Tradition holds that it was here that Saint Peter, the disciple of Jesus considered the founder of the Christian Church, arrived from Palestine and headed to Rome to begin the evangelisation of Europe.
"This promontory between Europe and the Mediterranean, between West and East, reminds us that the Church has no borders, that it is universal," said the 81-year-old pontiff.
Benedict also hailed the "generosity" of the port city of Brindisi that for years took in thousands of refugees from the former Yugoslavia and Albania.
The German-born pope celebrated an open-air mass attended by several thousand people under a hot sun at a sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary overlooking the sea in this town at the tip of the heel of Italy's "boot."
"Here as in all of southern Italy, Church communities are places where the young generation can learn hope, not as a Utopia but as the tenacious confidence in the force of good," the pope said.
"For the Church, geographical, cultural, ethnic and even religious borders are an invitation to evangelisation," he said.
Local Bishop Vito De Grisantis, greeting the pope, stressed the "need for rapid social, civil and economic development" in southern Italy, "especially to help families and young people for whom unemployment is an ever more serious problem."
The pope replied: "In a context in which individualism is more and more encouraged ... the first service of the Church is to educate in the social sense, towards paying attention to those around you, to solidarity and sharing."
He added: "The Church can have a positive influence, especially on the social level," because it fosters "open and constructive human relationships, respectful of the service of the humblest and the weakest."
Later Saturday, at a vigil with young people in nearby Brindisi, the pope warned against "the temptation of easy profits."
The Church and several humanitarian groups offered "refuge and help, despite the economic difficulties that continue to affect this region in particular," he said.
The pontiff was set to celebrate another open-air mass in Brindisi on Sunday.
The warmth of the Holy Father's reception for the American leader, and the enthusiasm that Bush showed during the meeting, prompted several Italian journalists to question whether the American president might be considering a personal commitment to the Catholic faith.
Breaking with the usual Vatican protocol, the Pope met President Bush in the Tower of St. John, rather than in the apostolic palace. After their private conversation, the two men walked together through the Vatican gardens, visiting the Lourdes grotto there.
The Vatican announced that the unusual reception was arranged "to respond to the cordiality of the welcome received by the Supreme Pontiff during his recent visit to the United States of America." In April the Pope had been clearly surprised and delighted by the warmth of his reception at the White House.
An official statement released by the Vatican after the Friday meeting indicated that the Pope's conversation with President Bush touched upon their shared "commitment in defense of fundamental moral values." They also spoke about international concerns including the tensions in the Middle East, the food crisis, and global poverty.
For reporters covering the presidential visit, however, the main focus of attention was not the policy discussion between the Pope and the President, but their personal relationship. President Bush-- who was probably meeting the Pope for the last time before leaving office in January 2009-- has spoken openly about his admiration for Pope Benedict . Reporters in Rome have openly questioned whether the American leader will follow the example of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was received into the Catholic Church shortly after he left office.
Neither the Vatican nor the White House has encouraged this speculation. President Bush is a committed Evangelical Protestant, for whom a move toward Catholicism would be a dramatic step. On the other hand his brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is convert to the Catholic faith.
The President addressed the Pontiff as "your eminence"-- improper protocol, since that title is used for cardinals, while the Pope is properly addressed as "your holiness." But in an earlier meeting with Pope Benedict just over one year ago, President Bush had addressed the Pontiff simply as "sir."
Some Vatican officials had suggested that Bush might join Pope Benedict in prayer at the Vatican's Lourdes grotto, just as the two men had prayed together at the White House in April. But if they prayed together again during this meeting, they did so privately. At the grotto the Pope and the President sat together for a short performance by the Sistine Chapel Choir.
After his education and spiritual formation in an Irish monastery, Columbanus and a group of 12 companions became missionaries on the European continent, the Pope recalled. They spread the faith "where the migration of peoples from the north and the east had caused entire Christian regions to lapse back into paganism."
This first "re-evangelization" of Europe succeeded, the Pope said, because of the powerful witness of sanctity in the missionaries' own lives. Soon Columbanus and his monks had to found a new monastery to accommodate the young men seeking to enter their community. Then a third monastery was started and the movement began to take root.
St. Columbanus wrote Regula Monachorum, which, Pope Benedict remarked, is "the only ancient Irish monastic rule we possess today." He also introduced the practice of private confession to continental Europe.
After rebuking King Theodoric for his adultery, St. Columbanus and his Irish companions sent into exile. But when their ship headed for Ireland ran aground, they returned to Europe, setting out to evangelize new territories around Switzerland and northern Italy-- a region deeply infected with the Arian heresy. The Irish monk wrote against the heresy and urged Pope Boniface IV to take action to restore orthodox Church leadership. In Bobbio, Italy, the Irish monks founded a new monastery, where St. Columbanus died in 615.
Because of his "ascetic life and his uncompromising attitude toward the corruption of the powerful," St. Columbanus invites comparisons with St. John the Baptist, the Holy Father said. Yet his uncompromising and sometimes severe attitude gave him the ability "to open himself freely to the love of God and to respond with his entire being."
Today, Pope Benedict concluded, the example set by St. Columbanus is a special challenge to Christians who, like the 6th-century Irish monk, wish to "nourish the Christian roots" of European culture and bring the message of the Gospel to a society that has become estranged from the faith.
Vatican City, Jun. 10, 2008 (vaticans.org) - Pope Benedict XVI presided at the opening of an ecclesial congress for the Rome diocese on Monday evening, June 9, and told the participants that the Church might offer "the gift of Christian hope" to a skeptical society.
At the opening session, held in the Roman basilica of St. John Lateran, the Holy Father concentrated his remarks on "educating for hope," the theme of this year's congress. He remarked that contemporary society badly needs new sources of hope, since the secular world often breeds the belief that "the best years have passed and that a future of instability and uncertainty awaits the new generations."
At other times, the Pope continued, a secular outlook offers false hopes, based on the notion that scientific progress will solve human problems. That confidence is misplaced, he said, because "it is not science and technology that can give meaning to our lives and teach us to distinguish good from evil."
Real hope comes from God and refers back to God, the Pope said. Unfortunately, he continued, today's world "tends to place God in parentheses, to organize personal and social life without Him." When society takes that attitude, the Pontiff said, "all our hopes, great and small, rest on nothing."
To provide genuine hope, then, Christians must bear witness to their faith, the Pope said. He argued that the people of the Rome diocese are ready to listen to that witness, because even the secular world has come to recognize the emptiness of modern life. The challenge for Christians is to "enliven the future of our beloved city," the Pope concluded.
Pope Benedict suggested some specific areas in which the Church should help to bring new hope to secular society: by protecting and promoting healthy family life, by welcoming new life, by caring for the needs of the poor and immigrants.
VATICAN CITY, Jun.10, 2008 (vaticans.org) - As world leaders were meeting in Rome to work out a response to the global food crisis, the Vatican weighed in on two levels -- morality and macroeconomics.
Pope Benedict XVI laid out the moral principles in a message June 3 to the World Food Security Summit, saying that hunger and malnutrition were unacceptable in a world that has sufficient levels of agricultural production and resources.
The pope said a chief cause of hunger was lack of solidarity with others, and he emphasized that protecting the right to life means helping to feed the hungry.
The pope also spoke of structural changes needed in the global agricultural economy, but he didn't get into particulars.
Those finer points, however, were examined in unusual detail in a little-noticed briefing paper produced by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The document offered the Vatican's take on the mechanisms behind the food crisis headlines. On one of the most hotly debated issues today, it came down squarely against developing biofuels from food crops at a time of global hunger.
The document made several important points:
-- The current food crisis began in 2005, it said, and is extraordinary because the price increases have affected almost all agricultural products, have hit many countries and have endured over a long stretch of time.
-- The text identified circumstantial causes of the food crisis: bad weather in many cereal-producing countries, the rise in energy prices that make production and transportation more costly, and speculation by commodity investors who have bought low and sold high.
Some exporting countries, including Brazil, China and India, have begun stockpiling food and keeping it off the market, apprehensive that they will not be able to satisfy domestic needs. That practice has also helped drive up prices, the document said.
-- It also examined the structural causes of the crisis, and here things get a bit more complicated. The paper pointed to one important shift in developing countries: a lower demand for cereals and a higher demand for protein-rich foods. That has led to more land used to produce animal feed, and less for foods used in direct human consumption.
It said long-standing subsidies to agricultural producers in richer countries have artificially kept down the international price of food products and thus discouraged farming in poorer countries. The result has been large-scale abandonment of local agriculture and increasing urbanization. Today, most poor countries are net importers of food, making them highly vulnerable as prices continue to rise.
-- The effects of the food crisis are not equal: The weakest suffer the most, especially children and the urban poor. The document cited U.N. statistics showing that for every 1 percent increase in food prices, 16 million more people fall into "food insecurity." The way things are going, the number of chronically hungry in the world could rise to 1.2 billion by 2015.
-- The document called for reconsideration of the rush to biofuel development, at least during the current crisis. Governments are called to protect the right to nourishment, and it is "unthinkable" for them to diminish the quantity of food products in favor of nonessential energy needs, it said.
Moreover, it said, the "hijacking" of agricultural land for production of biofuel crops was being subsidized by governments, which represents an interference with the correct functioning of the global food market.
-- Emergency food aid is a necessary short-term measure, it said. But such aid, if continued for long periods of time, can actually aggravate the root problems of the food crisis by weakening local agricultural markets and the food autonomy of beneficiary countries.
-- On the other hand, the current boom in food prices could turn out to be an opportunity for agricultural growth in poorer countries, as long as farmers have the essentials: land, seed, fertilizer, water and access to markets.
While the food crisis seems to have crept up on much of the world, the Vatican has been warning about the hunger problem and market imbalances for years.
In a 1998 document on land reform, for example, the justice and peace council said the trend toward large landholding was strangling the future of local farming in developing countries.
When introducing their comments on the food crisis, the pope and Vatican offices consistently quote the words of Christ: "For I was hungry and you gave me food."
Today, the Vatican is saying that basic task has assumed new dimensions that make it more complex, but far from impossible.