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11/22/2008 7:31 PM
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Here is a translation of the Holy Father's address to participants in the plenary session of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life:

Eminent Cardinals,
Venerated brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,
Dear brothers and sisters!

It is with joy that I meet you on the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, which celebrates 200 years of existence and activity.

A century has passed since on June 29, 1908, my venerated predecessor, St. Pius X, with the Apostolic Constitution Sapienti Consilio, made your dicastery autonomous as the Congregatio negotiis religiosorum sodalium praeposita, a name that was subsequently modified many times.

To recall this event you have planned a Congress this November 22nd with the significant theme of "A hundred years of service to the consecrated life", and I wish you complete success in this initiative.

Today's encounter is for me a very propitious occasion to greet and thank all of those who work in the dicastery. First of all, I greet your Prefect, Cardinal Franc Rode, who I also thank for the words he expressed in your behalf.

Together with him, I greet the members of the dicastery, the secretary, the under-secretaries and the other officials who, with different functions, render daily service with competence and wisdom, to 'promote and regulate' the practice of the evangelical councils in the various forms of consecrated life, as well as the activities of the societies of apostolic life (cfr Apostolic Const. Pastor bonus, n. 105).

Consecrated persons constitute an elected part of the People of God: to sustain and protect faithfulness to the divine call, dearest brothers and sisters, is the fundamental task that you carry our according to modalities that have been well tested, thanks to the experience of these hundred years of activity.

This service of the Congregation has been even more assiduous in the decades after the Second Vatican Council which has seen the effort of renewal, both in the life as well as in the legislation, of all the religious and secular institutes, and of the societies of apostolic life.

That is why, as I join you in rendering thanks to God, giver of every good, for the good fruits produced in these years by your dicastery, I remember with acknowledgment all those who, during this century of activity, have given their s=energies for the benefit of consecrated persons.

The plenary of your Congregation has focused its attention this year on a subject which is particularly dear to me: monasticism, forma vitae which has always been inspired by the early Church, generated by the Pentecost (cfr Acts 2,42-47; 4,32-35).

The conclusions of your work, especially focused on female monastic life, may give rise to indications useful to all those monks and nuns who are 'searching for God'. realizing their vocation for the good of all the Church.

Even recently (Address to the world of culture, Paris, Sept. 12, 2008), I wished to show the exemplariness of the monastic life in history, underscoring that its purpose is simple as well as essential: quaerere Deum, to look for God and find him through Jesus Christ who revealed him (cfr Jn 1,18), to look for him while looking at the invisible realities that are eternal (cfr 2 Cor 4,18), and awaiting the glorious manifestation of the Savior (cfr Titus 2,13).

Christo omnino nihil praeponere (cfr RB 72,11; Agostino, Enarr. in Ps. 29,9; Cipriano, Ad Fort 4) - Place nothing ahead of Christ - this expression, which the Rule of St. Benedict took up from preceding tradition, expresses well the precious treasure of monastic life practised till now both in the Christian West as in the East.

It is a pressing message that shapes monastic life in order to make it the evangelical memorial of the Church, and when it is authentically lived, "exemplary of baptismal life' (cfr John Paul II, Orientale lumen 9).

By virtue of the absolute primacy reserved for Christ, the monasteries are places in which room is made to celebrate the glory of God, in which one adores and sings the mysterious but real divine presence in the world, in which one seeks to live the new commandment of love and reciprocal service, thus preparing the final "manifestation of the children of God" (Rom 8,19).

When monks and nuns live the Gospel in a radical way, when those who are dedicated to an integrally contemplative life cultivate profoundly their spousal union with Christ - which the instruction Verbi Sponsa (13.V.199) of this Congregation amply dwelt upon - monasticism can constitute for all the forms of religious life and consecration a memorial of that which is essential and which has the primacy in every baptismal life: to look for Christ and to place nothing ahead of his love.

The way indicated by God for this search and for this love is his own Word, which in the books of Sacred Scriptures, is offered abundantly for man's reflection.

Desire for God and love for his Word are thus nourished reciprocally and generate in the monastic life the irrepressible demand of opus Dei (the work of God), of studium orationis (study in prayer), and of lectio divina, which is listening to the Word of God accompanied by the great traditional voices of the Fathers and of the saints, and finally, of prayer that is oriented and sustained by this Word.

The recent general assembly of the Bishops' Synod, celebrated in Rome last month on the the theme 'The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church", renewing the appeal to all Christians to root their existence in listening to the Word of God contained in Sacred Scriptures, specially invited the religious communities and every consecrated man and woman to make the Word of God their daily food, particularly through the practice of lectio divina (cfr Elenchus praepositionum n. 4).

Dear brothers and sisters, whoever enters a monastery looks for a spiritual oasis in which to learn how to live as true disciples of Jesus in serene and persevering fraternal communion, welcoming even eventual guests as Christ himself (cfr RB 53,1). This is the testimony that the Church asks of monasticism even in our time.

Let us invoke Mary, the Mother of our Lord, 'the 'woman who listens', who placed nothing ahead of the love of the Son of God born of her, so that she may help the communities of consecrated life, especially the monastic ones, to be faithful to their vocation and mission.

May the monasteries always be oases of ascetic life, where the allure of the spousal union with Christ is always felt, and where the choice of God's Absolute is enclosed in a constant climate of silence and contemplation.

While I assure you of my prayers for this end, I impart from my heart the Apostolic Blessing on all of you who are taking part in the Plenary, to all who work in the dicastery and to the members of the various institutes of consecrated life, especially those that are integrally contemplative.

May the Lord pour on you the abundance of his comforts.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 11/23/2008 3:31 AM]
11/22/2008 7:32 PM
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Here is a translation of his address to the pilgrims, which was, in effect, a homily in anticipation of the Solemnity of Christ the King tomorrow.

Dear brothers and sisters!

Welcome to the house of the Successor of Peter - I welcome you all with a heartfelt greeting.

First of all, I greet the Pastor of your ecclesial community, Archbishop Orazio Soricelli, to whom I am grateful for the kind words he said in your behalf.

I greet the priests, deacons and seminarians, the religious and the lay faithful involved in various pastoral activities, the young people, the choirs, and the sick with their volunteer caregivers from UNITALSI.

I greet the civilian authorities, the mayors of the communes in the Diocese, and the confraternities.

Finally, I extend my greeting to the entire Archdiocese of Amalfi-Cava de' Tirreni and those of you who have come to Rome on this pilgrimage to the tomb of Peter with the venerated relics of St. Andrew, your august patron, which have been kept since the fourth century in the crypt of Amalfi Cathedral.

Indeed, this pilgrimage is in the name of St. Andrew, on the occasion of the eighth centenary of the translation of his relics from Constantinople to your city of Amalfi, small in size but great in its civic and religious history, as your Archbishop has recalled.

Before this precious reliquary, I was first able to stop in prayer on the Feast of St. Andrew on November 30, 1996, and I keep happy memories of that visit.

As that annual observance approaches, this Jubilee Year will be concluded with a Holy Mass celebrated in your Cathedral by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of state.

It has been a singular year, with its high point in the solemn commemorative act last May 8 by Cardinal Walter Kasper as my special envoy.

Following the example of St. Andrew, and with his intercession, you wish to give a new impulse to your apostolic and missionary calling, widening your perspective to the expectation of peace among peoples and intensifying prayer for unity among Christians.

Vocation, mission and ecumenism are the three key words which have oriented you in this spiritual and pastoral commitment, which today receives from the Pope an encouragement to proceed with generosity and enthusiasm.

May St. Andrew, who was the first of the Apostles called by Jesus on the banks of the river Jordan (cfr. Jn 1, 35-40), help you to rediscover ever more the importance and the urgency of bearing witness to the Gospel in every area of society.

May your entire diocesan community, emulating the early Church, grow in faith and communicate Christian hope to everyone.

Dear brothers and sisters, our encounter takes place on the eve of the solemnity of Christ the King. Therefore, I invite you to turn your heart to our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the universe.

In the face of the Pantocrator, we recognize, as Paul VI said admirably during the Second Vatican Council, "Christ, our principle! Christ, our way and our guide! Christ, our hope and our end!" (Opening address for the Second Period, 9/29/63)

The Word of God, that we shall hear tomorrow, will repeat to us that his face, revelation of the Father's invisible mystery, is that of the Good Shepherd, ready to take care of his lost sheep, in order to bring them back together and pasture them and then let them rest safely. He goes patiently in search of the lost sheep and tends to those who are sick (cfr Ez 34, 11-12.15-17).

Only in him can we find that peace which he gained at the price of his blood, taking upon himself all the sins of the world and obtaining reconciliation for us.

The Word of God will remind us that the face of Christ, universal king, is also that of the judge, because God is at the same time the good and merciful Shepherd and the just Judge.

In particular, the Gospel page (Mt 25,31-46) presents to us the great picture of the Last Judgment. In this parable, the Son of Man in his glory, surrounded by his angels, acts like the shepherd, who separates the lambs from the goats, and places the just on his right and the reprobates on his left.

He invites the just to enter into the legacy prepared for them always, while he condemns the reprobates to eternal fire that was prepared for the devil and the other rebel angels.

The criterion of the Judge is decisive. That criterion is love, concrete charity to our neighbor, particularly the 'small ones', those in greatest difficulty - the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the person in jail.

The King solemnly declares to everyone that what they have done, or not done, for these needy people, they have done or not done to himself. Christ identifies himself with 'the least of his brothers', and the Last Judgment will be an accounting of what took place in earthly life.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is what is of interest to God. He does not care for historical kingship, but he wants to reign in the hearts of men, and from there, on the world: he is the King of the entire universe, but the critical point, the zone where his kingdom is at risk, is our heart, because it is there that God meets us in our freedom.

We, and only we, can keep him from reigning over us, and so, we can
place an obstacle to his reign over the world: on the family, on society, on history. We men and women have the faculty of choosing whom we want to be allied with - whether it is with Christ and his angels, or with the devil and his adepts, to use the language of the Gospel.

It is for us to decide whether to practise justice or iniquity, whether to embrace love and forgiveness, or revenge and homicidal hatred. Our personal salvation depends on this, but also the salvation of the world.

This is why Jesus wants to associate us with his kingship. This is why he invites us to collaborate in the coming of his Kingdom of love, justice and peace. It is for us to respond, not with words, but with deeds. By choosing the way of actual generous love towards our neighbor, we allow him to extend his lordship in time and space.

May St. Andrew help you to renew with courage your decision to belong to Christ and to place yourselves in the service of his Kingdom of peace, justice and love; and may the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, our King, protect your community always.

On my part, I assure you of remembrance in prayer, and as I thank you once more for your visit, I bless you all from my heart.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 11/24/2008 4:29 AM]
11/30/2008 4:36 PM
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11/30/2008 4:39 PM
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HOMILY ON 11/29/08
First Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent

Here is a translation of the Holy Father's homily at St. Peter's Basilica:

Dear brothers and sisters!

With this Vespertine liturgy, we begin the itinerary of a new liturgical year, entering the first of the seasons that make it up: Advent.

In the Biblical reading we just heard, taken from the First Letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul used that very word - advent, or coming, which in Greek is parousia and in Latin, adventus (1 Thess 5,23).

According to the common tradition about this text, Paul was exhorting the Christians of Thessalonica to keep themselves irreproachable 'for the coming' of the Lord. But in the original text, its written 'in the coming', almost as though the coming of the Lord is, more than a future point in time, a spiritual place in which to walk even in the present, during the waiting, and within which we must keep ourselves perfect in every personal dimension.

In fact, this is precisely that we live in liturgy. Celebrating the liturgical seasons, we actualize the mystery - in this case, the coming of the Lord - in such a way that we can, so to speak, walk in it on the way to its full realization, to the end of time, but already drawing from it its sanctifying virtue, inasmuch as the 'end of time' has begin with the death and resurrection of Christ.

The word that summarizes this particular state, in which we await something that should manifest itself, but which at the same time is already glimpsed and tasted, is 'hope'.

Advent is, par excellence, the spiritual season of hope, and in it, the entire Church is called on to become hope, for itself and for the world. The entire spiritual organism of the Mystical Body takes on, so to speak, the color of hope.

All the people of God are on their way, drawn by this mystery: that our God is 'the God who is coming' and who calls us to come forward and meet him.

In what way? Above all in that universal form of hope and expectation which is prayer, which finds its eminent expression in the Psalms - human words in which God himself placed and continually places on the lips and in the hearts of believers the invocation of his coming.

And so let us dwell a few moments on the two Psalms which we prayed earlier and which are consecutive even in the Biblical book - Psalms 141 and 142, according to the Jewish numbering.

"LORD, I call to you; come quickly to help me; listen to my plea when I call. Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening sacrifice" (Ps 141,1-2).

Thus begins the first Psalm of the First Vespers in the first week of the Psaltery - words which at the beginning of Advent acquire a new 'color', because the Holy Spirit always makes them resound anew in us, in the Church which is midway between human time and God's time.

"Lord...come quickly to help me" (v. 1). It is the cry of a person who feels himself in grave danger, but it is also the cry of the Church caught among the multiple traps that surround her, that threaten her holiness, that irreproachable integrity that St. Paul referred to, that which must be conserved for the coming of the Lord.

This invocation also echoes the cry of all just men, all who want to resist evil, the seductions of iniquitous wellbeing and pleasures that are offensive to human dignity and to the condition of the poor.

At the beginning of Advent, the liturgy of the Church takes up this cry anew, and raises it to God 'like incense' (v. 2). Indeed, the Vespertine offering of incense is the symbol of prayer, of the effusion of hearts addressed to God, to the Most High, as are the 'uplifted hands' of the evening sacrifice (V. 2).

In the Church, we no longer offer material sacrifices, as they did in the temple of Jerusalem, but we raise up the spiritual offering of prayer in union with that of Jesus Christ, who is at the same time Sacrifice and Priest of the new and eternal Alliance.

In the cry of the Mystical Body, we recognize the voice of the Head himself - the Son of God who took upon himself our trials and our temptations in order to give us the grace of his victory.

This identification of Christ with the psalmist is particularly evident in the second Psalm (142). Here, every word, every invocation, makes us think of Jesus in his passion, particularly his prayer to the Father at Gethsemane.

In his first coming, in the Incarnation, the Son of God wished to share fully our human condition. Of course, he did not share our sin, but for our salvation, he suffered all the consequences of sin.

Every time it prays Psalm 142, the Church relives the grace of Christ's 'com-passion', the 'coming' of our Lord to human anguish to the point of knowing it to its very depths.

Thus the cry of hope at Advent expresses, from the beginning and in the strongest way, all the gravity of our condition, our extreme need of salvation.

It's as if we await the Lord not as a beautiful decoration in a world that has been saved, but as the only way of liberation from a mortal danger - knowing that he himself, the Liberator, had to suffer and die in order to bring us out of imprisonment (cfr v. 8). ["Lead me out of my prison, that I may give thanks to your name".]

In short, these two Psalms shield us from any temptation of evasion and flight from reality. They keep us from false hope, that of entering Advent looking to Christmas while forgetting the tragedies of our personal and collective existence.

Indeed, hope that is reliable, not deceptive, cannot be other than 'Paschal' hope, as we are reminded every Saturday evening by the canticle from the Letter to the Philippians, with which we praise Christ who was incarnated, crucified, resurrected, Christ the universal Lord.

Let us turn our eyes and our hearts to him, in spiritual union with the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Advent. Let us put our hand in hers and joyfully enter this new time of grace that God gives his Church for the good of all mankind.

Like Mary and with her maternal help, let us make ourselves obedient to the action of the Holy Spirit so that the God of peace may sanctify us fully and the Church may be a sign and instrument of hope for all men. Amen.

For convenience, here are the two Psalms chanted at Vespers today:

Psalm 141

LORD, I call to you; come quickly to help me; listen to my plea when I call.

Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening sacrifice.

Set a guard, LORD, before my mouth, a gatekeeper at my lips.

Do not let my heart incline to evil, or yield to any sin.
I will never feast upon the fine food of evildoers.

Let the just strike me; that is kindness; let them rebuke me; that is oil for my head.
All this I shall not refuse, but will pray despite these trials.

When their leaders are cast over the cliff, all will learn that my prayers were heard.

As when a farmer plows a field into broken clods, so their bones will be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.

My eyes are upon you, O GOD, my Lord; in you I take refuge; do not strip me of life.

Guard me from the trap they have set for me, from the snares of evildoers.

Into their own nets let all the wicked fall, while I make good my own escape.

Psalm 142

With full voice I cry to the LORD; with full voice I beseech the LORD.

Before God I pour out my complaint, lay bare my distress.

My spirit is faint within me, but you know my path.
Along the way I walk they have hidden a trap for me.

I look to my right hand, but no friend is there.
There is no escape for me; no one cares for me.

I cry out to you, LORD, I say,
You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.

Listen to my cry for help, for I am brought very low.
Rescue me from my pursuers, for they are too strong for me.

Lead me out of my prison, that I may give thanks to your name.
Then the just shall gather around me because you have been good to me.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 11/30/2008 4:46 PM]
11/30/2008 4:44 PM
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HOMILY ON 11/30/08
First Sunday of Advent
Pastoral Visit to San Lorenzo fuori Le Mura

Here is a translation of the Holy Father's homily at the basilica of St. Lawrence outside the Walls:

Dear brothers and sisters:

With the first Sunday of Advent today, we enter that period of four weeks that starts the liturgical year and which directly prepares us for the feast of the Nativity, commemorating the incarnation of Christ in history.

The spiritual message of Advent, however, is more profound, because it projects us towards the glorious return of the Lord at the end of history.

Adventus is a Latin word, which can be translated as arrival, coming, presence. In the language of the ancient world, it was a technical term which referred to the arrival of a functionary, particularly that of a visit by the king or the emperor to the provinces, but it could also be used to mean the appearance of a divinity emerging from his hidden dwelling and thus manifesting his divine power: his presence was solemnly celebrated in [an act of] worship.

In adopting the term Advent, Christians meant to express the special relation that united them with the crucified and resurrected Christ. He is the King, who, having entered this poor province called earth, made a gift to us of his visit; who, after his resurrection and ascension to heaven, nonetheless wanted to stay with us - we perceive his mysterious presence in our liturgical assembly.

In celebrating the Mass, we are proclaiming, in fact, that He has not retreated from the world and he has not left us, and even if we cannot see and touch him as we do can do with material and sensory realities, He is nevertheless with us and among us.

Indeed, he is in us, because he can draw towards him and communicate his own life to every believer who opens his heart to him.

Advent therefore means remembering the first coming of the Lord in the flesh, while thinking now of his definitive return. At the same time, it means acknowledging that Christ present among us makes himself our travelling companion in the life of the Church which celebrates his mystery.

This awareness, dear brothers and sisters, nourished by listening to the Word of God, should help us see the world with different eyes, to interpret the single events of life and history as words addressed to us by God, as signs of his love which assure us of his nearness in every situation.

This awareness, in particular, should prepare us to welcome him when "once again he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom shall have no end", as we will proclaim soon in the Credo.

In this perspective, Advent becomes for all Christians a time of waiting and hope, a favored time for listening and reflection if we allow ourselves to be guided by the liturgy which invites us to go forward to meet the coming Lord.

"Come Lord Jesus" - that ardent invocation of the first Christian community should become, dear friends, our constant aspiration as well, the aspiration of the Church in every age, which yearns and prepares for the encounter with her Lord.

"Come today, Lord - help us, enlighten us, grant us peace, help us defeat violence. Come Lord, we pray to you especially during these weeks. Let your face shine on us and we shall be saved."

Thus we prayed earlier with the responsorial Psalm. And the prophet Isaiah revealed to us, in the first Reading, that the face of our Lord is that of a kind and merciful Father, who cares for us in every circumstance because we are his handiwork: "You LORD are our father, our redeemer.." (63,16).

Our God is a father ready to forgive all sinners who repent and to welcome those who believe in his mercy (cfr Is 64,4). We were estranged from him because of sin, falling into the dominion of death, but he took pity on us, and of his own initiative, without any merit on our part, he decided to come to us, sending his only Son as our Redeemer.

Before such a great mystery of love, our gratitude rises spontaneously, and our invocation is more confident: "Show us your mercy, Lord, today, in our time, in all parts of the world, and grant us your salvation" (cfr Canto al Vangelo).

Dear brothers and sisters, the thought of the presence of Christ and of his certain return at the end of time, is even more significant in this, your Basilica, next to the monumental cemetery of Verano, where so many of our dear departed repose, awaiting the resurrection.

How many times funeral liturgies have been celebrated here! How many times the words have resounded full of consolation: "In Christ your Son, our savior, may the hope of blessed resurrection shine on us, and as we are saddened by the thought of certain death, we are comforted by the promise of future immortality" (cfr Preface for the Dead I).

But this monumental Basilica of yours, which leads us to think of the primitive church ordered built by the Emperor Constantine which was subsequently transformed to what it is today, speaks to us above all of the glorious martyr St. Lawrence, arch-deacon of Pope Sixtus II, and his trustee in the administration of the assets of the Church.

I came to celebrate the Holy Eucharist today to join you in rendering homage during a singular event, the occasion of the Lawrentian Jubilee Year, declared to commemorate 1750 years since the birth in heaven of the holy Deacon.

History confirms how glorious the name of this saint is, at whose tomb we are gathered. His solicitude for the poor, the generous service he rendered to the Church of Rome in the field of social assistance and charity, his loyalty to the Pope, who inspired him to want to follow him in the supreme trial of martyrdom and the heroic testimony by blood, which he shed just a few days later, are universally known.

St. Leo the Great, in a beautiful homily, commented on the atrocious martyrdom of this 'illustrious hero': "The flames could not conquer the charity of Christ; and the fire which burned him was weaker than that which blazed within him".

He added: "The Lord wished to exalt his glorious name in all the world, that from East to West, in the vivid brilliance of the light radiated by the greatest of deacons, the same glory that came to Jerusalem from Stephen also came to Rome thanks to Lawrence's merit" (Homily 55,4: PL 54,486).

This year is also the 50th anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Pius XII, and this recalls to us an event that was particularly dramatic in the pluricentennial history of your Basilica. It took place during the Second World War, when on July 19, 1943, a violent bombardment inflicted very serious damages on the Church and on the entire neighborhood, sowing death and destruction.

Never can that generous gesture by my venerated predecessor be erased from historical memory, in coming immediately to the aid and comfort of the people who had been so severely struck, meeting them among still-smoking ruins.

Neither can I forget that this Basilica also houses the remains of two other great personages. In the hypogeum [underground crypt], the mortal remains of Blessed Pius IX have been placed for the veneration of the faithful; and in the atrium is the tomb of Alcide De Gasperi, a wise and fair-minded leader for Italy in the difficult years of postwar reconstruction, who was, at the same time, an illustrious statesman who was capable of looking at Europe with wide-ranging Christian vision.

While we are gathered together in prayer, I am pleased to greet you all with affection, starting with the Cardinal Vicar; the Vice Regent, who is also the Abbot of the Basilica; the Auxiliary Bishop of the North Sector; and your parish priest, Fr. Bruno Mustacchio, whom I thank for the kind words he addressed to me before the start of the Mass.

I greet the Minister General of the Capuchin Order and the brothers of the Community who have been carrying out their service with seal and dedication - welcoming the numerous pilgrims, assisting the pooer in charity, and testifying to hope in the resurrected Christ to all who visit the cemetery of Verano. I wish to assure you of my appreciation, and above all, of remembrance in my prayers.

I also greet the various groups involved in catechesis, liturgy and charity; the members of the two polyphonic choirs, and the local and regional branches of the Third Franciscan Order.

I particularly appreciate the fact that for many years now, this parish has been home to the 'diocesan missionary laboratory' to educate the parish communities in missionary awareness, and I gladly join you in hoping that this initiative in our Diocese may contribute to inspire a courageous pastoral missionary activity, which will bring the message of God's merciful love to every corner of Rome, involving above all the young people and families.

Finally, I wish to extend my greeting to all the inhabitants of this quarter, especially the aged, the sick, the people who are alone and in difficulty. I pray for each and everyone in this Holy Mass.

Dear brothers and sisters, at the start of Advent, what better message to draw from St. Lawrence than that of sanctity? He repeats to us that sanctity - that is, walking forward to Christ who is always coming to visit us, is never out of fashion, but, with the passing of time, it shines more luminously and shows the perennial tendency of man to reach out to God.

Therefore, may this jubilee commemoration be an occasion for your parish community for a renewed adherence to Christ, for a greater examination in depth of your sense of belonging to his Mystical Body which is the Church, and for a constant commitment to evangelization through charity.

May St. Lawrence, heroic witness to the crucified and resurrected Christ, be for each one an example of obedient adherence to the divine will, in order that, as we heard the apostle Paul remind the Corinthians, we too can live in a way that we may be found 'irreproachable' on the day of the coming of the Lord (cfr 1 Cor 1,7-9).

To prepare ourselves for the advent of Christ is also the exhortation we gather from today's Gospel: "Be watchful", Jesus tells us in the brief parable of the master who leaves home but does not know when he will return (cfr Mk 13,33-37).

To be watchful means to follow the Lord, to choose what he chose, love as he loved, conform our own life to his. To be watchful means to pass every moment of our time within the horizon of his love without allowing ourselves to be beaten by the inevitable difficulties and problems of daily life.

That is what St. Lawrence did. This we should do, and let us ask the Lord to give us the grace so that Advent may be a stimulus for everyone to walk in this direction.

May we be guided and accompanied by the intercession of the humble Virgin of Nazareth, Mary, chosen by God to become the Mother of the Redeemer; by St. Andrew, whose feast we celebrate today; and by St. Lawrence, example of intrepid Christian faithfulness unto martyrdom. Amen.
12/6/2008 2:27 AM
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Here is a translation of the Holy Father's address earlier today to the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre at the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace.

Your Eminence,
Venerated brothers in the Episcopate,
Members of the Grand Mastership and Lieutenants,
Dear brothers and sisters!

It is my pleasure to greet you and express my heartfelt welcome to the Knights, Dames and Ecclesiastics who represent the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

In particular, I greet Cardinal John Patrick Foley, Grand Master of the Order, and I thank him for the kind words which he addressed to me just now in your behalf. And I salute, among others, the Grand Prior, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins.

Through each of you, I wish to extend my esteem and acknowledgment for all the components of your deserving sodality spread throughout the world.

The reason for your gathering here in Rome is the 'world consultation' that provides for the lieutenants, the magisterial delegates and the members of the Grand Mastership to evaluate the situation of the Catholic community in the Holy Land as well as the activities carried out by the Order, and to establish your directives for the future.

In thanking you for your visit, I wish to express my sincere appreciation particularly for the initiatives of fraternal solidarity that the Order of the Holy Sepulchre continues to promote in behalf of the Holy Places.

Born as a 'Guard of Honor' for the custody of the Holy Sepulchre of Our Lord, your Equestrian Order has enjoyed singular attention from the Roman Pontiffs, who have granted the spiritual and juridical instruments necessary for the Order to carry out its specific services.

In 1847, Blessed Pius IX reconstituted the Order in order to favor the recomposition of a Catholic community in the Holy Land, entrusting the custody of the Tomb of Christ no longer to the power of weapons, but to the value of a constant testimonial of faith and charity towards Christians residing in those places.

More recently, the Servant of God Pius XII, of venerated memory, conferred juridical personality on your Sodality, thus making your presence and work more official and solid within the Church itself and in the eyes of nations.

Dear brothers and sisters, an ancient and glorious bond links your knightly sodality to the Holy Sepulchre of Christ, where the glory of his death and resurrection are celebrated in a truly singular manner. It is this which constitutes the central fulcrum of your spirituality.

May Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, be the center of your existence and of every project and program of yours, whether personal or associative.

Let yourselves be guided and sustained by his redemptive power in order to live profoundly the mission you are called on to perform; to offer eloquent evangelical testimony; to be builders, in our time, of a pro-active hope founded on the presence of the resurrected Lord, who, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, guides and sustains the efforts of those who dedicate themselves to the edification of a new humanity inspired by the evangelical values of justice, love and peace.

How much the land of Jesus needs justice and peace! Continue to work for this, and do not tire of asking, with the Prayer of the Knight and Dame of the Holy Sepulchre, that these aspirations may find fulfillment soon.

Ask the Lord to "make you convinced and sincere ambassadors of peace and love among brothers"; ask him to fertilize with the power of his love your constant work in support of the ardent desire for peace of that community which has been weighed down for years in an uncertain and dangerous climate.

To those beloved Christian populations, who continue to suffer because of the political, economic and social crisis, of the Middle East - made even worse with the aggravation of the world situation - I address an affectionate thought, with a particular attestation of spiritual nearness to those of our brothers in the faith who have been forced to emigrate.

How can we not share the suffering of those communities that have been so severely tried? At the same time, how can we not thank you, who are doing all you can to come generously to their aid?

In these days of Advent, while we prepare to celebrate the Nativity, the attention of our faith is directed towards Bethlehem, where the Son of God was born in a humble cave. The eyes of the heart then turn to all the other places sanctified by the passage of the Redeemer.

To Mary who gave the Savior to the world, we ask that she make her maternal protection felt by our brothers and sisters who live in those places and daily face not a few difficulties.

We also ask her to encourage you, and those who, with the help of God, want and can contribute to the edification of a better world.

Dear Knights and Dames, nourish in yourselves the spirit of Advent, keeping alive in your hearts the anticipation of the Lord who is coming, so that you may encounter him in the events of every day and recognize and serve him especially among the poor and the suffering.

May the Virgin of Nazareth - who in a few days we shall invoke under the title of the Immaculate Conception - assist you in your mission of watching with love over the places which saw the Divine Redeemer pass while "doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (Acts 10,38).

With these thoughts, I gladly impart my blessing on all.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/6/2008 3:54 AM]
12/6/2008 3:55 AM
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Here is a translation of the Holy Father's address to members of the International Theological Commission whom he met at the Hall of the Popes of the Apostolic Palace today.

Venerated brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,
Distinguished Professors,
Dear Co-Workers:

it is with true joy that I welcome you at the end of your annual Plenary Session which this time coincides with the conclusion of the 7th quinquennial term since the creation of the International Theological Commission.

I wish first of all to express my heartfelt gratitude for the words of tribute delivered in your name by Mons. Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, as secretary-general of the Commission.

And I extend my thanks to all of you who, during the past five years, have spent your energies in truly valuable work for the Church and for him whom the Lord called to carry out the ministry of the Successor of Peter.

In fact, the work of this seventh five-year term of the Commission has already borne fruit with the publication of the document "Hope of salvation for children who die without baptism", and you are about to reach another important goalpost with the document "In search of a universal ethic: A new look at natural law", which must now be subjected to the last steps provided for by the Statutes of the Commission before its final approval.

As I have had previous occasions to state, I reiterate the need and the urgency, in today's context, to create in the culture and in civilian and political society the conditions indispensable for full awareness of the irrenunciable value of natural moral law.

Thanks to the studies that you have undertaken on this basic subject, it will be made clear that natural law constitutes the true guarantee offered to everyone to live freely and respected in his dignity as a person, and to feel himself defended from ideological manipulation by anyone and from every abuse of power perpetrated on the basis of the law of the strongest.

About the third subject, "The sense and method of theology", which has been your particular object of study in this five-year term, I hasten to underscore its relevance and actuality.

In a planetary society like that which is taking shape these days, public opinion often calls on theologians to promote dialog among religions and cultures, to contribute to the development of an ethic that has peace, justice and defense of the natural environment as its basic coordinates.

In this perspective, theologians are also asked to offer adequate answers towards overcoming the alienations that condition and oppress the lives of single individuals.

Obviously, these are all legitimate concerns that deserve attentive consideration. None theless, one cannot ignore that the identity of theology is not to be found at this level of problems and exigency.

The human need for transcendence and orientation, that is sustainable and worthy of universal attention, postulates the centrality of truth. The essential and indispensable characteristic of theology is to pose questions about the truth of the faith, not simply to interrogate oneself about its practical and social effectiveness.

From the objective point of view, truth is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, who asks as a response the obedience of faith in communion with the Church and its Magisterium.

If the identity of theology is thus recovered - that is, understood as a reasoned, systematic and methodical reflection on Revelation and faith - even the question of its method is illuminated.

Method in theology cannot only be constituted on the basis of criteria and norms common to other sciences, but it should first of all observe the principles and norms that derive from Revelation and faith, in its personal and ecclesial dimension.

From the subjective point of view - that is, from that of the person who does theology - the fundamental virtue of the theologian is to look for obedience to the faith, which makes him a cooperator in the truth.

In this way, he will not be speaking of himself: rather, interiorly purified by obedience to the truth, he will arrive instead at the point where truth itself can speak in him. At the same time, he will obtain that through him, truth may be brought to the world.

On the other hand, obedience to the truth does not mean renouncing research and the effort of thought. The disquiet of thinking - which undoubtedly can never be fully placated in the life of believers, the moment they are on the path of a search and in-depth study of Truth - will nonetheless be a disquiet which will accompany and stimulate them in the pilgrimage of thought towards God, and will thus result in something profound.

Thus I hope that your reflection on these subjects will arrive at bringing back light to the authentic principles and the solid significance of true theology, in order to perceive and understand ever better the answers that Divine Revelation offers us and without which we cannot live wisely and rightly.

My thanks then for your commitment and your work in the International Theological Commission during these past five years, and at the same time, a cordial wish for the future work of this important organism in the service of the Apostolic See and the entire Church.

In renewing my expressions of satisfaction, affection and joy for today's encounter, I invoke the Lord, through the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin, for copious celestial light on your work, and from the heart, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to those who are dear to you.

12/9/2008 4:56 PM
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Here is a translation of the Holy Father's words at the traditional Act of Veneration by the Pope before the Pillar of the Immaculate Conception in Rome's Piazza Spagna:

Dear brothers and sisters:

Three months ago, I had the joy of making a pilgrimage to Lourdes, on the 150th anniversary year of the historic apparition of the Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette.

The celebrations of this singular anniversary conclude today, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, because the 'beautiful Lady' -as Bernadette called her - when she showed herself for the last time at the grotto in Massabielle, revealed her name, saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

She spoke in the local dialect, and the young seer reported her words to her parish priest, an expression that was unknown and incomprehensible to her.

Immaculate Conception - even we say that mysterious name with emotion. We say it again here, at the foot of this monument in the heart of Rome. And countless of our brothers and sisters do the same in thousands of other places around the world, in shrines and chapels, and in the homes of Christian families.

Wherever there is a Catholic community, there the Madonna is venerated today with this stupendous and wonderful title: Immaculate Conception.

Certainly, the belief in the immaculate conception of Mary already existed centuries before the apparitions at Lourdes, but it acquired something like a celestial seal after my venerated predecessor, Blessed Pius IX, defined it as dogma on December 8, 1854.

In today's feast, so dear to the Christian people, this expression comes from our hearts and touches our lips as the name of our celestial Mother.

Just as a child raises his eyes to the face of his mother, and seeing her smile, forgets every fear and every pain, we too, turning our eyes to Mary, recognize in her 'the smile of God', the immaculate reflection of divine light. We find in her new hope even in the midst of the problems and tragedies of the world.

It has become tradition that the Pope joins in the homage of the city by bringing Mary a basket of roses. These flowers indicate our love and our devotion: the love and devotion of the Pope, of the Church of Rome, and of the inhabitants of this city, who feel themselves spiritual children of Mary.

Symbolically, roses can express the good and the beautiful that we have achieved during the year, because in this event that has now become traditional, we wish to offer everything to our Mother, convinced that we could not have done anything without her protection and without the graces that she obtains daily for us from God.

But as the saying goes, there are no roses without thorns, and even the stems of these wonderful white roses do not lack thorns, which represents for us the difficulties, the sufferings and the bad things that have also marked and continue to mark the lives of persons and of our communities.

To the Mother, we present not only our joys, but we also confide our concerns, sure of finding in her comfort for the struggle and support for moving ahead.

O Immaculate Virgin, at this moment, I wish to entrust specially to you the 'little ones' of our city: the children, first of all, and those whoa re gravely ill, the disadvantaged children and those who are experiencing the consequences of difficult family situations. Watch over them and make them feel, in the affection and assistance of those who are near them, the warmth of God's love.

I entrust to you, o Mary, the aged who are alone, the sick, the immigrants who are doing their best to settle in, nuclear families who are struggling to make ends meet, and those who are unemployed or have lost jobs indispensable for getting on with life.

Teach us, Mary to be one with whose who are in difficulty, and to make up up for ever-widening social disparities. help us to cultivate a better sense of the common good, of respect for what is public. Impel us to feel that the city - more than ever, our city of Rome - as the patrimony of all, and for each of us to do our part, with conscientiousness and commitment, to build a more just and fraternal society.

O Immaculate Mother, who are a sign of sure hope and comfort for all, makes us be drawn to your immaculate purity. Your Beauty - Tota Pulchra, we sing today - assures us that the triumph of love is possible - that it is certain. It assures us that grace is stronger than sin, and that rescue from any slavery is possible.

Yes, o Mary, help us to believe with more trust in goodness, to take ourselves on generosity, on service, on non-violence, on the power of truth. Encourage us to remain watchful, not to yield to the temptation of easy escapes, to face reality and its problems, with courage and responsibility.

Thus you did, as a young girl, when you were called to risk everything on the Word of the Lord. Be a loving mother to our young people, so that they may have the courage to be 'the sentinels of dawn', and give this virtue to all Christians so that they may be the soul of the world in this none too easy season of history.

Immaculate Virgin, Mother of God and our Mother, Salus Populi Romani, pray for us!

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 1/1/2009 8:28 PM]
12/14/2008 10:13 PM
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12/3/08 (Released 12/9/08)

Here is s translation of the December 3 letter from the Holy Father to the presidents of the Pontifical Councils for Inter-Religious Dialog and for Culture released by the Vatican. It is also the main story on the Dec. 9-10 issue of L'Osservatore Romano.

To Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran,
President of the Pontifical Council
for Inter-Religious Dialog
and Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi,
President of the Pontifical Council for Culture

I wish, first of all, to express my sincere appreciation for the joint initiative of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialog and the Pontifical Council for Culture, in organizing a Day of study dedicated to the subject "Cultures and Religions in Dialog" as the participation of the Holy See in the European Union initiative, approved in December 2006, to declare 2008 as the European Year for Inter-Cultural Dialog.

I greet cordially, along with the Council Presidents mentioned, the cardinals, the venerated brothers in the E[Episcopate, the excellencies of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, the representatives of other religions and all the participants in this important meeting.

For many years now, Europe has become aware of its substantial cultural unity, despite the constellation of national cultures that have shaped its face.

It is good to underscore this: contemporary Europe, facing the Third Millennium, is the fruit of its 2000 years of civilization. That civilization is deeply rooted in the enormous and ancient patrimony of Athens and Rome as well as, and above all, in the fecund soil of Christianity, which has shown itself capable of creating new cultural patrimonies even as it accepts the original contribution made by every civilization.

The new humanism, which emerged from the spread of the evangelical message, exalts all the elements of the human being and his transcendental calling, purifying it of the wastes which obscure the face of the man created in the image and likeness of God.

Thus, Europe appears to us today like a precious fabric, whose warp and woof is formed by the principles and values drawn from the Gospel, even as the national cultures have been able to embroider it with an immense variety of perspectives which manifest the religious, intellectual, technical, scientific and artistic capacities of homo Europeus.

In this sense, we can affirm that Europe had and still has a cultural influence on the entire human species, and cannot fell less than particularly responsible not only for its future but for that of all mankind.

In the context of today, when our contemporaries are more often asking themselves the essential questions on the sense of live and its value, it seems more important than ever to reflect on the ancient roots from which have flowed abundant lymph in the course of centuries.

The subject of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialog emerges as a priority for the European Union and is of interest across the board to all sectors of culture and communications, of education and science, of migrants and minorities, and those of young people and work.

Once diversity is accepted as a positive given, persons must accept not only the existence of the other's culture, but that they also wish to be enriched by that culture.

My predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, addressing Catholics, expressed his profound conviction about this in these terms: "The Church should enter into dialog with the world in which she lives. Let the Church give its word, let the Church deliver its message, let the Church enter into conversation" (Encyclical Ecclesia Suam, N. 67).

We live in what is now usually called 'a pluralistic world', characterized by the rapidity of communications, the mobility of peoples and their economic, political and cultural interdependence.

Even in these often tragic times - even if many Europeans unfortunately seem to ignore the Christian roots of Europe - these roots are alive, and they should mark the way and nourish the hopes of millions of citizens who share the same values.

Believers should therefore be always ready to promote initiatives of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialog with the end of stimulating collaboration on areas of reciprocal interest, such as the dignity of the human being, the search for the common good, the construction of peace, development.

To this end, the Holy See wished to highlight its own participation in the 'high-level dialog on understanding among religions and cultures and on cooperation for peace' at the 62nd General Assembly of the United Nations (Oct. 4-5, 2008).

In order to be authentic, such a dialog must avoid yielding to relativism and syncretism, and must be animated by sincere respect for others and a generous spirit of reconciliation and brotherhood.

I encourage all those who are dedicated to the construction of a Europe that is welcoming, fraternal and ever more faithful to its roots, and in particular, I call on believers to contribute not only to jealously preserve the cultural and spiritual heritage which distinguishes them and are an integral part of their story, but also to be even more committed to finding new ways to adequately meet the great challenges that mark the post-modern world.

Among these, I will limit myself to cite the defense of human life at every stage, the protection of the rights of individuals and of families, the construction of a just and fraternal world, respect for creation, and inter-cultural and inter-religious dialog.

In this perspective, I wish success for the Day of Study and I invoke on all of its participants the abundant blessings of God.

From the Vatican
December 3, 2008

12/14/2008 10:18 PM
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The concert held at the Aula Paolo VI, and attended by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, was a project of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the St. Matthew Foundation established in honor of the late Cardinal François-Xavier Van Thuân of Vietnam. Here is a translation of the remarks of the Holy Father after the performance:

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
dear brotheres and sisters!

I address my heartfelt greeting to the authorities present, particularly the President of the Italian Republic, to the other Italian authorities, to the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, and all of you who have taken part in this evening dedicated to classical music, as interpreted by the Brandenburg State Orchestra of Frankfurt, directed on this occasion by Madame Inma Shara.

To her and the orchestra members, I wish to express the appreciation of everyone for the talent and the effectiveness with which they interpreted these evocative musical pieces.

I thank the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Fondazione San Matteo established in the memory of Cardinal François-Xavier Van Thuân, for having promoted the concert, which was preceded today by a commemorative ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the awarding of certain prizes: the Cardinal Van Thuan Prize for 2008 to Cornelio Sommaruga, ex-president of the Red Cross International Committee; the prize for 'Solidarity and Development' to Fr. Pedro Opeka, missionary in Madagascar; Fr. Jose Raul Matte, missionary among the lepers of the Amazonia; the officials of Project Gulunap for the establishment of a Faculty of Medicine in North Uganda; and those responsible for the Village of the Ercolini intended to integrate the gypsy children and youth of Rome.

My gratitude also goes to those who have worked to make this concert possible, and to RAI which broadcast it, thus widening the audience who were able to benefit from it.

Sixty years ago, on December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration fo Human Rights, which today still constitutes one of the most elevated reference points of the intercultural dialog on freedom and the rights of man.

The dignity of every human being is really guaranteed only when all his fundamental rights are recognized, protected and promoted.

The Church has always reiterated that fundamental rights, beyond the differing formulations and the different weights that they may have in various cultures, are a universal given because they are inherent in human nature itself.

Natural law, written by the Creator in the human conscience, is a common denominator for all men and all peoples. It is a universal guide that everyone can recognize and on the basis of which everyone can agree.

Human rights are ultimately founded in God the creator, who has given everyone intelligence and freedom. If we do away with this solid ethical base, human rights will remain fragile because they would be devoid of a soild foundation.

The celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Declaration thus constitutes an pccasion to veryify to what degree the ideals accepted by the majority of the community of nations in 1948, are respected today in the various national legislatures, and more than that, in the conscience of individuals and of the collectivity.

Undoubtedly, we have already come a long way, but there still remains much to be done. Hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters continue to see their rights to life, liberty and security threatened. Equality for all and the dignity of every person are not always respected, while new barriers are being raised for reasons connected to race, religion, political opinions or other convictions.

Therefore, let the common commitment not cease to promote and better define the rights of man, and may the efforts intensify to guarantee that these rights are respected.

I accompany these wishes with a prayer that God, Father of all men, may grant us to construct a world where every human being feels accepted with full dignity, and where the relations among individuals and among peoples may be ruled by respect, dialog and solidarity.

To everyone, my blessing!

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/14/2008 10:18 PM]
12/14/2008 10:21 PM
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JANUARY 1, 2009
Released 12/11/08

At a news conference on December 11, the Holy Father's message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2009, was released.
The theme is "Fight poverty and build peace."

The entire message in its English version can be read on

12/14/2008 10:26 PM
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Here is a full translation of the Holy Father's address to students of Roman universities in a now-traditional pre-Christmas encounter:

Eminent Cardinals,
Madame Minister and distinguished authorities,
Venerated brothers,
Illustrious rectors and professors,
Dear students!

The approach of the Holy Feast of the Nativity offers me the occasion, always a happy one, to meet the Roman university world.

I cordially greet Cardinal Agostino Vallini, my Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, and Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, whose presence brings back to my mind and heart the unforgettable experience of World Youth Day last July.

The handover of the icon of Mary Sedes Sapientiae (Seat of Wisdom) from the Romanian delegation to the Australians reminds us that this great 'network' of young people around the world is always active and in movement.

I thank the Rector of La Sapienza University of Rome and the student who addressed me in the name of everyone here.

I am grateful for the presence of the Minister for the University and Research, and wish every good to this sector, so important to the life of the nation.

I address a special greeting to the Israeli and Palestinian students who are studying in Rome, thanks to subsidies from the Lazio region and the Roman universities, and I also greet the three Rectors who took part yesterday bin the meeting on the topic, "From Jerusalem to Rome to construct a new humanism".

Dear friends, this year, the itinerary prepared for you by the Diocese of Rome ties in opportunely with the Pauline Year.

The bimillenial anniversary of the birth of the Apostle of the Gentiles is helping the entire church to rediscover its own fundamental missionary vocation, and at the same time, to draw fully from the inexhaustible theological and spiritual treasures of the Pauline Letters.

I myself, as you know, have been developing, week after week, a cycle of catecheses on this subject. I am convinced that even for you - on the personal level as well as in your community experience and apostolate in the university - the encounter with the figure and message of St. Paul will constitute a very enriching opportunity.

For this reason, I will be consigning to you shortly the Letter to the Romans, maximum expression of Pauline thought and a sign of his special consideration for the Church of Rome, or - to use the words of greeting of the Epistle itself - "to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy" (Rom 1,7).

The Letter to the Romans - as some of the professors present know very well - is without doubt one of the most important cultural texts of all time. But it is and remains principally a living message for the living Church, and as such, I place it in your hands this evening.

May this writing, which gushed forth from the heart of the Apostle, become substantial nutriment for your faith, bringing you to believe more and better, and even to reflect on yourselves, in order to arrive at a 'thought out' faith, and at the same time, to live this faith, putting it into practice according to the truth of Christ's commandment.

Only thus can the faith that one professes become 'credible' even to to others, who are conquered by the eloquent testimony of facts. Let Paul speak to you, Christian professors and students of Rome today, and make you participants in the experience that he had at first hand: that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is "the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Rom 2,16).

The Christian announcement, which was revolutionary in the historical and cultural context of Paul, had the power to bring down the 'wall of separation' that there was between Jews and pagans (cfr Eph 2,14; Rom 10,12).

It conserves the power of a novelty that is always actual, able to bring down other walls that come back to be erected in every context in every age.

The spring of this power is in the Spirit of Christ, to whom Paul consciously appeals. He said to the Christians of Corinth that, in his preaching, they should not count on "persuasive (words of) wisdom, but on a demonstration of spirit and power" (1 Cor 2,4).

And what was the kernel of his proclamation? It was the novelty of the salvation brought by Christ to mankind: in his death and resurrection, salvation is offered to all men without distinction.

Offered, not imposed. Salvation is a gift which always requires to be accepted personally. It is this, dear young people, that is the essential content of Baptism which this year is proposed to you as a Sacrament to rediscover, and for for some of you, to receive and to confirm as a free and fully conscious choice.

In the Letter of the Romans itself, we find a brilliant formulation of the meaning of Christian Baptism. "Are you unaware", Paul writes, "that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" (Rom 6,3)

As you can well gather, this is a very profound idea which contains all the theology of the Paschal mystery: the death of Christ, through the power of God, is the source of life, inexhaustible spring of renewal in the Holy Spirit.

To be 'baptized in Christ' means to be spiritually immersed in that death which is God's infinite and universal act of love, able to rescue every person and every creature from any slavery of sin and from death.

St. Paul, in fact, proceeds thus: "We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Rom 6,4).

The apostle, in the Letter to the Romans, communicates to us all his joy in this mystery when he writes: "What will separate us from the love of Christ?... I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8, 35.38-39).

It is this same love of which the new life of Christians consists. Even here, St. Paul works an impressive synthesis, again a fruit of his personal experience: "The one who loves another has fulfilled the law," he writes. "Love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom 13,8.10).

This, dear friends, is what I hand over to you this evening. It is a message of faith, certainly, but at the same time, it is a truth that illuminates the mind, expanding it according to the horizons of God.

It is a truth that orients real life, because the Gospel is the way to reach the fullness of life.

This is the way that Jesus already traced out - indeed, he is the Way himself, who has come from the Father to us, so that we may, through him, reach the Father. This is the mystery of Advent and of Christmas.

May the Virgin Mary and St. Paul help you to adore him and to make him your own with profound faith and intimate joy.

Thank you all for your presence. In view of the coming Christmas festivities, I extend heartfelt wishes to all of you, to your families and others dear to you. Have a good Christmas!

12/14/2008 10:30 PM
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12/14/2008 10:39 PM
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After meeting with them in separate audiences during the week, the Holy Father addressed the bishops from Taiwan who came on theri ad-limina visit. Here is the text of his English address to them:

My Dear Brother Bishops,

To all of you, I extend greetings of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus. By his grace, you have come to this city to venerate the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul as a sign of your communion with the Church in Rome, which "presides over the universal communion of charity" (Pastores Gregis, 57; cf. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Romanos, 1:1).

It is in this spirit of charity that I welcome you today and encourage the Catholic faithful in Taiwan to persevere in faith, hope and love.

"Comfort, give comfort to my people" (Is 40:1). These words, re-echoed in the Church’s liturgy this week, neatly summarize my message to you today.

You are never alone! United to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, you, together with all your Brothers in the Episcopate, are graced with that "affective collegiality" that strengthens you to preach the Gospel and care for the needs of the Lord’s flock (cf. Pastores Gregis, 8).

Indeed, your celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Catholic Evangelization in Taiwan is an occasion to manifest ever more eagerly your oneness with each other and with our Lord as you together promote the Church’s common apostolate.

This unity of mind and heart is evidenced by your desire to cooperate more closely in spreading the Gospel among non-believers and forming those already initiated into the Church through Baptism and Confirmation.

I am pleased to note that you continue to coordinate a variety of institutions for this purpose, with due emphasis on the parish, the "prime mover and pre-eminent place for catechesis" (Catechesi Tradendae, 67).

As Bishops, you are well aware of your vital role in this regard. Your office of teaching is inseparable from those of sanctifying and governing, and it is integral to what Saint Augustine calls the amoris officium: the "office of love" (Saint Augustine, In Ioannem, 123).

Crucial to this end is the formation of priests, who are ordained to assist you in exercising this "office of love" for the good of God’s people. These programmes are to be ongoing so that priests may continually refocus on the meaning of their mission and embrace it with fidelity and generosity.

Such programmes must also be designed with due consideration for the variety of ages, life conditions and duties found among your clergy.

Priority must also be given to the thorough preparation of catechists. Once again, it is essential to take into consideration the array of settings in which they work and to furnish them with the necessary resources so that they may follow the example of Jesus in speaking the truth straightforwardly and in a way readily accessible to all (cf. Mk 4:11).

With their active support, you will be able to draw up well-planned catechetical programmes that employ a progressive and gradual methodology, so that from year to year an ever-deepening encounter with the Triune God may be fostered among your people.

Effective catechesis inevitably builds stronger families, which in turn give birth to new priestly vocations. Indeed, the family is that "domestic Church" where the Gospel of Jesus is first heard and the art of Christian living first practised (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11).

The Church, at every level, must cherish and foster the gift of priesthood so that young men will generously respond to the Lord’s call to become labourers in the vineyard.

Parents, pastors, teachers, parish leaders, and all the members of the Church must set before young people the radical decision to follow Christ, so that in finding him, they find themselves (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 25).

The family, as you know, is that "first and vital cell": the prototype for every level of society (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11). Your recent Pastoral Letter Social Concern and Evangelization underscores the Church’s need to engage actively in the promotion of family life.

Founded on an irrevocable covenant, the family leads people to discover goodness, beauty and truth, so that they may perceive their unique destiny and learn how to contribute to the building up of a civilization of love.

Your deep concern for the good of families and society as a whole, my Brothers, moves you to assist couples in preserving the indissolubility of their marital promises.

Never tire in promoting just civil legislation and policies that protect the sacredness of marriage. Safeguard this sacrament from all that can harm it, especially the deliberate taking of life in its most vulnerable stages.

The Church’s solicitude for the weak similarly compels her to give special attention to migrants. In several recent pastoral letters, you have indicated the essential role of the parish in serving migrants and raising awareness of their needs.

I am also pleased to note that the Church in Taiwan has been actively advocating laws and policies that protect the human rights of migrants. As you know, many of those who arrive on your shores not only share in the fullness of the Catholic communion, but also carry with them the unique cultural heritage of their respective places of origin.

I encourage you to continue welcoming them with affection so that they may receive the assiduous pastoral care that will assure them of their belonging to the "family of the faith" (Gal 6:10).

My dear Brother Bishops, by the providence of Almighty God, you have been appointed to keep watch over that family of faith. Your apostolic bond with the Successor of Peter entails a pastoral responsibility for the universal Church across the globe.

This particularly means, in your case, a loving concern for Catholics on the mainland, whom I constantly hold in prayer. You and the Christian faithful in Taiwan are a living sign that, in a justly ordered society, one need not fear to be a faithful Catholic and a good citizen. I pray that as part of the great Chinese Catholic family, you will continue to be spiritually united with your brethren on the mainland.

Dear Brothers, I am well aware that the obstacles you face can seem overwhelming. Yet there are many clear signs – Taiwan Youth Day and the Conference on Creative Evangelization are but two recent examples – of the Gospel’s power to convert, heal and save.

May the words of the prophet Isaiah never fail to enliven your hearts: "Fear not! Here is your God!" (Is 40:9). The Lord indeed dwells among us! He continues to teach us by his word and feed us with his Body and Blood. The expectation of his return stirs us to voice the cry raised by Isaiah and echoed by John the Baptist: "Prepare the way of the Lord!" (cf. Is 40:3). I am confident that your faithful celebration of the Holy Sacrifice will prepare you and your people to meet the Lord when he comes again.

Entrusting you and the people under your care to the maternal protection of Mary, Help of Christians, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

12/14/2008 10:45 PM
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Here is a translation of the Pope's remarksstria who formally presented the Christmas trees for St. Peter's Square and other places in the Vatican this year. The Pope spoke in German.

A most cordial Gruess Gott to all of you who came to bring the Holy Father and to the Church in Rome the Christmas tree which, along with the Creche, will adorn St. Peter's Square during this Christmas season.

I welcome especially the regional Governor of Lower Austria, Dr. Erwin Proell, whom I thank for the kind words he expressed in the name of all who are here.

I greet the Bishop of Sankt Poelten, Klaus Kueng, whom I also thank for his words which have touched my heart.

As a representative of the delegation and all the guests from Lower Austria, I greet the mayor of Gutenstein, Johann Seper, in whose territory this majestic tree grew - the tallest so far in the history of the Christmas trees at St. Peter's Square.

And not the least, I greet the young singers of Altenburg and the musicians of Ziersdorf, who have given our meeting a festive air with their performances, and are, so to speak, the messengers of your country's rich culture and its multiple traditions.

Thank you from my heart! Where Austria is, there is music - and we have experienced that today in a wonderful way.

The gift that comes from the woods of your beautiful country - including other trees you have brought that will bring the Christmas atmosphere to the Apostolic Palace and other places in the Vatican, including my own study - reminds me of the visit which I made to your country last year.

On that occasion, I visited one of the great convents [Heiligenkreuz Abbey in the Vienna Woods] that are a feature of your country and testify to its profoundly Christian history.

It should be the task of all the faithful to see to it that such testimony for Christ remains alive even in the future, in order to give men support and orientation in their lives, or, as you, Mr. Governor, said in concrete terms - a guardrail to hold on to, so we can move ahead.

The Christmas tree will, in the coming weeks, bring joy to the Romans and to many pilgrims from every part of the world who will be coming to the Eternal City during the festivities for the Nativity of Christ.

I, too, will be looking at it from my window, and it will be my joy when I can look down and admire the Creche and the tree. But I will also have occasion to go down to the tree directly, pray before the Baby Jesus, and enjoy the lights of the tree and its beauty.

Its arrow-like form, its greenery and the lights on its branches are a symbol of life. The lights bring us all the mystery of that Holy Night.

Christ, the Son of God, brings to the dark world, cold and unredeemed, into which he was born, a new hope and a new splendor. If man allows himself to be touched and illuminated by the splendor of the living truth that Christ is, he will experience an interior peace in his heart, and he himself will become a peacemaker in a society which yearns so much for reconciliation and redemption.

Dear friends, once more let me say 'Vergelt's Gott!' ['May God reward you' - a Bavarian and Austrian form of saying Thank you] for this beautiful gift!

I also thank everyone who was unable to come here, the sponsors, and those who took care of transporting the trees. May the Lord reward you for the willingness with which you generously contributed to this project.

I extend to you my best wishes for a Christmas celebration filled with grace, and I ask you to extend my wishes to your families and all your fellow citizens.

I assure you of my prayers for your families and for your wonderful country, as I commend you all to the intercession of Mary, Patroness of Austria, and your region's patron saint Leopold, who now, as a beautiful sculpture, will also be able to be 'at home' in my room.

May the Lord protect your region and bless all Austria.

12/15/2008 12:53 AM
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The Holy Father became the fourth Pope Saturday to visit the Italian Embassy to the Holy See, housed in the 16th-century Palazzo Borromeo which belonged to the family of St. Charles Borromeo. Pius XII, Paul Vi and John Paul II previously visited the Embassy, located on Rome's Via Flaminia, on various occasions.

Benedict XVI first addressed the Embassy staff and their families, and later addressed the rerpesentatives of the Italian government headed by the Foreign Minister, as well as the ambssadors accredited to the Holy See. Here are the translations of the Pope's addresses:

Mr. Under-Secretary to the President's Council of Ministers,
Dear friends:

On my brief visit here to the Italian Embassy, my first appointment takes place in this beautiful chapel that has just been renovated and restored.

I am very happy to meet you here in this chapel, you who constitute the community of life and work in this Embassy. I greet you all and your families with affection.

I address a special greeting to the Undersecretary of the Cabinet who has brought me the greetings of the Prime Minister, and has addressed a warm welcome to me in your behalf.

He recalled that this chapel, which was blessed a few days ago by the Cardinal Secretary of State, is dedicated to a saint whose name is indissolubly linked to this building, St. Charles Borromeo.

He, together with his brother Federico, received this building as a gift from their uncle, Pope Pius IV, with whom, when he was named cardinal at a young age, he collaborated in the governance of the universal Church.

Indeed, it was after the death of his older brother that the young nephew of the Pope began a process of spiritual maturation which led to a profound conversion marked by his decisive choice of an evangelical life.

When he became a bishop, he dedicated all his attention to the Archdiocese of Milan. His biography shows clearly the zeal with which he carried out his episcopal ministry, in constant closeness to the people, especially during the years of the plague, so that he came to be called, because of his generous dedication, "the angel of the plague-stricken".

The human and spiritual experience of St. Charles Borromeo shows how divine grace can transform the heart of man and make him capable of love for his brothers to the point of sacrificing himself.

Dear brothers and sisters, I entrust each of you present here and your loved ones to the protection of St. Charles, so that you may realize the mission given to you of service to your neighbor according to your different assignments.

Finally, I take the occasion to wish you all a merry and blessed Christmas, while I bless you all from the heart.

After this, the Pope unveiled a plaque to commemorate his visit.

He then proceeded to the Hall of Flags where he was welcomed by other government ministers and shown a wooden sculpture of the Crucified Christ attributed to Michelangelo.

Antonio Paiolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, and Cristina Acidini, superintendent of the Florence state museums, brief the Pope about the Michelangelo Crucifix.

From there he proceeded to the Embassy Reception Hall to meet Italian government representatives and the diplomatic corps. After a tribute addressed to him by Foreign Minister Frattini, the Holy Father delivered the following remarks.

Mr. Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Under-Secretary of the Cabinet,
Mr. Ambassador to the Holy See,
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See,
Illustrious authorities,
Ladies and gentlemen!

I am truly happy to have been able to accept the kind invitation for me to visit this historic edifice, the seat of the Embassy of Italy to the Holy See.

I greet everyone cordially, starting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, whom I thank for the kind words he addressed to me.

I greet the other ministers and authorities present, and especially Ambassador Antonio Zanardi Landi. I thank you from my heart for the kind welcome, which came with a pleasing musical intermezzo.

As we have been reminded, this historic Palazzo has received visits from three of my predecessors: the Servants of God Pius XII, on June 2, 1951; Paul VI, on October 2, 1964; and John Paul II, on March 2, 1986.

In today's solemn but at the same time familial circumstances, I am also reminded of my recent encounters with the President of the Republic: last April, at the concert he offered me to mark the third anniversary of the start of my ministry on Peter's Chair; last October 4, at the Quirinale; and then, last Wednesday, at the Vatican, for the concert that marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which you referred, Mr. Foreign Minister.

As I address today a deferential and grateful greeting to the President of the Republic, I am happy to reiterate what I said at the Quirinale, that "in the City of Rome, the Italian State and the Apostolic Seat live together peacefully and collaborate fruitfully".

It suffices to note the singular attention shown by the Pontiffs towards this diplomatic seat to acknowledge the important role that the Embassy of Italy has played and continues to play in the intense and special relations between the Holy See and the Italian Republic, as well as in the relations of mutual collaboration between the Church and State in Italy.

We will certainly have the chance to demonstrate this important double order of diplomatic, social and religious ties this coming February on the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Lateran pacts and the 25th anniversary of the agreement that modified the Pacts.

These coming anniversaries have already been pointed out to underscore the fruitful relationship that exists between Italy and the Holy See. It is a concordance that is even more important and significant in the present world situation, in which the persistence of conflicts and tensions among peoples makes it even more important that those who share the same ideals of justice, solidarity and peace should work together.

Also, reiterating what you said earlier, Mr. Foreign Minister, I can only remark with sincere gratitude on the collaboration which takes place daily between the Embassy of Italy and my Secretariat of State.

In this regard, I cordially greet all the chiefs of mission who have served previously here at Palazzo Borromeo, who have kindly wished to be present here today.

This brief visit is propitious to reiterate that the Church is well aware that "fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21), in other words, the distinction between Church and State" [Encyclical Deus caritas est, N,. 28).

The Church not only recognizes and respects such distinction and autonomy, bur rejoices over it as a great progress for mankind and a fundamental condition for the Church's own freedom and the fulfillment of its universal mission of salvation for all peoples.

At the same time, the Church also feels that its task, following the dictates of its own social doctrine, and structured "on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being" (ibid.), to awaken in society the moral and spiritual forces that can contribute to open the will to the authentic demands of what is good.

Thus, in upholding the value of certain fundamental ethical principles not only for private life but above all for the public good, the Church contributes to guarantee and promote the dignity of the person and the common good of society, so that the desired cooperation between Church and State may be realized in this sense.

Allow me now to express my gratitude for the precious contribution which this diplomatic representation, as well as Italian authorities in general, generously offer so that the Holy See may freely carry out its universal mission and also to maintain diplomatic relations with so many nations of the world.

In this respect, I greet the dean and the representatives of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See who are taking part in this encounter. I am sure that they share this appreciation for the valuable services that Italy renders in support of their sensitive and special mission.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is truly significant that Italy's diplomatic representation to the Holy See has had, since 1929, its seat here where the young Charles Borromeo lived when he was serving as an official collaborator of the Pontiff in the Roman Curia, guiding what is normally called the diplomacy of the Holy See.

Those who work here can therefore find in the saint a constant protector, and at the same time, a model to inspire them in carrying out their daily tasks.

I entrust to his protection all who are gathered here today, and I sincerely extend every good wish to all.

As the feast of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus draws near, I extend my wishes to the Italian authorities, starting with the President of the Republic, and to the entire population of this beloved peninsula.

My wishes for peace extend to all the nations on earth who are more or less represented officially at the Holy See. It is a wish for light and authentic human progress, for prosperity and concord, which are all realities we can aspire to with confident hope, because they are gifts that Jesus brought to the world by his birth in Bethlehem.

May the Virgin Mary, whom we venerated a few days ago as the Immaculate Conception, obtain these gifts and every other desired true good for Italy and the entire world, from her Son, the Prince of Peace, whose blessing I invoke from the heart on all of you and those dear to you.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/15/2008 12:55 AM]
12/22/2008 7:27 PM
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12/22/2008 7:31 PM
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Here is a full translation:

Eminent Cardinals,
Venerated brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
dear brothers and sisters!

The Nativity of the Lord is at hand. Every family feels the desire to get together in order to enjoy the unique and unrepeatable atmosphere that this feast is able to create.

Even the family of the Roman Curia finds itself gathered today, according to a beautiful custom thanks to which we have the joy of meeting together and exchanging best wishes in this special spiritual climate.

To each of you I address my heartfelt greeting, with full acknowledgment of the much appreciated collaboration that you render to the Successor of Peter.

I sincerely thank the Dean of Cardinals Angelo Sodano , who has spoken in behalf of all who are here and those who are at work in the various offices of the Vatican, including the Pontifical Representatives.

I have referred to the special atmosphere of Christmas. I like to think that it is almost a prolongation of that mysterious joy, that intimate exultation, that was felt by the Holy Family, the angels and the shepherds in Bethlehem the night when Jesus was born.

I would call it 'the atmosphere of grace', thinking of the expression St. Paul used in the Letter to Titus: "Apparuit gratia Dei Salvatoris nostri omnibus hominibus" (The grace of God has appeared, saving all men)(cfr Tt 2,11).

The Apostle affirms that the grace of God manifested itself 'to all men'. I would say that this also shows the mission of the Church, and in particular, that of the Successor of Peter and his co-workers, namely, to contribute so that the grace of God, the Redeemer, may be ever more visible to everyone, and may bring salvation to everyone.

The year that is about to end was rich in retrospective looks at significant dates in the recent history of the Church, but also rich in events which brought with them signs of orientation for our path towards the future.

Fifty years ago, Pope Pius XII died. Fifty years ago, John XXIII was elected Pope. Forty years have passed since the publication of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae and thirty years since the death of its author, Pope Paul VI.

The message of these events has been reported and meditated in many ways during the course of the year, so I will not dwell on them again at this time.

But memory looks beyond just those events in the past century, and in this way, also brings us to the future.

On the evening of June 28, in the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the representatives of many other Churches and ecclesiastical communities, we inaugurated the Pauline Year at the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls to commemorate the birth of the Apostle of the Gentiles 2000 years ago.

For us, Paul is not a figure of the past. Through his letters, he still speaks to us today. And whoever enters into contact with him is impelled by him towards the crucified and resurrected Christ.

The Pauline Year is a year of pilgrimage not only in the sense of a visit to the Pauline sites, but also and above all, a pilgrimage of the heart, along with St. Paul, towards Jesus Christ.

Paul teaches us definitively that the Church is the Body of Christ, that the Head and the Body are inseparable, and that one cannot love Christ without loving his Church and her living community.

Three specific events of the year drawing to a close stand out particularly.

First of all, World Youth Day in Australia, a great feast of faith, which gathered together more than 200,000 young people from all parts of the world, bringing them together not only externally - in the geographic sense, but, thanks to sharing the joy of being Christian, bringing them together interiorly.

Alongside WYD, there were the two trips to the United States and to France, in which the Church was made visible before the world and for the world as a spiritual force that can show ways of living that through the testimony of faith, brings light to the world. These were, indeed, days that radiated luminosity. They radiated confidence in the value of life and in the commitment for good.

Finally, we must recall the Bishops Synod - pastors coming from around the world met together about the Word of God which they exalted together, around the Word of God, whose great manifestation is found in Sacred Scripture.

That which we often take for granted daily, we grasped freshly in its sublimity:

- The fact that God speaks to us, that he answers our questions.

- The fact that he, using human words, speaks to us in person and we can listen to him, and in listening, learn to know him and to understand him.

- The fact that he enters our lives to shape it, and we can step out of our life in order to enter the vastness of his mercy.

Thus we realised all over that God in his Word addresses each of us, speaks to the heart of every being. If our heart is awake and opens itself to listen, then everyone can learn to hear the Word that is addressed specifically to him.

But only when we hear God speaking to each of us in such a personal way, then we can also understand that his Word is meant to bring us each closer to one another, so that we may find the way out of what is only personal.

This Word has shaped a common history and will continue to do so. And so we realize all over that precisely because the Word is so personal, then we can understand it correctly and totally only within the 'we' of the community instituted by God - always conscious that we can never exhaust it completely, that it always has something new to say to each generation.

We have understood that, of course, the Biblical texts were written in specific times, and therefore constitute in this sense a book from the past. But we also saw that their message does not remain in the past nor can they be kept there. God fundamentally always speaks in the present, and we will have heard the Bible fully only if we discover the 'present' of God, which calls to us now.

Finally, it was important to experience that in the Church, there is a Pentecost even today - that the Church speaks in many tongues, and this, not only in the external sense that all the languages in the world are represented in her, but in an even deeper sense: in her are found the multiple ways of experiencing God and the world, the richness of different cultures, and only thus can we see the vastness of human existence, and because of this, the vastness of the Word of God.

We have also learned that Pentecost continues to be 'under way', it is still incomplete. There are a multitude of languages which still await the Word of God in the Bible translated for them.

And it has been moving to see the multiple testimonials of lay faithful who in every part of the world not only live the Word of God, but suffer for it.

A precious contribution was the address of a rabbi on the Sacred Scriptures of Israel, which are our Sacred Scriptures too.

And an important moment for the Synod was when Patriarch Bartholomew, in the light of Orthodox tradition, and with penetrating analysis, opened for us another way of access to the Word of God.

Let us now hope that the experiences and acquisitions of the Synod may effectively influence the life of the Church: on personal relations with Sacred Scriptures; on their interpretation in the liturgy and in catechesis as well as in scientific study - so that the Bible does not remain a Word of the past, but that its vitality and actual relevance may be read and disclosed in the vast dimensions of its meanings.

The pastoral visits this year also had to do with the presence of the Word of God. Their true meaning can only be in serving that presence.

On such occasions, the Church makes itself publicly perceptible, and in this way, the fact that faith is at least the question of God. This public manifestation of the faith calls out to all who seek to understand the present and the forces which operate in it.

The phenomenon of the World Youth Days, particularly, has become increasingly an object of analysis, by those who seek to understand this particular species, one might say, of youth culture.

Before this, Australia had never seen as many people from all the other continents as during the last World Youth Day in Sydney, not even during the Olympics. And if earlier, there had been apprehensions that the appearance of such great numbers of young people would represent a threat to public order, paralyze traffic, block daily activities, provoke violence and make room for drug use, all such fears were proven to be unfounded.

It was a feast of joy - a joy that ultimately involved even those who were reluctant. Ultimately, no one felt it as an annoyance or a disturbance.

The days of the youth became a feast for everyone. Or rather, it was the first time everyone realized what a feast is, a celebration - an event during which everyone is, so to speak, outside himself, beyond the self, and therefore, truly with oneself and with others.

What then is the nature of what takes place during World Youth Day? What are the forces that act? Fashionable analyses tend to consider WYD as a variant of modern youth culture, as a type of rock festival modified in the ecclesial sense, with the Pope as somewhat of a star; and that with or without faith, these festivals would basically be the same thing. In this way, such analyses would do away with the question of God.

There are even Catholic voices who share this tendency, seeing WYD as a great spectacle, beautiful even, but with little meaning for the question of faith, and on the presence of the Gospel in our time. They would consider them days of festive ecstasy which, in the end, would leave everything just as before, without making any deep influence on life. Thus, they can find no explanation for the specialness of those days and the particular nature of their joy, the creative power of communion.

But first of all, one must note that the World Youth Days do not simply consist of that one week during which the events are publicly visible to the whole world. There is a long exterior and interior path that leads to them.

The Cross, accompanied by the Icon of the Mother of the Lord, goes on pilgrimage through the countries of the world. Faith, in its own way, needs to be seen and touched.

The encounter with the Cross, which is carried and touched by the faithful, becomes an interior encounter with Him who died on the Cross for us. The encounter with the Cross inspires within the hearts of young people the memory of the God who made himself man and suffers with us. And we see the woman whom he has given us to be our Mother.

The solemn WYD days are only the culmination of a long road along which young people proceed to encounter each other and to encounter Christ.

In Australia, it was not by chance that the Via Crucis through the inner city became a climactic event of those days. It synthesized once more all that had happened in preceding years and called attention to him who brings us all together - the God who loved us to the point of death on the Cross.

And so, the Pope is not the star around which these events take place. He is totally and only the Vicar [of Christ]. He points to the Other who is among us.

Finally, the solemn Liturgy is the center of all the celebration, because in it, what we cannot realize takes place, that for which we are always in wait. He is present. He is among us. He has torn open the heavens and this makes the earth bright. It is this that makes life joyous and open, and that unites us with one another in a joy that cannot be compared to the ecstasy of a rock festival.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said: "The question is not how to organize a feast, bit to find the persons who are able to derive joy from it". According to Scripture, joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (cfr Gal 5,22): this fruit was abundantly perceptible in the days at Sydney.

Just as a long road precedes every World Youth Day, another long road follows. Friendships are formed which inspire a different lifestyle that is interiorly sustained. The great World Youth Days, not least of all, have the purpose of inspiring such friendships capable of making new places of faith emerge in the world, which are also places of hope, and of charity that is practised and lived.

Joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit - thus we come to the central theme of Sydney which was, in fact, the Holy Spirit. In this retrospective, I wish once more to point out in summary the orientation that was implicit in the theme.

1. First of all, there is the affirmation that comes to us from the start of the story of Creation, which tells of the Creator Spirit that moved over the waters, created the world and continuously renews it.

Faith in the Creator Spirit is an essential element of the Christian Creed. The fact that matter has a mathematical structure, is full of spirit (energy), is the foundation of the modern science of nature.

Only because matter is structured intelligently, our mind is able to interpret it and actively remodel it. The fact that this intelligent structure comes from the same Creator Spirit that also gave us our spirit, implies a task and a responsibility.

The ultimate basis of our responsibility towards the earth is our faith in creation. The earth is not simply a property that we can exploit according to our interests and desires. It is a gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order, and through this, has given us the orientative indications to follow as administrators of his Creation.

The fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the Spirit Creator also means that their rational structure - which beyond their mathematical structure, become almost palpable through experimentation - carries in itself an ethical orientation.

The Spirit that shaped them is more than mathematics - it is Goodness itself, which, through the language of creation, shows us the road to correct living.

Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Creed, the Church cannot and should not limit itself to transmitting to its faithful only the message of salvation. She has a responsibility for Creation, and it should validate this responsibility in public.

In so doing, it should defend not just the earth, water and air as gifts of Creation that belong to everyone. She should also protect man from destroying himself.

It is necessary to have something like an ecology of man, understood in the right sense. It is not metaphysics that has been overcome by time, when the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this natural order be respected.

This has to do with faith in the Creator and listening to the language of creation, which, if disregarded, would be man's self-destruction and therefore a destruction of God's work itself.

That which has come to be expressed and understood with the term 'gender' effectively results in man's self-emancipation from Creation (nature) and from the Creator. Man wants to do everything by himself and to decide always and exclusively about anything that concerns him personally. But this is to live against truth, to live against the Spirit Creator.

The tropical rain forests deserve our protection, yes, but man does not deserve it less as a Creature of the Spirit himself, in whom is inscribed a message that does not mean a contradiction of human freedom but its condition.

The great theologians of Scholasticism described matrimony - which is the lifelong bond between a man and a woman - as a sacrament of Creation, that the Creator himself instituted, and that Christ, without changing the message of Creation, welcomed in the story of his alliance with men.

Part of the announcement that the Church should bring to men is a testimonial for the Spirit Creator present in all of nature, but specially in the nature of man, who was created in the image of God.

One must reread the encyclical Humanae vitae with this perspective: the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against consumer sex, the future against the exclusive claim of the moment, and human nature against manipulation.

2. I would like to add some more brief observations on other aspects of pneumatology [knowledge of the Holy Spirit]. If the Creator Spirit manifests itself above all in the grand silence of the universe, in its intelligent structure - faith, beyond this, tells us something unexpected: namely, that the Spirit speaks, so to say, in human words; it has entered history, and as the force that shapes history, is also a Spirit that speaks. It is the Word which comes to us in ancient Scriptures and in the New Testament.

What this means for us was expressed wondrously by St. Ambrose in one of his letters: "Even now, as I read the Divine Scriptures, God is taking a walk through Paradise" (Ep 49,3).

Reading Scripture, even today we can ourselves almost roam the garden of Paradise and meet God as he walks there. Between the theme of World Youth Day in Sydney and the general Assembly of the Bishops' Synod, there is a profound internal connection.

The two subjects "Holy Spirit" and "Word of God" go together. Reading Scripture, we also learn that Christ and the Holy Spirit are inseparable.

When St. Paul with surprising synthesis says, "The Lord is the Spirit" ( 2 Cor 3, 17), we see not just the trinitarian unity between the Son and the Holy Spirit, but above all, their union with respect to the story of salvation.

In the passion and resurrection of Christ the veils of purely literal sense are taken down, making visible the presence of the God who speaks.

Reading Scripture together with Christ, we learn to hear in human words the voice of the Holy Spirit, and we discover the unity of the Bible.

3. We come now to the third dimension of pneumatology which consists, precisely, in the inseparability of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is perhaps most beautifully manifested in St. John's narration of the first apparition of the Resurrected Christ to his disciples: the Lord breathed on his disciples and thus gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Just as the breath of God at the dawn of Creation had transformed the dust of the earth into living man, thus the breath of Christ welcomes us to ontological communion with the Son - it makes us new creatures. And this is why it is the Holy Spirit that makes us say with the Son, "Abba, Father!" (cfr Jn 20,22; Rm 8,15).

4. Thus, as the fourth dimension, there emerges spontaneously the connection between the Spirit and the Church. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, showed how the Church as the Body of Christ is thus an organism of the Holy Spirit, in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit merges all individuals together into a single living organism.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Body of Christ. In the entirety of this Body we find our task, we live for each other and each one dependent on the other, within the depth of him who lived and suffered for all of us, and through his Spirit, draws us to himself into the unity of all the children of God.

"Do you, too, want to live in the Spirit of Christ? Then, be in the Body of Christ", Augustine says in this respect (Tr. in Jo. 26, 13).

Thus with the subject of the Holy Spirit which oriented World Youth Day in Australia, and in a more hidden way, the weeks of the Bishops Synod, the entire breadth of Christian faith is made visible, a breadth which leads, from responsibility for Creation and for man's existence in tune with Creation, through Scriptures and the story of salvation, to Christ, and from there, to the living community of the Church - in its structure and responsibility, as in its vastness and freedom, expressed as much in the multiplicity of charisms as in the Pentecostal image of the multitude of languages and cultures.

An integral part of celebration is joy. The feast iself can be organized, but not joy. This can only be received as a gift. In fact, it is given to us in abundance, and for this, we are grateful.

Just as St. Paul describes joy as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, so too, John in his Gospel, links the Spirit and joy closely. The Holy Spirit gives us joy. He is joy itself. Joy is the gift in which all the other gifts are contained. It is the expression of happiness, of being in harmony with oneself, which can only be achieved by being in harmony with God and his creation.

Part of the nature of joy is to radiate itself, the need to communicate itself. The missionary spirit of the Church is nothing but the impulse to communicate the joy that has been given to us.

That such joy may always be alive in us and thus iraddiate the world in its tribulations - that is my wish at the end of this year. Along with a sincere gratitude for all your efforts and work, I wish that this joy which comes from God may be given to us abundantly in the New Year.

I entrust these wishes to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mater divinae gratiae, asking her that we may experience the Christmas festivities in the joy and peace of the Lord.

With these sentiments towards all of you and the large family of the Roman Curia, I impart the Apostolic Blessing from my heart.

NB: As I am unable to keep up with translating all the Papal texts in a timely manner, I have taken to translating directly his major texts, including the Angelus and audience texts, as promptly as I can in NEWS ABOUT BENEDICT first, which I then cross-post later on this thread.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/22/2008 7:35 PM]
1/1/2009 7:18 PM
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December 31, 2008

Here is a translation of the Holy Father's homily at the First Vespers for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, which was also a thanksgiving service for the year just past.

Dear brothers and sisters!

The year that is closing and that which is on the horizon are both under the consecrating gaze of the Most Holy Mother of God.

We are reminded of her maternal presence even by the polychrome wooden sculpture placed here next to the altar, which shows her on a throne holding the Baby Jesus who is giving his blessing.

We celebrate the first Vespers of this Marian solemnity with its numerous liturgical references to the divine motherhood of the Virgin.

"O admirabile commercium!" - A wonderful exchange - Thus starts the antiphon of the first Psalm which then proceeds: "The creator has taken body and soul - he is born of a virgin".

"When in a unique way you were born of the Virgin, you fulfilled the Scriptures" proclaims the antiphon of the second Psalm, echoed by the antiphon which introduced us to the canticle taken from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians: "Your virginity is intact, Mother of God: we praise you, pray for us".

The divine maternity of Mary is also underscored in the Reading that was just proclaimed, of the well-known verses from the Letter to the Galatians: "When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons" (Gal 4,4-5).

And once again, in the traditional Te Deum, which we shall offer at the end of our celebration before the Most Blessed Sacrament solemnly exposed for our adoration, we will sing: "Tu, ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum" - "You, O Christ, were born of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of man".

Thus everything this evening invites us to turn our attention to her who "welcomed in her heart and her body the Word of God and brought life to the world" and because of this, the Second Vatican Council reminded us - "she is recognized and honored as the true Mother of God" (Const. Lumen gentium, 53).

The Nativity of Christ, which we commemorate in these days, is entirely suffused by the light of Mary, and while we pause at the Creche to contemplate the Baby, our attention cannot but turn in acknowledgment to Mary who, with her Yes, made possible the gift of redemption.

This is why the season of the Nativity carries with it a profound Marian connotation. The birth of Jesus, man-God, and the divine maternity of Mary are two realities which are inseparable: the mystery of Mary and the mystery of the only-begotten Son of God who became man, together form a single mystery, in which one helps to better understand the other.

Mary, Mother of God - Theotokos, Dei Genetrix. Since antiquity, our Lady was honored with this title. In the West, however, for centuries there was no specific feast dedicated to the divine motherhood of Mary. Pope Pius XI introduced it into the Latin Church in 1931, on the 15th centenary of the Council of Ephesus, and it was celebrated on October 11. It was on that day that the Second Vatican Council began in 1962.

Then it was the Servant of God Paul VI who, in 1968, reviving an ancient tradition, fixed the solemnity for the first day of January. In the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus of February 2, 1974, he explained his decision and its connection with the World Day for Peace.

"In the revised arrangement of the Christmas season," he wrote, "we should all turn with one mind to the restored Solemnity of the Mother of God... to honor the role of Mary in the mystery of salvation and at the same time to sing the praises of the unique dignity thus coming to the Holy Mother... (It) also offers an excellent opportunity to renew the adoration rightfully to be shown to the newborn Prince of Peace, as we once again hear the good tidings of great joy (cfr Lk 2,14) and pray to God, through the intercession of the Queen of Peace, for the priceless gift of peace." (No. 5, Teachings of Paul VI, XII 1974, pp. 105–106).

This evening, we wish to place into the hands of the heavenly Mother of God our choral hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord for the benefits that he has amply granted us in the course of the past 12 months.

The first sentiment that spontaneously rises from the heart this evening is precisely that of praise and thanksgiving to him who makes us a gift of time, a precious opportunity to do good; but we must also add a request for forgiveness for perhaps not always putting it to good use.

I am happy to share this act of gratitude with you, dear brothers and sisters who represent our entire diocesan community, to whom I extend my heartfelt greetings, as well as to all the residents of Rome.

I address a special greeting to the Cardinal Vicar and to the Mayor, both of whom started their different missions this year - one spiritual and religious, the other civilian and administrative - in the service of our city.

I likewise greet the Auxiliary Bishops, the priests, the religious and all the many lay faithful who have gathered here, as well as all the authorities present.

In coming to the world, the eternal Word of God Revealed to us the closeness of God and the ultimate truth about man and his eternal destiny. He came to stay with us to be our irreplaceable support, especially in the inevitable difficulties of everyday.

This evening, the Virgin herself reminds us what a great gift Jesus made us with his birth, what a precious 'treasure' the Incarnation is for us. With his birth, Jesus came to offer his light as a lamp to guide our steps. He came to offer himself; and from him, our certain hope, we must learn to give reason to our daily life, knowing that "only in the mystery of the Word incarnate does the mystery of man find true light" (Gaudium et spes, 22).

The presence of Christ is a gift that we must learn to share with everyone. This is the aim of the efforts of the diocesan community towards the formation of pastoral workers so that they may be able to respond to the challenges posed by modern culture to the Christian faith.

The presence of numerous and qualified academic institutions in Rome and all the initiatives promoted by the parishes make us look confidently ahead towards the future of Christianity in this city.

The encounter with Christ, you know very well, renews personal existence and helps us contribute to building a just and fraternal society. That is how, as believers, one can make a significant contribution even in overcoming the present educative emergency.

How much more useful it is that the synergy grows among families, schools and parishes for a profound evangelization and for courageous human promotion, able to communicate the possibilities of the richness that comes from an encounter with Christ.

That is why I encourage every component of our diocese to follow the path they have undertaken, while carrying out the program for this year's pastoral activities, which is intended precisely "to educate us in hope through prayer, action and suffering".

In these times, marked by uncertainty and concern for the future, it is necessary to experience the living presence of Christ. Mary, Star of hope, leads us to him. It is she with her maternal love who can lead to Jesus especially the young people, who carry in their hearts the irrepressible question on the sense of human existence.

I know that various parent groups have been meeting to examine their calling more deeply, seeking new ways to help their own children respond to the great existential questions.

I exhort them fullheartedly, and with them, the entire Christian community, to bear witness to the new generations of the joy that comes from an encounter with Jesus who, in being born in Bethlehem, did not come to take anything from us but to give us everything.

On Christmas Eve, I had a special thought for children. Tonight, I wish to turn my attention to young people.

Dear young people, who are responsible for the future of our city, do not be afraid of the apostolic task that the Lord entrusts to you. Do not hesitate to choose a lifestyle that does not follow the current hedonistic current.

The Holy Spirit will assure you of the necessary strength to testify to the joy of the faith and the beauty of being Christian. The growing need for evangelization demands numerous workers in the vineyard of the Lord. Do not hesitate to respond promptly if he calls you.

Society needs citizens who are concerned not only with their own interests, because, as I noted on Christmas Day, "the world would go to ruin if everyone only thought of himself".

Dear brothers and sisters, this year closes with an awareness of the growing social and economic crisis that now involves the entire world. It is a crisis that asks of everyone more moderation and solidarity to come to the aid specially of those persons and families in the most serious difficulties.

The Christian community is already doing this, and I know that the diocesan Caritas and other beneficent organizations are doing what they can, but the collaboration of everyone is necessary because no one can think of constructing his own happiness by himself.

Even if not a few shadows are looming on the horizon of our future, we should not be afraid. Our great hope as believers is eternal life in communion with Christ and the entire family of God.

This great hope gives us the strength to face and to overcome the difficulties of life in this world. The maternal presence of Mary assures us tonight that God never abandons us if we entrust ourselves to him and follow his teachings.

To Mary then, with filial affection and trust, let us present our expectations and hopes, as well as the fears and difficulties which inhabit our heart as we take leave of 2008 and prepare to welcome 2009.

She, the Virgin Mary, offers us the Baby who lies in the manger as our certain hope. Full of confidence, we can sing at the end of the Te Deum: "In te, Domine,speravi: non confundar in aeternum" – You, Lord, are our hope - we will never be confounded!"

Yes, Lord, we hope in you, now and for always. You are our hope. Amen.

1/1/2009 7:50 PM
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January 1, 2009

At 10 o'clock today, the Holy Father presided at the Eucharistic Celebration in St. Peter's Basilica of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, in the Octave of Christmas, and the 43rd World Day of Peace, under the theme "Fight poverty, build the peace".

Here is a translation of the Holy Father's homily:

Venerated Brothers,
Distinguished ambassadors,
Dear brothers and sisters!

On the first day of the year, divine Providence has assembled us for a celebration that always moves us because of the wealth and beauty of its correspondences: the civilian New Year takes place at the end of the Christmas Octave, on which we celebrate the Divine Motherhood of Mary, a coincidence that finds a happy synthesis in the World
Day for Peace.

In the light of Christ's Nativity, I am happy to extend my best wishes to everyone for the year that has just begun.

I address my greeting, in particular, to Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and his co-workers in the Pontifical Council for Justice and peace, with a special acknowledgment for their precious service.

I address it as well to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and to the entire Secretariat of State, and with heartfelt wishes, to the many ambassadors who are present today.

My wishes echo that which the Lord has just addressed to us in the Liturgy of the Word. A Word, starting from the event in Bethlehem, which evoked in its historical concreteness in the Gospel of Luke (2,16-21), and re-read in all its salvific importance by the apostle Paul (Gal 4,4=7), that becomes a benediction for the people of God and all mankind.

Thus is fulfilled the old Jewish tradition of benediction (Nm 6,232-27): the priests of Israel blessed the people "placing upon them" the name of the Lord. With a ternary formula - found in the first Reading - the sacred Name is invoked three times by the faithful as a wish for grace and peace.

This remote custom takes us back to an essential reality: in order to walk on the path of peace, men and peoples need to be illuminated by the 'face' of God and to be blessed by his 'name'. This is exactly what happened in the Incarnation: the coming of the Son of God into human flesh and into history brought an irrevocable blessing, a light that cannot be extinguished, and which offers to believers and men of good will the possibility of building a civilization of love and peace.

The Second Vatican Council said, in this regard, that "with the Incarnation, the Son of God is in some way united to every man" (Gaudium et spes, 22). This union confirms the original design of mankind created in the 'image and likeness' of God.

In fact, the incarnated Word is the only perfect and consubstantial image of the invisible God. Jesus Christ is the perfect man.

"In him," the Council notes, "human nature was assumed... therefore, that nature is elevated to a sublime dignity even in us" (ibid). That is why the earthly story of Jesus, which culminates in the Paschal mystery, is the beginning of a new world, because he truly inaugurated a new humanity, capable - always and only with the grace of God - of effecting a peaceful 'revolution'.

The revolution is not ideological but spiritual, not utopian but realistic, and therefore it requires infinite patience, extended time, avoiding any shortcuts and taking the most difficult road - that of the maturation of responsibility in consciences.

Dear friends, this is the evangelical path to peace, the path which even the Bishop of Rome is called on to re-propose constantly every time that he gives the annual message on the World Day for Peace.

Taking this way often means going back to aspects and problems that have already been met before, but which are so important as to always require new attention. And that is the case with the theme that I chose for the Message this year: 'Fight poverty, build peace'.

It is a theme that lends itself to a double order of considerations which I can only indicate briefly at this time. On the one hand, the poverty chosen and proposed by Jesus; on the other, the poverty that must be fought in order to make the world more just and fraternal.

The first aspect finds its ideal context in these days, the season of Christmas. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem tells us that God chose poverty for himself in coming to our midst.

The scene that the shepherds saw first, which confirmed the announcement made to them by the angel, was the stall where Mary and Joseph had found refuge, and the manger on which the Virgin had laid her newborn son wrapped in swaddling clothes (cfr Lk 2,7.12.16).

God chose this poverty. He wanted to be born that way. But we can also add: he wanted to live as well as to die that way. Why?

It is explained in popular terms by St. Alphonse of Liguori in a Christmas carol known to all Italians: "You, who are Creator of the world, lacked clothes and heat, O my Lord. Dear elected little child, how much this poverty makes me love you more because you made yourself poor out of love".

There is the answer: love for us made Jesus not only become man, but also to make himself poor. Along this same line, we can cite what St. Paul wrote in the second Letter to the Corinthians: "For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (8,9).

An exemplary witness of this poverty chosen out of love is St. Francis of Assisi. Franciscanism, in the history of the Church and of Christian civilization, constitutes a widespread current of evangelical poverty that has done so much good and continues to do so for the Church and for the human family.

Going back to St. Paul's amazing synthesis about Jesus, it is significant - even for our reflection today - that the Apostle was inspired to it while he was exhorting the Christians of Corinth to be generous in their collections for the poor. He explains: "Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but as a matter of equality" (8,13).

This is a decisive point, which leads to the second aspect: there is a poverty, an indigence, that God does not desire and which must be 'fought' - as the theme for today's World Day of Peace says.

It is the poverty that keeps persons and families from living in accordance with their dignity. A poverty that offends justice and equality and, as such, threatens peaceful living together.

These negative connotations also include all the non-material forms of poverty which can be found even in rich and progressive societies: marginalization, a relational, moral and spiritual poverty (cfr, Message for the World Day of Peace, 2009, No. 2).

In my message I wished once again - in the wake of my predecessors - to consider attentively the complex phenomenon of globalization in order to evaluate its relationship with poverty on a large scale.

In the face of widespread scourges such as pandemic diseases (ivi, 4), the poverty of children (ivi, 5), and the food crisis (ivi, 7), I had to denounce again the unacceptable arms race.

On the one hand, we celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and on the other, military spending is on the rise, violating the Charter of the United Nations itself, which commits its member states to reduce arms spending to the minimum (cfr Art. 26).

Moreover, globalization eliminates some barriers but it can also raise new ones (Message, cit., 8), so it is necessary that the international community and single states should always be vigilant. It is necessary that they never let their guard down with respect to the danger of conflicts, indeed, that they commit themselves to keep the level of solidarity high.

The present global economic crisis should be seen in this sense as a test bed: Are we ready to read it. in its complexity, as a challenge for the future, and not only as an emergency to be answered with short-term measures?

Are we willing to work together to profoundly revise the dominant model of development, to correct it in a concerted, farsighted manner?

This is demanded of us, more than by immediate financial difficulties, by the planet's state of ecological health, and above all, by the cultural and social crisis whose symptoms have been evident for some time in every part of the world.

Therefore, we must seek to establish a 'virtuous cycle' between poverty 'to be chosen' and poverty 'to be fought'. This opens a way that can be very fruitful for the present and the future of mankind that may be summarized thus: In order to fight iniquitous poverty, which oppresses so many men and women and threatens the peace for everyone, we must rediscover moderation and solidarity as values that are evangelical as well as universal.

More concretely, one cannot effectively fight poverty without doing what St. Paul suggested to the Corinthians, namely, unless one seeks to 'make equal', reducing the disparity between those who waste the superfluous and those who lack even the essential.

This involves choices of justice and moderation, choices that are obliged by the demand to administer wisely the earth's limited resources.

When he says that Jesus Christ enriches us with his poverty, St. Paul offers an important indication not only on the theological level but also on the sociological. Not in the sense that poverty is a value in itself, but because it is a condition for realizing the solidarity of brotherhood.

When Francis of Assisi stripped himself of all his earthly possessions, he chose a form of witness directly inspired by God but which at the same time showed to everyone the way of trust in Providence.

Thus, in the Church, the vow of poverty taken by some reminds everyone of the (virtue of) detachment from material goods and the primacy of spiritual riches.

Therefore, this is the message we must glean today: The poverty of Christ's birth in Bethlehem, beyond being an object of adoration for Christians, is also a school of life for every man. It teaches us that to fight poverty, material as well as spiritual, the way to follow is that of brotherhood, which led Jesus to share our human condition.

Dear brothers and sisters, I think that the Virgin Mary must have asked herself this question more than once: Why did Jesus want to be born to a simple and humble girl like me? And why then did he want to come into the world in an animal stall and to have the shepherds of Bethlehem as his first visitors?

Mary found the answer fully at the end, after she had laid down the body of Jesus, dead and wrapped in burial clothes, into the sepulchre (cfr Lk 23,53). Then she fully understood the mystery of the poverty of God. She understood that God became poor for us, to enrich us with his poverty full of love, to exhort us to rein in the insatiable greed that gives rise to struggles and divisions, to invite us to moderate our obsession to possess, and thus be open to sharing and reciprocal acceptance.

To Mary, Mother of the Son of God who made himself our brother, let us confidently address our prayers that she may help us to follow in his footsteps, to fight and conquer poverty, to construct true peace, which is opus iustitiae, the work of justice.

To her, let us entrust the profound desire to live in peace which comes from the heart of the great majority of the Israeli and Palestinian populations, who are once more placed under great danger through the massive violence that has erupted in the Gaza Strip in response to other violences.

Even violence, hate and distrust are forms of poverty - perhaps the worst - that must be 'fought'. May they not prevail! In this sense, the Pastors of the (local) Churches have made themselves heard. Together with them and their beloved flocks, above all that of the small but fervent parish of Gaza, let us lay at Mary's feet our concerns for the present and our fears for the future, and with these, our well-founded hope that, with the wise and farsighted contribution of everyone, it will not be impossible to listen to each other and come together to give concrete answers to the widespread aspiration to live in peace, in security and in dignity.

We say to Mary: Be with us, heavenly Mother of the Redeemer, throughout all of the year which begins today, and obtain from God the gift of peace for the Holy Land and for all of mankind. Holy Mother of God, pray for us. Amen.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 1/1/2009 8:46 PM]
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