Wednesday, 9 April 2003 - Psalm 134£[135] - "Praise the name of the Lord!'

23 Ps 135

1. The Liturgy of Lauds, whose development we are following in our catecheses, presents to us the first part of Psalm 134 [135] which we have just heard the choir sing. The text reveals a closely-packed series of allusions to other biblical passages, and it seems to be pervaded by an Easter atmosphere. Not for nothing has the Judaic tradition linked our Psalm to the next one, Psalm 135 [136], considering the whole as the "Great Hallel", the solemn, festive praise to be raised to the Lord at Easter.

Indeed, the Psalm brings the Exodus to the fore with its mention of the "plagues" of Egypt and its evocation of the entry into the promised land. But let us now look at the subsequent stages which Psalm 134 [135] reveals in the development of the first 12 verses: it is a reflection that we would like to turn into a prayer.

2. The Psalm opens with the characteristic invitation to praise, a typical feature of the hymns addressed to the Lord in the Psalter. The appeal to sing the Alleluia is addressed to the "servants of the Lord" (cf. Ps 135,1), who in the original Hebrew "stand" in the sacred area of the temple (cf. Ps 135,2), that is, in the ritual attitude of prayer (cf. Ps 134,1-2 [133]: 1-2).

The first to be involved in this praise are the ministers of worship, priests and Levites, who live and work "in the courts of the house of our God" (cf. Ps 135,2 [134]: 2). However, all the faithful are associated, in spirit, with these "servants of the Lord". In fact, immediately after the mention of the election of all Israel to be ally and witness of the Lord's love follows: "For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession" (Ps 135,4). In this perspective, two basic qualities of God are celebrated: he is "good" and he is "gracious" (cf. Ps 135,3). The bond between us and the Lord is marked by love, intimacy and joyful adherence.

3. After the invitation to praise, the Psalmist continues with a solemn profession of faith that starts with the words "I know", that is, I recognize, I believe (cf. Ps 135,5). Two articles of faith are sung by a soloist on behalf of the entire people, assembled for the liturgy. He first exalts God's work in the whole universe: He is the Lord of the cosmos par excellence: "The Lord does whatever he wills, in heaven and on earth" (Ps 135,6). He even commands the seas and the depths, which are the emblem of chaos, of negative forces, of limitation and the void.

Again, it is the Lord, with recourse to his "storehouses" (cf. Ps 135,7), who produces the clouds, lightning, rain and winds. In ancient times, people in the Near East imagined that the elements were stored in special containers, rather like heavenly caskets, from which God drew them and scattered them on earth.

24 4. The other element of the profession of faith concerns the history of salvation. God the Creator is now recognized as the redeeming Lord, calling to mind the fundamental events of Israel's liberation from slavery in Egypt. The Psalmist initially cites the "plague" of the first-born (cf. Ex 12,29-30) that sums up all the "signs and miracles" that God the Liberator worked during the epic of the Exodus (cf. Ps 135,8-9 [134]: 8-9). Immediately afterwards are recalled the sensational victories that enabled Israel to overcome the difficulties and obstacles with which its path was strewn (cf. Ps 135,10-11). Finally, the promised land, which Israel receives as "a heritage" from the Lord, can be discerned on the horizon (cf. Ps 135,12).

All these signs of the covenant, more broadly expressed in the following Psalm, 135 [136], testify to the basic truth, announced in the first Commandment of the Decalogue. God is one and he is a person who works and speaks, loves and saves: "the Lord is great... our God is above all gods" (Ps 135,5; cf. Ex 20,2-3 Ps 95,3 [94]: 3).

5. Following this profession of faith, we too raise our praise to God. Pope St Clement I, in his Letter to the Corinthians, addresses this invitation to us: "Let us gaze upon the Father and Creator of the whole universe. Let us cherish his gifts and benefits of peace, magnificent and sublime. Let us contemplate him with our minds and turn the eyes of our soul to the greatness of his will! Only think how just he is to all his creatures. The heavens that move as he orders obey him in harmony. Day and night take the course he has established and are not confused with each other.

The sun and moon and the multitudes of stars revolve harmoniously according to his directions, never deviating from the orbits he has assigned to them. The earth, made fertile through his will, produces abundant food for men and women, for wild beasts and for all the animals that live on it, without reluctance and changing none of his orders" (19,2-20,4: I Padri Apostolici, Rome, 1984, pp. 62-63). Clement I concludes observing: "The Creator and Lord of the universe disposes that all these things should be in peace and concord, beneficient to all and especially to us who call on his mercy through Our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen" (20,11-12: ibid., p. 63).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I am pleased to extend special greetings to the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, the Faroe Islands and the United States of America. Upon all of you, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

I now address a cordial greeting to you, young people, sick people and newly-weds.

In this last stretch of Lent, I urge you to continue with commitment the spiritual journey towards Easter.

I ask you, dear young people, to intensify your witness of love for the cross of Christ; I ask you, dear sick people, to live the trial of pain as an act of love for the crucified and risen Jesus; and I ask you, dear newly-weds, to imitate in your spousal union the enduring fidelity of the Lord to the Church, his Bride.

Appeal for Africa

While fighting with destruction and death continues in Baghdad and other urban centres in Iraq, equally disturbing news is arriving from the African continent. In the past few days we have received information about massacres and summary executions. The scene of these crimes was the tortured Great Lakes region and, especially, an area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As I raise to God a fervent prayer for the repose of the victims' souls, I address a heartfelt appeal to political leaders and to all people of good will to do their utmost to put an end to the violence and abuses, setting aside selfish personal and group interests, with the effective collaboration of the international community.

Thus, every effort for reconciliation among the Congolese, Ugandan and Rwandan peoples should be encouraged, as well as the parallel efforts being made in Burundi and in the Sudan, in the hope that the long-desired peace may soon blossom from them.

Wednesday, 16 April 2003 - Comment on the Easter Triduum - God has highly exalted him!

1. Tomorrow afternoon, with the Holy Mass of the Lord's Supper, begins the Easter Triduum, the fulcrum of the liturgical year. In these days, the Church is gathered in silent recollection, praying and meditating on the mystery of the passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord.

By taking part in the rites of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, we revisit the last hours of the earthly life of Jesus which ends in the glorious light of the Resurrection.

In the canticle just proclaimed, we heard that Christ became "obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him" (
Ph 2,8-9). These words sum up God's mysterious design that we relive in the coming days, a mystery that gives meaning and fulfilment to human history.

2. While the Holy Chrism Mass, which is usually celebrated on Holy Thursday morning, highlights in particular the ministerial priesthood, the rites of the Holy Mass of the Lord's Supper are a pressing invitation to contemplate the Eucharist, the central mystery of the faith and Christian life.

26 The desire to stress the importance of this Sacrament impelled me to write the Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which I will have the joy of signing during the Mass of the Lord's Supper. In this text, I intend to present to every believer a systematic reflection on the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which contains the entire spiritual good of the Church.

Together with the Eucharist, the Lord in the Upper Room instituted the ministerial Priesthood, so that his one Sacrifice would be actualized down through the centuries: "Do this in remembrance of me" (
Lc 22,19). He also left us the new commandment of fraternal love. By the washing of the feet, he taught the disciples that love must be expressed in humble and disinterested service to one's neighbour.

3. On Good Friday, a day of penance and fasting, we commemorate the passion and death of Jesus, absorbed in adoration of the Cross. "Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit - This is the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world". On Calvary, the Son of God assumed the burden of our sins, offering himself to the Father as a victim of expiation. From the Cross, the source of our salvation, new life wells up for the children of God.

Friday's drama gives place to the silence of Holy Saturday, a day full of expectation and hope. With Mary, the Christian community watches in prayer by the tomb, waiting for the glorious event of the Resurrection.

On the Holy Night of Easter, all is renewed in the risen Christ. From every corner of the earth the song of the Gloria and the Alleluia will rise to heaven, while the light will crush the darkness of the night. On Easter Sunday, we will rejoice with the Risen One and receive from him his greeting of peace.

4. Let us prepare ourselves, dear brothers and sisters, to celebrate these holy days with their due dignity and contemplate the marvellous work wrought by God in the humiliation and exaltation of Christ (cf. Ph 2,6-11).

Commemorating this central mystery of the faith also involves the commitment to put it into practice in the concrete reality of our lives. It means recognizing that Christ's passion is continued in the dramatic events which, unfortunately, still in our time afflict so many men and women in every part of the earth.

The mystery of the Cross and of the Resurrection, however, assures us that hatred, violence, blood and death do not have the last word in human lives. The definitive victory is Christ's, and we must set out anew with him if we want to build a future of authentic peace, justice and solidarity for everyone.

May the Virgin, who shared intimately in the saving plan, accompany us on the way of the passion and the cross to the empty tomb, in order to meet her divine and risen Son! Let us enter into the spiritual atmosphere of the Holy Triduum with Mary as our guide.

With these sentiments, I warmly wish everyone a peaceful and holy Easter.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Australia, Ireland, Norway, Scotland and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I wish you a happy and holy Easter.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

My thoughts now turn to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds to whom I offer special good wishes for Easter.

Dear young people, I hope that you will not be afraid to follow Christ, even when he asks you to travel with him on the difficult way of the Cross. Dear sick people, may meditation on the passion of Jesus, the mystery of suffering transfigured by love, bring you comfort and consolation. And in you, dear newly-weds, may the death and Resurrection of the Lord renew the joy and commitment of your marriage bond.

Wednesday, 23 April 2003


1. During these days of the Octave of Easter, there is great rejoicing throughout the Church for the resurrection of Christ. After suffering his passion and death on the Cross, he now lives for ever and death has no more power over him.

From the community of the faithful, in every part of the world a canticle of praise and thanksgiving is raised to heaven, to the One who set man free; to the incarnate Word who brought about redemption from the slavery of evil and sin. This is expressed in Psalm 135, just proclaimed, which is a splendid hymn to the Lord's goodness. The merciful love of God is fully and definitively revealed in the Paschal Mystery.

2. After his Resurrection, the Lord appears several times to his disciples and meets them on various occasions. The Evangelists mention different episodes which communicate the wonder and joy of those who witnessed these miraculous events. John, in particular, highlights the first words that the risen Teacher addresses to his disciples.

"Peace be with you", he says on entering the Upper Room, and he repeats this greeting at least three times (cf.
Jn 20,19 Jn 20,21 Jn 20,26). We can say that these words, "peace be with you", in Hebrew "shalom", in a certain way, contain and sum up the entire Easter message. Peace is the gift that the Risen Lord offers to humanity, and it is the fruit of the new life inaugurated by his resurrection.

Peace, therefore, is identified as a "novelty" inserted into the history of the Passover of Christ. It is born from a deep renewal of the human heart. Therefore, it is not the result of human efforts nor can it be achieved only through agreements between persons and institutions. Rather, it is a gift to be accepted with generosity, to be preserved with care, and to be made fruitful with maturity and responsibility. However troubled the situation may be, however strong the tension and conflict, nothing can resist the effective renewal brought by the risen Christ. He is our peace.As we read in St Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, with his Cross he destroyed hostility, "that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace" (Ep 2,15).

28 3. The Octave of Easter, pervaded with light and joy, will end next Sunday with the Second Sunday of Easter, also called Divine Mercy Sunday. Easter is the perfect manifestation of this mercy of God, who "will have compassion on his servants" (Ps 135,14 [134]: 14).

With his death on the Cross, Christ reconciled us with God and laid the foundations in the world of a fraternal coexistence among all people. In Christ, the frail human being who yearns for happiness was redeemed from the slavery of the Evil One and from death, which brings sorrow and suffering.

The Redeemer's blood has washed away our sins. Thus, we have experienced the renewing power of his forgiveness. Divine mercy opens the heart to pardon our brothers and sisters, and it is with forgiveness offered and received that peace is built in families and in every other milieu of life.

I gladly renew my most cordial Easter wishes to you all as I entrust you, along with your families and your communities, to the heavenly protection of Mary, Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace.


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I am pleased to greet the newly ordained deacons from the Pontifical Irish College and from the Pontifical Scots College. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present today, especially those from Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the United States of America, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the risen Saviour. Happy Easter!

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

My thoughts now turn to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.

Dear young people - and especially you who have come in such large numbers from the various parishes of the Archdiocese of Milan and this year are making your "Profession of Faith" - renew your faith in the risen Saviour, to be his enthusiastic witnesses in the Church and in society, so that with your fidelity to the Gospel you may contribute to building the civilization of love.

Dear sick people, may the light of the Resurrection, which is a comfort and support to believers, brighten your daily life and make it fruitful for the benefit of all humanity.

Dear newly-weds, may you draw spiritual strength every day from the Paschal Mystery in order to nourish your family with sincere and inexhaustible love.

I am pleased to greet the newly ordained deacons from the Pontifical Irish College and from the Pontifical Scots College. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present today, especially those from Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the United States of America, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour. Happy Easter!

Wednesday, 30 April 2003 - Psalm 101£[100] - "I will sing of loyalty and of justice!'

29 Ps 101

1. After the two catecheses on the meaning of the Easter celebrations, let us return to our reflection on the Liturgy of Lauds. For Tuesday of the Fourth Week it offers us Psalm 101[100], which we have just heard.

It is a meditation that paints the portrait of the ideal politician whose model of life must be divine action in the governance of the world: an action dictated by perfect moral integrity and a resolute commitment to combating all forms of injustice. This text is now proposed anew as a programme of life for the faithful who are beginning their working day and relations with their neighbour. It is a programme of "loyalty and of justice" (cf. Ps 101,1), which is expressed in two great moral paths.

2. The first is called the way "of the blameless" and aims at exalting personal choices in life, made with an "integrity of heart", that is, with a perfectly clear conscience (cf. Ps 101,2).

On the one hand, there are positive remarks about the great moral virtues that brighten the "house", that is, the family of the just man: the wisdom that helps us understand and judge properly; the innocence that is purity of heart and of life; and lastly, the integrity of conscience that tolerates no compromise with evil.

On the other hand, the Psalmist introduces a negative task. This is the struggle against every form of wickedness and injustice, in order to keep his own house and his own decisions free of every perversion of the moral order (cf. Ps 101,3-4).

As St Basil, a great Father of the Eastern Church, writes in his work De Baptismo, "Not even the momentary pleasure that contaminates thought should trouble the one who is mourned with Christ in a death like his" (Opere Ascetiche, Turin 1980, p. 548).

30 3. The second path unfolds in the last part of the Psalm (cf. Ps 101,5-8) and explains the importance of the most typically public and social talents. In this case too are listed the essential references for a life that is set on rejecting evil with force and determination.

First of all, [there is] the fight against slander and spying in secret, a fundamental commitment in a society with an oral tradition that gave special importance to the function of words in interpersonal relations. The king, who also acts as judge, announces that he will use the utmost severity in this fight: he will "destroy" the slanderer (cf. Ps 101,5). Then he rejects all arrogance and haughtiness; he spurns the company and counsel of those who always practise deceit and utter lies. Lastly, the king declares the way in which he wants to choose the "people who serve him" (cf. Ps 101,6), that is, his ministers. He will be careful to choose them from among the "faithful in the land". He wants to surround himself with people of integrity and to avoid contact with "those who practise deceit" (cf. Ps 101,7).

4. The last verse of the Psalm is particularly forceful. It can make the Christian reader uncomfortable, for it proclaims destruction: "Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off the evildoers from the city of the Lord" (Ps 101,8). It is important, however, to remember one thing: the person speaking these words is not just any individual but a king, the supreme authority responsible for justice in the land. In this sentence he expresses, with exaggeration, his implacable commitment to fight crime, which is only right and is shared by all who have civil authority.

Of course, it is not up to every citizen to mete out punishment! If, therefore, individual members of the faithful wish to apply this sentence of the Psalm to themselves, they must do so by analogy, that is, by deciding to uproot from their own hearts and conduct, every morning, the evil sown by corruption and violence, by perversion and wickedness, as well as by every form of selfishness and injustice.

5. Let us end our meditation by returning to the first verse of the Psalm: "I will sing of loyalty and of justice..." (Ps 101,1). In his Comments on the Psalms, an ancient Christian author, Eusebius of Caesarea, stresses the primacy of mercy over justice, albeit necessary: "I will sing of your mercy and your judgment, showing your usual approach: not to judge first and then to have mercy, but first to have mercy and then to judge and pass sentences with clemency and compassion.
"Thus treating my neighbour with mercy and discretion, I dare to come close to sing you psalms of praise. Conscious, therefore, that we must act like this, I keep my paths immaculate and innocent, convinced that in this way, through good works, my songs of praise will be pleasing to you" (PG 23,1241).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I am pleased to welcome the many English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Korea, Japan, Canada and the United States. My special greeting goes to the group of Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhists from Japan. I also thank the Korean choir for its song. Upon all of you I invoke God's abundant blessings of joy and peace.

Feast of St Joseph the Worker

Tomorrow is the first day of May, the month dedicated to Our Lady. It begins with the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. Today let us entrust in particular the world of work to the Virgin Most Holy, and especially to her chaste husband, Joseph. May he, who was familiar with the efforts of daily life, be an example and support to all those who provide through their activity for the needs of their family and of the entire human community.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Finally, my thoughts turn to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the risen Lord fill the hearts of each one of you with his love, dear young people, so that you may be ready to follow him with enthusiasm; may he sustain you, dear sick people, so that you may be prepared to accept with serenity the daily burden of suffering, and guide you, dear newly-weds, so that your family may grow in holiness, following the model of the Holy Family.

                                                                                  May 2003

Wednesday, 7 May 2003

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Today I would like to reflect on the apostolic journey which I was able to make in Spain last Saturday and Sunday and whose theme was: "Seréis mis testigos - You will be my witnesses".

I thank the Lord for allowing me to visit that noble and beloved nation for the fifth time, and I renew the expression of my cordial gratitude to the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, to the Pastors and the entire Church of Spain, to Their Majesties the King and Queen and also to the Head of Government and the other Authorities who welcomed me with such affectionate attention.

From the moment I arrived, I was able to express the esteem the Successor of Peter has for that portion of the people of God which - for almost 2,000 years - has been a pilgrim in the land of Iberia and has played an important role in the evangelization of Europe and of the world. At the same time, I wanted to express my appreciation for the social progress the country has made, inviting it to continue to base its development on the authentic and perennial values that constitute the precious heritage of the entire European continent.

2. The two principal moments of my pastoral pilgrimage were the big meeting with young people on Saturday afternoon, and the holy Mass for the canonization of five Blesseds on Sunday morning.

At the Cuatros Vientos Air Base in Madrid, the vigil with the young people, in the context of the prayer of the Rosary gave me an opportunity to propose once again in summary form the message of my Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae and of the Year of the Rosary which we are celebrating. I invited the young people to be increasingly men and women of strong interiority, ceaselessly contemplating, together with Mary, Christ and his mysteries. Indeed, this is the most effective antidote to the snares of consumerism to which people today are exposed. It is urgently necessary to counter the suggestion of the fleeting values of the visible world, broadcast by a certain type of media, with the lasting values of the spirit, which can only be achieved by entering once again into one's own interiority through contemplation and prayer.

I was then delighted to note that the young are increasingly able to play a lead role in the new evangelization among their peers and are ready to devote their energies to the service of Christ and of his Kingdom. I entrust to the Virgin the youth of Madrid and of all Spain, who are the future and the hope of the Church and of society in that great nation.

32 3. The following day the solemn Eucharistic celebration took place in Plaza de Colón in the city centre. In the presence of the Royal Family, the Episcopate and the Authorities of the country, before a vast gathering that included representatives of all the ecclesiastical sectors, I had the joy of canonizing five of Spain's children: Pedro Poveda Castroverde, priest and martyr; José María Rubio y Peralta, priest; and the women religious, Genoveva Torres Morales, Angela de la Cruz and María Maravillas of Jesus.

These authentic disciples of Christ and witnesses of his Resurrection are an example for Christians throughout the world: finding in prayer the necessary strength, they were able to carry out the tasks that God entrusted to them in the contemplative life, in the pastoral ministry, in the field of education, in the apostolate of preaching retreats and in charity to the poor. May the believers and ecclesial communities of Spain be inspired by them in particular, so that this blessed land of God will continue, also in our time, to produce abundant fruits of Gospel perfection.

To this end, I urged the Christians of Spain to remain faithful to the Gospel, to defend and promote the unity of the family, and to preserve and renew continuously the Catholic identity that is the boast of the nation. It will be through the perennial values of its tradition that this noble country will be able to make its own effective contribution to building the new Europe.

4. This fifth Apostolic Visit to Spain has confirmed a deep conviction of mine: the old European nations have preserved their Christian soul, which is part of the "genius" and history of their respective peoples. Secularization is unfortunately threatening the fundamental values, but the Church intends to work constantly to keep this spiritual and cultural tradition alive.

Appealing to the greatness of the Spanish soul formed by solid human and Christian principles, I wanted to address to the young people especially Christ's words: "You will be my witnesses". I repeat these words today, assuring the Church and the people of Spain, as well as all of you present here, of my prayers, reinforced by a special Apostolic Blessing.


To the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Finland, the Russian Federation, India, Canada and the United States of America, I offer special greetings. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of the risen Saviour.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

I now address the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Tomorrow is the Feast of Our Lady of Pompei. I invite you, dear young people, to imitate Mary and always to trust in her motherly protection. May she help you to bring serenity wherever there is sorrow and loneliness. Dear sick people, I hope that you will live your condition with the help of the Blessed Virgin, confidently abandoning yourselves to the Lord's will. May Our Lady sustain you, dear newly-weds, so that your reciprocal fidelity may be a source of joy and peace.

Wednesday, 14 May 2003 - Canticle from the Book of Daniel - We trust in your merciful love!


1. The Canticle that has just been proclaimed is part of the Greek text of the Book of Daniel, presented as a fervent and sincere supplication raised to the Lord. It is the voice of Israel, experiencing the harsh trial of exile and of the diaspora among the peoples. Indeed, it is an Israelite, Azariah, who intones the Canticle, set in the Babylonian panorama at the time of the exile of Israel after the destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar.

Azariah, with two other faithful Israelites, is "in the midst of the fire" (
Da 3,25), like a martyr ready to suffer death in order not to betray his conscience and his faith. He was condemned to death for refusing to worship the imperial image.

2. The persecution is considered in this Canticle as a just punishment with which God purifies his sinful people: "In truth and justice you have brought all this upon us", Azariah confesses, "because of our sins" (Da 3,28). We are therefore in the presence of a penitential prayer that does not give way to discouragement or fear but to hope.

Of course, the starting point is sorrowful, the despair deep, the trial burdensome, and the divine judgment on the people's sin severe: "At this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before you or to find mercy" (Da 3,38). The temple of Zion is destroyed and it seems as though the Lord no longer dwells among his people.

3. In the present tragic situation, hope seeks its roots in the past, that is, in the promises made to the fathers. It goes back, therefore, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf. Da 3,35), to whom God assured blessings and fruitfulness, a land and importance, life and peace. God is faithful and will not be untrue to his promises. Even if justice demands that Israel be punished for its sins, the certainty that mercy and pardon will always have the last word endures. The Prophet Ezekiel previously mentioned these words of the Lord: "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked... and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?... For I have no pleasure in the death of any one" (Ez 18,23 Ez 18,32). Now, of course, is the time of humiliation: "For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any nation and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins" (Da 3,37). Yet we do not have an expectation of death, but of new life, after purification.

4. The man praying approaches the Lord, offering him the most precious and acceptable sacrifice: a "contrite heart" and "humbled spirit" (Da 3,39; cf. Ps 51,19 [50]). Indeed, it is the centre of existence, the "I" renewed by the trial that it offers to God, so that he might accept it as a sign of conversion and dedication to do good.

By this inner disposition, fear is overcome, confusion and shame are put to flight (cf. Da 3,40), and the spirit opens to confidence in a better future, when the promises made to the fathers will be fulfilled.

The last sentence of Azariah's entreaty, as it is proposed by the liturgy, has a strong emotional impact and deep spiritual intensity: "now with all our heart we follow you, we fear you and seek your face..." (Da 3,41). In these words lingers an echo of another Psalm: "My heart says to you, "Your face, Lord, do I seek'" (Ps 27,8 [26]).

The time has now come when our journey is leaving behind the perverse routes of evil, the crooked paths and devious ways (Pr 2,15). We are beginning to follow the Lord, moved by the desire to find his face. And his face is not angry but filled with love, as was the merciful father's for his prodigal son (cf. Lc 15,11-32).

5. Let us conclude our reflection on the Canticle of Azariah with the prayer written by St Maximus the Confessor in his Discorso Ascetico (37-39), inspired by the text of the Prophet Daniel. "For your name's sake do not abandon us forever, do not break your covenant, nor withdraw your mercy from us (cf. Da 3,34-35), through your mercy, O, Our Father in Heaven, through the compassion of your Only-begotten Son and the mercy of your Holy Spirit.... Do not be deaf to our plea, O Lord, and do not abandon us for ever.

34 "Let us not trust in our own works of justice but in your mercy, through which you preserve our race.... Do not despise our unworthiness, but have pity on us in accordance with your great mercy, and take away our sins through the fullness of your mercy, so that, without condemnation, we may come close to your holy glory and be deemed worthy of the protection of your Only-begotten Son".

St Maximus ends: "Yes, O Lord, Almighty Master, hear our plea, for we recognize none other than you" (Umanità e Divinità di Cristo, Rome 1979, PP 51-52).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I am pleased to extend special greetings to the participants in the NATO Defense College and to the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, particularly those from England, Wales, Australia, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of the Risen Saviour.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Lastly, I address the young people, the sick and the newly-weds, urging them all to deepen the pious practice of the Holy Rosary, especially in this month of May, dedicated to the Mother of God.

I invite you, dear young people, to make the most of this traditional evangelical prayer, which helps us to understand better the central moments of salvation brought about by Christ. I urge you, dear sick people, to turn confidently to Our Lady through this pious practice, entrusting all your needs to her. I hope, dear newly-weds, that you will make the recitation of the Rosary together an intense moment of family life under the maternal gaze of the Virgin Mary.