January 2004

Wednesday, 7 January 2004 - Reflection on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, celebrated on 1 January

1. "Alma Redemptoris Mater... The Virgin Mother of the Redeemer...". In the Christmas season we invoke Mary using an ancient, evocative Marian Antiphon which continues with the words: "Tu quae genuisti natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem - to the wonder of all creation, you have brought forth your Creator".

Mary, Mother of God! The liturgy of the first day of the year, the Solemnity of Mary, Most Holy Mother of God, places a special emphasis on this truth of faith which is closely bound to the Christmas festivities. Mary is the Mother of the Redeemer; she is the woman whom God chose to carry out his saving plan centred on the mystery of the Incarnation of the divine Word.

2. A humble creature conceived the Creator of the world! The liturgical season of Christmas renews our awareness of this mystery, presenting to us the Mother of the Son of God as sharing in the crowning events of the history of salvation. The age-old tradition of the Church has always considered the birth of Jesus and the divine motherhood of Mary as two aspects of the Incarnation of the Word. "In fact", the Catechism of the Catholic Church says of Mary, citing the Council of Ephesus, "the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Hence, the Church confesses that Mary is truly "Mother of God' (Theotokos)" (
CEC 495).

3. All the other aspects of Our Lady's mission derive from the fact that she is "Mother of God". They are clearly indicated by the titles with which the community of Christ's disciples honours her in every part of the world. First of all, those of "The Immaculate" and "Our Lady of the Assumption", since the One who was to bring forth the Saviour could obviously not be subject to the corruption that derived from original sin.

The Virgin is also invoked as Mother of the Mystical Body, that is, of the Church. Referring to the patristic tradition as it was expressed by St Augustine, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that she "is clearly the mother of the members of Christ... since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head" (CEC 963).

4. Mary's whole life was very closely connected to that of Jesus. At Christmas, it was she who offered Jesus to humanity. On the Cross, at the supreme moment of the accomplishment of his redeeming mission, it was Jesus who bequeathed to everyone his own Mother as a precious legacy of the Redemption.

The words of the crucified Lord to John, his faithful disciple, constitute his testament. He entrusts John to his Mother, and at the same time consigns to Mary's love the Apostle and every believer.

5. In these last days of the Christmas season, let us pause to contemplate in the Nativity scene the silent presence of the Virgin beside the Baby Jesus. She lavishes on us the same love, the same care that she lavished on her divine Son. Let us therefore allow her to guide our steps in this new year that Providence has granted us to live.

2 This is the wish that I express to you all at this first General Audience of 2004. Sustained and comforted by her maternal protection, we will be able to contemplate the face of Christ with a renewed gaze, and walk more swiftly on the paths of good.

Once again, a Happy New Year to you who are present here, and to your loved ones!

The Holy Father then addressed the groups present in French, German, Spanish, Polish, Ukrainian, Slovak, Croatian, English and Italian.

To the English-speaking visitors

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, including the groups from Denmark and the United States of America. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you and your families, I invoke the Lord's richest blessings for a peaceful New Year.

To the Italian-speaking visitors

I address a cordial thought to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet you especially, the new priests of the Institute of the Legionaries of Christ, who have come with the entire community of Rome and with the consecrated lay virgins of "Regnum Christi". I urge you to draw from the Eucharist every day the grace and strength to be docile instruments and tireless labourers in the construction of the Kingdom of God.

I then greet you, dear circus people who have performed here in Rome during these Christmas festivities, and encourage you always to live your faith in Christ with joy.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Dear friends, in these days that follow the feast of the Epiphany, let us continue to meditate on the manifestation of Jesus to all the peoples. The Church invites you to spread Christ's light with the witness of your life.

Wednesday, 14 January 2004 - Canticle in the First Letter of Peter

3 Our Lord's glorious Passion as foreseen at his Baptism in the River Jordan

1. Today, after the interval for the Christmas festivities, we continue with our meditation on the liturgy of Vespers. The Canticle just proclaimed, taken from the First Letter of Peter, is a meditation on the redemptive Passion of Christ, foretold already at the moment of his Baptism in the Jordan.

As we heard last Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus reveals himself from the very beginning of his public life to be the "beloved Son" with whom the Father was well pleased (cf.
Lc 3,22), the true "Servant of Yahweh" (cf. Is 42,1) who freed man from sin through his Passion and death on the Cross.

The Letter of Peter quoted above, in which the fisherman of Galilee describes himself as a "witness of the sufferings of Christ" (1P 5,1), is full of references to the Passion. Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb without blemish whose precious blood was poured out for our redemption (cf. 1P 1,18-19). He is the living stone rejected by men but chosen by God as the "cornerstone" that gives coherence to the "spiritual house", in other words, the Church (cf. 1P 2,6-8). He is the righteous one who sacrifices himself for the unrighteous in order to bring them back to God (cf. 1P 3,18-22).

2. Our attention is now focused on the profile of Christ that is outlined in the passage we have heard (cf. 1P 2,21-24). He is the model for us to contemplate and imitate, the "programme", as it says in the original Greek (cf. 1P 2,21), to put into practice, the example to follow without hesitation, conforming ourselves to his decisions.

In fact, use is made of the Greek word of sequela [following], of discipleship, setting out in the very footsteps of Jesus. And the Teacher's footsteps take a steep and demanding path, just as we read in the Gospel: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mc 8,34).

At this point the Petrine hymn sketches a wonderful synthesis of the Passion of Christ, modelled on the words and images of Isaiah, applied to the figure of the Suffering Servant (cf. Is 53) and reinterpreted in the Messianic key of the ancient Christian tradition.

3. This hymn that tells the history of the Passion consists in four negative (cf. 1P 2,22-23a) and three positive declarations (cf. 1P 2,23-24), in which it describes the fortitude of Jesus in that terrible and grandiose event.

It begins with the twofold affirmation of his absolute innocence in the words of Isaiah 53: 9: "He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips" (1P 2,22). This statement is followed by two further considerations on his exemplary behaviour, inspired by meekness and gentleness: "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten" (1P 2,23). The Lord's patient silence is not only a courageous act but a generous one. It is also a trusting gesture in regard to the Father, as suggested by the first of the three positive affermations, "he trusted to him who judges justly" (ibid. 1P 2,23). His was a total and perfect trust in divine justice that leads history towards the triumph of the innocent.

4. Thus, we reach the summit of the narrative of the Passion which highlights the saving value of Christ's supreme act of self-giving: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness" (1P 2,24).

4 This second positive assertion, formulated with the words of Isaiah's prophecy (cf. Is 53,12), explains that Christ bore our sins "in his body on the tree", that is, on the cross, in order to cancel them.
Likewise, freed from the "old" man with his evil and mediocrity, we too can "live to righteousness", that is, in holiness. The thought corresponds, although most of the words differ, to the Pauline doctrine on Baptism which regenerates us as new creatures, immersing us in the mystery of the Passion, death and glory of Christ (cf. Rm 6,3-11).

The last phrase - "by his wounds you have been healed" (1P 2,24) - focuses on the saving value of Christ's suffering, expressed in the same idiom Isaiah used to express the saving fruitfulness of the pain suffered by the Lord's Servant (cf. Is 53,5).

5. Contemplating the wounds of Christ by which we have been saved, St Ambrose said: "I can revel in none of my deeds, I have nothing to boast about; therefore, I will glory in Christ. I will not glory because I am just, but I will glory because I have been redeemed. I will not glory because I am exempt from sins, but I will glory because my sins have been forgiven. I will not glory because I have been a help nor because someone has helped me, but because Christ is my advocate with the Father, and Christ's blood was poured out for me. My sin has become for me the price of the Redemption, through which Christ came to me. For my sake, Christ tasted death. Sin is more profitable than innocence. Innocence had made me arrogant, sin made me humble" (Giacobbe e la vita beata, I, 6, 21: SAEMO, III, Milan-Rome, 1982, pp. 251,253).

The Holy Father then addressed the groups present in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Italian.

To the English-speaking visitors

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present today, including the groups from Denmark and the United States of America. Upon all of you and your families, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy New Year!

To the Italian-speaking visitors

I address a cordial greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the Italian Association The Friends of Raoul Follereau and the faithful from Corridonia. I then embrace in spirit the Belarusian children and the Welcome Group from Modugno that has generously offered them hospitality.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

My thoughts also go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the feast of the Baptism of the Lord that we celebrated last Sunday help you, dear young people, to rediscover and live joyfully the gift of faith in Christ; may it make you, dear sick people, strong in trial; may it spur you, dear newly-weds, to make your family a true domestic church.

Wednesday, 21 January 2004 - Reflection on the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

5 "My peace I give to you" (Jn 14,27)

1. "My peace I give to you" (Jn 14,27). This year, the week of prayer and reflection for Christian unity focuses on the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper. In a certain sense they constitute his spiritual testament. The promise he made to his disciples was to be totally fulfilled in Christ's Resurrection. When he appeared to the Eleven in the Upper Room, he greeted them three times with the words: "Peace be with you" (Jn 20,19).

The gift Christ offered to the Apostles, therefore, is not any kind of "peace", but it is Christ's own peace: "my peace", as he says. And to make them understand, he explains more simply: My peace I give to you, "not as the world gives it" (Jn 14,27).

The world is longing for peace and needs peace, today as in the past, but often seeks it by inappropriate means, sometimes even with recourse to force or by balancing opposing powers. In these situations, people live with the distress of fear and uncertainty in their hearts. Christ's peace, instead, reconciles souls, purifies hearts, converts minds.

2. This year the theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was suggested by an ecumenical group in the city of Aleppo, Syria, which prompts me to remember the Pilgrimage I had the joy of making to Damascus. I recall with special gratitude the warm welcome I received from the two Orthodox Patriarchs and the Greek-Catholic Patriarch. That meeting lives on as a sign of hope for our ecumenical journey. Ecumenism, however, as the Second Vatican Council recalls, is not genuine unless there is "interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way" (Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio UR 7).

The need for a profound spirituality of peace and pacification is more and more keenly felt, not only by those who are directly involved in ecumenical work but by all Christians. Indeed, the cause of unity concerns every believer, called to belong to the one people of those redeemed by the Blood of Christ on the Cross.

3. It is encouraging to see that the search for unity among Christians is constantly spreading, thanks to timely initiatives that involve the various contexts of ecumenical commitment. Among these signs of hope I would like to list the growth of fraternal love and the progress recorded in the theological dialogues with the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities. It has been possible in these dialogues to reach important convergence, to a varying degree and with different specificity, on topics that were deeply controversial in the past.

Taking these positive signs into account, we must not be discouraged by the old and new difficulties we encounter, but face them with patience and understanding, relying always on divine help.

6 4. "Wherever there is charity and love, there is God": this is what the liturgy prays and sings this week, reliving the atmosphere of the Last Supper. From charity and reciprocal love flow the peace and unity of all Christians, who can make a crucial contribution to helping humanity rise above the causes of its divisions and conflicts.

Besides prayer, dear brothers and sisters, let us also feel strongly motivated to make our own the effort to be authentic "peacemakers" (cf.
Mt 5,9) in the places in which we live.

May the Virgin Mary, who witnessed the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, assist us and accompany us on this path of reconciliation and peace.

The Holy Father then addressed the groups present in French, English, German, Spanish, Polish and Italian.

To the English-speaking visitors

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at this Audience, particularly the pilgrims from Denmark, Finland, Japan and the United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the Lord's gift of peace.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

My thoughts also go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Dear friends, in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I invite you, dear young people, to be witnesses of faithful Gospel adherence, especially with your peers. I ask you, dear sick people, to offer your sufferings for the cause of Christian unity. I urge you, dear newly-weds, to become increasingly one heart and soul in your families.

The Pope then led the prayer of the faithful dedicated to Christian unity in the various languages. Following the prayer, lambs were blessed for the Feast of St Agnes, and the Holy Father then imparted the Apostolic Blessing.

Wednesday, 28 January 2004 - Psalm 11£[10]

7 A prayer of trust to the Lord who is not indifferent to right and wrong Ps 11

1. We continue our reflection on the Psalms, which comprise the essential element of the Liturgy of Vespers. We have just made ring out in our hearts Psalm 11[10], a brief prayer of trust that, in the original Hebrew, is studded with the holy name 'Adonaj, the Lord. This name echoes at the beginning (cf. Ps 11,1), is found three times at the heart of the Psalm (cf. Ps 11,4-5), and returns at the end (cf. Ps 11,7).

The spiritual key of the entire psalm is well-expressed in the concluding verse: "For the Lord is just, he loves just deeds". This is the root of all trust and the source of all hope on the day of darkness and trial. God is not indifferent to right and wrong: he is a good God and not a dark, incomprehensible, mysterious destiny.

2. The psalm unfolds substantially in two scenes: in the first (cf. Ps 11,1-3), the wicked man is described in his apparent victory. He is portrayed in the guise of a warrior or hunter: the evildoer bends his long or hunter's bow to violently strike his victim, that is, the just one (cf. Ps 11,2). The latter, therefore, is tempted by the thought of escape to free himself from such a merciless fate. He would rather flee "to the mountain like a bird" (Ps 11,1), far from the vortex of evil, from the onslaught of the wicked, from the slanderous darts launched by treacherous sinners.

There is a kind of discouragement in the faithful one who feels alone and powerless before the irruption of evil. The pillars of a just social order seem shaken, and the very foundations of human society undermined (cf. Ps 11,3).

3. Now, the turning point comes in sight, outlined in the second scene (cf. Ps 11,4-7). The Lord, seated on the heavenly throne, takes in the entire human horizon with his penetrating gaze. From that transcendent vantage point, sign of the divine omniscience and omnipotence, God is able to search out and examine every person, distinguishing the righteous from the wicked and forcefully condemning injustice (cf. Ps 11,4-5).

The image of the divine eye whose pupil is fixed and attentive to our actions is very evocative and consoling. The Lord is not a distant king, closed in his gilded world, but rather is a watchful Presence who sides with goodness and justice. He sees and provides, intervening by word and action.

The righteous person foresees that, as happened in Sodom (cf. Gn 19,24), the Lord makes "rain upon the wicked fiery coals and brimstone" (Ps 11,6 [10]), symbols of God's justice that purifies history, condemning evil. The wicked man, struck by this burning rain - a prefiguration of his final destiny - finally experiences that "there is a God who is judge on earth!" (Ps 58,12 [57]).

4. The Psalm, however, does not end with this tragic image of punishment and condemnation. The final verse opens onto a horizon of light and peace intended for the righteous one who contemplates his Lord, a just Judge, but especially a merciful liberator: "the upright shall see his face" (Ps 11,7 [10]). This is an experience of joyful communion and of serene trust in God who frees from evil.

Down through history, countless righteous people have had a similar experience. Many stories tell of the trust of Christian martyrs during torment and their steadfastness that kept them firm in trial.

8 In the Atti de Euplo, the deacon martyr from Sicily who died around 304 A.D. under the rule of Diocletian spontaneously exclaims in this sequence of prayers: "Thank you, O Christ: shield me as I suffer for you.... I adore the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I adore the Holy Trinity.... Thank you, O Christ. Come to my aid, O Christ! For you I suffer, Christ.... Great is your glory, O Lord, in the servants whom you count worthy to call to yourself!... I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, because your strength has comforted me; you have not permitted my soul to be lost with the evildoers and you have given me the grace of your name. Now confirm what you have done in me, so that the shameless enemy is put to confusion" (cf. A. Hamman, Preghiere dei Primi Cristiani, Milan, 1955, pp. 72-73).

To the English-speaking visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today including groups from Finland, Ireland and the United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

I then greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.

Today we celebrate the liturgical memorial of St Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of Catholic schools. May his example inspire you, dear young people, to always follow Jesus as your authentic teacher of life and holiness. May the intercession of this Holy Doctor of the Church obtain for you, dear sick people, the serenity and peace that is drawn from the mystery of the Cross, and for you, dear newly-weds, the wisdom of heart necessary to fulfil your mission with generosity.

                                                                                  February 2004

Wednesday, 4 February 2004 - Psalm 15 £[14] - To dwell on "your holy mountain'

9 1. Psalm 15[14] that is presented for our reflection is often classified by biblical scholars as part of an "entrance" liturgy. Like several other compositions in the Psaltery (cf., for example, Ps 23 Ps 25 Ps 94), it prompts us to imagine a sort of procession of the faithful jostling to pass through the door of the Temple of Zion to have access to worship. An ideal dialogue between the faithful and the Levites outlines the indispensable conditions for admittance to the liturgical celebration, hence, to intimacy with God.

Indeed, on the one hand is raised the question: "O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy mountain?" (Ps 15,1 [14]). On the other, there follows a list of qualities required to cross the threshold that leads to the "tent", that is, the temple on the "holy mountain" of Zion. Eleven qualities are listed that make up an id

2. The conditions required for entering the sacred hall were sometimes engraved on the façades of Egyptian and Babylonian temples. But there is a significant difference compared to those suggested by our Psalm. Many religious cultures require above all for admittance to the divinity an external ritual purity which entails special ablutions, gestures and garb.

Psalm 15[14], instead, demands a clear conscience so that the person's decisions may be devoted to love of justice and of one's neighbour. Therefore, we can feel in these verses the vibrant spirit of the prophets who continually invite people to combine faith and life, prayer and existential commitment, adoration and social justice (cf. Is 1,10-20 Is 33,14-16 Os 6,6 Mi 6,6-8 Jr 6,20).

Let us listen, for example, to the admonition of the Prophet Amos who in God's name denounces worship that is detached from daily history: "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings... I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon.... But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Am 5,21-22 Am 5,24).

3. We now come to the 11 requirements listed by the Psalmist, which can constitute the basis for a personal examination of conscience every time we prepare ourselves to confess our sins in order to be admitted to communion with the Lord in the liturgical celebration.

The first three conditions are of a general kind and express an ethical choice: to follow the path of moral integrity, to do what is right and, lastly, to speak with perfect sincerity (cf. Ps 15,2 [14]).

Three duties follow. We could describe them as relations with our neighbour: to abstain from slander, to avoid every action that could harm our brethren and to refrain every day from reproaching those who live beside us (cf. Ps 15,3). Then comes the request for a clear choice of position in the social context: to despise the reprobate, to honour those who fear God. Finally, a list follows of the last three precepts on which to make an examination of conscience: to keep one's word or an oath faithfully, despite damaging consequences for ourselves; not to practise usury, a scourge that is also a reality in our time and has a stranglehold on many peoples' lives; and lastly, to avoid all forms of corruption in public life, another commitment that we should also be able to practise rigorously today (cf. Ps 15,5).

4. Following this path of authentic moral choices means being ready to meet the Lord. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also proposed his essential "entrance" liturgy: "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5,23-24).

Those who act in accordance with the Psalmist's instructions, our prayer concludes, "shall never be moved" (Ps 15,5 [14]). In his Tractatus super Psalmos St Hilary of Poitiers, a fourth-century Father and Doctor of the Church, comments on the Psalm's finale, linking it to the initial image of the tent of the temple of Zion: "Acting in accordance with these precepts, we dwell in the tent and rest on the mountain. May the preservation of the precepts and the work of the commandments, therefore, endure unchanged. This Psalm must be anchored in our inmost depths, it must be engraved on our hearts, stored in our memories; the treasure of its rich brevity must confront us night and day. Thus, having acquired its riches on our way towards eternity and dwelling in the Church, we will be able to rest at last in the glory of Christ's Body" (PL 9, 308).

To the English-speaking visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience. I greet in a special way the groups from England, Ireland, Hong Kong and the United States of America. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

I now want to turn my thoughts to you, dear young people, dear sick people and newly-weds.

In the liturgy of these days we are commemorating several martyrs: St Blaise, St Agatha, and St Paul Miki and his Japanese companions. May the courage of these heroic witnesses of Christ help you, dear young people, to open your hearts to the heroism of holiness; may it sustain you, dear sick people, to offer the precious gift of prayer and suffering for the Church; and may it give you, dear newly-weds, the strength to imprint the Christian values on your families.

Wednesday, 11 February 2004 - Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes

10 12th World Day of the Sick

1. Today our thoughts turn to the famous Marian Shrine of Lourdes located in the Pyrenees Mountains that continues to attract great crowds of pilgrims from all over the world, including numerous sick people. This year Lourdes is the venue for the main events of the World Day of the Sick, where the coincidence with the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes is now an established tradition.

The Shrine was chosen not only because of its strong connection with the world of sickness and with the pastoral approach of health-care workers. Lourdes was thought of above all because 2004 is the 150th anniversary of the proclamation, on 8 December 1854, of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In Lourdes in 1858, four years later, the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in the Grotto of Massabielle, presenting herself as the "Immaculate Conception".

2. Let us now make a spiritual pilgrimage to the feet of the Immaculate Virgin of Lourdes, to take part in the prayers of the clergy and faithful and especially of the sick people gathered there. The World Day of the Sick is a forceful appeal to rediscover the important presence of suffering persons in the Christian community and to appreciate ever deeper their precious contribution. From a merely human standpoint, pain and sickness can appear absurd realities: but when we let the light of the Gospel shine on them we succeed in understanding their deep salvific meaning.

11 "From the paradox of the Cross", I stressed in my Message for today's World Day of the Sick, "springs the answer to our most worrying questions. Christ suffers for us. He takes upon himself the sufferings of everyone and redeems them. Christ suffers with us, enabling us to share our pain with him. United to the suffering of Christ, human suffering becomes a means of salvation" (n. 4).

3. I now address all who feel burdened by suffering in body and spirit. Once again, I express my affection and spiritual closeness to each one. At the same time, I would like to remind you that human life is always a gift from God, even when it is marked by physical suffering of any kind; it is a "gift" to be made the most of for the Church and for the world.

Naturally, those who are suffering should never be left alone. In this regard, I eagerly address a word of heartfelt appreciation to the people who, with simplicity and a spirit of service, take their place beside the sick, seeking to alleviate their sufferings and as far as possible cure them of their ailments, thanks to the progress of the art of medicine. I am thinking especially of health-care workers, doctors, nurses, scientists and researchers, as well as of hospital chaplains and volunteer workers. Caring for a suffering person is a great act of love!

4. "Sub tuum praesidium...", as we prayed at the beginning of our meeting. "Under your protection we seek refuge", Immaculate Virgin of Lourdes, who present yourself to us as the perfect model of creation according to God's original plan. To you we entrust the sick, the elderly, the lonely: soothe their pain, dry their tears and obtain for each one the strength they need to do God's will.

May you support those who toil every day to alleviate the sufferings of their brethren! And help us all to grow in the knowledge of Christ, who by his death and Resurrection defeated the powers of evil and death.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!

To the English-speaking visitors

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from Ireland, Denmark and the United States of America. Upon you and your loved ones, I invoke the Lord's blessings of health and joy.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the "Lateran Pacts'

Today is the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty and the Concordat between the Holy See and the Italian State. The "Lateran Pacts" marked a positive turning point of historical importance in relations between the Church and the State in Italy, paving the way to fruitful collaboration for the service and benefit of the entire population.

To the Italian-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I cordially welcome the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the Religious of the Hospitaller Order of St John of God, who by perpetual profession will consecrate their lives to Christ and to the Church. I then greet the scholars from the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone who are taking a course in Church history. I also greet the representatives of the Italian National Council of Industrial Experts who are meeting on the occasion of their association's 75th anniversary.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

Lastly, I greet you, dear young people, dear sick people and dear newly-weds. May the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Lourdes, protect you always. Call on her confidently and in her you will find comfort and hope.