Benedict XVI Homilies 60909
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We greet with affection and cordially join in the joy of our five brother priests whom the Lord has called to be successors of the Apostles: Mons. Gabriele Giordano Caccia, Mons. Franco Coppola, Mons. Pietro Parolin, Mons. Raffaello Martinelli and Mons. Giorgio Corbellini. I am grateful to each one of them for the faithful service they have rendered to the Church, working in the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or the Governorate of Vatican City State. I am certain that in their new fields of pastoral action they will carry out with the same love for Christ and the same zeal for souls the ministry that is entrusted to them today with their episcopal Ordination. In accordance with the Apostolic Tradition, this Sacrament is conferred through the imposition of hands and prayer. The laying on of hands takes place in silence. Human words are hushed. The soul opens in silence to God whose hand reaches out to the man and takes him for his own. At the same time, he invests him to protect him so that he may become entirely God's property, belonging to him fully and leading men and women into God's hands. Prayer follows, however, as a second fundamental element of the act of consecration. Episcopal Ordination is an event of prayer. No man can make another man a priest or a Bishop. It is the Lord himself, through the words of prayer and the act of the imposition of hands, who takes that man totally into his service, draws him into his own Priesthood. It is he himself who consecrates those chosen. He himself the one High Priest who offered the one sacrifice for us all confers on him participation in his own Priesthood so that his word and his work may be present in all the ages.
In her Liturgy the Church has developed an eloquent sign for this connection between prayer and Christ's action on the human being: during the prayer of Ordination the open Book of the Gospels is placed on the candidate's head. The Gospel must penetrate him, the living word of God must, so to speak, permeate him. The Gospel is, at its core, not only a word Christ himself is the Gospel. With the word, the very life of Christ must enter into that man so that he may become entirely one with him and so that Christ may live in him and give shape and content to his life. In this way what appears as the essence of the priestly ministry of Christ in the Readings of today's Liturgy must be brought about in him. The man consecrated must be filled with and live on the Spirit of God. He must bring to the poor the Good News the true freedom and hope that gives life to human beings and heal them. He must establish the Priesthood of Christ among men and women, the Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, that is, the kingdom of justice and peace. Like the 72 disciples sent out by the Lord, he must be one who brings healing, who helps to heal man's inner wound, a person's distance from God. The first and essential good which man needs is closeness to God himself. The Kingdom of God of which the Gospel passage speaks today is not something "next to" God, not some worldly condition: it is simply the presence of God himself, which is the truly healing force.
Jesus summed up all these multiple aspects of his Priesthood in a single sentence: "The Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mc 10,45).
Serving, and in so doing giving oneself; existing not for oneself but for others, on behalf of God and in view of God: this is the innermost core of Jesus Christ's mission and at the same time the true essence of his Priesthood. Thus he made the term "servant" his highest title of honour. He brought about with it an overturning of values, he gave us a new image of God and of man. Jesus does not come in the guise of a master of this world but the One who is the true Master comes as a servant. His Priesthood is not dominion but service: this is the new Priesthood of Jesus Christ, in keeping with Melchizedek.
St Paul formulates very clearly the essence of the apostolic and priestly ministry. Confronting the disputes that existed in the Church of Corinth between the different factions that adhered to different Apostles, he asks: What then is an Apostle? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants, each according to what the Lord has assigned them (cf. 1Co 3,5). "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy" (1Co 4,1-2). In Jerusalem, in the last week of his life, Jesus himself spoke in two parables of those servants to whom the Lord entrusts his goods in the time of the world. Through them he has pointed out to you three characteristics of correct service, in which the image of the priestly ministry is also actualized. Lastly, let us take a brief look at these characteristics, to contemplate, through the eyes of Jesus himself, the task that you, dear friends, are called to take on at this moment.
The first characteristic which the Lord requires of his servant is fidelity. He has been entrusted with a great good that does not belong to him. The Church is not our Church but his Church, the Church of God. The servant must account for how he has managed the good that has been entrusted to him. We do not bind people to us; we do not seek power, prestige or esteem for ourselves. We lead men and women toward Jesus Christ, hence toward the living God. In so doing, we introduce them into truth and into freedom, which derives from truth. Fidelity is altruism and, in this very way, liberating for the minister himself and for all who are entrusted to him. We know how in civil society and often also in the Church things suffer because many people on whom responsibility has been conferred work for themselves rather than for the community, for the common good. With a few strokes the Lord sketches an image of the wicked servant, who begins by grovelling and beating the workers, thereby betraying the essence of his responsibility. In Greek, the word for "fidelity" coincides with the word for "faith". The fidelity of the servant of Jesus Christ also consists precisely in the fact that he does not attempt to adapt faith to the fashions of the times. Christ alone has the words of eternal life and we must bring these words to the people. They are the most precious good that has been entrusted to us. There is nothing sterile or static about such fidelity; it is creative. The master rebuked the servant who, attempting to avoid all risk, had buried the money given to him in the ground. With this apparent fidelity, the servant had in reality set aside the good of his master to dedicate himself exclusively to his own affairs. Fidelity is not fear but rather is inspired by love and by its dynamism. The master praises the servant who has invested his goods profitably. Faith demands to be passed on: it was not given to us merely for ourselves, for the personal salvation of our own souls, but for others, for this world and for our time. We must bring faith into this world so that it may become in it a living force; in order to increase God's presence in the world.
The second characteristic that Jesus asks of the servant is prudence. Here it is necessary first to eliminate a misunderstanding. Prudence is something other than shrewdness. Prudence, according to the Greek philosophical tradition, is the first of the cardinal virtues. It indicates the primacy of the truth which, through "prudence", becomes a criterion for our action. Prudence demands humble, disciplined and watchful reason that does not let itself be blinded by prejudices; it does not judge according to desires and passions but rather seeks the truth, even though it may prove uncomfortable. Prudence means searching for the truth and acting in conformity with it. The prudent servant is first and foremost a man of truth and a man of sincere reason. God, through Jesus Christ, has opened wide for us the window of the truth which, before our own mere forces, often remains narrow and only partially transparent. In Sacred Scripture and in faith in the Church God shows us the essential truth about man, which impresses the right orientation upon our action. Thus, the first cardinal virtue of the priest as minister of Jesus Christ consists in letting himself be moulded by the truth that Christ shows us. In this way we become truly reasonable people, who judge on the basis of the whole and not on chance details. Let us not allow ourselves to be guided by what we see through the small window of our personal astuteness, but, rather, let us look at the world and at human beings through the large window that Christ has opened to us on the whole truth and thus recognize what truly counts in life.
The third characteristic of which Jesus speaks in the parables of the servant is goodness: "Good and faithful servant... enter into the joy of your master" (Mt 25,21). What is meant by the characteristic of "goodness" can become clear to us if we think of Jesus' encounter with the rich young man. This man had addressed Jesus calling him "Good Teacher" and was given the surprising answer: "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone" (Mc 10,17 f.). Only God is good in the full sense. He is the Good, the Good par excellence, Goodness personified. In a creature in man being good is therefore necessarily based on a profound interior orientation towards God. Goodness increases in inner union with the living God. Goodness presupposes in particular a living communion with God who is Good, a growing inner union with him. And in fact, from who else could one learn true goodness if not from the One who loved us to the end, to the very end (cf. Jn 13,1). We become good servants through our living relationship with Jesus Christ. Only if our life is lived in dialogue with him; only if his being, his characteristics enter into us and shape us can we become truly good servants.
In the Church's calendar the Holy Name of Mary is commemorated today. In Mary who was and is totally united with her Son, Christ those amidst the darkness and sufferings of this world have found the face of the Mother who gives us the courage to go on. In the Western tradition, the name "Mary" was translated with "Star of the Sea". The title expresses exactly this experience: how often does the story which we are living appear like a dark sea whose waves pound threateningly against the small vessel of our life. At times, the night seems impenetrable. Often we can be under the impression that evil alone has power and that God is infinitely remote.
We often glimpse only from afar the great Light, Jesus Christ who has overcome death and evil. Yet then we see very near that light which is kindled when Mary says: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord". We see the bright light of goodness that emanates from her. In the goodness with which she met and continually meets the needs of the great and small aspirations of numerous men and women, we recognize the goodness of God himself in a very human way. With his goodness he brings to the world ever anew Jesus Christ, hence the great Light of God. He gave us his Mother as our own Mother that we might learn from her to say the "yes" that makes us become good.
Dear friends, at this moment let us pray the Mother of the Lord for you, that she may always lead you towards her Son, the source of all goodness. And let us pray that you may become faithful servants, prudent and good, and thus that you may one day be able to hear the Lord of history speak these words: "Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master". Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11,28). Jesus invites each of his disciples to spend time with him, to find comfort, sustenance and renewal in him. This invitation is addressed in a special way to our liturgical assembly which, in accordance with the ecclesial ideal, brings the whole of your local Church together with the Successor of Peter. I greet each and every one of you: firstly the Bishop of Brno, to whom I am grateful for the kind words he addressed to me at the start of the Mass, and also the Cardinals and the other Bishops present. I greet the priests, deacons, seminarians, men and women religious, the catechists and pastoral workers, the young people and the many families here. I pay my respects to the civil and military authorities, particularly to the President of the Republic and the First Lady, to the Mayor of the City of Brno and the President of the Region of Southern Moravia, a land rich in history and in cultural, industrial and commercial activity. I should also like to extend warm greetings to the pilgrims from the entire region of Moravia and the nearby dioceses of Slovakia, Poland, Austria and Germany.
Dear friends, regarding the character of today’s liturgical assembly, I gladly supported the decision, mentioned by your Bishop, to base the Scripture readings for Mass on the theme of hope: I supported it in consideration of the people of this beloved land as well as Europe and the whole of humanity, thirsting as it does for something on which to base a firm future. In my second Encyclical, Spe Salvi, I emphasized that the only “certain” and “reliable” hope (cf. ) is founded on God. History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions, and how hard it is to build a society inspired by the values of goodness, justice and fraternity, because the human being is free and his freedom remains fragile. Freedom has constantly to be won over for the cause of good, and the arduous search for the “right way to order human affairs” is a task that belongs to all generations (cf. ibid., ). That, dear friends, is why our first reason for being here is to listen, to listen to a word that will show us the way that leads to hope; indeed, we are listening to the only word that can give us firm hope, because it is God’s word.
In the first reading (Is 61,1-3a), the Prophet speaks as one invested with the mission of proclaiming liberation, consolation and joy to all the afflicted and the poor. Jesus took up this text and re-applied it to himself in his preaching. Indeed, he stated explicitly that the prophet’s promise was fulfilled in him (cf. Lc 4,16-21). It was completely fulfilled when by dying on the cross and rising from the dead he freed us from our slavery to selfishness and evil, to sin and death. And this is the message of salvation, ancient and ever new, that the Church proclaims from generation to generation: Christ crucified and risen, the Hope of humanity!
This word of salvation still resounds with power today, in our liturgical assembly. Jesus addresses himself lovingly to you, sons and daughters of this blessed land, in which the seed of the Gospel has been sown for over a thousand years. Your country, like other nations, is experiencing cultural conditions that often present a radical challenge to faith and therefore also to hope. In fact, in the modern age both faith and hope have undergone a “shift”, because they have been relegated to the private and other-worldly sphere, while in day-to-day public life confidence in scientific and economic progress has been affirmed (cf. Spe Salvi, ). We all know that this progress is ambiguous: it opens up possibilities for good as well as evil. Technical developments and the improvement of social structures are important and certainly necessary, but they are not enough to guarantee the moral welfare of society (cf. ibid., ). Man needs to be liberated from material oppressions, but more profoundly, he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit. And who can save him if not God, who is Love and has revealed his face as almighty and merciful Father in Jesus Christ? Our firm hope is therefore Christ: in him, God has loved us to the utmost and has given us life in abundance (cf. Jn 10,10), the life that every person, even if unknowingly, longs to possess.
“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” These words of Jesus, written in large letters above the entrance to your Cathedral in Brno, he now addresses to each of us, and he adds: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11,29-30). Can we remain indifferent in the face of his love? Here, as elsewhere, many people suffered in past centuries for remaining faithful to the Gospel, and they did not lose hope; many people sacrificed themselves in order to restore dignity to man and freedom to peoples, finding in their generous adherence to Christ the strength to build a new humanity. In present-day society, many forms of poverty are born from isolation, from being unloved, from the rejection of God and from a deep-seated tragic closure in man who believes himself to be self-sufficient, or else merely an insignificant and transient datum; in this world of ours which is alienated “when too much trust is placed in merely human projects” (Caritas in Veritate, ), only Christ can be our certain hope. This is the message that we Christians are called to spread every day, through our witness.
Proclaim it yourselves, dear priests, as you remain intimately united to Jesus, as you exercise your ministry enthusiastically, certain that nothing can be lacking in those who put their trust in him. Bear witness to Christ, dear religious, through the joyful and consistent practice of the evangelical counsels, indicating where our true homeland lies: in Heaven. And you, dear young people, dear lay faithful, dear families, base on the firm foundation of faith in Christ whatever plans you have for your family, for work, for school, for activities in every sphere of society. Jesus never abandons his friends. He assures us of his help, because nothing can be done without him, but at the same time, he asks everyone to make a personal commitment to spread his universal message of love and peace. May you draw encouragement from the example of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the principal patrons of Moravia, who evangelized the Slavic peoples, and of Saints Peter and Paul, to whom your Cathedral is dedicated. Look to the shining testimony of Saint Zdislava, mother of a family, rich in works of religion and works of mercy; of Saint John Sarkander, priest and martyr; of Saint Clement Maria Hofbauer, priest and religious, born in this diocese and canonized one hundred years ago, and of Blessed Restituta Kafkova, a religious sister born in Brno and killed by the Nazis in Vienna. May you always be accompanied and protected by Our Lady, Mother of Christ our Hope. Amen!
My Brother Bishops and Priests,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Dear Young People,
It gives me great joy to be with you this morning, as my apostolic visit to the beloved Czech Republic draws to a close, and I offer all of you my heartfelt greeting, especially the Cardinal Archbishop, to whom I am grateful for the words that he addressed to me in your name at the start of Mass. My greeting goes also to the other Cardinals, the Bishops, the priests and consecrated persons, the representatives of lay movements and associations, and especially the young people. I respectfully greet the President of the Republic, to whom I offer cordial good wishes on the occasion of his name-day; and I gladly extend these wishes to all who bear the name of Wenceslaus and to the entire Czech people on the day of this national feast.
This morning, we are gathered around the altar for the glorious commemoration of the martyr Saint Wenceslaus, whose relics I was able to venerate before Mass in the Basilica dedicated to him. He shed his blood in your land, and his eagle, which – as the Cardinal Archbishop has just mentioned – you chose as a symbol for this visit, constitutes the historical emblem of the noble Czech nation. This great saint, whom you are pleased to call the “eternal” Prince of the Czechs, invites us always to follow Christ faithfully, he invites us to be holy. He himself is a model of holiness for all people, especially the leaders of communities and peoples. Yet we ask ourselves: in our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?
The last century – as this land of yours can bear witness – saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights. Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power. Those who denied and continue to deny God, and in consequence have no respect for man, appear to have a comfortable life and to be materially successful. Yet one need only scratch the surface to realize how sad and unfulfilled these people are. Only those who maintain in their hearts a holy “fear of God” can also put their trust in man and spend their lives building a more just and fraternal world. Today there is a need for believers with credibility, who are ready to spread in every area of society the Christian principles and ideals by which their action is inspired. This is holiness, the universal vocation of all the baptized, which motivates people to carry out their duty with fidelity and courage, looking not to their own selfish interests but to the common good, seeking God’s will at every moment.
In the Gospel we heard Jesus speaking clearly on this subject: “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Mt 16,26). In this way we are led to consider that the true value of human life is measured not merely in terms of material goods and transient interests, because it is not material goods that quench the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every person. This is why Jesus does not hesitate to propose to his disciples the “narrow” path of holiness: “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16,25). And he resolutely repeats to us this morning: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16,24). Without doubt, this is hard language, difficult to accept and put into practice, but the testimony of the saints assures us that it is possible for all who trust and entrust themselves to Christ. Their example encourages those who call themselves Christian to be credible, that is, consistent with the principles and the faith that they profess. It is not enough to appear good and honest: one must truly be so. And the good and honest person is one who does not obscure God’s light with his own ego, does not put himself forward, but allows God to shine through.
This is the lesson we can learn from Saint Wenceslaus, who had the courage to prefer the kingdom of heaven to the enticement of worldly power. His gaze never moved away from Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps, as Saint Peter writes in the second reading that we just heard. As an obedient disciple of the Lord, the young prince Wenceslaus remained faithful to the Gospel teachings he had learned from his saintly grandmother, the martyr Ludmila. In observing these, even before committing himself to build peaceful relations within his lands and with neighbouring countries, he took steps to spread the Christian faith, summoning priests and building churches. In the first Old Slavonic “narration”, we read that “he assisted God’s ministers and he also adorned many churches” and that “he was benevolent to the poor, clothed the naked, gave food to the hungry, welcomed pilgrims, just as the Gospel enjoins. He did not allow injustice to be done to widows, he loved all people, whether poor or rich”. He learned from the Lord to be “merciful and gracious” (Responsorial Psalm), and animated by the Gospel spirit he was even able to pardon his brother who tried to kill him. Rightly, then, you invoke him as the “heir” of your nation, and in a well-known song, you ask him not to let it perish.
Wenceslaus died as a martyr for Christ. It is interesting to note that, by killing him, his brother Boleslaus succeeded in taking possession of the throne of Prague, but the crown placed on the heads of his successors did not bear his name. Rather, it bears the name of Wenceslaus, as a testimony that “the throne of the king who judges the poor in truth will remain firm for ever” (cf. today’s Office of Readings). This fact is judged as a miraculous intervention by God, who does not abandon his faithful: “the conquered innocent defeated the cruel conqueror just as Christ did on the cross” (cf. The Legend of Saint Wenceslaus), and the blood of the martyr did not cry out for hatred or revenge, but rather for pardon and peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, together let us give thanks to the Lord in this Eucharist for giving this saintly ruler to your country and to the Church. Let us also pray that, like him, we too may walk along the path of holiness. It is certainly difficult, since faith is always exposed to multiple challenges, but when we allow ourselves to be drawn towards God who is Truth, the path becomes decisive, because we experience the power of his love. May the intercession of Saint Wenceslaus and of the other patron saints of the Czech Lands obtain this grace for us. May we always be protected and assisted by Mary, Queen of Peace and Mother of Love. Amen!
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" (He 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 (cf. Mc 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" (Mc 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?" (Mc 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 (Mc 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 (cf. ibid., ). 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 Mt 5,14)". 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!
Benedict XVI Homilies 60909