beautiful sermons: "To preach continuously, discuss, reiterate, edify, be at the disposal of everyone -- it is an enormous responsibility, a great weight, an immense effort" (Sermon 339, 4). But he took this weight upon himself, knowing that this way he could be closer to Christ. His true second conversion was indeed to understand that one reaches others through simplicity and humility.

There is a last step -- a third conversion -- in the Augustinian journey: The one that led him to ask God for forgiveness every day of his life. At first he thought that once christened, in a life in communion with Christ, in the sacraments, and in the celebration of the Eucharist, he would attain a life as proposed in the Sermon on the Mount, which is one of perfection given through baptism and confirmed in the Eucharist.

In the latter period of his life he understood that what he had said in his first homilies on the Sermon on the Mount -- that we as Christians permanently live this ideal life -- was a mistake. Only Christ himself realizes truly and completely the Sermon on the Mount. We always need to be cleansed by Christ, who washes our feet, and be renewed by him. We need a permanent conversion. Up to the end we need to demonstrate a humility that acknowledges that we are sinners on a journey, until the Lord gives us his hand and leads us to eternal life. It is with this attitude of humility that Augustine lived out his final days until his death.
This deep humility in the face of the one Lord Jesus introduced him to an intellectual humility as well. In his last years, Augustine, who in fact was one of the greatest figures in philosophical history, wanted to critically examine his numerous works. This was the origin of the "Retractationes" -- Revisions -- that places his theological thinking, which is truly great, within the humble and holy faith of that which he refers to as simply Catholic, that is, the Church.
In this very original book he writes: "I understood that only one is truly perfect, and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are completely realized in only one -- in Jesus Christ himself. The whole Church, instead -- all of us, including the Apostles -- must pray everyday: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" (I, 19, 1-3).
Converted to Christ, who is truth and love, Augustine followed him all his life and became a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God.

That is why I wanted to conclude my pilgrimage to Pavia by offering to the Church and the world, before the tomb of this great lover of God, my first encyclical -- "Deus Caritas Est." The encyclical owes a great deal to St. Augustine’s thinking, especially its first part.

Today, as then, mankind needs to know and to live this fundamental reality: God is love and meeting him is the only answer to the fears of the human heart. A heart where hope dwells, perhaps still dark and unenlightened for many of our contemporaries, but which for us Christians opens the doors to the future, so much so that St. Paul wrote "in hope we are saved" (Romans 8:24). I wanted to dedicate my second encyclical to hope -- "Spe Salvi" -- this one also owes a great deal to Augustine and to his meeting with God.

In a beautiful text St. Augustine defines prayer as an expression of desire, and affirms that God answers by moving our hearts closer to him. For our part we should purify our desires and our hopes in order to receive God's gentleness (cfr. "In I Ioannis," 4, 6). In fact, this alone -- opening ourselves up to others -- can save us.

Let us pray therefore that we are able to follow the example of this great man every day of our lives, and in every moment that we live, encounter the Lord Jesus -- the only one who can save us, purify us, and who gives us true joy and true life.

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Papal Address to Spiritual Exercises Federation
"Insistence on the Necessity of Prayer Is Always Timely and Urgent"

FEB. 26, 2008 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave to the participants in the National Assembly of the Italian Federation of Spiritual Exercises, upon receiving them in audience Feb. 9.

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ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
OF THE ITALIAN FEDERATION OF SPIRITUAL EXERCISES (FIES)

Clementine Hall
Saturday, 9 February 2008

Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am please to meet you at the conclusion of the National Assembly of the Italian Federation of Spiritual Exercises (FIES). I greet the President, Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, and I thank him for the kinds words with which he conveyed your sentiments. I greet the Bishops, Delegates of the Regional Bishops' Conferences, Members of the Board and the National Council, the Regional and Diocesan Delegates, the Directors of some Retreat Centres and the leaders of Retreats for young people. The theme of your Assembly: "For an authentically Eucharistic Christian spirituality", you have taken from my invitation addressed to all the Church's Pastors at the conclusion of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (cf. n. 94), which has been at the centre of the various presentations and study groups. This theme's choice shows how you take to heart and accept, in a spirit of faith, the Pope's Magisterium in order to integrate it into your study initiatives and to correctly translate it into pastoral praxis. For this same reason, in your work you have kept in mind the two Encyclicals Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi.

The FIES Statute clearly states that its goal is to "make known and promote Spiritual Exercises in all possible ways, and with respect to their canonical norms, understood as a strong experience of God, in a climate of listening to the Word of God, to foster conversion and an ever more complete giving to Christ and to the Church" (art. 2). This is why it "freely unites its adherents in Italy, who practise the Spiritual Exercises in the context of the pastoral work of the times of the Spirit" (ibid.). Your Federation therefore intends to increase spirituality as the foundation and soul of all pastoral care. It is born and grows by treasuring the Exhortations on the necessity of prayer and the primacy of the spiritual life continually offered by my venerable Predecessors, the Servants of God Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II. Following in their footsteps, I too wished, in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, "to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable works" (n. 37), and in Spe Salvi I placed prayer first among the ""settings' for learning and practising hope" (cf. nn. 32-34). Indeed, insistence on the necessity of prayer is always timely and urgent.

In Italy, while multiple spiritual initiatives providentially increase and spread primarily among youth, it seems instead that the number of those who participate in true courses of Spiritual Exercises decreases, and this can also be verified among priests and members of Institutes of Consecrated Life. It is thus worth remembering that "Retreats" are an experience of the spirit with proper and specific characteristics, well summarized in one of your definitions which I gladly recall: "A strong experience of God, awakened by listening to his Word, understood and welcomed in one's personal life, under the action of the Holy Spirit, which, in a climate of silence, prayer and by means of a spiritual guide, offer the capacity of discernment in order to purify the heart, convert one's life, follow Christ and fulfil one's own mission in the Church and in the world". Along with other forms of spiritual retreat it is good that participation in the Spiritual Exercises does not slacken, characterized by that climate of complete and profound silence which favours the personal and communitarian encounter with God and the contemplation of the Face of Christ. My Predecessors and I myself have returned to this point several times, and it can never be insisted upon enough.

In an age when the influence of secularization is always more powerful and, on the other hand, one senses a diffused need to encounter God, may the possibility to offer spaces for intense listening to his Word in silence and prayer always be available. Houses of Spiritual Exercises are especially privileged places for this spiritual experience, and they thus must be materially maintained and staffed by competent personnel. I encourage the Pastors of the various communities to be concerned with this so that Houses of Spiritual Exercises never lack responsible and well-formed workers, guides and leaders who are open and prepared, gifted with those doctrinal and spiritual qualities that make them true teachers of spirituality, experts and lovers of God's Word and faithful to the Church's Magisterium. A good course of Spiritual Exercises contributes to renewing in those who participate in it a joy of and taste for the Liturgy, in particular of the dignified celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours and above all, the Eucharist. It helps one rediscover the importance of the Sacrament of Penance, it opens the way to conversion and the gift of reconciliation, as well as to the value and meaning of Eucharistic Adoration. The full and authentic sense of the Holy Rosary and of the pious practice of the Way of the Cross can also be beneficially recovered during the Exercises.

Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for the precious service that you render to the Church and for the commitment you extend so that in Italy the "network" of Spiritual Exercises is always more widespread and qualified. On my part I assure you of a remembrance to the Lord, while, invoking the intercession of Mary Most Holy, I impart the Apostolic Blessing to all of you and to your collaborators.

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On the Samaritan Woman
"God Thirsts for Our Faith and Our Love"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 24, 2008 - 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Third Sunday of Lent the liturgy this year proposes one of the most beautiful and profound texts of the Bible: the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (cf. John 4:5-42). St. Augustine, about whom I am saying a great deal in the Wednesday catecheses, was rightly fascinated by this story, and he gave a memorable commentary on it. It is impossible for a brief explanation of this passage of the Gospel to bring out its richness: It is necessary to read and meditate on it personally, identifying oneself with that woman, who, one day, like many others, went to draw water from the well, and found Jesus there, seated by it, "tired from the trip," in the noonday heat.

"Give me to drink," he said to her, surprising her: It was, in fact, entirely unusual for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan woman, especially a woman who was a stranger. But the woman's wonder was destined to grow: Jesus spoke of a "living water" able to quench thirst completely and become "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" in her; furthermore, he showed her that he knew about her personal life; he revealed that the hour had come to worship the one true God in spirit and in truth; and in the end he confided to her -- something incredibly rare -- that he was the Messiah.

All of this happened, beginning from the real and sensible experience of thirst. The theme of thirst runs through the whole of John's Gospel: from the meeting with the Samaritan woman, to the great prophecy during the feast of the Tabernacles (John 7:37-38), to the cross, when Jesus before he dies says, to fulfill Scripture: "I thirst" (John 19:28).

The thirst of Christ is an entranceway into the mystery of God, who made himself thirsty to refresh us, as he made himself poor to enrich us (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9). Yes, God thirsts for our faith and our love. Like a good and merciful father he desires for us all possible good and this good is God himself. For her part the Samaritan woman represents the existential unhappiness of those who have not found what they are looking for: She had "five husbands" and is now living with a man; her coming and going to the well represents a repetitive and resigned life.

But everything changes for her that day, on account of her conversation with the Lord Jesus, who shakes her up so much that she leaves the water jar and runs to tell the people of the village: "Come and see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ" (John 4:28-29)?

Dear brothers and sisters, let us too open our hearts to the confident hearing of the word of God to meet, like the Samaritan woman, Jesus, who reveals his love to us and says to us: The Messiah, your Savior, "It is I, who speak to you" (John 4:26). May Mary, first and perfect disciple of Christ, obtain this gift for us.

[After the Angelus, the Pope said the following in Italian:]

Recent floods have devastated large areas of the coast of Ecuador, causing very grave damage, which adds to the damage caused by the eruption of Tungurahua. As I entrust the victims of this calamity to the Lord, I express my personal nearness to those who are experiencing times of anxiety and tribulation and I invite all to a fraternal solidarity, so that the people of these areas can return as soon as possible to the normalcy of daily life.

Next Saturday, March 1, at 5 p.m., in the Paul VI Hall, I will preside at the Marian vigil of the university students of Rome. Students of other European and American countries will participate in it by radio and television links. We will invoke the intercession of Mary Seat of Wisdom for Christian hope to support the building of a civilization of love on these two continents and in the whole world. My dear university student friends, I expect to see many of you!

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On the Writings of St. Augustine
"He Truly Lives in His Works, He Is Present With Us"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 20, 2008.- Here is a translation of the greetings Benedict XVI gave today at St. Peter's Basilica to those who could not be accommodated in Paul VI Hall for the general audience, and a translation of the catechesis he delivered in the Vatican auditorium. This is the fourth address the Pope has dedicated to the figure of St. Augustine.

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[Greetings at St. Peter's Basilica in English]

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims gathered here in the Basilica of St. Peter. Lent is a privileged time for all Christians to recommit themselves to conversion and spiritual renewal. In this way, we rekindle a genuine faith in Christ, a life-giving relationship with God and a more fervent dedication to the Gospel. Strengthened by the conviction that love is the distinguishing mark of Christian believers, I encourage you to persevere in bearing witness to charity in your daily lives.

[Catechesis in Paul VI Hall]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After last week's break for spiritual exercises we return today to the great figure of St. Augustine, about whom I have repeatedly spoken during the Wednesday catecheses. He is the Father of the Church who has left the most works and I intend to discuss these briefly today.

Some of the Augustinian writings are of major importance not only for the history of Christianity but also in terms of the development of Western culture as a whole: The clearest example of this is his "Confessions," without doubt one of the most frequently read books of ancient Christianity -- even today. As other Fathers of the Church in the early centuries, but vastly more influential, the Bishop of Hippo has in fact exercised an extensive and persistent influence as demonstrated by the abundance of manuscripts of his works, which are truly numerous.

He personally reviewed these in the "Retractationes" a few years before his death, and shortly after his death they were carefully recorded in the "Indiculus" (list) attached to the biography of St. Augustine, "Vita Augustini," by his faithful friend Possidius. The list of works by Augustine was created with the express purpose of safeguarding them as the destructive Roman invasion rampaged across Africa, and is made up of more than 1,030 writings numbered by their author, plus others that “cannot be numbered because he did not give them a number.” Possidius, bishop of a nearby town, dictated these words in Hippo --where he had taken refuge and had witnessed the death of his friend -- and almost definitely based these comments on Augustine's personal library.

Today more than 300 letters and 600 sermons from the bishop of Hippo have survived. Originally there would have been many more, perhaps even 3,000 or 4,000, fruit of 40 years of preaching by the ex-rhetorician who decided to follow Christ and not to speak just to important individuals in the imperial court, but to the ordinary population of Hippo.

In recent years the discovery of a group of letters and sermons have enriched our knowledge of this great Father of the Church. His friend, the Bishop Possidius wrote: "Many books were written and published by him, many homilies were given in Church and then transcribed and edited, both to refute various heresies as well as to interpret Sacred Scriptures for the edification of the children of the Church. These works are so numerous that a scholar could hardly find it possible to read all of them and learn them" ("Vita Augustini," 18, 9).

Within Augustine’s literary production -- more than 1,000 publications subdivided into philosophical, apologetic, doctrinal, moral, monastic, exegetic, and anti-heretical writings, as well as the letters and sermons -- are some exceptional works of great theological and philosophical intensity.

Above all it is necessary to remember the already mentioned "Confessions," written in 13 books in praise of God between 397 and 400. It is a sort of autobiography in the form of a dialog with God. This literary genre reflects St. Augustine’s life, which was not a reclusive life, not dispersed in many things, but was a life mainly lived like a conversation with God, a life shared with others. Already the title "Confessions" shows the specificity of his autobiography.

In the Christian Latin developed in the tradition of the Psalms, the word "confessiones" has two meanings that are interlinked. In the first place "confessiones" is the confession of one’s own weaknesses, and of the misery of sins; at the same time "confessiones" means praise of God, gratitude to God.

Seeing one's misery in the light of God becomes praise for God and gratitude because God loves us and accepts us, he transforms us and raises us toward him. In the "Confessions" -- which were already largely successful during St. Augustine’s life -- he wrote: "They exercised such action on me while I was writing them and do so even now when I reread them. There are many brothers who like these writings" ("Retractationes," II, 6). I should also mention that I am one of these "brothers."

Thanks to the "Confessions" we can follow step by step the inner journey of this extraordinary man who was fascinated by God.

Less well-known but equally important are the "Retractationes," composed in two books around 427, in which St. Augustine, now an old man, puts together a "revision" (retractatio) of all his writings, thus leaving us a particular and precious literary document, but also a teaching of sincerity and intellectual humility.

"De Civitate Dei" (The City of God) -- a decisive and imposing work in the development of modern political thought in the West and in Christian historical theology -- was written between 413 and 426 and was made up of 22 books. It was prompted by the sacking of Rome by the Goths in 410.

Many pagans who had survived, and also many Christians, had said: "Rome has fallen; the Christian God and the Apostles cannot protect the city. During the presence of the pagan gods, Rome was the 'caput mundi,' the capital of the world, and no one thought it could fall into the hands of its enemies. Now, with a Christian God, this great city no longer seems safe. The Christian God therefore did not protect and could not be a God in which one could trust."

It is this charge that was deeply felt by the Christians that St. Augustine answered with this magnificent work, "De civitate Dei." He clarified what we should and should not expect from God. Even today, this book is the source used to clearly define secular and clerical responsibilities, as well as the competences of the Church, the true and great hope that gives us faith.

This great book is a presentation of the history of humanity as governed by divine Providence, but actually divided by two loves. This is the fundamental design, his interpretation of history, which is the struggle between two loves: love of oneself, “even to the point of showing indifference toward God,” and love of God, “even to the point of being indifferent toward oneself” ("De Civitate Dei," XIV, 28 ), which leads to full freedom to be for others in the light of God. This, therefore, is perhaps St. Augustine's greatest book, of enduring importance.

Equally important is "De Trinitate," a work comprising 15 books on the main linchpin of Christian faith, God as part of the holy Trinity. It was written between 399 and 412. The first 12 books were published without Augustine's knowledge, who completed and revised the work around the year 420. He reflects on the face of God and tries to understand this mystery of a God which is unique: creator of the world, of all of us, and yet part of a trinity -- a circle of love. He seeks to understand the unfathomable mystery: the Trinitarian being, in three persons, as precisely the most real and most profound expression of teh unity of the one God.

"De Doctrina Christiana" however is a true cultural introduction of the interpretation of the Bible and on Christianity, which had a decisive influence on the formation of Western culture.

Even if modest, Augustine was certainly aware of his intellectual magnitude. Nevertheless, he considered it more important to carry the Christian message to the ordinary people than to realize major works of high theological relevance. His deeper intention, that drove him all his life, is revealed in a letter written to his colleague Evodio, where he announces his decision to temporarily suspend the dictation of "De Trinitate," "because they are too laborious and I think they may be understood only by a few; more urgent are texts which I hope will be useful to many" ("Epistulae," 169, 1, 1).

Therefore he found it more useful to communicate the faith in a comprehensible manner to all, than to write large theological works. The responsibility he felt toward the popularization of the Christian message is the reason for writings such as "De Catechizandis Rudibus," a theory as well as a practice of the catechesis, or the "Psalmus Contra Partem Donati."

The Donatists were the big problem in St. Augustine’s Africa, a definitively African faction. They affirmed that true Christianity was African and opposed the unity of the Church. The great bishop fought all his life against this split, trying to convince Donatists that only in unity could the African way be true.

In order to be understood by ordinary men, who could not understand the great rhetorician's Latin, he said: I should write with grammatical mistakes, in a very simplified Latin. He did this above all in his "Psalmus," a simple poem against Donatists, to help everybody understand that only through the unity of the Church can we truly realize our connection with God and can encourage peace in the world.

In this production destined to a wider public, the numerous sermons play an important role. Often given extemporaneously, they were transcribed by the stenographers during the preaching and immediately distributed. Among them stand out the attractive "Enarrationes in Psalmos," which were widely read during the Medieval age.

It is the actual routine of publication of the thousands of sermons by Augustine -- often without the control of the author -- that explains their spread and successive dispersal, but also their vitality. Because of the author’s reputation, immediately his lectures became very sought after and were used as models by other bishops and priests, and adapted to ever-new contexts.

The iconographic tradition, which we can see in a Lateran fresco dating from the 6th century, represents St. Augustine with a book in his hand to express his literary production that highly influenced Christian mentality and thinking, but also to express his love for books, for reading and knowledge of the great cultures.

Possidius tells us that at his death he did not leave anything, but "he urged to always conserve diligently for posterity the library of the Church with all its codices," as well as his own writings. Possidius underlines that Augustine is "always alive" in his works and helps those who read them, even if, he concludes, "I believe that those who saw and heard him when he preached in Church had profited more from that contact, but most of all, those who had experience of his daily life among the people" (Vita Augustini, 31).

Indeed, it would have been wonderful to listen to him when he was alive. But he truly lives in his works, he is present with us, and this is how we see the permanent vitality of his faith to which he had dedicated all his life.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

[After his address, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s catechesis, we continue to focus on Saint Augustine, a prolific and widely influential author. Perhaps Augustine’s best-known work is the "Confessions," a prayerful reflection on his life, in which he perceives his own sinfulness and extols the Lord’s grace and mercy. In "De civitate Dei," Augustine describes the tension between two cities: the earthly city that springs from love of self and indifference to God, and the heavenly city born from love of God and "indifference to self". In "De Trinitate," Augustine expounds the core belief of the Christian faith: one God in three persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Although Augustine is renowned for his towering intellect and vast body of writings, his primary concern was always to spread the Christian message. He continually strove to express the Gospel in a way accessible to every man, woman and child, so that all might come to know its saving truth: Jesus Christ. May we follow his example in sharing the Good News with others.

I cordially greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s audience. I extend a particular welcome to parishioners from the Church of Our Lady of Loretto in New York, as well as Benedictines participating in an intensive course on the rule of their order. A blessed Lent to you all!


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On Being Transfigured
"To Enter Into Life It Is Necessary to Listen to Jesus"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 17, 2008- 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,

Yesterday, the spiritual exercises concluded here in the apostolic palace. As happens every year this retreat saw the Pope and his co-workers in the Roman Curia united in prayer and meditation. I thank those who were near to us spiritually: May the Lord give them recompense for their generosity.

Today, the Second Sunday of Lent, continuing along the way of penitence, the liturgy, after having presented the Gospel of Jesus' temptations in the desert last Sunday, invites us to reflect on the extraordinary event of the transfiguration on the mountain. Considered together, both episodes anticipate the paschal mystery: Jesus' struggle with the tempter is the prelude to the great final duel of the passion, while the light of his transfigured body anticipates the glory of the resurrection.

On the one hand we see Jesus fully man: He even shares temptation with us. On the other hand, we contemplate the Son of God: He divinizes our humanity. In this way we can say that these two Sundays act as pillars upon which rest the whole edifice of Lent right up to Easter, and, indeed, the whole structure of Christian life, which essentially consists in the paschal dynamism -- from death to life.

Mountains -- like Tabor and Sinai -- are the place of nearness to God. In relation to daily existence, the mountain is the elevated space where the pure air of creation is breathed. It is the place of prayer, where one is in the presence of the Lord, as were Moses and Elijah, who appeared alongside the transfigured Jesus and spoke to him of the "exodus" that awaited him in Jerusalem, that is, his Passover.

The transfiguration is an event of prayer: Praying, Jesus is immersed in God, he is united intimately to him, he adheres with his human will to the Father's will of love, and in this way light invades him and the truth of his being appears visibly: He is God, light from light. Even his robes become white and luminous. This makes one think of baptism, of the white robes worn by the neophytes. Those who are reborn in baptism are clothed in light, anticipating heavenly existence, which the Book of Revelation represents with the symbol of white robes (cf. Revelation 7:9,13).

This is the crucial point: The Transfiguration is an anticipation of the Resurrection, but this presupposes death. Jesus manifests his glory to the apostles so that they have the strength to face the scandal of the cross and understand that it is necessary to pass through many tribulations to reach the kingdom of God. The voice of the Father, which resounds from on high, proclaims Jesus as his beloved Son, as in the baptism in the Jordan, adding: "Listen to him" (Matthew 17:5). To enter into life it is necessary to listen to Jesus, to follow him along the way of the cross, carrying, like him, the hope of the resurrection in our heart. "Spe salvi," saved in hope. Today we can say: "Transfigured in hope."

Turning now in prayer to Mary, we recognize in her the human creature interiorly transfigured by the grace of Christ, and we entrust ourselves to her guidance to continue in the journey of Lent with faith.

[After the Angelus, the Holy Father said the following in Italian:]

I am following with concern the persistent manifestations of tension in Lebanon. For almost three months the country has not been able to appoint a head of state. The efforts to calm the crisis and the support offered by numerous high-profile members of the international community, even if they have not yet achieved anything, demonstrate the intention to identify a president who will be a president for all Lebanese and in this way create a basis for overcoming the existing divisions. Unfortunately, reasons for worry are not lacking, above all because of the strange verbal violence and because of those who put their trust in force of arms and in the physical elimination of adversaries.

Together with the Maronite patriarch and all the Lebanese bishops, I ask you to join with my supplication of Our Lady of Lebanon, that she encourage the citizens of that dear nation, and the politicians in particular, to work without ceasing for reconciliation, for a truly sincere dialogue, for peaceful co-existence and for the good of a homeland deeply felt as common.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

[The Holy Father said in English:]

I greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Angelus, especially the group of pilgrims from Saint Ansgar's Cathedral in Copenhagen. I pray that your visit to Rome may strengthen your faith and deepen your love for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. In this Sunday's Gospel, we hear how Jesus was transfigured in the presence of his three closest followers, Peter, James and John. They were granted a glimpse of Christ in glory, and they heard the voice of the Father urging them to listen to his beloved Son. As we continue our Lenten journey, we renew our resolve to listen attentively to the Son of God, and we draw comfort and hope from the revelation of his glory. Upon all of you here today, and upon your families and loved ones at home, I invoke God's abundant blessings.

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Pope's Q-and-A Session With Roman Clergy
 

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2008- Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Thursday with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome. During the meeting, the participants asked the Pope questions. Here is a translation of the first question and the Holy Father's answer.

* * *

[Deacon Giuseppe Corona:]

Holy Father, I would like first of all to express my gratitude and that of my brother deacons for the ministry that the Church so providentially has taken up again with the [Second Vatican] Council, a ministry that allows us to fully express our vocation. We are committed in a great variety of works that we carry out in vastly different environments: family, work, parish, society, also the missions of Africa and Latin America -- areas that you indicated for us in the audience you granted us on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the diaconate of the Diocese of Rome.

Now our numbers have grown -- there are 108 of us. And we would like for you to indicate a pastoral initiative that could become a sign of a more incisive presence of the permanent diaconate in the city of Rome, as it happened in the first centuries of the Roman Church. In fact, sharing a significant, common objective, on one hand increases the cohesion of diaconal fraternity and on the other, would give greater visibility to our service in this city. We present you, Holy Father, the desire that you indicate to us an initiative that we can share in the way and the manner that you wish to specify. In the name of all the deacons, I greet you, Holy Father, with filial affection.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this testimony as one of the more than 100 deacons of Rome. I would like to also express my joy and my gratitude for the Council, because it revived this important ministry in the universal Church. I should say that when I was archbishop of Munich, I didn't find perhaps more than three or four deacons, and I very much favored this ministry because it seemed to me to belong to the richness of the sacramental ministry in the Church. At the same time, it can equally be the link between the lay world, the professional world, and the world of the priestly ministry -- given that many deacons continue carrying out their professions and maintain their positions -- important or those of a simple life -- while on Saturday and Sunday they work in the Church. In this way, you give witness in the world of today, as well as in the working world, of the presence of faith, of the sacramental ministry and the diaconal dimension of the sacrament of Orders. This seems very important to me: the visibility of the diaconal dimension.

Naturally as well, every priest continues being a deacon, and should always think of this dimension, because the Lord himself made himself our minister, our deacon. We can think of the gesture of the washing of the feet, with which he explicitly shows that the master, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow him to be deacons, that they fulfill this role for humanity, to the point that they also help to wash the dirtied feet of the men entrusted to us. This dimension seems very important to me.

On this occasion, I bring to mind -- though it is perhaps not immediately inherent to the theme -- a simple experience that Paul VI noted. Each day of the Council, the Gospel was enthroned. And the Pontiff told those in charge of the ceremony that he would like one time to be the one who enthrones the Gospel. They told him no, this is the job of the deacons, not of the Pope. He wrote in his diary: But I am also a deacon, I continue being a deacon, and I would like to also exercise this ministry of the diaconate placing the word of God on its throne. Thus, this concerns all of us. Priests continue being deacons, and the deacons make explicit in the Church and in the world this diaconal dimension of our ministry. This liturgical enthroning of the word of God each day during the Council was always for us a gesture of great importance: It told us who was the true Lord of that assembly; it told us that the word of God was on the throne and that we exercise our ministry to listen and to interpret, to offer to the others this word. It is broadly significant for all that we do: enthroning in the world the word of God, the living word, Christ. May it really be him who governs our personal life and our life in the parishes.

Now, you have asked me a question that, I must say, goes a bit beyond my strengths: What would be the tasks proper to the deacons of Rome. I know that the cardinal vicar knows much better than I the real situations of the city and the diocesan community of Rome. I think that one characteristic of the ministry of the deacons is precisely the multiplicity of the diaconate's applications. In the International Theological Commission, a few years ago, we studied at length the diaconate in the history and also the present of the Church. And we discovered just that: There is not just one profile. What they should do varies, depending on the preparation of the persons and the situations in which they find themselves. There can be applications and activities that are very different, always in communion with the bishop and with the parish, naturally. In the various situations, various possibilities arise, also depending on the professional preparation that these deacons could have. They could be committed in the cultural sector, which is so important today, or they could have a voice and an important post in the educational realm. We are thinking this year precisely of the problem of education as central to our future, and the future of humanity.

Certainly the sector of charity was in Rome the original sector, because those called presbyters and deacons were centers of Christian charity. This was from the beginning in the city of Rome a fundamental area. In my encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," I showed that not just preaching and the liturgy are essential for the Church and for the ministry of the Church, but rather equally important is the service of caritas -- in its multiple dimensions -- for the poor, the needy. Thus, I hope that all the time, in the whole diocese, even if in distinct situations, this continues being a fundamental dimension, and also a priority for the commitment of the deacons, even if not the only one, as is also shown in the early Church, where the seven deacons were chosen precisely to permit the apostles to dedicate themselves to prayer, liturgy and preaching. Also afterward, Stephen found himself in the situation of having to preach to the Greeks, to the Jews who spoke Greek, and thus the field of preaching was amplified. He is conditioned, we could say, by the cultural situation, where he has a voice to make present in that sector the word of God. In that way, he makes more possible the universality of the Christian testimony, opening the doors to St. Paul who witnessed his stoning, and later, in a certain sense, was his successor in the universalization of the word of God. I don't know if the cardinal vicar would like to add something; I'm not as close to the concrete situations.

[Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar for the Diocese of Rome:]

Holy Father, I can just confirm, as you said, that also concretely in Rome, the deacons work in many sectors, for the most part, in parishes, where they concern themselves with the ministry of charity; but, for example, many are also involved in ministry to the family. Since almost all of the deacons are married, they offer marriage preparation, give follow-up to young couples, and things like that. They also offer a significant contribution to the ministry of health care; they help also in the vicariate -- where some of them work -- and as you heard, in missions. There is a certain missionary presence of deacons. I think that, naturally, in the numerical plane, the greatest commitment is in the parishes, but there also exist other sectors that are also opening, and precisely because of this, we now have more than a hundred permanent deacons.

* * *

[Father Graziano Bonfitto, from the parish of Ognissanti:]

Holy Father, I am originally from a town in the province of Foggia, San Marco in Lamis. I am a religious in the order of Don Orione [Sons of Divine Providence] and have been a priest for a year and a half, currently serving as the vice pastor in the parish of Ognissanti, in the Appio neighborhood. I won't hide my excitement from you, and also the incredible joy I have in this moment, which is such a great privilege for me. You are the bishop and the shepherd of our diocesan Church, but you are also the Pope and thus the pastor of the universal Church. Because of this, my excitement grows uncontrollably. I would first like to express my gratitude for all that, day after day, you do, not only for our Diocese of Rome, but for the entire Church. Your words and your gestures, your attention toward us, the people of God, are signs of the love and the closeness that you foster for all of us, and each one of us.

My priestly apostolate is carried out above all with youth. It is precisely in their name that I would like to thank you today. My holy founder, St. Luigi Orione, said that youth are the sun or the storm of the morning. I think that in this historical moment in which we find ourselves, youth are both the sun and the storm, not of the morning, but of now. As youth we now feel, more than ever, the strong need for certainties. We want sincerity, freedom, justice and peace. We want to count on people who walk with us, who listen to us, like Christ with the disciples of Emmaus. Youth desire people capable of marking the path to liberty, responsibility, love, truth. That is, the youth of today have an unquenchable thirst for Christ: a thirst for joyful witnesses who have found Jesus and have staked their whole existence on him. The youth want a Church always with feet on the ground and ever closer to their needs. They want her present in their life decisions, even though a certain sensation of indifference toward the Church persists in them. Youth seek a trustworthy hope -- as you wrote in your last letter directed to the faithful of Rome -- to avoid living without God.

Holy Father -- permit me to call you Papa -- how difficult it is to live in God, with God and for God. The youth feel attacked on so many fronts. There are so many false prophets, salesmen of illusions. There are too many proclaimers of false truths and ignoble ideals. With all of this, youth who believe today -- even feeling that they are trapped -- are convinced that God is the hope that resists every disillusion, that only his love cannot be destroyed by death, even if most of the time, it is not easy to find the space or the courage to give witness. What to do then? How to act? Is it truly worth it to continue staking one's life on Christ? Life, the family, love, joy, justice, respect of others' opinions, liberty, prayer, charity -- are they still values to defend? The life of the saints, measured by the beatitudes -- is this a life adequate for man, for the youth of the third millennium?

Thank you so much for your attention, your affection and your consideration for the youth. The youth are with you: They esteem you, they love you and they listen to you. Stay close, show us with ever greater strength the path that leads to Christ, the way, the truth and the life. Help us to fly high, ever higher. And pray for us always. Thank you.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this beautiful testimony of a young priest who is with the youth, who accompanies them, and as you have said, helps them to walk with Christ, with Jesus.

What to say? All of us know how difficult it is for youth today to live as Christians. The cultural context and the mass media offer everything contrary to the path that leads to Christ. It precisely seems that it makes it impossible to see Christ as the center of life and live a life as Jesus shows us. Nevertheless, it also seems to me that many feel more and more the inadequacy of these offers, of this style of life that in the end, leaves one empty.

In this sense, it seems to me that the readings precisely from today's liturgy, from Deuteronomy [30:15-20] and the Gospel passage from Luke [9:22-25] respond to what we should essentially say to youth and always to ourselves. As you have mentioned, sincerity is fundamental. Youth should perceive that we don't say words we don't ourselves live, but rather that we speak because we have found and look to find each day the truth as truth for my life. Only if we are on this path, if we ourselves try to assimilate this life and associate our lives with that of the Lord, then our words can also be credible and have a visible and convincing logic. I insist: Today this is the great and fundamental norm, not only for Lent but for all Christian life: Choose life. Before you, you have death and life: Choose life.

And it seems that the answer is natural. There are only a few people who nourish in their depths a will for destruction, for death, of no longer wanting existence and life, because everything is contrary for them. Unfortunately, on the other hand, this is a phenomenon that is growing. With all the contradictions, the false promises, in the end life seems contradictory. It is no longer a gift, but a condemnation and thus there are those who want death more than life. But normally, man responds: Yes, I want life.

The question continues being how to find life, what to choose, how to choose life. And we know the offers generally made: Go to the disco, obtain everything possible, consider liberty as doing everything you want, whatever occurs to you in any given moment. But we know on the other hand -- and we can show it -- that this is a false path, because in the end, life is not found there, but rather the abyss of nothingness.

Choose life. The reading says it: God is your life, you have chosen life and you have made the choice: God. This seems fundamental to me. Only in this way are our horizons broad enough and only in this way do we remain within the fount of life, which is stronger than death, stronger than all of the threats of death. Thus, the fundamental choice is this one that is indicated: Choose God. It is necessary to understand that one who begins a life without God in the end finds himself in darkness, even though there can be moments in which it seems he has discovered life.

Another step is how to find God, how to choose God. Here we arrive to the Gospel: God is not a stranger, a hypothesis of the first cause of the cosmos. God has flesh and bones. He is one of us. We know him with his face, with his name. It is Jesus Christ who speaks to us in the Gospel. He is man and he is God. And being God, he chose man to make it possible for us to choose God. Thus it is necessary to enter into knowledge of and afterward friendship with Jesus, to walk with him.

I consider this the fundamental point of our pastoral care for youth, for everyone, but above all for youth: Call their attention to the choice of God, who is life. To the fact that God exists. And he exists in a very concrete way. And teach them friendship with Jesus Christ.

There is also a third step. This friendship with Jesus is not a friendship with a person who isn't real, with someone who belongs to the past, or is far from man at the right hand of God. He is present in his body, which continues to be a body of flesh and bones: It is the Church, the communion of the Church. We should construct and make communities that are more accessible and reflect the great community of the living Church. It is everything: the living experience of the community, with all of its human weaknesses, but nevertheless real, with a clear path and a solid sacramental life in which we can also touch what can seem so far away -- the presence of the Lord. In this way, we can also learn the commandments -- to return to Deuteronomy, from where I began. Because the reading says: To choose God means to choose according to his Word, to live according to his Word. For a moment this seems almost positivist: They are imperatives. But first is the gift -- his friendship. Later we can understand that the indicators of the path are explanations of the reality of this friendship of ours.

We can say that this is a general overview, which flows out of contact with sacred Scripture and the life of the Church each day. Afterward it is translated step by step in the concrete encounters with youth: To guide them in their dialogue with Jesus in prayer, in the reading of sacred Scripture -- reading in common, above all, but also personal -- and sacramental life. These are all steps to make these experiences present in the professional life, even though this realm is frequently marked by the total absence of God and by the apparent impossibility of seeing him present. But precisely then, through our life and our experience of God, we should try to make the presence of Christ enter into this world far from God.

Thirst for God exists. A short time ago, I received the "ad limina" visit of bishops from a country in which more than 50% are declared atheists or agnostics. But they told me, in reality all of them are thirsting for God. This thirst exists, though hidden. Because of this, let's start beforehand, with the youth we can find. Let's form communities in which the Church is reflected; let's learn friendship with Jesus. And in this way, full of this joy and this experience, we can also today make God present in this world of ours.

[Father Paolo Tammi, pastor at St. Pius X Parish and religion professor:]

I would like to extend to you just one of the many expressions of gratitude for the effort and the passion with which you have written the book about Jesus of Nazareth, a text that, you yourself have said, is not an act of the magisterium, but the fruit of your personal search for the face of God. It has contributed to putting the person of Jesus Christ in the center of Christianity and certainly it is contributing -- and will continue to do so -- to a patient righting of the partial visions of the Christian event, such as the political vision, in which a great part of my adolescence and that of my contemporaries developed; or the moralist vision, too insistent -- in my opinion -- in Catholic preaching; or finally the vision that likes to define itself as demythologizing the figure of Jesus Christ, like that of certain teachers of secular thought who truly think it very normal to suddenly concern themselves now with the Founder of Christianity and his human adventure to deny his historicity or to attribute his divinity to a fantasy of the apostolic Church.

You, on the other hand, do not cease to teach us, Your Holiness, that Jesus is truly everything, that with him, man and God, it's only possible to fall in love; that it is not merely the same as belonging to a club, supposing that such a thing exists, or spouting off pretty phrases about him just to protect a cultural identity. I limit myself to add that in a secular environment like a school, where historical and philosophical motivations in favor or against religion obviously have their legitimate space, I see every day that the kids maintain a great emotional distance, whereas I have seem them be moved in Assisi -- where I took them a few days ago -- upon hearing a passionate testimony of a young friar minor. I ask you: How can the life of a priest become ever more passionate with the essential, which is the Spouse Jesus? And also, how can you see when a priest is in love with Jesus? I know that you have answered this several times, but it's certain that your answer can help or correct us, to renew our hope. I ask you to answer this again here with your priests.

[Benedict XVI:]

How can I correct the parish priests, who are working so well? We can only help each other. So, you are familiar with this secular environment not only from an intellectual distance, but above all from an emotional one, with faith. And we should, according to circumstances, find the way to build bridges. It seems to me that the situations are difficult, but you are right. We should always think: What is essential? Even if afterward the point varies in which it is possible to link in the kerygma, the context, the way of acting. But the question should always be: What is essential? What has to be discovered? What would I like to give? And here, I always repeat: The essential is God.

If we don't speak of God, if God is not discovered, we are always stuck in secondary things. Thus it seems fundamental to me that the question "Does God exist" is at least proposed. And that of, How could I live without God? Is God truly an important reality for me?

It continues to impress me that the First Vatican Council would have wanted precisely to bring this dialogue to the table, to understand God with reason -- even if in the historical situation in which we find ourselves we need God to help us and purify our reason. It seems that already there is a search to respond to this challenge posed by a secular environment regarding God as the fundamental question, and then regarding Christ as God's answer. Naturally, I would say that the "preambula fidei" exist, that perhaps they are the first step to open the heart and the mind to God: the natural virtues.

Recently I received a visit from a head of state who told me, I am not a religious person, the foundation of my life is Aristotelian ethics. This is already something very good, and it places us beside St. Thomas, on the path toward Thomas' synthesis. And therefore, this could be a point of contact: To learn and to make understandable the importance for human coexistence of this rational ethics, that afterward interiorly opens -- if its lived in its consequences -- to the question of God, to the responsibility before God.

So it seems to me that, on one hand, we should have clear before us what is the essential that we want to and should transmit to the others and what are the "preambula" in the situations in which we can take the first steps. In truth, today a first ethical education is a fundamental step. This is also what happened in ancient Christianity. Cyprian, for example, tells us that his life before was totally dissolute. Afterward, living in the catechumenal community, he learned a fundamental ethics and in that way, the path toward God opened. Also St. Ambrose in the Easter Vigil says: Until now we have spoken of morality, now we move on to mystery.

They had traveled the journey of the "preambula fidei" with a fundamental education in ethics, which created the possibility of understanding the mystery of God. Therefore, I would say that perhaps we should carry out an interaction with education in ethics -- so important today -- on one hand, also with its pragmatic evidence, and at the same time not omit the question of God. And in this intertwining of two paths, it seems to me that perhaps we manage to open ourselves a bit to this God who alone can give light.

Father Daniele Salera, parish vicar at Santa Mary, Mother of the Redeemer in Tor Bella Monaca and a religion professor:]

Your Holiness, I am Father Daniele Salera, a priest for six years now and the parish vicar in Tor Bella Monaca; there I give religion classes. In reading your letter about the urgent task of education, I have taken note of certain elements that struck me as significant and that I would like to talk about with you. […] I would like to transmit to you in these short moments the beauty of working in a school with colleagues who for various motives no longer have faith or no longer identify themselves with the Church. Nevertheless, they give me an example of passion for education and for the rescuing of adolescents whose lives are marked by crime and degradation.

I perceive in many of the people I work with in Tor Bella Monaca an authentic missionary drive. Through different but convergent paths we fight against this crisis of hope that is always lurking when one daily interacts with kids who seem dead on the inside, without a desire for the future, or so profoundly wrapped up in evil that they don't manage to perceive the goodness desired for them, or the occasions of freedom and redemption that in any case come along in their life. Before such a human emergency, there is no time for divisions. I often repeat to myself a saying of Pope Roncalli, who said, "I will always look for what unites, more than what divides."

Your Holiness, this experience allows me to live daily with youth and adults who would have never found me if I would have concentrated only on the activities of the parish. And I see that it's true: Many educators are giving up on ethics in favor of an affectivity that does not give certainties and creates dependence. Others fear defending the norms of civil coexistence because they think these norms don't take into account the needs, difficulties and identities of the youth. Using a slogan, I would say that at the level of education, we live in a culture of, "yes, always" and "no, never." But it is the "no" proclaimed with loving passion for man and for his future that often draws the line between good and evil, a limit that in the years of development is fundamental for building up a solid personal identity.

On one hand, I am convinced that, before the emergency, diversities are attenuated and therefore, in the realm of education, we can truly find common ground with those who freely do not declare themselves believers in the real sense. On the other hand, I ask myself, why do we, as a Church, who have written, thought and lived so much regarding education as formation in the correct use of liberty -- as you say -- fail to transmit this educational objective? Why do we seem, shall we say, so little free and freeing?

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this reflection of your experiences in the school of today with the youth of today, and also for these self-critiquing questions for us. In this moment, I can only confirm that it seems very important to me that the Church be present also in the school, because an education that is not at the same time an education with God and in the presence of God, an education that does not transmit the great ethical values that have appeared in the light of Christ, is not education. Professional formation is never sufficient without the formation of the heart. And the heart cannot be formed without, at least, the challenge of the presence of God. We know that many youth live in environments, in situations, that make the light and the Word of God inaccessible. They are in life situations that represent a true slavery, not just exterior, but that provoke an intellectual slavery that obscures the truth in the heart and in the mind.

We try with what is within the reach of the Church to offer also to them a chance to escape. But, in any case, we bring to this diverse environment of a school -- where you can find a range from believers to the saddest situations -- the Word of God. This is what we have said about St. Paul, who wanted to make the Gospel arrive to everyone. This imperative of the Lord -- the Gospel should be announced to everyone -- is not a diachronic imperative, not a continental imperative, that in all cultures it be announced in a big way, but rather an interior imperative, in the sense of entering into the various facets and dimensions of a society to make, at least a little, the light of the Gospel more accessible. That the Gospel really be announced to everyone.

And it seems an aspect of the cultural formation of today. To know what is the Christian faith that has formed this continent and that is a light for all continents. The ways in which this light can be made most present and accessible are various, and I realize I don't have a recipe for this. But the need to offer oneself to the service of this adventure -- beautiful and difficult -- is really an element of the imperative of the Gospel itself. Let's pray that the Lord helps us to respond to this imperative of making knowledge of him, knowledge of his face, arrive to all of the dimensions of our society.

Father Pietro Riggi, Salesian of Borgo Ragazzi Don Bosco:

Holy Father, I work in an oratory and in a center for minors who are at risk. I want to ask you: On March 25, 2007 you gave an informal speech, lamenting that today the “Last Things” are little spoken of. […] Without these essential parts of the Creed, does it not seem to you that the logical system that brings us to see Christ’s redemption crumbles? Without sin, not speaking of hell, Christ’s redemption is diminished too. Does it not seem to you that with the loss of the sense of sin the salvific, sacramental figure itself of the priest, who has the power to absolve and celebrate in the name of Christ, is also lost?

Today, unfortunately, we priests as well, when the Gospel speaks of hell, we avoid the Gospel itself. It is not spoken of. Or we do not know how to talk about paradise. We do not know how to talk about eternal life. We risk giving the faith a dimension that is only horizontal or rather detached, the horizontal from the vertical. And this is beginning to disappear unfortunately from the catechesis for the kids, but also from the parishes, in the foundational structures. […]

I also wanted to point out that the Virgin Mary was not afraid to speak to the children of Fatima, who, incidentally, were of catechism age: 7, 9 and 12. And we so many times instead leave this out. Can you tell us something more about this?

Benedict XVI:

You rightly spoke of fundamental themes of the faith, which unfortunately rarely appear in our preaching. In the encyclical “Spe Salvi” I wanted to speak indeed also of the last judgment, of judgment in general, and in this context of purgatory, hell and paradise as well. I think that we are all still struck by the Marxist objection, according to which the Christians spoke only about the beyond and neglected this world. So, we want to show that we are really working for this world and we are not people who talk about distant realities that do not help this world. Now, although it is right to show that Christians work for this world -- and we are all called to work to truly make this world a city for God and of God -- we must not forget the other dimension. If we do not take it into account, we do not work well for this world.

Showing this was one of the fundamental purposes for me writing the encyclical. When one does not know God’s judgment, one does not know the possibility of hell, of radical and definitive failure of life, one does not know the possibility and the necessity of purification. Then man does not work well for the world because in the end he loses the criteria, he no longer knows himself, not knowing God, and he destroys the world. All of the great ideologies promised: We will take things in hand, we will no longer neglect the world, we will create a new, just, correct, fraternal world. Instead they destroyed the world. We see it with Nazism, we it also with communism -- they promised to construct the world as it should have been, and instead, they destroyed the world.

In the "ad limina" visits of the bishops from ex-communist countries I always see how in those lands not only the planet, ecology, was destroyed, but above all, and worse, souls. Rediscovering the truly human conscience, illumined by the presence of God, is the first task in rebuilding the earth. This is the common experience of those countries. The rebuilding of the earth, respecting the cry of suffering of this planet, can only happen by rediscovering God in the soul, with eyes open to God.

So, you are right: We must speak of all this out of responsibility for the world, for the men who live today. We must also speak precisely of sin as the possibility of destroying ourselves and so also of other parts of the earth. In the encyclical I tried to show that indeed the last judgment of God guarantees justice. We all want a just world. But we cannot repair all of the destruction of the past, all the people who were unjustly tormented and killed. Only God himself can create justice, which must be justice for all, for the dead too. And as Adorno, a great Marxist, says, only the resurrection of the flesh -- which he holds to be an illusion -- could create justice. We believe in this resurrection of the flesh, in which not all will be equal.

Today we are used to thinking: What is sin? God is great, he knows us, so sin will not count, in the end God will be good to all. It is a beautiful hope. But there is justice and there is true guilt. Those who have destroyed man and the earth cannot immediately sit at table with God together with their victims. God creates justice. We must keep this in mind. For this reason it seemed important to me also to write this text on purgatory, which for me is such an obvious truth, so evident and also so necessary and consoling that it cannot be left out.

I tried to say: Perhaps there are not many who are destroyed in this way, who are forever incurable, who have no element on which God’s love can rest, who do not have a minimal capacity to love in them. This would be hell. On the other hand, there are certainly few -- or, in any case, not many -- who are so pure that they can immediately enter into communion with God. Many of us hope that there is something that can be healed in us, that there is a final will to serve God and serve men, to live according to God. But there are many, many wounds, much filth. We need to be prepared, to be purified. This is our hope: Even with such filth in our souls, in the end the Lord gives us the possibility, he finally cleanses us with his goodness that comes from his cross. In this way he makes us capable of living eternally for him.

Thus, paradise is hope, it is justice finally realized. And it also gives us the criteria for living, so that this time can be paradise in some way, a first light of paradise. Where men live according to these criteria, a little bit of paradise appears in this world, and this is visible. It also seems to me a demonstration of the truth of the faith, of the necessity of following the road of the commandments, which we must talk about more. These are truly road signs and they show us how to live well, how to choose life. For this reason we must also speak of sin and of the sacrament of forgiveness and reconciliation. A man who is sincere knows that he is guilty, that he must begin again, that he must be purified. And this is the marvelous reality that the Lord gives us: There is a possibility of renewal, of being new. The Lord begins with us again and in this way we also can begin again with the others in our life.

This aspect of renewal, of restitution of our being after so many mistakes, after so many sins, is the great promise, the great gift that the Church offers, and what, for example, psychotherapy cannot offer. Psychotherapy is so widespread today and it is also necessary in the face of so many destroyed and gravely wounded psyches. But psychotherapy’s possibilities are very limited: It can only try a little to re-establish balance in an unbalanced soul. But it cannot give a true renewal, an overcoming of these grave maladies of the soul. And for this reason it always remains provisional and never definitive.

The sacrament of penance gives us the occasion to renew ourselves completely with the power of God -- “Ego te absolvo” -- which is possible because Christ took these sins, these faults upon himself. It seems that today indeed this is a great necessity. We can be healed again. Souls that are wounded and sick -- as is the experience of all -- need not only advice but true renewal, which can come only from the power of God, the power of crucified love. It seems to me that this is the great nexus of mysteries that are truly inscribed in our life. We ourselves must meditate on them again and in this way bring them again to our people.

[Father Massimo Tellan, Pastor of the Parish of Sant'Enrico:]

My name is Massimo Tellan. I have been a priest for 15 years; for 6 years I have been a pastor at Casal Monastero, in the north. I believe that all of us realize that we live more and more immersed in a world of cultural word inflation -- words that are, in the end, often without meaning -- which disorient the human heart to such an extent that it becomes deaf to truth. That eternal Word that became flesh and assumed a face in Jesus of Nazareth becomes -- because of this inflation of words in our world -- evanescent, and above all for the new generations, inconsistent and distant.

Certainly [this Word gets] confused in the forest of ambiguous and ephemeral images that bombard one every day. So, what space should be given in education in the faith to this binomial of the word to be welcomed and the image to be contemplated? What happened to the art of narrating the faith and introducing people to the mystery [of the faith] as was done in the past with the "biblia pauperum"? In today's culture of the image how can we recover the incredible power of seeing that accompanies the mystery of the incarnation and the encounter with Jesus as happened on the banks of the Jordan for John and Andrew, who were invited to go and see where the master lived?

In other words, how do we educate [people] in the seeking and the contemplation of that true beauty that -- as Dostoyevsky wrote -- will save the world? Thank you, Your Holiness, for your attention, and if you will allow me, and with the consent of my confreres, as a priest of this presbyterium and a dilettante artist, along with what I have said I would like to give you an icon of Christ at the pillar [...] If it is true, as it is, that whoever sees the Son has seen the Father, so whoever sees us, his Church, can see Christ.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this beautiful gift. I am grateful that we have not only words but images too. We see that even today from Christian meditation new images are born, Christian culture is reborn, Christian iconography. Yes we live with an inflation of words, of images. So, it is difficult to create space for the word and the image. It seems to me that precisely in our world's situation, which we all know, which is also our suffering, the suffering of each one, the time of Lent takes on a new significance. Certainly bodily fasting -- which for a time was not considered to be in style -- is thought by everyone to be necessary today. It is not hard to understand that we must fast. Sometimes we find ourselves faced with exaggerations caused by a mistaken ideal of beauty. But in any case bodily fasting is something important because we are body and soul and the discipline of the body, even material discipline, is important for the spiritual life, which is always an incarnate life in a person who is body and soul.

This is one dimension. Today other dimensions are growing and manifesting themselves. It seems to me that the time of Lent can indeed also be a time of fasting from words and images. We need a little silence; we need a space that is free from the permanent bombardment of images. In this sense making the meaning of 40 days of exterior and interior discipline accessible and comprehensible today is very important for helping us to see that one dimension of our Lent, of this bodily and spiritual life, is to create for us spaces of silence that are also without images, to re-open our heart to the true image and the true word. It seems promising to me that today, too, one sees a rebirth of Christian art, meditative music -- like that of Taizé, for example -- or the renewing of the art of the icon, a Christian art that remains, let us say, within the great norms of the iconological art of the past, but broadening to the experiences and visions of today. There where there is a true and profound meditation on the Word, where we really enter into this visibility of God in the world, of this tangibility of God in the world, new images, new possibilities of making the events of salvation visible are also born. This is precisely the consequence of the event of the incarnation. The Old Testament prohibited every image and had to prohibit images in a world full of divinities. It lived in the great emptiness that was also represented by the interior of the temple, where, in contrast with the other temples, there was no image, but only the empty throne of the Word, the mysterious presence of the invisible God, not surrounded by our images.

But the new step is that this mysterious God liberates us from the inflation of images, even of a time full of images of divinity, and he gives us the freedom of the vision of the essential. He appears with a face, with a body, with a human history that, at the same time, is a divine history. A history that continues in the history of the saints, of the martyrs, of the saints of charity, of the word; [these saints] are always an explication, a continuation in the Body of Christ of his divine and human life, and give us the fundamental images in which -- beyond the superficial images that hide reality -- we can open our eyes toward the Truth itself. In this sense the iconoclastic period after the Council seems excessive to me -- but it had its meaning, because perhaps it was necessary to liberate ourselves from a superficiality of too many images.

Let us turn now to the knowledge of God who became man. As the Letter to the Ephesians says, he is the true image. And in this true image we see -- beyond the appearances that hide the truth -- the Truth itself: "He who sees me sees the Father." In this sense I would say that, with much respect and with much reverence, we can rediscover a Christian art and also rediscover the essential and great representations of the mystery of God in the iconographic tradition of the Church. And in this way we can rediscover the true image, covered up by the appearances. It is truly an important task of Christian education: the liberation for the Word behind the word, which always demands new spaces of silence, of mediation, of a deepening of knowledge, of abstinence, of discipline. It is equally the education in the true image, which is in the rediscovery of the great icons created in the history of Christianity: with the humility that liberates from superficial images. This type of iconoclasm is always necessary to rediscover the Image, that is, the fundamental images that express the presence of God in the flesh.

This is one dimension of the fundamental education in the faith, in true humanism, that we are attempting at this time in Rome. We have returned to rediscover the icon with its very severe rules, without the Renaissance beauties. And in this way we too can enter again onto the road to the rediscovery of the great images, toward an always new liberation from too many words, from too many images, to rediscover the essential images that are necessary for us. God himself has shown us his image and we can rediscover this image with a profound meditation on the Word that makes the images be reborn.

So, let us pray to the Lord that he help us along this road of true education, of re-education in the faith, which is always not only a listening but a seeing.

[Father Paul Chungat, Parochial Vicar at the Parish of San Giuseppe Cottolengo:]

My name is Father Chungat. I am from India and I am currently the parochial vicar at the Parish of San Giuseppe in Valle Aurelia. I would like to thank you for the opportunity that you have given me to serve for three years in the Diocese of Rome. This has been a great help for me, for my studies, as I believe that it has been for the priests who are studying in Rome.

The time has come to return to my diocese in India, where Catholics are only one percent of the population and the other 99%is non-Christian. The situation of evangelization in my homeland has been something I have been thinking a lot about in recent days. In the recent note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith there are some words that are difficult to understand in the field of interreligious dialogue. For example in section 10 of the document the words "fullness of salvation" are written, and in the introduction one reads of the necessity of "formal incorporation in the Church."

These are things that it will be difficult to explain when I bring them to India and I must speak to my Hindu friends and to the faithful of other religions. My question is: Is "fullness of salvation" to be understood in a qualitative or in a quantitative sense? If it is to be understood in a quantitative sense, there is a bit of a difficulty. The Second Vatican Council says that there is a glimmer of light in other faiths. If in a qualitative sense, other than the historicity and the fullness of the faith, what are the other things that show the unicity of our faith in regard to interreligious dialogue?

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this intervention. You know well that your questions are big ones and an entire semester of theology would be necessary! I will try to be brief. You know theology; there are great masters and many books. First of all, thank you for your testimony -- you say that you are happy to be able to work in Rome even if you are Indian. For me this is a marvelous phenomenon of catholicity.

At present it is not only the case that missionaries travel from the West to other continents, but there is an exchange of gifts: Indians, Africans, South Americans work among us and we travel to other continents. It is a giving and a receiving on all sides; this is precisely the vitality of catholicity, where we are all debtors of the gifts of the Lord, and then we can give to each other. It is in this reciprocity of gifts, of giving and receiving, that the Catholic Church lives. You can learn from these Western environments and experiences and we no less from you. I see that this spirit of religiosity that exists in Asia, as in Africa, surprises Europeans, who are often a little cold in faith. And thus this vivacity, at least of the religious spirit that exists on these continents, is a great gift for all of us, above all for us bishops of the Western world and in particular in those countries in which the phenomenon of immigration is most apparent, from the Philippines, from India, etc. Our cold Catholicism is revived by this fervor that comes from you. Catholicity, then, is a great gift.

Let us come to the questions that you posed to me. I do not have the exact words of the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before me at this moment; but in any case, I would like to say two things. On one hand, dialogue, getting to know each other, respecting each other and trying to cooperate in every possible way for the great purposes of humanity, or for its great needs, to overcome fanaticisms and to create a spirit of peace and of love -- all of this is absolutely necessary. And this is also in the spirit of the Gospel, whose meaning is precisely that the spirit of love that we have learned from Jesus, the peace of Jesus that he has given us through the cross, become universally present in the world. In this sense dialogue must be true dialogue, in respecting the other and in the acceptance of his alterity; but it must also be evangelical, in the sense that its fundamental purpose is to help men to live in love and to make it the case that this love expand throughout the world.

But this dimension of dialogue, which is so necessary, that is, the respect of the other, of tolerance, of cooperation, does not exclude the other dimension, that is that the Gospel is a great gift, the gift of great love, of great truth, that we cannot only keep for ourselves, but that we must offer to others, considering that God gives them the necessary freedom and light to find the truth. This is the truth. And this, then, is also my road. Mission is not imposition, but an offering of the gift of God, letting his goodness enlighten people so that the gift of concrete friendship with God be extended and acquire a human face. For this reason we want and we must always bear witness to this faith and the love that lives in our faith. We will have neglected a true human and divine duty if we have left others to their own devices and kept the faith we have only for ourselves. We would be unfaithful even to ourselves if we were not to offer this faith to the world, while always respecting the freedom of others. The presence of faith in the world is a positive element, even if no one is converted; it is a point of reference.

Exponents of non-Christian religions have told me: The presence of Christianity is a point of reference that helps us, even if we do not convert. Let us think of the great figure of Mahatma Gandhi: Despite being firmly committed to his religion, for him the Sermon on the Mount was a fundamental point of reference that formed his whole life. And thus the ferment of the faith, although it did not convert him to Christianity, entered into his life. And it seems to me that this ferment of Christian love that shows through the Gospel is -- beyond the missionary work that seeks to enlarge the spaces of faith -- a service that we render to humanity.

Let us think about St. Paul. A short time ago I reflected again on his missionary motivation. I also spoke about it to the Curia on the occasion of the end of the year meeting. He was moved by the word of the Lord in his eschatological sermon. Before every event, before the return of the Son of Man, the Gospel must be preached to all nations. The condition for the world reaching its perfection, the condition for its opening up to paradise, is that the Gospel be proclaimed to all. All of his missionary zeal is directed at bringing the Gospel to all, possibly in his own time, to respond to the Lord's command "that it be proclaimed to all nations." His desire was not so much to baptize all nations, as it was that the Gospel [be] present in the world and thus the completion of history as such [also be present in the world].

It seems to me that today, seeing how history has gone, one can better understand that this presence of the word of God, that this proclamation that comes to all as a ferment, is necessary for the world to truly arrive at its purpose. In this sense, indeed we desire the conversion of all, but let us allow the Lord to be the one who acts. It is important that those who wish to convert have the possibility of doing so and that there appear in the world for all this light of the Lord as a point of reference and as a light that helps, without which the world cannot find itself. I do not know if I have made myself clear: dialogue and mission not only do not exclude each other, but the one requires the other.

[Father Alberto Orlando, Parochial Vicar of Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza:]

My name is Father Alberto Orlando, assistant pastor of the Parish of Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza. I would like to present to you a difficulty that I experienced with the young people at Loreto last year. We had a beautiful day at Loreto, but among the many nice things we noted a certain distance between you and the young people. We arrived in the afternoon. We were not able to see or hear. […]

The second thing that caused us some difficulty was the liturgy the next day, a little heavy, above all in regard to the songs and music. […] Here are the two questions: Why this distance between you and them; and then how does one reconcile the treasure of the liturgy in all its solemnity with the sentiment, affection, emotiveness that nourishes young people and of which they have much need?

I would also like some advice: How do we regulate between solemnity and emotiveness. Also because we are ourselves priests and we often ask ourselves how much we priests are able to live emotion and sentiment with simplicity. And being ministers of the sacrament we would like to be able to orient sentiment and emotiveness toward this just equilibrium.

[Benedict XVI:]

The first point that was proposed to me is connected with the situation of the organization [of the meeting at Loreto]: I found it as it was, so I do not know whether it was possible perhaps to organize it in a different way. Considering the thousands of people who were there, it was impossible, I believe, to make it so everyone could be close in the same way. Indeed, because of this we used a car to get closer to individual people. But we will take this into account and see if in the future, in other meetings with thousands and thousands of people, it will ever be possible to do something different. Nevertheless, it seems important to me that the feeling of interior nearness grow, that the bridge that unites us even if we are physically distant be found. But liturgies in which masses of people participate are a great problem.

I remember in 1960, during the great Eucharistic Congress in Munich, there was an attempt to give a new physiognomy to Eucharistic congresses, which until that time were only acts of adoration. There was a desire to put at the center the celebration of the Eucharist as an act of the presence of the mystery that was celebrated. But immediately the question arose as to how it would be possible. Adoration, it was said, is possible even at a distance; but to celebrate, a limited community that interacts with the mystery is necessary; thus a community that must be an assembly around the celebration of the mystery. There were many who were against the celebration of the Eucharist in public with 100,000 people. They said that it was not possible precisely because of the structure itself of the Eucharist, which demands community for communion.

There were even great, very respectable personalities who were against this solution. Then Professor Jungmann, the great liturgist, one of the great architects of the liturgical reform, created the concept of “statio orbis,” that is, he returned to the “statio Romae,” where precisely in the time of Lent the faithful gathered at one point, the statio: There they are stationed like soldiers for Christ; they then go to the Eucharist together. If this, he said, was the statio of the city of Rome, where the city of Rome gathers, then this is the “statio orbis.” And from that moment on we had Eucharistic celebrations with the participation of the masses.

For me, I must say, it remains a problem, because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental and so I do not find that the definitive answer has been truly found. I also had this question brought up at the last synod, but it did not find an answer. I also had another question brought up, about concelebration “en masse”: Because if, for example, thousands of priests concelebrate, one does not know if this is still the structure desired by the Lord. But in any case they are questions. And so the problem of celebration in large numbers in which not all can be equally involved was presented to you. A certain style must therefore be chosen to conserve that dignity that is always necessary for the Eucharist and then the community is not uniform and the experience of participation in the event is diverse; for some it is certainly insufficient. But it did not depend on me, rather it depended on those who made the preparations.

One must reflect hard, therefore, about what to do in these situations, how to respond to the challenges of this situation. If I am not mistaken, it was an orchestra of handicapped persons who performed the music and perhaps the idea was precisely that of showing that the handicapped can be animators of the sacred celebration and indeed they must not be excluded as primary agents. And so everyone, loving them, did not want them to feel excluded but, on the contrary, involved. It seems to me to be a very respectable view and I share it. Naturally, however, the basic problem remains.

But it seems to me that here too, knowing what the Eucharist is, even if one is not able to participate externally as one would wish so as to feel involved, one enters into it with one’s heart, as the ancient imperative of the Church says -- perhaps created for those who are standing in back in the basilica -- “Lift up your hearts! Now let us all go out of ourselves, in this way we are all with the Lord and we are together.” As I said, I do not deny the problem, but if we really follow this word, “Lift up your hearts,” we will all find, even in difficult and sometimes questionable situations, the true active participation.

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[Monsignor Renzo Martinelli, Delegate of the Pontificia Accademia dell'Immacolata:]

Holy Father, […] returning to the problem of the educational emergency, the question is this: Recently you said to the Slovenian bishops, “If, for example, man is understood in an individualistic way -- which is a widespread tendency today -- how can the effort to build a just and solidary society be justified?” How can one propose to young people that on which you have always insisted, namely, that the Christian “I”, once it puts on Christ, is no longer “I”? The Christian’s identity, you said at Verona very profoundly, is the “I” no longer “I” because there is the communal subject who is Christ. How does one propose, Your Holiness, this conversion, this new modality, this Christian originality of being a communion that effectively proposes the newness of the Christian experience?

[Benedict XVI:]

It is the great question that every priest who is responsible for others poses every day. Even for himself, naturally. It is true that in the 20th century there was the tendency toward an individualistic piety, to save one’s own soul above all and create merits that were even calculatable, that one could, on certain lists, also indicate with numbers. And certainly the whole movement of the Second Vatican Council aimed at overcoming this individualism.

I do not wish now to judge these previous generations, who in their way, nevertheless, sought thus to serve others. But there was a danger there that one wanted above all to save one’s own soul; from this followed an extrinsicism of piety that in the end found faith to be a burden and not a liberation. It is certainly the basic will of the new pastoral approach indicated by Vatican II to get away from this overly narrow Christianity and to discover that I save my soul by giving it, as the Lord told us today in the Gospel; only freeing myself from me, going out of myself; as God did in the Son, God going out of himself to save us. And we enter into this movement of the Son, we try to leave ourselves because we know where we are going. And we do not fall into a void, but we leave ourselves behind, abandoning ourselves to God, going out, putting ourselves at his service, as he wills and not as we will.

This is true Christian obedience, which is freedom: not as I wish, with my plan for life for myself, but putting myself in his service, that he may do with me as he pleases. And putting myself into his hands I am free. But it is a great leap that is never definitively accomplished. I think here of St. Augustine, who told us this so many times. Initially after his conversion he thought that he had arrived at the top and was living in the paradise of the novelty of being a Christian. But then he discovered that the difficult road of life continued -- although from that moment always in the light of God -- and that every day it was again necessary to make this leap out of oneself; to give this “I” so that it die and be renewed in the great “I” of Christ, an “I” that is in a certain way more true, the “I” that is common to us all, our “we.”

But I would say that we ourselves must precisely in the celebration of the Eucharist -- which is this great and profound meeting with the Lord where I let myself fall into his hands -- take this great step. The more we ourselves learn to do it the more we can also express it to others and make it comprehensible, accessible to others. Only going along with the Lord, abandoning ourselves in the communion of the Church to this openness, not living for myself -- neither for a worldly life nor for personal beatitude -- but making myself an instrument of his peace, I live well and I learn this courage in the face of daily challenges, always new and grave, often impossible. I leave myself behind because you wish it and I am certain that in this way I will move forward well. We can only implore the Lord that he help us to follow this road every day, to help, to enlighten others in this way, to move them so that they too can be thus liberated and redeemed.

[Father Umberto Fanfarillo, Pastor of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere:]

Holy Father, I am the pastor of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere, Father Umberto Fanfarillo, a Conventual Franciscan. Together with the Christian community of the area of the parish, I would like to indicate a conspicuous even if not a profound presence of other religious contexts, which we encounter every day with reciprocal esteem, in conscientious and also in a respectful coexistence.

In this substantial positivity of intentions I can also include the commitment of the Accademia dei Lincei and the nearby American university of John Cabot, with more than 800 students from about 60 countries and with religious affiliations that range from Catholic to Lutheran, from Jewish to Muslim. It was indeed these young people who gathered in prayer at our church when John Paul II died. Some of them, coming to our parish, express respect and serenity before our religious symbols, such as the crucifix and the images of Mary, of the saints and the Pope. In the confines of the parish the Peter Pan House welcomes children who are sick with tumors and is connected with the Bambino Gesù Hospital.

Even here there are exceptional moments of charity in interreligiosity and religious attention to the sick and needy brother. At Regina Coeli Prison, which is also in the confines of the parish, there are analogous realities and respectful encounter among expressions of religiosity. Recently, in the climate of respect and witness, two young Anglicans who became Catholic received the sacrament of Confirmation. I believe that these things are also continually met in the lodging places that characterize the Trastevere quarter of Rome.

Holy Father, we are all looking for new and more balanced attitudes of conscientiousness and respect. We have always appreciated your interventions marked by respect and dialogue in the search for truth. Help us once more with your word.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this testimony of a parish that is truly multidimensional and multicultural. It seems to me that you have somewhat concretized what we discussed earlier with our Indian confrere: this ensemble of a dialogue, of a respectful coexistence, respecting each other, accepting each other as they are in their alterity, in their communion. And at the same time there is the presence of Christianity, of Christian faith as a point of reference upon which focus their attention, as a ferment that in the respect for freedom is nevertheless a light for all and that brings us together precisely in respect for differences. Let us hope that the Lord will always help us in this sense to accept the other in his alterity, to respect him and to make Christ present in the gesture of love, which is the true expression of his presence and of his word. And may the Lord help us thus to truly be servants of Christ and of his salvation for the world. Thank you.

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Papal Homily at Conclusion of Christian Unity Week
"Our Desire for Unity Must Not Be Limited to Isolated Occasions"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 12, 2008 - Here is the homily Benedict XVI delivered Jan. 25 at the liturgy of vespers on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul for the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The service was held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

* * *
LITURGY OF VESPERS
ON THE FEAST OF THE CONVERSION OF ST PAUL
FOR THE CONCLUSION OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Friday, 25 January 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Feast of the Conversion of St Paul brings us once again into the presence of this great Apostle, chosen by God to be a "witness for him to all men" (Acts 22: 15). For Saul of Tarsus, the moment of his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus marked a decisive turning point in his life. His total transformation, a true and proper spiritual conversion, was brought about at that very moment. By divine intervention, the relentless persecutor of God's Church suddenly found himself blind and groping in the dark, but henceforth with a great light in his heart, which was to bring him a little later to be an ardent Apostle of the Gospel. The awareness that divine grace alone could bring about such a conversion never left Paul. When he had already given the best of himself, devoting himself tirelessly to preaching the Gospel, he wrote with renewed fervour: "I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me" (I Cor 15: 10). Tirelessly, as though the work of the mission depended entirely upon his own efforts, St Paul was nevertheless always motivated by the profound conviction that all his energy came from God's grace at work in him.

The Apostle's words on the relationship between human effort and divine grace resound this evening with a very special meaning. At the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we are even more conscious that the task of restoring unity, which demands all our energy and efforts, is infinitely above our own possibilities. Unity with God and our brothers and sisters is a gift that comes from on high, which flows from the communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit in which it is increased and perfected. It is not in our power to decide when or how this unity will be fully achieved. Only God can do it! Like St Paul, let us also place our hope and trust "in the grace of God which is with us". Dear brothers and sisters, this is what the prayer that together we are raising to the Lord desires to implore: that it may be he who enlightens and sustains us in our ongoing quest for unity.

And it is here that Paul's exhortation to the Christians of Thessalonica acquires its fullest value: "Pray without ceasing" (I Thes 5: 17), which has been chosen as the theme for the Week of Prayer this year. The Apostle was well acquainted with that community, which had been born from his missionary activity, and nourished great hopes for it. He knew both its merits and its weaknesses. Indeed, there was no lack of behaviour, attitudes and arguments among its members that were likely to create tension and conflict, and Paul intervened to help the community walk in unity and peace. At the end of his Letter, with as it were fatherly goodness, he added a series of very concrete exhortations, inviting Christians to encourage the participation of all, to sustain the weak, to be patient and not to repay evil for evil to anyone but to always seek good, to rejoice and to give thanks on every occasion (cf. I Thes 5: 12-22). Paul puts the imperative "pray without ceasing" in the midst of these exhortations. In fact, the other recommendations would lose their power and coherence were they not sustained by prayer. Unity with God and with others is built first of all through a life of prayer, in the constant search for "the will of God in Christ Jesus for us" (cf. I Thes 5: 18).

The invitation St Paul addressed to the Thessalonians is still timely. In the face of the shortcomings and sins that still prevent the full communion of Christians, each one of these exhortations has retained its relevance, but this is particularly true of the order "pray without ceasing". What would the ecumenical movement become without the personal or communal prayer that "they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you" (Jn 17: 21)? Where would we find the "extra impetus" of faith, hope and charity, of which our search for unity has a special need today? Our desire for unity must not be limited to isolated occasions; it must become an integral part of our whole prayer life. Men and women formed in the Word of God and in prayer have been artisans of reconciliation and unity in every historical period. It was the way of prayer that opened the path for the ecumenical movement as we know it today. Indeed, from the middle of the 18th century various movements of spiritual renewal came into being, eager to contribute through prayer to the promotion of Christian unity. Groups of Catholics, enlivened by outstanding religious figures, played an active role in such initiatives from the outset. Prayer for unity was also supported by my Venerable Predecessors, such as Pope Leo XIII, who in 1895 was already recommending the introduction of a Novena of Prayer for Christian unity. These endeavours, made in accordance with the possibilities of the Church of that time, intended to put into practice the prayer spoken by Jesus himself in the Upper Room "that they may all be one" (Jn 17: 21). There is thus no genuine ecumenism whose roots are not implanted in prayer.

This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the "Church Unity Octave" which subsequently became the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity". One hundred years ago, while he was still an Episcopalian minister, Fr Paul Wattson conceived of an octave of prayer for unity that was celebrated for the first time at Graymoor, New York, from 18 to 25 January 1908. This evening, with great joy I address my greeting to the Minister General and the international delegation of the Franciscan Brothers and Sisters of the Atonement, the Congregation founded by Fr Paul Wattson and an advocate of his spiritual legacy. In the 1930s, the Octave of Prayer underwent important adaptations subsequent to the impulse given to it in particular by Fr Paul Couturier of Lyons, another great champion of spiritual ecumenism. His invitation "to pray for the unity of the Church as Christ wills it and in accordance with the means he wills" enables Christians of all traditions to join in one prayer for unity. Let us thank God for the great prayer movement which for 100 years has accompanied and sustained believers in Christ in their quest for unity. The ship of ecumenism would never have put out to sea had she not been lifted by this broad current of prayer and wafted by the breath of the Holy Spirit.

To coincide with the Week of Prayer, many religious and monastic communities have invited and helped their members to "pray without ceasing" for Christian unity. On this occasion for which we have gathered here, let us remember in particular the life and witness of Sr Maria Gabriella of Unity (1914-36), a Trappist Sister of the convent in Grottaferrata (today in Vitorchiano), [Italy]. When her superior, encouraged by Fr Paul Couturier, asked the Sisters to pray and make a gift of themselves for Christian unity, Sr Maria Gabriella became immediately involved and did not hesitate to dedicate her young life to this great cause. This very day is the 25th anniversary of her Beatification by my Predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The event was celebrated in this Basilica precisely on 25 January 1983, during the celebration for the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Unity. In his Homily, the Servant of God emphasized the three elements on which the search for unity is built: conversion, the Cross and prayer. Sr Maria Gabriella's life and witness were also based on these three elements. Today, as in the past, ecumenism stands in great need of the immense "invisible monastery" of which Fr Paul Couturier spoke, of that vast community of Christians of all traditions who quietly pray and offer their lives so that unity may be achieved.

Furthermore, for exactly 40 years Christian communities worldwide have received meditations and prayers for this Week prepared jointly by the World Council of Churches' "Faith and Order" Commission and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This felicitous collaboration has made it possible to broaden the vast circle of prayer and to prepare better its content. This evening I cordially greet the Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, who has come to Rome to join us on the centenary of the Week of Prayer. I am pleased that members of the "Joint Working Group" are present and I greet them with affection. The Joint Group is the means of cooperation between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches in our common search for unity. As I do every year, I also address my fraternal greeting to the Bishops, priests and pastors of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities who have their representatives here in Rome. Your participation in this prayer is a tangible expression of the bonds that unite us in Christ Jesus: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Mt 18: 20).

The Year dedicated to the Apostle Paul's witness and teaching will be inaugurated in this historic Basilica this 28 June. May his tireless zeal in building the Body of Christ in unity help us to pray without ceasing for the full unity of all Christians. Amen!

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On Entering Into Lent
"Live This Time of Grace With Interior Joy and Generous Commitment"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 10, 2008 - 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Last Wednesday, with the fast and the rite of ashes, we entered into Lent. But what does it mean to "enter into Lent?" It means to enter into a time of particular commitment in the spiritual combat that opposes us to the evil present in the world, in each one of us and around us. It means to look evil in the face and dispose oneself to fight against its effects, above all against its causes, right up to its ultimate cause, Satan. It means not unloading the problem of evil onto others, onto society, onto God, but recognizing one's own responsibility and consciously taking it upon oneself.

In this regard Jesus' invitation to everyone to take up his "cross" and follow him in humility and confidence (cf. Matthew 16:24) resounds more urgently than ever. The "cross," as heavy as it may be, is not synonymous with misadventure, with a disgrace that must be avoided as much as possible, but with the opportunity to follow Christ and in this way acquire strength in the battle against sin and evil. Entering into Lent therefore means renewing the personal and communal decision to face evil together with Christ. The way of the cross is in fact the only way that leads to the victory of love over hate, of sharing over egoism, of peace over violence. Seen in this way, Lent is truly an occasion for determined ascetic and spiritual commitment founded upon the grace of Christ.

This year the beginning of Lent providentially coincides with the 150th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes. Four years after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Blessed Pius IX, Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in the grotto of Massabielle for the first time on Feb. 11, 1858. Other appearances followed, accompanied by extraordinary events, and at the end the Holy Virgin, bidding farewell to the young visionary, told her in the local dialect, "I am the Immaculate Conception." The message that the Madonna continues to spread at Lourdes recalls the words Jesus pronounced at the beginning of his public mission and that we hear again often during these days of Lent: "Convert and believe in the Gospel," pray and do penance. Let us accept Mary's invitation, which echoes Christ's, and let us ask her to help us to "enter" with faith into Lent, to live this time of grace with interior joy and generous commitment.

We entrust to the Virgin as well the sick and those who care lovingly for them. Tomorrow, the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, we celebrate, in fact, the World Day of the Sick. I greet with all my heart the pilgrims who are gathering in St. Peter's Basilica led by Cardinal Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council of Health. Unfortunately I cannot meet them because this evening I will begin spiritual exercises, but in silence and in recollection I will pray for them and for all the necessities of the Church and the world. To all those who will remember me to the Lord I offer my sincere thanks in advance.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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

I warmly greet all the English speaking pilgrims present at today's Angelus. I particularly welcome members of the Hohenfels Catholic Military Faith Community from the United States of America, as well as young people from the Sant'Egidio community in Asia and Oceania who are attending a formation course in Rome. My dear friends, this past week we began our Lenten practice of prayer, fasting, and -- in a special way -- almsgiving. I invite all believers to enter this "spiritual battle" with hearts full of generosity towards those in need. In this way, we learn to make our lives a total gift to God and to our brothers and sisters. I wish all of you a fruitful preparation for the Paschal Feast!

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Papal Address to Participants in Congress on Women
"Recall the Design of God That Created the Human Being Male and Female"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 10, 2008- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Saturday upon receiving in audience participants from the international conference that marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter "Mulieris Dignitatem."

The conference, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity and titled "Woman and Man, the 'Humanum' in Its Entirety," ended Saturday.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

With true pleasure I welcome all of you who are taking part in the international conference on the theme "Man and Woman: The ‘Humanum' in Its Entirety," which has been organized on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the publication of the apostolic letter "Mulieris Dignitatem." I greet Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and I am grateful to him for being the interpreter of shared sentiments. I greet the council's secretary, Bishop Josef Clemens, and the members and the collaborators of this dicastery. In particular I greet the women, who are the great majority of those present, and who have enriched the conference's proceedings with their experience and competence.

The question on which you are reflecting has great contemporary relevance: From the second half of the 20th century until today, the movement for women's rights in the various settings of social life has generated countless reflections and debates, and it has seen the multiplication of many initiatives that the Catholic Church has followed and often accompanied with attentive interest. The male-female relationship, in its respective specificity, reciprocity and complementarity, without a doubt constitutes a central point of the "anthropological question" that is so decisive in contemporary culture. The papal interventions and documents that have touched on the emerging reality of the question of women are numerous.

I limit myself to recall those of my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II, who, in June 1995 wrote a "Letter to Women," and in Aug. 15, 1988, exactly 20 years ago, published the apostolic letter "Mulieris dignitatem." This text on the vocation and the dignity of women, of great theological, spiritual and cultural richness, in its turn inspired the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World" of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In "Mulieris Dignitatem," John Paul II wanted to delve into the fundamental anthropological truths of men and women, the equality in dignity and their unity, the rooted and profound difference between the masculine and the feminine and their vocation to reciprocity and complementarity, collaboration and communion (cf. "Mulieris Dignitatem," No. 6). This dual-unity of man and woman is based on the foundation of the dignity of every person, created in the image and likeness of God, who "created them male and female" (Genesis 1:27), as much avoiding an indistinct uniformity and flattened-out and impoverished equality as an abysmal and conflictive difference (cf. "Letter to Women," No. 8). This dual-unity carries with it, inscribed in bodies and souls, the relation with the other, love for the other, interpersonal communion that shows that "the creation of man is also marked by a certain likeness to the divine communion" ("Mulieris Dignitatem," No. 7). When, therefore, men or women pretend to be autonomous or totally self-sufficient, they risk being closed up in a self-realization that considers the overcoming of every natural, social or religious bond as a conquest of freedom, but which in fact reduces them to an oppressive solitude. To foster and support the true promotion of women and men one cannot fail to take this reality into account.

Certainly a renewed anthropological research is necessary that, on the basis of the great Christian tradition, incorporates the new advances of science and the datum of contemporary cultural sensibilities, contributing in this way to the deepened understanding not only of feminine identity but also masculine identity, which is frequently the object of partial and ideological reflections.

In the face of cultural and political currents that attempt to eliminate, or at least to obfuscate and confuse, the sexual differences written into human nature, considering them to be cultural constructions, it is necessary to recall the design of God that created the human being male and female, with a unity and at the same time an original and complementary difference. Human nature and the cultural dimension are integrated in an ample and complex process that constitutes the formation of the identity of each, where both dimensions -- the feminine and the masculine -- correspond to and complete each other.

Opening the work of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate last May in Brazil, I recalled how there still persists a macho mentality that ignores the novelty of Christianity, which recognizes and proclaims the equal dignity and responsibility of women with respect to men. There are certain places and cultures where women are discriminated against and undervalued just for the fact that they are women, where recourse is even had to religious arguments and family, social and cultural pressures to support the disparity between the sexes, where there is consumption of acts of violence against women, making them into objects of abuse and exploitation in advertising and in the consumer and entertainment industries. In the face of such grave and persistent phenomena the commitment of Christians appears all the more urgent, so that they become everywhere the promoters of a culture that recognizes the dignity that belongs to women in law and in reality.

God entrusts to women and to men, according to the characteristics that are proper to each, a specific vocation in the mission of the Church and in the world. I think here of the family, community of love, open to life, fundamental cell of society. In it, woman and man, thanks to the gift of maternity and paternity, together play an irreplaceable role in regard to life. From the moment of their conception, children have a right to count on a father and a mother who care for them and accompany them in their growth. The state, for its part, must sustain with adequate social policies all that which promotes the stability of matrimony, the dignity and the responsibility of the husband and wife, their rights and irreplaceable duty to educate their children. Moreover, it is necessary that it be made possible for the woman to cooperate in the building-up of society, appreciating her typical "feminine genius."

Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you once more for your visit and, while I wish you complete success in the work of the conference, I assure you of a remembrance in prayer, invoking the maternal intercession of Mary, that she help the women of our time to realize their vocation and their mission in the ecclesial and civil community. With such vows, I impart to you here present and to your loved ones a special apostolic blessing.

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Papal Address on World Day for Consecrated Life
"Nourish Your Day With Prayer, Meditation and Listening to the Word of God"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord and the 12th World Day of Consecrated Life. The Pope spoke after a Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter's Basilica, presided over by Cardinal Franc Rode, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and attended by thousands of consecrated men and women.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,


I am very pleased to meet you on the occasion of the World Day of Consecrated Life, a traditional gathering whose significance is enhanced by the liturgical context of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. I thank Cardinal Franc Rodé, who has celebrated the Eucharist for you, and with him the Secretary and the other collaborators of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. With great affection I greet the Superiors General present and all of you who form this unique assembly, an expression of the varied richness of the Consecrated Life in the Church.

In his account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, at least three times the Evangelist Luke emphasizes that Mary and Joseph acted in accordance with "the Law of the Lord" (cf. Lk 2: 22, 23, 39), moreover they always appear to be listening attentively to the Word of God. This attitude is an eloquent example for you, men and women religious; and for you, members of Secular Institutes and of other forms of Consecrated Life. The next Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be dedicated to The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church: dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to make your contribution to this ecclesial commitment, witnessing to the importance, especially for those who like you, the Lord calls to a more intimate "sequela", of placing the Word of God at the centre of all things. In fact, the Consecrated Life is rooted in the Gospel. Down the centuries, the Gospel - as it were, its supreme rule - has continued to inspire it and the Consecrated Life is called to refer constantly to the Gospel, to remain alive and fertile, bearing fruit for the salvation of souls.

At the root of the different expressions of Consecrated Life there is always a strong Gospel inspiration. I think of St Anthony Abbot who was moved by listening to Christ's words: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19: 21) (cf. Vita Antonii, 2, 4). Anthony listened to these words as if they were addressed to him personally by the Lord. St Francis of Assisi in his turn affirmed that it was God who revealed to him that he should live according to the form of the holy Gospel (Testament, 17; Franciscan Omnibus 116). "Francis", wrote Thomas of Celano, "who heard that Christ's disciples were supposed to possess neither gold, nor silver, nor money, nor purse; were to have neither bread nor staff, were to have neither shoes nor two tunics... rejoicing in the Holy Spirit said: "This is what I want! This is what I ask! This is what I want to do from the bottom of my heart!'" (I Celano 83; Franciscan Omnibus 670, 672).

The Instruction Starting Afresh from Christ recalls: "It was the Holy Spirit who sparked the Word of God with new light for the Founders and Foundresses. Every charism and every Rule springs from it and seeks to be an expression of it" (n. 24). And indeed, the Holy Spirit attracts some people to live the Gospel in a radical way and translate it into a style of more generous following. So it is that a work, a religious family, is born which with its very presence becomes in turn a living "exegisis" of the Word of God. The Second Vatican Council says that the succession of charisms in the Consecrated Life can therefore be read as an unfolding of Christ down the ages, as a living Gospel that is actualized in ever new forms (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 46). The mystery of Christ is reflected in the works of Foundresses and Founders, a word of his, an illuminating ray of his radiant Face, the splendour of the Father (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, n. 16).

In the course of the centuries the proposal of the following of Christ without compromise, as it is presented to us in the Gospel, has therefore constituted the ultimate and supreme rule for religious life (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, n. 2). In his Rule St Benedict refers to Scripture as the "most exact rule of human life" (n. 73: 2-5). St Dominic, whose words and works proclaimed him a man of the Gospel at all times (cf. Libellus de Principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum, 104: in P. Lippini, San Domenico visto dai suoi contemporanei, Ed. Studio Dom., Bologna, 1982, 110) desired his brother preachers also to be "men of the Gospel" (First Constitutions or Consuetudines, 31). St Clare of Assisi imitated Francis' experience to the full: "The form of life of the Order of the Poor Sisters", she wrote, "is this: to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rule, I, 1-2; Franciscan Omnibus, n. 2750). St Vincent Pallotti said: "Since the life of Jesus Christ is the fundamental rule of our small Congregation... we must aim at what is most perfect always and in everything" (cf. Complete Works, II, 541-546; VIII, 63, 67, 253, 254, 466). And St Luigi Orione wrote: "Our first Rule and life is to observe the holy Gospel, in great humility and in loving sweetness and on fire with God" (Letters of Don Orione, Rome, 1969, Vol. II, 278).

This rich tradition attests that Consecrated Life is "deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord" (Vita Consecrata, n. 1) and can be compared to "a plant with many branches which sinks its roots into the Gospel and brings forth abundant fruit in every season of the Church's life" (ibid., n. 5). Its mission is to recall that all Christians are brought together by the Word, to live of the Word and to remain under its lordship. It is therefore the special duty of men and women religious "to remind the baptized of the fundamental values of the Gospel" (Vita Consecrata, n. 33). By so doing their witness imbues the Church with "a much-needed incentive towards ever greater fidelity to the Gospel" (ibid., n. 3) and indeed, we might say, is an "eloquent, albeit often silent, proclamation of the Gospel" (ibid., n. 25). This is why, in my two Encyclicals as on other occasions, I have not failed to cite the example set by Saints and Blesseds belonging to Institutes of Consecrated Life.

Dear brothers and sisters, nourish your day with prayer, meditation and listening to the Word of God. May you, who are familiar with the ancient practice of lectio divina, help the faithful to appreciate it in their daily lives too. And may you know how to express what the Word suggests, letting yourself be formed by it so that you bring forth abundant fruit, like a seed that has fallen into good soil. Thus, you will be ever docile to the Spirit and you will grow in union with God, you will cultivate fraternal communion among yourselves and will be ready to serve your brethren generously, especially those in need. May people see your good works, a fruit of the Word of God that lives in you, and glorify your Heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5: 16)! In entrusting these reflections to you, I thank you for the precious service you render to the Church and, as I invoke the protection of Mary and of the Saints and Blesseds, Founders of your Institutes, I wholeheartedly impart the Apostolic Blessing to you and to your respective religious families, with a special thought for the young men and women in formation and for your brothers and sisters who are sick, elderly or in difficulty. To all, I assure you of my remembrance in prayer.

© Copyright 2008 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On the Lenten Journey
"A Spiritual Retreat That Lasts 40 Days"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 6, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today, Ash Wednesday, at the general audience in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin again our Lenten journey as we do every year, with a more intense spirit of prayer and reflection, of penance and of fasting. We are entering into a very "intense" liturgical season that, while preparing us for the celebration of Easter -- the heart of the Church calendar and of our very existence -- invites us, or we could say, provokes us, to push forward in our Christian lives.

Since our commitments and our worries keep us living the same routine, putting us at risk of forgetting just how extraordinary this adventure is that Christ has involved us in, we need to begin again each day with the demanding itinerary of evangelical life, retreating within ourselves through moments of reflection that regenerate our spirit. With the ancient ritual of the imposition of the ashes, the Church introduces Lent as a spiritual retreat that lasts 40 days.

In this way we enter into the atmosphere of Lent, which helps us rediscover the gift of faith received at baptism and which encourages us to approach the sacrament of reconciliation, placing our commitment to conversion under the symbol of divine mercy. Originally in the early Church, Lent was a privileged time given to those catechumens preparing for the sacrament of baptism and of the Eucharist, which were celebrated during the Easter Vigil. Lent was considered a time in which one became Christian, but this did not happen in a single moment. It is a long journey of conversion and renewal.

Those who had already been baptized joined with them in this journey remembering the sacrament they had received and prepared to join again with Christ in the joyous celebration of Easter. In this way, Easter had and still retains today the feeling and character of a baptism, in the sense that it keeps alive the understanding that being a Christian is never a journey's end that is behind us, but a path that constantly demands renewed effort.

Upon placing ashes on the faithful, the celebrant says: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" (cf. Genesis 3:19), or he repeats Jesus' exhortation: "Convert and believe in the Gospel" (cf. Mark 1:15). Both practices recall the truth of human existence: We are limited creatures, sinners constantly in need of penitence and conversion. How important it is in our day and age to listen and welcome such a call! When proclaiming his independence from God, the contemporary man becomes his own slave and often finds himself inconsolably alone. The invitation to convert is therefore a spur to return to the arms of God, caring and merciful Father, to trust him, to entrust oneself to him like adopted children, regenerated by his love.

Teaching with wisdom the Church reiterates that conversion is above all a grace, a gift that opens the heart to God's infinite love. Through his grace he anticipates our desire for conversion and supports our efforts toward full adherence to his saving will. To convert means to let Jesus win our hearts (cf. Philippians 3:12) and "to return" with him to the Father.

Conversion therefore means to give oneself to the teachings of Jesus and to obediently follow in his footprints. The words he uses to explain how to be his true disciples are enlightening. After affirming that "he who wants to save his own life will lose it; but he who will lose his own life for me and the Gospel will save it." He adds: "To what good can man earn the whole world, if he loses his own soul"? (Mark 8:35-36).

Attainment of success, longing for prestige and search for comfort: When these things absorb life entirely until they exclude God from one's own horizon, do they really lead to happiness? Can there be true happiness without God? Experience shows that we are not happy because we satisfy material expectations. In truth, the sole delight that fills a man's heart is the one that comes from God: We truly need this infinite joy. Neither the daily worries, nor the difficulty of life can cancel out the joy that comes from our friendship with God. At first Jesus' invitation to take up our cross and follow him can seem hard and against our wishes -- even mortifying because of our desire for personal success. But if we look closer we discover that it is not like that: The saints are proof that in the Cross of Christ, in the love that is given renouncing self-possession, we find a profound serenity that is the foundation of generous devotion to our brothers, especially the poor and the needy. This gives us joy.

The Lenten walk to conversion, which we undertake today with the whole Church, becomes the propitious occasion, "the favorable moment" (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2) to yield ourselves once again to the hands of God and to practice what Jesus continuously repeats to us: "If someone wants to follow me he must renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34), and thus take the path of love and true happiness.

During Lent the Church, in keeping with the Gospel, proposes certain specific duties which assist the faithful in this journey of inner renewal: prayer, fasting and charity. This year, in the message for Lent published a few days ago, I wanted to focus on "almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods" (No.1).

We are unfortunately aware of how deeply the desire for material riches pervades modern society. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are taught not to idolize earthly goods, but to use them to live and to help those who are in need. In teaching us to be charitable, the Church teaches us to address the needs of our neighbor, imitating Christ as noted by St. Paul. He became poor to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9). "In His school" -- I discuss this in more detail in the message for Lent -- "we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves."

I continue: "Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence."

Dear brothers and sisters, we ask Mary, Mother of God and the Church, to walk with us on the Lenten journey, to make it a journey of true conversion. Let us be led by her and we will arrive -- profoundly renewed -- at the celebration of the great mystery of the Easter of Christ, the supreme revelation of God's merciful love.

A blessed Lent to all of you!

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of our annual Lenten journey of prayer and penance. In the early Church, Lent was the time when catechumens prepared for Baptism, accompanied by the prayers of the whole Christian community. Today, too, the Lenten season is a privileged moment of conversion and spiritual renewal for the whole Church. The rite of the imposition of ashes is a summons to return to God and, in doing so, to discover authentic freedom and joy. Jesus reminds us that only by "losing" our life will we truly "find" it. Our ultimate fulfilment is found in God alone, who satisfies our deepest longings. By taking up our cross and following the Lord, we experience redemption, inner peace and loving solidarity with our brothers and sisters. During Lent, in addition to prayer and fasting, the Church invites us to practice almsgiving as an expression of our desire to imitate Christ's own self-giving and his generous concern for others. As we set out once again on this journey of spiritual renewal, may Mary, Mother of the Church, guide us to a fruitful celebration of Easter. A Blessed Lent to all of you!

This morning I am especially pleased to greet the delegation of government leaders from Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and I offer my prayerful good wishes for their efforts to promote reconciliation, justice and peace in the region. My warm greeting and prayerful encouragement also goes to the participants in the Graduate School of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute. I thank the choir for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England and the United States, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

(c) Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Letter to Romans on Education
"Each Person and Generation Must Make Their Own Decisions in Their Own Name"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 6, 2008 - Here is a translation of a Jan. 21 letter on education that Benedict XVI wrote and will present at a Feb. 23 audience with teachers, students and others who directly participate in education.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar for the Diocese of Rome, sent an invitation to citizens and the faithful of Rome for the event where the Pope will symbolically present the letter.

During the Angelus address of Jan. 27, the Holy Father said he wrote the letter because, "I have wanted to offer in this way my own contribution to the formation of new generations, a difficult but crucial commitment for the future."

* * *

Dear faithful of Rome,

I thought that I would address myself to you with this letter to speak to you about a question that you yourselves experience and to which various parts of the Church are dedicating themselves: the question of education.

We all have the good of the persons whom we love at heart, in particular our children, adolescents and young people. We know that the future of this, our city, depends on them. Thus we cannot avoid being solicitous for the formation of the new generations, for their capacity to orient themselves in life and to be able to tell good from evil, not just for their physical health but their moral health.

Educating has never been easy and today it seems to become more and more difficult. Parents, teachers, priests and all those who have a direct responsibility to educate know this well. One speaks, thus, of a great "emergency in education," confirmed by the many failures that too often result from our efforts to form solid persons, capable of working with others and of giving meaning to their life. It is not unusual, then, that the new generations are faulted, as if the children that are born today are different from those that were born in the past. One speaks, moreover, of the "generation gap" that certainly exists and is a burden, but is the effect, rather than the cause, of the lack of transmission of certainties and values.

Should we therefore fault the adults of today, who are apparently no longer able to educate? Among parents and teachers, and among educators in general, the temptation is strong to abdicate -- or yet, before this, there is the risk of not even understanding -- the role, or better, the mission that has been entrusted to them. In reality, what is in question is not only the personal responsibilities of adults or young people -- which nevertheless exist and must not be hidden -- but a growing atmosphere, a mentality and a form of culture that lead to doubting the value of the human person, the significance itself of truth and of the good, in the final analysis, the goodness of life. It becomes difficult, then, to hand on from one generation to the next, something valid and certain, rules of conduct, credible objectives around which to build one's life.

Dear brothers and sisters of Rome, at this point I want to speak a very simple word to you: Do not be afraid! None of these difficulties, in fact, are insurmountable. They are rather, so to speak, the other side of that great and precious gift that is our freedom, with the responsibility that rightly accompanies it. Unlike what takes place in the field of technology and economics, where the progress of today can build on that of the past, in the ambit of the moral formation and growth of persons such an accumulative possibility does not exist, because human freedom is always new and therefore each person and generation must make their own decisions in their own name. Even the greatest values of the past cannot simply be inherited. We only make them our own and renew them through a personal choice, which often costs suffering.

However, when the foundations are shaken and essential certainties are lacking, the need for those values returns to make itself felt in a compelling way: Thus, concretely, today the demand grows for a true education. Parents, who are concerned and often anxious about their children's future, ask for it; many teachers, who have the sad experience of the deterioration of their schools, ask for it; society as a whole, which sees the basis of its communal life threatened, asks for it; deep in themselves children and young people, who do not want to face life's challenges all alone, ask for it. He who believes in Jesus Christ then has still another, stronger reason for not being afraid: He knows, in fact, that God does not abandon us, that his love comes to us where we are, with our misery and our weakness, to offer us a new possibility of goodness.

Dear brothers and sisters, to make these reflections of mine more concrete, it might be useful to identify some common exigencies of an authentic education. It needs, above all, that nearness and that confidence that are born from love: I think of that first and fundamental experience of love that children have, or at least should have, with their parents. But every true educator knows that to educate he must give something of himself and that only in this way can he help his students to overcome egoism and become capable of authentic love in turn.

Already in a small child there is furthermore a great desire to know and to understand, which is manifested in his continual questions and his requests for explanations. It would therefore be a poor education that limited itself to giving notions and information, but left aside the great question regarding truth, above all that truth that could be a guide in life.

Even suffering is part of the truth of our life. Thus, trying to shield the youngest from every difficulty and experience of suffering, we risk creating, despite our good intentions, fragile persons of little generosity: The capacity to love, in fact, corresponds to the capacity to suffer, and to suffer together.

In this way we arrive, dear friends of Rome, at the point that is perhaps the most delicate in the work of education: finding the right balance between freedom and discipline. Without rules of conduct and of life, validated day in and day out even in the smallest things, character is not formed and one is not prepared to face the trials that will not be lacking in the future. The educative relationship is, however, above all the meeting of two freedoms and successful education is the formation of the right use of freedom. Little by little the child grows, he becomes an adolescent and then a youth; we must therefore accept the risk of freedom, always remaining attentive to help him correct mistaken ideas and choices. That which we must never do is to go along with him in his errors, pretend not to see them, or worse, to share in them, as if they were the new frontiers of human progress.

Education cannot, therefore, do without that authoritativeness that makes the exercise of authority credible. It is the fruit of experience and competence, but it is acquired above all by consistency in one's own life and by personal involvement, an expression of true love. The educator is thus a witness of truth and of goodness: Certainly, he too is fragile and can make mistakes, but he will always strive to harmonize himself with his mission.

Dear faithful of Rome, from these simple considerations it emerges how important responsibility is in education: the responsibility of the educator, certainly, but also, and in a measure that grows with age, the responsibility of the child, the student, the young person who enters into the world of work. That person is responsible who knows how to answer, that is, respond, to himself and to others. He who believes strives, moreover, and first of all, to respond to God who first loved him.

Responsibility is in the first place personal, but there is also the responsibility that we share together, as citizens of the same city and of the same nation, as members of the human family and, if we are believers, as children of one God and members of the Church. In fact, the ideas, the lifestyles, the laws, the whole orientation of the society in which we live, and the image that it gives of itself through communication, exert a great influence on the new generations, for good but often also for ill. Society, however, is not an abstraction; in the end we are society, all of us together, with the directions, the rules and the representatives that we give ourselves, even though the roles and responsibilities of each of us is different. Thus, the contribution of each of us is necessary, of every person, family or social group, so that society, beginning with this city of ours, Rome, might become a more favorable environment for education.

Finally, I would like to propose a thought to you that I developed in the recent encyclical letter "Spe Salvi" on Christian hope: The soul of education, as also the entirety of life, can only be a trustworthy hope. Today our hope is threatened on many sides and we too run the risk of becoming again, like the ancient pagans, men "without hope and without God in this world," as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Ephesus (Ephesians 2:12). Precisely here is born the most profound difficulty for a true educational project: At the root of the crisis in education there is, in fact, a crisis of confidence in life.

Thus, I cannot conclude this letter without a warm invitation to put our hope in God. He alone is the hope that resists all delusions; only his love cannot be destroyed by death; only his justice and his mercy can cure the injustices and give recompense for the sufferings that have been undergone. Hope that turns to God is never hope only for me; it is always also a hope for others: It does not isolate us but makes us solidary in the good, it stimulates us to reciprocally educate each other in truth and in love.

I greet you with affection and I assure you that I will remember you especially in prayer, while I impart to all my benediction.

From the Vatican, Jan. 21, 2008

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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Papal Address to Education Congregation
"Teaching Is an Expression of Christ's Charity"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 1, 2008 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Jan. 21 address to participants in the plenary meeting of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

* * *
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE PLENARY MEETING OF THE CONGREGATION FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION (FOR SEMINARIES AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS)

Clementine Hall
Monday, 21 January 2008

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Thank you for your visit which you are making on the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education: my cordial greeting to each one of you. I greet in the first place Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of your Dicastery, and together with him, the new Secretary and other Officials and Collaborators. I extend special thanks to you, Your Eminence, for your words to me, presenting the various topics on which the Congregation intends to reflect on in these days. They are subjects of great interest and timeliness to which, especially at this moment in history, the Church addresses her attention.

The education sector is particularly dear to the Church, called to make her own the concern of Christ, who, the Evangelist recounts, in seeing the crowds, took "compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things" (Mk 6: 34). The Greek word that expresses this attitude of "compassion" calls to mind the depths of mercy and refers to the profound love that the Heavenly Father feels for man. Tradition has seen teaching - and more generally, education - as a concrete manifestation of spiritual mercy, which constitutes one of the first works of love which is the Church's mission to offer to humanity. It is particularly appropriate that people in our time are reflecting on how to make current and effective this apostolic task of the Ecclesial Community, entrusted to Catholic universities and in a special manner to ecclesiastical faculties. I therefore rejoice with you that you have chosen a theme of such great interest for your Plenary Meeting, just as I also believe it will be useful to make a careful analysis of the projects for reform that are currently being studied by your Dicastery concerning the above-mentioned Catholic universities and ecclesiastical faculties.

In the first place, I refer to the reform of ecclesiastical studies of philosophy, a project which has now reached the last stages of its elaboration, in which the metaphysical and sapiential dimensions of philosophy, mentioned by John Paul II in his Encyclical Fides et Ratio (cf. n. 81), will certainly be emphasized. It would likewise be useful to assess the expediency of a reform of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana. Desired by my venerable Predecessor in 1979, it constitutes the magna carta of ecclesiastical faculties and serves as a basis for formulating criteria for evaluating the quality of these institutions, an evaluation required by the Bologna Process which the Holy See joined in 2003. Today, the ecclesiastical disciplines, especially theology, are subjected to new questions in a world tempted on the one hand by rationalism which follows a falsely free rationality disconnected from any religious reference, and on the other, by fundamentalisms that falsify the true essence of religion with their incitement to violence and fanaticism.

Schools should also question themselves on the role they must fulfil in the contemporary social context, marked by an evident educational crisis. The Catholic school, whose primary mission is to form students in accordance with an integral anthropological vision while remaining open to all and respecting the identity of each one, cannot fail to propose its own educational, human and Christian perspective. Here then, a new challenge is posed which globalization and increasing pluralism make even more acute: in other words, the challenge of the encounter of religions and cultures in the common search for the truth. The acceptance of the cultural plurality of pupils and parents must necessarily meet two requirements: on the one hand, not to exclude anyone in the name of his or her cultural or religious membership; on the other, once this cultural and religious difference has been recognized and accepted, not to stop at the mere observation of it. This would in fact be equivalent to denying that cultures truly respect one another when they meet, because all authentic cultures are oriented to the truth about man and to his good. Therefore, people who come from different cultures can speak to one another and understand one another over and above distances in time and space, because in the heart of every person dwells the same great aspirations to goodness, justice, truth, life and love.

Another theme being studied at your Plenary Assembly is the question concerning the reform of the Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis for seminaries. The basic document, dated 1970, was updated in 1985, especially subsequent to the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1983. In the decades that followed, various texts of special importance were promulgated, in particular the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (1992). The present atmosphere in society, with the massive influence of the media and the expansion of the phenomenon of globalization, is profoundly changed. It would thus seem necessary to question oneself on the expediency of the reform of the Ratio fundamentalis, which should emphasize the importance of a correct articulation of the various dimensions of priestly formation in the perspective of the Church-communion, following the instructions of the Second Vatican Council. This implies a solid formation in the faith of the Church and true familiarity with the revealed Word given by God to his Church. The formation of future priests, moreover, must offer useful guidelines and directions for carrying on a dialogue with the contemporary cultures. Human and cultural formation should therefore be significantly reinforced and sustained, also with the help of the modern sciences, since certain destabilizing social factors that exist in the world today (for example, the plight of so many broken families, the educational crisis, widespread violence, etc.) render the new generations fragile.
At the same time, an adequate formation in the spiritual life, which makes Christian communities and especially parishes ever more aware of their vocation and able to respond satisfactorily to the question of spirituality that comes especially from young people, must take place. This requires that the Church not lack well-qualified and responsible apostles and evangelizers. Consequently, the problem of vocations arises, especially to the priesthood and the consecrated life. While in some parts of the world vocations are visibly flourishing, elsewhere the number is dwindling, especially in the West. The care of vocations involves the whole Ecclesial Community: Bishops, priests, consecrated persons and also families and parishes. The publication of the Document on the vocation to the presbyteral ministry which you are preparing will certainly be a great help to your pastoral action.

Dear brothers and sisters, I recalled earlier that teaching is an expression of Christ's charity and is the first of the spiritual works of mercy that the Church is called to carry out. Those who enter the offices of the Congregation for Catholic Education are welcomed by an icon that shows Jesus washing his disciples' feet during the Last Supper. May the One who "loved [us] to the end" (cf. Jn 13: 1) bless your work at the service of education and, with the power of his Spirit, make it effective. For my part, I thank you for all you do daily with competence and dedication, and while I entrust you to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, the Wise Virgin and Mother of Love, I cordially impart the Apostolic Blessing to you all.

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Papal Address on Synod Preparation
"Among the Ecclesial Community's Duties, I Emphasize Evangelization and Ecumenism"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 31, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Jan. 21 message to participants in the sixth meeting of the 11th Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

The next General Ordinary Assembly of the synod is scheduled for Oct. 5-26 in the Vatican and will focus on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."

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ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO PARTICIPANTS IN THE SIXTH MEETING OF THE 11th ORDINARY COUNCIL OF THE GENERAL SECRETARIAT OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS

Monday, 21 January 2008

Dear and Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,

I am pleased to welcome you while you are participating at the meeting of the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in preparation for the General Ordinary Assembly, convoked for this coming 5-26 October. I greet and thank Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, Secretary General, for his kind words; and I extend my grateful sentiments to all members of both the General Secretariat of the Synod and the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat. I greet all and each of you with sincere affection.

In the recent Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi on Christian hope, I wished to underline the "social character of hope" (n. 14). "Being in communion with Jesus Christ", I wrote, "draws us into his "being for all'; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become truly possible to be there for others", since there exists a "connection between the love of God and responsibility for others" (ibid., n. 28) that enables one to avoid falling into the individualism of salvation and hope. I believe that one can discover this fruitful principle effectively applied in the synodal experience, where the encounter becomes communion and solicitude for all the Churches (cf. II Cor 11: 28) emerges in the concern for all.

The next General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will reflect on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church". Among the Ecclesial Community's many and great duties in today's world, I emphasize evangelization and ecumenism. They are centred on the Word of God and at the same time are justified and sustained by it. As the Church's missionary activity with its evangelizing work is inspired and aims at the merciful revelation of the Lord, ecumenical dialogue cannot base itself on words of human wisdom (cf. I Cor 2: 13) or on neat, expedient strategies, but must be animated solely by constant reference to the original Word that God consigned to his Church so that it be read, interpreted and lived in communion with her. In this area, St Paul's doctrine reveals a very special power, obviously founded on divine revelation but also on his own apostolic experience, which confirmed anew the awareness that not wisdom and human eloquence, but only the power of the Holy Spirit builds the Church in the faith (cf. I Cor 1: 22-24; 2: 4ff.).

By a happy coincidence, St Paul will be particularly venerated this year, thanks to the celebration of the Pauline Year. The next Synod taking place on the Word of God will therefore offer to the Church's contemplation, and principally to her Pastors' contemplation, the witness also of this great Apostle and herald of God's Word. To the Lord, whom he first persecuted and then to whom he consecrated his entire being, Paul remains faithful even to death. May his example be an encouragement for all to accept the Word of salvation and translate it into daily life through the faithful following of Christ. The various ecclesial organisms consulted in view of the Assembly next October have dedicated their attention to the Word of God. The Synod Fathers will focus on it once they have become familiar with the preparatory documents, the Lineamenta and Instrumentum laboris, which you yourselves in the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops have contributed to creating. Thus, they will be able to discuss among themselves, but above all, gathered in collegial communion, to listen to the Word of life which God has entrusted to the loving care of his Church, so that it is courageously and convincingly proclaimed, with the parresia of the Apostles, to those near and far. Indeed, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, everyone is given the possibility to encounter the living Word that is Jesus Christ.

Dear and venerable Brothers, as members of the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, you render a praiseworthy service to the Church, since the synodal organism constitutes a qualified institution to promote the truth and unity of pastoral dialogue within the Mystical Body of Christ. Thank you for what you do, and not without sacrifice. May God reward you! Let us continue to pray together so that the Lord will make the Synodal Assembly fruitful for the whole Church. With this wish, I warmly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you and to the Communities entrusted to your pastoral care, invoking the intercession of the Most Holy Mother of the Lord and of Sts Peter and Paul, who in the Liturgy, together with the other Apostles, we call the "pillars and foundation of the city of God".

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On St. Augustine's Search for Truth
"Faith and Reason Are the Two Forces That Lead Us to Knowledge "

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection is the third in a series on St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo.

* * *

Dear friends,

After the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we return today to the great figure of St. Augustine. In 1986, on the 1,600th anniversary of his conversion, my beloved predecessor John Paul II dedicated a long and detailed document to St. Augustine, the apostolic letter "Augustinium Hipponensem."

The Pope himself chose to describe this text as "thanksgiving to God for the gift he bestowed on the Church and on all humanity with that wonderful conversion" (AAS, 74, 1982, p. 802). I would like to return to the subject of his conversion in a future audience. It is a fundamental subject, not only for St. Augustine's own personal life but for ours too. In last Sunday's Gospel, the Lord himself summarized his preaching with the words "be converted." In following the path of St. Augustine we can consider what this conversion revolves around: It is definitive, decisive, but the fundamental decision must be developed and must be accomplished throughout our lives.

Today instead, the catechesis is dedicated to the subjects of faith and reason, which are the defining themes of St. Augustine's biography. As a child he learned the Catholic faith from his mother Monica. As an adolescent he abandoned the faith because he could not see how it could be reasoned out and did not want a religion that was not also for him an expression of reason -- that is to say, truth.

His thirst for truth was radical and led him away from the Catholic faith. His radicality was such that he was not satisfied with philosophies that did not reach truth itself, and that did not reach God -- not a God as a last cosmological hypothesis, but the true God, God who gives life and joins our very lives.

The intellectual and spiritual itinerary of St. Augustine is also a valid model for today in the relationship between faith and reason, a topic not only for faithful individuals, but for every person who seeks the truth, a central theme for the equilibrium and destiny of every human being.

These two dimensions, faith and reason, should not be separated nor opposed, but rather go forward together. As Augustine himself wrote after his conversion, faith and reason are "the two forces that lead us to knowledge" ("Contra Academicos," III, 20, 43).

To this end the two famous Augustinian formulas ("Sermons," 43, 9) express this coherent synthesis between faith and reason: "Crede ut intelligas" (I believe in order to understand) -- faith opens the way to step through the door of truth -- but also, and inseparably, "intellige ut credas" (I understand in order to believe), in order to find God and believe, you must scrutinize truth.

The two assertions of St. Augustine express the synthesis of this problem in which the Catholic Church sees its own approach expressed with depth and immediacy. Historically speaking, this synthesis was formed even before the coming of Christ, with the coming together of the Jewish faith and Greek thought in Hellenistic Judaism. Subsequently, this synthesis was taken up again and developed by many Christian thinkers. The harmony between faith and reason means above all that God is not far away; he is not far from our reasoning or from our lives; he is close to every human being, close to our hearts and close to our reason if we truly follow his path.

It is precisely this closeness of God to man that Augustine experienced with extraordinary force. The presence of God in man is deep and at the same time mysterious. It can however be discovered and recognized deep down in oneself: Don't look outside of yourself, says the converted one, "but go back into yourself -- truth resides in the interior man, and if you find that your nature is changeable, transcend yourself. But remember, when you transcend yourself, that you transcend a soul which reasons. Then reach beyond -- to where the light of reason is lit" ("De vera religione," 39, 72).

He emphasizes this with a well-known assertion at the beginning of the "Confessions," a spiritual autobiography written in the praise of God: "You made us for you, and our heart is restless until it rests in you" (I, 1, 1).

Distance from God means distance from oneself. Addressing his words directly to God he acknowledges ("Confessions," III, 6, 11): "You are more intimately present to me than my inmost being and higher than the highest element in me," -- "interior intimo meo et superior summo meo" -- so that, he adds in another passage remembering the time preceding his conversion, "you were in front of me, but I, instead, had gone far from myself and could not find myself again, and even less could I find you again" (Confessiones, V, 2, 2).

Because Augustine personally experienced this intellectual and spiritual journey, he managed to convey it in his writings with immediacy, depth and wisdom; in another two famous passages of the "Confessions" (IV, 4, 9 and 14, 22), he acknowledged that man is "a great enigma" (magna quaestio) and "a deep abyss" (grande profundum), an enigma and an abyss that Christ alone enlightens and saves.

This is important: A man who is distant from God is also distant from himself, estranged from himself, he can find himself only by meeting God. This path leads to himself, to his true self and identity.

In "De Civitate Dei" (XII, 27) Augustine underlines the fact that the human being is by nature a social animal, but antisocial in his vices. Man is saved by Christ, the only mediator between God and humanity, and as repeated by my predecessor John Paul II ("Augustinium Hipponensem," 21), he is "the universal path to freedom and salvation."

In the same text, Augustine affirms that "no one has ever found freedom or will ever find freedom" ("De Civitate Dei," X, 32, 2) other than by following this path which has always been accessible to man. Christ, as the only route to salvation, is head of the Church and inscrutably united with it. Augustine affirms, "We have become Christ. In fact, if he is the head of man and we are the body, together we make up the whole" ("In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus," 21, 8).

People of God and house of God: The Church in the Augustinian vision is closely associated with the concept of the Body of Christ, based on the Christological rereading of the Old Testament and on the sacramental life centered on the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his Body and transforms us in his Body. It is then essential that the Church -- people of God in the Christological and not sociological sense -- be really placed in Christ, who "prays for us, prays in us, is prayed to by us," as Augustine affirms beautifully on the written page: "He prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our chief, he is prayed to by us as our God: so we recognize in him our voice, and in ours, his" ("Enarrationes in Psalmos," 85, 1).

In the conclusion of the apostolic letter "Augustinum Hipponensem," John Paul II asked St. Augustine what he would say to the men of today, and he answers with the words that Augustine dictated in a letter shortly after his conversion: "It seems to me that men have to be guided toward the hope of finding the truth" (Epistulae, 1, 1); that truth is Christ himself, true God, to whom is dedicated one the most beautiful and famous prayers of the Confessions (X, 27, 38):

"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness
I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you
they would have not been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

So Augustine found God and throughout his life experienced God to the point that this reality -- which was above all an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ -- changed his life, just as it changed the lives of so many men and women who have had the grace to meet him.

Let us pray that God grants us this favor and in so doing allows us to find his peace.

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

I extend a warm welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the bishops who came for the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Community of Sant'Egidio, I pray that everyone strengthens the firm wish to announce Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world to all men.

I extend a particularly special welcome to the faithful of the Parish of Santa Caterina of Nardo -- which I am told has a beautiful sea -- with a special thought for the young musicians.

Dear friends, I thank you for your presence here and I hope that this meeting increases in each of you the desire to witness with joy the Gospel in your every day life. I accompany you with my prayer, so that you may build your projects on the solid foundation of faithfulness to God. I also greet the Caritas staff from the Diocese of Sabina-Poggio Mirteto, and I encourage them to continue with generosity their work for the those most in need.
Finally, I address the young, the sick and the newlyweds.
Tomorrow we celebrate the liturgical memorial of St. John Bosco, a priest and educator. Dear young people, look to him as a true master of life, especially those of you preparing for confirmation from Serroni di Battipaglia. Dear sick ones, learn from his spiritual experience to trust in Christ whatever the circumstances. And you, dear newlyweds, ask for his intercession to help you engage in your mission of marriage with generous enthusiasm.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As we continue our catechesis on Saint Augustine of Hippo, I wish today to consider some of the teachings of this great Doctor of the Church. A passionate believer, he recognized the importance of bringing together faith and reason. It was he who taught that we should believe in order to understand, and understand in order to believe. God makes himself known to our reason, although he always transcends what we can know through reason alone. As Augustine beautifully expressed it, God is "more intimately present to me than my inmost being" and "higher than the highest element in me."

Saint Augustine taught that by belonging to the Church, we are so closely united to Christ that we "become" Christ, the head whose members we are. As our head, Christ prays in us, yet he also prays for us as our priest, and we pray to him as our God. If we ask what particular message Saint Augustine has for the men and women of today, it is perhaps his emphasis on our need for truth. Listen to the way he describes his own search for God's truth: "You were within me and I sought you outside, in the beautiful things that you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. You called me, you cried out and broke open my deafness. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you." Let us pray that we too may discover the joy of knowing God's truth.

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Benedict XVI's Lenten Message
"Almsgiving, According to the Gospel, Is Not Mere Philanthropy"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 29, 2008- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's message for Lent, dated Oct. 30 and released today by the Vatican.

Ash Wednesday is Feb. 6.

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MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI FOR LENT 2008

 

"Christ made Himself poor for you" (2 Cor 8,9)

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters. In the Lenten period, the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. For this year's Lenten Message, I wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods. The force of attraction to material riches and just how categorical our decision must be not to make of them an idol, Jesus confirms in a resolute way: "You cannot serve God and mammon" (Lk 16,13). Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbor's needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness. This is the aim of the special collections in favor of the poor, which are promoted during Lent in many parts of the world. In this way, inward cleansing is accompanied by a gesture of ecclesial communion, mirroring what already took place in the early Church. In his Letters, Saint Paul speaks of this in regard to the collection for the Jerusalem community (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27).

2. According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbor. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, material goods bear a social value, according to the principle of their universal destination (cf. n. 2404)

In the Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self. In the face of the multitudes, who, lacking everything, suffer hunger, the words of Saint John acquire the tone of a ringing rebuke: "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?" (1 Jn 3,17). In those countries whose population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent, since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity.

3. The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden: "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," Jesus asserts, "so that your alms may be done in secret" (Mt 6,3-4). Just a short while before, He said not to boast of one's own good works so as not to risk being deprived of the heavenly reward (cf. Mt 6,1-2). The disciple is to be concerned with God's greater glory. Jesus warns: "In this way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Mt 5,16). Everything, then, must be done for God's glory and not our own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God's glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today's world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one's neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one's personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one, who knows that God "sees in secret" and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.

4. In inviting us to consider almsgiving with a more profound gaze that transcends the purely material dimension, Scripture teaches us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20,35). When we do things out of love, we express the truth of our being; indeed, we have been created not for ourselves but for God and our brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Cor 5,15). Every time when, for love of God, we share our goods with our neighbor in need, we discover that the fullness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction and joy. Our Father in heaven rewards our almsgiving with His joy. What is more: Saint Peter includes among the spiritual fruits of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins: "Charity," he writes, "covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pt 4,8). As the Lenten liturgy frequently repeats, God offers to us sinners the possibility of being forgiven. The fact of sharing with the poor what we possess disposes us to receive such a gift. In this moment, my thought turns to those who realize the weight of the evil they have committed and, precisely for this reason, feel far from God, fearful and almost incapable of turning to Him. By drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for authentic conversion and reconciliation with Him and our brothers.

5. Almsgiving teaches us the generosity of love. Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo forthrightly recommends: "Never keep an account of the coins you give, since this is what I always say: if, in giving alms, the left hand is not to know what the right hand is doing, then the right hand, too, should not know what it does itself" (Detti e pensieri, Edilibri, n. 201). In this regard, all the more significant is the Gospel story of the widow who, out of her poverty, cast into the Temple treasury "all she had to live on" (Mk 12,44). Her tiny and insignificant coin becomes an eloquent symbol: this widow gives to God not out of her abundance, not so much what she has, but what she is. Her entire self.

We find this moving passage inserted in the description of the days that immediately precede Jesus' passion and death, who, as Saint Paul writes, made Himself poor to enrich us out of His poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8,9); He gave His entire self for us. Lent, also through the practice of almsgiving, inspires us to follow His example. In His school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence. Love, then, gives almsgiving its value; it inspires various forms of giving, according to the possibilities and conditions of each person.

6. Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to "train ourselves" spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk" (Acts 3,6). In giving alms, we offer something material, a sign of the greater gift that we can impart to others through the announcement and witness of Christ, in whose name is found true life. Let this time, then, be marked by a personal and community effort of attachment to Christ in order that we may be witnesses of His love. May Mary, Mother and faithful Servant of the Lord, help believers to enter the "spiritual battle" of Lent, armed with prayer, fasting and the practice of almsgiving, so as to arrive at the celebration of the Easter Feasts, renewed in spirit. With these wishes, I willingly impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 30 October 2007

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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Papal Message to Orthodox Church of Greece
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 29, 2008 - Here is the telegram Benedict XVI sent today to Orthodox Metropolitan Seraphim of Karystia and Skyros upon hearing the news of the death of Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulus of Athens and All Greece.

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His Eminence Seraphim
Metropolitan of Karystia and Skyros
The Locum Tenens

Deeply saddened by the news of the untimely death of his Beatitude Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, I express to you, to the holy Synod and all the faithful my earnest condolences, assuring you of my spiritual closeness to all those who mourn the passing of this distinguished pastor of the Church of Greece. The fraternal welcome which His Beatitude gave my predecessor Pope John Paul II on the occasion of his visit to Athens in May 2001 and the return visit of Archbishop Christodoulos to Rome in December 2006 opened a new era of cordial cooperation between us, leading to increased contacts and improved friendship in the search for closer communion in the context of the growing unity of Europe. I and Catholics around the world pray that the Orthodox Church of Greece will be sustained by the grace of God in continuing to build on the pastoral achievements of the late Archbishop and that in commending the noble soul of his Beatitude to our heavenly Father's loving mercy you will be comforted by the Lord's promise to reward his faithful servants.

Please accept, your eminence, this expression of my closeness in prayer to you and your brother bishops as you guide the Church in this time of transition. With fraternal affection in the Lord.

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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On the Good News
"God Reigns in the World Through His Son Made Man"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 27, 2008 - 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In today's liturgy the evangelist Matthew, who will accompany us though this whole liturgical year, presents the beginning of Jesus' public mission. It essentially consists in the preaching of the kingdom of God and in the healing of the sick, to demonstrate that this kingdom has drawn near, indeed, it is already in our midst.

Jesus begins his preaching in Galilee, the region in which he grew up, a "marginal" territory in comparison to the center of the Jewish nation, which is Judea, and in it, Jerusalem. But the prophet Isaiah had already announced that this land, assigned to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, would have a glorious future: The people immersed in darkness would see a great light (cf. Isaiah 8:23-9:1), the light of Christ and his Gospel (cf. Matthew 4:12-16).

The term "gospel" in Jesus' time was used by the Roman emperor's for their proclamations. Independently of the content, they were defined as "good news," that is, proclamations of salvation, because the emperor was considered the lord of the world and each of his edicts a portent of good. The application of this term to Jesus' preaching had a very critical meaning, as if to say: God, not the emperor, is the Lord of the world, and the true Gospel is that of Jesus Christ.

The "good news" that Jesus proclaims is summarized in these words: "The kingdom of God," or the kingdom of heaven, "is near" (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). What does this expression mean? It certainly does not mean an earthly kingdom limited by space and time, but it proclaims that it is God who rules, that God is Lord and his lordship is present -- actual -- it is being realized.

The novelty of Christ's message is that in him God has drawn near, he already reigns in our midst, as the miracles and the healings that he accomplishes show. God reigns in the world through his Son made man, and with the force of the Holy Spirit, who is called "the finger of God" (cf. Luke 11:20). Where Jesus comes, the Creator Spirit brings life and men are cured of diseases of body and spirit. The lordship of God is thus manifested in the total healing of man. With this Jesus wants to reveal the countenance of the true God, the God who is near, full of mercy for every human being; the God who makes a gift to us of life in abundance, of his own life. The kingdom of God is for this reason life that affirms itself over death, the light of the truth that scatters the darkness of ignorance and falsehood.

Let us pray to Mary Most Holy that she obtain for the Church the same passion for the kingdom of God that animated the mission of Jesus Christ: passion for God, for his lordship of life and of love; passion for man, encountered in truth to give him the most precious treasure; the love of God, his Creator and Father.

[After the Angelus the Holy Father said the following in Italian:]

I greet with great affection the children and young people of Catholic Action of Rome, who have come, as every year, at the conclusion of the "Month of Peace," accompanied by the cardinal vicar, by parents and educators. Two of them are here by me, they have presented me with a message and shortly they will help me to release two doves, symbol of peace. Dear little friends, I know that you work on behalf of others your age who suffer from war and poverty. Continue along the road that Jesus has shown to us to build true peace!

Today we celebrate World Leprosy Day, begun 55 years ago by Raoul Follereau. To all those who suffer from this disease I offer my affectionate greeting, assuring you of a special prayer, which I extend to those who, in various ways, assist them, in particular to the volunteers of the Association of Friends of Raoul Follereau.

Last Monday, Jan. 21, I addressed a "Letter on the Urgent Task of Education" to the Diocese and the city of Rome. I wanted to offer in this way my own particular contribution to the formation of new generations, a difficult and crucial undertaking for the future of our city. On Saturday, Feb. 23, I will meet in a special audience in the Vatican all of those who, as educators or as children, adolescents and young people in formation, are most directly participants in the challenge of education, and I will symbolically consign this letter of mine to them.

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Papal Address to Ecumenical Panel
"When Christians Pray Together, the Goal of Unity Seems Closer"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2008.- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's address today to the Joint Working Group of the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church.

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Dear Friends,

I am pleased to welcome you, the members of the Joint Working Group between the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church, as you gather in Rome to begin a new phase of your work. Your meeting takes place in this City where the Apostles Peter and Paul bore supreme witness to Christ and shed their blood in his name. I greet you warmly in the words which Paul himself addressed to the first Christians in Rome: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 1:7).

The World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church have enjoyed a fruitful ecumenical relationship dating back to the time of the Second Vatican Council. The Joint Working Group, which began in 1965, has worked assiduously to strengthen the "dialogue of life" which my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, called the "dialogue of charity" (Ut Unum Sint, 17). This cooperation has given vivid expression to the communion already existing between Christians and has advanced the cause of ecumenical dialogue and understanding.

The centenary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity offers us an opportunity to thank Almighty God for the fruits of the ecumenical movement, in which we can discern the presence of the Holy Spirit fostering the growth of all Christ's followers in unity of faith, hope and love. To pray for unity is itself "an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 8), since it is a participation in the prayer of Jesus himself. When Christians pray together, "the goal of unity seems closer" (Ut Unum Sint, 22), for the presence of Christ in our midst (cf. Mt 18:20) fosters a profound harmony of mind and heart: we are able to look at each other in a new way, and to strengthen our resolve to overcome whatever keeps us apart.

On this day, then, we think back with gratitude to the work of so many individuals who, over the years, have sought to spread the practice of spiritual ecumenism through common prayer, conversion of heart and growth in communion. We also give thanks for the ecumenical dialogues which have borne abundant fruit in the past century. The reception of those fruits is itself an important step in the process of promoting Christian unity, and the Joint Working Group is particularly suited to studying and encouraging that process.

Dear friends, I pray that the new Joint Working Group will be able to build on the commendable work already done, and thus open the way to ever greater cooperation, so that the Lord's prayer "that they all may be one" (Jn 17:21) will be ever more fully realized in our time.

With these sentiments, and with deep appreciation for your important service to the ecumenical movement, I cordially invoke upon you and your deliberations God's abundant blessings.

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On Christian Unity
"Let's Accept the Invitation to 'Pray Without Ceasing'"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 23, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which comes to an end Friday, Jan. 25. This day marks the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. Christians from various churches and ecclesiastical communities come together at this time in unanimous prayer to ask the Lord Jesus for the re-establishment of unity among his disciples.

It is a unanimous plea made with one soul and one heart in response to the Redeemer's own desire, who turned to our Father at the Last Supper and said, "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:20-21). Asking for the gift of unity, Christians join in Christ's prayer and commit themselves to work actively so that all of humanity welcomes and recognizes Christ as our only Shepherd and Lord, and thus experiences the joy of his love.

This year the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity takes on a special value and meaning, because it celebrates its 100th anniversary. From its beginnings it was a truly fertile intuition. It began in 1908: Father Paul Wattson, an American Anglican, founder of the "Society of the Atonement" (community of the Brothers and Sisters of Atonement), together with an Episcopalian, Father Spencer Jones, launched the prophetic idea of an octave of prayers for the unity of Christians. The idea was welcomed by the archbishop of New York and the papal nuncio.

In 1916 the call to pray for unity was then extended to the entire Catholic Church, thanks to the intervention of my venerated predecessor, Pope Benedict XV, with the papal brief "At Perpetuam Rei Memoriam."

The initiative provoked much interest and was gradually established everywhere, perfecting its structure with time, and evolving also thanks to the contribution of Abbé Couturier (1936).

Later, when the prophetic wind of the Second Vatican Council blew, the urgency of unity was felt even more. After the Conciliar assembly the journey continued for the patient quest for full communion among all Christians, an ecumenical journey that year after year has found one of its most defining and beneficial moments in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

One hundred years after the first call to pray together for unity, this Week of Prayer has now become a consolidated tradition, preserving the spirit and the dates chosen by Father Wattson. Indeed he chose them for their symbolic meaning. According to the calendar at that time, Jan. 18 was the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which is a strong foundation and guarantee of unity of the people of God, while on Jan. 25, as in present times, the liturgy celebrates St. Paul's conversion.

While we give thanks to the Lord for these 100 years of prayer and of common engagement among many disciples of Christ, we remember with gratitude the author of this providential spiritual initiative, Father Wattson, and with him all those who promoted and enriched it with their contributions, making it something all Christians own together.

I was just telling you that the Second Vatican Council had dedicated a great deal of time and attention to the subject of Christian unity, especially in its decree on the Church ("Unitatis Redintegratio") in which, among other things, the importance of prayer in promoting unity is particularly emphasized. Prayer is at the very heart of all church life. "This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement" (UR, 8).

Thanks to this spiritual ecumenism -- sanctity of life, conversion of heart, private and public prayer -- the joint pursuit of unity has made great strides forward in the last decade and has diversified in many initiatives; from getting acquainted with and meeting members of various churches and church communities; to conversations and collaboration among various branches that become increasingly friendly; to theological discussions on concrete ways in which we can join together and collaborate with each other.

That which has given, and continues to give, life to this journey toward full unification for all Christians first and foremost -- is prayer. "Pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17 ) is the theme of this year's Week of Prayer. It is at the same time an invitation that never stops resonating in our communities, because prayer is the light, the strength, the guide for our footsteps as we listen humbly to our God, the God of us all.

Secondly, the Council emphasizes common prayer, joint prayer between Catholics and other Christians directed toward the only celestial Father. To this end the Decree on Ecumenism affirms: "These prayers offered in common are doubtless a very effective means to beseech for Christian unity" (UR, 8). In common prayer Christian communities unite before the Lord, they become aware of the contradictions generated by division, and they show the will to obey the Lord's will, faithfully turning to him for his omnipotent help. Furthermore, the decree adds that such prayers are "a genuine manifestation of the links with which Catholics continue to be joined to their separated brothers" (ibid.).

Common prayer is therefore not a voluntarist or a purely sociological action, but an expression of faith that unites all disciples of Christ.

As the years have passed, active collaboration has been established in this field, and since 1968, the then Secretariat for Christian Unity, which became the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Ecumenical Council of Churches, together prepare the guidelines for the Week of Prayer for Unity, which are then divulged to the world reaching areas that would have not been covered without this collective work.

The conciliar decree on ecumenism refers to prayer for unity when, toward the end, it affirms that the council knows that "this holy proposition to reconcile all Christians in the unity of the Church of Christ, the one and only, surpasses all human forces and gifts. Therefore, it places all its hope in the Christ's prayer for the Church" (UR 24).

It is the knowledge of our human limits that drives us to abandon ourselves to the hands of the Lord with complete trust. We see only too well the true meaning of the Prayer Week; to rely on the prayer of Christ, who continues to pray in his Church so that "all may be one ... so that the world may believe" (John 17:21).

Today the truth of these words really hits home. The world suffers from the absence of God, from God's inaccessibility; it strives to know the face of God. But how could the men of today meet the face of God in the face of Jesus Christ if we, Christians, are divided, if one set of teachings is against the other?

Only united are we really able to show to the world -- that needs it -- the face of God, the face of Christ.

Although the dialogue and all we do is very necessary, it is also obvious that it is not through our own strategies that we can achieve unity. What we can obtain is our availability and capability to welcome this unity when the Lord grants it to us. Here is the sense of prayer: to open our hearts, to create in us the availability that opens the road to Christ.

In the liturgy of the ancient Church, after the sermon the main celebrant -- the bishop or the president of the celebration -- used to say: "Conversi ad Dominum" (turn to the Lord). Then he and everybody else stood up and turned themselves toward the East. All wanted to look toward Christ. Only if converted, only through this conversion to Christ, in this common look at Christ, can we find the gift of unity.


We can state that it was prayer for unity that enlivened and accompanied the various stages of the ecumenical movement, especially since the Second Vatican Council. In this period the Catholic Church got in touch with the various Churches and ecclesial communities of the East and the West with various forms of dialogue, facing with them the theological and historical issues that had risen over the centuries and had established elements of division. The Lord has allowed such friendly relations to improve reciprocal knowledge and to intensify communion, at the same time giving a clearer perception of the problems that still exist and are the causes of division.


Today, during this week, we give thanks to God who has sustained and guided the journey thus far; a rich journey that the conciliar decree on ecumenism described as "emerged by the grace of the Holy Spirit" and "growing more ample every day" (UR, 1).

Dear brothers and sisters, let's accept the invitation to "pray without ceasing" that the apostle Paul extended to the first Christians of Thessalonica, a community that he himself founded. Because he knew that dissent had started, he implored them to be patient with everyone, to not repay evil with evil, but to look for the good between them and everyone, and to be happy whatever the circumstances, happy, because the Lord is near us. St. Paul's sermon to the Thessalonians can guide the behavior of Christians in their ecumenical relations today.

Above all he says: "Live in peace among yourselves." And then: "Pray without ceasing, and in all circumstances, give thanks" (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:13-18). Let us also welcome this entreaty from the apostle both to thank the Lord for the progress achieved in the ecumenical movement, and to appeal for full unity.

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, make it possible for all the disciples of her divine Son to live in peace and reciprocal charity, as a true example before the whole world, and make the face of God accessible in the face of Christ, who is God-with-us, God of peace and unity.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This week, Christians throughout the world celebrate the Hundredth Anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, initiated by Father Paul Wattson, founder of the Society of the Atonement. The theme chosen for this year is Saint Paul's exhortation to the Thessalonians to "pray always" (1 Thess 5:17). According to the Second Vatican Council, prayer and holiness of life are "the soul of the whole ecumenical movement" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 8). When Christians from various communities come together to pray in common, they acknowledge that unity cannot be achieved by human strength alone. Only by relying on God's grace can they live according to Jesus's prayer that "they may all be one" (Jn 17:20-21). I therefore invite all Christians to render fitting thanks to Almighty God for the progress achieved thus far along the path of ecumenism, and to persevere as they strive toward unity so that "the world may believe" (Jn 17:21) that Jesus is the only Son sent by the Father.

I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's audience, including students and staff from Saint Mary's High School in Sydney, and members of a delegation from the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders. May God bestow abundant blessings upon all of you!

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Papal Homily on Feast of Christ's Baptism
"Parents Thus Become Collaborators of God"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 21, 2008 - Here is a L'Osservatore Romano translation of Benedict XVI's Jan. 13 homily on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Pope presided at Mass in the Sistine Chapel during which he baptized 13 infants.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today's celebration is always a cause of special joy for me. Indeed, the administration of the sacrament of baptism on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is one of the most expressive moments of our faith, in which we can almost see the mystery of life through the signs of the liturgy.

In the first place, there is human life. It is represented here in particular by these 13 children who are the fruit of your love, dear parents, to whom I address my cordial greeting, which I extend to the godparents and the other relatives and friends present.

Then comes the mystery of divine life which God gives to these little ones today through rebirth in water and the Holy Spirit. God is life, as some of the pictures that embellish this Sistine Chapel marvelously evoke.

Yet it does not seem out of place if we immediately juxtapose the experience of life with the opposite experience, that is, the reality of death. Sooner or later everything that begins on earth comes to its end, like the meadow grass that springs up in the morning and by evening has wilted.

In baptism, however, the tiny human being receives a new life, the life of grace, which enables him or her to enter into a personal relationship with the Creator forever, for the whole of eternity.

Unfortunately, human beings are capable of extinguishing this new life with their sin, reducing themselves to being in a situation which sacred Scripture describes as "second death."

Whereas for other creatures who are not called to eternity, death means solely the end of existence on earth, in us sin creates an abyss in which we risk being engulfed forever unless the Father who is in Heaven stretches out his hand to us.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is the mystery of baptism: God desired to save us by going to the bottom of this abyss himself so that every person, even those who have fallen so low that they can no longer perceive Heaven, may find God's hand to cling to and rise from the darkness to see once again the light for which he or she was made.

Yearning for true life

We all feel, we all inwardly comprehend that our existence is a desire for life which invokes fullness and salvation. This fullness is given to us in baptism.

We have just heard the account of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. It was a different baptism from that which these babies are about to receive but is deeply connected with it. Basically, the whole mystery of Christ in the world can be summed up in this term: "baptism," which in Greek means "immersion."

The Son of God, who from eternity shares the fullness of life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, was "immersed" in our reality as sinners to make us share in his own life: He was incarnate, he was born like us, he grew up like us and, on reaching adulthood, manifested his mission which began precisely with the "baptism of conversion" administered by John the Baptist.

Jesus' first public act, as we have just heard, was to go down into the Jordan, mingling among repentant sinners, in order to receive this baptism. John was naturally reluctant to baptize him, but because this was the Father's will, Jesus insisted (cf. Matthew 3:13-15).

Why, therefore, did the Father desire this? Was it because he had sent his only-begotten Son into the world as the Lamb to take upon himself the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29)?

The Evangelist recounts that when Jesus emerged from the waters, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, while the Father's voice from heaven proclaimed him "my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).

From that very moment, therefore, Jesus was revealed as the one who came to baptize humanity in the Holy Spirit: He came to give men and women life in abundance (cf. John 10:10), eternal life, which brings the human being back to life and heals him entirely, in body and in spirit, restoring him to the original plan for which he was created.

The purpose of Christ's existence was precisely to give humanity God's life and his Spirit of love so that every person might be able to draw from this inexhaustible source of salvation. This is why St. Paul wrote to the Romans that we were baptized into the death of Christ in order to have his same life as the Risen One (cf. Romans 6:3-4).

Fullness only God can give

For this reason Christian parents, such as you today, bring their children to the baptismal font as soon as possible, knowing that life which they have communicated calls for a fullness, a salvation that God alone can give. And parents thus become collaborators of God, transmitting to their children not only physical but also spiritual life.

Dear parents, I thank the Lord with you for the gift of these children and I invoke his assistance so that he may help you to raise them and incorporate them into the spiritual Body of the Church.

As you offer them what they need for their growth and salvation may you always be committed, helped by their godparents, to developing in them faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues proper to the new life given to them in the sacrament of baptism.

You will guarantee this by your presence and your affection; you will guarantee it first of all and above all by prayer, presenting them daily to God and entrusting them to him in every season of their life.

If they are to grow healthy and strong, these babies will of course need both material care and many other kinds of attention; yet, what will be most necessary to them, indeed indispensable, will be to know, love and serve God faithfully in order to have eternal life.

Dear parents, may you be for them the first witnesses of an authentic faith in God!

In the Rite of Baptism there is an eloquent sign that expresses precisely the transmission of faith. It is the presentation to each of those being baptized of a candle lit from the flame of the Easter candle: It is the light of the risen Christ, which you will endeavor to pass on to your children.

Thus, from one generation to the next, we Christians transmit Christ's light to one another in such a way that when he returns he may find us with this flame burning in our hands.

During the Rite I shall say to you: "Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly." Dear brothers and sisters, always feed the flame of the faith by listening to and meditating on the Word of God and assiduous communion with Jesus in the Eucharist.

May you be assisted in this marvelous if far from easy role by the holy protectors after whom these 13 children will be named.

Above all, may these saints help those being baptized to reciprocate your loving care as Christian parents.

May the Virgin Mary in particular accompany both them and you, dear parents, now and forever. Amen!

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On Christian Unity
"We All Have the Duty to Pray and Work for the Overcoming of Every Division"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 20, 2008 - 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Two days ago began the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity during which Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants, knowing that their divisions constitute an obstacle to the reception of the Gospel, together implore the Lord, in a yet more intense way, for the gift of full communion. This providential initiative was born 100 years ago, when Father Paul Wattson started the "Octave" of prayer for the unity of all the disciples of Christ. Today for this occasion the spiritual sons and daughters of Father Wattson, the friars and sisters of the Atonement, are present in St. Peter's Square and I greet them cordially and encourage them to pursue the cause of unity with their special dedication.

We all have the duty to pray and work for the overcoming of every division between Christians, responding to Christ's desire "ut unum sint." Prayer, conversion of heart, the reinforcement of the bonds of communion, form the essence of this spiritual movement that we hope will soon lead the disciples of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist together, the manifestation of their full unity.

This year's biblical theme is dense with meaning: "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). St. Paul addresses himself to the community of Thessalonica, which was experiencing internal clashes and conflicts, to remind them with insistence about certain fundamental attitudes, among which there stands out, indeed, incessant prayer. With this invitation of his, he wants it to be understood that from the new life in Christ and in the Holy Spirit there flows forth the capacity to overcome all egoism, to live together in peace and fraternal union, to bear in large measure the burdens and sufferings of others. We must never tire of praying for the unity of Christians! When Jesus, during the Last Supper, prayed that his disciples "be one," he had a precise goal in mind: "That the world believe" (John 17:21).

The Church's evangelizing mission, therefore, moves along the path of ecumenism, the path of unity of faith, of evangelical witness and authentic fraternity. As is done every year, on Thursday, Jan. 25, I will go to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with solemn vespers. I invite Romans and pilgrims to join with me and with Christians of all the churches and ecclesial communities who will take part in the celebration, to ask of God the precious gift of reconciliation among all the baptized.

May the Mother of God, whose appearance to Alphonse Ratisbonne in the Church of Sant'Andrea delle Frate in Rome we remember today, obtain from the Lord the abundance of the Holy Spirit for all disciples in such a way that we can arrive at perfect unity and in this way offer the witness of faith and life that the world urgently needs.

[After the Angelus the Holy Father said the following:]

First of all I wish to greet the young students, the professors and all of you who have come in great numbers to St. Peter's Square to participate in the prayer of the Angelus and to express your solidarity; I also greet the many who unite themselves to us spiritually. I thank you from my heart, dear friends; I thank the cardinal vicar who has made himself the promoter of this meeting.

As you know, I happily accepted the courteous invitation that was made to me to give a lecture this past Thursday at the inauguration of the academic year at La Sapienza -- University of Rome. I know this athenaeum well, I esteem and have affection for the students who study there: On several occasions every year many of them come to meet me in the Vatican, together with their colleagues from other universities. Unfortunately, as is known, the climate that was created rendered my presence at the ceremony inopportune. I postponed my visit but I wanted in any case to send the text that I had prepared for the occasion.

I love the search for truth, the comparison, the frank and respectful dialogue between reciprocal positions of the university environment, which for many years was my world. All of that is also the mission of the Church, committed to faithfully following Jesus, master of life, truth and love. As professor emeritus, so to speak, who has met many students in his life, I encourage all of you university students to be respectful of the opinions of others and to seek, with a free and responsible spirit, the truth and the good. To all and to each I renew my expression of gratitude, assuring my affection and my prayer.

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Papal Message for World Day of the Sick
"Mary Suffers With Those Who Are in Affliction"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 20, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a nonofficial Vatican translation of the Benedict XVI's message for the 16th World Day of the Sick, which will be celebrate on the diocesan level Feb. 11.


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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. On 11 February, the memorial of the Blessed Mary Virgin of Lourdes, the World Day of the Sick will be celebrated, a propitious occasion to reflect on the meaning of pain and the Christian duty to take responsibility for it in whatever situation it arises. This year this significant day is connected to two important events for the life of the Church, as one already understands from the theme chosen 'The Eucharist, Lourdes and Pastoral Care for the Sick': the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions of the Immaculate Mary at Lourdes, and the celebration of the International Eucharistic Congress at Quebec in Canada. In this way, a remarkable opportunity to consider the close connection that exists between the Mystery of the Eucharist, the role of Mary in the project of salvation, and the reality of human pain and suffering, is offered to us.

The hundred and fifty years since the apparitions of Lourdes invite us to turn our gaze towards the Holy Virgin, whose Immaculate Conception constitutes the sublime and freely-given gift of God to a woman so that she could fully adhere to divine designs with a steady and unshakable faith, despite the tribulations and the sufferings that she would have to face. For this reason, Mary is a model of total self-abandonment to the will of God: she received in her heart the eternal Word and she conceived it in her virginal womb; she trusted to God and, with her soul pierced by a sword (cf. Lk 2:35), she did not hesitate to share the passion of her Son, renewing on Calvary at the foot of the Cross her 'Yes' of the Annunciation. To reflect upon the Immaculate Conception of Mary is thus to allow oneself to be attracted by the 'Yes' which joined her wonderfully to the mission of Christ, the redeemer of humanity; it is to allow oneself to be taken and led by her hand to pronounce in one's turn 'fiat' to the will of God, with all one's existence interwoven with joys and sadness, hopes and disappointments, in the awareness that tribulations, pain and suffering make rich the meaning of our pilgrimage on the earth.

2. One cannot contemplate Mary without being attracted by Christ and one cannot look at Christ without immediately perceiving the presence of Mary. There is an indissoluble link between the Mother and the Son, generated in her womb by work of the Holy Spirit, and this link we perceive, in a mysterious way, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as the Fathers of the Church and theologians pointed out from the early centuries onwards. 'The flesh born of Mary, coming from the Holy Spirit, is bread descended from heaven', observed St. Hilary of Poitiers. In the "Bergomensium Sacramentary" of the ninth century we read: 'Her womb made flower a fruit, a bread that has filled us with an angelic gift. Mary restored to salvation what Eve had destroyed by her sin'. And St. Pier Damiani observed: 'That body that the most blessed Virgin generated, nourished in her womb with maternal care, that body I say, without doubt and no other, we now receive from the sacred altar, and we drink its blood as a sacrament of our redemption. This is what the Catholic faith believes, this the holy Church faithfully teaches'. The link of the Holy Virgin with the Son, the sacrificed Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, is extended to the Church, the mystic Body of Christ. Mary, observes the Servant of God John Paul II, is a 'woman of the Eucharist' in her whole life, as a result of which the Church, seeing Mary as her model, 'is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery' (Encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," n. 53). In this perspective one understands even further why in Lourdes the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary is joined to a strong and constant reference to the Eucharist with daily Celebrations of the Eucharist, with adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, and with the blessing of the sick, which constitutes one of the strongest moments of the visit of pilgrims to the grotto of Massabielles.

The presence of many sick pilgrims in Lourdes, and of the volunteers who accompany them, helps us to reflect on the maternal and tender care that the Virgin expresses towards human pain and suffering. Associated with the Sacrifice of Christ, Mary, Mater Dolorosa, who at the foot of the Cross suffers with her divine Son, is felt to be especially near by the Christian community, which gathers around its suffering members, who bear the signs of the passion of the Lord. Mary suffers with those who are in affliction, with them she hopes, and she is their comfort, supporting them with her maternal help. And is it not perhaps true that the spiritual experience of very many sick people leads us to understand increasingly that 'the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed'? (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, "Salvifici doloris," n. 26).

3. If Lourdes leads us to reflect upon the maternal love of the Immaculate Virgin for her sick and suffering children, the next International Eucharistic Congress will be an opportunity to worship Jesus Christ present in the Sacrament of the altar, to entrust ourselves to him as Hope that does not disappoint, to receive him as that medicine of immortality which heals the body and the spirit. Jesus Christ redeemed the world through his suffering, his death and his resurrection, and he wanted to remain with us as the 'bread of life' on our earthly pilgrimage. 'The Eucharist, Gift of God for the Life of the World': this is the theme of the Eucharistic Congress and it emphasises how the Eucharist is the gift that the Father makes to the world of His only Son, incarnated and crucified. It is he who gathers us around the Eucharistic table, provoking in his disciples loving care for the suffering and the sick, in whom the Christian community recognises the face of its Lord. As I pointed out in the Post-Synodal Exhortation "Sacramentum caritatis," 'Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become "bread that is broken" for others' (n. 88). We are thus encouraged to commit ourselves in the first person to helping our brethren, especially those in difficulty, because the vocation of every Christian is truly that of being, together with Jesus, bread that is broken for the life of the world.

4. It thus appears clear that it is specifically from the Eucharist that pastoral care in health must draw the necessary spiritual strength to come effectively to man's aid and to help him to understand the salvific value of his own suffering. As the Servant of God John Paul II was to write in the already quoted Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, the Church sees in her suffering brothers and sisters as it were a multiple subject of the supernatural power of Christ (cf. n. 27). Mysteriously united to Christ, the man who suffers with love and meek self-abandonment to the will of God becomes a living offering for the salvation of the world.

My beloved Predecessor also stated that 'The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structures of sin which today's world brings with it, the greater is the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself. And the more the Church feels the need to have recourse to the value of human sufferings for the salvation of the world' (ibidem). If, therefore, at Quebec the mystery of the Eucharist, the gift of God for the life of the world, is contemplated during the World Day of the Sick in an ideal spiritual parallelism, not only will the actual participation of human suffering in the salvific work of God be celebrated, but the valuable fruits promised to those who believe can in a certain sense be enjoyed. Thus pain, received with faith, becomes the door by which to enter the mystery of the redemptive suffering of Jesus and to reach with him the peace and the happiness of his Resurrection.

5. While I extend my cordial greetings to all sick people and to all those who take care of them in various ways, I invite the diocesan and parish communities to celebrate the next World Day of the Sick by appreciating to the full the happy coinciding of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes with the International Eucharistic Congress. May it be an occasion to emphasise the importance of the Holy Mass, of the Adoration of the Eucharist and of the cult of the Eucharist, so that chapels in our health-care centres become a beating heart in which Jesus offers himself unceasingly to the Father for the life of humanity! The distribution of the Eucharist to the sick as well, done with decorum and in a spirit of prayer, is true comfort for those who suffer, afflicted by all forms of infirmity.

May the next World Day of the Sick be, in addition, a propitious circumstance to invoke in a special way the maternal protection of Mary over those who are weighed down by illness; health-care workers; and workers in pastoral care in health! I think in particular of priests involved in this field, women and men religious, volunteers and all those who with active dedication are concerned to serve, in body and soul, the sick and those in need. I entrust all to Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, the Immaculate Conception. May she help everyone in testifying that the only valid response to human pain and suffering is Christ, who in resurrecting defeated death and gave us the life that knows no end. With these feelings, from my heart I impart to everyone my special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 11 January 2008

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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Benedict XVI's Planned Lecture at La Sapienza
"The Truth Makes Us Good and Goodness Is True"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the speech Benedict XVI planned to deliver Thursday at La Sapienza University in Rome. The Vatican reported Tuesday that the visit would be postponed due to what the Pope's secretary of state called a lack of the "prerequisites for a dignified and tranquil welcome."

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Magnificent Rector,
Political and Civil Authorities,
Illustrious Professors and Administrative Staff,
Dear Young Students!

It is a source of great joy for me this encounter with the community of La Sapienza -- University of Rome -- on the occasion of the inauguration of the academic year. For centuries now this university marks the journey and the life of the city of Rome, bringing the best intellectual energies to bear fruit in every field of knowledge.

Whether in the period when, after its foundation at the behest of Pope Boniface VIII, it depended directly on ecclesiastical authority, or whether when the "Studium Urbis" later developed as an institute of the Italian state, your academic community has maintained a high scientific and cultural level, which places it among the most prestigious universities of the world.

The Church of Rome has always looked upon this university center with affection and admiration, recognizing the commitment -- sometimes arduous and demanding -- to research and to the formation of new generations. Significant moments of collaboration and dialogue have not been lacking in recent years. I would like to recall, in particular, the International Meeting of Rectors on the occasion of the Jubilee of Universities that saw your community take charge, not only of welcoming and organizing, but above all of the prophetic and complex task of elaborating a "new humanism for the third millennium."

It is a pleasure, in this circumstance, to express my gratitude for the invitation you have offered to me to come to your university to give a lecture. In this regard I asked myself first of all the question: What can, and must, a Pope say on an occasion like this? In my lecture at Regensburg I spoke, indeed, as Pope, but above all I spoke as a former professor of that university of mine, trying to bring together memories and current events. At La Sapienza, the ancient university of Rome, however, I am invited precisely as Bishop of Rome, and because of this I must speak as such. Certainly, La Sapienza was once the Pope's university, but today it is a secular university with that autonomy that, on the basis of its foundational concept itself, has always been part of the university, which must be bound exclusively to the authority of the truth. In its freedom from political and ecclesiastical authorities, the university finds its particular function, precisely for modern society as well, which needs an institution of this type.

I return to my initial question: What can and must the Pope say in meeting with the university of his city? Reflecting on this question, it seemed to me that it included two others, whose clarification must lead by itself to the answer. It must, in fact, be asked: What is the nature and the mission of the Papacy? And still further: What is the nature and the mission of the university? In this place I do not wish to detain you and me with long disquisitions on the nature of the Papacy. A brief remark will suffice.

The Pope is first of all Bishop of Rome and as such, in virtue of succession to the Apostle Peter, has an episcopal responsibility in regard to the whole Catholic Church. The word "bishop" – "episkopos" in Greek, which primarily means "overseer" -- has already in the New Testament been fused together with the biblical concept of shepherd: He is the one who, from a higher vantage point, considers the whole, concerning himself with the right path and of the cohesion of the whole. In this sense, such a designation of his task orientates him first of all to the entirety of the believing community. The bishop -- the shepherd -- is the man who takes care of this community; he who maintains its unity and keeps it on the way toward God, indicated, according to the faith, by Jesus -- and not only indicated by Jesus: Jesus himself is the way for us.

But this community with which the bishop concerns himself -- large or small as it may be -- lives in the world; its state, its example and its word inevitably influence all the rest of the human community in its entirety. The bigger it is, the more that its good state or its possible degradation have repercussions for the whole of humanity. Today we see with great clarity how the conditions of the religions and how the situation of the Church -- her crises and her renewals -- affect the whole of humanity. Thus the Pope, precisely as shepherd of his community, has also become more and more a voice of the ethical reason of humanity.

Here, however, there immediately surfaces the objection, according to which, the Pope would not truly speak on the basis of ethical reason, but would take his judgments from the faith, and because of this he could not pretend that they are valid for those who do not share this faith. We must return to this issue later because here the absolutely fundamental question is posed: What is reason? How can a claim -- above all a moral norm -- show itself to be "reasonable"?

At this moment I would like to only briefly note that John Rawls, although denying to comprehensive religious doctrines the character of "public" reason, nevertheless sees at least in their "nonpublic" reason a reason that cannot, in the name of a secularly hardened rationality, simply be disregarded by those who support it.

He sees a criterion for this reasonableness in, among other things, the fact that similar doctrines derive from a responsible and validly grounded tradition in which, over a long period of time, sufficiently good argumentation has developed to support the respective doctrine. What seems important to me in this affirmation is the recognition that experience and demonstration over the course of generations, the historical background of human wisdom, are also a sign of its reasonableness and its enduring significance. In the face of an a-historical reason that tries to construct itself through a-historical rationality, the wisdom of humanity as such -- the wisdom of the great religious traditions -- is to be valued as a reality that cannot be with impunity thrown into the dustbin of the history of ideas.

Let us return to the initial question. The Pope speaks as a representative of a believing community in which, over the centuries of its existence, a determinate wisdom of life has matured; he speaks as the representative of a community that bears within itself a treasury of ethical knowledge and experience that turns out to be important for the whole of humanity: in this sense he speaks as a representative of ethical reason.

But now we must ask ourselves: And what is the university? What is its task? It is a huge question to which, once again, I can try to respond only in an almost telegraphic way with some observations. I think that it can be said that the true, interior origin of the university is in the desire for knowledge that is native to man. He wants to know what it is that surrounds him. He wants truth. In this sense we can see that Socrates' self-questioning as the impulse from which the Western university was born.

I think, for example -- to mention only one text -- of the debate with Euthyphro, who defends mythical religion and his piety before Socrates. Against this Socrates poses the question: "Do you really believe that the gods fight with one another, and have awful quarrels and battles? … Must we in fact say, Euthyphro, that all that is true?" ("Euthyphro," 6b-c). In this apparently impious question -- which in Socrates derived from a more profound and more pure religiosity, from the search for the truly divine God -- the Christians of the first centuries recognized themselves and their path. They did not understand their faith in a positivistic way, or as an escape from frustrated desires; they understood it as the dispersal of the fog of mythological religion to give room for the discovery of that God who is creative Reason and at the same time Reason-Love.

On account of this, reason's asking itself about the greater God, as its asking about the true nature and the true meaning of the human being, was not a problematic form of a lack of religiosity for those early Christians, but was part of the essence of their way of being religious. They did not need, then, to throw off or put aside Socratic self-questioning, but were able -- or rather, had to -- accept as part of their own identity reason's difficult search to reach knowledge of the whole truth. In this way, in the domain of Christian faith, in the Christian world, the university was able to -- or rather, had to -- be born.

It is necessary to take a further step. Man wants to know -- he wants truth. Truth is first of all a thing of seeing, of understanding, of "theoria," as it is called by the Greek tradition. But the truth is never only theoretic. Augustine, in making a correlation between the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount and the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Isaiah 11, affirmed a reciprocity between "scientia" and "tristitia": mere knowing, he says, makes one sad. And, in fact, those who only see and apprehend everything that happens in the world ends up becoming sad. But truth means more than knowing: Knowledge of the truth has knowledge of the good as its scope. This is also the meaning of Socratic self-questioning: What is that good that makes us true? The truth makes us good and goodness is true: This is the optimism that lives in Christian faith, because to it has been conceded the vision of the Logos, of creative Reason that, in the incarnation of God, has revealed himself as the Good, as Goodness Itself.

In medieval theology there was a substantial debate about the relationship between theory and practice, about the right relation between knowing and acting -- a debate that we cannot develop here. In fact, the medieval university, with its four faculties, presents this correlation. Let us start with the faculty that, according to the understanding of the time, was the fourth, namely, medicine. Even if it was considered more of an "art" than a science, nevertheless, its insertion in the cosmos of the "universitas" clearly signified that it was placed in the context of rationality, that the art of healing was under the guidance of reason, and was removed from the context of magic. Healing is a task that demands more and more from simple reason, but precisely because of this it needs the connection between knowing and power, it needs to belong to the sphere of "ratio."

In the faculty of jurisprudence the question of the relationship between practice and theory, between knowing and acting, inevitably appears. It is a matter of giving the right form to human freedom, which is always a freedom in reciprocal communion: Law is the presupposition of freedom, not its antagonist. Be here the question immediately arises: How can we identify the criteria of justice that make a freedom lived together possible and serve man's well-being. At this point a leap into the present imposes itself: It is the question of how a juridical norm that constitutes an ordering of freedom, of human dignity and of the rights of man can be found. It is the question that concerns us today in the democratic processes of the formation of opinion and that at the same time makes us anxious as a question for the future of humanity.

Jürgen Habermas expresses, in my view, a vast consensus of current thought when he says that the legitimacy of a constitutional charter, as a presupposition of legality, would be derived from two sources: from the egalitarian political participation of all citizens and from the reasonable form in which political conflicts get resolved. In regard to this "reasonable form" he notes that it cannot only be a struggle for arithmetic majorities, but it must be characterized by a "process of argumentation that is sensitive to the truth" ("wahrheitssensibles Argumentationsverfahren"). This is well said, but it is a difficult thing to transform into a political practice.

The representatives of that public "process of argumentation" are -- we know -- predominantly the parties as those in charge of the formation of the political will. In fact, they will unfailingly have as their aim above all the obtaining of majorities and so will almost inevitably be preoccupied with the interests that they promise to satisfy; such interests, however, are often particular and do not truly serve the whole. The sensitivity to truth is again and again defeated by the sensitivity to interests. I find it significant that Habermas speaks about the sensitivity to the truth as a necessary element of the process of political argumentation, reinserting thus the concept of truth into the philosophical debate and into the political debate.

But then Pilate's question becomes inevitable: What is truth? How is it recognized? If in answer to these questions one refers to "public reason," as Rawls does, once more there necessarily follows the question: What is reasonable? How does a reason show itself to be true reason? In any case, on this basis it is made evident that, in the search for the law of freedom, for the truth of just communal life, voices besides those of parties and interest groups must be heard, but without thereby contesting the importance of the parties and interest groups. Let us return to the structure of the medieval university.

Alongside the faculty of jurisprudence were the faculties of philosophy and theology, to whom was entrusted the study of man's being in its totality and, along with this, the task of keeping the sensitivity to truth alive. It could even be said that this is the permanent and true meaning of both faculties: being guardians of the sensitivity to truth, not allowing man to be deterred from the search for truth. But how can they live up to this task? This is a question for which it is necessary again and again to labor, and which is never definitively posed or resolved. Thus, at this point, neither can I properly offer an answer, but an invitation to stay on the road with this question -- the road along which the great ones have struggled and searched throughout the whole of history, with their answers and their restlessness for the truth, which continually refers beyond any single answer.

Theology and philosophy form, because of this, a peculiar pair of twins, neither of which can be totally separated from the other and, nevertheless, each must preserve its proper task and proper identity. It is the historical merit of St. Thomas Aquinas -- vis-à-vis the various responses of the Fathers due to their historical context -- to have illumined the autonomy of philosophy, and with it the proper right and the responsibility of reason that questions itself on the basis of its powers. Differentiating themselves from the Neoplatonic philosophies, in which religion and philosophy were inseparably intertwined, the Fathers presented the Christian faith as the true philosophy, underscoring also that this faith corresponds to the exigencies of reason in search of the truth; that faith is the "yes" to the truth, compared with the mythic religions that had become mere custom.

But then, with the birth of the university, those religions no longer existed in the West, but just Christianity alone, and thus it was necessary to emphasize in a new way the proper responsibility of reason, that must not be absorbed by faith. Thomas found himself acting in a privileged moment: For the first time the whole corpus of Aristotle's philosophical writings were available; Jewish and Arab philosophies were present as specific appropriations and continuations of Greek philosophy. In this way Christianity, in a new dialogue with the reason of others, with which it came into contact, had to struggle for its own reasonableness.

The faculty of philosophy, which, as the so-called "faculty of arts," until that moment had only been a propedeutic to theology, now became a true and proper faculty, an autonomous partner of theology and of faith in this reaction. We cannot pause here over the absorbing confrontation that resulted. I would say that St. Thomas' idea of the relationship between philosophy and theology could be expressed in the Council of Chalcedon's formula for Christology: Philosophy and theology must relate to each other "without confusion and without separation." "Without confusion" means that both of them preserve their proper identity. Philosophy must truly remain an undertaking of reason in its proper freedom and proper responsibility; it must recognize its limits, and precisely in this way also its grandeur and vastness. Theology must continue to draw from the treasury of knowledge that it did not invent itself, that always surpasses it and that, never being totally exhaustible through reflection, and precisely because of this, launches thinking.

Together with the "without confusion," the "without separation" is also in force: Philosophy does not begin again from zero with the subject thinking in isolation, but rather stands in the great dialogue of historical wisdom, that again and again it both critically and docilely receives and develops; but it must not close itself off from that which the religions, and the Christian faith in particular, have received and bequeathed on humanity as an indication of the way. Various things said by theologians in the course of history and also things handed down in the practice of ecclesial authorities, have been shown to be false by history and today they confuse us. But at the same time it is true that the history of the saints, the history of the humanism that grew up on the basis of the Christian faith, demonstrates the truth of this faith in its essential nucleus, thereby making it an example for public reason. Certainly, much of what theology and faith say can only be accepted within faith and therefore it cannot present itself as an exigency to those for whom this faith still remains inaccessible. At the same time it is true, however, that the message of the Christian faith is never only a "comprehensive religious doctrine" in the sense of Rawls, but a purifying force for reason itself, that helps reason to be more itself. The Christian message, on the basis of its origin, must always be an encouragement toward the truth and thus a force against the pressure of power and interests.

Well, I have only been talking about the medieval university, trying nevertheless to make transparent the permanent nature of the university and its task. In modern times new dimensions of knowledge have been disclosed that in the university have been valued above all in two great fields: first of all in the natural sciences, which have developed on the basis of the connection of experimentation and the presupposed rationality of matter; in the second place in the historical and humanistic sciences, in which man, scrutinizing the mirror of his history and clarifying the dimensions of his nature, attempts to understand himself better. In this development there has opened to humanity not only an immense measure of knowledge and power; the knowledge and recognition of the rights and dignity of man have also grown, and we can only be grateful for this.

But man's journey can never suppose itself to be at an end and the danger of falling into inhumanity is never simply overcome -- as we see in the panorama of contemporary history! Today the danger of the Western world -- to speak only of this context -- is that man, precisely in the consideration of the grandeur of his knowledge and power, might give up before the question of truth. And that means at the same time that reason, in the end, bows to the pressure of interests and the charm of utility, constrained to recognize it as the ultimate criterion. To put this in terms of the point of view of the structure of the university: The danger exists that philosophy, no longer feeling itself capable of its true task, might degenerate into positivism; that theology, with its message addressed to reason, might become confined to the private sphere of a group more or less sizable. If, however, reason -- solicitous of its presumed purity -- becomes deaf to the great message that comes from the Christian faith and its wisdom, it will wither like a tree whose roots no longer reach the waters that give it life. It will lose courage for the truth and thus it will not become greater but less. Applied to our European culture this means: If it wants only to construct itself on the basis of the circle of its own arguments and that which convinces it at the moment -- worried about its secularity -- it will cut itself off from the roots by which it lives; then it will not become more reasonable and more pure, but it will break apart and disintegrate.

With this I return to the point of departure. What does the Pope have to do with, or have to say to the university? Surely he must not attempt to impose the faith on others in an authoritarian way since it can only be bestowed in freedom. Beyond his office as Shepherd of the Church, and on the basis of the intrinsic nature of this pastoral office, there is his duty to keep the sensitivity to truth alive; to continually invite reason to seek out the true, the good, God, and on this path, to urge it to glimpse the helpful lights that shine forth in the history of the Christian faith, and in this way to perceive Jesus Christ as the Light that illuminates history and helps us to find the way to the future.

From the Vatican, January 17, 2008

BENEDICTUS XVI


Commentary by Father James Schall:

Schall on the Sapienza Lecture: Benedict XVI on the Nature of a University | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | February 11, 2008

"On this occasion (January 17), I am happy to express my gratitude to you for your invitation at your university (La Sapienza, in Rome). With this prospect in view, I first of all asked myself the question: what can and should a Pope say on such an occasion? In my lecture at Regensburg (September 12, 2006), I did indeed speak as Pope, but above all I spoke in my capacity as a former professor of my old university, seeking to link past memories with the present." -- Benedict XVI, "The Truth Makes Us Good and Goodness Is True", Undelivered Address to La Sapienza University

I.

Benedict XVI did not deliver his major address at La Sapienza University in Rome because of threats of disturbance and protests at his visit to the university, a place originally founded by Boniface VIII. In response to such clearly un-academic threats, the Pope simply postponed his visit (the University has announced that the Pope will be re-invited to the institution). This move was probably unanticipated by the erstwhile protesters who were suddenly left exposed for what they were: people who did not understand the first thing about a university, namely its space free enough to speak of the truth. It cannot be what it is, an area of freedom to pursue the truth, when threats of violence are made against its very expression. The Pope's lecture, however, was read by another professor and published in due form in L'Osservatore Romano.

The address is quite remarkable. It is, in fact, a brief history of what a university is from classical, medieval, and modern times. The lecture touched on the very nature of reason, a theme to which this Holy Father often returns. Some time has passed since the incident. Still, I think it valuable to take a retrospective look at this address in what it says and outside of the controversy surrounding its initial presentation. Benedict is a careful and clear thinker. His mind always seems to have before it Scripture, classical philosophy, Augustine and Aquinas, medieval history, and modern thought.

In the address, Benedict cites Socrates in the Euthuphro, the short dialogue on piety that takes place the day before the Trial of Socrates. Benedict recalls how Socrates wanted to know whether the accounts of the pagan gods, their wars and struggles with each other, were true (6b). Right away, with this deft citation from Socrates, the pope allied himself with the rule of reason as it relates to the gods. The Christian fathers in the early centuries took up this very question. What they proposed was that the "story" of the Incarnation was not a "myth" but a true account of God's intervention in our history. What the pagans were searching for was a true account, defensible in reason, of the Godhead, which has now been revealed to us. Christian thinkers thus took up the Socratic question in this form: "Is the Christian account of the Godhead found in Scriptures basically true?" The relation of faith and reason thus is already within Christian revelation from its very beginning. The Christian God—the Trinity, the Logos—is not a myth. What it depicts happened; it is true. It is addressed to human reason not as myth but as reason.

The pope in fact calls Socrates the remote founder of the university as such. Benedict cites John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas, and Thomas Aquinas with equal familiarity. He keeps his first question in mind, namely, "What should I as pope tell you?" His answer is direct: "Certainly, he (the pope) must not seek to impose the faith upon others in an authoritarian manner—as faith can only be given in freedom." Critics, who presume that it needs to be "imposed," not freely understood, vastly underestimate the power of revelation. That is the last thing it needs. In fact, revelation is to be received as a free act by an intelligent and free being on the grounds of grace and wisdom.

The pope's office is not to deny that faith is directed to reason but to affirm it. Benedict adds:

Over and above his ministry as Shepherd of the Church and on the basis of the intrinsic nature of his pastoral ministry, it is the Pope's task to safeguard sensibility to the truth, to invoke reason to set out ever anew in the search for what is true and good, in search of God, to urge reason, in the course of this search to discern the illuminating lights that have emerged during the history of the Christian faith, and thus to recognize Jesus Christ as the light that illuminates and help us find the path toward the future.

These remarks of the Holy Father about the future and the one about Jesus Christ remind us directly of the Pope's book Jesus of Nazareth and his latest encyclical Spes Salvi.

The pope, as pope, has to tell the university audience that, on its own terms, the terms of reason, the evidence that Christ is who He says He is, the Logos, is intact and convincing. The scientific studies of the record are sufficiently clear that Jesus Christ did exist in this world and was what He said He was. The pope here is not saying that reason can prove who Christ was. Rather he is saying that none of the vast historical efforts to deny the record are, on their own grounds, better founded than their opposite, that Christ's claim has grounding in reason. To go back to the citation from the Euthuphro, the Christian account of God is not a "myth." It is reasonable by every standard of reason. It is concerned with or confronted by a reason, by a Logos, which is higher than our finite reason but still directs itself to our understanding as true.

In Spes Salvi, the pope directly sought to reestablish the Christian notion of the future, indeed of the four last things. This effort recognized that most of modern philosophy and ideology is an effort to find an answer to questions of death, punishment, the perfect city, freedom, and life, as if it could be achieved in this world by human means. In many ways, modern science proposes various kinds of "reconstruction" of the human body and psyche so that we are begotten and kept alive, by technology, in this world. In short, we create a hell on earth by our very refusal to accept the conditions of our being to which revelation addresses itself.

II.

In what sense does the pope speak to all mankind? The tendency is to claim that moral and ethical matters are closed circuits. There are as many different kinds of speakers as there are cultures and religion. The claim of universal truth and intelligible dignity that the Church makes is written off as "arrogant" or as "opinion." The pope thus is said to draw his "judgments from faith and hence cannot claim to speak on behalf of those who do not share this faith." This objection, the pope affirms, brings up the "fundamental question" namely: "What is reason?" Reason is precisely the grounds for directing all thought to the same measure and standard, something that, in argument and reflection can be known to everyone from whatever background.

What is "reason" is itself related directly to the questions, as Benedict put it: "'What is a university?' 'What is its task?' ... I think one could say that at the most intimate level, the true origin of the university lies on the thirst for knowledge that is proper to man. The human being wants to know what everything around him is. He wants truth." We have, all of us, a knowing faculty and we want to know. There are traditional and articulated ways and institutions in which this desire "to everything around us" can and should be pursued. Benedict is ever concerned that "reason" be not restricted to methods that exclude the higher things, the things that are not matter and hence not "measurable" by quantity. To insist that the only kind of knowledge is that based on measurable quantity is to exclude from the beginning the really deepest and most important things in our lives. As Fides et Ratio indicated, the Church is directly concerned that philosophy and reason be what they are, neither more or less.

"Yet truth means more than knowledge," Benedict continues in a passage obviously related to book six of Plato's Republic:

The purpose of knowing the truth is to know the good. This is also the meaning of Socratic enquiry: What is the good which makes us free? The truth makes us good and goodness is true: this is the optimism that shapes the Christian faith, because this faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, of creative Reason, which in God's Incarnation revealed itself as the Good, as goodness itself.

This is a remarkable passage. The faith is an "optimism" in its own right. It is grounded in the good. The Logos is "creative reason." Things can be understood as true, as what exactly is our destiny and purpose. This purpose in the good is not irrational or mad, but precisely reason responding to Logos, to reason.

Creative reason does not appeal to us as if we had no questions to ask of it. It only appears in fact when we are precisely asking the questions of our reason—those about our origin, purpose, meaning, and destiny. These latter questions do not initially arise from revelation but from living and thinking about what is. Creative reason presents itself not as something alien to us but as something that attracts us as good and as true. Were our freedom not intimately bound up with our reason, we could not be beings who really do know and choose to be what we are. "Here it was a matter of giving the correct form to human freedom, which is always a freedom shared with others. Law is the presupposition of freedom; it is not its opposite." We observe the law, particularly the natural law, because we understand it as reasonable. Our freedom is not to do whatever we want, but to do what is right. This freedom is "shared with others" for we all have the same destiny and know the same truth if we choose to do so.

III.

Benedict next takes up the question of truth as it exists in and shapes the public order, the relation between politics and truth. Benedict's assessment is sober:

The representatives of that public 'process of argumentation' are--as we know--principally political parties, inasmuch as these are responsible for the formation of political will. De facto, they will always aim to achieve majorities and hence will almost inevitably attend to interests that the promise to satisfy, even though these interests are often particular and do not serve the whole. Sensibility to the truth is repeatedly subordinated to sensibility to interests.

The logic of this realist observation is that we cannot simply grant that political parties will provide us with sufficient truth to direct lives lived in a polity. Reason, at its best, and revelation both stand outside de facto political agendas. We must listen to claims to truth other than parties alone.

Dealing with the classic university idea of faculties of theology and philosophy whose essential purpose was the truth as derived from their disciplines, Benedict returns to the notion of "sensibility" to truth in a public order consumed by interests. In this sense, the classic academy had to exist "outside of politics," so that it would be free enough to know the truth as something more than one's own interests. Not many actual polities provide or allow for the terms in which a university must exist to be itself. "One might even say that this was the permanent and true purpose of both faculties (philosophy and theology); to be custodians of sensibility for the truth, not to allow man to be distracted from his search for the truth." This is indeed a noble purpose. It is particularly poignant today when it is precisely the university that seems most to represent an arena of closed political correctness, a sophistry that does not allow the ultimate sources of reason to enter its domain in the name of a certain kind of limited reason usually called "science" but in practice limited to a very small part of real knowledge available to the human mind.

Benedict is aware of the implications of what he is saying. "Theology and philosophy, in this regard form a strange pair of twins, in which neither of the two can be totally separated from the other, and yet each must preserve its own task and its own identity." Philosophy, the discipline that seeks the whole by the power of human reason, knows that it finds some truth but not whole truth. Theology, for its part, articulates itself in terms of what is reasonable in its account of what is revealed. This was the purport of Benedict's citation from the Euthuphro. When theology formulates what is revealed to it, it can articulate its terms and implications to be presented to mind. This articulation cannot be accomplished without a philosophy of what is. Revelation is directed to the real world. It is not a myth. Without changing its own purpose or method, philosophy cannot ignore that the terms of revelation are also reasonably presented to its own thinking about what is. Each must be what it is; neither can exclude the other. The implication to reason, of course, is that the reason found in revelation is indeed directed to reason found in philosophy. As Benedict said in the Regensburg Lecture, the reason discovered in nature through mathematics itself implies an origin that is reason, Logos.

Benedict then discusses Thomas Aquinas, our teacher in all of these things. Aquinas lived in a "privileged time," Benedict observes, a time when Jewish, Arabic, and Christian philosopher were suddenly confronted with the great figure of Aristotle, "the Philosopher." "I (Benedict) would say that Saint Thomas' idea concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology could be expressed using the formula that the Council of Chalcedon adopted for Christology: philosophy and theology must be interrelated 'without confusion and without separation.'" This is the significance of the doctrine that Christ is "true man." He is likewise Logos, a divine person, but fully man, one of the most difficult positions to accept both by other religions and philosophy. Yet, this reality of the Incarnation is the heart of the matter. The pope simply draws the momentous consequence of this teaching: philosophy is philosophy; revelation is revelation. Both exist un-confusedly as what they are, "twins," directly related to each other. If we deny this distinction, we do so at the risk of the whole coherence of the universe in a single order.

IV.

Following a comment of Habermas, Benedict stresses that philosophy includes, not excludes, its own history. It cannot be a Cartesian beginning with nothing in each case of thought. "Philosophy does not start again from zero with every thinking subject in total isolation, but takes its placed within the great dialogue of historical wisdom, which it continually accepts and develops in manner both critical and docile. It must not exclude what, the Christian faith in particular, has received and have given to humanity as signposts for the journey." It is not rational to say, "let's philosophize" but then exclude the philosophical record of the Logos, the "I Am who am." Christianity and its address to reason cannot be excluded because it is only "private" or a "myth." It is neither. It is itself essential to the fullness of what it is to think on what is.

All through his career, Benedict has been careful to give science in the modern sense its due. He never denies its positive accomplishments, only its presumption that its limited method is sufficient to cover all the reality to which our minds are open. The pope recognizes that our whole civilization is at stake in these philosophic issues. "The danger for the western world—to speak only of this—is that today, precisely because of the greatness of his knowledge and power, man will fail to face up to the question of the truth." Rather reason will bow to interests, to massive projects to reconstruct man and his world in the image not of God but of himself as presupposed to nothing.

Benedict has long considered the present intellectual battlefield is Europe and its culture of reason and revelation. "Applied to our European culture, this means: if our culture seeks only to build itself on the basis of the circle of its own argumentation, on what convinces it at the time, and if—anxious to preserve its secularism--it detaches itself from its life-giving roots, then it will not become more reasonable or purer, but will fall apart and disintegrate." Such is what Benedict had to tell the students and faculty at La Sapienza. This is what the objectors did not want anyone to hear or consider. Any student at such a university who was not outraged by this overt threat to deny him of a discourse on what is true has not yet felt the passion for truth that runs through the soul of Benedict XVI.

Recalling the famous question of Pilate, Benedict still reminds us that we have to "face up" to the question "what is truth?" Revelation exists in part because this question can never be allowed to die among us. The complete political closure of the academia to truth in its fullness recalls the old Platonic and Aristotelian positions that a "City in Speech," a philosophy of what is, abides over all polities and all souls who have taken the trouble to ask about what man really is? What is his destiny? The La Sapienza Lecture, I think, reminds us of the fundamental importance of the fullness of reason and of the revelation directed particularly to it.

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Pope's Letter to Jesuits' 35th General Congregation
"Evangelization Demands a Total and Faithful Adhesion to the Word of God"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 18, 2007 - Here is a translation of the letter Benedict XVI sent to the outgoing superior general of the Society of Jesus, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, on the occasion of the 35th General Congregation of the order.

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To the Reverend Father

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach
Superior General of the Society of Jesus

On the occasion of the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, it is my fervent desire to extend to you and to all those taking part in the Assembly my most cordial greetings, together with an assurance of my affection and of my constant spiritual nearness to you. I know how important for the life of the Society is this event that you are celebrating, and I further know that, consequently, it has been prepared with great care. This is a providential occasion for impressing upon the Society of Jesus that renewed ascetic and apostolic impulse which is wished by all, so that Jesuits might fulfill completely their mission and confront the challenges of the modern world with that faith to Christ and to the Church which distinguished the prophetic action of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his first companions.

The Apostle writes to the faithful of Thessalonica of having announced to them the Gospel of God, "encouraging you and imploring you" -- Paul specifies -- "to comport yourselves in a manner worthy of God who calls you to his kingdom and to his glory" (1 Thessalonians 2:12), and he adds: "Indeed on account of this we continually thank God because, having received the divine word preached by us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it truly is, as the word of God, which works in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The word of God therefore is first "received," i.e., heard, and then -- penetrating all the way to the heart -- it is "welcomed," and who receives it recognizes that God speaks through the agent sent to deliver it: In this way the word acts in believers.

As then, so even today evangelization demands a total and faithful adhesion to the word of God: adhesion first of all to Christ and to attentive listening to his Spirit which guides the Church; humble obedience to the pastors whom God has placed to guide his people; and prudent and frank dialogue with the social, cultural and religious appeals of our time. All this presupposes, as we know, an intimate communion with him who calls us to be friends and disciples, a unity of life and of action which is fed by listening to his word, by contemplation and by prayer, by detachment from the mentality of the world and by unceasing conversion toward his love so that it may be he, the Christ, who lives and works in each of us. Here is the secret of authentic success for the apostolic and missionary commitment of every Christian, and even more of all those called to a more direct service of the Gospel.

Such an awareness is certainly well present among those taking part in the General Congregation, and I am eager to honor the great work already completed by the preparatory commission which in the course of 2007 has examined the postulates sent by provinces and indicated the themes to be faced. I would like to direct my thoughts of gratitude in the first place to you, dear and venerated Father superior general, who since 1983 has guided the Society of Jesus in an enlightened, wise and prudent manner, seeking in every way to maintain it in the channel of its founding charism.

For objective reasons, you have at various times asked to be relieved of so heavy a post, assumed with a great sense of responsibility at a moment in your order's history which was not easy. I express to you my most heartfelt gratitude for the service you have rendered to the Society of Jesus and, more generally, to the Church. My sentiments of gratitude extend to your closest collaborators, to the participants of the General Congregation, and to all Jesuits scattered in every part of the world. To all and to each should arrive this greeting from the Successor of Peter, who follows with affection and esteem the multiple and appreciated apostolic works of the Jesuits, and who encourages all to continue in the path opened by your holy founder and walked by innumerable hosts of your brothers dedicated to the cause of Christ, many of whom are inscribed by the Church among its saints and blessed. From heaven, may they protect and sustain the Society of Jesus in the mission which it carries out in this our current age, marked by numerous and complex social, cultural and religious challenges.

Indeed regarding this theme, how can one not recognize the valid contribution that the Society offers to the Church's activity in various fields and in many ways? Truly a great and meritorious contribution, one that only the Lord will be able to rightly reward! As did my venerated predecessors, the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II, I too gladly wish to take this opportunity of a General Congregation to bring such a contribution to light and, at the same time, to offer for your common reflection some considerations which might be of encouragement for you and a stimulus to implement ever better the ideal of the Society, in full fidelity to the magisterium of the Church, such as described in the following formula which is well familiar to you: "To serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth" ("Apostolic Letter Exposcit Debitum," July, 21, 1550).

One treats here of a "peculiar" fidelity confirmed also, by not a few among you, in a vow of immediate obedience to the Successor of Peter "perinde ac cadaver." The Church has even more need today of this fidelity of yours, which constitutes a distinctive sign of your order, in this era which warns of the urgency of transmitting in an integral manner to our contemporaries -- distracted by many discordant voices -- the unique and immutable message of salvation which is the Gospel, "not as the word of men, but as it truly is, as the word of God," which works in those who believe.

That this might come to pass, it is indispensable -- as earlier the beloved John Paul II reminded participants of the 34th General Congregation -- that the life of the members of the Society of Jesus, as also their doctrinal research, be always animated by a true spirit of faith and communion in "humble fidelity to the teachings of the magisterium" (Insegnamenti, vol. I, pp. 25-32). I heartily hope that the present Congregation affirms with clarity the authentic charism of the founder so as to encourage all Jesuits to promote true and healthy Catholic doctrine.

As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I had the opportunity to appreciate the valid collaboration of Jesuit consultors and experts, who, in full fidelity to their charism, contributed in a considerable way to the faithful promotion and reception of the magisterium. Certainly this is not a simple undertaking, especially when called to announce the Gospel in very different social and cultural contexts and when having to deal with different mentalities. I therefore sincerely appreciate such labor placed at the service of Christ, labor which is fruitful for the true good of souls in the measure in which one lets oneself be guided by the Spirit, remaining humble as regard the teachings of the magisterium, having reference to those key principles of the ecclesial vocation of the theologian which are delineated in the instruction "Donum Veritatis."

The evangelizing work of the Church very much counts on the formative responsibility that the Society has in the areas of theology, of spirituality and of mission. And, really so as to offer the entire Society of Jesus a clear orientation which might be a support for generous and faithful apostolic dedication, it could prove extremely useful that the General Congregation reaffirm, in the spirit of St. Ignatius, its own total adhesion to Catholic doctrine, in particular on those neuralgic points which today are strongly attacked by secular culture, as for example the relationship between Christ and religions; some aspects of the theology of liberation; and various points of sexual morality, especially as regards the indissolubility of marriage and the pastoral care of homosexual persons.

Reverend and dear Father, I am convinced that the Society senses the historic importance of this General Congregation and, guided by the Holy Spirit, wants once again -- as the beloved John Paul II said in January 1995 -- to reaffirm "unequivocally and without any hesitation its specific way to God, which St. Ignatius sketched in the 'Formula Instituti': loving fidelity to your charism will be the certain source of renewed effectiveness" (Insegnamenti, vol. XVIII/1, 1995, p. 26).

Furthermore, the words my venerated Predecessor Paul VI directed to the Society in another analogous circumstance appear so very current: "All of us must be vigilant so that the necessary adaptation will not be accomplished to the detriment of the fundamental identity or essential character of the role of the Jesuit as is described in the 'Formula Instituti' as the history and particular spirituality of the Order propose it, and as the authentic interpretation of the very needs of the times seem still to require it. This image must not be altered; it must not be distorted." (Insegnamenti, vol. XII, 1974, pp. 1181-1182)

The continuity of the teachings of the Successors of Peter stands to demonstrate the great attention and care which they show toward the Jesuits, their esteem for you and the desire to be able to count always on the precious contribution of the Society to the life of the Church and to the evangelization of the world. I entrust the General Congregation and the entire Society of Jesus to the intercession of your holy founder and the saints of your Order, and to the maternal protection of Mary, so that every spiritual son of St. Ignatius might be able to keep before his eyes "first of all God and then the nature of this his institute" ("Formula Instituti," 1). With such sentiments, I assure you of a constant remembrance in prayer and in a heartfelt way I impart to you, Reverend Father, and to the fathers of the General Congregation and to the entire Society of Jesus, a special apostolic blessing.

Vatican, Jan. 10, 2008

Benedict PP XVI

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Papal Address to Finnish Ecumenical Delegation
"Christian Unity Is a Gift From Above"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 18, 2007.- Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today in English upon receiving in audience members of the ecumenical delegation from Finland on the occasion of the feast of St. Henrik, patron of the nation.

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Distinguished Friends from Finland,

I am pleased to greet your ecumenical delegation as you make your traditional yearly visit to Rome on the occasion of the feast of Saint Henrik, Patron of Finland. I extend a warm welcome to Bishop Mâkinen and Bishop Wróbel, and to all members of your group.

Your visit coincides with the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In fact, this year marks the hundredth anniversary of its inauguration, by Father Paul Wattson, as the "Church Unity Octave".

In some sense, the Week of Prayer traces its origins to the eve of Jesus’ suffering and death, when he prayed for his disciples: "that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21). Christian unity is a gift from above, stemming from and growing towards loving communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The joint prayer of Lutherans and Catholics from Finland is a humble but faithful sharing in the prayer of Jesus, who promised that every prayer raised to the Father in his name would be heard (cf. Jn 15:7). This indeed is the royal door of ecumenism: such prayer leads us to look at the Kingdom of God and the unity of the Church in a fresh way; it reinforces our bonds of communion; and it enables us to face courageously the painful memories, social burdens and human weaknesses that are so much a part of our divisions.

The appeal to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17), which stands at the heart of the readings for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, also reminds us that authentic life in communion is possible only when doctrinal agreements and formal statements are constantly guided by the light of the Holy Spirit. We must be grateful for the fruits of the Nordic Lutheran-Catholic theological dialogue in Finland and Sweden concerning central matters of the Christian faith, including the question of justification in the life of the Church. May the ongoing dialogue lead to practical results in actions which express and build up our unity in Christ and therefore strengthen relationships between Christians.

Last year, Finland commemorated the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of the theologian Mikael Agricola, whose translation of the Bible had an immense impact on Finnish language and literature. This occasion emphasized anew the importance of Scripture for the Church, for individual Christians and for the whole of society. Truly, the Word of God is the foundation for our life; as Saint Jerome said: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Jesus Christ" (Comm. in Isaias, Prol.). Encountering the Word of God, especially as it resounds in the Church and in her liturgy, is also important for our ecumenical journey. As the Second Vatican Council stated, "By this Word sacred theology is most firmly strengthened and constantly rejuvenated, as it searches out, under the light of faith, the full truth stored up in the mystery of Christ" (Dei Verbum, 24).

Dear friends, it is my fervent hope that your visit to Rome will bring you much joy as you recall the witness of the first Christians, and particularly the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, the founding apostles of the Church of Rome. Saint Henrik followed in their footsteps, bringing the Gospel message and its saving power to the lives of the Nordic peoples. In the new and challenging circumstances of Europe today, and within your own country, there is much that Lutherans and Catholics can do together in the service of the Gospel and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
With these sentiments, and with affection in the Lord, I invoke upon you and your loved ones God’s blessings of joy and peace.

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St. Augustine's Last Days
"Though the World Grows Old, Christ Is Forever Young"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 16, 2007 JAN. 16, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection is the second in a series on St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, as I did last Wednesday, I would like to discuss the great bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine. Four years before he died, he wanted to nominate his successor. To this end, on Sept. 26, 426, he gathered the people in the Basilica of Peace in Hippo so he could present them with his choice for this task.

He said: "We are all mortal, but no individual can be sure of his last day in this life. In any case, in childhood we hope to reach adolescence, in adolescence we aspire toward adulthood, in adulthood toward middle age and in middle age we look to reaching old age. We are never sure we will get there, but that is our hope.

"Old age, however, is not followed by another stage of life toward which we can aspire; its duration is unknown. I arrived in this city in the vigor of my life, but now my youth has gone and I am an old man" (Ep. 213,1).

At this point Augustine told them the name of his chosen successor, the priest Heracles. The people burst into applause of approval and repeated 23 times: "Thanks be to God! Praise be to Christ!" They continued to exclaim approval when Augustine told them of his plans for the future. He wanted to dedicate his remaining years to a deeper study of holy Scripture (Ep. 213,6).

The following four years were indeed of an extraordinary intellectual activity: Augustine carried out important works, he undertook new ones that were no less demanding, he held discussions with the heretics -- he always sought dialogue -- and he intervened to promote peace in the African provinces that were harassed by the southern barbarian tribes.

For this reason he wrote to Count Darius, who had come to Africa to put an end to the disagreement between Count Boniface and the Imperial Court, which the Mauri tribes were taking advantage of for their raids. "A greater title for glory," he affirmed in his letter, "is to kill war with words, rather than to kill men with the sword, and to get or maintain peace through peace and not through war. Certainly the fighters, if they are good, are also seeking peace, but at the cost of shedding blood. You, on the contrary, have been sent to prevent blood being spilt on any side" (Ep. 229, 2).

Unfortunately, the hope for peace in the African territories was not fulfilled: In May 429, the Vandals, invited to Africa out of spite by Boniface himself, crossed the Gibraltar strait and entered Mauritania. The invasion rapidly spread to other rich African provinces. In May or June 430, "the destroyers of the Roman Empire," as Possidius called these barbarians ("Vita," 30,1), laid siege to Hippo.

Boniface also sought shelter in town; he had reconciled too late with the Court and was now trying to stop the invaders, but to no avail. The biographer Possidius describes Augustine's pain: "More than usual, his tears became his bread day and night, and arriving almost to the end of his life, he was, more than others, dragging his old age into bitterness and mourning" ("Vita," 28,6). He explains: "That man of God was in fact witnessing the massacre and destruction of the cities; homes in the countryside destroyed and residents killed by the enemy, or forced to flee; churches deprived of their priests and ministers; sacred virgins and monks displaced; among them, some were tortured and killed, others murdered by the sword, others taken prisoners; they lost faith and the integrity of their soul and body, reduced to a grievous and long slavery by their enemies" (ibid., 28,8).

Despite being old and tired, Augustine remained strong, providing comfort for himself and others through prayer and meditation on the mysteries of God's will. He spoke of "the world's old age" -- and this Roman world really was old. He spoke of this old age as he had done years earlier to console the Italian refugees when the Goths from Alaric invaded the city of Rome. In old age sickness abounds: coughs, catarrh, anxiety, exhaustion. Though the world grows old, Christ is forever young.

So he invited them: "Don't refuse to be young again united with Christ, even in an old world. He tells you: Do not fear, your youth will be renewed like the eagle's youth" (cf. Serm. 81,8). Therefore, the Christian should not be let down even in difficult situations, but he must help those in need. This is what the great doctor advised, answering Honoratus, bishop of Tiabe, who had asked him whether a bishop, a priest or any man of Church could flee to save his life when under barbarian invasions: "When the danger is shared by all -- bishops, clergymen and laymen -- those in need should not be left alone. In this case they should all be transferred to safe places; but if some need to stay, they should not be left alone by those who have the duty to assist them with the sacred ministry, so either they all save themselves together, or together they bear the disaster that the Father wants them to suffer" (Ep. 228, 2).

And he concluded: "This is the supreme test of charity" (ibid., 3). How could we not recognize, in these words, the heroic message that many priests have embraced and identified with along the centuries?

Meanwhile, the town of Hippo held fast. Augustine's house-monastery had opened its doors to the colleagues in the episcopate who were seeking refuge. Among them was Possidius, already his disciple, who managed to leave us a direct account of those final, dramatic days. "In the third month of that siege," he tells us, "he was struck by fever: That was his last illness" ("Vita," 29,3). The holy, venerable, old man decided to dedicate his remaining time to intense prayer. He used to affirm that no one, bishop, monk or layman, however irreproachable his conduct may have been, could confront death without adequate penitence. That's why between tears he continually repeated the penitential psalms, that he had so often recited with his people (cf. ibid., 31,2).

As he worsened, the more the dying bishop felt the need for solitude and prayer: "About 10 days before he left his body, in order not to be troubled in his concentration, he begged us to not let anyone enter his room outside of the medical visiting hours or the eating time schedule. His wishes were carried out and during all that time he prayed" (ibid., 31,3). He died Aug. 28, 430: His great heart finally rested in God.

"We assisted in the removal of his body," Possidius informs us, "dedicated to God, and then he was buried" (Life, 31,5). At a certain point -- date unknown -- his body was transferred to Sardinia, and from there to Pavia around 725, to the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'oro, where he rests today.

His first biographer has the following conclusive judgment about him: "He left a large clergy to the Church, as well as male and female monasteries with people dedicated to the obedience of their superiors. He left us libraries with books and speeches by him and other holy men from which, with God's grace, we can deduce his merit and stature in the Church, and in which the faithful always rediscover him" (Possidius, "Vita," 31, 8).

We can associate ourselves with this judgment: In his writings we also "rediscover him." When I read St. Augustine's works, I don't have the impression that he died more or less 1,600 years ago, I feel he is a modern man: a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, he speaks to us with his fresh and modern faith.

In St. Augustine, who speaks to us -- who speaks to me at us in his writings -- we see the permanent actuality of his faith; of the faith that comes from Christ, eternal word made flesh, Son of God and son of man. This faith does not belong to yesterday, though it was preached yesterday. It is always of today, because Christ is truly yesterday, today and always. He is the way, the truth and the life. St. Augustine encourages to entrust ourselves to the living Christ and to find through him the way to life.

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis this week is again centred on the life and writings of the great Doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine. Some four years before he died, Augustine designated his successor in the See of Hippo, desiring to devote the rest of his life to the study of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, those proved to be years of extraordinary activity, as the aged Bishop sought to reconcile divided Christians and to bring peace to the troubled African provinces of the Empire. During the Vandal invasion of Africa, Augustine found solace in reflection on the mystery of God's providence. The world, he said, is growing old and failing, yet Christ remains eternally young and brings renewed youth to those who put their faith in him. Amid the calamities of the time, he encouraged the clergy not to abandon their flock, but to offer the supreme witness of Christian charity. Augustine died in 431, during the siege of Hippo, having devoted his last days to penance and prayer. At last his great heart found its rest in God. Today, as in past centuries, may Augustine's example and the rich treasury of his writings be a source of instruction, inspiration and strength as the Church makes her pilgrim way to the fullness of God's Kingdom.

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On Christ's Baptism
"Jesus Began Taking Upon Himself the Guilt of All Humanity"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 13, 2008 - 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

With today's feast of the Baptism of Jesus, the liturgical season of Christmas comes to a close. The child, whom the Magi came from the East to venerate in Bethlehem offering their symbolic gifts, we find now as an adult, in the moment in which he is baptized in the Jordan by the great prophet John (cf. Matthew 3:13). The Gospel notes that when Jesus, having received baptism, comes out of the water, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends upon him as a dove (cf. Matthew 3:16). A voice was then heard from heaven that said: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).

That was his first public appearance after 30 years of a hidden life in Nazareth. The eyewitnesses of this singular event were, besides the Baptist, his disciples, some of whom would from that moment become followers of Christ (cf. John 1:35-40). We have at the same time a Christophany and Theophany: Above all, Jesus manifests himself as the "Christ," the Greek term that is used as the translation of the Hebrew "Messiah," which means "anointed." He was not anointed with oil, in the matter of the kings and high priests of Israel, but with the Holy Spirit. At the same time, together with the Son of God, there appeared the signs of the Holy Spirit and of the heavenly Father.

What is the meaning of this deed, which Jesus wanted to accomplish, overcoming the resistance of the Baptist, to obey the Father's will (cf. Matthew 3:14-15)? The profound meaning will emerge only at the end of the earthly event of Christ, that is, in his death and resurrection. Receiving baptism from John together with sinners, Jesus began taking upon himself the weight of the guilt of all humanity, as the Lamb of God who "takes away" the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29).

This is a task that he will only bring to completion on the cross, where he also receives his "baptism" (cf. Luke 12:50). Dying, in fact, he "immerses" himself in the love of the Father and pours out the Spirit so that those who believe in him can be reborn from that inexhaustible font of new and eternal life. Christ's whole mission is summarized in this: We are baptized in the Holy Spirit to be liberated from the slavery of death and "have the heavens opened to us," that is, have access to the true and full life, which will be "a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy" ("Spe Salvi," No. 12).

This is also what happened for the 13 babies to whom I administered the sacrament of baptism this morning in the Sistine Chapel. For them and for their families we invoke the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy. And we pray for all Christians, that they may understand more and more the gift of baptism and commit themselves to living it with consistency, witnessing to the love of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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Papal Address to Gift of Mary House
"God Always Comes to Meet Our Needs"

ROME, JAN. 11, 2008 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's Jan. 4 address to the Gift of Mary House run by the Missionaries of Charity in the Vatican. The translation from the original Italian was provided by L'Osservatore Romano.

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Dear Friends,

I have come to pay you a visit at the beginning of the new year while we are still breathing the family atmosphere of Christmas, and I immediately take this opportunity to express to you all my most fervent and cordial good wishes.

I greet with affection those of you present here together with those in the other rooms of this house, which is called "Gift of Mary," who are watching us and are joining in by means of television link-up.

For many years, when I was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I would spend several hours of the day near your praiseworthy institution, desired by my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, and entrusted by him to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Thus, I was able to appreciate the generous service of Gospel charity which the Missionaries of Charity have been carrying out for almost 20 years now with the help and collaboration of many people of good will.

I am here with you today to renew my gratitude to the sisters, the volunteer workers and the various collaborators.

I am here above all to express my spiritual closeness to you, dear friends, who in this house find a loving welcome, attention, understanding and daily support, both material and spiritual. I am here to tell you that the Pope loves you and is close to you.

I thank the superior of the Missionaries of Charity who is ending her service and has expressed your common sentiments, addressing kind words of welcome to me on behalf of all.

I greet the new superior who is taking on responsibility for the house with that style of docile availability which is typical of the spiritual daughters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

To experience the Virgin's love

When this house was founded, Blessed Mother Teresa desired to call it "Gift of Mary," hoping, as it were, that it might always be possible to experience in it the love of the Blessed Virgin.

For anyone who knocks at the door, it is in fact a gift of Mary to feel welcomed by the loving arms of the sisters and volunteers.

The presence of those who are ready to listen to people in difficulty and serve them with that very attitude which impelled Mary to go straightaway to St. Elizabeth is another gift of Mary.

May this style of Gospel love always seal and distinguish your vocation so that, in addition to material aid, you may communicate to all whom you meet daily on your path that same passion for Christ and that shining "smile of God" which enlivened Mother Teresa's life.

Mother Teresa used to like to say: It is Christmas every time we allow Jesus to love others through us. Christmas is a mystery of love, the mystery of Love.

The Christmas season, re-presenting the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem for our contemplation, shows us the infinite goodness of God who, by making himself a child, desired to satisfy the needs of human poverty and loneliness; he accepted to dwell among us, sharing our daily difficulties; he did not hesitate to bear with us the burden of existence with its effort and anxiety.

He was born for us in order to stay with us and to offer to each one who opens to him the door of his or her heart the gift of his joy, his peace, his love.

Since he was born in a grotto, because there was no room for him elsewhere, Jesus experienced the hardships that many of you yourselves experience.

Christmas helps us understand that God never abandons us and always comes to meet our needs. He protects us and is concerned with each one of us, because every person, especially the lowliest and most defenseless, is precious in the eyes of the Father, rich in tenderness and mercy.

For us and for our salvation he sent into the world his Son, whom we contemplate in the mystery of Christmas as the Emmanuel, God-with-us.

With these sentiments, I renew to you all my most fervent good wishes for the New Year which has just begun, assuring you of my daily remembrance in prayer. And as I invoke the motherly protection of Mary, Mother of Christ and our Mother, I affectionately impart my blessing to you all.

[After his Visit the Pope spoke to the male and female religious communities prior to his departure:]

Dear sisters and dear brothers,

I greet you with affection and I thank you for your warm welcome. Please convey my most cordial greeting to Sister Nirmala and assure her of my prayers for you and for the Congregation.

I am happy to meet together the superior-generals of the two male branches of the family founded by Blessed Mother Teresa, the Missionaries of Charity Fathers and the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative Brothers.

I also greet with warm cordiality the lay collaborators and guests present here, extending my appreciation to all those who offer their service in this place to ensure that the guests may feel as though they were at home.

All together, you form a chain of Christian charity without which this house, like any voluntary work, could neither exist nor continue to serve so many forms of hardship and need.

I therefore express my gratitude and encouragement to each and every one of you, for I know that all you do here for every brother and sister, you do for Christ himself.

House for the poor beside Peter

The visit I wanted to make today comes in continuation with the numerous visits of my beloved Predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II. He was very eager to have this house to welcome the poorest of the poor precisely here where the center of the Church is located, beside Peter who served, followed and loved the Lord Jesus.

Our meeting is taking place almost 20 years after the construction and inauguration of this home within the Leonine Walls. Indeed, it was on May 21, 1988, that beloved John Paul II inaugurated this "Gift of Mary."

How many gestures of sharing, of concrete charity, have been made in these years within these walls! They are a sign and an example for Christian communities so that they may pledge to be communities that are always welcoming and open.

At the beginning of the New Year, the beautiful name of this house, "Gift of Mary," invites us to make a tireless gift of our lives.

May the Virgin Mary, who offered the whole of herself to the Almighty and was filled with every grace and blessing with the coming of the Son of God, teach us to make our existence a daily gift to God the Father at the service of our brethren as we listen to his Word and his will.

And just as the holy Magi came from afar to adore the Messiah-King, may you too go forth on the highways of the world, dear brothers and sisters, following Mother Teresa's example, always witnessing joyfully to the love of Jesus, especially for the least and for the poor, and may your blessed foundress accompany and protect you from heaven.

I warmly renew the apostolic blessing to you who are present here, to the guests of the house and to all your collaborators.

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On Saint Augustine
"All the Roads of Christian Latin Literature Lead to Hippo"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection is the first in a series on St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

After the Christmas holidays I would like to turn to the meditations on the Fathers of the Church and speak today of the greatest Father of the Latin Church, St. Augustine: a man of passion and faith, of high intelligence and untiring pastoral zeal. This great saint and doctor of the Church is often well-known, at least by name, even by those who ignore Christianity, or who are little acquainted with it, because he made a deep impression on the cultural life of the Western world, and the world in general.

Due to his exceptional importance, St. Augustine has been enormously influential, so much so that it could be said, on one hand, that all the roads of Christian Latin literature lead to Hippo (today’s Annaba, on the Algerian coast), the place where he was a bishop, and on the other hand, that from this town of Roman Africa, where Augustine was bishop from 395 to 430, branch out many other roads of future Christianity and of Western culture itself.

Rarely has a civilization encountered a figure so great, capable of embracing its values and of proclaiming its intrinsic richness, formulating ideas and methods that serve to nurture successive generations, as Paul VI also emphasized: "One can say all of antiquity’s philosophy converge in his work, and from it derive currents of thought pervading the doctrinal tradition of the next centuries" (AAS, 62, 1970, p. 426).

Moreover, Augustine is the Father of the Church who has left the greatest number of writings. His biographer Possidius says: It seemed impossible that a man could write so much during his life. We will talk about his various works in a future session. Today we will focus on his life, a life that we can reconstruct from his writings, and in particular from the "Confessions," his extraordinary spiritual autobiography written in praise of God, and which is his most popular work.

Precisely because of the attention paid to interiority and psychology, Augustine's "Confessions" is a unique model in Western and non-Western literature, even including nonreligious literature, right through to modern times. The focus on spiritual life, on the mystery of self, on the mystery of God that hides in the self, is an extraordinary thing without precedent and remains, so to speak, a spiritual "vertex."

But, returning to his life, Augustine was born in Tagaste -- in the Roman province of Africa -- on Nov. 13, 354, to Patrick, a pagan who then became a catechumen, and Monica, a zealous Christian. This passionate woman, venerated as a saint, was a big influence on her son and educated him in the Christian belief. Augustine also received salt, as a mark of welcome in the catechumenate. He was always charmed by the figure of Jesus Christ; he says he had always loved Jesus, but he had grown more and more apart from the faith and practice of the Church, as happens with a lot of young people today.

Augustine also had a brother, Navigius, and a sister, whose name we do not know, and who, when widowed, became the head of a female monastery.

Augustine had a sharp intelligence and received a good education, though he was not always a model student. He studied grammar, first in his hometown and then in Madaurus, and beginning in 370 he took rhetoric in Carthage, capital of Roman Africa. He came to master Latin, but did not do as well in Greek or Punic, the language of his fellow countrymen.

It was in Carthage that he read "Hortensius" for the first time, a work by Cicero -- subsequently lost -- and which started him on the road to conversion. The text awakened in him a love of wisdom, as confirmed in his writings as a bishop in the "Confessions": "The book changed my feelings," so much so that "suddenly, every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardor in my heart" (III, 4, 7).

But, since he was convinced that without Jesus truth cannot really be found, and because in that fascinating book his name was missing, he immediately set to reading Scripture, the Bible. But he was disappointed. Not only was the Latin translation of the sacred Scripture insufficient, but also the content itself did not seem satisfactory.

In the narrations of wars and other human events, he could not find the heights of philosophy, the splendor of its search for the truth. Nevertheless, he did not want to live without God, and so he sought a religion that matched his desire for truth and his desire to be close to Jesus.

He fell into the net of the Manichaeans, who presented themselves as Christians and promised a totally rational religion. They confirmed that the world is divided into two principles: that of good and evil. This explained the complexity of human history. St. Augustine also liked the dualistic morality, because it entailed a very high morality for the chosen ones: and for those, like him, who adhered to it, it was possible to live a life more suited to the times, especially for a young man. He therefore became a Manichaean, convinced that he had found the synthesis between rationality, the search for the truth and the love of Jesus Christ.

And his private life benefited as well: Being a Manichaean opened career possibilities. To adhere to this religion, which included many influential personalities, allowed him to pursue a relationship he started with a woman, and to continue his career.

With this woman he had a son, Adeodatus, who was very dear to him, extremely intelligent, and who later on will be present in Augustine's preparation for baptism in Lake Como, forming part of the "Dialogues" that St. Augustine has passed on to us. Unfortunately, the boy died prematurely.

After teaching grammar in his hometown at the age of 20, he soon returned to Carthage, where he became a brilliant and celebrated master of rhetoric. With time, however, Augustine distanced himself from the Manichaean faith. It disappointed him intellectually as it was not capable of resolving his doubts. He moved to Rome, and then to Milan, where he obtained a prestigious place in the imperial court, thanks to the recommendations of the prefect of Rome, the pagan Symmachus, who was hostile to the bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose.

At first with the purpose of enriching his rhetorical repertoire, Augustine began attending the impressive lectures of Bishop Ambrose, who had been a representative of the emperor in Northern Italy; he was charmed by his words, not only because of their eloquence, but because they touched his heart. The main problem of the Old Testament -- the lack of oratory and philosophical elevation -- resolved itself in the lectures of St. Ambrose thanks to the typological interpretation of the Old Testament: Augustine understood that the Old Testament is a journey toward Jesus Christ. So he found the key to understanding the beauty, the philosophic depth of the Old Testament, and he understood the unity of the mystery of Christ in history, as well as the synthesis between philosophy, rationality and faith in the Logos, in Christ, the eternal Word that became flesh.

Quickly, Augustine realized the allegorical reading of Scripture and the Neoplatonic philosophy practiced by the bishop of Milan helped him resolve the intellectual difficulties he encountered at a younger age, when he first approached the biblical texts, which he believed to be insuperable.

Augustine continued to read the writings of the philosophers along with Scripture, and especially the letters of St. Paul. His conversion to Christianity, Aug. 15, 386, is therefore placed at the apex of a long and tormented inner journey of which we will speak in another catechesis; The African moved to the country north of Milan near Lake Como -- with his mother Monica, his son Adeodatus, and a small group of friends -- to get ready for baptism. At 32, Augustine was christened by Ambrose on April 24, 387, during Easter vigil in the Milan Cathedral.

After his baptism Augustine decided to return to Africa with his friends, with the idea of putting into practice a communal monastic life, in the service of God. But in Ostia, while waiting to leave, his mother suddenly fell sick and a little later died, leaving her son's heart in torment.

Back in his homeland he settled in Hippo to found a monastery. In this town on the African coast he was ordained presbyter in 391, despite his refusal, and began a monastic life with some companions, dividing his time between praying, studying and preaching. He wanted to serve truth alone, he didn’t feel called to the pastoral life; then he understood that God’s call was to be a shepherd among others, and to offer the others the gift of truth.

Four years later, in 395, he was consecrated bishop in Hippo. Deepening the study of Scripture and the texts of the Christian tradition, Augustine was an exemplary bishop in his untiring pastoral commitment: He preached to the faithful several times a week, he helped the poor and the orphans, he followed the education of the clergy and the organization of female and male monasteries.

In short, he affirmed himself as one of the most important representatives of Christianity of the time: Very active in the administration of his diocese -- with considerable civic results too -- in more than 35 years of episcopate, the bishop of Hippo had an immense influence in the leadership of the Catholic Church in Roman Africa and, in general, in the Christianity of his time, facing Manichaeism, Donatism and Pelagianism, which were endangering the Christian faith and the one and only God full of grace.

Augustine entrusted himself to God every day, right up until the very end of his life. He was struck by fever, while Hippo was being besieged by invaders. The bishop -- as his friend Possidius tells us in the "Vita Augustini" -- asked to transcribe in large characters the penitential psalms, "and he had the sheets pinned to the wall, so that during his illness he could read them while in bed, and he cried endlessly warm tears" (31,2); this is how Augustine spent his last days. He died on Aug. 28, 430, at the age of 75. We will dedicate the next sessions to his works, his message and his interior experience.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our weekly catechesis, we now turn to the towering figure of Saint Augustine of Hippo. The great intellectual heritage of antiquity found expression in Augustine’s many writings, which then became a rich source of inspiration and teaching for centuries to come. Augustine’s spiritual autobiography -- "The Confessions" -- tells the story of his Christian upbringing, his secular education, his decision to devote his life to the pursuit of truth, and his eventual abandonment of the faith. Attracted at first by Manichean dualism, he gradually recovered the faith of his childhood, thanks to the prayers of his mother, Saint Monica, and the brilliant teaching of Saint Ambrose, then Bishop of Milan. "The Confessions" recount the tormented interior journey which led to his moral and intellectual conversion, culminating in his baptism by Ambrose. Returning to Africa to lead a monastic life, Augustine became a priest and then the Bishop of Hippo. In his thirty years as Bishop, he proved himself an exemplary pastor, an assiduous preacher and an influential champion of the Catholic faith. In coming weeks, we will turn our attention to the writings and the thought of this great Doctor of the Church.

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially the student groups from Australia and the United States. I greet the group of deacons from the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and I thank the choir for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.

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Benedict XVI's Address to Ambassadors
"Diplomacy Must Give Hope"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 7, 2008 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's traditional New Year's address to ambassadors to the Holy See. The Pope gave the message today.

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Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I extend cordial greetings to your Dean, Ambassador Giovanni Galassi, and I thank him for the kind words that he has addressed to me in the name of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. To each of you I offer respectful greetings, particularly to those who are present at this meeting for the first time. Through you, I express my fervent prayers for the peoples and governments that you represent with such dignity and competence. Your community suffered a bereavement some weeks ago: the Ambassador of France, Monsieur Bernard Kessedjian, ended his earthly pilgrimage; may the Lord welcome him into his peace! My thoughts today go especially to the nations that have yet to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See: they too have a place in the Pope's heart. The Church is profoundly convinced that humanity is a family, as I wanted to emphasize in this year's World Day of Peace Message.

2. It was in a family spirit that diplomatic relations were established last year with the United Arab Emirates. In the same spirit, I was also able to visit certain countries that I hold dear. The enthusiastic welcome that I received from the Brazilians continues to warm my heart! In that country, I had the joy of meeting the representatives of the great family of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, gathered at Aparecida for the Fifth General Conference of CELAM. In the economic and social sphere, I was able to note eloquent signs of hope for that continent, as well as certain reasons for concern. We all look forward to seeing increasing cooperation among the peoples of Latin America, and, within each of the countries that make up that continent, the resolution of internal conflicts, leading to a consensus on the great values inspired by the Gospel. I wish to mention Cuba, which is preparing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the visit of my venerable Predecessor. Pope John Paul II was received with affection by the authorities and by the people, and he encouraged all Cubans to work together for a better future. I should like to reiterate this message of hope, which has lost none of its relevance.

3. My thoughts and prayers are directed especially towards the peoples affected by appalling natural disasters. I am thinking of the hurricanes and floods which have devastated certain regions of Mexico and Central America, as well as countries in Africa and Asia, especially Bangladesh, and parts of Oceania; mention must also be made of the great fires. The Cardinal Secretary of State, who went to Peru at the end of August, brought me a first-hand account of the destruction and havoc caused by the terrible earthquake, but he spoke also of the courage and faith of the peoples affected. In the face of tragic events of this kind, a strong joint effort is needed. As I wrote in my Encyclical on hope, "the true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society" (Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, 38).

4. The international community continues to be deeply concerned about the Middle East. I am glad that the Annapolis Conference pointed towards the abandonment of partisan or unilateral solutions, in favour of a global approach respectful of the rights and legitimate interests of all the peoples of the region. I appeal once more to the Israelis and the Palestinians to concentrate their energies on the implementation of commitments made on that occasion, and to expedite the process that has happily been restarted. Moreover, I invite the international community to give strong support to these two peoples and to understand their respective sufferings and fears. Who can remain unmoved by the plight of Lebanon, amid its trials and all the violence that continues to shake that beloved country? It is my earnest wish that the Lebanese people will be able to decide freely on their future and I ask the Lord to enlighten them, beginning with the leaders of public life, so that, putting aside particular interests, they will be ready to pledge themselves to the path of dialogue and reconciliation. Only in this way will the country be able to progress in stability and to become once more an example of the peaceful coexistence of different communities. In Iraq too, reconciliation is urgently needed! At present, terrorist attacks, threats and violence continue, especially against the Christian community, and the news which arrived yesterday confirms our concern; it is clear that certain difficult political issues remain unresolved. In this context, an appropriate constitutional reform will need to safeguard the rights of minorities. Important humanitarian aid is necessary for the peoples affected by the war; I am thinking especially of displaced persons within the country and refugees who have fled abroad, among whom there are many Christians. I invite the international community to be generous towards them and towards their host countries, whose capacities to absorb them have been sorely tested. I should also like to express my support for continued and uninterrupted pursuit of the path of diplomacy in order to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear programme, by negotiating in good faith, adopting measures designed to increase transparency and mutual trust, and always taking account of the authentic needs of peoples and the common good of the human family.

5. Turning our gaze now towards the whole of Asia, I should like to draw your attention to some other crisis situations, first of all to Pakistan, which has suffered from serious violence in recent months. I hope that all political and social forces will commit themselves to building a peaceful society, respectful of the rights of all. In Afghanistan, in addition to violence, there are other serious social problems, such as the production of drugs; greater support should be given to efforts for development, and even more intensive work is required in order to build a serene future. In Sri Lanka it is no longer possible to postpone further the decisive efforts needed to remedy the immense sufferings caused by the continuing conflict. And I ask the Lord to grant that in Myanmar, with the support of the international community, a season of dialogue between the Government and the opposition will begin, ensuring true respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

6. Turning now to Africa, I should like first of all to reiterate my deep anguish, on observing that hope seems almost vanquished by the menacing sequence of hunger and death that is unfolding in Darfur. With all my heart I pray that the joint operation of the United Nations and the African Union, whose mission has just begun, will bring aid and comfort to the suffering populations. The peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo is encountering strong resistance in the vicinity of the Great Lakes, especially in the Eastern regions, while Somalia, particularly Mogadishu, continues to be afflicted by violence and poverty. I appeal to the parties in conflict to cease their military operations, to facilitate the movement of humanitarian aid and to respect civilians. In recent days Kenya has experienced an abrupt outbreak of violence. I join the Bishops in their appeal made on 2 January, inviting all the inhabitants, especially political leaders, to seek a peaceful solution through dialogue, based on justice and fraternity. The Catholic Church is not indifferent to the cries of pain that rise up from these regions. She makes her own the pleas for help made by refugees and displaced persons, and she pledges herself to foster reconciliation, justice and peace. This year, Ethiopia is marking the start of the third Christian millennium, and I am sure that the celebrations organized for this occasion will also help to recall the immense social and apostolic work carried out by Christians in Africa.

7. And finally, focussing upon Europe, I rejoice at the progress that has been made in various countries of the Balkan region, and I express once again the hope that the definitive status of Kosovo will take account of the legitimate claims of the parties involved and will guarantee security and respect for the rights of all the inhabitants of this land, so that the spectre of violence will be definitively removed and European stability strengthened. I should like also to mention Cyprus, recalling with joy the visit of His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos II last June. It is my earnest wish that, in the context of the European Union, no effort will be spared in the search for a solution to a crisis that has already lasted too long. Last September, I made a visit to Austria, partly in order to underline the essential contribution that the Catholic Church is able and willing to give to European unification. On the subject of Europe, I would like to assure you that I am following attentively the new phase which began with the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon. This step gives a boost to the process of building the "European home", which "will be a good place to live for everyone only if it is built on a solid cultural and moral foundation of common values drawn from our history and our traditions" (Meeting with the Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps, Vienna, 7 September 2007) and if it does not deny its Christian roots.

8. From this rapid overview it appears clearly that the security and stability of the world are still fragile. The factors of concern are varied, yet they all bear witness to the fact that human freedom is not absolute, but is a good that is shared, one for which all must assume responsibility. It follows that law and order are guarantees of freedom. Yet law can be an effective force for peace only if its foundations remain solidly anchored in natural law, given by the Creator. This is another reason why God can never be excluded from the horizon of man or of history. God's name is a name of justice, it represents an urgent appeal for peace.

9. This realization could help, among other things, to give direction to initiatives for intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. These ever increasing initiatives can foster cooperation on matters of mutual interest, such as the dignity of the human person, the search for the common good, peace-building and development. In this regard, the Holy See attaches particular importance to its participation in high-level dialogue on understanding among religions and cultures and cooperation for peace, within the framework of the 62nd General Assembly of the United Nations (4-5 October 2007). In order to be true, this dialogue must be clear, avoiding relativism and syncretism, while at the same time it must be marked by sincere respect for others and by a spirit of reconciliation and fraternity. The Catholic Church is deeply committed to this goal. It is a pleasure for me to recall once again the letter that was addressed to me, on 13 October last, by 138 Muslim Religious Leaders, and to renew my gratitude for the noble sentiments which were expressed in it.

10. Our society has rightly enshrined the greatness and dignity of the human person in various declarations of rights, formulated in the wake of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted exactly sixty years ago. That solemn act, in the words of Pope Paul VI, was one of the greatest achievements of the United Nations. In every continent the Catholic Church strives to ensure that human rights are not only proclaimed but put into practice. It is to be hoped that agencies created for the defence and promotion of human rights will devote all their energies to this task and, in particular, that the Human Rights Council will be able to meet the expectations generated by its creation.

11. The Holy See for its part never tires of reaffirming these principles and rights, founded on what is essential and permanent in the human person. The Church willingly undertakes this service to the true dignity of human persons, created in the image of God. And on the basis of these considerations, I cannot but deplore once again the continual attacks perpetrated on every continent against human life. I would like to recall, together with many men and women dedicated to research and science, that the new frontiers reached in bioethics do not require us to choose between science and morality: rather, they oblige us to a moral use of science. On the other hand, recalling the appeal made by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the Jubilee Year 2000, I rejoice that on 18 December last the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution calling upon States to institute a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and I earnestly hope that this initiative will lead to public debate on the sacred character of human life. I regret, once again, the disturbing threats to the integrity of the family, founded on the marriage of a man and a woman. Political leaders, of whatever kind, should defend this fundamental institution, the basic cell of society. What more should be said? Even religious freedom, "an essential requirement of the dignity of every person [and] a cornerstone of the structure of human rights" (Message for the 1988 World Day of Peace, Preamble) is often undermined. There are many places where this right cannot be fully exercised. The Holy See defends it, demands that it be universally respected, and views with concern discrimination against Christians and against the followers of other religions.

12. Peace cannot be a mere word or a vain aspiration. Peace is a commitment and a manner of life which demands that the legitimate aspirations of all should be satisfied, such as access to food, water and energy, to medicine and technology, or indeed the monitoring of climate change. Only in this way can we build the future of humanity; only in this way can we facilitate an integral development valid for today and tomorrow. With a particularly felicitous expression, Pope Paul VI stressed forty years ago in his Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, that "development is the new name for peace". Hence, in order to consolidate peace, the positive macroeconomic results achieved by many developing countries during 2007 must be supported by effective social policies and by the implementation of aid commitments by rich countries.

13. Finally, I wish to urge the international community to make a global commitment on security. A joint effort on the part of States to implement all the obligations undertaken and to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction would undoubtedly strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and make it more effective. I welcome the agreement reached on the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, and I encourage the adoption of suitable measures for the reduction of conventional weapons and for dealing with the humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

14. Diplomacy is, in a certain sense, the art of hope. It lives from hope and seeks to discern even its most tenuous signs. Diplomacy must give hope. The celebration of Christmas reminds us each year that, when God became a little child, Hope came to live in our world, in the heart of the human family. Today this certainty becomes a prayer: May God open the hearts of those who govern the family of peoples to the Hope that never disappoints! With these sentiments, I offer to each one of you my very best wishes, so that you, your staff, and the peoples you represent may be enlightened by the Grace and Peace which come to us from the Child of Bethlehem.

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Papal Message to Kenyan Bishops
"The Country Needs Peace Based on Justice and Brotherhood"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 7, 2008 - Here is a text of a message sent to the bishops of Kenya on behalf of Benedict XVI by his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. The note was addressed to Cardinal John Njue, the archbishop of Nairobi and president of the Kenyan episcopal conference.

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Your Eminence,

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has followed with deep sorrow and concern the violence which has broken out in your country, and he has asked me to address this letter to you, in your capacity as the President of the Kenya Episcopal Conference, in order to express his unity and solidarity with your Brother Bishops and all your countrymen, and to assure you of his prayers that this great tragedy will soon come to an end.

The Pope is close in spirit to all the victims of this violence: the many persons who have lost their lives, often atrociously, the grieving members of their families, the wounded, those who are dispossessed or had to abandon their homes, and all those who are threatened and living in fear. Entrusting those who have died to the Lord's mercy, he invites you to reach out generously to all those in distress and need.

It is His Holiness's heartfelt hope that this beloved Nation, whose experience of social tranquility and development represents an element of stability in the entire troubled region, will banish as quickly as possible the threat of ethnic conflict which continues to result in so many crimes in certain parts of Africa.

His Holiness therefore associates himself with the Message My Peace I Give You, which the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Kenya addressed to Christians and to all the people of your country. He pleads for an immediate end to acts of violence and fratricidal conflict. Violence is futile as a means of resolving problems; it only exacerbates them and leads to unprecedented suffering!

The Pope also appeals to political leaders, who are responsible for the common good, and invites them to embark resolutely on the path of peace and justice, since the country needs peace that is based on justice and brotherhood. He encourages them to resolve the present difficulties through dialogue and democratic debate, heeding the practical suggestions which you offered in your Message.

Just a few days ago, at the beginning of the new year, the World Day of Peace was celebrated with the theme: "The Human Family, a Community of Peace". In this context the Holy Father expresses his hope that all Kenyans will work to make their country ever more like a family in which all see themselves as brothers and sisters whose relationships are marked by justice and love. He likewise asks believers to pray tirelessly to God for the great gift of peace. For these intentions he cordially imparts to you, Venerable Brothers, and to all the priests, men and women religious and the faithful a special Apostolic Blessing.

Joining His Holiness in expressing these sentiments, I take this occasion to offer you my warm and respectful greetings.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Card. TARCISIO BERTONE

Secretary of State

From the Vatican, 5 January 2008

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On Mary, Mother of God
"This Woman Is Very Close to Us and Helps Us"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2008  Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience Jan. 2, held in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

A very ancient formula of benediction, reported in the Book of Numbers, says: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord make his countenance to shine upon you and be propitious to you. May the Lord turn his face to you and grant you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). With these words that the liturgy offered for our hearing yesterday, the first day of the year, I would like to formulate cordial greetings to you, here present, and to those who in these Christmas holidays have sent me attestations of affectionate spiritual nearness.

Yesterday we celebrated the solemn feast of Mary, Mother of God. “Mother of God,” “Theotokos,” is the title officially attributed to Mary in the fifth century, exactly by the Council of Ephesus in 431, but affirmed in the devotion of the Christian people already since the third century, in the context of the discussions that arose in that period over the person of Christ. It is underscored, with that title, that Christ is God and he is truly born as man from Mary: thus his unity as true God and true man was preserved. In truth, although the debate seemed to focus on Mary, it essentially regarded the Son. Wanting to safeguard the humanity of Christ, some fathers suggested a more attenuated term: Instead of the title “Theotokos,” they proposed that of “Christotokos,” “Mother of Christ”: Rightly, however, that was seen as a threat to the doctrine of the complete unity of the divinity with the humanity of Christ. For this reason, after ample discussion in the Council of Ephesus of 431, there was solemnly affirmed on one hand, the unity of the two natures, the divine and the human, in the person of the Son of God (cf. DS, No. 250) and, on the other hand, the legitimacy of the attribution to the Virgin the title of “Theotokos,” Mother of God (DS, No. 251).

After this council there is recorded a true explosion of marian devotion and numerous churches were constructed that were dedicated to the Mother of God. Among these, there stands out with primacy the Basilica of Saint Mary Major here in Rome. The doctrine concerning Mary, Mother of God, found further confirmation in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 in which Christ was declared “true God and true man […] born for us and for our salvation from Mary, Virgin and Mother of God, in his humanity” (DS, No. 301). As is known, the Second Vatican Council gathered up the doctrine on Mary in Chapter 8 of the dogmatic constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” reaffirming her divine maternity. The chapter is entitled: “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.”

The title Mother of God, which is so profoundly linked to the Christmas celebrations, is for this reason the fundamental appellation with which the community of believers has, we might say, always honored the Holy Virgin. It expresses very well Mary’s mission in the history of salvation. All of the other titles attributed to the Madonna find their basis in her vocation to be the Mother of the Redeemer, the human creature elected by God to realize the plan of salvation, centered on the great mystery of the incarnation of the divine Word. In these festive days we have paused to contemplate the representation of the Nativity in the crèche. At the center of this scene we find the Virgin Mother who offers the child Jesus to the contemplation of those who come to adore the Savior: the shepherds, the poor folk of Bethlehem, the magi who have come from the East.

Later, on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which we celebrate on Feb. 2, it will be the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna to receive into their arms from the Mother the little Child to adore him. The devotion of the Christian people has always considered the birth of Jesus and the divine maternity of Mary as two aspects of the same mystery of the incarnation of the divine Word and for this reason never considered the Nativity as something of the past. We are “contemporaries” of the shepherds, of the magi, of Simeon and Anna, and while we go with them we are full with joy, because God has desired to be the God with us and he has a mother, who is our mother.

From the title “Mother of God” are drawn all the other titles with which the Church honors Mary, but this one is the fundamental title. We think of the privilege of the “Immaculate Conception,” of being, that is, immune from sin from the moment of her conception: Mary was preserved from every stain of sin because she had to be the Mother of the Redeemer. The same goes for the title “Assumed”: she who gave birth to the Savior could not be subjected to the corruption that comes from original sin. And we know that all these privileges are not given to distance Mary from us, but on the contrary to make her more near; in fact, being totally with God, this Woman is very close to us and helps us as mother and sister. Even the unique and unrepeatable place that Mary has in the community of believers derives from this fundamental vocation of being the Mother of the Redeemer. Precisely as such, Mary is also the Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Justly, then, during the Second Vatican Council, on November 21, 1964, Paul VI solemnly attributed to Mary the title of “Mother of the Church.”

Precisely because Mother of the Church, the Virgin is also Mother of each one of us, who are members of the Mystical Body of Christ. From the cross Jesus entrusted the Mother to each of his disciples and, at the same time, entrusted each of his disciples to the love his Mother. The evangelist John concludes his brief and suggestive account with the words: “And from that moment the disciple took her into his house” (John 19:27). That is how the Greek text is translated in Italian. The Greek says “eis tai dia,” he welcomed her into his own reality, into his being. In this way she is part of his life and the two lives interpenetrate; and this welcoming her (“eis tai dia”) in his own life is the testament of the Lord. Thus, in the supreme moment of the fulfillment of his messianic mission, Jesus leaves to each of his disciples, as a precious inheritance, his own Mother, the Virgin Mary.

Dear brothers and sisters, in these first days of the year we are invited to attentively consider the importance of the presence of Mary in the life of the Church and in our personal existence. Let us entrust ourselves to her that she may guide our steps in the his new period of time that the Lord has given to us to live, and that she may help us to be authentic friends of her Son and thus courageous builders of the his Kingdom in this world, Kingdom of light and of truth. Happy New Year to all! This is the greeting that I desire to address to you here present and to your loved ones in this first general audience of 2008. May the new year, begun under the sign of the Virgin Mary, make us feel her maternal presence with more vivacity, so that, sustained and comforted by the protection of the Virgin, we can contemplate the countenance of her Son Jesus with renewed eyes and walk in the paths of the good with greater vigor.

Once again, Happy New Year to all!

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ANGELUS

On the Epiphany
"The Power of the Holy Spirit That Moves Hearts and Minds"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2008.- 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, on the solemnity of the Epiphany.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, that is, his manifestation to the peoples of the whole world, represented by the Magi who came from the East to pay homage to the king of the Jews. Observing celestial phenomena, these mysterious persons saw a new star rise and, instructed as well by the ancient prophecies, recognized in it the sign of the birth of the Messiah, descendant of David (cf. 2:1-2). From its first appearance, then, the light of Christ began to draw to itself the men "whom God loves" (Luke 2:14), of every language, people and culture. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that moves hearts and minds to seek truth, beauty, justice, peace.

The Servant of God John Paul II affirmed this in his encyclical "Fides et Ratio": "[M]en and women are on a journey of discovery which is humanly unstoppable -- a search for the truth and a search for a person to whom they might entrust themselves" (No. 33): The magi found both of these realities in the child of Bethlehem.

Men and women of every generation, in this their pilgrimage, have need of direction: What star, then, can they follow? After coming to rest "above the place where the child was" (Matthew 2:9), the star that guided the Magi had completed its function, but its spiritual light is ever present in the word of the Gospel, which today too is capable of guiding every man to Jesus. That same word, which is nothing if not the reflection of Christ, true man and true God, is authoritatively echoed by the Church for every well-disposed soul. The Church too, for this reason, carries out for humanity the mission of the star. But something of this sort can be said of every Christian, called to help guide the steps of his brothers by word and the witness of his life.

How important it is, then, that we Christians are faithful to our vocation! Every authentic believer is always on a journey in his personal itinerary of faith and, at the same time, with the little light that he carries in himself, can and must be of help to those he finds at his side and who perhaps have difficulty finding the road that leads to Christ.

As we prepare to say the Angelus, I offer my most cordial greetings to the brothers and sisters of the Eastern Churches who, following the Julian calendar, celebrate holy Christmas tomorrow: It is a great joy to share in the celebration of the mysteries of faith, in the multiform riches of the rites that attest to the bi-millennial history of the Church.

Together with the Christian communities of the East, very devoted to the Holy Mother of God, we invoke Mary's protection of the universal Church, so that the Gospel of Christ spread throughout the whole world, "Lumen Gentium," light of all peoples.

[After the Angelus, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In Italian, he said:]

Today the World Day of Missionary Childhood is celebrated. For more than 160 years, through the initiative of the French bishop Charles de Forbin Janson, the childhood of Jesus has become the icon for the commitment of Christian children who help the Church in her task of evangelization by prayer, sacrifice and gestures of solidarity.

Thousands of children meet the needs of other children, driven by the love that the Son of God, become a child, brought to the earth. I say thanks to these little ones and I pray that they will always be missionaries. I also thank those who assist them, who accompany them along the road of generosity, of fraternity, of joyous faith that generates hope.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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Benedict XVI's Homily on World Day of Peace
"The Natural Family … Is a Cradle of Life and Love"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2008 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered in St. Peter's Basilica on Jan. 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and the 41st World Day of Peace.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, we are beginning a new year and Christian hope takes us by the hand; let us begin it by invoking divine Blessings upon it and imploring, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, the gift of peace: for our families, for our cities, for the whole world. With this hope, I greet all of you present here, starting with the distinguished Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See who have gathered at this celebration on the occasion of the World Day of Peace. I greet Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State, and Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and all members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I am particularly grateful to them for their commitment to spread the Message for the World Day of Peace whose theme this year is: "The human family, a community of peace".

Peace. In the First Reading from the Book of Numbers we heard the invocation: "The Lord... give you peace" (6:26); may the Lord grant peace to each one of you, to your families and to the whole world.?We all aspire to live in peace but true peace, the peace proclaimed by the Angels on Christmas night, is not merely a human triumph or the fruit of political agreements; it is first and foremost a divine gift to be ceaselessly implored, and at the same time a commitment to be carried forward patiently, always remaining docile to the Lord's commands.
Inspired by family values

This year, in my Message for today's World Day of Peace, I wanted to highlight the close relationship that exists between the family and building peace in the world. The natural family, founded on the marriage of a man and a woman, is "a "cradle of life and love'" and "the first and indispensable teacher of peace". For this very reason the family is "the primary "agency' of peace", and "the denial or even the restriction of the rights of the family, by obscuring the truth about man, threatens the very foundations of peace" (cf. Nos. 1-5).?Since humanity is a "great family", if it wants to live in peace it cannot fail to draw inspiration from those values on which the family community is based and stands. The providential coincidence of various recurrences spur us this year to make an even greater effort to achieve peace in the world.

Sixty years ago, in 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations published the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights"; 40 years ago my venerable Predecessor Paul VI celebrated the first World Day of Peace; this year, in addition, we will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Holy See's adoption of the "Charter of the Rights of the Family". "In the light of these significant anniversaries" -- I am repeating here what I wrote precisely at the end of the Message -- "I invite every man and woman to have a more lively sense of belonging to the one human family, and to strive to make human coexistence increasingly reflect this conviction, which is essential for the establishment of true and lasting peace" [No. 15]. ?Our thoughts now turn spontaneously to Our Lady, whom we invoke today as the Mother of God. ?It was Pope Paul VI who moved to 1 January the Feast of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, which was formerly celebrated on 11 October.

Indeed, even before the liturgical reform that followed the Second Vatican Council, the memorial of the circumcision of Jesus on the eighth day after his birth -- as a sign of submission to the law, his official insertion in the Chosen People -- used to be celebrated on the first day of the year and the Feast of the Name of Jesus was celebrated the following Sunday.?We perceive a few traces of these celebrations in the Gospel passage that has just been proclaimed, in which St Luke says that eight days after his birth the Child was circumcised and was given the name "Jesus", "the name given by the Angel before he was conceived in [his Mother's] ... womb" (Luke 2:21). Today's feast, therefore, as well as being a particularly significant Marian feast, also preserves a strongly Christological content because, we might say, before the Mother, it concerns the Son, Jesus, true God and true Man.

Mary's immense privilege

The Apostle Paul refers to the mystery of the divine motherhood of Mary, the "Theotokos," in his Letter to the Galatians. "When the time had fully come", he writes, "God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law" (4:4).?We find the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word and the Divine Motherhood of Mary summed up in a few words: the Virgin's great privilege is precisely to be Mother of the Son who is God.?The most logical and proper place for this Marian feast is therefore eight days after Christmas. Indeed, in the night of Bethlehem, when "she gave birth to her first-born son" (Luke 2:7), the prophesies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled. ?"The virgin shall be with child and bear a son", Isaiah had foretold (7:14); "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son", the Angel Gabriel said to Mary (Luke 1:31); and again, an Angel of the Lord, the Evangelist Matthew recounts, appeared to Joseph in a dream to reassure him and said: "Do not fear to take Mary for your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son" (Matthew 1:20-21).

The title "Mother of God", together with the title "Blessed Virgin", is the oldest on which all the other titles with which Our Lady was venerated are based, and it continues to be invoked from generation to generation in the East and in the West. A multitude of hymns and a wealth of prayers of the Christian tradition refer to the mystery of her divine motherhood, such as, for example, a Marian antiphon of the Christmas season, "Alma Redemptoris mater," with which we pray in these words: "Tu quae genuisti, natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem, Virgo prius ac posterius -- You, in the wonder of all creation, have brought forth your Creator, Mother ever virgin".?Dear brothers and sisters, let us today contemplate Mary, ever-virgin Mother of the Only-Begotten Son of the Father; let us learn from her to welcome the Child who was born for us in Bethlehem. If we recognize in the Child born of her the Eternal Son of God and accept him as our one Saviour, we can be called and we really are children of God: sons in the Son. The Apostle writes: "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).

Same but different Child

The Evangelist Luke repeats several times that Our Lady meditated silently on these extraordinary events in which God had involved her. We also heard this in the short Gospel passage that the Liturgy presents to us today. "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). ?The Greek verb used, "sumbállousa," literally means "piecing together" and makes us think of a great mystery to be discovered little by little. Although the Child lying in a manger looks like all children in the world, at the same time he is totally different: he is the Son of God, he is God, true God and true man. This mystery -- the Incarnation of the Word and the divine Motherhood of Mary -- is great and certainly far from easy to understand with the human mind alone. Yet, by learning from Mary, we can understand with our hearts what our eyes and minds do not manage to perceive or contain on their own. Indeed, this is such a great gift that only through faith are we granted to accept it, while not entirely understanding it.

And it is precisely on this journey of faith that Mary comes to meet us as our support and guide.?She is mother because she brought forth Jesus in the flesh; she is mother because she adhered totally to the Father's will.?St Augustine wrote: "The divine motherhood would have been of no value to her had Christ not borne her in his heart, with a destiny more fortunate than the moment when she conceived him in the flesh" ("De Sancta Virginitate," 3, 3). And in her heart Mary continued to treasure, to "piece together" the subsequent events of which she was to be a witness and protagonist, even to the death on the Cross and the Resurrection of her Son Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is only by pondering in the heart, in other words, by piecing together and finding unity in all we experience, that, following Mary, we can penetrate the mystery of a God who was made man out of love and who calls us to follow him on the path of love; a love to be expressed daily by generous service to the brethren.

May the new year which we are confidently beginning today be a time in which to advance in that knowledge of the heart, which is the wisdom of saints. Let us pray, as we heard in the First Reading, that the Lord may "make his face to shine" upon us, "and be gracious" to us (cf. Numbers 6:24-7) and bless us. We may be certain of it: If we never tire of seeking his Face, if we never give in to the temptation of discouragement and doubt, if also among the many difficulties we encounter we always remain anchored to him, we will experience the power of his love and his mercy. May the fragile Child who today the Virgin shows to the world make us peacemakers, witnesses of him, the Prince of Peace. Amen!

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Papal Homily at Vespers on Dec. 31
"Christ Is Our Trustworthy Hope"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2008.- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Dec. 31 at vespers and the Te Deum.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As this year is also ending, we are gathered in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. The liturgy makes this important Marian feast coincide with the end and the beginning of the solar year.?Our hymn of gratitude for 2007 which is drawing to a close and for 2008 which we are already glimpsing is therefore combined with contemplation of the mystery of the divine motherhood. Time passes and its inexorable passing induces us to raise our gaze in deep gratitude to the One who is eternal, to the Lord of time. Let us thank him together, dear brothers and sisters, on behalf of the entire diocesan community of Rome.?I address my greeting to each one of you. In the first place, I greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops, the priests and consecrated persons as well as all the lay faithful who are gathered here.?I greet Mr Mayor and the Authorities present, and I extend my thoughts to the entire population of Rome and in a special way to all those in conditions of difficulty and hardship. I assure them all of my cordial closeness, strengthened by constant remembrance in prayer.

In the short Reading from the Letter to the Galatians that we have just heard, speaking of the liberation of man brought about by God with the mystery of the Incarnation, St Paul very discreetly mentions the One through whom the Son of God entered the world: "when the time had fully come", he wrote, "God sent forth his Son, born of woman" (Galatians 4: 4). The Church contemplates in the "woman" the features of Mary of Nazareth, a unique woman because she was called to carry out a mission that brought her into very close contact with Christ: indeed, it was an absolutely unique relationship, because Mary is Mother of the Saviour. Just as obviously, however, we can and must affirm that she is our Mother because, by living her very special maternal relationship with the Son, she shared in his mission for us and for the salvation of all people. In contemplating her, the Church makes out her own features: Mary lives faith and charity; Mary is also a creature saved by the one Saviour; Mary collaborates in the initiative of the salvation of all humanity.?Thus, Mary constitutes for the Church her truest image: she in whom the Ecclesial Community must continually discover the authentic sense of its own vocation and its own mystery.

The Incarnate Word changes life

This short but intense Pauline passage then continues, showing how the fact that the Son assumed human nature unfolds the perspective of a radical change of the actual human condition. Paul says in it that "God sent forth his Son ... to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). The Incarnate Word transforms human life from within, sharing with us his being as Son of the Father. ?He became like us in order for us to become like him: children of the Son, hence, people free from the law of sin. Is this not a fundamental reason to raise our thanksgiving to God? A thanksgiving which can only be even more motivated at the end of a year, considering the many benefits and his constant assistance that we have experienced over the period of the past 12 months.

This is why every Christian community gathers together this evening and sings the Te Deum, a traditional hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity. This is what we shall also do at the end of this liturgical meeting of ours, before the Most Blessed Sacrament.?As we sing we will pray: "Te ergo, quæsumus, tuis famulis subveni, quos pretioso sanguine redemisti: Come then, Lord, and help your people, bought with the price of your own blood". This is our prayer this evening: Come with your mercy, Lord, to the aid of the inhabitants of our City in which, as elsewhere, serious needs and poverty weigh on the lives of people and families, preventing them from looking with trust to the future. Many, especially young people, are attracted by a false exaltation or rather, by the profanation of the body and the trivialization of sexuality; so it is difficult to list the many challenges bound up with consumerism and secularism which call into question believers and people of good will.

To say it in a word, in Rome one also notes that lack of hope and trust in life that constitutes the "obscure" evil of modern Western society. But if the deficiencies are evident, there is no lack of light and reasons for hope on which to implore special divine blessings. Precisely in this perspective, in singing the Te Deum we shall pray: "Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hereditati tuæ -- Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance".?O Lord, look upon and protect the diocesan community in particular, committed on the educational front to responding ever more vigorously to that great "educational emergency" of which I spoke last 11 June when I met the participants in the diocesan convention, or in other words, the increasing difficulty encountered in transmitting the basic values of life and upright conduct to the new generations (cf. Address to the Diocese of Rome Convention, 11 June 2007; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 June, p. 3). ?Let us calmly and with patient trust face this emergency first of all in the context of the family. Moreover, it is certainly comforting to note that the work undertaken in recent years by parishes, movements and associations for the pastoral care of the family is continuing to develop and bear fruit.

Missionary initiatives by youth

Also protect, Lord, the missionary initiatives which involve the world of youth: they are increasing and there are now an important number of young people who are assuming responsibility and the joy of proclamation and Gospel witness in the first person. In this context, how can we fail to thank God for the precious pastoral service offered to the world by the Roman universities? It would be appropriate to start something similar in schools, despite the numerous difficulties. Bless, Lord, the many young men and adults who in recent decades have been ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Rome. At the present time there are 28 deacons who are awaiting priestly ordination, scheduled for next April. Thus, the average age of the clergy is rejuvenated and it is also possible to respond to the increase in pastoral needs, such as going to the help of other dioceses. Especially in the suburbs, the need for new parish complexes is growing, and there are eight currently under construction, after I myself had the pleasure not long ago of consecrating the one most recently completed: the Parish of Santa Maria del Rosario ai Martiri Portuensi.

It is lovely to be able to tangibly feel the joy and gratitude of the inhabitants of a neighbourhood as they enter their own new church for the first time. "In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in æternum -- Lord, show us your love and mercy; for we put our trust in you". The majestic hymn of the Te Deum ends with this cry of faith, of total trust in God, with this solemn proclamation of our hope. Christ is our "trustworthy" hope, and to this theme I dedicated my recent Encyclical entitled "Spe Salvi."?But our hope is always essentially also hope for others, and only thus is it truly hope for each one of us (cf. No. 48).?Dear brothers and sisters of the Church of Rome, let us ask the Lord to make each one of us authentic leaven of hope in our various milieus, so that it will be possible to build a better future for the whole city. This is my wish for everyone on the eve of a New Year, a wish that I entrust to the motherly intercession of Mary, Mother of God and Star of Hope. Amen!

[Translation of the Italian original by L'Osservatore Romano]

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On World Day of Peace
"The Virgin Truly Became Mother of God"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2008.- 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, on the World Day of Peace.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We have begun a new year and I wish that it will be for all peaceful and prosperous. I commend it to the heavenly protection of the Virgin, to whom the liturgy invokes today with the most important title, the Mother of God. With her "yes" to the angel, on the day of the Annunciation, the Virgin conceived in her womb through the Holy Spirit, the eternal Word, and she brought him forth on the night of the Nativity.

In Bethlehem, in the fullness of time, Jesus was born of Mary: The Son of God was made man for our salvation, and the Virgin truly became Mother of God. This immense gift that Mary received was not reserved only for her, but for us all. In her fruitful virginity, in fact, God gave "to men the benefits of eternal salvation ... because through her we received the author of life" (cf. collect prayer).

Mary, after having given mortal flesh to the only Son of God, became mother of believers and of all humankind.

It is in the name of Mary, Mother of God and of mankind, that for the past 40 years, on the first day of the year, the Church has celebrated the World Day for Peace. The theme that has been chosen this year is "The Human Family, a Community of Peace."

The same love that builds and maintains unity in the family, the vital building block of society, favors these relationships of solidarity and of collaboration among the peoples of the earth, who are members of the single human family.

The Second Vatican Council recalled this when it affirmed, "One is the community of all peoples, one their origin. ... One also is their final goal, God" ("Nostra Aetate," No. 1). There is a close relationship, therefore, among family, society and peace.

"Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family," I wrote in the message for today's World Day of Peace, "undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace" (No. 5).

Also, "We do not live alongside one another purely by chance; all of us are progressing along a common path as men and women, and thus as brothers and sisters" (No. 6). It is truly important that each one of us assumes responsibility before God and recognizes in him the originating font of our own existence, and that of others.

May this awareness give rise to a commitment to make humankind an authentic community of peace, ruled by "a common law ... one which would foster true freedom rather than blind caprice, and protect the weak from oppression by the strong" (No. 11).

May Mary, Mother of the Prince of Peace, aid the Church in its untiring service for peace, and help the community of nations, that will celebrate in 2008 the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to begin on a path of authentic solidarity and of stable peace.

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On the Holy Family
"It Is Worth It to Work for the Family and Marriage"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2008 - 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. Following the narration of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we stop to look at Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we look with adoration on the mystery of a God that chose to be born of a woman, the holy Virgin, and to enter this world by a path common to all men. In this way he sanctified the reality of the family, filling it with divine grace and fully revealing his vocation and mission.

The Second Vatican Council paid special attention to the family. The spouses, it affirmed, are for each other and their children witnesses of the faith and love of Christ (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 35). The Christian family participates in this way in the prophetic vocation of the Church: With its manner of living, "The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come" (ibid.).

As my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II repeated untiringly, the good of the person and of society is intimately linked to the "good health" of the family (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," No. 47). Because they are words of the council, the Church is committed to the defense and promotion of the "the natural dignity of the married state and the superlative value" of marriage and the family (ibid.).

With this end in mind, an important initiative is being celebrated today in Madrid. I will address those participants now in Spanish.

Greetings to the participants in the family encounter that is taking place this Sunday in Madrid, as well as to those cardinals, bishops and priests that accompany them.

Upon contemplating the mystery of the Son of God that came into the world surrounded by the affection of Mary and Joseph, I invite all Christian families to experience the loving presence of the Lord in their lives. I encourage them, inspired by love of Christ for all mankind, to give witness before the world of the beauty of human love, marriage and family. This, founded in the insoluble union between a man and a woman, constitutes the privileged environment in which human life is welcomed and protected, from its beginning until its natural end.

For this, parents have the right and fundamental obligation to educate their children, in the faith and in the values that dignify human existence. It is worth it to work for the family and marriage because it is worth it to work for the human being, the most valuable being created by God.

I direct myself in a special way to the children, so that they love and pray for their parents and brothers and sisters; to the young people, so that stimulated by the love of their parents, they follow with generosity their own vocation to marriage, the priesthood or religious life; to the elderly and the sick, so that they find the help and understanding they need. And to you, beloved spouses, count on the grace of God always, so that your love will be always more and more fruitful and faithful.

In the hands of Mary, "who with her 'yes' opened the door of our world to God" ("Spe Salvi"), I place the results of this celebration. Thank you very much and happy holidays.

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Benedict XVI's Christmas Message
"Neither Individuals Nor Nations Should Be Afraid to Recognize and Welcome Him"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 25, 2007- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Christmas message, which he delivered from the main balcony of St. Peter's Basilica today at noon.

* * *

"A holy day has dawned upon us.

Come you nations and adore the Lord.

Today a great light has come upon the earth."

(Day Mass of Christmas, Gospel Acclamation)

Dear Brothers and Sisters! "A holy day has dawned upon us." A day of great hope: today the Saviour of mankind is born. The birth of a child normally brings a light of hope to those who are waiting anxiously. When Jesus was born in the stable at Bethlehem, a "great light" appeared on earth; a great hope entered the hearts of those who awaited him: in the words of today's Christmas liturgy, "lux magna". Admittedly it was not "great" in the manner of this world, because the first to see it were only Mary, Joseph and some shepherds, then the Magi, the old man Simeon, the prophetess Anna: those whom God had chosen. Yet, in the shadows and silence of that holy night, a great and inextinguishable light shone forth for every man; the great hope that brings happiness entered into the world: "the Word was made flesh and we saw his glory" (Jn 1:14).

"God is light", says Saint John, "and in him is no darkness at all" (1 Jn 1:5). In the Book of Genesis we read that when the universe was created, "the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." "God said, ‘Let there be light'; and there was light." (Gen 1:2-3). The creative Word of God  is Light, the source of life. All things were made through the Logos, not one thing had its being but through him (cf. Jn 1:3). That is why all creatures are fundamentally good and bear within themselves the stamp of God, a spark of his light. Nevertheless, when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, the Light himself came into the world: in the words of the Creed, "God from God, Light from Light". In Jesus, God assumed what he was not, while remaining what he was: "omnipotence entered an infant's body and did not cease to govern the universe" (cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 184, No. 1 on Christmas). The Creator of man became man in order to bring peace to the world. For this reason, during Christmas night, the hosts of angels sing: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves" (Lk 2:14).

"Today a great light has come upon the earth". The Light of Christ is the bearer of peace. At Midnight Mass, the Eucharistic liturgy begins with this very chant: "Today true peace has come down to us from heaven" (Entrance Antiphon). Indeed, it is only the "great" light manifested in Christ that can give "true" peace to men: that is why every generation is called to welcome it, to welcome the God who in Bethlehem became one of us.

This is Christmas - the historical event and the mystery of love, which for more than two thousand years has spoken to men and women of every era and every place. It is the holy day on which the "great light" of Christ shines forth, bearing peace! Certainly, if we are to recognize it, if we are to receive it, faith is needed and humility is needed. The humility of Mary, who believed in the word of the Lord and, bending low over the manger, was the first to adore the fruit of her womb; the humility of Joseph, the just man, who had the courage of faith and preferred to obey God rather than to protect his own reputation; the humility of the shepherds, the poor and anonymous shepherds, who received the proclamation of the heavenly messenger and hastened towards the stable, where they found the new-born child and worshipped him, full of astonishment, praising God (cf. Lk 2:15-20). The little ones, the poor in spirit: they are the key figures of Christmas, in the past and in the present; they have always been the key figures of God's history, the indefatigable builders of his Kingdom of justice, love and peace.

In the silence of that night in Bethlehem, Jesus was born and lovingly welcomed. And now, on this Christmas Day, when the joyful news of his saving birth continues to resound, who is ready to open the doors of his heart to the holy child? Men and women of this modern age, Christ comes also to us bringing his light, he comes also to us granting peace! But who is watching, in the night of doubt and uncertainty, with a vigilant, praying heart? Who is waiting for the dawn of the new day, keeping alight the flame of faith? Who has time to listen to his word and to become enfolded and entranced by his love? Yes! His message of peace is for everyone; he comes to offer himself to all people as sure hope for salvation.

Finally, may the light of Christ, which comes to enlighten every human being, shine forth and bring consolation to those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war; to those who are still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment, for fuller participation in civil and political responsibilities, free from oppression and protected from conditions that offend against human dignity. It is the most vulnerable members of society - women, children, the elderly - who are so often the victims of brutal armed conflicts, terrorism and violence of every kind, which inflict such terrible sufferings on entire populations. At the same time, ethnic, religious and political tensions, instability, rivalry, disagreements, and all forms of injustice and discrimination are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations. Throughout the world the number of migrants, refugees and evacuees is also increasing because of frequent natural disasters, often caused by alarming environmental upheavals.

On this day of peace, my thoughts turn especially to those places where the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate; to the tortured regions of Darfur, Somalia, the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia; to the whole of the Middle East - especially Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land; to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to the Balkans and to many other crisis situations that unfortunately are frequently forgotten. May the Child Jesus bring relief to those who are suffering and may he bestow upon political leaders the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions. To the thirst for meaning and value so characteristic of today's world, to the search for prosperity and peace that marks the lives of all mankind, to the hopes of the poor: Christ - true God and true Man - responds with his Nativity. Neither individuals nor nations should be afraid to recognize and welcome him: with Him "a shining light" brightens the horizon of humanity; in him "a holy day" dawns that knows no sunset. May this Christmas truly be for all people a day of joy, hope and peace!

"Come you nations and adore the Lord." With Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, with the Magi and the countless host of humble worshippers of the new-born Child, who down the centuries have welcomed the mystery of Christmas, let us too, brothers and sisters from every continent, allow the light of this day to spread everywhere: may it enter our hearts, may it brighten and warm our homes, may it bring serenity and hope to our cities, and may it give peace to the world. This is my earnest wish for you who are listening. A wish that grows into a humble and trustful prayer to the Child Jesus, that his light will dispel all darkness from your lives and fill you with love and peace. May the Lord, who has made his merciful face to shine in Christ, fill you with his happiness and make you messengers of his goodness. Happy Christmas!

[Original text: Italian]

[After the traditional blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world), the Pope gave Christmas greetings in 63 languages. In English, he said:]

May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies; and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Saviour has been born for us.

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Benedict XVI's Midnight Mass Homily
"God Finds a Space, Even If It Means Entering Through the Stable"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 24, 2007- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's homily today at Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:6f.). These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: "you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Lk 1:31). This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours - the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things. We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: "She wrapped him in swaddling clothes" allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn. In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others - for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke's brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11). This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.

These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?

Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel. Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: "To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God" (Jn 1:12). There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or "wise men" - the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.

In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down - in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David's throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land. Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel. David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel. In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way - in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne - the Cross - corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ's love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness - this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace - and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves" - those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.

Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: "He pitched his tent among us" (Jn 1:14). Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin. What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation? Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: "Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created" (PL 158, 955f.). Thus, according to Gregory's vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God. According to the Fathers, part of the angels' Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song - still according to the Fathers - possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.

In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there. At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father who art in Heaven", he asks: what is this - Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: "... who art in Heaven - that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location. Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: 'The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains', but rather: 'the Lord is close to the brokenhearted' (Ps 34:18[33:19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called 'Earth', so by contrast the just man can be called 'Heaven'" (Sermo in monte II 5, 17). Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God's humility, God's heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.

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Papal Address to Rome's University Students
"Is Not the Theme of Hope Particularly Suited to Young People?"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 24, 2007- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Dec. 13 address to university students of Rome.

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MEETING OF THE HOLY FATHER
WITH THE ROME'S UNIVERSITY STUDENTS

ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Saint Peter's Basilica
Thursday, 13 December 2007

Dear Friends,

I am very pleased to meet so many of you at this traditional encounter close to the Birth of Christ. I greet and thank Cardinal Camillo Ruini who has celebrated the Eucharist, together with the University Chaplains, to whom I address a cordial thought. I greet the Authorities, in the first place the Minister for Universities with the Rectors, the Professors and all the students. I am grateful to the Rector of the University's Biomedical Campus and to the student of the Law Faculty of Roma Tre, who in the name of you all have addressed to me expressions of affection and good wishes. I warmly exchange these sentiments, offering good wishes to each one of you for a peaceful and holy Christmas. I would like to reserve a special greeting to the young people of the Albanian delegation who have brought back to Rome the icon of Mary Sedes Sapientiae, and to those of the Romanian delegation who will receive the image of Mary this evening so that it may be a "pilgrim" of peace and hope in their Country.

Dear young university students, at this familiar encounter, permit me to bring to your attention two brief reflections. The first regards the journey of your spiritual formation. The Diocese of Rome wanted to give greater emphasis to young university students' preparation for Confirmation; therefore, your pilgrimage to Assisi last 10 November represented the "summons" and this evening your attendance has been the "response". In fact, about 150 of you were presented as candidates for the Sacrament of Confirmation, which you will receive at the next Pentecost Vigil. This is a worthy initiative that fits well into the itinerary of preparation for the World Youth Day scheduled to take place in Sydney in July 2008.

To the candidates for the Sacrament of Confirmation and to all of you, dear young friends, I would like to say: direct your gaze to the Virgin Mary and from her "yes", learn also to pronounce your "yes" to the divine call. The Holy Spirit enters into our lives in the measure in which we open our hearts with our "yes": the fuller the "yes", the fuller is the gift of his presence. To understand better, we can refer to a very simple reality: light. If a window's shutters are hermetically sealed, although the light is shining it cannot illuminate the house. If there is a little fissure, a ray of light enters; if the shutters are opened a little more, the room begins to lighten up, but only when completely opened do the sun's rays illuminate and warm the environment. Dear friends, Mary is greeted by the Angel as "full of grace", which means exactly this: her heart and her life are totally open to God, and this is why she is completely pervaded by his grace. May she help you to make yourselves a free and full "yes" to God, so that you can be renewed, indeed, transformed by the light and joy of the Holy Spirit.

The second reflection that I wish to propose to you concerns the recent Encyclical on Christian hope entitled, as you know, Spe Salvi, "In hope we were saved", words taken from St Paul's Letter to the Romans (8: 24). Ideally, I consign it to you, dear university students of Rome, and through you to the whole university, scholastic, cultural and educational world. Is not the theme of hope particularly suited to young people? In particular I suggest you make the part of the Encyclical that concerns the hope of the modern age an object of your reflection and discussion, even in groups. In the 17th century, Europe experienced an authentic epochal turning point and from then on it has increasingly confirmed a mentality which views human progress alone as the work of science and technology, while faith concerns only the salvation of the soul, a purely individual salvation. The two great idea-powers of modernity, reason and freedom, are as it were separated from God in order to become autonomous and to cooperate in the construction of the "kingdom of man", practically in opposition to the Kingdom of God. From here a materialistic concept spread, nourished by the hope that, by changing the economic and political structures, one could finally bring about a just society where peace, freedom and equality reign. This process, which is not deprived of values and historical motivations, contains, however, a fundamental error: man, in fact, is not only the product of determined economic and social conditions; technical progress does not necessarily coincide with the moral growth of the person; rather, without ethical principles science, technology and politics can be used, as has happened and unfortunately still happens, not for the good but harm of individuals and of humanity.

Dear friends, it is such current themes that stimulate your reflection and favour even more the positive comparison and collaboration that already exist among all State, private and pontifical universities. The city of Rome continues to be a privileged place of study and cultural development, as took place last June with the meeting of over 3,000 European university professors. Rome is also the model of hospitality for foreign students and I am pleased to greet, in this regard, the university delegations from the various European and American cities. May the light of Christ, which we invoke through the intercession of Mary, Star of Hope, and of the holy virgin and martyr Lucy, whose memory we recall today, always enlighten your life. With these wishes, I whole-heartedly wish you and your relatives a Christmas rich in grace and peace, while I warmly impart the Apostolic Blessing to all.

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On Evangelization and Christmas (December 23, 2007)
"Nothing Is More Beautiful Than Freely Giving What We Have Freely Received"

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Only one day separates the Fourth Sunday of Advent from holy Christmas. Tomorrow night we will gather to celebrate the great mystery of love that does not cease to stupify us. God became the Son of Man so that we could become sons of God. During Advent, from the heart of the Church a prayer has often gone up: "Come, Lord, to visit us with your peace, your presence fills us with joy."

The evangelizing mission of the Church is the answer to the cry "Come, Lord Jesus," which runs through the whole of salvation history and which continually goes up from the lips of believers. "Come, Lord, to transform our hearts so that justice and peace are spread throughout the world." This is meant to bring to mind the doctrinal note on some aspects of evangelization just published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The document proposes, in effect, to remind all Christians -- in a situation in which the reason for being itself of evangelization is often no longer clear -- that the welcoming itself of the glad tidings of the faith moves us to communicate the salvation received as a gift.

In fact, the truth that saves life, that became flesh in Jesus, ignites in those who receive it a love of neighbour that moves our freedom to give as a gift that which has been freely received. Being reached by the presence of God, who draws near to us at Christmas, is an inestimable gift, a gift that is capable of making us live in the universal embrace of the friends of God, in that network of friendship with Christ that binds heaven and earth, that directs human freedom toward its fulfilment and that, if lived in its truth, flourishes in a gratuitous love and a concern for the good of all people.

Nothing is more beautiful, urgent and important than freely giving to people what we have freely received from God. Nothing can exempt or discharge us from this fascinating duty. The joy of Christmas of which we already have a foretaste, as we are filled with hope, moves us at the same time to proclaim to all the presence of God in our midst.

Mary is the incomparable model of evangelization, she who did not communicate an idea to the world but rather Jesus, the incarnate Word. Let us invoke her with confidence so that also the Church in our time proclaims Christ the Saviour. Every Christian and every community feels the joy of sharing with others the good news that God so loved the world to give his only begotten Son so that the world might be saved through him. This is the authentic meaning of Christmas, that we must always rediscover and live intensely.

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On the Birth of Christ
"Like the Shepherds, We Hasten Our Steps Toward Bethlehem"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 19, 2007- Here is a translation of the reflection on Christmas that Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

As we approach the great feast of Christmas, the liturgy encourages us to intensify our preparation, placing at our disposal numerous biblical texts from the Old and the New Testaments, which serve to motivate us to focus on the significance and value of this annual celebration.

On one hand, Christmas is a commemoration of the incredible miracle of the birth God's only son, born of the Virgin Mary in the cave of Bethlehem. On the other hand, Christmas exhorts us to keep watch and pray, waiting for our Redeemer, who will come "to judge the living and the dead."

Perhaps we today, even we believers, truly await the Judge; we all await justice. We see so much injustice in the world, in our small world, at home, in our neighborhoods, as well as in the large world of states, of societies. And we wait for justice to be done.

Justice is an abstract concept: Justice is done. We await the coming of the very one who can effect justice. In this context we pray: "Come, Lord, Jesus Christ, as judge, come as you must." The Lord knows how to enter the world and bring justice.

We ask the Lord, the Judge, to respond, to truly effect justice in the world. We await justice, but our demands with respect to others cannot be the only the expression of this waiting. The Christian significance of waiting for justice implies that we begin to live under the eyes of the Judge, according to the criteria of the Judge; that we begin to live in his presence, rendering justice in our lives. By being just, putting ourselves in the presence of the Judge, we await justice.

This is the meaning of Advent, of vigilance. The vigilance of Advent means to live under the eyes of the Judge and to prepare ourselves and the world for justice. By living under the eyes of the God-Judge, we can open the world to the arrival of his Son, preparing our heart to welcome "the Lord who comes."

The Child, adored 2,000 years ago by the shepherds in a cave of Bethlehem, never stops visiting us in our daily life as we, like pilgrims, walk toward the Kingdom. As he waits, the believer becomes the spokesperson for the hopes of all humankind; humanity longs for justice, and thus, though often unaware, waits for God, waits for the salvation that only God can give us.

For us Christians the wait is marked by assiduous prayer, as indicated by the particularly evocative series of invocations that are proposed to us in these days of the Christmas novena in the Mass, in the Gospel, and in the celebration of vespers, before the canticle of the Magnificat. Each appeal that implores the coming of Wisdom, the Sun of Justice, and God-With-Us, contains a prayer directed to the Awaited one of the nations, so that his arrival be hastened.

To invoke the gift of the birth of the promised Savior also means to commit myself to prepare the way, to prepare a worthy home not only in the environment around us, but above all in our souls. With the guidance of the Evangelist John, we try to turn our thoughts and hearts to the eternal Word, to the Logos, to the Word that has become flesh and has given us grace after grace (cf. 1:14,16).

This faith in the Creator Logos, in the Word that created the world, in the one who came like a Child, this faith and its great hope seem to be far from our daily public and private reality. It seems this truth is too great. We manage the best we can, so it seems at least. But the world is becoming more chaotic and violent: We witness this every day. And the light of God, the light of Truth, is put out. Life becomes dark and without a compass.

It is therefore very important that we are true believers, and as believers, that we reaffirm forcefully, with our lives, the mystery of salvation that comes with the celebration of Christ's birth! In Bethlehem, the Light which illumines our life was made manifest to the world; the Way which leads to the fullness of our humanity was revealed to us. What sense does it make to celebrate Christmas if we don't acknowledge that God has become man? The celebration becomes empty.

Before all else, we Christians have to reassert with deep and heartfelt conviction the truth of Christ's birth in order to bear witness before all the awareness of an unparalleled gift that enriches not only us, but everyone.

The duty of evangelization is to convey this "eu-angelion," the "good news." This was recalled by the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith titled "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization," which I would like to offer for your reflection and personal as well as communal study.

Dear friends, in these days of preparation leading up to Christmas the prayer of the Church intensifies, so that the hopes for peace, salvation, justice, and all that the world urgently needs, be made a reality. We ask God that violence be defeated by the power of love, that opposition be replaced by reconciliation, that the desire to dominate be transformed into desires for forgiveness, justice and peace.

May the wishes of kindness and love that we exchange in these days reach all sectors of our daily lives. May peace be in our hearts, so that we can be open to the action of God's mercy. May peace live in all families and may they spend Christmas united before the crib and the tree decorated with lights. May the Christmas message of solidarity and welcome contribute to create a deeper sensibility toward old and new types of poverty, and toward the common good that we are all called to share.

May all family members, especially the children and the elderly -- the weakest ones -- feel the warmth of this feast, and may that warmth spread out through every day of the year. May Christmas be a celebration of peace and joy: joy for the birth of the Savior, Prince of peace. Like the shepherds, we hasten our steps toward Bethlehem. In the heart of the Holy Night we will be able to contemplate the "infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger," together with Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:12,16).

We ask the Lord to open our soul, so that we can enter the mystery of his birth. May Mary, who gave her virginal womb to the Word of God, who contemplated the child between her arms, and who offers him to everyone as the Redeemer of the world, help us make next Christmas a moment of growth in the knowledge and love of Christ. This is the wish that I warmly extend to you all, to your families and your dear ones.

Merry Christmas to you all!

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Benedict XVI to Japanese Bishops
"Other Nations Can Learn From the Witness to Peace"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 17, 2007- Here is the text of an address Benedict XVI gave today in English upon receiving in audience the bishops of Japan, in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

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Dear Brother Bishops,

I am pleased to welcome you on your ad Limina visit, as you come to venerate the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. I thank you for the kind words that Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada has addressed to me on your behalf, and I offer you my warmest good wishes and prayers for yourselves and all the people entrusted to your pastoral care. You have come to the city where Peter carried out his mission of evangelization and bore witness to Christ even to the shedding of his blood-and you have come to greet Peter's Successor. In this way you strengthen the apostolic foundations of the Church in your country and you express visibly your communion with all the other members of the College of Bishops and with the Roman Pontiff (cf. Pastores Gregis, 8). I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my sorrow at the recent passing of Cardinal Stephen Hamao, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerants, and to express my appreciation for his years of service to the Church. In his person he exemplified the bonds of communion between the Church in Japan and the Holy See. May he rest in peace.

Last year the Church celebrated with great joy the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of Saint Francis Xavier, Apostle of Japan. I join you in giving thanks to God for the missionary work that he carried out in your land, and for the seeds of Christian faith that he planted at the time of Japan's first evangelization. The need to proclaim Christ boldly and courageously is a continuing priority for the Church; indeed it is a solemn duty laid upon her by Christ who enjoined the Apostles to "go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation" (Mk 16:16). Your task today is to seek new ways of bringing alive the message of Christ in the cultural setting of modern Japan. Even though Christians form only a small percentage of the population, the faith is a treasure that needs to be shared with the whole of Japanese society. Your leadership in this area needs to inspire clergy and religious, catechists, teachers, and families to offer an explanation for the hope that they possess (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). This in turn requires sound catechesis, based on the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium. Let the light of the faith so shine before others, that "they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16).

Indeed the world is hungry for the message of hope that the Gospel brings. Even in countries as highly developed as yours, many are discovering that economic success and advanced technology are not sufficient in themselves to bring fulfilment to the human heart. Anyone who does not know God "is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life" (Spe Salvi, 27). Remind people that there is more to life than professional success and profit. Through the practice of charity, in the family and in the community, they can be led towards "that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others" (Deus Caritas Est, 31). This is the great hope that Christians in Japan can offer their compatriots; it is not foreign to Japanese culture, but rather it reinforces and gives new impetus to all that is good and noble in the heritage of your beloved nation. The well-merited respect which the citizens of your country show towards the Church, on account of her fine contribution in education, health care and many other fields, gives you an opportunity to engage with them in dialogue and to speak joyfully to them of Christ, the "light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9). Young people especially are at risk of being deceived by the glamour of modern secular culture. Yet, like all the greater and lesser hopes that appear on first sight to promise so much (cf. Spe Salvi, 30), this turns out to be a false hope - and tragically, disillusion not infrequently leads to depression and despair, even to suicide. If their youthful energy and enthusiasm can be directed towards the things of God, which alone are sufficient to satisfy their deepest longings, more young people will be inspired to commit their lives to Christ, and some will recognize a call to serve him in the priesthood or the religious life. Invite them to consider whether this may be their vocation. Never be afraid to do so. Encourage your priests and religious likewise to be active in promoting vocations, and lead your people in prayer, asking the Lord to "send out labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38).

The Lord's harvest in Japan is increasingly made up of people of diverse nationalities, to the extent that over half of the Catholic population is formed of immigrants. This provides an opportunity to enrich the life of the Church in your country and to experience the true catholicity of God's people. By taking steps to ensure that all are made to feel welcome in the Church, you can draw on the many gifts that the immigrants bring. At the same time, you need to remain vigilant in ensuring that the liturgical and disciplinary norms of the universal Church are carefully observed. Modern Japan has wholeheartedly chosen to engage with the wider world, and the Catholic Church, with its universal outreach, can make a valuable contribution to this process of ever greater openness to the international community.

Other nations can also learn from Japan, from the accumulated wisdom of her ancient culture, and especially from the witness to peace that has characterized her stance on the world political stage in the last sixty years. You have made the voice of the Church heard on the enduring importance of this witness, all the greater in a world where armed conflicts bring so much suffering to the innocent. I encourage you to continue to speak on matters of public concern in the life of your nation, and to ensure that your statements are promoted and widely disseminated, so that they may be properly heard at all levels within society. In this way, the message of hope that the Gospel brings can truly touch hearts and minds, leading to greater confidence in the future, greater love and respect for life, increasing openness towards the stranger and the sojourner in your midst. "The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life" (Spe Salvi, 2).

In this regard, the forthcoming Beatification of 188 Japanese martyrs offers a clear sign of the strength and vitality of Christian witness in your country's history. From the earliest days, Japanese men and women have been ready to shed their blood for Christ. Through the hope of these people "who have been touched by Christ, hope has arisen for others who were living in darkness and without hope" (Spe Salvi, 8). I join you in giving thanks to God for the eloquent testimony of Peter Kibe and his companions, who have "washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb" and now serve God day and night within his temple (Rev 7:14f.).

In this Advent season, the whole Church looks forward eagerly to the celebration of our Saviour's birth. I pray that this time of preparation may be for you and for the whole Church in Japan an opportunity to grow in faith, hope, and love, so that the Prince of Peace may truly find a home in your hearts. Commending all of you and your priests, religious and lay faithful to the intercession of Saint Francis Xavier and the Martyrs of Japan, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Lord.

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Pope's Address to Kuwait Ambassador
"Children Need to Be Educated in Openness to Other Cultures"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 17, 2007- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's English-language address Thursday to Suhail Khalil Shuhaiber, Kuwait's new ambassador to the Holy See.

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Your Excellency,

I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters by which you are accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Kuwait to the Holy See. I thank you most heartily for the greetings which you have brought me from His Highness the Amir Shaikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and I ask you kindly to convey to him my warm personal greetings, together with the assurance of my prayers for the continued prosperity of the nation and its citizens.

The coming year marks the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kuwait and the Holy See. I willingly take this occasion to express my hope that these good relations will be further consolidated. Your country, which has overcome the devastating effects of violence and war, continues to play an important role in the delicate process of reconciliation which offers the only sure hope for a resolution of the many complex problems affecting the Middle East. Kuwait's democratic Constitution, which reflects the nation's heritage of cultural and religious values, is guided by the principles of justice, respect for the rule of law, and the protection of fundamental human rights. These principles, which are ultimately grounded in the inviolable dignity of the human person, must everywhere find juridical recognition and concrete application if genuine freedom, integral development and peace are to reign among the nations and peoples of the world.

In this regard, I greatly appreciate Your Excellency's reference to your country's acknowledgement of the importance of interreligious and intercultural dialogue for the promotion of peace. Such dialogue - and I think here with satisfaction of the increasing contacts between Muslims and Christians - is essential for overcoming misunderstandings and forging solid relations marked by mutual respect and cooperation in the pursuit of the common good of the whole human family. Children, in particular, need to be educated in the authentic values underlying their own culture and in a spirit of openness to other cultures, respect for others and commitment to peace. In a world where intolerance, violence and oppression are all too often proposed as the solution to disagreements and conflict, there is urgent need of a "human ecology" (cf. Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace, 10) capable of extirpating these evils and sowing those virtues which will foster the growth of a truly humane culture of honesty, solidarity and concord.

Kuwait's national life is characterized by the presence of significant minorities, including a high number of resident foreign workers. Their presence in your country is itself a source of enrichment and a constant incentive to establish the conditions necessary for peaceful coexistence and social progress. I cannot fail to mention in this regard the many Catholics living and working in Kuwait, who can freely worship in their own churches. Your nation's Constitution rightly upholds their religious freedom. This fundamental right, grounded in the inviolable dignity of the person, is fittingly considered the cornerstone of the whole edifice of human rights. I express my appreciation of the cordial relations which the Church enjoys with the civil authorities, and my confidence that, as the Catholic community in Kuwait continues to grow, those authorities will readily assist them in meeting the urgent need for new and more adequate structures for worship and assembly.

Kuwait's Catholics have sought to contribute to the development of the larger society, not least through their educational institutions. These, though few in number, are fully committed to forming the minds and hearts of their students in an environment emphasizing sound spiritual values and inculcating respect for the dignity and beliefs of others. It is my hope that, in freely carrying out their proper mission, including the formation of young Christian students in their faith, these schools will help to strengthen the fabric of society by preparing their students to cooperate in building a future of solidarity and hope for coming generations.

Your Excellency, as you now undertake the mission of representing the State of Kuwait to the Holy See, please accept my personal good wishes for the success of your important work. Be assured that you may always count on the offices of the Holy See to assist and support you in the fulfilment of your high responsibilities. Upon you and your family, and upon all the beloved people of Kuwait, I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of the Almighty.

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Papal Address to Envoy From Singapore
"Economic Success Needs a Firm Ethical Grounding"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 17, 2007 - Here is the text of Benedict XVI's English-language address Thursday to Barry Desker, Singapore's new ambassador to the Holy See.

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Your Excellency,

I am pleased to welcome you as you begin your mission and to accept the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Singapore to the Holy See. I am grateful for your kind words and for the greetings you bring from President Sellapan Ramanathan. Please extend to him my respectful good wishes and the assurance of my prayers for the peace and prosperity of all the people of your nation.

For over twenty-five years now, the Holy See has enjoyed excellent diplomatic relations with Singapore, and looks forward to strengthening them further in the years ahead. As one of the most developed countries in South-East Asia, Singapore has a significant contribution to make to the economic and social advancement of the region. While many parts of South-East Asia continue to suffer from the effects of poverty, crime, and political unrest, Singapore, as a prosperous, well-ordered and democratic country, gives an important lead that can offer hope and inspiration to others. The Holy See is eager to continue working with your Government in order to promote the well-being of the region and the resolution of conflicts.

Economic success, however, needs a firm ethical grounding if it is to bring lasting benefits to society. Indeed the needs of the person must always be placed at the heart of economic enterprise, since, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, the human person is "the source, the centre, and the purpose of all economic and social life" (Gaudium et Spes, 63). Likewise, an authentic democracy is not merely the result of a formal observation of a set of rules, but is "the fruit of a convinced acceptance of the values that inspire democratic procedures: the dignity of every human person, the respect of human rights, commitment to the common good" (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 407). For this reason I encourage your Government in its efforts to involve all citizens and groups to participate in political and social life, for the promotion of those authentic values that lie at the heart of a healthy society.

While Catholics constitute only a small percentage of the population of Singapore, they are happy and willing to play their full part in national life and to contribute to the common good. One particularly important way in which they do so is through the witness of marriage and family life. As the natural community in which human social nature is experienced, the family makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the good of society. Indeed, a healthy state of married and family life is the best guarantee against the damaging effects of individualism or collectivism, because "within the family the person is always at the centre of attention as an end and never as a means" (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 213). For this reason, I am confident that your Government will wish to continue safeguarding the vital part played in society by the institution of marriage and by the family.

In championing human rights, the Church is especially concerned to defend the universal rights to life and to religious freedom (cf. Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace, 4). The right to life, from conception to natural death, is the first among rights, and the condition for all others. Moreover, the effective recognition of the right to freedom of conscience and religious freedom is one of the most serious duties of every community that truly wishes to ensure the good of the individual and of society. Your Government is known for its commitment to initiatives aimed at promoting dialogue, respect and cooperation between different religious groups, of particular importance in view of the diverse ethnic and religious affiliation of your population. Be assured that the Holy See is also willing to work with your Government in this area in order to promote common objectives.

Recent years have seen a tragic escalation in international terrorism, often linked to religious motives, and South-East Asia has not been spared the effects of this disturbing development. The Holy See firmly rejects the manipulation of religion for political purposes, and especially the attempt to justify violence in this way. This new threat to world peace calls for a renewed commitment on the part of States to the implementation of international humanitarian law (cf. Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace, 14). The support shown by your Government for global peace-keeping initiatives is a sign of Singapore's firm resolve to contribute to this worthy goal. The Catholic Church shares the concern of all those who seek to limit the suffering caused by armed conflict, and to promote the peaceful coexistence of peoples and nations.

Your Excellency, I pray that the diplomatic mission which you begin today will further strengthen the fruitful relations 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 fulfilment of your duties. I invoke upon you, your family, and all the people of Singapore God's abundant blessings.

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ANGELUS  On Gaudete Sunday
"God Is Near as Friend and Faithful Husband"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2007- 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"Gaudete in Domino semper" -- "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). With these words of St. Paul, the holy Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent opens, and for this reason it is called "Gaudete." The apostle exhorts Christians to rejoice because the coming of the Lord, that is, his glorious return, is certain and he will not delay. The Church makes precisely this invitation while she prepares to celebrate Christmas and her gaze is turned always more toward Bethlehem. In fact, we await his second coming with certain hope because we have known his first coming.

The mystery of Bethlehem reveals to us God-with-us, God near to us, not simply in a spatial and temporal sense; he is near to us because he has wedded, so to speak, our humanity; he has taken our condition upon himself, choosing to be completely like us, except in sin, to make us like him. Christian joy thus flows from this certainty: God is near, he is with me, he is with us, in joy and suffering, in health and sickness, as friend and faithful husband. And this joy remains even in trials, in suffering itself, and remains not on the surface but rather in the depths of the person who gives himself to God and confides in him.

Some ask themselves: But is this joy still possible today? The answer is given by the life of men and women of every age and social condition, happy to consecrate their existence to others! Was not Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta perhaps, in our times, an unforgettable witness of evangelical joy? She lived in daily contact with misery, human degradation, death. Her soul knew the trial of the dark night of faith, and yet she bestowed the smile of God upon all.

We read in one of her writings: "With impatience we await paradise, where God is, but it is in our power to be in paradise beginning here below and from this moment. Being happy with God means: loving like him, helping like him, giving like him, serving like him" ("La gioia di darsi agli altri," Ed. Paoline, 1987, 43).

Yes, joy enters into the heart of those who place themselves at the service of the least and the poor. In those who love in this way God takes up his abode and the soul is in joy. If, however, happiness is made an idol, the wrong road is taken and it is truly difficult to find Jesus. This, unfortunately, is the proposal of the cultures that put individual happiness in the place of God; it is a mentality that finds its emblematic effect in the pursuit of pleasure at all costs, in the spread of drug use as an escape, like a refuge in artificial paradises, which subsequently show themselves to be completely illusory.

Dear brothers and sisters, even at Christmastime it is possible to take the wrong road, to exchange the true feast for that one that does not open the heart to Christ. May the Virgin Mary help all Christians, and men in search of God, to reach Bethlehem, to meet the Child who is born for us, for the salvation and happiness of all men.

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Papal Homily at a Roman Hospital
"In Every Sick Person, May You Be Able to Recognize Christ Himself"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2007- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Dec. 2 homily during a pastoral visit to St. John the Baptist Hospital in Rome, which is sponsored by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

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PASTORAL VISIT OF THE HOLY FATHER BENEDICT XVI
TO "ST JOHN THE BAPTIST" ROMAN HOSPITAL
OF THE SOVEREIGN MILITARY HOSPITALLER ORDER OF MALTA

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

First Sunday of Advent, 2 December 2007

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Let us go to the house of the Lord!". These words that we repeated in the response of the Responsorial Psalm clearly express the feelings that fill our hearts today, the First Sunday of Advent. The reason why we can go ahead joyfully, as the Apostle Paul has exhorted us, lies in the fact that our salvation is now at hand. The Lord is coming! With this knowledge we set out on the journey of Advent, preparing ourselves to celebrate with faith the extraordinary event of the Lord's birth. In the coming weeks, day after day the liturgy will offer for our reflection Old Testament texts that recall the lively, constant desire that kept alive in the Jewish people the expectation of the Messiah's coming. Watchful in prayer, let us too seek to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord, who will come to show us his mercy and give us his salvation.

Precisely during this time of waiting, Advent is a season of hope, and it is to Christian hope that I wished to dedicate my second Encyclical, officially presented the day before yesterday; it begins with the words St Paul addressed to the Christians of Rome: "Spe salvi facti sumus - in hope we were saved" (Rom 8: 24). In the Encyclical, I write among other things that "we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain" (n. 31). May the certainty that God alone can be our steadfast hope enliven us all, gathered here this morning in this house where illness is combated with the support of solidarity. And I would like to make the most of my Visit to your hospital, managed by the Association of the Italian Knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, to present the Encyclical in spirit to the Christian community of Rome, and especially to those who, like you, are in direct contact with suffering and illness, for precisely through suffering like the sick do we have need of hope, the certainty that God exists and does not abandon us, that he lovingly takes us by the hand and accompanies us. It is a text I invite you to examine deeply, to find in it the reasons for this "trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous" (n. 1).

Dear brothers and sisters, "May the God of hope who fills us with all joy and peace in faith through the power of the Holy Spirit be with you all!". With this wish which the priest addresses to the assembly at the beginning of Holy Mass, I offer you my cordial greeting. I greet first of all the Cardinal Vicar, Camillo Ruini, and Cardinal Pio Laghi, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Prelates and priests pres-ent and the chaplains and Sisters who serve here. I greet with respect His Most Eminent Highness Fra Andrew Bertie, Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, whom I thank for the sentiments he has expressed on behalf of the management, the administrative, health-care and nursing staffs and all those who in their various capacities work in this hospital. I extend my greeting to the distinguished Authorities, with a special thought for the Health-care Director as well as the Patients' Representative, whom I thank for the words they addressed to me at the beginning of the Celebration.

But my most affectionate greeting is for you, dear sick people, and for your relatives who share your anxieties and hopes. The Pope is spiritually close to you and assures you of his daily prayers; he invites you to find support and comfort in Jesus and never to lose trust. The Advent liturgy will repeat to us throughout the coming weeks not to tire of calling on him; it will exhort us to go forth to meet him, knowing that he himself comes constantly to visit us. In trial and in sickness, God mysteriously visits us, and if we abandon ourselves to his will, we can experience the power of his love. Precisely because they are inhabited by people troubled by suffering, hospitals and clinics can become privileged places to witness to Christian love, which nourishes hope and inspires resolutions of fraternal solidarity. In the Collect we prayed: "O God, inspire in us the determination to meet with good works your Christ who comes". Yes! Let us open our hearts to every person, especially if he or she is in difficulty, because by doing good to those in need we prepare to welcome Jesus, who, in them, comes to visit us.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is what you seek to do in this hospital, where everyone's concern focuses on the professional and loving acceptance of the patients, the preservation of their dignity and the commitment to improve the quality of their life. Down the centuries the Church has made herself particularly "close" to the suffering. Your praiseworthy Sovereign Military Order of Malta has chosen to share in this spirit: from the very outset it was dedicated to the assistance of pilgrims in the Holy Land with a Hospice-Infirmary. While it pursued its aim of the defence of Christianity, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta spared no effort in treating the sick, especially the poor and the outcast. This hospital is also a testimony of this fraternal love. Having come into existence in the 1970s, it has today become a stronghold with a high standard of technology and a home of solidarity, where side by side with the health-care staff numerous volunteers work with generous dedication.

Dear Knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, dear doctors, nurses and all who work here, you are all called to carry out an important service to the sick and to society, a service that demands self-denial and a spirit of sacrifice. In every sick person, whoever he or she may be, may you be able to recognize and serve Christ himself; make them perceive with your acts and words the signs of his merciful love. To carry out this "mission" well, endeavour, as St Paul instructs us in the Second Reading, to "put on the armour of light" (Rom 13: 12), which consists in the Word of God, the gifts of the Spirit, the grace of the Sacraments, the theological and cardinal virtues; fight evil and abandon sin that darkens our life. At the beginning of a new liturgical year, let us renew our good resolutions of evangelical life. "It is full time now for you to wake from sleep" (Rom 13: 11), the Apostle urges; it is time to convert, to throw off the lethargy of sin, to prepare ourselves confidently to welcome "the Lord who comes". It is for this reason that Advent is a season of prayer and watchful waiting.

The Gospel passage that has just been proclaimed exhorts us to be "watchful", which is among other things the key word of the whole of this liturgical period: "Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming" (Mt 24: 42). Jesus, who came among us at Christmas and will return in glory at the end of time, does not tire of visiting us continuously in everyday events. He asks us to be alert to perceive his presence, his advent, and recommends that we watch and wait for him since his coming is not programmed or foretold but will be sudden and unexpected. Only those who are alert are not taken by surprise. He warns: may it not happen to you as in Noah's day, when men ate and drank heedlessly and were swept away unprepared by the flood (cf. Mt 24: 37-38). What does the Lord want to make us understand with this warning, other than we must not let ourselves be absorbed by material realities and concerns to the point of being ensnared by them? We must live in the eyes of the Lord with the conviction that he can make himself present. If we live in this way, the world will become better.

"Watch, therefore". Let us listen to Jesus' Gospel invitation and prepare ourselves to relive with faith the mystery of the Redeemer's birth, which filled all the world with joy; let us prepare ourselves to welcome the Lord in his constant coming to us in the events of life, in joy and in pain, in health and in sickness; let us prepare ourselves to meet him at his definitive coming. His nearness is always a source of peace, and if suffering, a legacy of human nature, sometimes becomes unbearable, with the Saviour's advent "suffering - without ceasing to be suffering - becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise" (Spe Salvi, n. 37). Comforted by these words, let us continue the Eucharistic Celebration, invoking upon the sick, their relatives and all who work in this hospital and in the entire Order of the Knights of Malta the motherly protection of Mary, the Virgin of waiting and hope, as also of the joy which already exists in this world, because when we feel the closeness of the living Christ, there the remedy to suffering and his joy is already present. Amen.

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Pope's Address to Envoy From Suriname
"Differences of Origin, Custom and Belief Are Opportunities"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2007- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's English-language address Thursday to Urmila Joella-Sewnundun, Suriname's new ambassador to the Holy See. The Vatican released the text.

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Your Excellency,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Suriname to the Holy See. I gladly accept your letters of Credence, and I thank you for conveying to me the courteous greetings expressed by President Ronald Venetiaan. I would ask you kindly to transmit my own greetings to His Excellency and to the people of Suriname with an assurance of my continued prayers for the peace and well-being of your country. The congenial spirit that has characterized the diplomatic ties between Suriname and the Holy See since 1994 is a great sign of hope for the future. The Church, which has played a key role in the history of your region, continues to share its peoples' aspirations for peace, social harmony and economic stability.

This year marks the Fortieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio, the Encyclical Letter promulgated by my Venerable Predecessor Pope Paul VI to promote "man's complete development and the development of all mankind" (5). The basic principles set forth in this document prompted a vigorous discussion not only among bishops, but also government leaders, lawmakers, economists, businessmen and intellectuals throughout the world. This lively interest continues today, generating fresh ideas for advancing the common good in ways that not only satisfy man's material needs, but actualize his full spiritual potential. Populorum Progressio points to the challenges facing formerly colonized countries on their journey towards national sovereignty (cf. 7). This road has not always been easy for Suriname, but its democratic institutions and national identity have been strengthened as a result of this process of adjustment to a new political reality. I cordially invite the people of your nation to draw from the deep well of the Church's social teaching as they plan for the future.

Your Excellency has noted the extraordinary ethnic and religious diversity present in your country. Differences of origin, custom and belief are marvellous opportunities for people to learn and practise tolerance and sympathy for one another. Such habits build social cohesion and lay the groundwork for a robust democracy (cf. Populorum Progressio, 64). By becoming more familiar with the various mores coexisting within a nation, its citizens learn to set their sights on truths that transcend them both as individuals and as members of local communities. These truths, which need to be upheld by a country's rule of law and the institutions established to uphold it, also inspire men and women of goodwill to leave their limited sphere of self-interest and to place themselves at the service of their neighbours (cf. Populorum Progressio, 73). Suriname's five-year plan opens multiple opportunities for furthering the spirit of solidarity among your people as it paves the way to initiatives that will foster social integration. I pray that the implementation of this five-year plan will help guarantee that the basic rights of all-especially minorities and the poor-continue to be respected at every level of society (cf. Populorum Progressio, 9).

Your Excellency has also drawn attention to Suriname's membership in various international organizations aimed at furthering multi-lateral dialogue and cooperation. Your nation's willingness to participate in these organizations demonstrates Suriname's commitment to the resolution of regional differences in ways that honour the rightful autonomy of all interested States. Cooperation with your neighbours will also galvanize efforts to conquer the disturbing trend of international drug trafficking, the insidious effects of which can be felt throughout the global community and are particularly destructive to the poor, the young and the underprivileged. Not only does the flow of illegal narcotics do grave harm to those who abuse these substances, but the very structures necessary to facilitate this trade entangle society in a web of corruption, greed and exploitation. Madam Ambassador, while expressing my sincere appreciation for the actions already undertaken to address this complex situation, I encourage you and all those in your region to continue making every effort towards the eradication of this problem from society altogether, both by cutting it off at its sources and by combating the factors that drive people to self-abusive behaviours: especially poverty, the breakdown of the family and social disintegration.

Madam Ambassador, it is a joy for me to receive you today as you begin the mission entrusted to you. I am grateful for your assurance of Suriname's steadfast commitment to religious freedom and its spirit of cooperation with the Catholic Church in your country. In turn, I am happy to confirm the ready collaboration of the various offices and agencies of the Roman Curia. May your mission strengthen the bonds of friendship and goodwill between your Government and the Holy See. Upon you and all the people of your country, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

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Papal Address to Gambian Envoy
"Openness to Others and Submission to Truth Is the Cornerstone of a Human Society"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2007 - Here is the text of Benedict XVI's English-language address Thursday to Elizabeth Ya Eli Harding, Gambia's new ambassador to the Holy See.

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Your Excellency,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Vatican as you present the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of the Gambia to the Holy See. I am grateful for the courteous greetings and sentiments of good will which you have expressed on behalf of His Excellency Colonel Yahya Jammeh, President of the Republic. As I willingly reciprocate, I ask you kindly to convey my gratitude and good wishes to His Excellency, to the civil authorities and to the Gambian people.

Diplomatic relations between the Republic of the Gambia and the Holy See were formally established in 1978. These relations, which the Holy See willingly establishes with individual countries, are a privileged opportunity to work together for the promotion of many important values favourable to the genuine growth of human society. Close and cordial relations can be of great advantage to both parties, especially in areas related to the defence of the life, the dignity and freedom of every human person and the promotion of the health, social development and education of less favoured groups of the population.

Christian love is the force that motivates the Church in your country as it offers its service to the Gambian people through the promotion of important values such as justice, solidarity and peace. The Catholic Church in Africa is committed directly to spread the message of Jesus and consequently to give witness to the love of Almighty God through the practice of charity, like the good Samaritan of the Gospel story (cf. Ecclesia in Africa, 41). A similar witness of love and the values of hospitality and compassion are also practised by followers of other religions in your country. In this regard I am pleased to recognize the cordial and peaceful relationship existing in The Gambia between the members of different religions. It speaks well of the friendly disposition of your people and their genuine religious sentiments. I pray that this good atmosphere will be consolidated and protected from the corrupting influence of ideologies that would use religion for political ends.

The Gambia's future is interwoven with the future of West Africa. The Holy See looks with hope on the efforts to consolidate peace in the region. Nothing can dispense with the process of political dialogue where differences are harmonized and group expectations readjusted for the common good of the people. The Gambia has already given an example of this approach in a recent international dispute. I encourage your country to continue along this noble path in the solution of external and internal differences.

Your people continue to aspire, and rightly so, to a life of well-being in dignity and freedom. They seek improved political and social conditions that guarantee growth through initiative, creativity and exchange. The Catholic Church gives its full encouragement and cooperation to all African Governments who strive to strengthen the rule of law and eradicate corruption, to curb political harassment and the abuse of power (cf. Ecclesia in Africa, 112). In all spheres of life, especially in public affairs, the value of openness to others and submission to truth is the cornerstone of a human society worthy of the name. The commitment to truth is the soul of justice; it establishes and strengthens the right to freedom and opens the way to forgiveness and reconciliation (cf. Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 9 January 2006). Political institutions and public officials are by their very nature open to legitimate control and criticism since they serve the common good of the country and the needs and aspirations of the people whom they represent (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 75). A political climate based on the respect for truth is an indispensable foundation of civil society. Love of their nation should encourage all, authorities and citizens, political parties and the media, to contribute actively to the consolidation of a healthy, open and respectful political environment.

While The Gambia as such has been spared the scourge of war, it still labours under a number of hardships. The Government and its respective departments and ministries, other agencies and political parties are attentive to these situations and can count on the loyal and generous cooperation of the Catholic Church. Living standards and sanitary conditions of sizeable segments of the population require continued attention. I encourage all to become involved in the promotion of the essential equality and complementarity of man and woman. Likewise the struggle against AIDS has to continue on the medical and especially educational fronts. Promiscuous sexual conduct is a root cause of many moral and physical ills and must be overcome by promoting a culture of marital faithfulness and moral integrity. The displacement of populations and the influx of refugees, seeking freedom from the many miseries that armed conflicts bring with them, is still a pressing problem which strains available resources. I am aware of the difficulties involved and I encourage the people and the institutions, public and private, who offer their service to those in need. At the same time I appeal to the international community to play a generous part in supporting this humanitarian task.

Madam Ambassador, these are some of the thoughts that arise from the Holy See's attentive consideration and appreciation of your country and the African Continent. I wish you every success in your mission. You may count on the willing and open cooperation of the Offices of the Vatican and the Roman Curia. I am pleased to renew once again my good wishes to His Excellency President Jammeh, to the Government and people of your country. May Almighty God bestow upon the nation abundant and lasting blessings of well-being and peace!

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Papal Address to Seychelles Envoy
"The Future of the State Depends in Large Part on Families"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 14, 2007- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's English-language address Thursday to Alain Butler Payette, Seychelles' new ambassador to the Holy See. The text was released by the Vatican.

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Your Excellency,

I am pleased to accept the Letters by which you are accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Seychelles to the Holy See. I recall with pleasure your visit last year in the company of President James Alix Michel and I am most grateful for the greetings which you have brought from him. For my part, I gladly reciprocate with the assurance of my heartfelt prayers for your beloved country and all its people.

Seychelles has been blessed by Providence not only with great natural beauty and a sound economic life, but also with the social harmony and cohesiveness born of shared values and a strong commitment to solidarity in the pursuit of the common good. Your nation can indeed be grateful for its high standard of living, the fruit of the vision and sacrifice of many generations of citizens. Within the broader context of the African continent, Seychelles is well known for the quality and extent of its educational system and the breadth of its network of health services, available to all citizens. This impressive infrastructure offers great promise for the future of the nation, since it provides a firm foundation for continued economic growth and also, even more importantly, for the realization of the deepest hopes and aspirations of the younger generation.

In this regard, I am grateful for Your Excellency's reference to the importance of acknowledging and fostering those spiritual values, born of your nation's Christian roots, which have been decisive in shaping the present of Seychelles and which offer a sure foundation for its future. The Church in Seychelles is rightly proud of its contribution to the life of the nation, particularly through its historic commitment to the education of the young and to the training of the faithful in the virtues essential for integral human development and the building of a free, just and prosperous society. The Catholic community wishes to persevere in this commitment, and, in a spirit of sincerity and respectful cooperation, to work for the promotion of the common good through the preaching of the Gospel, the work of forming consciences in sound religious and moral principles, and the provision of charitable assistance to all, without regard to race or religion.

On this occasion I cannot fail to express my appreciation for the cordial relations existing between the Republic of Seychelles and the Holy See, marked as they are by reciprocal trust and ready collaboration. I likewise express my gratitude for the Government's efforts to support religious education at the primary level and to contribute to the building of new churches and educational structures. This commitment is a concrete sign of the relationship of trust and responsible cooperation which has long existed between the civil authorities and the Catholic community in the service of the young, who represent the hope of society. The nation has, in fact, made the needs of the young and their sound formation a notable priority, and this will surely bear rich fruit as the young men and women of today gradually take their place as the responsible citizens and leaders of tomorrow. I have great confidence in the youth of Seychelles, and through you I send all of them my affectionate greetings and my hearty encouragement to persevere in cultivating the virtues of honesty, fidelity and generous service to others which not only bring personal happiness and deep fulfilment, but also create a society of ever greater fraternity, freedom, justice and peace.

Among the greatest resources of Seychelles is its strong family life, grounded in the mutual love of husband and wife and strengthened by the gift of children. As the first cell of society, the family rightly looks to society for the encouragement it needs in its irreplaceable mission. I can only encourage the efforts being made by all people of good will, in every sphere of national life and policy, to "guarantee and foster the genuine identity of family life" (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 252), by promoting and defending this fundamental institution, acknowledging and meeting the challenges faced by young families, and supporting parents in their responsibilities as the first educators of their children. The future of the state depends in large part on families that are strong in their communion and stable in their commitment (cf. ibid., 213).

Your Excellency, as you now begin your mission on behalf of the Republic of Seychelles, please accept my personal good wishes for your demanding work. Know that the various offices of the Holy See are ready to assist and support you in the fulfilment of your duties. With these sentiments I cordially invoke upon you, your family, and all the beloved people of Seychelles God's richest blessings of joy and peace.

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Address to Namibia's Ambassador
"The Church Dedicates No Less Energy to Education Than She Does to Health Care"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 14, 2007- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's English-language address Thursday to Peter Hitjitevi Katjavivi, Namibia's new ambassador to the Holy See. The Vatican released the text.

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Your Excellency,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to the Vatican as I accept the letters by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Namibia to the Holy See. I thank you for the greetings and good wishes which you have expressed on behalf of your President, Mr. Hifikepunye Pohamba, and I would ask that you kindly convey to him and to the Namibian people my own cordial greetings and the assurance of my prayers for their peace and well-being.

Having attained independence in 1990, Namibia is one of the world's youngest nations. Yet the history of her people stretches back much further, encompassing periods of great trial and suffering as well as moments of remarkable success. Your Excellency has kindly expressed appreciation for the Church's steadfast presence throughout this history. Arriving in the territory in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Catholic missionaries, in addition to establishing places of worship, also founded numerous schools and hospitals, many of which are still serving the Namibian people today. The work of these institutions gives witness to the "duty of charity" which has always been at the heart of the Church's mission (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 32).

As you have indicated, authentic love for one's neighbour must be expressed in tangible ways. Yet in the public realm, it is often difficult to ascertain precisely what will be most conducive to the good of our brothers and sisters. Such discernment calls for a long-range vision. This has been the impetus for the many initiatives your country has undertaken to enhance the quality of life of all Namibians by concentrating in a special way on authentic human development. Indeed, the quality of human life cannot be measured solely in terms of consumable goods. The Church shares the conviction that societies must embrace man's "full range of material needs" as well as his "intellectual, moral, spiritual, and religious life" (Gaudium et Spes, 64). I pray that as Namibia implements its strategies for economic and social development, it keeps its sights set on an integral vision of man in his bodily, spiritual and social dimensions.

Namibia's vision for the future recognizes the urgent need to bring the troubling spread of infectious disease to a halt. The tragic toll which HIV/AIDS has had in Southern Africa has been particularly alarming. In this regard, I assure the people of your country that the Church will continue to assist those who suffer from AIDS and to support their families. The Church's contribution to the goal of eradicating AIDS from society cannot but draw its inspiration from the Christian conception of human love and sexuality. The understanding of marriage as the total, reciprocal and exclusive communion of love between a man and a woman not only accords with the plan of the Creator, it prompts the most effective behaviours for preventing the sexual transmission of disease: namely, abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage. It is for this reason that the Church dedicates no less energy to education and catechesis than she does to health care and corporal works of mercy. Mr. Ambassador, I encourage the leaders of your nation to legislate in a way that promotes the life of the family, which must always be held as sacred and most fundamental for a stable society.

Human health also depends on a harmonious relationship with nature, which has been entrusted to man's intelligent dominion. Namibia's Constitution is one of the first to make explicit mention of the grave responsibility to protect the environment and to use its resources wisely. I join you in drawing the global community's attention to the importance of respecting nature as a common good destined for the enjoyment of the whole human family (cf. Centesimus Annus, 37). To this end, Namibia has made a concerted effort towards agrarian reform. Yet the road has not been easy. Above all, policies in this area must always uphold the basic right of the hungry to their daily portion of bread (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42). Therefore, I warmly encourage everyone involved in these initiatives to persevere. By effectively administering titles, opening access to credit, and utilizing the latest advances in science and technology (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 69), I am confident that your nation will achieve a more equitable distribution of land and reap a more abundant harvest of the earth's fruits in the years ahead.

I assure you, Mr. Ambassador, that the Church will continue to stand with your fellow countrymen as they strive to assist one another in accordance with the divine command to love one's neighbour (cf. Mt 22: 39). As you take on your responsibilities, I am confident that you will find the various departments of the Holy See ready to assist you in carrying out your mission. Upon you, your family, the Namibian people and their leaders, I invoke an abundance of divine blessings.

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Speech to 7 New Ambassadors
"I Desire That the Education of Youth Be a Priority"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 13, 2007- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's speech today to seven new ambassadors to the Holy See, who presented their letters of credence. The ambassadors come from Thailand, Seychelles, Namibia, Gambia, Suriname, Singapore and Kuwait.

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Excellencies:

With much joy, I welcome you on the occasion of the presentation of the letters that accredit you as extraordinary ambassadors and delegates of your respective countries: Thailand, Seychelles, Namibia, Gambia, Suriname, Singapore and Kuwait. I thank you for the kind words you have transmitted to me on behalf of your heads of state. I ask that you express to them my deferential greetings and my best wishes for them and for the important mission they exercise in service of your countries.

My cordial greeting is also directed to all the civil and religious authorities of your nations, as well as all your countrymen. Through you, I assure them of my prayers, encouraging them in the continuation of their mission and the testimony they offer with their commitment of service to everyone.

Your diplomatic mission is particularly important in today's world to show that, in all the situations of international life, dialogue must overcome violence, and the desire for peace and brotherhood should prevail over confrontation and individualism, which only causes tensions and resentment, impeding progress in the reconciliation of societies.

Through you, I wish to launch a fresh call to everyone who plays a role in public life and to those who participate in governing nations, to do everything in their power to restore hope to the peoples they have been entrusted to govern. May they bear in mind their peoples' deepest aspirations and do what is necessary so that everyone may benefit from the natural and economic resources of his or her country, in accordance with the principles of justice and equity.

From this perspective, you should pay particular attention to the younger generations, showing them that they are a country's greatest wealth. Their integral education is a fundamental necessity. In fact, a technical and scientific training is not enough to fashion men and women who are responsible in their families and on every level of society. To reach this objective, one has to promote education based on human and moral values that enable each young person to trust in himself, to hope in the future, concerning himself with his brothers and sisters, and taking on his role in the development of the nation, with an ever increasing and acute sense of concern for others.

For this reason I desire that, in every country, the education of youth be a priority, with the help of international institutions involved in eradicating illiteracy and the lack of formation in all its forms. This is a particularly important way to combat the desperation that can take root in the hearts of young people, and provoke many individual or collective acts of violence.

The Catholic Church, thanks to her numerous educational institutions, is unceasingly committed, alongside men and women of good will, on the front lines of the field of integral formation of the young. I encourage all people who participate in this beautiful mission of educating youth to continue tirelessly in their task, convinced that an adequate formation of youth prepares a promising tomorrow.

You have just received from your heads of state a mission before the Holy See. As we end our meeting, I wish to express to you, men and women ambassadors, my best wishes for the service you are beginning to perform. May the Almighty sustain you, your loved ones, your collaborators, and all your fellow citizens in the building up of a peaceful society, and may an abundance of divine blessings descend on each one of you.

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Papal Address to Thai Envoy to Holy See
Development Must "Highlight the Dignity of the Human Person"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 13, 2007 - Here is the text of Benedict XVI's English-language address today to Chaiyong Satjipanon, Thailand's new ambassador to the Holy See.

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Your Excellency,

With much pleasure I welcome you to the Vatican and accept the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Thailand to the Holy See. I greatly appreciate the cordial greetings which you have brought from His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. I warmly reciprocate them and ask you to convey the assurance of my deep esteem for the Royal Family, and my prayers for the well-being of the citizens of your noble nation. The firm bonds of respect and friendship between Thailand and the Holy See, which enjoy a remarkable history of more than four hundred years, today remain a source of particular strength that both parties draw upon in their service to the human family.

On the auspicious occasion of the Sixtieth Anniversary of His Majesty's succession to the throne of the Kingdom of Thailand, I had the profound satisfaction of joining all the citizens of your country in recognizing the many blessings which His Majesty has received over these last six decades. I also took the opportunity to express my respect for the loving service he has rendered through his assiduous care to promote unity, religious tolerance and compassion for the poor. Indeed, for centuries the Royal Family and the Holy See have shared a concern and solicitude for the human family, especially the most vulnerable. The joyous Christmas visit of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to the Apostolic Nunciature, which included cultural activities and service to the poor, not only warmed the hearts of all present but manifested afresh our common commitment to the marginalized and less fortunate.

The moral characteristic of authentic development is of fundamental importance to integral progress (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 9). 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 development which is not limited merely to satisfying material necessities. Instead, such a concept must also highlight the dignity of the human person -- the proper subject of all progress -- and thereby enhance the common good of all, including minority groups. While such a goal certainly demands the support of the international community, it is also the case that much can be achieved through regional and local initiatives. Your nation's efforts to promote economic cooperation between ASEAN member States affirm the profound value of communal solidarity. Indeed, economic and social cooperation have helped substantially to overcome historical divisions and animosities in the region. They have also helped to lessen the incidents of local unrest of the type which sporadically emerges in the south of your country.

As Your Excellency has kindly observed, the Church in Thailand serves the nation considerably through her extensive educational and social apostolate. In regard to the provision of education, we can take heart that where schools and training institutes function in a professional manner and are staffed by people of personal integrity with a love of learning, a hopeful future is offered to a nation and most especially to its young. Education is a highly effective means to break the cycle of poverty which still afflicts so many families today, and it is increasingly recognized by the international community as an indispensable part of the way to peace. By the learning and socialization gained through schooling, pupils from all strata of society are integrated into a nation's civic life and are thus able to have the satisfaction of contributing to it.

The Catholic Church, in her service of the human family, reaches out to all members of Thai society without distinction. Her charitable mission, particularly to the poor and suffering, bears witness to "the unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbour" (Deus Caritas Est, 16). Of particular concern to her is the scourge of AIDS, prostitution and the trafficking of women and children which continue to afflict the countries of the region. Undoubtedly poverty is a major factor underlying this phenomenon and one which the Church constantly addresses. It must also be acknowledged that the decline in moral values, fuelled by the trivialization of sexuality in the media and entertainment industries, leads to the degradation of women and even the abuse of children. The complexity of this unspeakable human exploitation demands a concerted international response. To this end, I note Thailand's increasing commitment to various international conventions and protocols designed to combat sexual exploitation and trafficking. This international cooperation, coupled with an unbending domestic political resolve to confront the corruption and impunity which facilitate such crimes, will lead to a turning point of hope and dignity for all concerned. In these efforts I can assure you of the Church's utmost moral support and practical assistance.

Over the past year, Thailand has made significant strides towards revitalizing its democratic institutions. I join the people of your country as they look forward to a full restoration of the structures and procedures that will help relieve social tensions and respect the political rights of minorities. I take this opportunity to encourage a fair and just electoral process in the weeks ahead which favours the participation of all and honours the voice of the people.

Mr Ambassador, I am confident that the mission which you begin today will help to strengthen still further the bonds of understanding between Thailand and the Holy See. As you take up your new responsibilities I assure you that the various offices of the Roman Curia are ready to assist you in the fulfilment of your duties. Upon yourself and your fellow citizens I invoke an abundance of divine blessings.

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St. Paulinus, bishop of Nola
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"Faith Is the Only Art, and Christ Is My Poetry"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 11, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection focused on St. Paulinus, bishop of Nola.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

St. Paulinus of Nola is the Father of the Church to whom we turn today. A contemporary of St. Augustine, to whom he was bound by deep friendship, Paulinus exercised his ministry in Campania, in Nola, where he was first priest then bishop. He originally came from Aquitaine in the south of France, from Bordeaux, where he was born to a high-ranking family. He received a fine literary education, his teacher being the poet Ausonius.

The first time he left his homeland was to follow his precocious political career, which saw him rise at a young age to the post of governor of Campania. In this public office he showed his gifts of wisdom and moderation.

It was in that period that the seed of conversion was planted in his heart. The stimulus came from the simple yet intense faith with which people honored the grave of a saint, Felix the martyr, in the shrine of what is now Cimitile. As the person in charge of the public good, Paulinus took an interest in the shrine. He built a home for the poor and a road to give easier access for the numerous pilgrims.

While he was striving to build the earthly town, he was slowly discovering the way to the celestial one. The encounter with Christ was the arrival point of a laborious work, a work filled with trials. Painful circumstances, such as his being less favored by the political authorities, made him realize firsthand how transient things are. Once he came to the faith he will write: "Man without Christ is but dust and shadow" ("Carmen" X, 289).

Longing to make sense of existence he went to Milan to join Ambrose's school. He then completed the Christian education in his homeland, where he was baptized by Bishop Delphinus of Bordeaux. His marriage played a role in his path toward faith. He married Therasia, a devout noblewoman from Barcelona, with whom he had a son. He would have continued his life as a good Christian layman, had it not been for the death of his child, only a few days old, which shook him, showing him that God had a different plan for his life. He was called to devote himself to Christ in a strict ascetic life.

In full agreement with his wife Therasia, he sold his assets for the benefit of the poor, and left Aquitaine with her to go to Nola, where the two spouses took up residence next to the basilica of the patron St. Felix, living in chaste fraternity according to a way of life which others soon joined.

The community rhythm was typically monastic; Paulinus, who had been ordained a priest in Barcelona, committed himself to minister to the pilgrims. In this way he gained the trust of the Christian community that chose him as the successor to the chair of Nola after the death of its bishop around 409. His pastoral action intensified, characterized by a special attention toward the poor.

He left behind the image of an authentic pastor of charity, as St. Gregory the Great described him in Chapter III of his "Dialogues," where the heroic gesture of Paulinus offering himself as a prisoner in the place of a widow's son is illustrated.

The episode has been historically questioned; however, we are left with the image of a kindhearted bishop who stayed close to his people during the troubled times of the barbaric invasions.

Paulinus' conversion impressed his contemporaries. His teacher Ausonius, a pagan poet, felt "betrayed," and addressed him with harsh words, reproaching him on one hand for his "scorn" of material assets, which he found foolish, and on the other hand the fact that he abandoned his literary vocation. Paulinus replied that giving to the poor did not mean he despised earthly assets; on the contrary, he gave them a higher value by using them for charitable ends.

As to the literary engagements, Paulinus did not abandon the poetic talent, which he would still cultivate, but rather the poetic forms inspired by mythology and pagan ideals. A new aesthetic was driving his sensitivity: It was the beauty of God made man, crucified and resurrected, of whom he was now a poet. In truth he hadn't left poetry; now he took inspiration from the Gospel, as he says in the following verse: "To me faith is the only art, and Christ is my poetry" ("At nobis ars una fides, et musica Christus": "Carmen" XX, 32).

His poems are songs of faith and love in which the daily history of small and big events is seen as the history of salvation, the history of God with us. A lot of these compositions, the so-called Christmas Poems, are related to the annual festival of Felix the martyr, whom he had chosen as his heavenly patron. By remembering St. Felix he meant to praise Christ himself, convinced that it was thanks to the saint's mediation that he had obtained the glory of conversion: "In your light, oh joyous one, I loved Christ" ("Carmen" XXI, 373).

He wanted to express the same concept by enlarging the shrine with a new basilica, where the paintings, illustrated with subtitles, would become a visual catechesis for the pilgrims. That is how he explained his project in a "Carmen" dedicated to another catechist, St. Nicetas of Remesiana, while accompanying him during his visit to the basilicas: "Now I want you to contemplate the paintings on the walls of the decorated porticos. [...] We thought it would be helpful to use the painting to represent the sacred themes in St. Felix's house, in the hope that, by viewing these images, the painted picture will inspire interest in the astonished minds of the peasants" ("Carmen" XXVII, vv. 511.580-583). Today we can still admire the remains of such accomplishments, which place the saint from Nola among the main reference points of Christian archaeology.

In the ascetic community of Cimitile, life went on in poverty, prayer and fully immersed in the "lectio divina." Scripture -- read, pondered and assimilated -- was the light under which the saint from Nola scrutinized his soul in the drive toward perfection. To those who admired his decision to dispose of material assets, he reminded them that such gestures did not represent full conversion: "Abandoning or selling the assets we own in this world does not constitute the completion, but only the beginning of our race in the stadium; it is not, so to speak, the goal, but only the starting point. The athlete, in fact, does not win when he undresses, as he puts down his clothes to begin his fight; he is worthy of being crowned winner only after he has duly fought" (cf. Ep. XXIV, 7 to Sulpicius Severus).

Next to asceticism and the word of God lies charity: In the monastic community the poor were regulars. Paulinus did not only give alms: He welcomed the poor as if they were Christ himself. He had reserved for them an area of the monastery and, by doing so, he felt like not giving, but receiving, through an exchange of gifts between the offered shelter and the praying gratitude of the assisted ones. He called the poor his "patrons" (cf. Ep. XIII, 11 to Pammachio) and, because they lived in the lower floor, he liked to say that their prayer served as the foundation of his house (cf. "Carmen" XXI, 393-394).

St. Paulinus did not write theological treatises, but his poems and his dense epistolary are full of a lived theology, imbued with the word of God, constantly scrutinized like light for life. In particular, the sense of the Church as a mystery of unity emerges. He practiced communion above all through the practice of spiritual friendship. In this way, Paulinus was a true teacher, making of his life a crossroads of chosen souls: from Martin of Tours to Jerome, from Ambrose to Augustine, from Delphinus of Bordeaux to Nicetas of Remesiana, from Victricius of Rouen to Rufinus of Aquileia, from Pammachius to Severus Sulpicius, and many more, some more famous than others. The intense letters written to Augustine stem from this environment. Independent of the content of the individual letters, what's impressive is the warmth with which the saint from Nola celebrates friendship in itself, as a manifestation of the single body of Christ being animated by the Holy Spirit.

Here is a significant passage from the beginning of the correspondence between the two friends: "We should not be astonished if we, though distant, are in each other's presence and, without having met, we know each other, as we are parts of one body, we have one head only, we are filled with one grace, we live of the same bread, we walk along one single road, we live in the same house" (Ep. 6, 2).

As we can see, this is an amazing description of what it means to be a Christian, to be the Body of Christ, to live in communion with the Church. The theology of our times has found precisely in the concept of communion the key to approach the mystery of the Church. The testimony of St. Paulinus of Nola helps us to experience the Church as it is presented in the Second Vatican Council: sacrament of the intimate union with God, and as such the union of us all and eventually of all humankind (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 1). From this perspective I wish you all a good Advent.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the great teachers of the early Church, we now turn to Saint Paulinus, the Bishop of Nola in southern Italy. A native of Bordeaux in Gaul, Paulinus became the Roman governor of Campania, where, after encountering the depth of popular devotion to Saint Felix Martyr, he was led to embrace the Christian faith. After the tragic loss of their first child, he and his wife sold their goods and undertook a life of chastity and prayer. Ordained a priest and then Bishop of Nola, Paulinus distinguished himself by his charity to the poor during the troubled times of the barbarian invasions. A man of letters and a gifted poet, Paulinus placed his art at the service of Christ and the Church. In his poetry and his vast correspondence, Paulinus expressed his deep faith and his love of the poor. His letters to such contemporary churchmen as Saints Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Martin of Tours, reflect his asceticism, his deep sense of the Church's communion and his cultivation of the practice of spiritual friendship as a means of experiencing that communion within the mystery of Christ's mystical Body, enlivened by the Holy Spirit.

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Papal Message for '08 World Peace Day
"The Family Is the First and Indispensable Teacher of Peace"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 11, 2007 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's message for the 41st World Day of Peace, to be celebrated Jan. 1, 2008. The message titled "The Human Family, a Community of Peace," was signed Saturday and released today.

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MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS
POPE BENEDICT XVI
FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE
WORLD DAY OF PEACE

1 JANUARY 2008

 

THE HUMAN FAMILY, A COMMUNITY OF PEACE

1. At the beginning of a New Year, I wish to send my fervent good wishes for peace, together with a heartfelt message of hope to men and women throughout the world. I do so by offering for our common reflection the theme which I have placed at the beginning of this message. It is one which I consider particularly important: the human family, a community of peace. The first form of communion between persons is that born of the love of a man and a woman who decide to enter a stable union in order to build together a new family. But the peoples of the earth, too, are called to build relationships of solidarity and cooperation among themselves, as befits members of the one human family: "All peoples"-as the Second Vatican Council declared-"are one community and have one origin, because God caused the whole human race to dwell on the face of the earth (cf. Acts 17:26); they also have one final end, God"(1).

The family, society and peace

2. The natural family, as an intimate communion of life and love, based on marriage between a man and a woman(2), constitutes "the primary place of ‘humanization' for the person and society"(3), and a "cradle of life and love"(4). The family is therefore rightly defined as the first natural society, "a divine institution that stands at the foundation of life of the human person as the prototype of every social order"(5).

3. Indeed, in a healthy family life we experience some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them. For this reason, the family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace. It is no wonder, therefore, that violence, if perpetrated in the family, is seen as particularly intolerable. Consequently, when it is said that the family is "the primary living cell of society"(6), something essential is being stated. The family is the foundation of society for this reason too: because it enables its members in decisive ways to experience peace. It follows that the human community cannot do without the service provided by the family. Where can young people gradually learn to savour the genuine "taste" of peace better than in the original "nest" which nature prepares for them? The language of the family is a language of peace; we must always draw from it, lest we lose the "vocabulary" of peace. In the inflation of its speech, society cannot cease to refer to that "grammar" which all children learn from the looks and the actions of their mothers and fathers, even before they learn from their words.

4. The family, since it has the duty of educating its members, is the subject of specific rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which represents a landmark of juridic civilization of truly universal value, states that "the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State"(7). For its part, the Holy See sought to acknowledge a special juridic dignity proper to the family by publishing the Charter of the Rights of the Family. In its Preamble we read: "the rights of the person, even if they are expressed as rights of the individual, have a fundamental social dimension which finds an innate and vital expression in the family"(8). The rights set forth in the Charter are an expression and explicitation of the natural law written on the heart of the human being and made known to him by reason. The denial or even the restriction of the rights of the family, by obscuring the truth about man, threatens the very foundations of peace.

5. Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace. This point merits special reflection: everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace. The family needs to have a home, employment and a just recognition of the domestic activity of parents, the possibility of schooling for children, and basic health care for all. When society and public policy are not committed to assisting the family in these areas, they deprive themselves of an essential resource in the service of peace. The social communications media, in particular, because of their educational potential, have a special responsibility for promoting respect for the family, making clear its expectations and rights, and presenting all its beauty.

Humanity is one great family

6. The social community, if it is to live in peace, is also called to draw inspiration from the values on which the family community is based. This is as true for local communities as it is for national communities; it is also true for the international community itself, for the human family which dwells in that common house which is the earth. Here, however, we cannot forget that the family comes into being from the responsible and definitive "yes" of a man and a women, and it continues to live from the conscious "yes" of the children who gradually join it. The family community, in order to prosper, needs the generous consent of all its members. This realization also needs to become a shared conviction on the part of all those called to form the common human family. We need to say our own "yes" to this vocation which God has inscribed in our very nature. We do not live alongside one another purely by chance; all of us are progressing along a common path as men and women, and thus as brothers and sisters. Consequently, it is essential that we should all be committed to living our lives in an attitude of responsibility before God, acknowledging him as the deepest source of our own existence and that of others. By going back to this supreme principle we are able to perceive the unconditional worth of each human being, and thus to lay the premises for building a humanity at peace. Without this transcendent foundation society is a mere aggregation of neighbours, not a community of brothers and sisters called to form one great family.

The family, the human community and the environment

7. The family needs a home, a fit environment in which to develop its proper relationships. For the human family, this home is the earth, the environment that God the Creator has given us to inhabit with creativity and responsibility. We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion. Human beings, obviously, are of supreme worth vis-à-vis creation as a whole. Respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man. Rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests, for future generations also have the right to reap its benefits and to exhibit towards nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves. Nor must we overlook the poor, who are excluded in many cases from the goods of creation destined for all. Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow. It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances. If the protection of the environment involves costs, they should be justly distributed, taking due account of the different levels of development of various countries and the need for solidarity with future generations. Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.

8. In this regard, it is essential to "sense" that the earth is "our common home" and, in our stewardship and service to all, to choose the path of dialogue rather than the path of unilateral decisions. Further international agencies may need to be established in order to confront together the stewardship of this "home" of ours; more important, however, is the need for ever greater conviction about the need for responsible cooperation. The problems looming on the horizon are complex and time is short. In order to face this situation effectively, there is a need to act in harmony. One area where there is a particular need to intensify dialogue between nations is that of the stewardship of the earth's energy resources. The technologically advanced countries are facing two pressing needs in this regard: on the one hand, to reassess the high levels of consumption due to the present model of development, and on the other hand to invest sufficient resources in the search for alternative sources of energy and for greater energy efficiency. The emerging counties are hungry for energy, but at times this hunger is met in a way harmful to poor countries which, due to their insufficient infrastructures, including their technological infrastructures, are forced to undersell the energy resources they do possess. At times, their very political freedom is compromised by forms of protectorate or, in any case, by forms of conditioning which appear clearly humiliating.

Family, human community and economy

9. An essential condition for peace within individual families is that they should be built upon the solid foundation of shared spiritual and ethical values. Yet it must be added that the family experiences authentic peace when no one lacks what is needed, and when the family patrimony-the fruit of the labour of some, the savings of others, and the active cooperation of all-is well-managed in a spirit of solidarity, without extravagance and without waste. The peace of the family, then, requires an openness to a transcendent patrimony of values, and at the same time a concern for the prudent management of both material goods and inter-personal relationships. The failure of the latter results in the breakdown of reciprocal trust in the face of the uncertainty threatening the future of the nuclear family.

10. Something similar must be said for that other family which is humanity as a whole. The human family, which today is increasingly unified as a result of globalization, also needs, in addition to a foundation of shared values, an economy capable of responding effectively to the requirements of a common good which is now planetary in scope. Here too, a comparison with the natural family proves helpful. Honest and straightforward relationships need to be promoted between individual persons and between peoples, thus enabling everyone to cooperate on a just and equal footing. Efforts must also be made to ensure a prudent use of resources and an equitable distribution of wealth. In particular, the aid given to poor countries must be guided by sound economic principles, avoiding forms of waste associated principally with the maintenance of expensive bureaucracies. Due account must also be taken of the moral obligation to ensure that the economy is not governed solely by the ruthless laws of instant profit, which can prove inhumane.

The family, the human community and the moral law

11. A family lives in peace if all its members submit to a common standard: this is what prevents selfish individualism and brings individuals together, fostering their harmonious coexistence and giving direction to their work. This principle, obvious as it is, also holds true for wider communities: from local and national communities to the international community itself. For the sake of peace, a common law is needed, one which would foster true freedom rather than blind caprice, and protect the weak from oppression by the strong. The family of peoples experiences many cases of arbitrary conduct, both within individual States and in the relations of States among themselves. In many situations the weak must bow not to the demands of justice, but to the naked power of those stronger than themselves. It bears repeating: power must always be disciplined by law, and this applies also to relations between sovereign States.

12. The Church has often spoken on the subject of the nature and function of law: the juridic norm, which regulates relationships between individuals, disciplines external conduct and establishes penalties for offenders, has as its criterion the moral norm grounded in nature itself. Human reason is capable of discerning this moral norm, at least in its fundamental requirements, and thus ascending to the creative reason of God which is at the origin of all things. The moral norm must be the rule for decisions of conscience and the guide for all human behaviour. Do juridic norms exist for relationships between the nations which make up the human family? And if they exist, are they operative? The answer is: yes, such norms exist, but to ensure that they are truly operative it is necessary to go back to the natural moral norm as the basis of the juridic norm; otherwise the latter constantly remains at the mercy of a fragile and provisional consensus.

13. Knowledge of the natural moral norm is not inaccessible to those who, in reflecting on themselves and their destiny, strive to understand the inner logic of the deepest inclinations present in their being. Albeit not without hesitation and doubt, they are capable of discovering, at least in its essential lines, this common moral law which, over and above cultural differences, enables human beings to come to a common understanding regarding the most important aspects of good and evil, justice and injustice. It is essential to go back to this fundamental law, committing our finest intellectual energies to this quest, and not letting ourselves be discouraged by mistakes and misunderstandings. Values grounded in the natural law are indeed present, albeit in a fragmentary and not always consistent way, in international accords, in universally recognized forms of authority, in the principles of humanitarian law incorporated in the legislation of individual States or the statutes of international bodies. Mankind is not "lawless". All the same, there is an urgent need to persevere in dialogue about these issues and to encourage the legislation of individual States to converge towards a recognition of fundamental human rights. The growth of a global juridic culture depends, for that matter, on a constant commitment to strengthen the profound human content of international norms, lest they be reduced to mere procedures, easily subject to manipulation for selfish or ideological reasons.

Overcoming conflicts and disarmament

14. Humanity today is unfortunately experiencing great division and sharp conflicts which cast dark shadows on its future. Vast areas of the world are caught up in situations of increasing tension, while the danger of an increase in the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons causes well-founded apprehension in every responsible person. Many civil wars are still being fought in Africa, even though a number of countries there have made progress on the road to freedom and democracy. The Middle East is still a theatre of conflict and violence, which also affects neighbouring nations and regions and risks drawing them into the spiral of violence. On a broader scale, one must acknowledge with regret the growing number of States engaged in the arms race: even some developing nations allot a significant portion of their scant domestic product to the purchase of weapons. The responsibility for this baneful commerce is not limited: the countries of the industrially developed world profit immensely from the sale of arms, while the ruling oligarchies in many poor countries wish to reinforce their stronghold by acquiring ever more sophisticated weaponry. In difficult times such as these, it is truly necessary for all persons of good will to come together to reach concrete agreements aimed at an effective demilitarization, especially in the area of nuclear arms. At a time when the process of nuclear non-proliferation is at a stand-still, I feel bound to entreat those in authority to resume with greater determination negotiations for a progressive and mutually agreed dismantling of existing nuclear weapons. In renewing this appeal, I know that I am echoing the desire of all those concerned for the future of humanity.

15. Sixty years ago the United Nations Organization solemnly issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948-2008). With that document the human family reacted against the horrors of the Second World War by acknowledging its own unity, based on the equal dignity of all men and women, and by putting respect for the fundamental rights of individuals and peoples at the centre of human coexistence. This was a decisive step forward along the difficult and demanding path towards harmony and peace. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Holy See's adoption of the Charter of the Rights of the Family (1983-2008) and the 40th anniversary of the celebration of the first World Day of Peace (1968-2008). Born of a providential intuition of Pope Paul VI and carried forward with great conviction by my beloved and venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II, the celebration of this Day of Peace has made it possible for the Church, over the course of the years, to present in these Messages an instructive body of teaching regarding this fundamental human good. In the light of these significant anniversaries, I invite every man and woman to have a more lively sense of belonging to the one human family, and to strive to make human coexistence increasingly reflect this conviction, which is essential for the establishment of true and lasting peace. I likewise invite believers to implore tirelessly from God the great gift of peace. Christians, for their part, know that they can trust in the intercession of Mary, who, as the Mother of the Son of God made flesh for the salvation of all humanity, is our common Mother.

To all my best wishes for a joyful New Year!

From the Vatican, 8 December 2007

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

(1) Declaration Nostra Aetate, 1.

(2) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 48.

(3) John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, 40: AAS 81 (1989), 469.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 211.

(6) Second Vatican Council, Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11.

(7) Art. 16/3.

(8) Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family, 24 November 1983, Preamble, A.

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On St. John the Baptist
"The Great Prophet Asks Us to Prepare the Way of the Lord"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 9, 2007 - 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

Yesterday, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the liturgy invited us to turn our gaze to Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, Star of Hope for every man. Today, the second Sunday of Advent, the liturgy presents us with the austere figure of the precursor, whom the evangelist Matthew introduces in this way: "John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 3:1-2).

His mission was to smooth out the roads before the Messiah, calling the people of Israel to repent of their sins and to correct every iniquity. John the Baptist announced the imminent judgment with demanding words: "Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3:10). He challenged the hypocrisy of those who felt secure simply because they belonged to the chosen people: Before God, he said, no one has a right to boast, but must bear "good fruit as evidence of conversion" (Matthew 3:8).

As we pursue the journey of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, John the Baptist's call to conversion resounds in our communities. It is a pressing invitation to open our hearts and welcome the Son of God who comes into our midst to make the divine judgment manifest.

The Father, writes the evangelist John, judges no one, but rather has entrusted the power to judge to the Son of Man (cf. John 5:22, 27). And it is today, in the present, that our future destiny is at stake; it is the concrete way we conduct ourselves in this life that decides our eternal fate. At the sunset of our days on earth, at the moment of death, we will be evaluated according to whether or not we resemble the Child who is about to be born in the lowly cave in Bethlehem, since he is the criterion by which God measures humanity.

The heavenly Father, who in the birth of his only-begotten Son manifests his merciful love to us, calls us to follow in his footsteps, making our existence, as he did, a gift of love. And the fruits of love are the "good fruits of conversion" to which John the Baptist refers, when he directs his pointed words at the Pharisees and Sadducees who were in the crowds at Christ's baptism.

Through the Gospel, John the Baptist continues to speak down the centuries, to every generation. His clear and hard words are more than ever salutary for us men and women of today, in whom even the way to live and perceive Christmas is, unfortunately, very often affected by a materialistic mentality.

The "voice" of the great prophet asks us to prepare the way of the Lord who comes in the deserts of today, external and interior deserts, thirsty for the living water that is Christ.

May the Virgin Mary guide us to a true conversion of heart, that we may make the choices necessary to make our mentalities to be in tune with the Gospel.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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The Immaculate Conception
"Sign of Sure Hope and Solace to the People of God"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 9, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Saturday before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The star of Mary Immaculate shines down on the path of Advent. She is the "sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth" ("Lumen Gentium," 68). To reach Jesus, the true light, the sun that has dissipated all the darkness of history, we need human persons near to us who reflect Christ's light and thus illuminate the road to be taken. What person is more luminous than Mary? Who can be for us better than her the star of hope, the sunrise that proclaims the day of salvation (cf. "Spe Salvi," 49)?

For this reason the liturgy brings us to celebrate today, as we approach Christmas, the solemn feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary: The mystery of God's grace overshadowed from the first moment of her existence this creature who was destined to be the Mother of the Redeemer, preserving her from the contagion of original sin. Gazing upon her, we recognize the height and beauty of God's project for every man: becoming holy and immaculate in love (cf. Ephesians 1:4), in the image of our Creator.

What a great gift to have Mary Immaculate as mother! A mother shining with beauty, transparent to God's love. I think of the young people of today, growing up in an environment saturated by messages that propose false models of happiness. These young men and women run the risk of losing hope because they often seem orphans of true love, the love that fills life with meaning and joy. This was a theme dear to my venerable predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who many times proposed Mary as "Mother of Love" to the young people of our time.

Not a few experiences tell us that young people, adolescents and even children are easy victims of the corruption of love, deceived by unscrupulous adults, who, lying to them and to themselves, draw them into the dead ends of consumerism. Even the most sacred realities, such as the human body, temple of the God of love and life, become objects of consumption; and this happens earlier and earlier, already in pre-adolescence. How sad it is when the young lose wonder, the enchantment of the best sentiments, the value of respect for the body, manifestation of the person and his inscrutable mystery!

Mary, the Immaculate one, whom we contemplate in her beauty and holiness, calls us back to all this. On the cross, Jesus entrusts her to John and to all the disciples (cf. John 19:27), and from that moment she became Mother for all humanity, Mother of Hope. We address our prayer to her with faith as we are in our heart on spiritual pilgrimage to Lourdes, where on this very day a special jubilee year has begun on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Mary's appearances in the grotto of Massabielle. Mary Immaculate, "star of the sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!" ("Spe Salvi," 50).

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Pope's Address to Baptist World Alliance
"Lack of Unity Between Christians Openly Contradicts the Will of Christ"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 6, 2007.- Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today at an audience with a delegation of the joint international commission sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

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Dear Friends,

I offer a cordial welcome to you, the members of the joint international commission sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. I am pleased that you have chosen as the site of your meeting this city of Rome, where the Apostles Peter and Paul proclaimed the Gospel and crowned their witness to the Risen Lord by the shedding of their blood. It is my hope that your conversations will bear abundant fruit for the progress of dialogue and the increase of understanding and cooperation between Catholics and Baptists.

The theme which you have chosen for this phase of contacts -- The Word of God in the Life of the Church: Scripture, Tradition and Koinonia -- offers a promising context for the examination of such historically controverted issues as the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, the understanding of Baptism and the sacraments, the place of Mary in the communion of the Church, and the nature of oversight and primacy in the Church's ministerial structure. If our hope for reconciliation and greater fellowship between Baptists and Catholics is to be realized, issues such as these need to be faced together, in a spirit of openness, mutual respect and fidelity to the liberating truth and saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As believers in Christ, we acknowledge him as the one mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5), our Saviour, our Redeemer. He is the cornerstone (Eph 2:21; 1 Pet 2:4-8); and the head of the body, which is the Church (Col 1:18). In this Advent season, we look to his coming with prayerful expectation. Today, as ever, the world needs our common witness to Christ and to the hope brought by the Gospel.

Obedience to the Lord's will should constantly spur us, then, to strive for that unity so movingly expressed in his priestly prayer: "that they may all be one... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17:21). For the lack of unity between Christians "openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and harms the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature" ("Unitatis Redintegratio," 1).

Dear friends, I offer you my cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers for the important work which you have undertaken. Upon your conversations, and upon each of you and your loved ones, I gladly invoke the Holy Spirit's gifts of wisdom, understanding, strength and peace.

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On St. Chromatius of Aquileia
"A Wise Teacher and a Zealous Pastor" (December 5, 2007)

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Dear brothers and sisters!

In the last two catecheses we ventured through the Eastern Semitic Churches, meditating on Aphraates the Persian and St. Ephrem the Syrian; today we return to the Latin world, to the north of the Roman Empire, with St. Chromatius of Aquileia.

This bishop carried out his ministry in the ancient Church of Aquileia, a devout center of Christian life situated in the 10th region of the Roman Empire, "Venetia et Histria."

In 388, when Chromatius ascended to the episcopal chair of the town, the local Christian community already had a splendid history of faith in the Gospel. Between the middle of the third century and the early fourth century, persecutions by Decius, Valerianus and Diocletian had caused a large number of martyrs. Besides, the Church in Aquileia, like many other Churches at that time, was confronted with the threat of the Arian heresy.

Even Athanasius -- the standard bearer of Nicene orthodoxy, whom the Arians had sent to exile -- found shelter in Aquileia for some time. Under the guidance of its bishops, the Christian community withstood the snares of heresy, and fortified its ties to the Catholic faith.

In September 381, Aquileia hosted a synod, which was attended by roughly 35 bishops from the African coasts, the valley of Rhodes and the entire 10th region. The synod's proposition was to destroy what was left of Arianism in the West. The priest Chromatius attended the council as an expert of the bishop of Aquileia, Valeriano (370/1-387/8). The years around the synod in 381 represent "the golden age" of the Aquileian community. St. Jerome, native of Dalmatia, and Rufino from Concordia speak with nostalgia of their stay in Aquileia (370-373), of a sort of theological coterie that Girolamo defines "tamquam chorus beatorum" (like a chorus of blessed) (Cronaca: PL XXVII,697-698).

From this coterie -- that to some extents recalls the communitarian experiences of Eusebius of Vercelli and Augustine -- arose the most relevant personalities of the Northern Adriatic Churches.

Within his family Chromatius had already learned to know and love Christ. Jerome himself admiringly speaks about this, comparing Chromatius' mother to the prophetess Anna, his two sisters to the virgins of the Gospel parable, Chromatius himself and his brother Eusebius to young Samuel (cf. Ep VII: PL XXII,341). Jerome further wrote of Chromatius and Eusebius: "The blessed Chromatius and holy Eusebius were as much brothers by blood ties as by the identity of ideals" (Ep. VIII: PL XXII,342).

Chromatius was born in Aquileia around 345. He was ordained deacon, then presbyter and finally pastor of that Church (388). After receiving the episcopal consecration from Bishop Ambrose, he devoted himself to a task that was challenging due to the vastness of the territory entrusted to his pastoral care: Aquileia's ecclesiastical jurisdiction extended in fact from the present territories of Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria and Slovenia, up to the borders of Hungary.

From an episode of St. John Chyrsostom's life we can deduce how much Chromatius was well appreciated in the Church of his times. When the bishop of Constantinople was exiled, he wrote three letters to those he considered the most important bishops of the West, in order to obtain the emperors' support: The first letter went to the Bishop of Rome, the second to the bishop of Milan and the third to the bishop of Aquileia, that is to Chromatius (Ep. CLV: PG LII, 702).

Due to the precarious political situation, those were difficult times for him too. Most likely Chromatius died in exile, in Grado, while attempting to escape from the raids of the barbarians in 407, the same year Chrysostom died.

In prestige and importance, Aquileia was the fourth town of the Italian peninsula, and the ninth of the Roman Empire: This is also the reason why it was so attractive for the Goths and the Huns. Besides causing grave wars and destruction, the barbarian invasions seriously compromised the circulation of the works of the Fathers preserved in the episcopal library, which had a wealth of codices.

St. Chromatius' writings were dispersed, appearing here and there, often credited to other authors such as John Chrysostom (mostly because both names start the same, Chromatius and Chrysostom), Ambrose, Augustine and even to Jerome himself, whom Chromatius had helped significantly in the textual revision and Latin translation of the Bible.

Most of Chromatius' work was rediscovered thanks to fortunate events that has allowed in recent years the reconstruction of a consistent body of writings: more than 40 sermons (10 of which are incomplete), and over 60 treatises commenting the Gospel of Matthew.

Chromatius was a wise teacher and a zealous pastor. His first and primary commitment was to listen to the Word, in order to announce it: In his teaching he always began from the word of God and returned to the word of God.

Certain themes are especially dear to him, especially the mystery of the Trinity, which he contemplated on as it is revealed throughout the history of salvation.

Second was the theme of the Holy Spirit: Chromatius constantly drew the faithful's attention to the presence and the action of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity in the life of the Church.

Third, with special determination the holy bishop addressed the mystery of Christ: The Word made flesh is the real God and the real man: He became man so to confer to humankind the gift of deity. Fifty years later such truths, used as well against Arianism, contributed to the definition of the Council of Chalcedon.

The strong emphasis on Christ's human nature led Chromatius to talk about the Virgin Mary. His doctrine about Mary is clear and precise. To him we owe some evocative descriptions of the Holy Virgin: Mary is "the evangelical virgin was able of receiving God"; she is "the immaculate and inviolate lamb" who gave birth to the "lamb swaddled in purple" (cf. Sermo XXIII, 3: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/1, p. 134).

The bishop of Aquileia often associated the Virgin to the Church: Both, in fact, are "virgin" and "mother." Chromatius' ecclesiology was especially developed in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew.

Some recurring concepts are: The Church is one and only; it was born from the blood of Christ; it is a precious garment woven by the Holy Spirit; the Church is the place which proclaims that Christ was born of the Virgin, and where brotherhood and harmony flourish.

Chromatius was particularly fond of the image of the ship on the stormy sea -- his were stormy times too, as we have heard. The holy bishop affirmed, "Without a doubt this ship represents the Church" (cf. Tract. XLII, 5: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/2, p. 260).

As a zealous pastor, Chromatius knew how to speak to his people with fresh, colorful and sharp language. Even though he mastered Latin perfectly, he preferred to use the popular language, which was rich in easily understandable images.

Hence, for instance, taking inspiration from the sea, he compared the act of fishing in which fish -- once pulled to shore -- died, to the preaching of the Gospel, thanks to which men are saved from the muddy waters of death and are introduced to true life (cf. Tract. XVI, 3: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/2, p. 106).

Like a good Shepherd, in a tumultuous time like his own, where barbarian raids threatened the world, he stayed at the side of the faithful to comfort them and to open their souls to God, who never abandons his children.

At the conclusion of these reflections, let us reflect on one of Chromatius' exhortations, which is still valid today. "We pray to the Lord with all our heart and faith," recommended the bishop of Aquileia in a sermon, "let us pray that he free us from any attack of the enemy, from any fear of the opponents.

"May he not look at our merits, but at his mercy, he who in the past freed the children of Israel not for their merits, but for his mercy. May he protect us with his merciful love, and may he do what Holy Moses said to the children of Israel: The Lord will fight to defend you, and you will remain in silence. It is he who fights, it is he who carries the victory. [...]

"In order for him to deign to do so, we ought to pray as much as possible. He himself says from the mouth of the prophet: Invoke my name on the day of tribulation; I shall free you, and you shall give me glory" (Sermo XVI, 4: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/1, pp. 100-102).

At the beginning of Advent, St. Chromatius reminds us that Advent is a time of prayer, and that it is necessary to be in contact with God. God knows us, he knows me, he knows all of us, he loves me, he won't leave me. Let us carry this faith during the liturgical time that has just begun.

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Benedict XVI's Address to Korean Bishops
"Asia Has Given the Church and the World a Host of Heroes"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 3, 2007 - Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered today to the bishops of the Korean episcopal conference and Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

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Dear Brother Bishops,

"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4:16). With fraternal greetings I welcome you, the Bishops of Korea and the Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, and I thank the Most Reverend John Chang Yik, President of the Episcopal Conference, for the kind sentiments expressed on your behalf. I warmly reciprocate them and assure you, and those entrusted to your pastoral care, of my prayers and solicitude. As servants of the Gospel, you have come to see Peter (cf. Gal 1:18) and to strengthen the bonds of collegiality which express the Church's unity in diversity and safeguard the tradition handed down by the Apostles (cf. "Pastores Gregis," 57).

The Church in your countries has made remarkable progress since the arrival of missionaries in the region over four hundred years ago, and their return to Mongolia just fifteen years ago. This growth is due in no small part to the outstanding witness of the Korean Martyrs and others throughout Asia who remained steadfastly faithful to Christ and his Church. The endurance of their testimony speaks eloquently of the fundamental concept of communio that unifies and vivifies ecclesial life in all its dimensions.

The Evangelist John's numerous exhortations to abide in the love and truth of Christ evoke the image of a sure and safe dwelling place. God first loves us and we, drawn towards his gift of living water, "constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God" ("Deus Caritas Est," 7). Yet Saint John also had to urge his communities to remain in that love, for already some had been enticed by the distractions which lead to interior weakness and eventual detachment from the communio of believers.

This admonition to remain in Christ's love also has a particular significance for you today. Your reports attest to the lure of materialism and the negative effects of a secularist mentality. When men and women are drawn away from the Lord's dwelling place they inevitably wander in a wilderness of individual isolation and social fragmentation, for "it is only in the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" ("Gaudium et Spes," 22).

Dear Brothers, from this perspective it is evident that to be effective shepherds of hope you must strive to ensure that the bond of communion which unites Christ to all the baptized is safeguarded and experienced as the heart of the mystery of the Church (cf. "Ecclesia in Asia," 24). With their eyes fixed on the Lord, the faithful must echo anew the Martyrs' cry of faith: "we know and believe the love God has for us" (1 Jn 4:16). Such faith is sustained and nurtured by an ongoing encounter with Jesus Christ who comes to men and women through the Church: the sign and sacrament of communion with God and of unity among all people (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 1). The gateway to this mystery of communion with God is of course Baptism. This sacrament of initiation, far more than a social ritual or welcome into a particular community, is the initiative of God (cf. Rite of Baptism, 98). Those reborn through the waters of new life enter the door of the universal Church and are drawn into the dynamism of the life of faith.

Indeed, the profound importance of this sacrament underscores your growing concern that not a few of the numerous adults received into the Church in your region every year fail to maintain a commitment to "the full participation in liturgical celebrations which is ... a right and obligation by reason of ... Baptism" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," 14). I encourage you to ensure, especially through a joyous mystagogia, that the "flame of faith" is kept "alive in the hearts" (Rite of Baptism, 100) of the newly baptized.

The word communio also refers of course to the Eucharistic centre of the Church as Saint Paul eloquently teaches (cf. 1 Cor 10:16-17). The Eucharist roots our understanding of the Church in the intimate encounter between Jesus and humanity and reveals the source of ecclesial unity: Christ's act of giving himself to us makes us his body. The commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection in the Eucharist is the "supreme sacramental manifestation of communio in the Church" ("Ecclesia de Eucharistia," 38) whereby local Churches allow themselves to be drawn into the open arms of the Lord and strengthened in unity within the one Body (cf. "Sacramentum Caritatis," 15).

Your programmes designed to highlight the importance of Sunday Mass should be infused with a sound and stimulating catechesis on the Eucharist. This will foster a renewed understanding of the authentic dynamism of Christian life among your faithful. I join you in urging the laity -- and in a special way the young people in your region -- to explore the depth and breadth of our Eucharistic communion. Gathered every Sunday in the Lord's House, we are consumed by Christ's love and truth and empowered to bring hope to the world.

Dear Brothers, consecrated men and women are rightly recognized as "witnesses and artisans of that plan of communion which stands at the centre of history according to God" (Vita Consecrata, 39). Please assure the men and women Religious in your territories of my appreciation of the prophetic contribution they are making to ecclesial life in your nations. I am confident that, faithful to their essential nature and respective charisms, they will bear bold witness to the specifically Christian "gift of self for love of the Lord Jesus and, in him, of every member of the human family" (ibid., 3).

For your own part, I encourage you to ensure that Religious are welcomed and supported in their efforts to contribute to the common task of spreading God's Kingdom. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Church's history is surely her schools of spirituality. By articulating and sharing these living treasures with the laity, Religious will do much to enhance the vibrancy of ecclesial life within your jurisdictions. They will help to dispel the notion that communion means mere uniformity as they witness to the vitality of the Holy Spirit enlivening the Church in every generation.

I wish to conclude by briefly reiterating the importance of the promotion of marriage and family life in your region. Your efforts in this field stand at the heart of the evangelization of culture and contribute much to the well-being of society as a whole. This vital apostolate, in which many priests and Religious are already engaged, rightly belongs also to the laity. The growing complexity of matters regarding the family -- including the advances in biomedical science about which I spoke recently to Korea's Ambassador to the Holy See -- raises the question of providing appropriate training for those committed to working in this area. In this regard, I wish to draw your attention to the valuable contribution made by the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family Life now present in many parts of the world.

Lastly, dear Brothers, I ask you to convey to your people my particular gratitude for their generosity to the universal Church. Both the growing number of missionaries and the contributions offered by the laity are an eloquent sign of their selfless spirit. I am also aware of the practical gestures of reconciliation undertaken for the well-being of those in North Korea. I encourage these initiatives and invoke Almighty God's providential care upon all North Koreans. Throughout the ages, Asia has given the Church and the world a host of heroes of the faith who are commemorated in the great song of praise: Te martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus. May they stand as perennial witnesses to the truth and love which all Christians are called to proclaim. With fraternal affection I commend you to the intercession of Mary, model of all disciples, and I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and the priests, Religious, and lay faithful of your Dioceses and Prefecture.

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Pope's Address for Consistory of Cardinals
"Where Christ Is, There Is His Kingdom"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 3, 2007 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily of Benedict XVI for the Mass of the consistory for the elevation of new cardinals, held Nov. 25 in St. Peter's Basilica, the feast of Christ the King.

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

The Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, the crown of the liturgical year, is enriched by the acceptance into the College of Cardinals of 23 new members whom, according to tradition, I have invited to concelebrate the Eucharist with me today. I address to each one of them my cordial greeting, which I extend with fraternal affection to all the Cardinals present. I am also pleased to greet the delegations from various countries and the Diplomatic Corps of the Holy See; the numerous Bishops and priests, the men and women Religious and all the faithful, especially those from Dioceses entrusted to the pastoral guidance of some of the new Cardinals.

The liturgical Feast of Christ the King gives our celebration an especially significant background, outlined and illuminated by the Biblical Readings. We find ourselves as it were facing an imposing fresco with three great scenes: at the centre, the Crucifixion according to the Evangelist Luke's account; on one side, the royal anointing of David by the elders of Israel; on the other, the Christological hymn with which St Paul introduces the Letter to the Colossians. The whole scene is dominated by the figure of Christ, the one Lord before whom we are all brothers and sisters. The Church's entire hierarchy, every charism and ministry, everything and everyone are at the service of his Lordship.

We must begin from the central event: the Cross. Here Christ manifests his unique Kingship. On Calvary two opposite attitudes confront each other. Some figures at the foot of the Cross as well as one of the two thieves address the Crucified One contemptuously: If you are the Christ, the Messiah King, they say, save yourself by coming down from the cross. Jesus reveals instead his own glory by remaining there on the Cross as the immolated Lamb. The other thief unexpectedly sides with him, and he implicitly confesses the royalty of the innocent, just One and implores: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingly power" (Lk 23: 42). St Cyril of Alexandria comments: "You see him crucified and you call him King. You believe that he who bears scoffing and suffering will reach divine glory" (Comment on Luke, Homily 153). According to the Evangelist John, the divine glory is already present, although hidden by the disfiguration of the Cross. But also in the language of Luke, the future is anticipated in the present when Jesus promises the good thief: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23: 43). St Ambrose observes: "He prayed that the Lord would remember him when he reached his Kingdom, but the Lord responded: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. Life is being with Christ, because where Christ is, there is his Kingdom" (Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, 10, 121). The accusation: "This is the King of the Jews", written on a tablet nailed above Jesus' head thus becomes the proclamation of the truth. St Ambrose further notes: "The writing is correctly placed above the Cross, because even though the Lord Jesus was on the Cross, yet his royal majesty shone from the height of the Cross" (ibid., 10, 113).

The Crucifixion scene in the four Gospels constitutes the moment of truth when the "veil of the Temple" is torn and the Holy of Holies appears. The maximum revelation of God possible in this world occurs in Jesus Crucified, because God is love and the death of Jesus on the Cross is the greatest act of love in all of history. Well then, on the Cardinal's ring that I will consign in a few moments to the new members of the Sacred College is portrayed precisely the Crucifixion. This, dear new Cardinal-Brothers, will always be an invitation for you to remember of what King you are servants, on what throne he has been raised and how he has been faithful to the end in overcoming sin and death with the power of divine mercy. Mother Church, Spouse of Christ, gives you this symbol in memory of her Spouse, who loved her and gave himself up for her (cf. Eph 5: 25). Thus, wearing the Cardinal's ring, you are constantly called to give your life for the Church.

If we now cast a glance at the scene of the royal anointing of David presented in the First Reading, an important aspect on royalty strikes us, namely, its "corporative" dimension. The elders of Israel go to Hebron, they seal a covenantal pact with David, declaring to consider themselves united to him and wanting to be one only with him. If we relate Christ to this image, it seems to me that this same covenantal profession applies very well precisely to you, dear Cardinal-Brothers. You too who form the "senate" of the Church can say to Jesus: "Behold, we are your bone and flesh" (II Sam 5: 1). We belong to you, and we want to be one only with you. You are the Shepherd of the People of God, you are the Head of the Church (cf. II Sam 5: 2). In this solemn Eucharistic celebration we want to renew our pact with you, our friendship, because only in this intimate and profound relationship with you, Jesus, our King and Lord, does the dignity that has been conferred upon us and the responsibility it bears have sense and value.

There now remains for us to admire the third part of our "triptych" that the Word of God places before us: the Christological hymn of the Letter to the Colossians. First of all, we make the sentiments of joy and gratitude that pour forth from it our own, for the fact that the Kingdom of Christ, the "inheritance of the saints in light", is not only something seen from a distance but a reality in which we are called to partake, into which we have been "transferred", thanks to the redemptive action of the Son of God (cf. Col 1: 12-14). This graced action opens St Paul's soul to the contemplation of Christ and his ministry in its two principal dimensions: the creation of all things and their reconciliation. The first aspect of Christ's Lordship consists in the fact that "all things were created through him and for him... in him all things hold together" (Col 1: 16-17). The second dimension centres on the Paschal Mystery: through the Son's death on the Cross, God has reconciled every creature to himself, has made peace between Heaven and earth; raising him from the dead he has made him the firstborn of the new creation, the "fullness" of every reality and "head of the [mystical] body", the Church (cf. Col 1: 18-20). We find ourselves again before the Cross, the central event of the mystery of Christ. In the Pauline vision the Cross is placed within the entire economy of salvation, where Jesus' royalty is displayed in all its cosmic fullness.

This text of the Apostle expresses a synthesis of truth and faith so powerful that we cannot fail to remain in deep admiration of it. The Church is the trustee of the mystery of Christ: She is so in all humility and without a shadow of pride or arrogance, because it concerns the maximum gift that she has received without any merit and that she is called to offer gratuitously to humanity of every age, as the horizon of meaning and salvation. It is not a philosophy, it is not a gnosis, even though it also comprises wisdom and knowledge. It is the mystery of Christ, it is Christ himself, the Logos incarnate, dead and risen, made King of the universe. How can one fail to feel a rush of enthusiasm full of gratitude for having been permitted to contemplate the splendour of this revelation? How can one not feel at the same time the joy and the responsibility to serve this King, to witness his Lordship with one's life and word? In a particular way this is our duty, venerable Cardinal-Brothers: to proclaim the truth of Christ, hope of every person and the entire human family. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, my Venerable Predecessors, the Servants of God Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II, have been authentic heralds of Christ's royalty in today's world. And it is for me a motive of consolation to be able to always count on you, both collegially and individually, to bring to fulfilment with me the Petrine Ministry's fundamental duty.

In conclusion, I would like to mention an aspect that is strongly united to this mission and that I entrust to your prayer: peace among all Christ's disciples, as a sign of the peace that Jesus came to establish in the world. We have heard the great news of the Christological hymn: it pleased God to "reconcile" the universe through the Cross of Christ (cf. Col 1: 20)! Well then, the Church is that portion of humanity in whom Christ's royalty is already manifest, who has peace as its privileged manifestation. It is the new Jerusalem, still imperfect because it is yet a pilgrim in history, but able to anticipate in some way the heavenly Jerusalem. Lastly, we can here refer to the Responsorial Psalm 121, belonging to the so-called "Song of Ascents". It is a hymn of the pilgrims' joy who, going up toward the holy city and having reached its doors, address the peace-greeting to them: shalom! According to popular etymology Jerusalem is interpreted as a "city of peace", whose peace the Messiah, Son of David, would have established in the fullness of time. We recognize in Jerusalem the figure of the Church, sacrament of Christ and of his Kingdom.

Dear Cardinal-Brothers, this Psalm expresses well the ardent love song for the Church that you certainly carry in your hearts. You have dedicated your life to the Church's service, and now you are called to assume in her a duty of utmost responsibility. May the words of the Psalm find full acceptance in you: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem"! (v. 6). Prayer for peace and unity constitutes your first and principal mission, so that the Church may be "solid and compact" (v. 3), a sign and instrument of unity for the whole human race (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 1). I place, or rather, let us all place your mission under the vigilant protection of the Mother of the Church, Mary Most Holy. To her, united to her Son on Calvary and assumed as Queen at his right hand in glory, we entrust the new Cardinals, the College of Cardinals and the entire Catholic community, committed to sowing in the furrows of history Christ's Kingdom, the Lord of Life and Prince of Peace.

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Pope's Address to Catholic NGOs
"Called to Take Part in Public Life in a Personal Capacity"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 2, 2007 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave Saturday upon receiving in audience participants in the Forum of Catholic-Inspired Nongovernmental Organizations.

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Your Excellencies,
Representatives of the Holy See to International Organizations,
Dear Friends,

I am pleased to greet all of you who are assembled in Rome to reflect on the contribution which Catholic-inspired Non-governmental Organizations can offer, in close collaboration with the Holy See, to the solution of the many problems and challenges associated with the various activities of the United Nations and other international and regional organizations. To each of you I offer a cordial welcome. In a particular way I thank the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, who has graciously interpreted your common sentiments, while at the same time informing me of the goals of your Forum. I also greet the young representative of the Non-governmental Organizations present.

Taking part in this important meeting are representatives of groups long associated with the presence and activity of the Catholic laity at the international level, along with members of other, more recent groups which have come into being as part of the current process of global integration. Also present are groups mainly committed to advocacy, and others chiefly concerned with the concrete management of cooperative projects promoting development. Some of your organizations are recognized by the Church as public and private associations of the lay faithful, others share in the charism of certain institutes of consecrated life, while still others enjoy only civil recognition and include non-Catholics and non-Christians among their members. All of you, however, have in common a passion for promoting human dignity. This same passion has constantly inspired the activity of the Holy See in the international community. The real reason for the present meeting, then, is to express gratitude and appreciation for what you are doing in active collaboration with the papal representatives to international organizations. In addition, this meeting seeks to foster a spirit of cooperation among your organizations and consequently the effectiveness of your common activity on behalf of the integral good of the human person and of all humanity.

This unity of purpose can only be achieved through a variety of roles and activities. The multilateral diplomacy of the Holy See, for the most part, strives to reaffirm the great fundamental principles of international life, since the Church’s specific contribution consists in helping "to form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly" ("Deus Caritas Est," 28). On the other hand, "the direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful" -- and in the context of international life this includes Christian diplomats and members of Non-governmental Organizations -- who "are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity" and "to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility" (ibid., 29).

International cooperation between governments, which was already emerging at the end of the nineteenth century and which grew steadily throughout the last century despite the tragic disruption of two world wars, has significantly contributed towards the creation of a more just international order. In this regard, we can look with satisfaction to achievements such as the universal recognition of the juridical and political primacy of human rights, the adoption of shared goals regarding the full enjoyment of economic and social rights by all the earth’s inhabitants, the efforts being made to develop a just global economy and, more recently, the protection of the environment and the promotion of intercultural dialogue.

At the same time, international discussions often seem marked by a relativistic logic which would consider as the sole guarantee of peaceful coexistence between peoples a refusal to admit the truth about man and his dignity, to say nothing of the possibility of an ethics based on recognition of the natural moral law. This has led, in effect, to the imposition of a notion of law and politics which ultimately makes consensus between states -- a consensus conditioned at times by short-term interests or manipulated by ideological pressure -- the only real basis of international norms. The bitter fruits of this relativistic logic are sadly evident: we think, for example, of the attempt to consider as human rights the consequences of certain self-centred lifestyles; a lack of concern for the economic and social needs of the poorer nations; contempt for humanitarian law, and a selective defence of human rights. It is my hope that your study and reflection during these days will result in more effective ways of making the Church’s social doctrine better known and accepted on the international level. I encourage you, then, to counter relativism creatively by presenting the great truths about man’s innate dignity and the rights which are derived from that dignity. This in turn will contribute to the forging of a more adequate response to the many issues being discussed today in the international forum. Above all, it will help to advance specific initiatives marked by a spirit of solidarity and freedom.

What is needed, in fact, is a spirit of solidarity conducive for promoting as a body those ethical principles which, by their very nature and their role as the basis of social life, remain non-negotiable. A spirit of solidarity imbued with a strong sense of fraternal love leads to a better appreciation of the initiatives of others and a deeper desire to cooperate with them. Thanks to this spirit, one will always, whenever it is useful or necessary, work in collaboration either with the various non-governmental organizations or the representatives of the Holy See, with due respect for their differences of nature, institutional ends and methods of operation. On the other hand, an authentic spirit of freedom, lived in solidarity, will help the initiative of the members of non-governmental organization to create a broad gamut of new approaches and solutions with regard to those temporal affairs which God has left to the free and responsible judgement of every individual. When experienced in solidarity, legitimate pluralism and diversity will lead not to division and competition, but to ever greater effectiveness. The activities of your organizations will bear genuine fruit provided they remain faithful to the Church’s magisterium, anchored in communion with her pastors and above all with the successor of Peter, and meet in a spirit of prudent openness the challenges of the present moment.

Dear friends, I thank you once again for your presence today and for your dedicated efforts to advance the cause of justice and peace within the human family. Assuring you of a special remembrance in my prayers, I invoke upon you, and the organizations you represent, the maternal protection of Mary, Queen of the World. To you, your families and your associates, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

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On Hope
"The World Needs God -- the True God"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 2, 2007.- 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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

With this First Sunday of Advent a new liturgical year begins: The people of God again takes up its journey to live the mystery of Christ in history. Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (cf. Hebrews, 13:8); history, however, changes and requires constant evangelization; it needs to be renewed from within and the one true novelty is Christ: He is the fulfilment of history, the luminous future of man and the world.

Risen from the dead, Jesus is the Lord to whom God will make all enemies submit, including death itself (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:25-28). Advent, therefore, is the propitious time to reawaken in our hearts the expectation of him “who is, who was and who is coming” (Revelation 1:8). The Son of God already came to Bethlehem 20 centuries ago, he is coming in every moment into the soul and the community that is disposed to receive him, and he will come again at the end of time, “to judge the living and the dead.” Thus, the believer is always vigilant, animated by the intimate hope of meeting the Lord, as the psalm says: “I hope in the Lord, my soul hopes in his word. My soul waits for the Lord, more than the watchmen for the dawn” (Psalm 129:5-6).

This Sunday is, therefore, a most appropriate day to offer to the whole Church and all men of good will my second encyclical, which I wanted to dedicate to the theme of Christian hope. It is entitled “Spe Salvi” because it opens with the line of St. Paul, “Spe salvi facti sumus,” that is, “In hope we have been saved” (Romans 8:24).

In this passage, as in others in the New Testament, the word “hope” is closely connected with the word “faith.” It is a gift that changes the life of those who receive it, as the experience of so many saints demonstrates. In what does this hope consist that is so great and so “trustworthy” as to make us say that “in it” we have “salvation”?

In substance it consists in the knowledge of God, in the discovery of his heart as a good and merciful Father. Jesus, with his death on the cross and his resurrection, has revealed to us his countenance, the countenance of a God so great in love as to communicate to us an indestructible hope, a hope that not even death can crack, because the life of those who entrust themselves to this Father always opens up to the perspective of eternal beatitude.

The development of modern science has confined faith and hope more and more to the private and individual sphere, so much so that today it appears in an evident way, and sometimes dramatically, that the world needs God -- the true God! -- otherwise it remains deprived of hope. Science contributes much to the good of humanity -- without a doubt -- but it is not able to redeem humanity.

Man is redeemed by love, which renders social life good and beautiful. Because of this the great hope, that one that is full and definitive, is guaranteed by God, by God who is love, who has visited us in Jesus and given his life to us, and in Jesus he will return at the end of time.

It is in Christ that we hope and it is him that we await! With Mary, his Mother, the Church goes out to meet the Bridegroom: She does this with works of charity, because hope, like faith, is demonstrated in love. A good Advent to all!

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Benedict XVI's Letter to Bartholomew I
"Our Work Toward Unity Is According to the Will of Christ Our Lord"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2007.- Here is the message Benedict XVI sent to Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople on the occasion of the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, patron of the ecumenical patriarchate. Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, delivered the letter to the patriarch today.

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To His Holiness Bartholomaios I
Archbishop of Constantinople
Ecumenical Patriarch

The feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, brother of Peter and Patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, gives me the opportunity to convey to Your Holiness my prayerful good wishes for an abundance of spiritual gifts and divine blessings.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice
(Phil 4:4)

These words of Saint Paul inspire us to share our joy on this happy occasion. The feast of Saint Andrew, like that of Saints Peter and Paul, has enabled us each year to express our common apostolic faith, our union in prayer and our joint commitment to reinforce the communion between us. A delegation from the Holy See, led by my venerable brother Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, will attend the solemn Divine Liturgy presided over by Your Holiness together with members of the Holy Synod. In my heart I vividly recall my personal participation last year in the celebration of this feast at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and I remember with deep gratitude the warm welcome extended to me on that occasion. That encounter, the presence of my delegate this year at the Phanar, as well as the visit from a delegation of the See of Constantinople for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome, all represent authentic signs of the commitment of our Churches to an ever deeper communion, strengthened through cordial personal relations, prayer and the dialogue of charity and truth.

This year we thank God in particular for the meeting of the Joint Commission which took place in Ravenna, a city whose monuments speak eloquently of the ancient Byzantine heritage handed down to us from the undivided Church of the first millennium. May the splendour of those mosaics inspire all the members of the Joint Commission to pursue their important task with renewed determination, in fidelity to the Gospel and to Tradition, ever alert to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the Church today.

While the meeting in Ravenna was not without its difficulties, I pray earnestly that these may soon be clarified and resolved, so that there may be full participation in the Eleventh Plenary Session and in subsequent initiatives aimed at continuing the theological dialogue in mutual charity and understanding. Indeed, our work towards unity is according to the will of Christ our Lord. In these early years of the third millennium, our efforts are all the more urgent because of the many challenges facing all Christians, to which we need to respond with a united voice and with conviction.

I therefore wish to assure you once more of the Catholic Church commitment to nurture fraternal ecclesial relations and to persevere in our theological dialogue, in order to draw closer to full communion, as stated in our Common Declaration issued last year at the conclusion of my visit to Your Holiness.

Once again we take our inspiration from Saint Paul words to the Christians of Philippi, with which he urges them to seek perfection through the imitation of Christ, and reminds them to old true to what we have attained (Phil 3:16).

With these sentiments of fraternal affection in the Lord, I embrace Your Holiness and all the members of the Holy Synod. I greet also the Orthodox faithful, praying that the peace and the grace of the Lord may be with you all.

From the Vatican, 23 November 2007

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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