Audiences 2005-2013 31081

Wednesday, 31 August 2011 - Art and Prayer

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this period I have recalled several times the need for every Christian, in the midst of the many occupations that fill our days, to find time for God and for prayer. The Lord himself gives us many opportunities to remember him. Today I would like to reflect briefly on one of these channels that can lead to God and can also be of help in the encounter with him. It is the way of artistic expression, part of that “via pulchritudinis” — the “way of beauty”, of which I have spoken several times and whose deepest meaning must be recovered by men and women today.

It may have happened on some occasion that you paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that “speaks”, that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind.

A work of art is a product of the creative capacity of the human being who in questioning visible reality, seeks to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colour and sound. Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite.

Indeed it resembles a door open on to the infinite, on to a beauty and a truth that go beyond the daily routine. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and of the heart, impelling us upward.

However some artistic expressions are real highways to God, the supreme Beauty; indeed, they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer. These are works that were born from faith and express faith. We can see an example of this when we visit a Gothic cathedral: we are enraptured by the vertical lines that soar skywards and uplift our gaze and our spirit, while at the same time we feel small yet long for fullness....

Or when we enter a Romanesque church we are spontaneously prompted to meditate and to pray. We perceive that these splendid buildings contain, as it were, the faith of generations. Or when we listen to a piece of sacred music that plucks at our heartstrings, our mind, as it were, expands and turns naturally to God.

I remember a concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach in Munich, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the end of the last passage, one of the Cantatas, I felt, not by reasoning but in the depths of my heart, that what I had heard had communicated truth to me, the truth of the supreme composer, and impelled me to thank God. The Lutheran bishop of Munich was next to me and I said to him spontaneously: “in hearing this one understands: it is true; such strong faith is true, as well as the beauty that irresistibly expresses the presence of God’s truth”.

Yet how many pictures or frescos, fruits of the artist’s faith, in their form, in their colour, in their light, urge us to think of God and foster within us the desire to draw from the source of all beauty. What Marc Chagall, a great artist, wrote, remains profoundly true: that for centuries painters have dipped their paintbrush in that coloured alphabet which is the Bible. Thus how often artistic expression can bring us to remember God, to help us to pray or even to convert our heart!

Paul Claudel, a famous French poet, playwright and diplomat, precisely while he was listening in the Cathedral of Notre Dame to the singing of the Magnificat during Christmas Mass in 1886, had a tangible experience of God’s presence. He had not entered the church for reasons of faith but rather in order to seek arguments against Christians and instead God's grace worked actively in his heart.

Dear friends, I ask you to rediscover the importance of this path also for prayer, for our living relationship with God. Towns and villages throughout the world contain treasures of art that express faith and beckon to us to return to our relationship with God. May the visits to places filled with art, then, not only be opportunities for cultural enrichment — that too — but may they become above all moments of grace, incentives to strengthen our bond and our dialogue with the Lord so that — in switching from simple external reality to the more profound reality it expresses — we may pause to contemplate the ray of beauty that strikes us to the quick, that almost “wounds” us, and that invites us to rise toward God.

I end with a prayer from a Psalm, Psalm 27[26]: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and contemplate his temple” (
Ps 27,4).

Let us hope that the Lord will help us to contemplate his beauty, both in nature and in works of art, so that we, moved by the light that shines from his face, may be a light for our neighbour. Many thanks.

To special groups:

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from Scotland and Malta. Today we reflect on the need to draw near to God through the experience and appreciation of artistic beauty. Art is capable of making visible our need to go beyond what we see and it reveals our thirst for infinite beauty, for God. Dear friends, I invite you to be open to beauty and to allow it to move you to prayer and praise of the Lord. May Almighty God bless all of you!

Lastly I address a cordial word of welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular I greet the Bishops, friends of the Sant'Egidio Community, the faithful of various parishes, accompanied by their parish priests, and the newlyweds. I hope that this meeting will strengthen each one in renewed adherence to God, the source of light, hope and peace. With this in mind let us now sing the Our Father together in Latin.

St. Peter's Square

Wednesday, 7 September 2011 - Psalm 3: “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!”

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we are resuming the Audiences in St Peter’s Square and the “school of prayer” which we attend together during these Wednesday Catecheses. I would like to begin by meditating on several Psalms, which, as I said last June, constitute the “prayer book” par excellence. The first Psalm I shall consider is a Psalm of lamentation and supplication, imbued with deep trust, in which the certainty of God’s presence forms the basis of the prayer that springs from the condition of extreme peril in which the person praying finds himself.

It is Psalm 3, which Jewish tradition ascribes to David at the moment when he fled from his son Absalom (cf.
Ps 3,1): this was one of the most dramatic and anguishing episodes in the King’s life, when his son usurped his royal throne and forced him to flee from Jerusalem for his life (cf. 2S 15 ff).

Thus David’s plight and anxiety serve as a background to this prayer and, helping us to understand it by presenting a typical situation in which such a Psalm may be recited. Every man and woman can recognize in the Psalmist’s cry those feelings of sorrow, bitter regret and yet at the same time trust in God, who, as the Bible tells us, had accompanied David on the flight from his city. The Psalm opens with an invocation to the Lord:

“O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of me, ‘There is no help for him in God’” (Ps 3,2-3).

The praying man's description of the situation is therefore marked by intensely dramatic tones. The idea of “multitude” is conveyed with the triple use of “many” — three words that in the original text are different terms with the same Hebrew root so as to give further emphasis to the enormity of the danger — in a repetitive manner, as it were, hammering it in. This insistence on the large number of his enemies serves to express the Psalmist’s perception of the absolute disproportion between him and his persecutors, which justifies and establishes the urgency of his plea for help; his oppressors are numerous, they get the upper hand, whereas the man praying is alone and defenceless, at the mercy of his assailants.

Yet the first word the Psalmist says is “Lord”; his cry opens with a call to God. A multitude threatens him and rises against him, generating fear that magnifies the threat, making it appear greater and even more terrifying; but the praying person does not let this vision of death prevail, he keeps intact his relationship with the God of life and turns to him first in search of help.

However his enemies attempt to break this bond with God and to injure their victim's faith. They insinuate that the Lord cannot intervene, they say that not even God can save him. Hence the attack is not only physical but involves the spiritual dimension too: “there is no help for him in God”, they say, targeting the central principle of the Psalmist's mind.

This is the extreme temptation to which the believer is subjected, the temptation to lose faith, to lose trust in God’s closeness. The righteous pass the final test, remain steadfast in faith, in the certainty of the truth and in full trust in God; in this way they find life and truth. It seems to me that here the Psalm touches us very personally: beset by many problems we are tempted to think that perhaps God does not save me, that he does not know me, perhaps he is not able to; the temptation to lose faith is our enemy's ultimate attack and if we are to find God, if we are to find life, we must resist it.

Thus in our Psalm the person praying is called to respond with faith to the attacks of the wicked: his foes — as I said — deny that God can help him; yet he invokes God, he calls him by name, “Lord”, and then turns to him with an emphatic “thou/you” that expresses a solid, sturdy relationship and implies the certainty of the divine response:

“But you, O Lord are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill” (Ps 3,4-5).

The vision of the enemies then disappears, they have not triumphed because the one who believes in God is sure that God is his friend. Only the “thou/you” of God is left. Now only One opposes the “many”, but this One is far greater, far more powerful, than many adversaries.

The Lord is help, defence and salvation; as a shield he protects the person who entrusts himself to him and enables him to lift his head in the gesture of triumph and victory. Man is no longer alone, his foes are not invincible as they had seemed, for the Lord hears the cry of the oppressed and answers from the place of his presence, from his holy hill.

The human being cries out in anguish, in danger, in pain; the human being calls for help and God answers. In this interweaving of the human cry and the divine response we find the dialectic of prayer and the key to reading the entire history of salvation. The cry expresses the need for help and appeals to the other’s faithfulness; crying out means making an act of faith in God’s closeness and in his willingness to listen.

Prayer expresses the certainty of a divine presence already experienced and believed in, that is fully expressed in God’s salvific answers. This is important: that in our prayer the certainty of God's presence be given importance and be made present. Thus the Psalmist, who feels besieged by death, professes his faith in the God of life who, as a shield, surrounds him with an invulnerable protection; the one who believed he was as good as lost can raise his head because the Lord saves him; the praying person, threatened and mocked, is in glory, because God is his glory.

The divine response that hears his prayer totally reassures the Psalmist; even his fear is no more and his cry is soothed in peace, in deep inner tranquility. “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about” (Ps 3,6-7).

The praying person, even in peril, in the midst of battle, can sleep serenely in an unequivocal attitude of trusting abandonment. His foes have pitched camp around him, they are numerous, they besiege him, they rise up against him, taunting and trying to make him fall; instead he lies down and sleeps, calm and serene, sure of God's presence. And, on reawakening he finds God still beside him, as a custodian who does not fall asleep (cf. Ps 121,3-4 [120]:3-4), who sustains him, who holds his hand, who never abandons him.

The fear of death is vanquished by the presence of One who never dies. And even the night that is peopled by atavistic fears, the sorrowful night of solitude and anguished waiting is now transformed: what evoked death became the presence of the Eternal One.

The enemy’s visible, massive, impressive attack is countered by the invisible presence of God with all his invincible power. And it is to him that the Psalmist, after his trusting words, once again addresses the prayer: “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!” (Ps 3,8a). His assailants “are rising” (cf. Ps 3,2) against their victim; instead the One who will “arise” is the Lord and it will be to defeat them. God will deliver him, answering his cry. Thus the Psalm ends with the vision of liberation from the peril that kills, and from the temptation that can cause us to perish.

After addressing his plea to the Lord to arise and deliver him, the praying person describes the divine victory: the enemies — who with their unjust and cruel oppression are the symbol of all that opposes God and his plan of salvation — are defeated.

Struck on the mouth, they will no longer attack with their destructive violence and will be unable to instil evil and doubt in God’s presence and action. Their senseless and blasphemous talk is denied once and for all and is reduced to silence by the Lord's saving intervention (cf. Ps 3,8bc). In this way the Psalmist can conclude his prayer with a sentence with liturgical connotations that celebrates the God of life in gratitude and praise: “Deliverance belongs to the Lord; your blessing be upon your people” (Ps 3,9).

Dear brothers and sisters, Psalm 3 has presented us with a supplication full of trust and consolation. In praying this Psalm, we can make our own the sentiments of the Psalmist, a figure of the righteous person persecuted, who finds his fulfilment in Jesus.

In sorrow, in danger, in the bitterness of misunderstanding and offence the words of the Psalm open our hearts to the comforting certainty of faith. God is always close — even in difficulties, in problems, in the darkness of life — he listens and saves in his own way.

However it is necessary to recognize his presence and accept his ways, as did David in his humiliating flight from his son, Absalom; as did the just man who is persecuted in the Book of Wisdom and, ultimately and completely, as did the Lord Jesus on Golgotha. And when, in the eyes of the wicked, God does not seem to intervene and the Son dies, it is then that the true glory and the definitive realization of salvation is manifest to all believers.

May the Lord give us faith, may he come to our aid in our weakness and make us capable of believing and praying in every anxiety, in the sorrowful nights of doubt and the long days of sorrow, abandoning ourselves with trust to him, who is our “shield” and our “glory”. Many thanks.

To special groups

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including the groups from Britain and Ireland, Denmark and the United States of America. I extend a special greeting to the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, who have come from Indonesia, and to the Ursuline Sisters. Commending all of you to the intercession of Sts Peter and Paul, I invoke God’s blessings upon you.

Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Dear young people, as you return after the holidays to your customary activities, may you be able to find time every day for your conversation with God and spread around you his light and his peace. Dear sick people, find comfort in the Lord Jesus who continues his work of redemption in every person’s life. And you, dear newlyweds, learn to pray together, in the intimacy of the home, so that your love may be ever truer, ever more fruitful and long lasting.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 14 September 2011 - Psalm 22 (21): "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Ps 22
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Catechesis today I would like to apply myself to a Psalm with strong Christological implications which continually surface in accounts of Jesus' passion, with its twofold dimension of humiliation and glory, of death and life. It is Psalm 22 according to the Hebrew tradition and Psalm 21 according to the Graeco-Latin tradition, a heartfelt, moving prayer with a human density and theological richness that make it one of the most frequently prayed and studied Psalms in the entire Psalter. It is a long poetic composition and we shall reflect in particular on its first part, centred on the lament, in order to examine in depth certain important dimensions of the prayer of supplication to God.

This Psalm presents the figure of an innocent man, persecuted and surrounded by adversaries who clamour for his death; and he turns to God with a sorrowful lament which, in the certainty of his faith, opens mysteriously to praise. The anguishing reality of the present and the consoling memory of the past alternate in his prayer in an agonized awareness of his own desperate situation in which, however, he does not want to give up hope. His initial cry is an appeal addressed to a God who appears remote, who does not answer and seems to have abandoned him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest” (Ps 22,3-4).

God is silent and this silence pierces the soul of the person praying, who ceaselessly calls but receives no answer. Day and night succeed one another in an unflagging quest for a word, for help that does not come, God seems so distant, so forgetful, so absent. The prayer asks to be heard, to be answered, it begs for contact, seeks a relationship that can give comfort and salvation. But if God fails to respond, the cry of help is lost in the void and loneliness becomes unbearable.

Yet, in his cry, the praying man of our Psalm calls the Lord “my” God at least three times, in an extreme act of trust and faith. In spite of all appearances, the Psalmist cannot believe that his link with the Lord is totally broken and while he asks the reason for a presumed incomprehensible abandonment, he says that “his” God cannot forsake him.

As is well known, the initial cry of the Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, is recorded by the Gospels of Matthew and Mark as the cry uttered by Jesus dying on the Cross (cf. Mt 27,46 Mc 15,34). It expresses all the desolation of the Messiah, Son of God, who is facing the drama of death, a reality totally opposed to the Lord of life. Forsaken by almost all his followers, betrayed and denied by the disciples, surrounded by people who insult him, Jesus is under the crushing weight of a mission that was to pass through humiliation and annihilation. This is why he cried out to the Father, and his suffering took up the sorrowful words of the Psalm. But his is not a desperate cry, nor was that of the Psalmist who, in his supplication, takes a tormented path which nevertheless opens out at last into a perspective of praise, into trust in the divine victory.

And since in the Jewish custom citing the beginning of a Psalm implied a reference to the whole poem, although Jesus’ anguished prayer retains its burden of unspeakable suffering, it unfolds to the certainty of glory. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”, the Risen Christ was to say to the disciples at Emmaus (Lc 24,26). In his passion, in obedience to the Father, the Lord Jesus passes through abandonment and death to reach life and to give it to all believers.

This initial cry of supplication in our Psalm 22[21] is followed in sorrowful contrast by the memory of the past, “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you did deliver them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not disappointed” (Ps 22,5-6).

The God who appears today to be so remote to the Psalmist, is nonetheless the merciful Lord whom Israel experienced throughout its history. The People to whom the praying person belongs is the object of God’s love and can witness to his fidelity to him. Starting with the Patriarchs, then in Egypt and on the long pilgrimage through the wilderness, in the stay in the promised land in contact with aggressive and hostile peoples, to the night of the exile, the whole of biblical history is a history of a cry for help on the part of the People and of saving answers on the part of God.

And the Psalmist refers to the steadfast faith of his ancestors who “trusted” — this word is repeated three times — without ever being disappointed. Then, however, it seems that this chain of trusting invocations and divine answers has been broken; the Psalmist’s situation seems to deny the entire history of salvation, making the present reality even more painful.

God, however, cannot deny himself so here the prayer returns to describing the distressing plight of the praying person, to induce the Lord to have pity on him and to intervene, as he always had done in the past. The Psalmist describes himself as “a worm, and no man”, scorned by men, and despised by the people” (Ps 22,7). He was mocked, people made grimaces at him, (cf. Ps 22,8), and wounded in his faith itself. “He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Ps 22,9), they said.

Under the jeering blows of irony and contempt, it almost seems as though the persecuted man loses his own human features, like the suffering servant outlined in the Book of Isaiah (cf. Is 52,14 Is 53,2-3). And like the oppressed righteous man in the Book of Wisdom (cf. Sg 2,12-20), like Jesus on Calvary (cf. Mt 27,39-43), the Psalmist saw his own relationship with the Lord called into question in the cruel and sarcastic emphasis of what is causing him to suffer: God’s silence, his apparent absence. And yet God was present with an indisputable tenderness in the life of the person praying. The Psalmist reminds the Lord of this: “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you did keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts. Upon you was I cast from my birth” (vv. Ps 22,10-11a).

The Lord is the God of life who brings the newborn child into the world and cares for him with a father’s affection. And though the memory of God’s fidelity in the history of the people has first been recalled, the praying person now re-evokes his own personal history of relations with the Lord, going back to the particularly significant moment of the beginning of his life. And here, despite the desolation of the present, the Psalmist recognizes a closeness and a divine love so radical that he can now exclaim, in a confession full of faith and generating hope: “and since my mother bore me you have been my God” (Ps 22,11b).

The lament then becomes a heartfelt plea: “Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help” (Ps 22,12). The only closeness that the Psalmist can perceive and that fills him with fear was that of his enemies. It is therefore necessary for God to make himself close and to help him, because enemies surround the praying man, they encircle him and were like strong bulls, like ravening and roaring lions (cf. Ps 22,13-14). Anguish alters his perception of the danger, magnifying it. The adversaries seem invincible, they become ferocious, dangerous animals, while the Psalmist is like a small worm, powerless and defenceless.

Yet these images used in the Psalm also serve to describe that when man becomes brutal and attacks his brother, something brutal within him takes the upper hand, he seems to lose any human likeness; violence always has something bestial about it and only God’s saving intervention can restore humanity to human beings.

Now, it seems to the Psalmist, the object of so much ferocious aggression, that he no longer has any way out and death begins to take possession of him: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint… my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws… they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots” (Ps 22,15 Ps 22,16 Ps 22,19).

The disintegration of the body of the condemned man is described with the dramatic images that we encounter in the accounts of Christ’s passion, the unbearable parching thirst that torments the dying man that is echoed in Jesus’ request “I thirst” (cf. Jn 19,28), until we reach the definitive act of his tormentors, who, like the soldiers at the foot of the cross divide the clothes of the victim whom they consider already dead (cf. Mt 27,35 Mc 15,24 Lc 23,34 Jn 19,23-24).

Here then, impelling, once again comes the request for help: “But you, O Lord, be not far off! O you my help, hasten to my aid!... Save me” (Ps 22,20 Ps 22,22a). This is a cry that opens the Heavens, because it proclaims a faith, a certainty that goes beyond all doubt, all darkness and all desolation. And the lament is transformed, it gives way to praise in the acceptance of salvation: “He has heard... I will tell of your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you” (Ps 22,22-23).

In this way the Psalm opens to thanksgiving, to the great final hymn that sweeps up the whole people, the Lord’s faithful, the liturgical assembly, the generations to come (cf. Ps 22,24-32). The Lord went to the rescue, he saved the poor man and showed his merciful face. Death and life are interwoven in an inseparable mystery and life triumphs, the God of salvation shows himself to be the undisputed Lord whom all the ends of the earth will praise and before whom all the families of the nations will bow down. It is the victory of faith which can transform death into the gift of life, the abyss of sorrow into a source of hope.

Dear brothers and sisters, this Psalm has taken us to Golgotha, to the foot of the cross of Jesus, to relive his passion and to share the fruitful joy of the resurrection. Let us therefore allow ourselves to be invaded by the light of the paschal mystery even in God’s apparent absence, even in God’s silence, and, like the disciples of Emmaus, let us learn to discern the true reality beyond appearances, recognizing humiliation itself as the way to exaltation, and the cross as the full manifestation of life in earth. Thus, replacing in God the Father all our trust and hope, in every anxiety we will be able to pray to him with faith, and our cry of help will be transformed into a hymn of praise. Many thanks.

To special groups:

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including the groups from Great Britain, Scandinavia, Asia and North America. I extend a special greeting to the delegates of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services and to the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. Upon all of you and upon your families and loved ones, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Lastly, my thoughts turn to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Today the liturgy makes us meditate on the mystery of the Lord's cross, and tomorrow on the sorrows of his Mother. May the Cross of Christ and the example of Mary, the Sorrowful Virgin, illuminate your life, dear young people; may they sustain you in your daily trials, dear sick people; and may they be an incentive to you, dear newlyweds, to live a courageous and consistent family existence with Gospel values.

Sr Elena Aiello, Foundress of the Sisters Minims of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is being beatified today in Cosenza. Immediately after the National Eucharistic Congress in Ancona, the Church in Italy rejoices to see an eminently Eucharistic soul raised to the glory of the altars. An outstanding daughter of the region of Calabria, Sr Elena Aiello used to like to say: “The Eucharist is the essential food of my life, the deep breath of my soul, the sacrament that gives meaning to my life, to all the actions of the day”. May the new Blessed's example and intercession increase in everyone love for the wonderful Sacrament of the Altar.

St. Peter's Square

Wednesday, 28 September 2011 - Apostolic Journey to Germany

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As you know, from Thursday to Sunday last I made a Pastoral Visit to Germany; I am therefore glad, as usual, to take the opportunity of today’s Audience to review with you the marvellous full days I spent in my homeland. I travelled through Germany from north to south, from east to west: from the capital Berlin to Erfurt and Eichsfeld and, lastly, to the city of Freiburg, not far from the boundaries with France and Switzerland.

I thank the Lord first of all for giving me the possibility to meet with the people and to speak about God, to pray together and to strengthen my brothers and sisters in the faith, complying with the special mandate that the Lord entrusted to Peter and to his Successors. This Visit, which took place under the motto: “Where God is, there is a future”, was truly a great celebration of faith in the various meetings and conversations, in the ceremonies, especially in the solemn Masses with the People of God. These moments were a precious gift which enabled us to perceive anew that it is God who gives our life the most profound meaning, true fullness, and indeed that he alone gives a future to us, one and all.

With profound gratitude I recall the warm and enthusiastic welcome as well as the attention and affection I was shown in the various places I visited. I cordially thank the German Bishops, especially those of the dioceses which offered me hospitality, for their invitation and for all they did, together with so many collaborators, to prepare this Journey. My heartfelt thanks go likewise to the Federal President and to all the political and civil authorities, at the federal and regional levels. I am deeply grateful to all who contributed in various ways to the success of the Visit, and especially to the many volunteers. Thus it was a great gift for me and for all of us and awakened joy, hope, and a new impulse of faith and commitment for the future.

In Berlin, the capital, the Federal President welcomed me at his residence and greeted me in his name and in the name of my compatriot, expressing the esteem and affection for a Pope from Germany. I outlined a brief thought on the reciprocal relationship between religion and freedom, remembering a sentence of the great bishop and social reformer: Wilhelm von Ketteler: “Just as religion has need of freedom, so also freedom has need of religion”.

I very willingly accepted the invitation to go to the Bundestag, which was certainly one of the most important events on my itinerary. For the first time ever a Pope addressed members of the German Parliament. On this occasion I wanted to explain the foundations of law and of the free state of law, that is, the measure of every law inscribed by the Creator in the very being of his creation. Hence it is necessary to broaden our conception of nature, understanding it not only as a collection of functions but beyond this as the language of the Creator to help us to distinguish between good and evil. I then had a meeting with some representatives of Germany’s Jewish community. Recalling our common roots in faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we highlighted the results obtained so far in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism in Germany. I was likewise able to meet several members of the Muslim community, and to agree with them on the importance of religious freedom for humanity’s peaceful development.

Holy Mass in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin at the end of the first day of my Visit was one of the important liturgical celebrations that enabled me to pray together with the faithful and to encourage them in their faith. I was glad to see the participation of so many people! At that festive and impressive moment we meditated on the Gospel image of the vine and the branches, namely on the importance — for our personal life as believers and for our being Church, his mystical Body — of being united to Christ.

The second stop on my Visit was Thuringia. Germany, and Thuringia in particular, is the land of the Protestant Reformation. From the very outset, therefore, I ardently desired to give special importance to ecumenism in the framework of this Journey; I firmly hoped for an ecumenical experience in Erfurt, for it was in this very city that Martin Luther entered the Augustinian community and was ordained a priest. I was therefore deeply cheered by the meeting with the members of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and by the ecumenical event in the former Augustinian Convent. It was a cordial meeting which, in dialogue and prayer, brought us more deeply to Christ. We saw once again how important our common witness to faith in Jesus Christ is in today’s world, which all too often takes no notice of God or is not interested in him. Our common effort on the way towards full unity is essential, but let us always be well aware that we ourselves can “make” neither faith nor the unity we so deeply long for. A faith created by ourselves has no value, and true unity is indeed a gift of the Lord, who always prayed and still prays for the unity of his disciples. Christ alone can bestow this unity upon us and we will be ever more united to the extent that we turn to him and let ourselves be transformed by him.

A particularly emotional moment for me was the celebration of Marian Vespers outside the Shrine of Etzelsbach, where I was welcomed by a multitude of pilgrims. As a young man I had heard about the Eichsfeld region — a strip of land that had always remained Catholic throughout the various ups and downs of history — and of its inhabitants who courageously withstood the dictatorships of Nazism and Communism. So I was very pleased to be visiting Eichsfeld and its people on a pilgrimage to the miraculous image of Our Lady of Sorrows of Etzelsbach, where for centuries the faithful have entrusted to Mary their petitions, preoccupations and sufferings, receiving comfort, graces and blessings. Equally moving was the Mass celebrated in Erfurt’s magnificent cathedral square.

In recalling the Patron Saints of Thuringia — St Elizabeth, St Boniface and St Kilian — and the luminous example of the faithful who witnessed to the Gospel during the totalitarian regimes, I invited the faithful to be the saints of today, credible witnesses of Christ, and to contribute to building our society. In fact it has always been the Saints and people permeated by love for Christ to have truly transformed the world. My brief meeting with Mons. Hermann Scheipers, the last living German priest to have survived the concentration camp of Dachau, was deeply moving. In Erfurt, in addition, I had the opportunity to meet several victims of sex abuse perpetrated by religious. I wanted to assure these victims of my regret and of my closeness in their suffering.

The last stage of the Journey took me to south-west Germany, to the Archdiocese of Freiburg. The inhabitants of this beautiful city, the archdiocesan faithful and the many pilgrims from neighbouring Switzerland and France and from other countries gave me an especially festive welcome. I also felt this at the prayer vigil with thousands of young people. I was glad to see that faith in my German homeland has a youthful face, that it is vibrant and has a future. In the evocative Rite of Light I passed on to the young people the flame of the Paschal candle, a symbol of the light which is Christ, urging them: “You are the light of the world”. I repeated to them that the Pope trusts in the active collaboration of the young; with Christ’s grace, they are able to bring the flame of God’s love to the world.

Then the meeting with the seminarians at the Seminary of Freiburg was unique. In a certain sense as a response to the touching letter they had sent me a few weeks earlier, I wanted to show these young men the beauty and greatness of their call from the Lord and to offer them some help so that they might continue on the path of the “sequela” with joy and in deep communion with Christ. Again at the seminary I was also able to meet in a brotherly atmosphere several representatives of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, to whom we Catholics feel very close. And the common duty to be a leaven for the renewal of our society stems from this broad communion itself. A friendly meeting with representatives of the German Catholic laity concluded the series of events at the seminary.

The great celebration of the Sunday Eucharist at the tourist Airport of Freiburg was another highpoint of my Pastoral Visit and the opportunity to thank all those who are working hard in the various spheres of ecclesial life, especially the numerous volunteers and those who collaborate in charitable projects. It is they who make possible the many forms of assistance that the German Church offers to the universal Church, especially in mission lands. I also mentioned that their invaluable service will always be fruitful when it derives from an authentic and living faith, in union with the Bishops and the Pope, in union with the Church. Lastly, before returning, I spoke to about 1,000 Catholics committed to the Church and to society, suggesting some ideas for the Church’s action in a secularized society, urging them to be free from material and political commitments in order to be more transparent to God.

Dear brothers and sisters, this Apostolic Journey in Germany gave me a favourable opportunity to meet the faithful of my homeland, Germany, to strengthen them in faith, hope and love, and to share with them the joy of being Catholic. Yet my Message was addressed to the entire German nation, to invite them all to look with trust to the future. It is true, “Where God is, there is a future”. I thank once again all those who made this Visit possible and all who have accompanied me with their prayers. May the Lord bless the People of God in Germany, and may he bless you all. Many thanks.

To special groups:

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Norway, Sweden, Kenya, South Africa, Samoa, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the United States of America. My affectionate greeting goes to the students of both the Venerable English College and the Pontifical Irish College as they take up their studies for the priesthood. I also greet the ecumenical groups from the Nordic countries and the pilgrims from Samoa. I thank the choirs, including the children’s choir from South Korea, for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke Almighty God’s blessings of joy and peace.

Lastly, as usual, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. I ask them all to be ever faithful to the Gospel ideal in order to put it into practice in daily life, thereby experiencing the joy of Christ’s presence.

St. Peter's Square

Wednesday, 5 October 2011 - Psalm 23

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