Benedict XVI Homilies 51008
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The passage from the Book of Sirach and the Prologue to St Peter's First Letter, proclaimed as the First and Second Readings, offer us important ideas for reflection at this Eucharistic celebration during which we are commemorating my Venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Pius XII. Exactly 50 years have passed since his death in the early hours of 9 October 1958. Sirach, as we have heard, reminded whomever intended to follow the Lord that they must prepare themselves to face trials, difficulties and suffering. He recommended that in order not to succumb to them they needed an upright and steadfast heart, patience and fidelity to God as well as firm determination in pursuing the path of good. Suffering refines the heart of the Lord's disciple, just as gold is purified in the crucible: "Accept whatever is brought upon you", the sacred author writes, "and in changes that humble you be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation" (Si 2,4-5).
In the passage that has been presented to us, St Peter, for his part, goes further when he asked Christians of the communities of Asia Minor, which were being "afflicted by various trials", to "rejoice" in spite of all (1P 1,6). Trial is in fact necessary, he observes, "so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to [your] praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1P 1,7). And then for the second time he urges them to rejoice, indeed to exult, with "unutterable and exalted joy" (1P 1,8). The profound reason for this spiritual rejoicing is to be found in love for Jesus and the certainty of his invisible presence. It is he who makes the faith and hope of believers indestructible, even in the most arduous and complicated events of life.
In the light of these biblical texts we may interpret the earthly life of Pope Pacelli and his long service to the Church, which began in 1901, under Leo XIII, and continued with St Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI. Above all, these biblical texts help us to understand from what source he drew courage and patience in his Pontifical ministry during the tormented years of the Second World War and in the post-war period, equally complex, of reconstruction and of the difficult international relations which have passed into history known by the significant appellative "Cold War".
"Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam": with this invocation of Psalm 51, Pius XII began his Testament. And he continued: "These words, which, aware of my unworthiness and insufficiency, I pronounced at the moment in which with trepidation I accepted the election as Supreme Pontiff, I now repeat with even greater justification". At the time he had two years to live. Abandonment in the merciful hands of God: this was the attitude constantly cultivated by my Venerable Predecessor, the last of the Popes to have been born in Rome, who belonged to a family which had been close to the Holy See for years. In Germany, where he had been Apostolic Nuncio, first in Munich and then in Berlin until 1929, he was appreciated especially for having collaborated with Benedict xv in the attempt to stop the "senseless slaughter" of the Great War and for having realized from the outset, the danger constituted by the monstrous National-Socialist ideology with its pernicious anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic roots. He was created a Cardinal in December 1929 and, shortly afterwards, became Secretary of State. For nine years he was a faithful collaborator of Pius XI, in an epoch marked by various brands of totalitarianism: Fascist, Nazi and Soviet-Communist, which he respectively condemned in the Encyclicals Non abbiamo bisogno, Mit brennender sorge and Divini Redemptoris.
"He who hears my word and believes... has eternal life" (Jn 5,24). Jesus' assurance, which we heard in the Gospel, reminds us of the hardest years of Pius XII's Pontificate when, realizing the lack of any human security, he also felt the strong need to cleave to Christ the one certainty that never fails through a constant, ascetic effort. The Word of God thus became a light on his journey, a journey on which Pope Pacelli had to console evacuees and the persecuted; he had to wipe away tears of pain and mourn the innumerable victims of the War. Christ alone is man's true hope; only by trusting in him can the human heart open itself to the love that conquers hate. This knowledge accompanied Pius XII in his ministry as Successor of Peter, a ministry that began precisely when the menacing clouds of a new world war were gathering over Europe and the rest of the world. He sought to avoid this conflict in every way. "The danger is imminent, but there is still time. Nothing is lost with peace; all can be lost with war!", he had cried in his Radio Message of 24 August 1939 (aas, xxxi, 1939, p. 334).
The war highlighted the love he felt for his "beloved Rome", a love attested by the intense charitable work he promoted on behalf of the persecuted, without distinction of religion, race, nationality or political affiliation. When the city was occupied and he was repeatedly advised to leave the Vatican to seek safety, his determined answer was always the same: "I will not leave Rome and my duty even if it means I should die" (cf. Summarium, p. 186). Relatives and other witnesses also mentioned the deprivation of food, heating, clothes, comforts to which he voluntarily subjected himself in order to share the condition of the people, so harshly tried by the bombing and the consequences of war (cf. A. Tornielli, Pius XII, Un uomo sul trono di Pietro). And how can we forget his Christmas Radio Message in December 1942? His voice broken by emotion, he deplored the situation of "hundreds of thousands of men and women who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline" (AAS, xxxv, 1943, p. 23), with a clear reference to the deportation and extermination of the Jews. He often acted secretly and silently because, in the light of the practical situations of that complex period of history, he foresaw that only in this way could he avoid the worst and save the greatest possible number of Jews. Numerous and unanimous attestations of gratitude for his interventions were addressed to him at the end of the war, as well as at the time of his death, from the highest authorities of the Jewish world such as, for example, Israel's Minister for Foreign Affairs Golda Meir, who wrote: "When fearful martyrdom came to our people, the voice of the Pope was raised for its victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out about great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict" and concluded with emotion: "We mourn a great Servant of peace".
Unfortunately, the debate in history on the figure of the Servant of God Pius XII which has not always been the calmest failed to highlight all the aspects of his multi-faceted Pontificate. He addressed an enormous number of Discourses, Allocutions and Messages to scientists, doctors, exponents of the most widely varied categories of work. Today, some of these are still extraordinarily relevant and continue to be a reliable reference point. Paul VI, who was his faithful collaborator for many years, described him as an erudite man, a scholar, open to modern forms of research and culture, and whose fidelity both to the principles of human rationality and to the intangible deposit of the truth of the faith was always firm and consistent. Paul VI considered him a precursor to the Second Vatican Council (cf. Angelus, 10 March 1974). From this perspective many of his documents deserve mention, but I limit myself to citing just a few. In the Encyclical Mystici Corporis, published on 29 June 1943 while the War was raging, he described the spiritual and visible relations that unite people with the Incarnate Word and suggested integrating in this perspective all the principal themes of ecclesiology, offering for the first time a dogmatic and theological synthesis that was to form the basis of Lumen gentium, the Conciliar Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
A few months later, on 20 September 1943, with the Encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu, he established the doctrinal norms for the study of Sacred Scripture, bringing to the fore its importance and role in Christian life. This is a Document that witnesses to great openness to scientific research on the biblical texts. How can we fail to mention this Encyclical while the work of the Synod is underway on precisely "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church"? It was thanks to the prophetic intuition of Pius XII that a serious study of the characteristics of ancient historiography was initiated, for a better understanding of the nature of the Sacred Books that does not diminish them or deny their historical value. The examination of "literary genres" which aimed at understanding better what the sacred author had wished to express was viewed with some suspicion until 1943, partly because of the abuses that had occurred. The Encyclical recognized its correct application, declaring legitimate its use not only for the study of the Old Testament but also of the New. "In the present day indeed this art which is called textual criticism and which is used with great and praiseworthy results in the editions of profane authors, is also quite rightly employed in the case of the Sacred Books, because of that very reverence which is due to the Word of God", the Pope explained. And he added: "for its very purpose is to ensure that the sacred text be restored, as perfectly as possible, be purified from the corruptions due to the carelessness of the copyists and be freed, as far as may be done, from glosses and omissions, from the interchange and repetition of words and from all other kinds of mistakes, which are wont to make their way gradually into writings handed down through many centuries" (Divino afflante Spiritu, n. 17; AAS xxxv, 1943, p. 336).
The third Encyclical I would like to mention is Mediator Dei, on the liturgy, published on 20 November 1947. With this Document, the Servant of God gave an impetus to the liturgical movement, insisting on the "chief element of divine worship", that "must be interior. For we must always live in Christ and give ourselves to Him completely, so that in Him, with Him and through Him the heavenly Father may be duly glorified", he wrote. "The sacred liturgy requires that these two elements be intimately linked with each other.... Otherwise religion clearly amounts to mere formalism, without meaning and without content" [n. 24]. Then we cannot omit to mention the considerable impetus that this Pontiff gave to the Church's missionary activity with the Encyclicals Evangelii praecones (1951) and Fidei donum (1957), bringing to the fore every community's duty to proclaim the Gospel to the peoples, as the Second Vatican Council was to do with courageous energy. Moreover, Pope Pacelli demonstrated his love for the missions at the very beginning of his Pontificate, when in October 1939, he chose to ordain personally 12 Bishops from mission countries, among whom were one Indian, one Chinese and one Japanese Prelate, the first African Bishop and the first Bishop of Madagascar. Finally, one of his constant pastoral concerns was the promotion of the role of lay people, so that the ecclesial community could avail itself of all available energies and resources. For this too, the Church and the world are grateful to him.
Dear brothers and sisters, while we pray that the cause of Beatification of the Servant of God Pius XII may proceed successfully, it is good to remember that holiness was his ideal, an ideal that he did not fail to propose to all. It was for this reason that he promoted the causes of Beatification and Canonization of people who belonged to different nations, people from all the states of life, roles and professions and allowed ample room for women. As a sign of steadfast hope, he held up to humanity Mary herself, the Woman of salvation, proclaiming the Dogma of the Assumption during the Holy Year of 1950. In our world, assailed as it was then by preoccupations and worries about its future, in this world where, perhaps more than in any other epoch, the distancing of many from truth and virtue lets us glimpse scenarios devoid of hope, Pius xii invites us to turn our gaze to Mary, taken up into heavenly glory. He invites us to call on her confidently, so that she may make us appreciate increasingly the value of life on earth and help us to turn our gaze to the true destination to which we are all bound: eternal life which, as Jesus assures us, those who listen to and obey his words already possess. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, four new figures of Saints are proposed for the veneration of the universal Church: Gaetano Errico, Maria Bernarda Bütler, Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception and Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán. The liturgy presents them to us with the Gospel image of the guests who take part at the banquet clad in the wedding garment. We also find the image of the banquet in the First Reading and in other passages in the Bible: it is a joyful image because the banquet accompanies a wedding feast, the Covenant of love between God and his People. The Old Testament prophets constantly led Israel to expect this Covenant. And in an epoch marked by trials of every kind, it was when the difficulties risked discouraging the chosen People that the Prophet Isaiah raised his reassuring voice: "the Lord of hosts", he says, "will make for all peoples a feast of rich and choice wine, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines (Is 25,6). God will put an end to the sorrow and shame of his People, who will be able at last to live in the happiness of communion with him. God never abandons his People: for this reason the Prophet invites us to rejoice: "Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us... let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us" (Is 25,9).
If the First Reading exalts God's fidelity to his promise, the Gospel, with the parable of the marriage feast, makes us reflect on the human response. Several of those first invited refused the invitation because they were attracted by different interests; others even disdained the king's invitation, provoking a punishment that afflicted not only them but also the entire city. However, the king was not discouraged and sent his servants out to seek other guests to fill his banquet hall. Thus the aspect of the refusal of those initially invited caused the invitation to be extended to all, with a special predilection for the poor and the disadvantaged. This is what occurred in the Paschal Mystery: the force of evil is defeated by the omnipotence of God's love. The Risen Lord can now invite everyone to the banquet of Paschal joy and he himself can provide the guests with a wedding garment, symbol of the free gift of sanctifying grace.
However, the human being must reciprocate God's generosity by freely adhering to him. It is precisely this generous path that was taken by those who we are venerating today as Saints. In Baptism they received the wedding garment of divine grace, they kept it clean and purified it and made it radiant during their life through the Sacraments. They are now taking part in the wedding feast in Heaven. The banquet of the Eucharist is an anticipation of the final feast in Heaven, to which the Lord invites us every day and in which we must take part, clothed in the wedding garment of his grace. Should it happen that we soil or even tear this garment with sin, God's goodness does not reject or abandon us to our destiny but rather offers us, with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the possibility of restoring the wedding garment to the pristine state required for the feast.
The ministry of Reconciliation therefore is a ministry that is always relevant. The priest Gaetano Errico, Founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, devoted himself to it with diligence, perseverance and patience, never refusing or sparing himself. He is thus enrolled among the extraordinary priestly figures who tirelessly made the confessional the place for dispensing God's mercy, helping people to find themselves, fight against sin and progress on the path of the spiritual life. The street and the confessional were the privileged places of this new Saint's pastoral action. The street gave him the opportunity to meet people to whom he would address his customary invitation: "God loves you, when will we see each other?". And in the confessional he enabled them to encounter the mercy of the heavenly Father. How many wounded souls did he heal in this way! How many people did he reconcile with God through the Sacrament of forgiveness! Thus St Gaetano Errico became an expert in the "science" of forgiveness and was concerned to teach it to his missionaries, advising them: "God, who does not desire the sinner's death, is always more merciful than his ministers; thus may you be as merciful as you can be, so that you will receive mercy from God".
At a very early age, Maria Bernarda Bütler, born in Auw in the Swiss canton of Aargau, experienced deep love for the Lord. As she herself said: "This is impossible to explain to someone who has not experienced the same thing". This love brought Verena Bütler, as she was then called, to enter the Capuchin Convent of Maria Hilf in Altstätten, where she made her final profession at the age of 21. When she was 40, she received the call to the missions and went to Ecuador and then to Colombia. On 29 October 1995, my venerable Predecessor John Paul II raised her to the honours of the altar, because of her life and her commitment to her neighbour.
Mother Maria Bernarda, a figure well-remembered and well-loved especially in Colombia, thoroughly understood that the banquet that the Lord has prepared for all people is represented in a very special way by the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ himself receives us as friends and gives himself to us in the banquet of Bread and the Word, entering into deep communion with each one. The Eucharist is the source and pillar of the spirituality of this new Saint and of the missionary drive that impelled her to leave Switzerland, the land of her birth, to open herself to other horizons of evangelization in Ecuador and Colombia. In the serious adversities that she was obliged to face, including exile, engraved in her heart she carried the exclamation of the Psalm we have heard today: "Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side" (Ps 23,4). Thus, docile to the Word of God after Mary's example, she behaved like the servants mentioned in the Gospel narrative that we heard: she went everywhere proclaiming that the Lord invites everyone to his banquet. Thus she brought others to share in the love of God to whom, throughout her life, she dedicated herself with faithfulness and joy.
"He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces" (Is 25,8). These words of the prophet Isaiah contain the promise which sustained Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception through a life of extreme physical and spiritual suffering. This exceptional woman, who today is offered to the people of India as their first canonized saint, was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father. By accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, and by adorning herself with the garment of God's grace through prayer and penance, she conformed her life to Christ's and now delights in the "rich fare and choice wines" of the heavenly kingdom (cf. Is 25,6). She wrote, "I consider a day without suffering as a day lost". May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one day in paradise.
Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán, a young Ecuadorian lay woman, offers us a perfect example of a prompt and generous response to the invitation that the Lord extends to us to share in his love. Already at a very early age, in receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, she felt clearly in her heart the call to live a life of holiness and devotion to God. To sustain the Holy Spirit's action in her soul with docility, she always sought the counsel and guidance of good and expert priests, considering spiritual direction as one of the most effective means to arrive at holiness. St Narcisa of Jesus shows us a path of Christian perfection obtainable for all the faithful. Despite the many and extraordinary graces that she received, she lived her life with great simplicity, dedicated to her work as a seamstress and to her apostolate as a catechist. In her passionate love for Jesus, who led her on a path of intense prayer and torment and to identify herself increasingly with the mystery of the Cross, she offers us an attractive witness and a perfect example of a life totally dedicated to God and to her brothers and sisters.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank the Lord for the gift of holiness that is today resplendent in the Church with singular beauty. Jesus invites each one of us to follow him, like these Saints, on the way of the Cross, so that we might then inherit the eternal life that he, dying, gave to us. May their examples be an encouragement to us; may their teachings guide and comfort us; may their intercession sustain us in our daily efforts so that we too may one day come to share with them and with all the saints the joy of the eternal banquet in the heavenly Jerusalem. Above all may Mary Queen of All Saints, who in this month of October we venerate with special devotion, obtain this grace for us. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Following in the footsteps of the Servant of God John Paul II, today I have come on pilgrimage to Pompeii to venerate the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary, together with you. I have come in particular to entrust to the Mother of God, in whose womb the Word was made flesh, the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which is under way at the Vatican on the theme of the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church. My Visit also coincides with World Mission Sunday; contemplating in Mary she who accepted within her the Word of God and gave him to the world, we shall pray at this Mass for all those in the Church who spend their energy in the service of proclaiming the Gospel to all the nations. Thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for your welcome! I embrace you all with fatherly affection, and I am grateful to you for the prayers you raise ceaselessly to Heaven for the Successor of Peter and for the needs of the universal Church.
I address a cordial greeting in the first place to Archbishop Carlo Liberati, Prelate of Pompeii and Pontifical Delegate for this Shrine, and I thank him for his words expressing your sentiments. I extend my greeting to the civil and military Authorities present here, and in a special way to the government Representative, the Minister for Cultural Assets and Activities and the Mayor of Pompeii, who, on my arrival, addressed words of reverent welcome to me on behalf of all the townspeople. I greet the priests of the Prelature, the men and women religious who offer their daily service at the Shrine, among whom I am pleased to mention the Dominican Sisters Daughters of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii and the Brothers of the Christian Schools. I greet the volunteers involved in various services and the zealous apostles of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii. And how can I forget at this moment the people who are suffering, the sick, the elderly alone, young people in difficulty, prisoners, and all those in burdensome conditions of poverty and social and financial hardship? I would like to assure each and every one of my spiritual closeness and convey a testimony of my affection. I entrust you all to Mary, each one of you, dear faithful and inhabitants of this region, and you too, who are united in spirit with this celebration via radio and television, I entrust you all to Mary and invite you to trust always in her maternal support.
Let us now allow her, our mother and teacher, to guide us in reflecting on the Word of God that we have just heard. The First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm express the joy of the People of Israel at the salvation given by God, salvation that is liberation from evil and the hope of a new life. The oracle of Zephaniah is addressed to Israel who is designated with such names as "daughter of Zion" and "daughter of Jerusalem", and is invited to rejoice: "Sing aloud... rejoice and exult!" (So 3,14). It is the same appeal that the Angel Gabriel addresses to Mary at Nazareth "Hail, full of grace" (Lc 1,28). "Do not fear, O Zion" (So 3,16), the Prophet says; "Do not be afraid, Mary" (Lc 1,30), the Angel says. And the reason for trust is the same: "The Lord your God is in your midst; a warrior who gives victory" (So 3,17), the Prophet says; "The Lord is with you" (Lc 1,28), the Angel assures the Virgin. The Canticle of Isaiah also ends: "Shout and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel" (Is 12,6). The Lord's presence is a source of joy, for wherever he is, evil is overcome and life and peace triumph. I would like in particular to emphasize Zephaniah's wonderful expression, which in addressing Jerusalem says: the Lord "will renew you in his love" (So 3,17). Yes, God's love has this power: to renew all things, starting from the human heart which is his masterpiece and in which the Holy Spirit best brings about his transforming action. With his grace, God renews man's heart, forgiving him his sins, reconciling him and instilling in him an impetus for good. All of this is expressed in the lives of the Saints and we see it here in particular in the apostolic work of Bl. Bartolo Longo, Founder of the new Pompeii. And so, in this hour, we open our hearts to this love, renewer of man and of all things.
From its beginnings, the Christian community has seen the personification of Israel and Jerusalem in a female figure as an important and prophetic approach to the Virgin Mary, who is recognized precisely as a "daughter of Zion" and the archetype of the people who "found grace" in the eyes of the Lord. This is an interpretation we find again in the Gospel account of the wedding feast at Cana (Jn 2,1-11). The Evangelist John sheds symbolic light on the fact that Jesus is the Bridegroom of Israel, the new Israel that all of us are in faith, the spouse who has come to bring the grace of the new Covenant, represented by the "good wine". At the same time the Gospel emphasizes Mary's role, who at the beginning is called "the Mother of Jesus" but the Son himself later addresses her as "woman" and this has a very profound meaning: indeed, it implies that Jesus, to our wonder, before kinship places the spiritual bond according to which Mary herself impersonates the beloved Bride of the Lord, that is, the People he has chosen to shower his blessings upon the whole human family. The symbol of the wine, together with that of the banquet, reproposes the theme of joy and of the feast. In addition, the wine, like the other biblical images of the vineyard and the vine, alludes metaphorically to love: God is the owner of the vineyard, Israel is the vineyard, a vineyard that will find its perfect fulfilment in Christ, of whom we are the branches; and the wine is the fruit, that is, love, because it is exactly love that God expects of his children. And we pray to the Lord, who has given Bartolo Longo the grace to bring love in this land, so that also our life and our heart bears this fruit of love and thus renews the earth.
The Apostle Paul also urges us to love in the Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans. We find outlined in this passage the itinerary of life of a Christian community, whose members are renewed by love and strive to renew themselves ceaselessly, to discern God's will always and not to relapse into conformity with a worldly mindset (cf. Rm 12,1-2). The new Pompeii, even with the limitations proper to any human reality, is an example of this new civilization, which emerged and developed under Mary's motherly gaze. And the characteristic of Christian civilization, as my venerable Predecessors so often affirmed, is love: God's love that is expressed in love of neighbour. I also wished to dedicate my first Encyclical, Deus caritas est, to this fundamental reality of the Church. Now when St Paul writes to the Christians of Rome: "Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord (Rm 12,11), we are reminded of Bartolo Longo and the many charitable initiatives he implemented for his neediest brethren. Impelled by love, he was able to plan a new city which then sprung up around the Marian Shrine, as if to be the radiation of the light of her faith and hope. It became a citadel of Mary and of charity, but not one that was isolated from the world not, as people say "a cathedral in the desert" but rather integrated into the territory of this valley to redeem and advance it. The Church's history, thanks be to God, is rich in experiences of this kind and also today a great number can be counted in every part of the world. These are experiences of fraternity, that show the face of a different society, placed as leaven within the civil context. The power of love, in fact, is irresistible: it is love that truly drives the world onwards!
Who could have thought that a Marian Shrine of world-wide importance would have come into being here, beside the ruins of ancient Pompeii; as well as so many social practices aimed to express the Gospel in concrete service to those most in difficulty? Wherever God arrives, the desert blooms! Bl. Bartolo Longo, with his personal conversion, also bore witness to this spiritual power that transforms the human being from within and makes him capable of doing great things in accordance with God's plan. Remembering the early times after his arrival in Pompeii, Bartolo Longo thanked the Lord with these words: "The first fruit of your grace inspired within me an irrepressible, insatiable desire for you, truth, light, food, the peace of man, your creature" (Bartolo Longo, Storia del Santuario di Pompei, 1990, p. 58). The episode of Bartolo Longo's spiritual crisis and conversion appears very relevant today. In fact, in the period of his university studies in Naples, influenced by immanentist and positivist philosophers, he had drifted from the Christian faith. He had become a militant anti-clerical, and even indulged in spiritualistic and superstitious practices. His conversion, with the discovery of God's true Face, contains a very eloquent message for us since, unfortunately, such tendencies are not lacking in our day. In this Pauline Year, I am pleased to emphasize that like St Paul, Bartolo Longo was transformed from persecutor to apostle: an apostle of Christian faith, of Marian devotion and, in particular, of the Rosary, in which he found a synthesis of the whole Gospel.
This city, which Longo refounded, is thus a historical demonstration of how God transforms the world: filling the human heart with love and making it a "vehicle" of religious and social renewal.
Pompeii is an example of how faith can work in the human city, inspiring apostles of charity who place themselves at the service of the lowly and the poor and act to ensure that the dignity of the least is respected and that they find acceptance and advancement. Here in Pompeii one realizes that love for God and love for neighbour are inseparable. Here the genuine Christian people, the people who face life with sacrifices, find the strength to persevere in good without stooping to compromises. Here, at Mary's feet, families rediscover or reinforce the joy of love that keeps them together. Appropriately, therefore, in preparation for my Visit today, a special "pilgrimage of families for the family" took place exactly a month ago to entrust this fundamental nucleus of society to Our Lady. May the Blessed Virgin watch over every family and over the entire Italian people!
May this Shrine and this city continue above all to be ever linked in a unique Marian gift: the prayer of the Rosary. When we see, in the famous painting of Our Lady of Pompeii, the Virgin Mother and the Child Jesus giving the Rosary beads to St Catherine of Siena and St Dominic respectively, we immediately understand that this prayer leads us through Mary to Jesus, as Pope John Paul II taught us in his Letter Rosarium virginis Mariae, in which he explicitly mentions Bl. Bartolo Longo and the charism of Pompeii. The Rosary is a spiritual "weapon" in the battle against evil, against all violence, for peace in hearts, in families, in society and in the world.
Dear brothers and sisters, in this Eucharist, the inexhaustible source of life and hope, of personal and social renewal, let us thank God because in Bartolo Longo he has given us a luminous witness of this Gospel truth. And let us once again turn our hearts to Mary with the words of the Supplication that in a little while we shall be reciting together: "As our Mother, thou art our Advocate and our Hope. To thee, amidst sighs, do we lift up our hands, crying for mercy!" Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 51008