Monday, October 7, 2013

Reflections on the Twenty-Seventh Sunday of
Ordinary Time by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0301: Reflections on the Twenty Seventh Sunday of Ordinary 

Time by Pope Benedict XVI  

On eight occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, on 2 October 2005, 8 October 2006, 7 October 2007, 5 October 2008, 4 October 2009, 3 October 2010, 2 October 2011, and 7 October 2012. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus and five homilies delivered on these occasions.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 2 October 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Only a little while ago in St Peter’s Basilica, we concluded the Eucharistic celebration at which we inaugurated the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

The Synod Fathers, coming from every part of the world with experts and other delegates, will live for the next three weeks, together with the Successor of Peter, a privileged time of prayer, reflecting on the theme: The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.

Why this theme? Is it not an already taken-for-granted topic that is fully understood?

In reality, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, authoritatively defined at the Council of Trent, needs to be received, experienced and transmitted by the Ecclesial Community ever anew and adapted to the times.

The Eucharist can also be considered as a “lens” through which to verify continually the face and the road of the Church, which Christ founded so that every person can know the love of God and find in him fullness of life.

For this reason, the beloved Pope John Paul II wished to dedicate an entire year to the Eucharist, which will close after three weeks with the end of the Synodal Assembly on Sunday, 23 October, when we will celebrate World Mission Sunday.

Such a coincidence helps us to contemplate the Eucharistic mystery from a missionary perspective. The Eucharist, in effect, is the driving force of the Church’s entire evangelizing action, a little like the heart in the human body.

Christian communities without the Eucharistic celebration, in which one is nourished at the double table of the Word and the Body of Christ, would lose their authentic nature: only those that are “eucharistic” can transmit Christ to humanity, and not only ideas or values which are also noble and important.

The Eucharist has shaped famous apostolic missionaries in every state of life: Bishops, priests, Religious, laity, saints in active and in contemplative life.

Let us think, on the one hand, of St Francis Xavier, who was impelled by Christ’s love to go out to the Far East in order to proclaim the Gospel; and on the other, of St Teresa of Lisieux, the young Carmelite who we remembered just yesterday. She experienced in the cloister an ardent apostolic spirit, meriting her to be proclaimed together with St Francis Xavier as patron of the Church’s missionary activity.

Let us invoke their protection on the Synod Fathers as well as that of the Guardian Angels, whom we remember today.

We confidently pray above all to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we will honour on 7 October as Our Lady of the Rosary.

The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, the unique contemplative prayer through which, guided by the Lord’s Heavenly Mother, we fix our gaze on the face of the Redeemer in order to be conformed to his joyful, light-filled, sorrowful and glorious mysteries.

This ancient prayer is having a providential revival, thanks also to the example and teaching of the beloved Pope John Paul II. I invite you to reread his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae and to put into practice its directions on the personal, family and community levels.

We entrust the work of the Synod to Mary: may she lead the entire Church to an ever clearer knowledge of the proper mission of service to the Redeemer truly present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.



Vatican Basilica, Sunday, 2 October 2005

Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The reading from the Prophet Isaiah and today’s Gospel set before our eyes one of the great images of Sacred Scripture: the image of the vine. In Sacred Scripture, bread represents all that human beings need for their daily life. Water makes the earth fertile: it is the fundamental gift that makes life possible. Wine, on the other hand, expresses the excellence of creation and gives us the feast in which we go beyond the limits of our daily routine: wine, the Psalm says, “gladdens the heart”. So it is that wine and with it the vine have also become images of the gift of love in which we can taste the savour of the Divine. Thus, the reading from the Prophet that we have just heard begins like a canticle of love: God created a vineyard for himself - this is an image of the history of love for humanity, of his love for Israel which he chose. This is therefore the first thought in today’s readings: God instilled in men and women, created in his image, the capacity for love, hence also the capacity for loving him, their Creator. With the Prophet Isaiah’s canticle of love God wants to speak to the hearts of his people - and to each one of us. “I have created you in my image and likeness”, he says to us. “I myself am love and you are my image to the extent that the splendour of love shines out in you, to the extent that you respond lovingly to me”. God is waiting for us. He wants us to love him: should not our hearts be moved by this appeal? At this very moment when we are celebrating the Eucharist, in which we are opening the Synod on the Eucharist, he comes to meet us, he comes to meet me. Will he find a response? Or will what happened to the vine of which God says in Isaiah: “He waited for it to produce grapes but it yielded wild grapes”, also happen to us? Is not our Christian life often far more like vinegar than wine? Self-pity, conflict, indifference?

With this we have automatically come to the second fundamental thought in today’s readings.

As we have heard, they speak first of all of the goodness of God’s creation and of the greatness of the choice by which he seeks us out and loves us. But they then also speak of the story that was successively lived out - of the “fall” of man. God had planted the very best vines, yet they yielded wild grapes. Let us ask ourselves: what do wild grapes consist of? The good grapes that God was hoping for, the Prophet sings, would have been justice and righteousness. Wild grapes instead bring violence, bloodshed and oppression that make people groan under the yoke of injustice. In the Gospel, the image changes: the vine produces good grapes, but the tenants keep them for themselves. They are not willing to hand them over to the owner of the vineyard. They beat and kill his messengers and kill his son. Their motive is simple: they themselves want to become owners; they take possession of what does not belong to them. In the foreground of the Old Testament is the accusation of the violation of social justice, of contempt for human beings by human beings. In the background, however, it appears that with contempt for the Torah, for the law given by God, it is God himself who is despised. All people want is to enjoy their own power. This aspect is fully highlighted in Jesus’ Parable: the tenants do not want to have a master - and these tenants are also a mirror of ourselves. We men and women, to whom creation is as it were entrusted for its management, have usurped it. We ourselves want to dominate it in the first person and by ourselves. We want unlimited possession of the world and of our own lives. God is in our way. Either he is reduced merely to a few devout words, or he is denied in everything and banned from public life so as to lose all meaning. The tolerance that admits God as it were as a private opinion but refuses him the public domain, the reality of the world and of our lives, is not tolerance but hypocrisy. But nowhere that the human being makes himself the one lord of the world and owner of himself can justice exist. There, it is only the desire for power and private interests that can prevail. Of course, one can chase the Son out of the vineyard and kill him, in order selfishly to taste the fruits of the earth alone. However, in no time at all the vineyard then reverts to being an uncultivated piece of land, trampled by wild boar as the Responsorial Psalm tells us (see Ps 80[79]: 14).

Thus, we reach a third element of today’s readings. In the Old and New Testaments, the Lord proclaims judgment on the unfaithful vineyard. The judgment that Isaiah foresaw is brought about in the great wars and exiles for which the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible. The judgment announced by the Lord Jesus refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Yet the threat of judgment also concerns us, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is also crying out to our ears the words that in the Book of Revelation he addresses to the Church of Ephesus: “If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (2: 5). Light can also be taken away from us and we do well to let this warning ring out with its full seriousness in our hearts, while crying to the Lord: “Help us to repent! Give all of us the grace of true renewal! Do not allow your light in our midst to blow out! Strengthen our faith, our hope and our love, so that we can bear good fruit!”.

At this point, however, we ask ourselves: “But is there no promise, no word of comfort in today’s readings and Gospel? Is the threat the last word?”. No! There is a promise, and this is the last, the essential word. We hear it in the Alleluia verse from John’s Gospel: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in me and I in him will produce abundantly” (Jn 15: 5). With these words of the Lord, John illustrates for us the final, true outcome of the history of God’s vineyard. God does not fail. In the end he wins, love wins. A veiled allusion to this can already be found in the Parable of the Tenants presented by today’s Gospel and in the concluding words. There too, the death of the Son is not the end of history, even if the rest of the story is not directly recounted. But Jesus expresses this death through a new image taken from the Psalm: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone...” (see Mt 21: 42; Ps 118[117]: 22). From the Son’s death springs life, a new building is raised, a new vineyard. He, who at Cana changed water into wine, has transformed his Blood into the wine of true love and thus transforms the wine into his Blood. In the Upper Room he anticipated his death and transformed it into the gift of himself in an act of radical love. His Blood is a gift, it is love, and consequently it is the true wine that the Creator was expecting. In this way, Christ himself became the vine, and this vine always bears good fruit: the presence of his love for us which is indestructible.

These parables thus lead at the end to the mystery of the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us the bread of life and the wine of his love and invites us to the banquet of his eternal love. We celebrate the Eucharist in the awareness that its price was the death of the Son - the sacrifice of his life that remains present in it. Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes, St Paul says (see I Cor 11: 26). But we also know that from this death springs life, because Jesus transformed it into a sacrificial gesture, an act of love, thereby profoundly changing it: love has overcome death. In the Holy Eucharist, from the Cross, he draws us all to himself (see Jn 12: 32) and makes us branches of the Vine that is Christ himself. If we abide in him, we will also bear fruit, and then from us will no longer come the vinegar of self-sufficiency, of dissatisfaction with God and his creation, but the good wine of joy in God and of love for our neighbour. Let us pray to the Lord to give us his grace, so that in the three weeks of the Synod which we are about to begin, not only will we say beautiful things about the Eucharist but above all, we will live from its power. Let us invoke this gift through Mary, dear Synod Fathers whom I greet with deep affection as well as the various Communities from which you come and which you represent here, so that, docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, we may help the world become in Christ and with Christ the fruitful vine of God. Amen.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 8 October 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday, the Gospel presents to us Jesus’ words on marriage. He answered those who asked him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife, as provided by a decree in Mosaic law (see Dt 24: 1), that this was a concession made to Moses because of man’s “hardness of heart”, whereas the truth about marriage dated back to “the beginning of creation” when, as is written of God in the Book of Genesis, “male and female he created them; for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one” (Mk 10: 6-7; see Gn 1: 27; 2: 24).

And Jesus added: “So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10: 8-9). This is God’s original plan, as the Second Vatican Council also recalled in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes: ”The intimate partnership of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws:  it is rooted in the contract of its partners... God himself is the author of marriage” (no. 48).

My thoughts now go to all Christian spouses: I thank the Lord with them for the gift of the Sacrament of Marriage, and I urge them to remain faithful to their vocation in every season of life, “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health”, as they promised in the sacramental rite.

Conscious of the grace they have received, may Christian husbands and wives build a family open to life and capable of facing united the many complex challenges of our time.

Today, there is a special need for their witness. There is a need for families that do not let themselves be swept away by modern cultural currents inspired by hedonism and relativism, and which are ready instead to carry out their mission in the Church and in society with generous dedication.

In the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, the Servant of God John Paul II wrote that “the sacrament of marriage makes Christian couples and parents witnesses of Christ “to the end of the earth’, missionaries, in the true and proper sense, of love and life” (see no. 54). Their mission is directed both to inside the family - especially in reciprocal service and the education of the children - and to outside it. Indeed, the domestic community is called to be a sign of God’s love for all.

The Christian family can only fulfil this mission if it is supported by divine grace. It is therefore necessary for Christian couples to pray tirelessly and to persevere in their daily efforts to maintain the commitments they assumed on their wedding day.

I invoke upon all families, especially those in difficulty, the motherly protection of Our Lady and of her husband Joseph. Mary, Queen of the family, pray for us!



St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 7 October 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This first Sunday of October offers us two reasons for prayer and reflection: the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, which is celebrated precisely today, and missionary commitment, to which this month is especially dedicated. The traditional image of Our Lady of the Rosary portrays Mary who with one arm supports the Child Jesus and with the other is offering the rosary beads to St Dominic. This important iconography shows that the Rosary is a means given by the Virgin to contemplate Jesus and, in meditating on his life, to love him and follow him ever more faithfully. It is this message that Our Lady has also bequeathed to us in her various apparitions. I am thinking in particular of the apparition in Fatima that occurred 90 years ago. Presenting herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary”, she insistently recommended the daily recitation of the Rosary to the three little shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, in order to obtain the end of the war. Let us also accept the Virgin’s motherly request, pledging to recite the Rosary with faith for peace in families, nations and throughout world.

We know, however, that true peace spreads wherever people and institutions are open to the Gospel. The month of October helps us to remember this fundamental truth by means of a special animation that endeavours to keep the missionary desire alive in every community and to support the work of all those who work on the front lines of the Church’s mission - priests, men and women religious and lay people. Let us prepare ourselves with special care to celebrate World Mission Day this 21 October. Its theme will be: “All the Churches for all the world”. The Gospel proclamation remains the first service that the Church owes to humanity in order to offer Christ’s salvation to the people of our time, in so many ways humiliated and oppressed, and to give a Christian orientation to the cultural, social and ethical changes that are taking place in the world. This year, a further motive impels us to renewed missionary commitment: the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical Fidei Donum of the Servant of God Pius XII, which prompted and encouraged cooperation between the Churches for the mission ad gentes. I am also pleased to recall that 150 years ago five priests and a layman from Fr Mazza’s Institute in Verona [Italy] set out for Africa, precisely to the present-day Sudan. One of them was St Daniel Comboni, future Bishop of Central Africa and Patron of those peoples, whose liturgical memorial is celebrated this 10 October.

Let us entrust all men and women missionaries to the intercession of this Gospel pioneer and to the numerous Missionary Saints and Blesseds, and in particular to the motherly protection of the Queen of the Holy Rosary. May Mary help to remind us that all Christians are called to be heralds of the Gospel with their words and with their life.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 5 October 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This morning, the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops began with Holy Mass at the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls. It will be taking place in the Vatican during the next three weeks on the theme: “The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church”. You are familiar with the value and function of this particular Assembly of Bishops, who are chosen in such a way as to represent the entire Episcopate and are convoked to bring more effective aid to the Successor of Peter, while at the same time manifesting and consolidating ecclesial communion. The Synod is an important body, established in September of 1965 by my Venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI (see Apostolic Letter motu proprio data “Apostolica sollicitudo”), in the last phase of the Second Vatican Council, to implement a directive contained in the Decree on the ministry of Bishops (see Christus Dominus, no. 5). These are the purposes of the Synod of Bishops: to promote a closer union and greater collaboration between the Supreme Pontiff and the Bishops worldwide, to provide accurate and direct information concerning the Church’s circumstances and problems, to facilitate agreement on matters of doctrine and pastoral action and to address themes of great importance and topicality. These different tasks are coordinated by a permanent Secretary who works in direct and immediate dependence on the Bishop of Rome’s authority.

The synodal dimension is constitutive of the Church; it consists of a coming together of every people and culture in order that they become one in Christ and walk together, following him, who said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14: 6). In fact, the Greek work sýnodos, which is composed of the preposition syn, or “with”, and odòs, which means “path, road”, suggests the idea of “walking on a path together”, and this is truly the experience of the People of God within salvation history. For the Ordinary Synodal Assembly that begins today I have chosen, welcoming authoritative advice in doing so, to examine deeply, in a pastoral perspective, the theme of The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church. A considerable number of particular Churches throughout the world took part in the preparatory phase. They sent their contributions to the Secretariat of the Synod which in turn drafted the Instrumentum laboris, a document that will be discussed by the 253 Synod Fathers: 51 from Africa, 62 from America, 41 from Asia, 90 from Europe and 9 from Oceania. In addition, there are the numerous experts and auditors, men and women, as well as fraternal delegates of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and some as special guests.

Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you all to sustain the work of the Synod with your prayers, invoking especially the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, perfect Disciple of the Divine Word.



Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls, Sunday, 5 October 2008

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The First Reading, taken from the Book of Isaiah, as well as the passage from the Gospel according to Matthew, have presented to our liturgical assembly an evocative allegorical image of Sacred Scripture: the image of the vineyard which we have heard mentioned on the preceding Sundays. The initial passage of the Gospel account refers to the “canticle of the vineyard” which we find in Isaiah. This is a canticle set in the autumnal context of the grape harvest: a miniature masterpiece of Hebrew poetry which must have been very familiar to those listening to Jesus and from which, as from other references by the prophets (see Hos 10: 1; Jer 2: 21; Ez 17: 3-10; 19: 10-14; Ps 79: 9-17), it was easy to understand that the vineyard symbolized Israel. God bestowed the same care upon his vineyard, upon the People he had chosen, that a faithful husband lavishes upon his wife (see Ez 16: 1-14; Eph 5: 25-33).

Therefore the image of the vineyard, together with that of the wedding feast, describes the divine project of salvation and is presented as a moving allegory of God’s Covenant with his People. In the Gospel, Jesus takes up the canticle of Isaiah but adapts it to his listeners and to the new period in salvation history. The emphasis is not so much on the vineyard as on the workers in it, from whom the landowner’s “servants” ask for rent on his behalf. However, the servants are abused and even murdered. How is it possible not to think of the vicissitudes of the Chosen People and of the destiny reserved for the prophets sent by God? In the end, the owner of the vineyard makes a final attempt: he sends his own son, convinced that at least they will listen to him. Instead the opposite happens: the labourers in the vineyard murder him precisely because he is the landowner’s son, that is, his heir, convinced that this will enable them to take possession of the vineyard more easily. We are therefore witnessing a leap in quality with regard to the accusation of the violation of social justice as it emerges from Isaiah’s canticle. Here we clearly see that contempt for the master’s order becomes contempt for the master: it is not mere disobedience to a divine precept, it is a true and proper rejection of God: the mystery of the Cross appears.

What the Gospel passage reports challenges our way of thinking and acting. It does not only speak of Christ’s “hour”, of the mystery of the Cross at that moment, but also of the presence of the Cross in all epochs. It challenges in a special way the people who have received the Gospel proclamation. If we look at history, we are often obliged to register the coldness and rebellion of inconsistent Christians. As a result of this, although God never failed to keep his promise of salvation, he often had to resort to punishment. In this context it comes naturally to think of the first proclamation of the Gospel from which sprang Christian communities that initially flourished but then disappeared and today are remembered only in history books. Might not the same thing happen in our time? Nations once rich in faith and vocations are now losing their identity under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture. There are some who, having decided that “God is dead”, declare themselves to be “god”, considering themselves the only architect of their own destiny, the absolute owner of the world. By ridding himself of God and not expecting salvation from him, man believes he can do as he pleases and that he can make himself the sole judge of himself and his actions. However, when man eliminates God from his horizon, declares God “dead”, is he really happy? Does he really become freer? When men proclaim themselves the absolute proprietors of themselves and the sole masters of creation, can they truly build a society where freedom, justice and peace prevail? Does it not happen instead - as the daily news amply illustrates - that arbitrary power, selfish interests, injustice and exploitation and violence in all its forms are extended? In the end, man reaches the point of finding himself lonelier and society is more divided and bewildered.

Yet there is a promise in Jesus’ words: the vineyard will not be destroyed. While the unfaithful labourers abandon their destiny, the owner of the vineyard does not lose interest in his vineyard and entrusts it to other faithful servants. This means that, although in certain regions faith is dwindling to the point of dying out, there will always be other peoples ready to accept it. For this very reason, while Jesus cites Psalm 118[117], “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22), he gives the assurance that his death will not mean God’s defeat. After being killed, he will not remain in the tomb, on the contrary, precisely what seems to be a total defeat will mark the beginning of a definitive victory. His painful Passion and death on the Cross will be followed by the glory of his Resurrection. The vineyard, therefore, will continue to produce grapes and will be rented by the owner of the vineyard: “to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Mt 21: 41).

The image of the vineyard with its moral, doctrinal and spiritual implications was to recur in the discourse at the Last Supper when, taking his leave of the Apostles, the Lord said: “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit” (Jn 15: 1-2). Thus, starting from the Paschal event, the history of salvation was to reach a decisive turning point and those “other tenants” were to play the lead as chosen shoots grafted on Christ, the true vine, and yield abundant fruits of eternal life (see Collect). We too are among these “tenants”, grafted on Christ who desired to become the “true vine” himself. Let us pray the Lord that in the Eucharist he will give us his Blood, himself, that he will help us to “bear fruit” for eternal life and for our time.

The comforting message that we gather from these biblical texts is the certainty that evil and death do not have the last word but that it is Christ who wins in the end. Always! The Church never tires of proclaiming this Good News, as is also happening today, in this Basilica, dedicated to the Apostle to the Gentiles who was the first to spread the Gospel in vast regions of Asia Minor and Europe. We shall meaningfully renew this proclamation at the 12th General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops whose theme is “The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church”. I would like to greet here with cordial affection all of you, venerable Synod Fathers, and all those who are taking part in this meeting as experts, auditors and special guests. I am pleased also to welcome the Fraternal Delegates of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. I extend to the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops and his collaborators the expression of gratitude of us all for the hard work they have carried out in the past months, together with my good wishes for the efforts that await them in the coming weeks.

When God speaks, he always asks for a response. His saving action demands human cooperation; his love must be reciprocated. Dear brothers and sisters, may what the biblical text recounts about the vineyard never occur: “[he] looked for it to yield grapes but it yielded wild grapes” (Is 5: 2). The Word of God alone can profoundly change man’s heart so it is important that individual believers and communities enter into ever increasing intimacy with his Word. The Synodal Assembly will focus attention on this fundamental truth for the life and mission of the Church. To draw nourishment from the Word of God is her first and fundamental task. In fact, if the Gospel proclamation is her raison d’être and mission, it is indispensable that the Church know and live what she proclaims, so that her preaching may be credible despite the weaknesses and poverty of the people of whom she is comprised. We know, furthermore, that the proclamation of the Word, at the school of Christ, has the Kingdom of God as its content (see Mk 1: 14-15, but the Kingdom of God is the very person of Jesus who, with his words and actions, offers salvation to people of every epoch. Interesting in this regard is St Jerome’s reflection: “Whoever does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (Prologue of the commentary on Isaiah: no. 1, CCL 73, 1).

In this Pauline Year we hear the cry of the Apostle to the Gentiles resounding with special urgency: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9: 16); a cry that becomes for every Christian a pressing invitation to serve Christ. “The harvest is plentiful” (Mt 9: 37) the Divine Teacher still repeats today: so many still do not know him and are awaiting the first proclamation of his Gospel; others, although they received a Christian formation, have become less enthusiastic and retain only a superficial contact with God’s Word; yet others have drifted away from the practice of the faith and need a new evangelization. Then there are plenty of people of right understanding who ask themselves essential questions about the meaning of life and death, questions to which only Christ can give satisfactory answers. It is, therefore, becoming indispensable for Christians on every continent to be ready to reply to those who ask them to account for the hope that is in them (see 1 Pt 3: 15), joyfully proclaiming the Word of God and living the Gospel without compromises.

Venerable and dear Brothers, may the Lord help us to question ourselves together, in the coming weeks of the Synod’s work, on how to make the Gospel proclamation increasingly effective in our time. We all know how necessary it is to make the Word of God the centre of our lives, to welcome Christ as our one Redeemer, as the Kingdom of God in person, to ensure that his light may enlighten every context of humanity: from the family to the school, to culture, to work, to free time and to the other sectors of society and of our life. In taking part in the Eucharistic celebration we are always aware of the close connection that exists between the proclamation of the Word of God and the Eucharistic sacrifice: it is the Mystery itself that is offered for our contemplation. This is why “the Church”, as the Second Vatican Council highlights, “has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ” (Dei Verbum, no. 21). The Council rightly concludes: “Just as from constant attendance at the Eucharistic mystery the life of the Church draws increase, so a new impulse of spiritual life may be expected from increased veneration of the Word of God, which “stands for ever’“ (Dei Verbum, no. 26).

May the Lord grant that we approach with faith the twofold banquet of the Body and Blood of Christ. May Mary Most Holy, who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2: 19) obtain this for us. May she teach us to listen to the Scriptures and meditate upon them in an inner process of maturation that never separates the mind from the heart. May the Saints come to our aid, and in particular the Apostle Paul, whom during this year we are increasingly discovering as an undaunted witness and herald of God’s Word. Amen!



St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 4 October 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Eucharist was celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica this morning for the opening of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, during which we also prayed in various African languages. My venerable Predecessor John Paul II convoked the First “African Synod” in 1994, with a view to the Year 2000 and the Third Christian Millennium. Pope John Paul II, who with his missionary zeal went many times to Africa as a pilgrim, gathered the content of what emerged from that meeting in the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, giving a new impetus to the evangelization of the continent. Fifteen years later, this new Assembly follows up on the first one, to assess the ground covered, to deepen knowledge of certain aspects and to examine the most recent challenges. The theme chosen is: “The Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace”, accompanied by Christ’s words to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world” (Mt 5: 13, 14).

The Synod is always an intense ecclesial experience, an experience of collegial pastoral responsibility with regard to a specific aspect of the Church’s life, or, as in this case, of a part of the Christian People determined on the basis of their geographical area. The Pope and his closest collaborators are meeting with the Members designated by the Assembly, the Experts and the Auditors to examine the chosen theme. It is important to stress that it is neither a study convention nor a programmatic assembly. Reports and discourses are heard in the hall, the participants meet in groups, but we all know well that we are not the protagonists: it is the Lord, his Holy Spirit, who guides the Church. The most important thing for everyone is to listen: to listen to each other, and for everyone to listen to what the Lord wants to say to us. This is why the Synod takes place in an atmosphere of faith and prayer, in religious obedience to God’s word. It is the task of the Successor of Peter to convoke and guide Synodal Assemblies, to evaluate what emerges from their work and then to make the appropriate pastoral suggestions.

Dear friends, Africa is a continent endowed with an extraordinary wealth of humanity. Its population currently amounts to about a billion, and its overall birth-rate is the highest in the world. Africa is a fertile land of human life, but this life is unfortunately beset by so many forms of poverty and at times suffers from gross injustice. The Church is committed to surmounting them with the power of the Gospel and the material solidarity of numerous institutions and charitable projects. Let us pray the Virgin Mary that she may bless the Second Synod Assembly for Africa and obtain peace and development for that great, beloved continent.



Vatican Basilica, Sunday, 4 October 2009

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Pax vobis peace to you! With this liturgical greeting I address you all, gathered in the Vatican Basilica, where 15 years ago, on 10 April 1994, the Servant of God John Paul II opened the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. The fact that today we are here to inaugurate the Second one means that it was indeed a historic event, but not an isolated one. It marked the arrival point of a journey that subsequently continued and is now reaching a significant new milestone in the process of assessment and relaunching. Let us praise the Lord for this! I address my most cordial welcome to the Members of the Synod Assembly who are concelebrating this Holy Eucharist with me, with the Experts and with the Auditors, and in particular to those who come from Africa. I extend a special greeting to the General Secretary of the Synod and his collaborators. I am very happy to have with us His Holiness Abuna Paulos, Patriarch of the Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Ethiopia, whom I warmly thank, and the Fraternal Delegates of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. I am also glad to greet the Civil Authorities and Ambassadors who have wished to take part in this celebration; I greet with affection the priests, the men and women religious, the representatives of organizations, movements and associations, and the Congolese Choir which, together with the Sistine Chapel Choir, is enlivening our Eucharistic Celebration.

The biblical Readings of this Sunday speak of marriage. However, more radically, they speak of the design of Creation, of the origins and hence, of God. The Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews confirms this design, where it says: “For he who sanctifies”, namely Jesus Christ, and “those who are sanctified”, that is, human beings, “have all one origin”. “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2: 11). Thus the primacy of God the Creator visibly stands out in both Readings, with the eternal validity of his original imprint and the absolute priority of his lordship, that lordship which children can welcome better than adults; for this reason Jesus holds them up as a model for entering the Kingdom of Heaven (see Mk 10: 13-15). Now, recognition of the absolute lordship of God is certainly one of the salient and unifying features of the African culture. There are of course many different cultures in Africa but they all seem to agree on this point: God is the Creator and the source of life. Now life as we well know is essentially expressed in the union between the man and the woman and in the birth of children; the divine law, written into nature, is therefore stronger and pre-eminent with respect to any human law, according to Jesus’ clear and concise affirmation: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10: 9). Thus the perspective is not primarily moral: it concerns being, the order inscribed in creation, before duty.

Dear brothers and sisters, in this regard beyond the first impression today’s liturgy of the Word appears particularly suited to accompanying the opening of a Synodal Assembly dedicated to Africa. I would like to stress in particular certain aspects that emerge forcefully and call into question the work that awaits us. The first, already mentioned: the primacy of God, Creator and Lord. The second: marriage. The third: children. As regards the first aspect, Africa is the depository of a priceless treasure for the whole world: its profound sense of God, which I have been able to perceive first hand at my meetings with the African Bishops on their ad limina visits, and especially during my recent Apostolic Visit in Cameroon and Angola, of which I retain pleasant and moving memories. It is precisely this pilgrimage to Africa that I would now like to recall, because during those days I opened this Synod Assembly in spirit by presenting the Instrumentum Laboris to the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences and the Heads of the Synods of Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

When Africa’s treasures are mentioned one immediately thinks of the abundant riches of the territory which have unfortunately become and continue to be a cause of exploitation, conflict and corruption. The Word of God, instead, makes us look at another patrimony: the spiritual and cultural heritage, which humanity needs even more than raw materials. “For what does it profit a man”, Jesus was to say, “to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk 8: 36). From this viewpoint Africa constitutes an immense spiritual “lung” for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope. But this “lung” can also become ill. And at this moment at least two dangerous pathologies are infecting it: in the first place, a disease that is already widespread in the Western world, in other words practical materialism, combined with relativist and nihilistic thought.

Without discussing the genesis of such sickness of the spirit, it is nevertheless indisputable that the so-called “first” world has sometimes exported and is exporting toxic spiritual refuse which contaminates the peoples of other continents, including in particular the population of Africa. In this sense, colonialism finished at a political level has never really ended. But, precisely in this perspective, a second “virus” should be pointed out that could strike Africa too, that is, religious fundamentalism, combined with political and economic interests. Groups that relate to various religious affiliations are spreading on the African continent; they do so in the name of God but according to a logic opposed to divine logic, in other words, not by teaching and practicing love and respect for freedom but rather by intolerance and violence.

As regards the subject of marriage, the text of chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis has recalled the perennial foundation that Jesus himself confirmed: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gn 2: 24). How is it possible not to recall the wonderful cycle of catecheses that the Servant of God John Paul ii dedicated to this subject, based on a particularly deeply studied exegesis of this biblical text? Today, in proposing it to us again at the opening of the Synod, the liturgy offers us the superabundant light of the truth revealed and incarnate in Christ with which it is possible to consider the complex topic of marriage in the African ecclesial and social context. On this point too, however, I would like briefly to mention a thought that precedes any reflection or indication of a moral order, and which is nevertheless still connected to the primacy of the meaning of the sacred and of God. Marriage, as the Bible presents it to us, does not exist outside the relationship with God. Conjugal life between a man and a woman, and hence the life of the family that results from it, is inscribed in communion with God and, in the light of the New Testament, becomes an icon of Trinitarian Love and the sacrament of Christ’s union with the Church. To the extent in which it preserves and develops its faith, Africa will be able to draw on immense resources for the benefit of the family founded on marriage.

Furthermore, by including in the Gospel passage the text on Jesus and the children (Mk 10: 13-15), the liturgy invites us from this moment to bear in mind in our pastoral concern the reality of children who constitute a great and unfortunately often suffering part of the African population. In the scene where Jesus welcomes the children, even indignantly opposing the disciples who sought to keep them away from him, we see the image of the Church which in Africa, and in every other part of the earth, expresses her own motherhood especially to the smallest ones, even when they are not yet born. Like the Lord Jesus, the Church does not see them principally as recipients of assistance and even less of pietism or exploitation but rather as people in every sense, who through their own way of being show the main road by which to enter the Kingdom of God, the road, that is, of unconditional entrustment to his love.

Dear Brothers, these indications that come from the Word of God fit into the broad horizon of the Synodal Assembly that is beginning today and that is the follow-up of the former Synod dedicated to the African continent, whose fruits were presented to Pope John Paul II, of venerable memory, in the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. Although the first duty of evangelization remains valid and timely, there is need of a new evangelization that takes into account the rapid social changes of our epoch and of the phenomenon of world globalization. The same can be said of the pastoral decision to build the Church as God’s family (see ibid., no. 63). In this broad wake comes the Second Assembly whose theme is: “The Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace: “You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world’ (Mt 5: 13, 14)”. In recent years the Catholic Church in Africa has experienced great dynamism and the Synodal Meeting is an opportunity to thank the Lord. And since the growth of the ecclesial community in all fields also entails challenges ad intra and ad extra, the Synod is a favourable moment for rethinking pastoral activity and renewing the thrust of evangelization. In order to become the light of the world and the salt of the earth it is therefore always necessary to aim at the “high standard” of Christian living, in other words, at holiness. Pastors and all the members of the ecclesial community are called to be holy; the lay faithful are called to spread the fragrance of holiness in the family, in the work place, at school and in every other social and political context. May the Church in Africa always be a family of authentic disciples of Christ where the difference between ethnic groups becomes a cause and an incentive for reciprocal human and spiritual enrichment.

With her work of evangelization and human advancement, the Church can certainly make a great contribution in Africa to the whole of society which, unfortunately, is experiencing poverty, injustice, violence and war in various countries. The vocation of the Church, a community of people who are reconciled with God and with one another, is that of being a prophesy and a leaven of reconciliation between the different ethnic, linguistic and even religious groups, within single nations and throughout the continent. Reconciliation, a gift of God that men and women must implore and receive, is a stable basis on which to build peace, an indispensable condition for the authentic progress of people and of society, in accordance with the project of justice wanted by God. Open to the redeeming grace of the Risen Lord, Africa will thus be illuminated increasingly by his light and, letting itself be guided by the Holy Spirit, will become a blessing for the universal Church, making its own qualified contribution to building a more just and fraternal world.

Dear Synod Fathers, thank you for the contribution that each one of you will make to the work in the coming weeks, which will be for us a renewed experience of fraternal communion that will redound to the benefit of the whole Church, especially in the context of the Year for Priests. And I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to accompany us with your prayers. I ask it of those present: I ask it of the cloistered monasteries and religious communities scattered throughout Africa and in other parts of the world, of the parishes and movements, of the sick and the suffering: I ask all to pray that the Lord may make this Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops fruitful. Let us invoke upon it the protection of St Francis of Assisi whom we are commemorating today, that of all the African Saints and, in a special way, that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Our Lady of Africa. Amen!




Foro Italico, Palermo, Sunday, 3 October 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At this moment of profound communion with Christ, present and alive in our midst and within us, as an ecclesial family it is beautiful to turn in prayer to Mary Most Holy Immaculate, his Mother and ours. Sicily is spangled with Marian Shrines and in this place I feel spiritually at the centre of this “network” of devotion that reaches all the cities and all the villages of the Island.

I want to entrust the whole People of God that lives in this beloved region to the Virgin Mary. May she support families, in their love and in their commitment to education; may she make fruitful the seeds of vocation that God sows lavishly among the young; may she instil courage in trials, hope in difficulty, and renewed enthusiasm in doing good. May Our Lady comfort the sick and all the suffering, and help Christian communities so that no one in them is marginalized or needy but each one, especially the little and the weak, feels welcomed and treasured.

Mary is the model of Christian life. I ask her above all to enable you to walk swiftly and joyfully on the path of holiness, in the footsteps of so many luminous witnesses of Christ, children of Sicily. In this context I would like to recall that this morning, in Parma, Blessed Anna Maria Adorni was beatified. In the 19th century she was an exemplary wife and mother and then, widowed, she devoted herself to charity to women in prison and in difficulty, for whose service she founded two religious Institutes. Because of her ceaseless prayer, Mother Adorni was known as the “Living Rosary”. I am glad to place her at the beginning of the month dedicated to the Holy Rosary. May the daily meditation on the mysteries of Christ in union with Mary, the prayerful Virgin, strengthen all of us in faith, in hope and in charity.




Foro Italico Umberto I, Palermo, Sunday, 3 October 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I rejoice at being able to break with you the bread of the Word of God and of the Eucharist. I greet you all with affection and thank you for your warm welcome! I greet in particular your Pastor, Archbishop Paolo Romeo; I thank him for his words of welcome on behalf of you all and for the meaningful gift he has offered me. I also greet the Archbishops and Bishops present, the priests, the men and women Religious and the Representatives of the Ecclesial Associations and Movements. I address a respectful thought to Hon. Mr Diego Cammarata, the Mayor, grateful for his courteous greeting, to the Representative of the Government and to the Civil and Military Authorities, who have wished to honour our Meeting with their presence. A special “thank you” goes to all who have generously offered their collaboration for the organization and preparation of this day.

Dear friends, my Visit is taking place on the occasion of an important regional ecclesial Meeting of Young People and Families, whom I will meet this afternoon. But I have also come to share with you the joys and hopes, efforts and commitments, ideals and aspirations of this diocesan community. When the ancient Greeks landed in this area, as the Mayor mentioned in his greeting, they called it “Panormo” meaning the place looking out over the whole bay, a name that suggested safety, peace and calm. In coming to see you for the first time, my hope is that this City, drawing inspiration from the most authentic values of its history and tradition, may always know how to make the hopes of serenity and peace, summed up in its name, come true for its inhabitants and for the entire nation.

I know that in Palermo, as in the whole of Sicily, difficulties, problems and worries are not lacking; I am thinking in particular of those who are actually living their lives in precarious conditions, because of unemployment, uncertainty about the future and physical and moral suffering and, as the Archbishop recalled, because of organized crime. Today I am among you to witness to my closeness and my remembrance in prayer. I am here to give you strong encouragement not to be afraid to witness clearly to thehuman and Christian values that are so deeply rooted in the faith and history of this territory and of its people.

Dear brothers and sisters, every liturgical assembly is a place of God’s presence. Gathered together for the Holy Eucharist, disciples of the Lord are immersed in Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, they proclaim that he is Risen, is alive and is the Giver of life, and witness that his Presence is grace, strength and joy. Let us open our hearts to his Word and welcome the gift of his presence! All the texts of this Sunday’s Liturgy speak to us of faith, which is the foundation of the whole of Christian life. Jesus taught his disciples to grow in faith, to believe and to entrust themselves increasingly to him, in order to build their own lives on the rock. For this reason they asked him “increase our faith!” (Lk 17: 5). What they asked the Lord for is beautiful, it is the fundamental request: disciples do not ask for material gifts, they do not ask for privileges but for the grace of faith, which guides and illumines the whole of life; they ask for the grace to recognize God and to be in a close relationship with him, receiving from him all his gifts, even those of courage, love and hope.

Jesus, without directly answering their prayer, has recourse to a paradoxical image to express the incredible vitality of faith. Just as a lever raises something far heavier than its own weight, so faith, even a crumb of faith, can do unthinkable, extraordinary things, such as uproot a great tree and plant it in the sea (ibid.). Faith trusting in Christ, welcoming him, letting him transform us, following him to the very end makes humanly impossible things possible in every situation. The Prophet Habbakuk also bears witness to this in the First Reading. He implores the Lord, starting with a dreadful situation of violence, iniquity and oppression. And even in this difficult, insecure situation, the Prophet introduces a vision that offers an inside view of the plan that God is outlining and bringing to fulfilment in history: “He whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab 2: 4). The godless person, the one who does not behave in accordance with God, who trusts in his own power but is relying on a frail and inconsistent reality that will therefore give way, is destined to fall; the righteous person, on the other hand, trusts in a hidden but sound reality, he trusts in God and for this reason will have life.

In past centuries the Church in Palermo was enriched and enlivened by a fervent faith that found its loftiest and most successful expression in the Saints. I am thinking of St Rosalia, whom you venerate and honour and who, from Mount Pellegrino, watches over your City of which she is the Patroness. I am also thinking of two great Saints of Sicily: Agatha and Lucy. Nor should it be forgotten that your religious sense has always inspired and guided family life, fostering values such as the capacity for giving themselves and solidarity to others, especially the suffering, and innate respect for life that constitutes a precious heritage to be jealously guarded and proposed anew especially in our time. Dear friends, preserve this precious treasure of faith of your Church; may Christian values always guide your decisions and your actions!

The second part of today’s Gospel presents another teaching, a teaching of humility that is nevertheless closely linked to faith. Jesus invites us to be humble and suggests the example of a servant who has worked in the fields. When he returns home, the master asks him to go on working. According to the mentality of Jesus’ time the master had every right to do this. The servant owed his master total availability; and the master did not feel under any obligation to him for having carried out the orders he had received. Jesus makes us aware that, before God, we are in a similar situation: we are God’s servants, we are not his creditors but are always indebted to him, because we owe him everything since everything is a gift from him. Accepting and doing his will is the approach to have every day, at every moment of our life. Before God we must never present ourselves as if we believe we have done a service and deserve a great reward. This is an illusion that can be born in everyone, even in people who work very hard in the Lord’s service, in the Church. Rather, we must be aware that in reality we never do enough for God. We must say, as Jesus’ suggests: “we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Lk 17: 10). This is an attitude of humility that really puts us in our place and permits the Lord to be very generous to us. In fact, in another Gospel passage, he promises people that “he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them” (see Lk 12: 37). Dear friends, if we do God’s will today with humility, without claiming anything from him, it will be Jesus himself who serves us, who helps us, who encourages us, who gives us strength and serenity.

In today’s Second Reading the Apostle Paul too speaks of faith. Timothy is asked to have faith and, through it, to exercise charity. The disciple is also urged to rekindle in faith the gift of God that is in him through the laying on of Paul’s hands, in other words the gift of Ordination, received so that he might carry out the apostolic ministry as a collaborator of Paul (see 2 Tm 1: 6). He must not let this gift be extinguished but must make it ever more alive through faith. And the Apostle adds: “for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (v. 7).

Dear people of Palermo and dear Sicilians, your beautiful Island was one of the first regions of Italy to receive the faith of the Apostles, to receive the proclamation of the Word of God, to adhere to the faith in such a generous way that, even amidst difficulties and persecutions, the flower of holiness always sprang from it. Sicily was and is a land of Saints, belonging to every walk of life, who have lived the Gospel with simplicity and wholeness. To you lay faithful, I repeat: do not fear to live and to witness to the faith in the various contexts of society, in the many situations of human existence, especially in those that are difficult! May faith give you the power of God in order to be ever confident and courageous, to go ahead with new determination, to take the necessary initiatives to give an ever more beautiful face to your land. And when you come up against the opposition of the world, may you hear the Apostle’s words: “Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord” (v. 8). One should be ashamed of evil, of what offends God, of what offends man; one should be ashamed of the evil done to the Civil and Religious Community by actions that would prefer to remain in the shade! The temptation of discouragement and resignation comes to those who are weak in faith and those who confuse evil with good and to those who think that in the face of evil that is often profound there is nothing that can be done. On the contrary, those who are firmly founded on faith, who trust totally in God and who live in the Church are capable of conveying the devastating power of the Gospel. This was how the Saints who flourished in Palermo and throughout Sicily down the centuries behaved, as likewise the lay people and priests of today who are well known to you, such as, for example, Fr Pino Puglisi. May they always keep you united and nourish in each one the desire to proclaim, with word and deed, the presence and love of Christ. People of Sicily, look at your future with hope! Bring out the full radiance of the good that you desire, that you seek and that you possess! Live courageously the values of the Gospel to make the light of goodness shine out! With God’s power everything is possible! May the Mother of Christ, Our Lady Hodegetria whom you so deeply venerate, help you and lead you to deep knowledge of her Son. Amen!



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 2 October 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday’s Gospel ends with a particularly severe warning from Jesus, addressed to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it” (Mt 21:43). These are words that call to mind the great responsibility of those in every epoch who are called to work in the Lord’s vineyard, especially in roles of authority, and they press for a renewal of full fidelity to Christ.

He is “the very stone which the builders rejected” (see Mt 21:42), because they judged him to be hostile to the law and a danger to public order; but he himself, rejected and crucified, is risen, to become the “corner stone” on which the foundations of every human life and of the whole world may rest in total safety.

The truth of this is the subject of the Parable of the Unfaithful Tenants to whom a man entrusted his vineyard so that they might cultivate and harvest the produce. The owner of the vineyard symbolizes God himself, while the vineyard symbolizes his people, as well as the life he gives, so that with his grace and our hard work, we may do good. St Augustine comments: “God does also cultivate us... as a field, that he may make us better” (see Sermo 87, 1, 2: PL 38, 531). God has a project for his friends, but unfortunately the human response is often oriented to infidelity which is expressed in rejection. Pride and selfishness prevent us from recognizing and welcoming even God’s most precious gift: his Only-Begotten Son.

When, in fact, “he sent his son to them”, the Evangelist Matthew wrote, “[the tenants] took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him” (Mt 21:37, 39). God puts himself in our hands, agrees to make himself an unfathomable mystery of weakness and manifests his omnipotence in his faithfulness to a plan of love which, in the end, also provides for the proper punishment of the wicked (see Mt 21:41).

Firmly anchored in faith to the cornerstone which is Christ, let us abide in him, like the branch that can bear no fruit unless it remains attached to the vine. The Church, the People of the New Covenant, is built only in him, for him and with him. On this the Servant of God Paul VI wrote: “The first benefit which We trust the Church will reap from a deepened self-awareness, is a renewed discovery of its vital bond of union with Christ. This is something which is perfectly well known, but it is supremely important and absolutely essential. It can never be sufficiently understood, meditated upon and preached” (Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, 6 August 1964: AAS 56 [1964], 622).

Dear friends, the Lord is ever close and active in humanity’s history and accompanies us with the unique presence of his Angels, whom today the Church venerates as “Guardian Angels”, that is, ministers of the divine care for every human being. From the beginning until the hour of death, human life is surrounded by their constant protection. And the Angels encircle the august Queen of Victories, the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary, who, on the first Sunday of October, at this very moment, receives the fervent supplication from the Shrine of Pompeii and from the whole world that evil may be defeated and God’s goodness revealed in its fullness.



St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 7 October 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Let us now turn in prayer to Mary Most Holy, whom we venerate today as Queen of the Holy Rosary. At this moment at the Shrine of Pompeii, the traditional “supplication” is prayed, to which countless people around the world are united. As we, too, join in spirit to that choral invocation, I would like to propose to everyone the value of praying the Rosary in the upcoming Year of Faith. Through the Rosary we allow ourselves to be guided by Mary, the model of faith, in meditating on the mysteries of Christ. Day after day she helps us to assimilate the Gospel, so that it gives a form to our life as a whole. Thus, in the footsteps of my Predecessors, especially Blessed John Paul II who 10 years ago gave us the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, I invite you to pray the Rosary on your own, in your family and in your community, placing yourselves in the school of Mary, who leads us to Christ, the living centre of our faith.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 7 October 2012

Dear Brother Bishops,

Dear brothers and sisters,

With this solemn concelebration we open the thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. This theme reflects a programmatic direction for the life of the Church, its members, families, its communities and institutions. And this outline is reinforced by the fact that it coincides with the beginning of the Year of Faith, starting on 11 October, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. I give a cordial and grateful welcome to you who have come to be part of the Synodal Assembly, in particular to the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, and to his colleagues. I salute the fraternal delegates of the other churches and ecclesial communities as well as all present, inviting them to accompany in daily prayer the deliberations which will take place over the next three weeks.

The readings for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word propose to us two principal points of reflection: the first on matrimony, which I will touch shortly; and the second on Jesus Christ, which I will discuss now. We do not have time to comment upon the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews but, at the beginning of this Synodal Assembly, we ought to welcome the invitation to fix our gaze upon the Lord Jesus, “crowned with glory and honour, because of the suffering of death (2:9). The word of God places us before the glorious One who was crucified, so that our whole lives, and in particular the commitment of this Synodal session, will take place in the sight of him and in the light of his mystery. In every time and place, evangelization always has as its starting and finishing points Jesus Christ, the Son of God (see Mk 1:1); and the Crucifix is the supremely distinctive sign of him who announces the Gospel: a sign of love and peace, a call to conversion and reconciliation. My dear Brother Bishops, starting with ourselves, let us fix our gaze upon him and let us be purified by his grace.

I would now like briefly to examine the new evangelization, and its relation to ordinary evangelization and the mission ad Gentes. The Church exists to evangelize. Faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ’s command, his disciples went out to the whole world to announce the Good News, spreading Christian communities everywhere. With time, these became well-organized churches with many faithful. At various times in history, divine providence has given birth to a renewed dynamism in the Church’s evangelizing activity. We need only think of the evangelization of the Anglo-Saxon peoples or the Slavs, or the transmission of the faith on the continent of America, or the missionary undertakings among the peoples of Africa, Asia and Oceania. It is against this dynamic background that I like to look at the two radiant figures that I have just proclaimed Doctors of the Church, Saint John of Avila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Even in our own times, the Holy Spirit has nurtured in the Church a new effort to announce the Good News, a pastoral and spiritual dynamism which found a more universal expression and its most authoritative impulse in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Such renewed evangelical dynamism produces a beneficent influence on the two specific “branches” developed by it, that is, on the one hand the Missio ad Gentes or announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, and on the other the New Evangelization, directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life. The Synodal Assembly which opens today is dedicated to this new evangelization, to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone who fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favour the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life. Obviously, such a special focus must not diminish either missionary efforts in the strict sense or the ordinary activity of evangelization in our Christian communities, as these are three aspects of the one reality of evangelization which complement and enrich each other.

The theme of marriage, found in the Gospel and the first reading, deserves special attention. The message of the word of God may be summed up in the expression found in the Book of Genesis and taken up by Jesus himself: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7-8). What does this word say to us today? It seems to me that it invites us to be more aware of a reality, already well known but not fully appreciated: that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization. This is already being seen in the many experiences of communities and movements, but its realization is also growing in dioceses and parishes, as shown in the recent World Meeting of Families.

One of the important ideas of the renewed impulse that the Second Vatican Council gave to evangelization is that of the universal call to holiness, which in itself concerns all Christians (see Lumen Gentium, nos.39-42). The saints are the true actors in evangelization in all its expressions. In a special way they are even pioneers and bringers of the new evangelization: with their intercession and the example of lives attentive to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they show the beauty of the Gospel to those who are indifferent or even hostile, and they invite, as it were tepid believers, to live with the joy of faith, hope and charity, to rediscover the taste for the word of God and for the sacraments, especially for the bread of life, the Eucharist. Holy men and women bloom among the generous missionaries who announce the Good News to non-Christians, in the past in mission countries and now in any place where there are non-Christians. Holiness is not confined by cultural, social, political or religious barriers. Its language, that of love and truth, is understandable to all people of good will and it draws them to Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of new life.

At this point, let us pause for a moment to appreciate the two saints who today have been added to the elect number of Doctors of the Church. Saint John of Avila lived in the sixteenth century. A profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church.

Saint Hildegard of Bingen, an important female figure of the twelfth century, offered her precious contribution to the growth of the Church of her time, employing the gifts received from God and showing herself to be a woman of brilliant intelligence, deep sensitivity and recognized spiritual authority. The Lord granted her a prophetic spirit and fervent capacity to discern the signs of the times. Hildegard nurtured an evident love of creation, and was learned in medicine, poetry and music. Above all, she maintained a great and faithful love for Christ and his Church.

This summary of the ideal in Christian life, expressed in the call to holiness, draws us to look with humility at the fragility, even sin, of many Christians, as individuals and communities, which is a great obstacle to evangelization and to recognizing the force of God that, in faith, meets human weakness. Thus, we cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire for conversion. The best path to the new evangelization is to let ourselves be reconciled with God and with each other (see 2 Cor 5:20). Solemnly purified, Christians can regain a legitimate pride in their dignity as children of God, created in his image and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and they can experience his joy in order to share it with everyone, both near and far.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust the work of the Synod meeting to God, sustained by the communion of saints, invoking in particular the intercession of great evangelizers, among whom, with much affection, we ought to number Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose long pontificate was an example of the new evangelization. Let us place ourselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization. With her let us invoke a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that from on high he may illumine the Synodal Assembly and make it fruitful for the Church’s journey today, in our time. Amen. 

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