Wednesday, 26 May 2004 - Canticle in Revelation (11: 17-18 and 12: 10, 12)

32 Hymn of thanksgiving to God (Ap 11,17-18 Ap 12,10 Ap 12,12

1. The Canticle presented in the Liturgy of Vespers which we have just raised to the "Lord God Almighty", results from the selection of a few verses from chapters 11 and 12 of the Book of Revelation. The last of the seven trumpets that resonate in this book of endeavour and hope has now sounded. The 24 elders of the heavenly court who represent all the just of the Old and New Covenants (cf. Ap 4,4 Ap 11,6) chant a hymn that was perhaps already in use at the liturgical assemblies of the early Church. They worship God, sovereign of the world and of history, now ready to establish his Kingdom of justice, love and truth.

In this prayer we can feel the heartbeat of the just who wait in hope for the coming of the Lord to brighten human existence, often enveloped in the darkness of sin, injustice, falsehood and violence.

2. The hymn sung by the 24 elders is modulated on the reference to two Psalms: the second Psalm which is a Messianic hymn (cf. Ps 2,1-5) and Psalm 99[98] which celebrates the royalty of God (cf. Ps 99,1). The goal of exalting the just and definitive judgment that the Lord is about to make over the whole of human history is reached in this way.

His beneficial intervention has two aspects, just as the face of God has two features that define it. He is indeed a judge, but he is also a saviour; he condemns evil but rewards fidelity; he is justice but above all he is love.

The identity of the just, now saved in the Kingdom of God, is significant. They are divided into three categories of "servants" of the Lord: the prophets, the saints and those who fear his name (cf. Ap 11,18). This is a sort of spiritual portrait of the People of God, according to the gifts they received in Baptism and which flourished in their life of faith and love; it is a "sketch" drawn out in both the small and the great (cf. Ap 19,5).

33 3. Our hymn, as has been said, was composed also with the use of other verses from chapter 12, which refer to a grandiose and glorious scene of the Apocalypse. In it, there is a battle between the woman who has given birth to the Messiah and the dragon of wickedness and violence. In this duel between good and evil, between the Church and Satan, a heavenly voice suddenly rings out announcing the defeat of the "accuser" (cf. Ap 12,10). This is the translation of the Hebrew name for "Satan", used to describe a figure whom the Book of Job says is a member of the celestial court of God, in which he fulfils the role of public minister (cf. Jb 1,9-11 Jb 2,4-5 Za 3,1).

He "accuse[ed] our brethren day and night before our God", that is, he cast doubt on the sincerity of the faith of the just. The satanic dragon is silenced and the cause of its defeat is "the blood of the Lamb" (Ap 12,11), the passion and the death of Christ our Redeemer.

The witness of Christian martyrdom is associated with his victory. There is intimate sharing in the redeeming work of the Lamb by the faithful who, with no second thoughts, "loved not their lives even unto death" (ibid. Ap 12,11). This thought stems from Christ's words: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12,25).

4. The heavenly soloist who has sung the canticle brings it to a conclusion by inviting the entire choir of angels to sing joyfully in unison for the salvation obtained (cf. Ap 12,12). Let us associate ourselves with that voice in our own thanksgiving, festive and hopeful, even amid the trials that mark our way to glory.

Let us do so by listening to the words that the martyr St Polycarp addressed to the "Lord God Almighty" when he was already bound and waiting to be burned at the stake: "Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ... blessed are you for having deemed me worthy on this day and in this hour to take my place among the ranks of the martyrs, in Christ's chalice, for the resurrection to eternal life of soul and body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.

May I be welcomed among them today in your presence as a succulent and pleasing sacrifice, just as you, our true God and far from falsehood, disposed and manifested and accomplished beforehand. Above all things, therefore, I praise you, I bless you, and I glorify you in your eternal and heavenly High Priest and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom may you be glorified, with him and with the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen" (Atti e passioni dei martiri, Milan, 1987, p. 23).

To special groups

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at this Audience today, in particular the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Chicago led by their Archbishop, Cardinal Francis George. Upon all of you, especially those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Indonesia and the United States of America, I cordially invoke an abundance of grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lastly, I address you, dear young people, dear sick people and dear newly-weds. I hope that each one of you will imitate St Philip Neri, whose Memorial we celebrate today: strive like him to serve God in joy and to love your neighbour with Gospel simplicity.

                                                                                  June 2004

Wednesday, 2 June 2004 - Psalm 41£[40]

34 Prayer of a sick man betrayed by his friends (Ps 41)

1. One reason that impels us to understand and love Psalm 41[40] which we have just heard is the fact that Jesus himself quoted it: "I am not speaking of you all; I know whom I have chosen; it is so that the Scripture may be fulfilled, "He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me'" (Jn 13,18).

It was the last evening of his earthly life and in the Upper Room, Jesus was about to offer the best morsel to Judas, the traitor. He thought back to this phrase in the Psalm, which is indeed the supplication of a sick man, abandoned by his friends. In this ancient prayer, Christ found the words and sentiments to express his own deep sorrow.

We will now attempt to follow and to elucidate the whole plot of this Psalm, uttered by a person who was certainly suffering an illness, but especially from the cruel irony of his "enemies" (cf. Ps 41,6-9 [40]) and his betrayal by a "friend" (cf. Ps 41,10).

2. Psalm 41[40] begins with a beatitude. It is addressed to the true friend, the one who "considers the poor" [weak]: he will be rewarded by the Lord on the day of his suffering, when he is lying "on his sickbed" (cf. Ps 41,2-4).

The heart of this supplication, however, lies in the following section where it is the sick person who speaks (cf. Ps 41,5-10). He begins his discourse by asking God's forgiveness, in accordance with the traditional Old Testament concept of a pain corresponding to every sin: "O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you!" (Ps 41,5; cf. Ps 38 [37]). For the Jew of ancient times sickness was an appeal to the conscience to begin to convert.

Even if it is an outlook surpassed by Christ, the definitive Revealer (cf. Jn 9,1-3), which is in question, suffering in itself can conceal a secret value and become a path of purification, interior liberation and enrichment of the soul. It is an invitation to overcome superficiality, vanity, selfishness and sin, and to trust more intensely in God and his saving will.

3. At this point, however, the wicked enter the scene: they have come to visit the sick person, not to comfort but to attack him (cf. Ps 41,6-9). Their words are cruel and wound the heart of the person praying, who senses their merciless wickedness. The same experience will be the lot of many humiliated poor people, condemned to loneliness and the feeling that they are a burden even to their own relatives. And if they occasionally hear some words of consolation, they immediately discern the false and hypocritical tones in which they are spoken.

So, as was said, the person praying experiences indifference and even harshness on the part of his friends (cf. Ps 41,10), who are transformed into hostile, hateful figures. To them the Psalmist applies the gesture of "lifting the heel", the threatening act of those on the point of trampling upon the defeated foe or the impulse of the horseman prodding his horse on with his heal to make him ride over his adversary.

35 Our bitterness is profound when it is the "friend" we trusted, literally in Hebrew: the "man of peace", who turns against us. We are reminded of Job's friends: from being his companions in life, they become indifferent and hostile presences (cf. Jb 19,1-6). In our prayer resounds the voices of a crowd of people forgotten and humiliated in their sickness and weakness, even by those who should have stood by them.

4. Yet the prayer of Psalm 41[40] does not end in this gloomy setting. The person praying is sure that God will appear on his horizon, once again revealing his love (cf. Ps 41,11-14). He will offer his support and gather in his arms the sick person, who will once again be "in the presence" of his Lord (Ps 41,13) or, to use biblical language, will relive the experience of the liturgy in the temple.

The Psalm, streaked by pain, thus ends in a glimpse of light and hope. In this perspective, we can understand how St Ambrose, commenting on the initial beatitude of the Psalm (cf. Ps 41,2), saw in it prophetically an invitation to meditate on the saving passion of Christ that leads to the Resurrection.

Indeed, this Father of the Church suggests introducing into the reading of the Psalm: "Blessed are those who think of the wretchedness and poverty of Christ, who though he was rich made himself poor for us. Rich in his Kingdom, poor in the flesh, because he took this poor flesh upon himself.... So he did not suffer in his richness, but in our poverty.

Therefore, it was not the fullness of divinity that suffered... but the flesh.... So endeavour to penetrate the meaning of Christ's poverty if you want to be rich! Seek to penetrate the meaning of his weakness if you want to obtain salvation! Seek to penetrate the meaning of his crucifixion if you do not want to be ashamed of it; the meaning of his wounds, if you want yours to heal; the meaning of his death, if you want to gain eternal life; and the meaning of his burial, if you want to find the Resurrection" (Commento a dodici salmi: SAEMO, VIII, Milan-Rome, 1980, pp. 39-41).

To special groups

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including members of the Australia Youth Choir and other groups from England, Sri Lanka and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome.

I address a cordial thought to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. Today on the National Public Holiday of the Italian Republic, I express my fervent good wishes to the entire Italian People and to its Authorities.

Lastly, I address you, dear young people, dear sick people and dear newly-weds. At the beginning of the month of June, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I invite you to contemplate the mystery of divine Love.

I hope that you, dear young people, will learn at the school of the Heart of Christ to face with seriousness the responsibilities that await you. May the Lord grant you to do his will, dear sick people, by joining in his sacrifice of love. And dear newly-weds, may you remain faithful to the love of God and witness to it with your conjugal love.

Wednesday, 9 June 2004 - Apostolic pilgrimage to Switzerland

1. I cherish in my heart the images of various moments in the brief but full trip to Switzerland that divine Providence once again granted me to make last Saturday and Sunday. I would like to renew my gratitude to my Brother Bishops and to the civil Authorities, especially the President of the Swiss Confederation, for their welcome and for all their preparations. I also thank the Federal Council for deciding to raise the rank of Switzerland's diplomatic representation to the Holy See.

My warm gratitude likewise goes to the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross who gave me hospitality at their Viktoriaheim residence. Lastly, I thank all those who saw to the various aspects of my Pastoral Visit.

2. The main reason for my apostolic pilgrimage to that beloved nation was to encounter the young Catholics of Switzerland, who held their first National Meeting last Saturday. I thank the Lord who gave me the opportunity to spend moments of great spiritual enthusiasm with them, and to address a Message to the new Swiss generations which I would like to extend to all the young people in Europe and across the world. I can sum up this Message, so dear to my heart, in three verbs: "arise!", "listen!" and "set out!". It is Christ himself, risen and alive, who repeats these words to every boy and girl of our time. It is he who invites the youth of the third millennium to "arise", that is, to give their lives full meaning. I wanted to echo this appeal in the conviction that it is Christ alone, the Redeemer of man, who can help young people to "arise" anew from negative experiences and outlooks in order to grow to their full human, spiritual and moral stature.

3. On Sunday morning, the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, I was able to concelebrate the Eucharist with the Bishops and many priests who had come from every corner of Switzerland. The festive rite took place at Allmend Esplanade, a vast space outside the BEA Bern Expo Palace. Thus, with one voice we raised praise and thanksgiving to the Triune God for the beauties of creation that he has lavished upon Switzerland, and especially for the communion of Love, of which he is the source.

In the light of this fundamental mystery of the Christian faith, I renewed my appeal for the unity of all Christians, inviting the Catholics to live it first among themselves, making the Church "the home and the school of communion" (Novo Millennio Ineunte
NM 43). The Holy Spirit who creates unity also impels us towards mission, so that the truth about God and man which was revealed in Christ, may be witnessed and proclaimed to all. The image of the Triune God is engraved in every human being who in him alone finds peace.

4. Before leaving Bern, I wanted to meet the Association of Former Swiss Guards. This was a providential opportunity to express my gratitude for the precious service that the Swiss Guard Corps has been rendering to the Apostolic See for almost five centuries. How many thousands of young men from Swiss families and parishes have made their special contribution to the Successor of Peter in the course of these centuries! Young men, like all young men, full of life and ideals, were able to express through this service their sincere love for Christ and for the Church. May the young people in Switzerland and throughout the world discover the marvellous unity between faith and life, and prepare themselves to carry out with zeal the mission to which God calls them!

May Mary Most Holy, whom I warmly thank for having brought about this Apostolic Journey, my 103rd, obtain for everyone this great and valuable gift which is the secret of true joy.

To special groups

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, especially the many school and university students and other groups from England, Finland, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, and I wish you many blessings during your stay in Rome.

I now address an affectionate greeting to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Dear friends, the forthcoming feast of Corpus Christi invites us to deepen our faith in the Eucharistic Mystery.

Dear young people, may the Eucharist be your daily spiritual sustenance; may it be for you, dear sick people, support and comfort in suffering; may it help you, dear newly-weds, to make constant progress on the path of conjugal holiness.

On the occasion of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi which we will be celebrating tomorrow, I invite Romans and pilgrims to take part in great numbers in Holy Mass that will be celebrated in the Square of St John Lateran, and in the Eucharistic procession that will end at St Mary Major's.

Wednesday, 16 June 2004 - Psalm 46£[45]

God "our refuge and strength" (
Ps 46)

1. We have just heard the first of the six hymns to Zion that are contained in the Psalter (cf. also Ps 48 [47]; Ps 76 [75]; Ps 84 [83]; Ps 87 [86]; Ps 122 [121]. Like the other similar compositions, Psalm 46[45] celebrates the Holy City of Jerusalem, "the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High" (Ps 46,5), but above all it expresses steadfast trust in God, who is "our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Ps 46,2; cf. Ps 46,8 Ps 46,12). The Psalm pictures tremendous upheavals to give greater force to God's victorious intervention that offers us total safety. Since God is in her midst, Jerusalem "shall not be moved; God will help her" (Ps 46,6).

Our thoughts turn to the oracle of the Prophet Zephaniah who says, addressing Jerusalem: "Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!... The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival" (So 3,14 So 3,17-18).

2. Psalm 46[45] is divided into two major parts by a sort of antiphon that rings out in verses 8 and 12: "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge". God's title, "the Lord of hosts", is typical of the Hebraic cult in the Temple of Zion; despite its martial connotations, linked to the Ark of the Covenant, it refers to God's lordship over the whole cosmos and over history.

Hence, this title is a source of confidence, for the whole world and all its vicissitudes are under the supreme governance of the Lord. This Lord is therefore "with us", as the antiphon says once again with an implicit reference to the Emmanuel, the "God-with-us" (cf. Is 7,14 Mt 1,23).

38 3. The first part of the hymn (cf. Ps 46,2-7 [45]) focuses on the symbol of the waters and presents a twofold, contrasting meaning. Indeed, on the one hand, the foaming waters are unleashed; in biblical language this symbolizes devastation, chaos and evil. They cause the trembling of the structure of the being and of the universe, symbolized by the mountains shaken by the roaring outburst of some sort of destructive floodwaters (cf. Ps 46,3-4). On the other hand, however, there are the thirst-quenching waters of Zion, a city set upon arid hills but which is gladdened by "a river and its streams" (cf. Ps 46,5). While he alludes to the streams of Jerusalem such as the Shiloah (cf. Is 8,6-7), the Psalmist sees in them a sign of flourishing life in the Holy City, of its spiritual fecundity and its regenerative power.

Therefore, despite the upheavals of history that cause people to tremble and kingdoms to shake (cf. Ps 46,7 [45]), the faithful find in Zion the peace and calm that derive from communion with God.

4. So it is that the second part of the Psalm (cf. Ps 46,9-11) can outline a transfigured world. The Lord himself from his throne in Zion intervenes decisively against wars and establishes the peace for which everyone yearns. When we read v. 10 of our hymn: "he makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire!", we think spontaneously of Isaiah.

The Prophet also sang of the end of weaponry and the transformation of weapons of war into a means for the development of peoples: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Is 2,4).

5. With this Psalm, Christian tradition has sung the praise of Christ "our peace" (cf. Ep 2,14) and, through his death and Resurrection, our deliverer from evil. The Christological commentary that St Ambrose wrote on v. Ps 46,6 of Psalm 46[45] that describes the "help" offered to the city of God, "right early" before daybreak, is evocative. The famous Father of the Church sees in it a prophetic allusion to the Resurrection.

In fact, he explains: "The Resurrection at break of day procures the support of heavenly help for us, the Resurrection that put an end to night has brought us day; as Scripture says: "Awakened and arisen and raised from the dead! And the light of Christ will shine for you'.

Note the mystical significance! At nightfall Christ's passion occurred... at dawn, the Resurrection.... In the evening of the world he is killed, while the light is dying, for this world was shrouded in total darkness and would have been plunged into the horrors of even grimmer shadows had Christ, the light of eternity, not come down from heaven for us to bring the age of innocence back to the human race. The Lord Jesus, therefore, suffered and with his blood he redeemed our sins, the light of a clearer knowledge was radiant, and the day shone with spiritual grace" (cf. Commento a Dodici Salmi: SAEMO, VIII, Milan-Rome, 1980, p. 213).

To special groups

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience. I greet particularly the groups from England, Ireland, Canada, Singapore and the United States of America. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. My greeting goes especially to the numerous young people present. The month of June is the month of the Sacred Heart. I invite you to place your trust in the Heart of Jesus, who is for us a refuge and strength, a helper close at hand. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

My thoughts now go as usual to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.

The day after tomorrow we will be celebrating the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This feast recalls the mystery of God's love for the men and women of all times.

Dear young people, I invite you to train yourselves at the school of the Heart of Christ to deal confidently with the commitments that await you in life. I thank you, dear sick people, for the spiritual help that you give to the Christian People in accepting to do the will of the Crucified Jesus in a fruitful union with his saving sacrifice.

Lastly, dear newly-weds, I hope that you will feel the true joy that stems from daily fidelity to the charity of God, of which your conjugal love must be an eloquent testimony.

Wednesday, 23 June 2004 - Canticle in Revelation 15: 2-4

"Just and true are your ways!' (
Ap 15,2-4)

1. In addition to the Psalms, the Liturgy of Vespers includes a series of Canticles taken from the New Testament. Some of these, such as the one we have just heard, are interwoven with passages from Revelation, the book that seals the entire Bible. They are often distinguished by songs and choruses, by solo voices and by the hymns of the assembly of the chosen, by trumpet blasts and the sound of harps and zithers.

Our Canticle, which is very brief, is found in chapter 15 of the Book of Revelation. The curtain is about to be raised on a new and grandiose scene: the seven trumpets that have introduced the same number of divine plagues give way to seven bowls that are also full of scourges: in Greek, pleghé, a word that in itself means a blow so violent as to cause injuries and sometimes even death. This is an obvious reference to the narrative of the plagues of Egypt (cf. Ex 7,14-11,10).

The "scourge-plague" in Revelation is a symbol of judgment on the evil oppression and violence of the world. Thus, it is also a sign of hope for the just. The seven plagues - it is well known that in the Bible the number "seven" is a symbol of fullness - are described as "the last" (cf. Ap 15,1), because in them the divine intervention that arrests evil reaches its completion.

2. The hymn is sung by those who are saved, the just of this earth who are "standing" before the risen Lamb (cf. Ap 15,2). Just as the Hebrews sang the Song of Moses (cf. Ex 15,1-18) in the Exodus after the crossing of the Red Sea, so the Chosen People raise their own "song of Moses and... of the Lamb" (Ap 15,3) after conquering the beast, the enemy of God (cf. Ap 15,2).

This hymn echoes the liturgy of the Johannine Churches; it consists of an anthology of citations from the Old Testament and from the Psalms in particular. The earliest Christian Community considered the Bible not only as the very soul of its faith and life, but also of its prayer and liturgy, as indeed is the case in these Vespers on which we are commenting.

It is also significant that the Canticle is accompanied by musical instruments: the just hold harps in their hands (ibid. Ap 15,2), proof that the liturgy was framed by the splendour of sacred music.

3. With their hymn, rather than celebrating their constancy and their sacrifice, the saved exalt the "great and wonderful... deeds" of the "Lord God Almighty", that is, his saving acts in governing the world and in history. Indeed, true prayer, as well as being a petition, is also praise, thanksgiving, blessing, celebration and a profession of faith in the Lord who saves.

In this Canticle, moreover, the universal dimension which is expressed in the words of Psalm 86[85] is significant: "All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord" (Ps 86,9). Our gaze thus broadens to take in the whole horizon and we see streams of people who converge toward the Lord in order to recognize his just "judgments" (Ap 15,4), that is, his interventions in history to defeat evil and praise good. The expectation of justice that exists in all cultures, the need for truth and love that all forms of spirituality perceive, reach out towards the Lord and the tension is only eased when he is reached.

It is beautiful to think of this universal influence of piety and hope, taken up and interpreted by the words of the Prophets: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts" (Ml 1,11).

40 4. Let us conclude by joining that universal voice. Let us do so through the words of a poem by St Gregory of Nazianzus, a great Father of the Church of the fourth century. "Glory to the Father and to the Son, King of the universe, glory to the Most Holy Spirit, to whom be all praise. One God is the Trinity: He has created and filled all things, the heavens with celestial beings, the earth with those who are earthly. He has filled seas, rivers and springs with aquatic creatures, giving life to them all with his own Spirit so that the whole of creation might sing praise to the wise Creator: living and staying alive depends on him alone. May it be above all rational nature to sing praise to him forever, powerful King and good Father. In my spirit, with my heart, my lips and my thoughts, grant that I too, with purity, may glorify you for ever, O Father" (Poesie, I, Collana di Testi Patristici 115, Rome, 1994, pp. 66-67).

To special groups

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including religious leaders and visitors from Indonesia and other groups from England, Denmark and the United States of America. Tomorrow is the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist. Let us ask his intercession so that we may be faithful witnesses to Christ, as was he. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome.

As customary, my thoughts now go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.
While many young people are busy taking their exams, for many others it is the beginning of the summer period, the time for tourism and pilgrimages, holidays and rest.

Dear young people, while I am thinking of your peers who are still busy with their examinations, I hope that you who are already on holiday will make the most of the summer to gain some formative human and spiritual experiences.

I hope that you, dear sick people, will not lack the comfort and relief of your relatives and friends.
I encourage you, dear newly-weds, during these summer months, to deepen your mission in the Church and in society.

Wednesday, 30 June 2004

1. Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul, venerated in a special way here in Rome, where both of them sealed with blood their wonderful witness of love for the Lord. This year, the solemn Eucharistic Liturgy was enriched by the fraternal participation of His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the historic encounter in Jerusalem between my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Athenagoras.

Your presence also was important, dear Metropolitan Archbishops, appointed in the past year. I have had the joy of conferring the sacred Pallium upon you, and today I am meeting you again. I greet you with deep affection, together with your relatives and friends, and I extend my thoughts to the communities entrusted to your pastoral care.

2. Your appreciated presence gives me the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the ancient custom of the conferral of Palliums.

Since the ninth century, the Archbishops appointed to Metropolitan Sees have received from the Pope a special liturgical emblem - the "Pallium" - as an attestation of communion with the Bishop of Rome. This emblem, which the Supreme Pontiff wears for all solemn celebrations and Metropolitans, on special occasions, consists of a narrow stole of white wool that is worn round the neck. Every year as many Palliums are made as there are new Metropolitan Archbishops. The Pope blesses them at the First Vespers on the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. They are then placed in a special urn enclosed in a cabinet under the Altar of the "Confessio" in the Vatican Basilica, at the Apostle's tomb, and are conferred upon the Archbishops the following day.

3. Still today, the sign of the Pallium preserves its unique eloquence. It expresses the fundamental principle of communion which gives every aspect of ecclesial life its shape; it recalls that this communion is organic and hierarchical; it shows that the Church, in order to be one, is in need of the special service of the Church of Rome and of her Bishop, Head of the Episcopal College (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis ).

The other complementary aspect that the rite of the Pallium brings out clearly is the catholicity of the Church. Indeed, she was sent by Christ to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations and to serve all humanity.

4. Dear brothers and sisters, many of you have wanted to be with these Prelates on such an important occasion. They are your Pastors! I ask you to stay united to them and to pray for the pastoral mission that they are called to fulfil. My thoughts also go to the eight Metropolitans who are not present here and who will receive the Pallium at home.

Just as Christ once said to Peter, so to everyone he repeats: Duc in altum! He invites us to put out into the deep and to venture undaunted into the sea of life, trusting in the constant support of Mary, Mother of God, and in the intercession of the Apostles Peter and Paul, who with their blood made the early Church fertile.

To special groups

42 I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience. I greet particularly the groups from Ireland, Scotland, Taiwan, Canada, Japan and the United States of America. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. My greeting goes especially to the numerous visitors who have come with their respective Metropolitan Archbishop for the reception of the Pallium. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you and have a pleasant stay in Rome!

I address a special greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the Metropolitan Archbishops who received the Pallium: Archbishop Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona, Archbishop Pietro Coccia of Pesaro.

I then greet the representatives of the Italian National Coordination of the Villages of St Vitus who have come here in such large numbers with Bishop Francesco Miccichè of Trapani, with their parish priests and their mayors, in memory of their Patron Saint.

I also greet the Piccole Apostole della Redenzione, who are celebrating their General Chapter in these days. Dear friends, I wish you fresh enthusiasm in your dedication to your mission.
I likewise greet those taking part in the pilgrimage in honour of Our Lady of Health, who come in particular from Stradella, Sartirana and Pieve del Cairo. I thank you for your participation, and invoke the protection of the Blessed Virgin upon you.

Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.

Subsequent to the Solemnity of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul is the liturgical commemoration today of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Dear friends, imitate their Gospel witness and be faithful to Christ in every situation of life.

                                                                                  July 2004