Monday, January 31, 2022

Reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0328: Reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time 
Pope Benedict XVI 

On seven occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, on 5 February 2006, 4 February 2007, 8 February 2009, 7 February 2010, 6 February 2011, 5 February 2012, and 10 February 2013. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus and one homily delivered on these occasions.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 5 February 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Pro-Life Day is being celebrated today throughout Italy and is a precious opportunity for prayer and reflection on the themes of the defence and promotion of human life, especially when it is found to be in difficult conditions.

Many of the lay faithful who work in this area are present in St Peter’s Square, some of whom are involved in the Pro-Life Movement. I address my cordial greeting to them, with a special thought for Cardinal Camillo Ruini who has accompanied them, and I once again express my appreciation for the work they do to ensure that life is always received as a gift and accompanied with love.

As I invite you to meditate on the Message of the Italian Bishops, which has as its theme “Respecting life,” I think back to beloved Pope John Paul II, who paid constant attention to these problems. I would like in particular to recall the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which he published in 1995 and which represents an authentic milestone in the Church’s Magisterium on a most timely and crucial issue.

Inserting the moral aspects in a vast spiritual and cultural framework, my venerable Predecessor frequently reasserted that human life has a value of paramount importance which demands recognition, and the Gospel asks that it always be respected.

In the light of my recent Encyclical Letter on Christian love, I would like to underline the importance of the service of love for the support and promotion of human life. In this regard, even before active initiatives, it is fundamental to foster a correct attitude towards the other:  the culture of life is in fact based on attention to others without any forms of exclusion or discrimination. Every human life, as such, deserves and demands always to be defended and promoted.

We are well aware that all too often this truth risks being opposed by the hedonism widespread in the so-called society of well-being:  life is exalted as long as it is pleasurable, but there is a tendency to no longer respect it as soon as it is sick or handicapped. Based on deep love for every person it is possible instead to put into practice effective forms of service to life:  to newborn life and to life marked by marginalization or suffering, especially in its terminal phase.

The Virgin Mary received with perfect love the Word of life, Jesus Christ, who came into the world so that human beings might “have life... abundantly” (Jn 10: 10). Let us entrust to her expectant mothers, families, health-care workers and volunteers who are committed in so many ways to the service of life. Let us pray in particular for people in the most difficult situations.



Parish of Saint Anne, Sunday, 5 February 2006   

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Gospel [passage] we have just listened to begins with a very nice, beautiful episode but is also full of meaning. The Lord went to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew and found Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. He took her by the hand and raised her, the fever left her, and she served them.

Jesus’ entire mission is symbolically portrayed in this episode. Jesus, coming from the Father, visited peoples’ homes on our earth and found a humanity that was sick, sick with fever, the fever of ideologies, idolatry, forgetfulness of God. The Lord gives us his hand, lifts us up and heals us.

And he does so in all ages; he takes us by the hand with his Word, thereby dispelling the fog of ideologies and forms of idolatry. He takes us by the hand in the sacraments, he heals us from the fever of our passions and sins through absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He gives us the possibility to raise ourselves, to stand before God and before men and women. And precisely with this content of the Sunday liturgy, the Lord comes to meet us, he takes us by the hand, raises us and heals us ever anew with the gift of his words, the gift of himself.

But the second part of this episode is also important. This woman who has just been healed, the Gospel says, begins to serve them. She sets to work immediately to be available to others, and thus becomes a representative of so many good women, mothers, grandmothers, women in various professions, who are available, who get up and serve and are the soul of the family, the soul of the parish.

And here, on looking at the painting above the altar, we see that they do not only perform external services; St Anne is introducing her great daughter, Our Lady, to the Sacred Scriptures, to the hope of Israel, for which she was precisely to be the place of its fulfilment.

Moreover, women were the first messengers of the word of God in the Gospel, they were true evangelists. And it seems to me that this Gospel, with this apparently very modest episode, is offering us in this very Church of St Anne an opportunity to say a heartfelt “thank you” to all the women who care for the parish, the women who serve in all its dimensions, who help us to know the Word of God ever anew, not only with our minds but also with our hearts.

Let us return to the Gospel:  Jesus slept at Peter’s house, but he rose before dawn while it was still dark and went out to find a deserted place to pray. And here the true centre of the mystery of Jesus appears.

Jesus was conversing with the Father and raised his human spirit in communion with the Person of the Son, so that the humanity of the Son, united to him, might speak in the Trinitarian dialogue with the Father; and thus, he also made true prayer possible for us. In the liturgy Jesus prays with us, we pray with Jesus, and so we enter into real contact with God, we enter into the mystery of eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity.

Jesus speaks to the Father:  this is the source and centre of all Jesus’ activities; we see his preaching, his cures, his miracles and lastly the Passion, and they spring from this centre of his being with the Father.

And in this way this Gospel teaches us that the centre of our faith and our lives is indeed the primacy of God. Whenever God is not there, the human being is no longer respected either. Only if God’s splendor shines on the human face, is the human image of God protected by a dignity which subsequently no one must violate.

The primacy of God. Let us see how the first three requests in the “Our Father” refer precisely to this primacy of God:  that God’s Name be sanctified, that respect for the divine mystery be alive and enliven the whole of our lives; that “may God’s Kingdom come” and “may [his] will be done” are two sides of the same coin; where God’s will is done Heaven already exists, a little bit of Heaven also begins on earth, and where God’s will is done the Kingdom of God is present.

Since the Kingdom of God is not a series of things, the Kingdom of God is the presence of God, the person’s union with God. It is to this destination that Jesus wants to guide us.

The centre of his proclamation is the Kingdom of God, that is, God as the source and centre of our lives, and he tells us:  God alone is the redemption of man. And we can see in the history of the last century that in the States where God was abolished, not only was the economy destroyed, but above all the souls.

Moral destruction and the destruction of human dignity are fundamental forms of destruction, and renewal can only come from God’s return, that is, from recognition of God’s centrality.

A Bishop from the Congo on an ad limina visit in these days said to me:  Europeans generously give us many things for development, but there is a hesitation in helping us in pastoral ministry; it seems as though they considered pastoral ministry useless, that only technological and material development were important. But the contrary is true, he said; where the Word of God does not exist, development fails to function and has no positive results. Only if God’s Word is put first, only if man is reconciled with God, can material things also go smoothly.

The continuation of the Gospel itself powerfully confirms this. The Apostles said to Jesus:  come back, everyone is looking for you. And he said no, I must go on to the next towns that I may proclaim God and cast out demons, the forces of evil; for that is why I came.

Jesus came - the Greek text says, “I came out from the Father” - not to bring us the comforts of life but to bring the fundamental condition of our dignity, to bring us the proclamation of God, the presence of God, and thus to overcome the forces of evil. He indicated this priority with great clarity:  I did not come to heal - I also do this, but as a sign -, I came to reconcile you with God. God is our Creator, God has given us life, our dignity:  and it is above all to him that we must turn.

And as Fr Gioele has said, today, the Church in Italy is celebrating Pro-Life Day. In their Message, the Italian Bishops have wanted to recall the priority duty to “respect life”, since it is a “unavailable” good. Man is not the master of life; rather, he is its custodian and steward, and under God’s primacy, this priority of administrating and preserving human life, created by God, comes automatically into being.

This truth that man is the custodian and steward of life is a clearly defined point of natural law, fully illumined by biblical revelation. It appears today as a “sign of contradiction” in comparison with the prevalent mindset. Indeed, we note that although there is broad convergence generally on the value of life, yet when this point is reached, that is, the point of the “availability” or “unavailability” to life, the two mindsets are irreconcilably opposed.

In simpler terms, we might say:  one of the two mindsets maintains that human life is in human hands, whereas the other recognizes that it is in God’s hands. Modern culture has legitimately emphasized the autonomy of the human person and earthly realities, thereby developing a perspective dear to Christianity, the Incarnation of God.

However, as the Second Vatican Council clearly asserted, if this autonomy leads us to think that “material being does not depend on God and that man can use it as if it had no relation to its Creator”, a deep imbalance will result, for “without a Creator there can be no creature” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 36).

It is significant that in the passage cited, the conciliar Document states that this capacity to recognize the voice and manifestation of God in the beauty of creation belongs to all believers, regardless of their religion. From this we can conclude that full respect for life is linked to a religious sense, to the inner attitude with which the human being faces reality, as master or as custodian.

Moreover, the word “respect” derives from the Latin word respicere, to look at, and means a way of looking at things and people that leads to recognizing their substantial character, not to appropriate them but rather to treat them with respect and to take care of them.

In the final analysis, if creatures are deprived of their reference to God as a transcendent basis, they risk being at the mercy of the will of man who, as we see, can make an improper use of it.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke together St Anne’s intercession for your parish community, which I greet with affection.

I greet in particular your Parish Priest, Fr Gioele, and I thank him for his words to me at the beginning. I then greet the Augustinian confreres with their Prior General; I greet Archbishop Angelo Comastri, my Vicar General for Vatican City, Archbishop Rizzato, my Almoner, and everyone present, especially the children, young people and all those who regularly use this church.

May St Anne, your heavenly Patroness, watch over you all and obtain for each one the gift of being a witness of the God of life and love.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 4 February 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, Pro-Life Day, organized by the Bishops’ Conference on the theme: “Love and desire life”, is being celebrated in Italy. I cordially greet all those who are gathered in St Peter’s Square to witness their commitment in support of life, from its conception to its natural end. I join the Italian Bishops in renewing the appeal made several times by my venerable Predecessors to all men and women of good will to welcome the great and mysterious gift of life.

Life, which is a work of God, should not be denied to anyone, even the tiniest and most defenseless unborn child, and far less to a child with serious disabilities. At the same time, echoing the Pastors of the Church in Italy, I advise you not to fall into the deceptive trap of thinking that life can be disposed of, to the point of “legitimizing its interruption with euthanasia, even if it is masked by a veil of human compassion”.

The “Week of life and of the family” begins in our Diocese of Rome today. It is an important opportunity to pray and reflect on the family, which is the “cradle” of life and of every vocation. We are well aware that the family founded on marriage is the natural environment in which to bear and raise children and thereby guarantee the future of all of humanity.

However, we also know that marriage is going through a deep crisis and today must face numerous challenges. It is consequently necessary to defend, help, safeguard and value it in its unrepeatable uniqueness.

If this commitment is in the first place the duty of spouses, it is also a priority duty of the Church and of every public institution to support the family by means of pastoral and political initiatives that take into account the real needs of married couples, of the elderly and of the new generations.

A peaceful family atmosphere, illumined by faith and the holy fear of God also nurtures the budding and blossoming of vocations to the service of the Gospel. I am referring in particular not only to those who are called to follow Christ on the path of the priesthood but also to all men and women religious, the consecrated people we remembered last Friday on the “World Day of Consecrated Life”.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that through a constant effort to promote life and the family institution, our communities may be places of communion and hope in which, despite the many difficulties, the great “yes” to authentic love and to the reality of the human being and the family is renewed in accordance with God’s original plan. Let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, to grant that respect for the sacredness of life will grow so that people will be ever more aware of the real needs of families and that the number of those who help to build the civilization of love in the world will increase.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 8 February 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Gospel today (see Mk 1: 29-39) in close continuity with last Sunday’s presents to us Jesus who, after preaching on the Sabbath in the synagogue of Capernaum, heals many sick people, beginning with Simon’s mother-in-law. Upon entering Simon’s house, he finds her lying in bed with a fever and, by taking her hand, immediately heals her and has her get up. After sunset, he heals a multitude of people afflicted with ailments of every kind. The experience of healing the sick occupied a large part of Christ’s public mission and invites us once again to reflect on the meaning and value of illness, in every human situation. This opportunity is also offered to us by the World Day of the Sick which we shall be celebrating next Wednesday, 11 February, the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Despite the fact that illness is part of human experience, we do not succeed in becoming accustomed to it, not only because it is sometimes truly burdensome and grave, but also essentially because we are made for life, for a full life. Our “internal instinct” rightly makes us think of God as fullness of life indeed, as eternal and perfect Life. When we are tried by evil and our prayers seem to be in vain, then doubt besets us and we ask ourselves in anguish: what is God’s will? We find the answer to this very question in the Gospel. For example, in today’s passage we read that Jesus “healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mk 1: 34); in another passage from St Matthew it says that Jesus “went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people” (Mt 4: 23). Jesus leaves no room for doubt: God whose Face he himself revealed is the God of life, who frees us from every evil. The signs of his power of love are the healings he performed. He thus shows that the Kingdom of God is close at hand by restoring men and women to their full spiritual and physical integrity. I maintain that these cures are signs: they are not complete in themselves but guide us towards Christ’s message, they guide us towards God and make us understand that man’s truest and deepest illness is the absence of God, who is the source of truth and love. Only reconciliation with God can give us true healing, true life, because a life without love and without truth would not be life. The Kingdom of God is precisely the presence of truth and love and thus is healing in the depths of our being. One therefore understands why his preaching and the cures he works always go together: in fact, they form one message of hope and salvation.

Thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ work is extended in the Church’s mission. Through the sacraments it is Christ who communicates his life to multitudes of brothers and sisters, while he heals and comforts innumerable sick people through the many activities of health-care assistance that Christian communities promote with fraternal charity. Thus they reveal the true Face of God, his love. It is true: very many Christians around the world priests, religious and lay people - have lent and continue to lend their hands, eyes and hearts to Christ, true physician of bodies and souls! Let us pray for all sick people, especially those who are most seriously ill, who can in no way provide for themselves but depend entirely on the care of others. May each one of them experience, in the solicitude of those who are beside them, the power and love of God and the richness of his saving grace. Mary, health of the sick, pray for us!



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 7 February 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Liturgy on this Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time presents us with the subject of the divine call. In a majestic vision Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the thrice-blessed Lord and is overcome by great awe and a profound feeling of his unworthiness. But a seraph purifies his lips with a burning coal and wipes away his sin. Feeling ready to respond to God’s call, he exclaims: “Here I am, Lord. Command me!” (see Is 6:1-2; 3-8). The same succession of sentiments is presented in the episode of the miraculous catch of which today’s Gospel passage speaks. Asked by Jesus to cast their nets although they had caught nothing during the night, trusting in his word, Simon Peter and the other disciples obtain a superabundant catch. In the face of this miracle Simon Peter does not throw his arms around Jesus to express his joy at the unexpected catch. Rather, as the Evangelist Luke recounts, he falls to his knees saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord”. Jesus, therefore, reassures him: “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men” (see Lk 5:10); and leaving everything, he followed him.

Paul too, remembering that he had been a persecutor of the Church, professed himself unworthy to be called an apostle. Yet he recognized that the grace of God had worked wonders in him and, despite his limitations, God had entrusted him with the task and honor of preaching the Gospel (see 1 Cor 15:8-10). In these three experiences, we see how an authentic encounter with God brings the human being to recognize his poverty and inadequacy, his limitations and his sins. Yet in spite of this weakness the Lord, rich in mercy and forgiveness, transforms the life of human beings and calls them to follow him. The humility shown by Isaiah, Peter and Paul invites all who have received the gift of a divine vocation not to focus on their own limitations but rather to keep their gaze fixed on the Lord and on his amazing mercy so that their hearts may be converted and that they may continue joyfully, “to leave everything” to him. Indeed, the Lord does not look at what is important to human beings. “The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7) and makes human beings who are poor and weak but have faith in him fearless apostles and heralds of salvation.

In this Year for Priests, let us pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers into his harvest. Let us also pray that all who hear the Lord’s invitation to follow him may be able after due discernment to respond to him generously, not trusting in their own strength but opening themselves to the action of his grace. I ask all priests in particular to revive their generous availability to respond every day to the Lord’s call with the same humility and faith as Isaiah, Peter and Paul.

Let us entrust all vocations to the Blessed Virgin, especially vocations to the religious and priestly life. May Mary inspire in each one the desire to pronounce his or her own “yes” to the Lord with joy and total dedication.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 6 February 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this Sunday’s Gospel the Lord Jesus tells his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth.... You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13, 14). With these richly evocative images he wishes to pass on to them the meaning of their mission and their witness.

Salt, in the cultures of the Middle East, calls to mind several values such as the Covenant, solidarity, life and wisdom. Light is the first work of God the Creator and is a source of life; the word of God is compared to light, as the Psalmist proclaims: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119[118]:105).

And, again in today’s Liturgy, the Prophet Isaiah says: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (58:10).

Wisdom sums up in itself the beneficial effects of salt and light: in fact, disciples of the Lord are called to give a new “taste” to the world and to keep it from corruption with the wisdom of God, which shines out in its full splendor on the Face of the Son because he is “the true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9).

United to him, in the darkness of indifference and selfishness, Christians can diffuse the light of God’s love, true wisdom that gives meaning to human life and action.

Next 11 February, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, we shall celebrate the World Day of the Sick. It is a favorable opportunity on which to reflect, to pray and to increase the sensitivity that the ecclesial communities and civil society show to our sick brothers and sisters.

In the Message for this Day, inspired by a sentence from the First Letter of Peter, “By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24), I invite everyone to contemplate Jesus, the Son of God, who suffered and died but is Risen.

God radically opposes the overbearingness of evil. The Lord takes care of human beings in every situation, he shares in their suffering and opens their hearts to hope. I therefore urge all health-care workers to recognize in the sick person not only a body marked by frailty but first and foremost a person, to whom they should give full solidarity and offer appropriated and qualified help.

In this context I also recall that today in Italy is the “Day for Life”. I hope that everyone will make an effort to increase the culture of life and to make the human being the centre in all circumstances. According to both faith and reason, the dignity of the person cannot be reduced to his or her faculties or visible capacity; thus human dignity is never lacking even when the person is weak, sick or in need of help.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary so that parents, grandparents, teachers, priests and all who are involved in education may inculcate in the young generations wisdom of heart, to enable them to attain fullness of life.



St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 5 February 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday’s Gospel presents to us Jesus who heals the sick: first Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who was in bed with a fever and Jesus, taking her by the hand, healed her and helped her to her feet; then all the sick in Capernaum, tried in body, mind and spirit, and he “healed many… and cast out many demons” (Mk 1:34). The four Evangelists agree in testifying that this liberation from illness and infirmity of every kind was — together with preaching — Jesus’ main activity in his public ministry.

Illness is in fact a sign of the action of Evil in the world and in people, whereas healing shows that the Kingdom of God, God himself, is at hand. Jesus Christ came to defeat Evil at the root and instances of healing are an anticipation of his triumph, obtained with his death and Resurrection.

Jesus said one day: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mk 2:17). On that occasion he was referring to sinners, whom he came to call and to save. It is nonetheless true that illness is a typically human condition in which we feel strongly that we are not self-sufficient but need others. In this regard we might say paradoxically that illness can be a salutary moment in which to experience the attention of others and to pay attention to others!

However illness is also always a trial that can even become long and difficult. When healing does not happen and suffering is prolonged, we can be as it were overwhelmed, isolated, and then our life is depressed and dehumanized. How should we react to this attack of Evil? With the appropriate treatment, certainly — medicine in these decades has taken giant strides and we are grateful for it — but the Word of God teaches us that there is a crucial basic attitude with which to face illness and it is that of faith in God, in his goodness. Jesus always repeats this to the people he heals: your faith has made you well (see Mk 5:34, 36).

Even in the face of death, faith can make possible what is humanly impossible. But faith in what? In the love of God. This is the real answer which radically defeats Evil. Just as Jesus confronted the Evil One with the power of the love that came to him from the Father, so we too can confront and live through the trial of illness, keeping our heart immersed in God’s love.

We all know people who were able to bear terrible suffering because God gave them profound serenity. I am thinking of the recent example of Bl. Chiara Badano, cut off in the flower of her youth by a disease from which there was no escape: all those who went to visit her received light and confidence from her! Nonetheless, in sickness we all need human warmth: to comfort a sick person what counts more than words is serene and sincere closeness.

Dear friends, next Saturday, 11 February, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, is the World Day of the Sick. Let us too do as people did in Jesus’ day: let us present to him spiritually all the sick, confident that he wants to and can heal them. And let us invoke the intercession of Our Lady, especially for the situations of greater suffering and neglect. Mary, Health of the Sick, pray for us!



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 10 February 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s liturgy, the Gospel according to Luke presents the story of the call of the first disciples, with an original version that differs from that of the other two Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Mark (see Mt 4: 18-22; Mk 1:16-20) . The call, in fact, was preceded by the teaching of Jesus to the crowd and a miraculous catch of fish, carried out by the will of the Lord (Lk 5:1-6). In fact, while the crowd rushes to the shore of Lake Gennesaret to hear Jesus, he sees Simon discouraged because he has caught nothing all night. First Jesus asks to get into Simon’s boat in order to preach to the people standing a short distance from the shore; then, having finished preaching, he commands Simon to go out into the deep with his friends and cast their nets (see v. 5). Simon obeys, and they catch an incredible amount of fish. In this way, the evangelist shows how the first disciples followed Jesus, trusting him, relying on his Word, all the while accompanied by miraculous signs. We note that, before this sign, Simon addresses Jesus, calling him “Master” (v. 5), while afterwards he addresses him as “Lord” (v. 7). This is the pedagogy of God’s call, which does not consider the quality of those who are chosen so much as their faith, like that of Simon that says: “At your word, I will let down the nets” (v. 5).

The image of the fish refers to the Church’s mission. St Augustine says in this regard, “Twice the disciples went out to fish at the Lord’s command: once before the Passion and the other time after the Resurrection. In the two scenes of fishing, the entire Church is depicted: the Church as it is now and as it will be after the resurrection of the dead. Now it gathers together a multitude, impossible to number, comprising the good and the bad; after the resurrection, it will include only the good” (Homily 248.1). The experience of Peter, certainly unique, is nonetheless representative of the call of every apostle of the Gospel, who must never be discouraged in proclaiming Christ to all men, even to the ends of the world. However, today’s text is a reflection on the vocation to the priesthood and the consecrated life. It is the work of God. The human person is not the author of his own vocation but responds to the divine call. Human weakness should not be afraid if God calls. It is necessary to have confidence in his strength, which acts in our poverty; we must rely more and more on the power of his mercy, which transforms and renews.

Dear brothers and sisters, may this Word of God revive in us and in our Christian communities courage, confidence and enthusiasm in proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel. Do not let failures and difficulties lead to discouragement: it is our task to cast our nets in faith — the Lord will do the rest. We must trust, too, in the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Apostles. Well aware of her own smallness, she answered the Lord’s call with total confidence: “Here I am”. With her maternal help, let us renew our willingness to follow Jesus, Master and Lord. 

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