Benedict XVI Homilies 17058
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the end of a full day spent in your City, we are gathered around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. From this central square, Piazza della Vittoria, which welcomes us for the communal service of praise and thanksgiving to God with which my Pastoral Visit concludes, I extend my most cordial greeting to the entire Civil and Ecclesial Community of Genoa. I first greet with affection the Archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, whom I thank for the courtesy with which he welcomed me and for his touching words at the beginning of Holy Mass. Then how can I omit greeting Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State, former Pastor of this ancient and noble Church? My most cordial thanks to him for his spiritual closeness and his precious collaboration. I next greet Auxiliary Bishop Luigi Ernesto Palletti, the Bishops of Liguria and the other Prelates. I address my respectful thoughts to the Civil Authorities to whom I am grateful for their welcome and the effective support they have lent to the preparations for and execution of this Apostolic Pilgrimage. In particular, I greet Minister Claudio Scaiola, representing the new Government, who in these very days has assumed his full functions at the service of the beloved Italian Nation. I then address with deep gratitude the priests, men and women religious, the deacons, committed lay people, the seminarians and young people. My affectionate greeting to you all, dear brothers and sisters. I extend my thoughts to those who were unable to be present and especially to the sick, to the people who are alone and to all who are in difficulty. I entrust the City of Genoa and all its inhabitants to the Lord at this solemn Eucharistic concelebration which, as on every Sunday, invites us to take part as a community in the double table of the Word of Truth and the Bread of Eternal Life.
In the First Reading (Ex 34,4-6 Ex 34,8-9) we heard a biblical text that presents to us the revelation of God's Name. It is God himself, Eternal and Invisible, who proclaims it, passing before Moses in the cloud on Mount Sinai. And his Name is: "The Lord, a God merciful, and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness". In the New Testament St John sums up this sentence in a single word: "Love" (cf. 1Jn 4,8 1Jn 4,16). Today's Gospel also testifies to this: "God so loved the world that he gave his Only Son" (Jn 3,16). Consequently this Name clearly expresses that the God of the Bible is not some kind of monad closed in on itself and satisfied with his own self-sufficiency but he is life that wants to communicate itself, openness, relationship. Words like "merciful", "compassionate", "rich in grace" all speak to us of a relationship, in particular, of a vital Being who offers himself, who wants to fill every gap, every shortage, who wants to give and to forgive, who desires to establish a solid and lasting bond. Sacred Scripture knows no other God than the God of the Covenant who created the world in order to pour out his love upon all creatures (cf. Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer IV) and chose a people with which to make a nuptial pact, to make it become a blessing for all the nations and so to form a great family of the whole of humanity (cf. Gn 12,1-3 Ex 19,3-6). This revelation of God is fully delineated in the New Testament though the word of Christ. Jesus showed us the Face of God, one in Essence and Triune in Persons: God is Love, Father Love - Son Love - Holy Spirit Love. And it is precisely in this God's Name that the Apostle Paul greets the Community of Corinth: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God [the Father] and the fellowship of the Holy Sprit be with you all" (2Co 13,14).
There is contained, therefore, in these Readings, a principal that regards God and in effect today's Feast invites us to contemplate him, the Lord. It invites us in a certain sense to scale "the mountain" as Moses did. This seems at first sight to take us far from the world and its problems but in fact one discovers that it is precisely by coming to know God more intimately that one receives fundamental instructions for this our life: something like what happened to Moses who, climbing Sinai and remaining in God's presence, received the law engraved on stone tablets from which the people drew the guidance to continue, to find freedom and to form themselves as a people in liberty and justice. Our history depends on God's Name and our journey on the light of his Face. From this reality of God which he himself made known to us by revealing his "Name" to us comes a certain image of man, that is, the exact concept of the person. If God is a dialogical unity, a being in relation, the human creature made in his image and likeness reflects this constitution: thus he is called to fulfil himself in dialogue, in conversation, in encounter.
In particular, Jesus has revealed to us that man is essentially a "son", a creature who lives in the relationship with God the Father, and in this way in relationship with all his brothers and sisters. Man is not fulfilled in an absolute autonomy, deceiving himself that he is God but, on the contrary, by recognizing himself as a child, an open creature, reaching out to God and to his brethren in whose faces he discovers the image of their common Father. One can easily see that this concept of God and man is at the base of a corresponding model of the human community, and therefore of society. It is a model that comes before any normative, juridical or institutional regulations but I would say even before cultural specifications. It is a model of the human family transversal to all civilizations, which we Christians express confirming that human beings are all children of God and therefore all brothers and sisters. This is a truth that has been behind us from the outset and at the same time is always before us, like a project to strive for in every social construction.
The Magisterium of the Church which has developed from this vision of God and of man is a very rich one. It suffices to run through the most important chapters of the Social Doctrine of the Church, to which my venerable Predecessors have made substantial contributions, especially in the past 120 years, making themselves authoritative interpreters and guides of the social movement of Christian inspiration. Here I would like to mention only a recent Pastoral Note of the Italian Episcopate: "Rigenerati per una speranza viva': Testimoni del grande 'si' di Dio all'uomo" [Regenerated by a living hope: witnesses of God's great "yes" to man] (29 June 2007). This Note proposes two priorities. First of all, the choice of the "primacy of God": all the Church's life and work depend on putting God in first place, not a generic God but rather the Lord with his Name and his Face, the God of the Covenant who brought the people out of slavery in Egypt, who raised Christ from the dead and who wants to lead humanity to freedom in peace and justice. The other choice is to put the person and the unity of his life at the centre, in the various contexts in which he is deployed: emotional life, work and celebration, in his own fragility, tradition and citizenship. The Triune God and the person in relationship: these are the two references that the Church has the duty to offer to every human generation as a service to build a free and supportive society. The Church certainly does so with her doctrine, but above all through her witness which, with reason, is the third fundamental choice of the Italian Episcopate: personal and community witness in which the spiritual life, pastoral mission and the cultural dimension converge.
In a society fraught between globalization and individualism, the Church is called to offer a witness of koinonža, of communion. This reality does not come "from below" but is a mystery which, so to speak, "has its roots in Heaven", in the Triune God himself. It is he, in himself, who is the eternal dialogue of love which was communicated to us in Jesus Christ and woven into the fabric of humanity and history to lead it to fullness. And here then is the great synthesis of the Second Vatican Council: the Church, mystery of communion, "in Christ is in the nature of sacrament - a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium LG 1). Here too, in this great City, as well as in its territory with the variety of the respective human and social problems, the Ecclesial Community, today as yesterday, is first of all the sign, poor but true, of God Love whose Name is impressed in the depths of the being of every person and in every experience of authentic sociability and solidarity.
After these reflections, dear brothers and sisters, I leave you some special exhortations. Take care of spiritual and catechetical formation, a "substantial" formation that is more necessary than ever to live the Christian vocation well in today's world. I say to adults and young people: foster a thought-out faith that can engage in profound dialogue with all, with our non-Catholic brethren, with non-Christians and with non-believers. Continue your generous sharing with the poor and the weak, in accordance with the Church's original praxis, always drawing inspiration and strength from the Eucharist, the perennial source of charity. With special affection I encourage seminarians and young people involved in a vocational journey: do not be afraid; indeed, may you feel the attraction of definitive choices, of a serious and demanding formative process. The high standard of discipleship alone fascinates and gives joy. I urge all to grow in the missionary dimension which is co-essential to communion. Indeed, the Trinity is at the same time unity and mission: the more intense love is, the stronger is the urge to pour it out, to spread it, to communicate it. Church of Genoa, be united and missionary to proclaim to all the joy of faith and the beauty of being God's Family. My thought extends to the entire City, to all the Genoese and to all who live and work in this territory. Dear friends, look to the future with confidence and seek to build it together, avoiding factiousness and particularism, putting the common good before your own specific legitimate interests.
I would like to conclude with a wish that I have taken from the stupendous prayer of Moses which we heard in the First Reading: let the Lord always walk in the midst of you and make you his heritage (cf. Ex 34,9). May the intercession of Mary Most Holy, whom the Genoese, at home and throughout the world, invoke as the Madonna della Guardia obtain this for you. With her help and that of the Holy Patrons of your beloved City and Region, may your faith and works always be in praise and glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Following the example of the Saints of this earth, be a missionary community: listening to God and at the service of men and women! Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After the strong season of the liturgical year which, focusing on Easter spreads over three months - first the 40 days of Lent, then the 50 days of Eastertide -, the liturgy has us celebrate three Feasts which instead have a "synthetic" character: the Most Holy Trinity, then Corpus Christi, and lastly, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What is the precise significance of today's Solemnity, of the Body and Blood of Christ? The answer is given to us in the fundamental actions of this celebration we are carrying out: first of all we gather around the altar of the Lord, to be together in his presence; secondly, there will be the procession, that is walking with the Lord; and lastly, kneeling before the Lord, adoration, which already begins in the Mass and accompanies the entire procession but culminates in the final moment of the Eucharistic Blessing when we all prostrate ourselves before the One who stooped down to us and gave his life for us. Let us reflect briefly on these three attitudes, so that they may truly be an expression of our faith and our life.
The first action, therefore, is to gather together in the Lord's presence. This is what in former times was called "statio". Let us imagine for a moment that in the whole of Rome there were only this one altar and that all the city's Christians were invited to gather here to celebrate the Saviour who died and was raised. This gives us an idea of what the Eucharistic celebration must have been like at the origins, in Rome and in many other cities that the Gospel message had reached. In every particular Church there was only one Bishop and around him, around the Eucharist that he celebrated, a community was formed, one, because one was the blessed Cup and one was the Bread broken, as we heard in the Apostle Paul's words in the Second Reading (cf. 1Co 10,16-17). That other famous Pauline expression comes to mind: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Ga 3,28). "You are all one"! In these words the truth and power of the Christian revolution is heard, the most profound revolution of human history, which was experienced precisely around the Eucharist: here people of different age groups, sex, social background, and political ideas gather together in the Lord's presence. The Eucharist can never be a private event, reserved for people chosen through affinity or friendship. The Eucharist is a public devotion that has nothing esoteric or exclusive about it. Here too, this evening, we did not choose to meet one another, we came and find ourselves next to one another, brought together by faith and called to become one body, sharing the one Bread which is Christ. We are united over and above our differences of nationality, profession, social class, political ideas: we open ourselves to one another to become one in him. This has been a characteristic of Christianity from the outset, visibly fulfilled around the Eucharist, and it is always necessary to be alert to ensure that the recurring temptations of particularism, even if with good intentions, do not go in the opposite direction. Therefore Corpus Christi reminds us first of all of this: that being Christian means coming together from all parts of the world to be in the presence of the one Lord and to become one with him and in him.
The second constitutive aspect is walking with the Lord. This is the reality manifested by the procession that we shall experience together after Holy Mass, almost as if it were naturally prolonged by moving behind the One who is the Way, the Journey. With the gift of himself in the Eucharist the Lord Jesus sets us free from our "paralyses", he helps us up and enables us to "proceed ", that is, he makes us take a step ahead and then another step, and thus sets us going with the power of the Bread of Life. As happened to the Prophet Elijah who had sought refuge in the wilderness for fear of his enemies and had made up his mind to let himself die (cf. 1R 19,1-4). But God awoke him from sleep and caused him to find beside him a freshly baked loaf: "Arise and eat", the angel said, "else the journey will be too great for you" (1R 19,5 1R 19,7). The Corpus Christi procession teaches us that the Eucharist seeks to free us from every kind of despondency and discouragement, wants to raise us, so that we can set out on the journey with the strength God gives us through Jesus Christ. It is the experience of the People of Israel in the exodus from Egypt, their long wandering through the desert, as the First Reading relates. It is an experience which was constitutive for Israel but is exemplary for all humanity. Indeed the saying: "Man does not live by bread alone, but... by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" (Dt 8,3), is a universal affirmation which refers to every man or woman as a person. Each one can find his own way if he encounters the One who is the Word and the Bread of Life and lets himself be guided by his friendly presence. Without the God-with-us, the God who is close, how can we stand up to the pilgrimage through life, either on our own or as society and the family of peoples? The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the God who does not leave us alone on the journey but stays at our side and shows us the way. Indeed, it is not enough to move onwards, one must also see where one is going! "Progress" does not suffice, if there are no criteria as reference points. On the contrary, if one loses the way one risks coming to a precipice, or at any rate more rapidly distancing oneself from the goal. God created us free but he did not leave us alone: he made himself the "way" and came to walk together with us so that in our freedom we should also have the criterion we need to discern the right way and to take it.
At this point we cannot forget the beginning of the "Decalogue", the Ten Commandments, where it is written: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex 20,2-3). Here we find the meaning of the third constitutive element of Corpus Christi: kneeling in adoration before the Lord. Adoring the God of Jesus Christ, who out of love made himself bread broken, is the most effective and radical remedy against the idolatry of the past and of the present. Kneeling before the Eucharist is a profession of freedom: those who bow to Jesus cannot and must not prostrate themselves before any earthly authority, however powerful. We Christians kneel only before God or before the Most Blessed Sacrament because we know and believe that the one true God is present in it, the God who created the world and so loved it that he gave his Only Begotten Son (cf. Jn 3,16). We prostrate ourselves before a God who first bent over man like the Good Samaritan to assist him and restore his life, and who knelt before us to wash our dirty feet. Adoring the Body of Christ, means believing that there, in that piece of Bread, Christ is really there, and gives true sense to life, to the immense universe as to the smallest creature, to the whole of human history as to the most brief existence. Adoration is prayer that prolongs the celebration and Eucharistic communion and in which the soul continues to be nourished: it is nourished with love, truth, peace; it is nourished with hope, because the One before whom we prostrate ourselves does not judge us, does not crush us but liberates and transforms us.
This is why gathering, walking and adoring together fills us with joy. In making our own the adoring attitude of Mary, whom we especially remember in this month of May, let us pray for ourselves and for everyone; let us pray for every person who lives in this city, that he or she may know you, O Father and the One whom you sent, Jesus Christ and thus have life in abundance. Amen.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"Prophesy, and say to them, "Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves'" (Ez 37,12). These words from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel ring out full of hope. The liturgy has presented them anew for our meditation while we gather around the altar of the Lord to offer the Eucharist in suffrage for dear Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who reached the end of his earthly pilgrimage on Tuesday, 13 May. The Lord proclaimed the restoration of Israel to his oppressed and discouraged People, exhausted by the suffering of exile. The grandiose scene evoked by the Prophet foretells the saving intervention of God in human history, an intervention that goes beyond what is humanly possible. When we feel weary, powerless and disheartened before the impending reality, when we are tempted to yield to disappointment and even desperation, when man is reduced to a heap of "dry bones" then is the moment of hope "against hope" (cf. Rm 4,18). The Word of God strongly recalls the truth that nothing and no one, not even death, can resist the omnipotence of his faithful and merciful love. This is our faith, founded on the Resurrection of Christ; this is the comforting assurance that the Lord repeats to us even today: "And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves.... And I will put my spirit within you and you shall live" (Ez 37,13-14).
It is in this perspective of faith and hope in the Resurrection that we commemorate venerable Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, a faithful and devout servant of the Church for many years. It is difficult to summarize concisely the offices, tasks and pastoral responsibilities that in rapid succession marked the stages of his earthly life which ended at the age of 86, in Georges Pompidou Hospital, Paris. Until the very end he desired to dedicate himself with loving willingness to the service of God and his brethren, abiding by the motto he had chosen on the occasion of his Episcopal Ordination: "In tuo sancto servitio" . His human and priestly personality was a marvellous synthesis of the characteristics of the African soul with those proper to the Christian spirit, of the African culture and identity and the Gospel values. He was the first African ecclesiastic to have eminently responsible roles in the Roman Curia and he always carried them out with his typical simple and humble style, whose secret is probably to be found in the wise words his mother chose to address to him when he became a Cardinal on 27 June 1977: "Never forget the little faraway village from which we come".
Many personal memories bind me to this Brother of ours, starting precisely from the moment when we received the Cardinal's hat from the hands of the Venerable Servant of God Paul VI, 31 years ago now. We worked together here in the Roman Curia and frequently came into contact, which enabled me to appreciate increasingly his prudent wisdom, as well as his solid faith and sincere attachment to Christ and to the Pope, his Vicar on earth. Fifty-seven years as a priest, 51 as a Bishop and 31 as a Cardinal: this sums up a life spent for the Church.
He was only 34 years old when he was ordained a Bishop in the Chapel of the College of Propaganda Fide. Three years later he became Archbishop of Cotonou, the Capital of his Country, Benin. He was the first African Metropolitan in the whole of Africa. He governed the Diocese with human and ascetic gifts which made him an authoritative Pastor, dedicated above all to the care of priests and the formation of catechists until, in 1971, Paul VI wanted Archbishop Gantin in Rome as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Two years later, the Pope appointed him Secretary of the same Dicastery and, at the end of 1975, chose him to be Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace; he subsequently became its President and in 1976 also took on the office of President of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum". On 8 April 1984, the Servant of God John Paul II appointed him Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, which office he held until 25 June 10 years ago, when he retired for reasons of age.
Even a rapid glance at the biography of Cardinal Gantin who, in addition to the offices already mentioned, also made a contribution to various other Offices and Dicasteries of the Curia, reminds us of St Paul's assertion that we heard in the Second Reading: "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Ph 1,21). The Apostle interprets his life in the light of Christ's message, for Christ has made him totally "his own" (cf. Ph 3,12). We can say that this friend and brother, to whom today we are paying our grateful homage, was also imbued with love for Christ; love that made him loving and ready to listen to and engage in dialogue with all, love that impelled him always to look, as he was in the habit of repeating, at the essential of the life that endures, without losing himself in the incidental which instead is fleeting; a love that made him perceive his role in the various Curial Offices as a service free from human ambition. It was this spirit which on 30 November 2002, when he reached the venerable age of 80, prompted him to submit his resignation as Dean of the College of Cardinals in order to return to his people in Benin where he resumed the evangelizing activity he had begun on the day of his priestly ordination in Ouidah, on that long ago, 14 January 1951.
Dear brothers and sisters, yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The Eucharistic theme returns in the Gospel passage proclaimed at this liturgical assembly. St John recalls that it is only in eating "the flesh" and drinking "the blood" of Christ that we can dwell in him and he in us. A constant love for the Eucharist, a source of personal holiness and sound ecclesial communion which finds its visible foundation in the Successor of Peter, came to the fore in Cardinal Gantin. And it was in this very same Basilica that in celebrating his last Holy Mass before leaving Rome he stressed the unity that the Eucharist creates in the Church. In his homily he cited the famous sentence of St Cyprian of Carthage, the African Bishop, which is engraved in the dome of St Peter's: "From here a single faith shines throughout the world; from here is born the unity of the priesthood". This could be the message we inherit from venerable Cardinal Gantin as his spiritual testament. May our prayers to the Virgin Mary, Queen of Africa, for whom he had a tender devotion, accompany him in the last stage of his earthly journey - he died on an important Marian day, 13 May, the Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. May Our Lady deliver him into the merciful hands of the Heavenly Father and introduce him joyfully into the "House of the Lord", for which all of us are bound. In the encounter with Christ, may this Brother of ours implore the gift of peace for us and especially for his beloved Africa. So may it be!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My Visit in Apulia, the second after the Eucharistic Congress in Bari, begins as a Marian pilgrimage, on this extreme tip of Italy and Europe, at the Shrine of St Mary de finibus terrae. With great joy I address my affectionate greeting to you all. I warmly greet Bishop Vito De Grisantis for having invited me and for his cordial welcome; together with him I greet the other Bishops of the Region, in particular Archbishop Cosmo Francesco Ruppi of Lecce, as well as all the priests and deacons, consecrated persons and all the faithful. With gratitude I greet Minister Raffaele Fitto, who is representing the Italian Government, and the various civil and military Authorities present.
In this place, so important historically for devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I wanted the liturgy to be dedicated to her, Star of the Sea and Star of Hope. "Ave, maris stella, / Dei Mater alma, / atque semper virgo, / felix caeli porta!". The words of this ancient hymn are a greeting which in some way echoes that of the Angel at Nazareth. All Marian titles, in fact, have as it were budded and blossomed from that first name with which the heavenly messenger addressed the Virgin: "Hail, full of grace" (Lc 1,28). We heard it in St Luke's Gospel, most appropriately because this Shrine - as the memorial tablet above the central door of the atrium attests - is called after the Most Holy Virgin of the "Annunciation". When God called Mary "full of grace" the hope of salvation for the human race was enkindled: a daughter of our people found grace in the Lord's eyes, he chose her as Mother of the Redeemer. In the simplicity of Mary's home, in a poor village of Galilee, the solemn prophecy of salvation began to be fulfilled: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Gn 3,15). Therefore the Christian people have made their own the canticle of praise that the Jews raised to Judith and that just a little while ago we prayed as a Responsorial Psalm: "O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth" (Jdt 13,18). Without violence but with the meek courage of her "yes", the Virgin freed us, not from an earthly enemy but from the ancient adversary, by giving a human body to the One who was to crush his head once and for all.
This is why Mary shines on the sea of life and history as a Star of Hope. She does not shine with her own light, but reflects the light of Christ, the Sun who appeared on humanity's horizon so that in following the Star of Mary we can steer ourselves on the journey and keep on the route towards Christ, especially in dark and stormy moments. The Apostle Peter was well acquainted with this experience because he had lived it in the first person. One night, while he was crossing the Sea of Galilee with the other disciples, he was caught in a storm. Their boat, at the mercy of the waves, was unable to sail on. Walking on the waters, Jesus came to them at that very moment and asked Peter to get out of the boat and walk towards him. Peter took a few steps on the waves but then felt himself sinking and cried out: "Lord, save me!". Jesus grasped him by the hand and he brought him to safety (cf. Mt 14,24-33). This episode later proved to be a sign of the trial that Peter would have to pass through at the time of Jesus' Passion. When the Lord was arrested, he was afraid and denied him three times: he was overcome by the storm. But when his eyes met Christ's gaze, God's mercy renewed him and, causing him to dissolve in tears, raised him from his fall.
I have wished to recall the story of St Peter because I know that this place and your whole Church have a special link with the Prince of the Apostles. Tradition credits him with the first proclamation of the Gospel in this land, as your Bishop recalled at the outset. The Fisherman "caught" by Jesus cast his nets as far as here and today we give thanks for having been the object of this "miraculous catch" that has lasted 2,000 years, a catch that, exactly as St Peter wrote: "called [us] out of darkness into the marvellous light [of God]" (cf. 1P 2,9). In order to become fishers of men with Christ one first needs to be "caught" by him. St Peter is a witness of this reality, as also is St Paul, the great convert, the 2,000th anniversary of whose birth we shall be celebrating in a few days. As Successor of Peter and Bishop of the Church founded on the blood of these two outstanding Apostles, I have come to confirm you in the faith of Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of man and of the world.
Peter's faith and Mary's faith are combined at this Shrine. Here one can draw from the double principle of the Christian experience: Marian and Petrine. Both, together, help us, dear brothers and sisters, to "start afresh from Christ", to renew your faith so that it may respond to the demands of our time. Mary teaches you to continue ceaselessly to listen to the Lord in the silence of prayer, to welcome his word with generous openness and the deep desire to offer yourselves, your actual lives, to God so that by the power of the Holy Spirit his eternal Word may "become flesh" once again today, in our history. Mary will help you to follow Jesus faithfully and to unite yourselves to him in the Sacrificial offering, to carry in your hearts the joy of the Resurrection and to live in constant docility to the Spirit of Pentecost. In a complimentary manner St Peter too will teach you to feel and believe with the Church, steadfast in the Catholic faith. He will bring you to have the taste and passion for unity, communion and joy in walking together with your Pastors. And, at the same time, you will participate in the missionary concern to share the Gospel with everyone, to take it to the ends of the earth.
"De finibus terrae": the name of this holy place is very beautiful and evocative because it re-echoes one of Jesus' last words to his disciples. Jutting out between Europe and the Mediterranean, between the West and the East, it reminds us that the Church has no boundaries, she is universal. And geographical, cultural, ethnic, and even religious frontiers are an invitation to the Church to evangelize with a view to "communion in diversity". The Church was born at Pentecost, she was born universal and her vocation is to speak all the world's languages. The Church exists, according to her original vocation and mission that were revealed to Abraham, to be a blessing to benefit all the peoples of the earth (cf. Gn 12,1-3); to be, in the language of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, a sign and instrument of unity for the entire human race (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 1). The Church in Apulia possesses a marked vocation to be a bridge between peoples and cultures. This land and this Shrine are effectively an "outpost" in this sense and I was very pleased to note, both in your Bishop's letter and also in his words today, how this sensitivity is alive among you and perceived positively, with a genuine Gospel spirit.
Dear friends, we know well, because the Lord Jesus was very clear about this, that the effectiveness of witness is proportional to the intensity of love. It is pointless reaching out to the ends of the earth if we do not love one another first and help one another within the Christian community. The exhortation of the Apostle Paul, which we listened to in the Second Reading (Col 3,12-17), is therefore not only fundamental for the life of your ecclesial family but also for your commitment to animate the social milieu. In fact, in a context that is tending increasingly to encourage individualism, the first service of the Church is that of educating in the social sense, in attention for one's neighbour and in solidarity and sharing. The Church, endowed by her Lord as she is with continuously renewed spiritual energy, can also exercise a positive influence at the social level because she fosters a renewed humanity and open and constructive human relationships, in respect and at the service, in the first place, of the least and of the weakest.
Here in the Salento, as in all of Southern Italy, ecclesial communities are places where the young generations can learn hope, not as a utopia but rather as a tenacious confidence in the power of goodness. Goodness wins through and although at times it can seem to have been defeated by oppression and cunning, in reality it continues to work in silence and discretion, bearing fruit in the long term. This is Christian social renewal, based on the transformation of consciences, on moral formation and on prayer; yes, because prayer gives the strength to believe and to fight for goodness even when humanly it would tempt one to be discouraged and to withdraw. The initiatives your Bishop mentioned at the start, those of the Marcelline Sisters and of the Trinitarian Fathers, as well as others that are being implemented in your territory, are eloquent signs of this typically ecclesial style of human and social promotion. At the same time, making the most of the opportunity of the Civil Authorities' presence, I am pleased to recall that the Christian community cannot and does not wish to encroach upon the legitimate and rightful domains of the Institutions; rather, it urges and supports them in their tasks and always offers to collaborate with them for the good of all, starting with the most unfavourable and difficult situations.
Lastly, my thoughts return to the Most Holy Virgin. From this Shrine of St Mary de finibus terrae I would like to go on a spiritual pilgrimage to the various Marian Shrines in the Salento, true gems set in this peninsula, set like a bridge over the sea. The Marian piety of the populations was formed under the wonderful influence of the Basilian devotion to the Theotokos, a devotion cultivated later by the sons of St Benedict, St Dominic and St Francis, and expressed in the most beautiful churches and simple holy chapels that are cared for and preserved as signs of the rich religious and civil heritage of your people. Let us therefore turn once again to you, Virgin Mary, who stood unwavering at the foot of your Son's Cross. You are a model of faith and hope in the power of truth and goodness. With the words of the ancient hymn we invoke you: "Break the fetters of the oppressed, / give light to the blind, / cast all evil from us, / beseech our every good". And, extending our gaze to the horizon where heaven and sea meet, we want to entrust to you the peoples who look out on the Mediterranean and those of the whole world, invoking development and peace for all: "Grant us peace in our day, / watch over our way, / grant that we may see your Son, / in the fullness of joy in heaven". Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 17058