Wednesday, 21 May 2003 - Psalm 144£[143] - "Blessed be the Lord, my rock!'

1. We have just heard the first part of Psalm 144[143]. It appears to be a royal hymn, interwoven with other biblical texts so as to give life to a new prayerful composition (cf.
Ps 8,5 Ps 18,8-15 [17]; Ps 33,2-3 [32]; Ps 39,6-7 [38]). The Davidic sovereign himself, speaking in the first person, recognizes the divine origin of his success.

The Lord is portrayed in martial images, in accordance with the ancient use of symbols: indeed, he is seen as a military instructor (cf. Ps 144,1 [143]), an impregnable fortress, a protective shield, a victor (cf. Ps 144,2). It is desired in this way to exalt the personality of God, who battles against the evil in history: he is neither a dark or fateful power, nor an imperturbable sovereign indifferent to human vicissitudes. The citations and tone of this celebration of the divine echo the hymn of David preserved in Psalm 18[17] and in chapter 22 of the Second Book of Samuel.

2. Compared with the mightiness of God, the Jewish king recognizes that he is as frail and weak as all human creatures. To express his feeling, the royal person in his prayer makes use of two sentences, found in Psalms Ps 8,4 and Ps 39,5 [38] and, interweaving them, produces a powerful new effect: "O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow" (Ps 144,3-4). Here the firm conviction emerges that like a puff of wind we have no substance, if the Creator does not keep us alive, the One in whose "hand", as Job says, "is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (Jb 12,10).

Only with divine support can we overcome the dangers and difficulties which beset our daily life. Only by counting on help from Heaven will we have the determination to set out, like the ancient king of Israel, on the way towards freedom from every form of oppression.

3. Divine intervention is pictured in the traditional cosmic and historical images in order to illustrate the divine supremacy over the universe and human events. Here, then, are the mountains smoking in sudden volcanic eruptions (cf. Ps 144,5 [143]). Here are the flashes of lightning that seem like arrows released by the Lord, ready to destroy evil (cf. Ps 144,6). Here, lastly, are the "many waters" which in biblical language symbolize chaos, evil and the void, in a word, the negative elements within history (cf. Ps 144,7). These cosmic images are juxtaposed with others of a historical kind: like the "enemies" (cf. Ps 144,6), the "aliens" (cf. Ps 144,7), the liars and perjurers, that is, idolaters (cf. Ps 144,8).

This is a very concrete and Oriental way of portraying wickedness, perversion, oppression and injustice: terrible realities from which the Lord frees us as we make our way in the world.

4. Psalm 144[143], which the Liturgy of Lauds presents to us, ends with a short hymn of thanksgiving (cf. Ps 144,9-10). It is inspired by the certainty that God will not abandon us in the fight against evil. For this reason, the person praying intones a melody, accompanying it with his ten-stringed harp, in the certainty that the Lord "gives victory to kings" and "rescues David [his anointed] servant" (Ps 144,9-10).

In Hebrew, the word "consecrated" is "Messiah": thus, we are looking at a royal Psalm, transformed into a messianic hymn, as was the liturgical custom of ancient Israel. We Christians should repeat it as we keep our gaze fixed on Christ, who frees us from every evil and sustains us in the battle against the hidden powers of wickedness. Indeed, "we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of this dark world, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (cf. Ep 6,12).

5. Let us therefore conclude with a thought suggested to us by St John Cassian, a monk who lived in Gaul in the fourth to fifth century. In his work The Incarnation of the Lord, inspired by verse 5 of our Psalm, "Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down!", he sees in these words the expectation of Christ's coming into the world.

He continues: "The Psalmist implored... the Lord to manifest himself in the flesh, to appear visibly in the world, to be visibly taken up in glory (cf. 1Tm 3,16) and lastly, to enable the saints to see, with their own eyes, all that they had spiritually foreseen" (L'Incarnazione del Signore, V, 13, Rome 1991, PP 208-209). It is precisely this that every baptized person witnesses to in the joy of faith.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from England, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of the Risen Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome. I welcome those from England who have come to Rome to profess their faith at the Tombs of the Apostles. Happy Easter!

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. In this Year dedicated to the Rosary, the month of May is an opportunity for a more intense encounter with Our Lady. May Mary, who waited with the Apostles in the Upper Room for the descent of the Holy Spirit, help you, dear young people, to carry out with readiness the mission that God entrusts to you. May he sustain you, dear sick people, in accepting your sufferings in union with Christ. May he intercede for you, dear newly-weds, so that your family may be a genuine domestic Church, enlivened by the light of faith, hope and charity.

Wednesday, 28 May 2003 - Psalm 108£[107] - "My heart is steadfast, O God!'

1. Psalm 108[107], which has just been presented to us, is part of the sequence of Psalms in the Liturgy of Lauds, the topic of our catechesis. It has a characteristic which at first sight is surprising: it is merely composed of two pre-existing psalm fragments fused together, one from Psalm 57[56] (
Ps 57,8-12) and the other from Psalm 60[59] (Ps 60,7-14). The first fragment is reminiscent of a hymn, the second seems to be a supplication but includes a divine oracle which instils serenity and trust in the person praying.

This fusion gives rise to a new prayer, and this fact provides us with a model. Actually, the Christian liturgy frequently combines different biblical passages, transforming them into a new text destined to illuminate new situations. Yet the link with the original source is preserved. In practice, Psalm Ps 108 [107] - (but it is not the only one; for further proof, see Psalm Ps 144 [143]) - shows that Israel, already in the Old Testament, was re-using and bringing up-to-date the Word of God revealed.

2. The Psalm resulting from this fusion is therefore something more than the mere combination or juxtaposition of two pre-existing passages. Instead of beginning with a humble plea like Psalm 57[56]: "Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me" (Ps 108,2), the new Psalm begins with a resolute announcement of praise to God: "My heart is steadfast, O God... I will sing praises..." (Ps 108,2 [107]). This praise replaces the lament in the opening lines of another Psalm (cf. Ps 60,1-6 [59]), and thus becomes the basis of the following divine oracle (Ps 60,8-10 [59] = Ps 108,8-10 [107]) and of the supplication that surrounds it (Ps 60,7 Ps 60,11-14 [59] = Ps 108,7 Ps 108,11-14 [107]).

Hope and nightmare are blended to form the substance of the new prayer, the whole of which is intended to imbue confidence, even in the times of adversity which the entire community has experienced.

37 3. So the Psalm opens with a joyful hymn of praise. It is a morning song, accompanied by harp and lyre. (cf. Ps 108,3 [107]). The message is clear. At the centre it has the divine "love" and "faithfulness" (cf. Ps 108,5): in Hebrew, hésed and 'emèt are typical words used to describe the loving fidelity of the Lord regarding the Covenant with his people. On the basis of this fidelity, the people are sure that God will never abandon them in the abyss of the void or of despair.

The Christian interpretation of this Psalm is particularly evocative. In v. Ps 108,6, the Psalmist celebrates God's transcendent glory: "Be exalted (that is, "rise'), O God, above the heavens!". Commenting on this Psalm, Origen, the renowned third-century Christian writer, goes back to this sentence of Jesus: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12,32), referring to his crucifixion, whose result is described in the affirmation of the next verse: "that your beloved may be delivered" (Ps 108,7 [107]). Origin thus concludes: "What a marvellous meaning! The Lord was crucified and exalted so that his beloved might be delivered.... All we have asked for has come true: he has been lifted up and we have been delivered" (Origene-Gerolamo, 74 Omelie sul Libro dei Salmi, Milan 1993, p. 367).

4. Let us now move on to the second part of Psalm 108[107], a partial citation of Psalm 60[59], as has been said. In the midst of the anguish of Israel, who feels that God is absent and remote ("have you not rejected us, O God?": Ps 108,12), is raised the voice of the oracle of the Lord which echoes in the temple (cf. Ps 108,8-10). In this revelation, God is presented as the judge and lord of all the holy land, from the city of Shechem to the Vale of Succoth beyond the Jordan, from the eastern regions of Gilead and Manasseh to the central-southern regions of Ephraim and Judah, reaching even to the subjugated but foreign territories of Moab, Edom and Philistia.

The divine lordship over the promised land is then proclaimed in colourful martial or juridical imagery. If the Lord reigns, there is nothing to fear: we are not tossed here and there by the evil forces of fate or chaos. Even in the darkest of moments there is always a superior plan that governs history.

5. This faith kindles the flame of hope. God, in any case, will point to a way out, that is, a "fortified city" set in the region of Edom. This means that despite their hardship and his silence, God will reveal himself anew to sustain and guide his people. Effective help can come from him alone, not from external military alliances, that is, the power of armies (cf. Ps 108,13). Only with him will freedom be won, and we will do "valiantly" (Ps 108,14).

With St Jerome, let us remember the last lesson of the Psalmist, interpreted in a Christian key: "No one must despair of this life. You have Christ, and you are still afraid? He will be our strength, our bread, our guide" (Breviarium in Psalmos, Ps CVII: PL 26, 1224).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I welcome the international group of scholars attending a Conference sponsored by The Medieval Institute at Notre Dame University. My respectful greetings go to the Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhists from Japan. I also thank the two choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Ireland and the United States, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Lastly, I address you, dear young people, dear sick people and dear newly-weds. This month of May is coming to an end and we think spontaneously of Blessed Mary, the bright Star on our Christian journey. Let us call on her constantly, and we will find in her maternal intercession and in her shining example of fidelity to God's will, inspiration and support on the daily pilgrimage towards the heavenly Homeland.

                                                                                  June 2003

Wednesday, 4 June 2003 - John XXIII "The Good Pope"

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Forty years ago the beloved and revered Pope John XXIII died. I had the joy of beatifying him, together with Pius IX, on 3 September in the Year 2000.

It comes naturally to think of Monday, 3 June 1963: of that afternoon when the faithful of Rome and pilgrims flocked by the thousands to St Peter's Square, to be as close as possible to their beloved Father and Pastor who, after a long and painful illness, was departing this world.

At seven o'clock in the evening, Cardinal Luigi Traglia, Pro-Vicar of Rome, began to celebrate holy Mass in front of the Vatican Basilica while, from his bed, which had become an altar, Pope John XXIII was completing his spiritual sacrifice, the total sacrifice of his life.

From St Peter's Square, filled to overflowing, the prayer of the Church rose in unison to Heaven. We seem to be reliving those moments of intense emotion, when all humanity's gaze was turned to the window on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace. The end of that Mass coincided with the death of the Good Pope.

2. "This bed is an altar; the altar needs a victim: here I am, ready. I offer my life for the Church, the continuation of the Ecumenical Council, the peace of the world, and Christian unity" (Discorsi, Messaggi, Colloqui del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII, V, p. 618).

Ecce adsum! Here I am, I am ready! Throughout his life, the serene thought of death had accompanied Pope John who, at the hour of his farewell, turned his gaze to the future and the expectations of the People of God and of the world. In moving tones, he said that the secret of his priesthood was to be found in the Crucifix which he had always kept jealously opposite his bed. "In my long and frequent nocturnal conversations", he noted, "the thought of the redemption of the world appeared to me to be more urgent than ever". "Those arms wide open", he added, "say that he died for us all, for us all; no one is excluded from his love, from his forgiveness" (ibid.).

It is not difficult to make out in these brief words the sense of his priestly ministry, wholly dedicated to making known and loved "what is more valuable than life: blessed Jesus Christ: his Holy Church, his Gospel" (ibid., p. 612). Until the very end, the desire to do this was vibrant within him.

39 "My earthly days", Bl. John XXIII concluded, "are ending; but Christ lives on and the Church continues her task; souls, souls: ut unum sint, ut unum sint!" (ibid., p. 619).

3. Less than two months earlier, on 11 April, John XXIII had published the most famous document of his Magisterium: the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, which this year I have spoken about on many occasions. This unforgettable Pontiff's entire life was a testimony to peace. His Pontificate proved to be an exalted prophecy of peace, fully expressed in Pacem in Terris which was, as it were, a public and universal testament.

"Everyone who has joined the ranks of Christ", he wrote, "must be a glowing point of light in the world, a nucleus of love, a leaven of the whole mass. He will be so in proportion to his degree of spiritual union with God. The world will never be the dwelling-place of peace, till peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man" (Pacem in Terris, Part V, nn.
PT 164-165).

To be a point of light it is necessary to live in permanent contact with God. My venerable Predecessor, who left his mark on history, reminds the people of the third millennium too that the secret of peace and joy lie in profound and constant communion with God. The Redeemer's Heart is the source of love and peace, of hope and joy.

Our memories of beloved Pope John are thus transformed into a prayer: may he intercede from Heaven so that we too, like him, may confess at the end of our lives that we have sought nothing but Christ and his Gospel.

May Mary - whom he liked to invoke with the beautiful short prayer, Mater mea, fiducia mea! - help us persevere, with our words and our example, in the commitment to witness to peace, to contribute to building the civilization of love.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Finland, Japan, Korea and the United States. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. In a special way I greet the many student groups present. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the Holy Spirit's gifts of wisdom, joy and peace.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Lastly, my thoughts turn to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. As we prepare for the Solemnity of Pentecost, I urge you, dear young people, to be ever docile to the Spirit's action; I encourage you, dear sick people, to ask for his light and support in your suffering and trials; and I hope that you, dear newly-weds, will grow in the love that the Spirit of God pours out into hearts.

At the end of the General Audience, the Holy Father spoke in Italian of his forthcoming journey to Croatia:

I am getting ready to undertake with great hope, tomorrow, my third journey to Croatia, a land distinguished by the witness of fearless disciples of the Gospel. Its purpose is to strengthen in the faith our brothers and sisters of the Catholic community who stayed faithful to Christ during the religious persecution, and are not afraid to face the challenges of the present time to continue to proclaim it courageously.

In the past 13 years, since recovering Independence, they have consolidated the ecclesial structures and are now more and more dedicated to an incisive evangelizing action.

Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to accompany me with your prayers. I entrust my 100th Apostolic Visit to the Holy Virgin, so widely venerated in Croatia, so that she may guide my steps and obtain for the Croatian people a renewed springtime of faith and civil progress.

Wednesday, 11 June 2003 - Comment on his Apostolic Visit to Croatia

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Today I would like to go back in spirit and review with you the journey to Croatia which I was able to make a few days ago and whose theme was, "The Family: the Way of the Church and of People. It was my 100th Apostolic Visit! I raise my deepest, most heartfelt thanks to the Lord, who has opened the highways of the world and of nations to me a hundred times so that I might bear witness to him.

I returned to the noble land of Croatia to strengthen my brothers and sisters in the faith; I wanted to take a message of peace and reconciliation to all of them, and I was granted the joy of raising to the honour of the altars Sr Marija Propetoga Isusa Petkovic.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Episcopate for inviting me and for their attentive and affectionate welcome. I also extend my gratitude to the President of the Republic and the other civil and military Authorities for their courteous attendance and prompt cooperation. Lastly, I thank the Archdiocese of Rijeka and its Seminary for its hospitality to me and my collaborators.

2. My first stop was the ancient and glorious city of Dubrovnik, proud of its history and its tradition of freedom and justice. I celebrated holy Mass there, during which I beatified Sr Marija of Jesus Crucified Petkovic, an outstanding daughter of the Church in Croatia. She was a woman endowed with a heroic desire to serve God in the poorest of her brethren and founded the Daughters of Mercy of the Third Order Regular of St Francis to spread knowledge of divine Love through spiritual and concrete works of mercy.

In the light of this admirable figure, I addressed a special Message to Croatian women, whom I encouraged to make their spiritual and moral contribution to the Church and to society; in particular, I asked consecrated women to be an eloquent sign of God's loving presence among people.

41 3. The next day in Osijek, Diocese of Djakovo and Srijem, in the extreme northeast of the country, I had the pleasure of presiding at the solemn closure of the Second Diocesan Synod and of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the ecclesiastical Province of Zagreb.
On that occasion, I paused to reflect on holiness as the vocation of every Christian: this is one of the central teachings of the Second Vatican Council. I invited the lay faithful in particular to take full advantage of the grace of Baptism and Confirmation. Only persons motivated by strong faith and generous love can be apostles of reconciliation and moral reconstruction, where the wounds of a painful and difficult past are still unhealed.

In Djakovo, I paid a brief visit to the beautiful cathedral, where I greeted the seminarians and their teachers, together with a huge group of religious.

4. On Sunday, 8 June, the Feast of Pentecost, at holy Mass in Rijeka I prayed for a new outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the Christian families of Croatia and of the world. I wanted to place them all under the special protection of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Indeed, I felt it was appropriate to reassert the primary social value of the family institution, asking that it receive priority attention and that concrete provisions be made to encourage its constitution, development and stability.

In the afternoon, I went to the Shrine of Trsat, on a hill of the city of Rijeka, to join in spirit the pilgrims who venerate the Mother of God there. In fact, a pious tradition claims that the Holy House of Nazareth paused here before reaching Loreto.

5. My last stop was Zadar in Dalmatia, a city rich in history. In the shade of the Cathedral of St Anastasia, martyr of Sirmio, I celebrated the Hour of Sext on the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. This Marian feast day that extends the Solemnity of Pentecost enabled us once again to breathe the atmosphere of the Upper Room. As she was then, today too, Mary continues to be present in the ecclesial community: a humble and discreet presence, but one which enlivens prayer and life according to the Spirit; a contemplative presence, which can remind pastors and faithful of the prime importance of interiority, of listening to and assimilating the Word of God, an essential condition for a convinced and effective proclamation of the Gospel.

Dear brothers and sisters, during this visit, I could see how much Christianity has contributed to the development of art and culture in Croatia, and especially to the spirituality and morals of Croatia and its people. On these firm foundations, now, at the start of the third millennium, the beloved Croatian nation can continue to build its unity and stability, to integrate itself into the concert of the European peoples.

May God continue to bless and protect Croatia! It will always have a privileged place in my heart and prayers.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer special greetings to the English-speaking visitors present today. Upon all of you, especially those from England, the West Indies and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

I now address a special thought to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.

May the witness of the Apostle St Barnabas whose feast we are celebrating today be for you, dear young people, an encouragement always to walk in accordance with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, whom we celebrated at the Solemnity of Pentecost; may it be for you, dear sick people, a support in adhering to God's will; may it help you, dear newly-weds, to be generous witnesses of Christ's love.

Wednesday, 18 June 2003 - Canticle - Isaiah 61: 10 / 62: 4-5

The rebirth and renewal of Jerusalem - My soul exalts in my God!

42 Is 61,10 Is 62,4-5

1. The wonderful Canticle which the Liturgy of Lauds offers to us and which has just been proclaimed, begins like a Magnificat: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God" (Is 61,10). The text is set into the third part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, a section which scholars date to a later period when Israel, having returned from the exile in Babylon (sixth century BC), resumes life as a free people in the land of her fathers and rebuilds Jerusalem and the temple. Not for nothing is the holy city at the centre of the Canticle, as we shall see, and the horizon that is unfolding is bright and full of hope.

2. The Prophet introduces his canticle by portraying the people reborn, spendidly attired like a bridal couple, ready for the great day of their wedding (cf. Is 61,10). This is immediately followed by the evocation of another symbol, an expression of life, joy and newness: the new shoots that spring up like sprouting plants (cf. Is 61,11).

The prophets use the image of the new shoot in various forms to represent the messianic king (cf. Is 11,1 Is 53,2 Za 3,8 Za 6,12). The Messiah is a fertile shoot that renews the world, and the Prophet explains the deep meaning of this vitality: "The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth" (Is 61,11), so that the holy city will resemble a garden of righteousness, that is, of fidelity and truth, of justice and love. As the prophet said a little earlier, "You shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise" (Is 60,18).

3. The Prophet continues to raise his voice loudly: his tireless song is intended to portray the rebirth of Jerusalem, before which a new age is about to unfold (cf. Is 62,1). The city is pictured as a bride just before her wedding.

The spousal imagery which emerges vividly in this passage (cf. Is 62,4-5) is one of the strongest images used in the Bible to exalt the bond of intimacy and the Covenant of love between the Lord and his chosen people. Its beauty which consists of "salvation", "justice" and "glory" (cf. Is 62,1-2) will be so marvellous that it will be "a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord" (cf. Is 62,3).

43 The crucial element will be the changing of the name, as happens in our day too when a girl marries. Taking a "new name" (Is 62,2) almost means taking on a new identity, undertaking a mission, radically changing one's life (cf. Gn 32,25-33).

4. The new name that will be taken by the bride Jerusalem, destined to represent the entire people of God, is illustrated in the contrast that the Prophet specifically accentuates: "You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Married" (Is 62,4). The names that suggested the former situation of forsakenness and desolation, that is, the devastation of the city by the Babylonians and the drama of the Exile, are now replaced by the names of the rebirth and are terms of love and tenderness, celebration and happiness.

At this point full attention is focused on the Bridegroom. This is the great surprise: it is the Lord himself who will give Zion her new married name. The final declaration which sums up the theme of the song of love chanted by the people is astonishing above all: "As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you" (Is 62,5).

5. The song no longer sings of the marriage between a king and a queen, but celebrates the profound love which eternally unites God and Jerusalem. In his earthly bride, which is the holy nation, the Lord finds the same happiness which the husband experiences with his beloved wife.

The distant, transcendent God, the just judge, is now replaced by the God who is close and in love. This spousal symbolism would be transferred to the New Testament (cf. Ep 5,21-32) and taken up and developed by the Fathers of the Church. St Ambrose, for example, recalls that in this perspective, "the husband is Christ, the wife is the Church, a bride for her love and a virgin for her unsullied purity" (Esposizione del Vangelo Secondo Luca: Opera Esegetiche X/II, Milan-Rome 1978, p. 289).

He continues in another of his works: "The Church is beautiful. So the Word of God says to her, "Your beauty is unblemished, my friend, and in you there is no blame' (Ct 4,7), for sin has overpowered me... Thus, the Lord Jesus - impelled by the desire for such a great love, by the beauty of her raiment and her grace, since in those who have been purified there is no longer any stain of sin - says to the Church, "Place me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm' (Ct 8,6), that is: you are adorned, O my soul, you are wholly beautiful, nothing do you lack! "Place me as a seal upon your heart', so that your faith will be radiant in the fullness of the sacrament. And let your works shine out and show the image of God in whose image you were made" (I Misteri, nn. 49, 41: Opera Dogmatiche, III, Milan-Rome 1982, pp. 156-157).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, including those from England, Sierra Leone, Canada and the United States. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. In a special way I greet the many student groups present. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the Holy Spirit's gifts of wisdom, joy and peace.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

An affectionate thought goes to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. My dear ones, the forthcoming feast of Corpus Christi invites us to deepen our faith in the Eucharistic Mystery.

Dear young people, may the Body and Blood of Christ be your daily spiritual food, so that you may advance further and further on the path of holiness. May it be for you, dear sick people, your support and comfort in suffering. And may it help you, dear newly-weds, to instil in your family the love to which Christ bore witness for our sake by giving himself to us in the Eucharist.

"Corpus Christi'

On the occasion of the solemn feast of Corpus Christi, I invite Romans and pilgrims to take part in great numbers in the celebrations that will take place tomorrow evening in the square in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran and which will conclude in the solemn Eucharistic procession to St Mary Major's.

Visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Next Sunday, I will go to Bosnia and Herzegovina to strengthen in the faith the Catholic community there which is committed to an important process of reconciliation and agreement. I ask you to accompany me with your prayer on this apostolic journey, which I entrust to the maternal solicitude of the Blessed Virgin.

Wednesday, 25 June 2003 - Tribute to the Servant of God Pope Paul VI


1. The passage of St John's Gospel that we have listened to just now proposes anew a fascinating evangelical scene. The Son of God entrusts to Peter his flock, his Church, against which he has already assured on a previous occasion that the gates of hell would not prevail (cf.
Mt 16,17-18).

Before making this delivery Jesus asks for a profession of love: "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?..." (Jn 21,15). An unsettling question repeated three times that brings to mind the Apostle's triple denial. But notwithstanding the bitter experience, Peter humbly protests: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!" (Jn 21,17).

Love is the secret of Peter's mission! Love is also the secret for those called to imitate the Good Shepherd in guiding the People of God. "Officium amoris pascere dominicum gregem... Love's charge is to pasture the sheep of the Lord...", Paul VI loved to say, quoting a famous phrase of St Augustine.

2. "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?". How many times these words of Jesus, which we recall today, have resounded in the spirit of my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI. Forty years have passed since his election to the Chair of Peter on 21 June 1963, and 25 years since his death on 6 August 1978. From his youth he had worked in direct service of the Apostolic See alongside Pius XI.For a considerable period he was Pius XII's faithful and valuable collaborator. He was the immediate Successor of Bl. John XXIII, whom I had the joy of elevating to the honours of the altar three years ago. His ministry as universal pastor of the Church lasted 15 years and was marked above all by the Second Vatican Council and by a great openness to the requirements of the modern age.

45 I also had the grace to participate in the conciliar work and to live in the post-Council period. I personally appreciated the teaching that Paul VI unceasingly spread on the necessary "revision" of the Church to the demands of the new evangelization. Succeeding him in the Chair of Peter, I undertook to continue the pastoral action he initiated, taking my inspiration from him as a Father and as a Teacher.

3. A strong and mild Apostle, Paul VI loved the Church and worked for her unity and to intensify missionary action. In this perspective, one understands fully the innovative initiative of the Apostolic Journeys that today make up an integral part of the ministry of the Successor of Peter.

He desired that the ecclesial Community open itself to the world, without, however, surrendering to the spirit of the world. With prudent wisdom he knew how to resist the temptation of "ceding" to the modern mentality, sustaining difficulties and misunderstandings, and in some cases even hostility, with Gospel fortitude. Even in the most difficult moments, he always gave his illuminating word to the People of God. At the end of his days, the entire world came to know his greatness and embraced him lovingly.

4. His magisterium is rich and in large part directed to educating believers to the sense of the Church.

Among his many writings, I limit myself to recalling, in addition to the Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam at the beginning of his Pontificate, the moving profession of faith known as the Creed of the People of God, proclaimed with vigor in St Peter's Square on 30 June 1968. Then how can we be silent about the courageous stance in defence of human life with the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, and in favour of the development of peoples with the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, in order to build a more just and integral society?

Then there are the personal reflections that he would customarily note down during spiritual retreats, when he "retired" within himself as "in the chamber of the heart". He meditated often on the station to which God had called him at the service to the Church "always loved", in the spirit of the vocation of Peter. "To this meditation", he noted during one of these retreats, "no one can be more pledged than I.... To understand it, to live it! Lord, what a reality, what a mystery!... It is an adventure in which all depends on Christ..." (Retreat 5-13, August 1963, Meditazioni Inedite, Ed. Studium).

5. Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us give thanks to God for the gift of this Pontificate, a steady and wise guide of the Church. In his homily of 29 June 1978, a little more than a month from the end of his hard-working earthly life, Paul VI confided: "Faced with the dangers that we have outlined... [we] feel urged to go to [Christ] as our one salvation and to cry to him: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life' (
Jn 6,68). He alone is the truth, he alone is our strength, he alone is our salvation. Strengthened by him, we shall go forward together" (During Mass in St Peter's Basilica on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul, ORE, 6 July 1978, p. 3; The Teachings of Pope Paul VI, 1978, PP 240-41).

In the light of the eternal destination, we understand better how urgent it is to love Christ and to serve his Church with joy. May Mary obtain this grace for us, she whom Paul VI proclaimed with filial love Mother of the Church. And may our Lady enfold within her arms that devoted son in the eternal beatitude reserved to the faithful servants of the Gospel.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Norway and the United States. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. In a special way I greet the many student groups present. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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

A look back on his recent trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Last Sunday, divine Providence permitted me to make another Apostolic Journey to Bosnia and Herzegovina to the city of Banja Luka, six years since my last Pastoral Visit to Sarajevo. A short trip but intense and full of hope for that Country so tried by recent conflicts.

I renew my cordial appreciation to those who welcomed me, to the Bishops and the Authorities, to the Nation's political leaders and to the members of the Interreligious Council whom I encountered, noting with pleasure their openness to dialogue. I perceived in all the will to rise above the sorrowful experiences of the past in order to build, in truth and reciprocal forgiveness, a society worthy of man and acceptable to God.

The high point of the pilgrimage was the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy with the beatification of Ivan Merz, who I proposed as an example to the Catholics of that land, and especially to young people. Through his intercession, let us pray to the Lord that this Apostolic Visit will bear fruit for the Church and for the entire population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I ask God that these people, helped also by the international community, may succeed in resolving the complex problems still before them, and are able to realize the legitimate aspiration of living in peace and being part of a united Europe.

                                                                                  July 2003