Benedict XVI's visit to San Pio de Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo (June 2009)
On Padre Pio's Devotion to Mary
"With a Mother's Hand She Will Guide You to the Heavenly Homeland"
SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy, JUNE 21, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today after Mass, before praying the midday Angelus with those gathered at the Church of San Pio de Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he is visiting.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
At the end of this solemn celebration, I invite you to pray with me -- like every Sunday -- the Marian prayer of the Angelus. But here in the sanctuary of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, we seem to hear his own voice, which urges us to address ourselves with childlike hearts to the Blessed Virgin: "Love the Blessed Virgin and help others love her." So he kept saying to everyone, and more than his words was the testimony of his deep devotion to the Heavenly Mother. Baptized in the church of St. Mary of the Angels of Pietrelcina with the name of Francis, like the Poverello of Assisi, he always cultivated a most tender love for the Blessed Virgin. Providence later led him here, to San Giovanni Rotondo, near Our Lady of Grace Sanctuary, where he remained until his death and where his mortal remains rest. All his life and his apostolate took place, therefore, under the maternal gaze of the Madonna and the power of her intercession. He even considered the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza the work of Mary, "Health of the Sick." Therefore, dear friends, in the example of Padre Pio, today I also want to entrust you all to the maternal protection of the Mother of God. In a special way I invoke her for the community of the Capuchin Friars, for the sick of the hospital, and for those who with love care for them, as well as for the prayer groups that carry out the continuing spiritual work of your holy founder in Italy and worldwide.
To the intercession of Our Lady and of St. Pio of Pietrelcina I would like to entrust especially this Priestly Year, which I inaugurated last Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. May it be a privileged opportunity to highlight the value of the mission and of the holiness of priests at the service of the Church and of all humanity of the third millennium!
We pray today for the difficult and sometimes dramatic situation of refugees. It was just yesterday that we celebrated World Refugee Day, sponsored by the United Nations. There are many people who seek refuge in other countries fleeing from situations of war, persecution and disasters, and their acceptance poses many difficulties, but it is nevertheless a duty. God grant that, with the commitment of all, we will do as much as possible to remove the causes of so sad a phenomenon.
With great affection I greet all the pilgrims present here. I express my gratitude to the civil authorities and to all those who collaborated in the preparation of my visit. Thank you very much! To all I repeat: walk on the path that Padre Pio has laid out for you, the path of holiness according to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. On this path Virgin Mary will always precede you, and with a mother's hand she will guide you to the heavenly homeland.
Papal Words to Priests, Youth at Padre Pio Church
"Love for Christ Is Inevitably Linked to Love for His Church"
SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy, JUNE 21, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to priests, religious and youth at the Church of San Pio de Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he is visiting today.
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Dear men and women religious,
Dear young people,
With this our encounter my pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo comes to a close. I am grateful to the Archbishop of Lecce, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, and to Father Mauro Jöhri, secretary general of the Capuchin Friars Minor, for the words of cordial welcome that they have given me on your behalf. My greeting is now turned to you, dear priests, who are daily engaged in the service of God's people as wise guides and diligent workers in the vineyard of the Lord. I greet with affection the dear consecrated persons, called to offer the testimony of a total dedication to Christ through the faithful practice of the evangelical counsels. A special thought for you, dear Capuchin Friars, who lovingly care for this oasis of spirituality and evangelical solidarity, welcoming pilgrims and devotees gathered by the living memory of your holy confrere, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Thank you very much for this valuable service you render to the Church and to souls who here rediscover the beauty of faith and the warmth of divine tenderness. I greet you, dear young people, to whom the Pope looks with confidence as to the future of the Church and society. Here in San Giovanni Rotondo, everything speaks of the sanctity of a humble friar and a zealous priest, who this evening, also invites us to open our hearts to the mercy of God; he exhorts us to be holy, that is, sincere and true friends of Jesus.
Dear priests, just the other day, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day of priestly holiness, we began the Priestly Year, during which we will recall with reverence and affection the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars. In the letter I wrote for the occasion, I wanted to stress the importance of the sanctity of priests for the life and mission of the Church. Like the Curé d'Ars, Padre Pio also reminds us of the dignity and responsibility of the priestly ministry. Who was not impressed by the fervor with which he re-lived the Passion of Christ in every celebration of the Eucharist? From his love for the Eucharist there arose in him as the Curé d'Ars a total willingness to welcome the faithful, especially sinners. Also, if St. John Mary Vianney, in a troubled and difficult time, tried in every way, to help his parishioners rediscover the meaning and the beauty of sacramental penance, for the holy friar of the Gargano, the care of souls and the conversion of sinners were a desire that consumed him until death. How many people have changed their lives thanks to his patient priestly ministry, so many long hours in the confessional! Like the Curé d'Ars, it is his ministry as a confessor that constitutes the greatest title of glory and the distinctive feature of this holy Capuchin. How could we not realize then the importance of participating in the celebration of the Eucharist devoutly and frequently receiving the sacrament of confession? In particular, the sacrament of penance must be even more valued, and priests should never resign themselves to seeing their confessional deserted or to merely recognizing the diffidence of the faithful for this extraordinary source of serenity and peace.
There is another great lesson that we can learn from the life of Padre Pio: the value and necessity of prayer. To whomever that would ask him about himself, he used to reply: "I am nothing but a poor friar who prays." And he really did pray always and everywhere with humility, confidence and perseverance. Here is a key point not only for the spirituality of the priest, but also that of every Christian, and even more for you, dear men and women religious, chosen to follow Christ more closely through the practice of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Sometimes one can become taken by a certain discouragement before the weakening and even the abandonment of faith that exists in our societies. Surely we must find new channels to communicate the message of the Gospel to the men and women of our time, but since the essence of the Christian message is always the same, it is necessary to return to its original source, to Jesus Christ who is "the same yesterday and today and forever "(Hebrews 13:8). The human and spiritual life of Padre Pio teaches that only a soul intimately united to the Crucified will be able to transmit even to those who are far away the joy and richness of the Gospel.
Love for Christ is inevitably linked to love for his Church, guided and animated by the power of the Holy Spirit, in which each of us has a role and a mission to accomplish. Dear priests, dear men and women religious, different are the tasks which are entrusted to you and the charisms of which are you are interpreters, but may the spirit with which implement them be always one, so that your presence and your work within the Christian people, become an eloquent witness to the primacy of God in your life. Was not this what everyone perceived in St. Pio of Pietrelcina?
Permit me to speak a special word to the young people, which I see are so many and so enthusiastic. Dear friends, thank you for your warm welcome and for the heartfelt sentiments your representative has expressed. I noticed that the pastoral plan of your diocese, for the years 2007-2010, devotes much attention to the mission regarding youth and family and I am sure that from this attitude of listening, encounter, dialogue and verification in which you are committed, there will result an ever better care of families and a timely hearing of the actual expectations of the younger generation. I have present in mind the problems facing you, dear young men and women, and which threaten to stifle the enthusiasms typical of your youth. Among these, in particular, I mention the phenomenon of unemployment, which affects so many tragic young men and women from Southern Italy. Do not lose heart! Be "young people of great heart," as it has been repeated often this year since the Diocesan Youth Mission, animated and guided by the Regional Seminary of Molfetta last September. The Church does not abandon you. Do not abandon the Church!
Your input is necessary in order to build living Christian communities, and societies that are more just and open to hope. And if you want to have "great hearts," seek the school of Jesus. Just the other day we contemplated his heart, great and full of love for humanity. He will never abandon or betray your trust, he will never lead down mistaken paths. Just like Padre Pio, be faithful friends of the Lord Jesus, cultivating a daily relationship through prayer and through listening to his word, the diligent practice of the sacraments and the cordial membership in his family, which is the Church. This must be the basis of the program of life of each of you, dear young people, as well as you, dear priests and of you, dear men and women religious. To each and every one of you I assure my prayers and implore the maternal protection of Holy Mary of Grace, who watches over you from her shrine in which crypt lie the remains of Padre Pio. I thank you very much, yet again, for your welcome and I bless you all, together with your families, communities, parishes and your entire diocese.
Benedict XVI's Words at the Padre Pio Hospital
"In Hospitals One Touches the Preciousness of Our Existence"
SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy, JUNE 21, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the hospital established by Padre Pio, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the "Home to Relieve Suffering," in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he is visiting.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Beloved sick people,
In this my visit to San Giovanni Rotondo, I could not miss a stop at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, designed and built by St. Pio of Pietrelcina as a "place of prayer and science where the human race finds itself again in Christ Crucified as a single flock with one shepherd." Precisely for this reason he wanted to entrust it to the material and spiritual support of the prayer groups, who here have the center of their mission to serve the Church. Padre Pio had the desire that in this well equipped hospital the commitment of science in treating the patient never be separated from a filial trust in God, infinitely tender and merciful. Inaugurating it on May 5, 1956, he called it "a creature of Providence" and spoke of this institution as "a seed planted by God on earth, which he will warm with the rays of his love."
Here I am among you, therefore, to thank God for the good that, faithful to the directives of a humble Capuchin Friar for over fifty years, you do in this "Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza," with recognized scientific and a medical results. It is not possible for me unfortunately, as I would like, to visit each hall and greet each patient one by one along with those who care for them. But I want to convey to everyone -- patients, doctors, family members, health and pastoral workers -- a word of paternal comfort and encouragement to continue together this evangelical work to relieve suffering, making the most of every resource for the human and spiritual good of the sick and their families.
With these sentiments, I cordially greet all of you, starting with you, brothers and sisters who are being tried by illness. I greet the doctors, nurses and medical staff and administration. I greet you, revered Capuchin Fathers, who, as chaplains, continue the apostolate of your holy confrere. I greet the prelates and, first of all, the Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, former pastor of this diocese, and now called upon to lead the archdiocesan community of Lecce. I am grateful for the words that he addressed to me on your behalf. I next greet the director general of the hospital, Doctor Dominic Crupi, and the representative of the sick, and I am grateful for the kind and cordial words that they have just addressed to me, allowing me to better know what is being done here and the spirit with which you carry it out.
Each time one enters a place of care, one's thoughts turn naturally to the mystery of disease and pain, to the hope of healing and to the inestimable value of health, which is often only recognized when it is lost. In hospitals one touches with one's hands the preciousness of our existence, but also its fragility. Following the example of Jesus, who traveled throughout Galilee, "healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" (Mt 4:23), the Church, from its very beginnings, moved by the Holy Spirit, has considered it her duty and privilege to stand beside those who suffer, cultivating a preferential attention for the sick.
Sickness, which manifests itself in many forms and strikes in different ways, raises disturbing questions: Why do we suffer? Can the experience of pain be considered positive? Who can liberate us from suffering and death? Existential questions, which remain often unanswered humanly, since suffering is an unfathomable mystery for our reason. Suffering is part of the very mystery of the human person. And that which I emphasized in the encyclical letter "Spe Salvi," noting that "it follows, on the one hand, from our finitude, and on the other hand, from the mass of guilt that has accumulated throughout history and even at present continues its unstoppable growth." And I added that "certainly we must do everything we can to reduce suffering ... but to eliminate it completely from the world is not in our possibilities simply because ... none of us is able to eliminate the power of evil ... continually the source of suffering" (see n.36).
Only God can remove the power of evil. Precisely due to the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to reveal the divine plan of our salvation, faith helps us to penetrate the meaning of all things human and therefore also of suffering. There is, therefore, an intimate relationship between the Cross of Jesus -- the supreme symbol of the pain and the price of our freedom -- and our pain, which is transformed and transcended when it is lived in the awareness of the closeness and solidarity of God. Padre Pio had understood this profound truth and, on the first anniversary of this work, said that in it "those who suffer must live the love of God through the wise acceptance of their pain, through serene meditation on their destiny to him" (Meeting of May 5, 1957). He noted further that in the Casa Sollievo "the recovering, doctors, priests will be reserves of love, which in as much as it abounds in one, the more it will be communicated to others" (ibid.).
Be "reserves of love": This, dear brothers and sisters, is the mission that this evening our saint refers you to, who each in his own way form the great family of this Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza. May the Lord help you bring to fruition the project initiated by Padre Pio with the support of all: doctors and scientific researchers, health care professionals and the employees of various departments, volunteers and benefactors, the Capuchin friars and other priests. Without forgetting the prayer groups that "attached to the house of relief, are the advanced positions of this citadel of charity, nurseries of faith, outbursts of love" (Padre Pio, Speech, May 5, 1966). On each and every one I invoke the intercession of Padre Pio and the maternal protection of Mary, Health of the Sick. Thank you again for your welcome and, while I assure you of my prayers for each of you, I cordially bless you all.
Pontiff's Homily at St. Pio of Pietrelcina Church
"God Never Annuls That Which Is Human, but He Transforms It"
SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy, JUNE 21, 2009 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today in a Mass at the Church of San Pio de Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he is visiting.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
In the heart of my pilgrimage to this place, where everything speaks of the life and the holiness of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, I have the joy of celebrating for you and with you the Eucharist, the mystery that was the center of his whole existence: the origin of his vocation, the strength of his testimony, the consecration of his sacrifice. With great affection I greet all of you, those who have gathered here in such numbers, and those connected with us through radio and television. I greet, first of all, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, who, after years of faithful service to the diocesan community, is preparing to take on the care of the Archdiocese of Lecce. I thank him warmly also because he has made himself the spokesman of your affections. I greet the other bishop concelebrants. A special greeting goes to the Capuchin friars with the minister general, Fra Mauro Jöhri, the definitor general, the provincial minister, the father guardian of the convent, the rector of the shrine and the Capuchin fraternity of San Giovanni Rotondo. I also greet with great gratitude those who give their contribution in the service of the sanctuary and adjoining works; I greet the civil and military authorities; I greet the priests, deacons, male and female religious and all the faithful. I dedicate an affectionate thought to those in the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, to the lonely and to all the inhabitants of your city.
We have just heard the Gospel of the calmed storm, which was preceded by a short but incisive text of the Book of Job, where God reveals himself as the Lord of the sea. Jesus threatened the wind and ordered the sea to calm itself; he addresses it as if it was identified with the diabolical power. Indeed, according to what we hear from the first reading and Psalm 106/107, the sea in the Bible is regarded as a threatening, chaotic, and potentially destructive element, that only God, the Creator, can dominate, govern and silence.
But there is another force -- a positive force -- that moves the world, able to transform and renew creation: the strength of the "love of Christ," (2 Cor 5:14 ) -- as St. Paul calls it in the Second Letter to the Corinthians -- not essentially a cosmic force, but divine, transcendent. It acts on the universe but also, in itself, the love of Christ is a power that is "other," and this, his transcendent otherness, the Lord has manifested in his Passover, the "sanctity" of the "way" chosen by him to liberate us from the domination of evil, as was done by the exodus from Egypt, when he brought the Jews out through the waters of the Red Sea. "O God -- says the Psalmist -- holy is your way ... On the sea your way, / your paths over the great waters" (Psalms 77/76, 14:20). In the paschal mystery, Jesus has passed through the abyss of death, since God so willed to renew the world: through the death and resurrection of his Son "slain for all," so that all may live for him who has died and risen for them" (2 Cor 5, 16).
The solemn gesture of calming the stormy sea is clearly a sign of the lordship of Christ over the negative powers and leads us to think of his divinity: "Who is this -- the disciples ask stupefied and terrified -- that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mk 4:41). Theirs is not yet a strong faith; it is taking shape; it is a mixture of fear and trust; Jesus' trusting abandonment to the Father is, on the contrary, total and pure. Because of this he sleeps during the storm, completely safe in the arms of God. But a time will come when even Jesus will taste anxiety and fear: When his hour comes, he will feel upon himself the entire burden of the sins of humanity, like a gigantic wave that is about to crash down upon him. That will truly be a terrible storm, not cosmic, but spiritual. It will be the last, extreme assault of evil against the Son of God.
But in that hour Jesus did not doubt the power and presence of God the Father, even if he had to experience the full distance of hatred from love, of lies from truth, of sin from grace. He experienced this tragedy in himself in a lacerating way, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane, before the arrest, and then during the entire Passion, until his death on the cross. In that hour, Jesus was, on the one hand, one with the Father, fully abandoned to him, and on the other, in as much as he was in solidarity with sinners, he was as one separated from him and felt abandoned by him.
Some saints have lived intensely and personally this experience of Jesus. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina is one of them. A simple man of humble origins, "seized by Christ" (Phil. 3:12) -- as the Apostle Paul writes of himself -- to make of him an instrument chosen by the perennial power of his cross: power of love for souls, of forgiveness and of reconciliation, of spiritual paternity, of effective solidarity with those who suffer. The stigmata, which marked his body, united him closely to the Crucified and Risen One. A true follower of St. Francis of Assisi, he made his own, like the Poverello, the experience of the Apostle Paul which he describes in his letters: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20), or: "in us death is at work, but in you life" (2 Cor 5, 12). This does not mean alienation, loss of personality: God never annuls that which is human, but he transforms it with his Spirit and he ordains it to the service of his plan of salvation. Padre Pio kept his natural gifts, and even his own temperament, but he offered everything to God, who has been able to freely use them to extend the work of Christ: to proclaim the Gospel, forgive sins and heal the sick in body and spirit.
As it was for Jesus, the real struggle, the radical combat Padre Pio had to sustain, was not against earthly enemies, but against the spirit of evil (cf. Ephesians 6, 12). The biggest "storms" that threatened him were the assaults of the devil, against which he defended himself with "the armor of God" with "the shield of faith" and "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:11,16,17). Remaining united to Jesus, he always kept in mind the depths of the human drama, and because of this he offered himself and offered his many sufferings, and he knew how to spend himself in the care and relief of the sick, a privileged sign of God's mercy, of his kingdom which is coming, indeed, which is already in the world, of the victory of love and life over sin and death. Guide souls and relieve suffering: thus we can sum up the mission of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, as the servant of God, Pope Paul VI said about him: "He was a man of prayer and suffering" (To the Capuchin Chapter Fathers, 20 February 1971).
Dear friends, Capuchin Friars Minor, members of prayer groups and all the faithful of San Giovanni Rotondo, you are the heirs of Padre Pio, and the inheritance that he left for you is holiness. In one of his letters he writes: "It seems that Jesus has no need for your hands other than to sanctify your soul" (Epist. II, p. 155). That was always his first concern, his priestly and fatherly concern: that people return to God, that they would experience his mercy, and, inwardly renewed, that they would rediscover the beauty and joy of being a Christian, of living in communion with Jesus, of belonging to his Church and of practicing the Gospel. Padre Pio attracted others to the path of holiness by his own testimony, showing by example the "track" that leads to it: prayer and charity.
First of all prayer. Like all great men of God, Padre Pio had himself become prayer, soul and body. His days were a living rosary, that is, a continuous meditation and assimilation of the mysteries of Christ in spiritual union with the Virgin Mary. This explains the unusual presence within him of supernatural gifts and of human existence. And everything had its climax in the celebration of Holy Mass: there he joined himself fully to the crucified and risen Lord. From prayer, as from an ever-living source, love flowed. The love that he bore in his heart and transmitted to others was full of tenderness, always attentive to the real situations of individuals and families. Especially towards the sick and suffering, he cultivated the predilection of the Heart of Christ, and precisely from this origin the form of a great work dedicated to the "relief of suffering" took shape. One cannot understand or properly interpret this institution divorced from its inspirational source, which is evangelical charity, which in turn, is inspired by prayer.
All this, my beloved brothers and sisters, Padre Pio today puts before our eyes. The risks of activism and secularization are always present; because of this my visit has also the purpose of confirming you in your fidelity to the mission you inherited from your beloved father. Many of you, men and women religious and laity, are so taken by the complex duties required by the service to pilgrims, or to the sick in the hospital, that you run the risk of neglecting that which is truly needed: to listen to Christ to do the will of God. When you see that you are close to running this risk, look to Padre Pio: to his example, to his sufferings; and invoke his intercession, so that he obtain from the Lord the light and strength that you need to continue his mission permeated with love for God and fraternal love. And from heaven may he continue to pursue the exquisite spiritual fatherhood that has distinguished his earthly existence; may he continue to accompany his confreres, his spiritual children and the entire work that he has begun. Along with St. Francis, and the Blessed Virgin, who he loved so much and made others love in this world, may he watch over you all and protect you always. And then, even in the storms that can suddenly rise up, you can experience the breath of the Holy Spirit that is stronger than any contrary wind and which pushes the boat of the Church and each of us. That is why we must always live in serenity and cultivate joy in our hearts, giving thanks to the Lord. "His love is forever" (Psalm resp.). Amen!