Vatican City, April 23, 2009 – In his Wednesday Audiences, the Holy Father Benedict XVI has been for some time now reflecting on “people from whom we can learn what the Church is.” On April 22, he reflected on Ambrose Autpert, a relatively unknown author of whom little definite information is known, although “careful reading of the works that critics gradually recognized as his authorship allows for the discovery in his teaching of a theological and spiritual treasure precious also for our times.”
Born in Provence, Ambrose Autpert entered the court of the King of the Franks, Pepin the Short, where he was also given the role of tutor of the future emperor Charlemagne. Traveling to Italy, he visited the famous Benedict ine abbey of St. Vincent, located at the source of the Volturno, in the Duchy of Benevento, and not long afterwards, he decided to take up religious life and entered the monastery, where he could train in an appropriate manner, especially in matters of theology and spirituality. Around the year 761 he was ordained a priest and on October 4, 777, he was elected abbot with the support of the French monks and despite the opposition of some monks in favor of Lombard Potone. The tension due to nationalistic divisions did not quiet in the months ahead, and as a result, Autpert, a year later in 778, intended to step down and retire with some French monks to Spoleto. some years later, when the abbot who succeeded Autpert died and Lombard Potone was elected as successor (a. 782), the conflict flared up again, which eventually lead to the denunciation of the new abbot to Charlemagne. The contenders were referred to the court of the Pope, who summoned them to Rome. Autpert was also called as a witness, but suddenly died during the trip, perhaps killed, January 30, 784.
“Ambrose Autpert was a monk and abbot in an age marked by strong political tension, tensions which also had repercussions on life inside the monasteries. Of this we have frequent and concerned echoes in his writings,” the Pope explained. “He denounces, for example, the contradiction between the beautiful outer appearance of the monasteries and the monks' lukewarmness.” With his works, especially a small ascetic treatise on the conflict between vice and virtue, “Ambrose Autpert intended to train the monks specifically on how to address the spiritual battle on a daily basis.”
He contrasts greed and contempt of the world, which “is not a contempt of creation, beauty and goodness of creation and the Creator, but a contempt of the false vision of the world presented and insinuated to us by our own greed...Autpert notes that the desire for profit of the rich and powerful in the society of his time also exists within the souls of the monks and because of this he wrote a treatise titled 'De cupiditate' [On Greed], in which, with the Apostle Paul, he denounces from the outset the vice of greed as the root of all evil.” The Pope highlighted the relevance of this lesson “in light of this global economic crisis...from this very root of greed this crisis is born.” Not only for the monk, “but even for the man in this world, even for the rich it is necessary to fight against greed, against the desire to possess, to appear, against the false notion of freedom as the right to dispose of everything according to one's own will. Even the rich must find the authentic path of truth, of love and in this way the path of moral rectitude.”
The most important work of Ambrose Autpert is his commentary on the 10 books of the Apocalypse, fruit of long hours of work. “Autpert is interested not so much in the second coming of Christ at the end of time, but in the consequences for the Church of his first coming, the Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It tells us something very important: In reality, Christ, 'must daily be born, die, and rise in us who are his body.' In the context of the mystical dimension that surrounds every Christian, he looks to Mary as a model of the Church, a model for us all, because also in us and between us Christ must be born...His great reverence, and his deep love for the Mother of God at times inspired formulations that somehow anticipate those of St. Bernard and the Franciscan spirit, but without diverging toward questionable forms of sentimentalism, because he never separated the mystery of the Church from Mary.”
Concluding his catechesis, the Holy Father mentioned how Ambrose Autpert lived “lived in a time of intense political exploitation of the Church, in which nationalism and tribalism had disfigured the face of the Church. But he, in the midst of all these difficulties that we also experience, was able to discover the true face of the Church in Mary, in the saints. And so he was able to understand what it means to be Catholic, Christian, to live the Word of God...And with all his theological experience, the depth of his knowledge, Autpert understood that with mere theological research God can not be known as he really is. Only love can reach him. Let us listen to this message and ask the Lord to help us live the mystery of the Church today, in this our time.”
After greeting pilgrimages in various languages, he addressed the youth from the “San Lorenzo International Youth Center,” who celebrated the the 25th anniversary of the delivery of the Cross of the Holy Year to the youth of the world.
Benedict XVI recalled that “ since then, the cross was accepted in the International Youth Center of San Lorenzo, and from there began to travel to the continents, opening the hearts of many young men and women to Christ the Redeemer. This its pilgrimage continues still, especially in preparation for World Youth Day, so much so as to be known now as "the World Youth Day Cross." Dear friends, I entrust this cross to you again! Continue to carry it to every corner of the earth, so that the next generation may also discover the mercy of God and have the hope in Christ crucified and risen renewed in their hearts!”
NAZARETH, Israel, April 21, 2009 - With just over three weeks to go before Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to celebrate Mass in a new municipal amphitheater in Nazareth, bulldozers were working around the clock.
Nizar Muammar, a Catholic and one of the project architects, said April 20 that the site will be ready: It will include a stage, 7,000 permanent seats and more than 30,000 temporary chairs set up on what is becoming a terraced hillside.
The covered stage, which will serve as the platform for the altar with seating for 500 cardinals, bishops and priests, was still a hole with concrete forms and reinforced beams sticking up.
Muammar said there are three access roads to the site; there will be two big parking lots for pilgrim buses and seating for more than 40,000 people.
He said he was hoping Catholic officials would give final approval to his design for the stage, altar and papal throne.
With the roar of big machinery in the background, Muammar surveyed the site, pointed out what would go where, but he refused to reveal details about his design.
"Our motif was the story of the Annunciation and the town of Nazareth, the home of the Holy Family," he said.
He seemed to be joking when he said designers were working on getting an angel to appear, and he refused to say if the carpenters would leave their tools behind to evoke St. Joseph's trade.
The amphitheater project, funded by the city of Nazareth and the Israeli government, is creating "hundreds of jobs," he said. "We have a very tough schedule to meet, and are working around the clock."
Italy, April 20, 2009 - Pope Benedict XVI underlined the importance of a U.N.-sponsored international conference on racism and urged participants to take concrete steps to combat discrimination and intolerance around the world.
The conference, which opened in Geneva April 20, was being boycotted by the United States and several other Western countries because of fears that it would provide a platform to critics of Israel.
The pope, speaking at a noon blessing at his villa outside Rome April 19, said the conference was important because, despite the lessons of history, racist attitudes and actions are still present in contemporary society.
He encouraged participants to take "firm and concrete action, at the national and international levels, to prevent and eliminate every form of racism and intolerance." Above all, he said, a vast educational effort is needed so that human dignity and fundamental human rights are better understood and respected.
"For its part, the church teaches that only recognition of the dignity of man, created in the image and likeness of God, is able to constitute a sure reference point in this commitment," he said.
"I sincerely encourage all delegates present at the Geneva conference to work together in a spirit of mutual dialogue and acceptance in order to put an end to every form of racism, discrimination and intolerance," he said.
The Vatican sent a delegation to the Geneva conference, which was convened to examine the statement adopted in 2001 at the U.N.'s first conference on racism held in Durban, South Africa. The United States and Israel left the 2001 conference when some Arab representatives argued that Zionism was equivalent to racism.
Shortly after the pope's remarks, Germany became the latest country to announce it would not attend the Geneva conference, joining the United States, Israel, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Italy.
Critics of the conference were especially concerned that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust a myth, was scheduled to address the assembly in its opening session.
In a statement released April 18, the U.S. State Department said the text under consideration at the Geneva conference "singles out one particular conflict and prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians."
The statement said the United States also has serious concerns with relatively new additions to the text regarding "incitement" to religious hatred that run counter to the U.S. commitment to unfettered free speech. Unfortunately, the U.S. statement said, it appeared that those concerns would not be addressed at the Geneva conference.
Some Muslim countries have pressed for a ban on language considered insulting to Islam.
President Barack Obama said the United States would not participate because the Geneva conference risked a repeat of the Durban experience of 2001, when "folks expressed antagonism toward Israel in ways that were oftentimes completely hypocritical and counterproductive."
The text under consideration in Geneva has been revised in recent months, and the latest draft does not include references to Israel or Zionism.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said she was shocked and disappointed at the U.S. decision not to attend the conference. She said the boycott by several countries undercuts the global effort to fight racism and intolerance.
At the end of his dramatic Passion narrative, the Evangelist Saint Mark tells us: "The centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, and said: ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’" (Mk 15:39). We cannot fail to be surprised by the profession of faith of this Roman soldier, who had been present throughout the various phases of the Crucifixion. When the darkness of night was falling on that Friday so unlike any other in history, when the sacrifice of the Cross was already consummated and the bystanders were making haste to celebrate the Jewish Passover in the usual way, these few words, wrung from the lips of a nameless commander in the Roman army, resounded through the silence that surrounded that most singular death. This Roman army officer, having witnessed the execution of one of countless condemned prisoners, was able to recognize in this crucified man the Son of God, who had perished in the most humiliating abandonment. His shameful end ought to have marked the definitive triumph of hatred and death over love and life. But it was not so! Hanging from the Cross on Golgotha was a man who was already dead, but that man was acknowledged to be the "Son of God" by the centurion, "on seeing that he thus breathed his last", as the Evangelist specifies.
We are reminded of this soldier’s profession of faith every time we listen anew to Saint Mark’s Passion account. This evening, like the centurion, we pause to gaze on the lifeless face of the Crucified One at the conclusion of this traditional Via Crucis which, through radio and television coverage, has brought many people together from every part of the world. We have re-lived the tragic event of a man unique in the history of all times, who changed the world not by killing others but by letting himself be killed as he hung from a cross. This man, seemingly one of us, who while he was being killed forgave his executioners, is the "Son of God", who, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant … he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8).
The anguish of the Passion of the Lord Jesus cannot fail to move to pity even the most hardened hearts, as it constitutes the climax of the revelation of God’s love for each of us. Saint John observes: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). It is for love of us that Christ dies on the cross! Throughout the course of the millennia, a great multitude of men and women have been drawn deeply into this mystery and they have followed him, making in their turn, like him and with his help, a gift to others of their own lives. They are the saints and the martyrs, many of whom remain unknown to us. Even in our own time, how many people, in the silence of their daily lives, unite their sufferings with those of the Crucified One and become apostles of a true spiritual and social renewal! What would man be without Christ? Saint Augustine observes: "You would still be in a state of wretchedness, had He not shown you mercy. You would not have returned to life, had He not shared your death. You would have passed away had He not come to your aid. You would be lost, had He not come" (Discourse 185:1). So why not welcome him into our lives?
Let us pause this evening to contemplate his disfigured face: it is the face of the Man of sorrows, who took upon himself the burden of all our mortal anguish. His face is reflected in that of every person who is humiliated and offended, sick and suffering, alone, abandoned and despised. Pouring out his blood, he has rescued us from the slavery of death, he has broken the solitude of our tears, he has entered into our every grief and our every anxiety.
Brothers and Sisters! As the Cross rises up on Golgotha, the eyes of our faith are already turned towards the dawning of the new Day, and we begin to taste the joy and splendour of Easter. "If we have died with Christ", writes Saint Paul, "we believe that we shall also live with Him" (Rom 6:8). In this certainty, let us continue our journey. Tomorrow, on Holy Saturday, we will watch and pray together with Mary, the Sorrowful Virgin, preparing ourselves in this way to celebrate the wonder of the Lord’s resurrection at the solemn Easter Vigil.
I wish all of you, even now, a Happy Easter in the light of the Risen Lord!
Vatican City, April 11, 2009 - This year's meditation for Pope Benedict XVI's Good Friday Way of the Cross has a distinctly Asian perspective, referring to Hindu scriptures, an Indian poet and Mahatma Gandhi.
But the linchpin of this Eastern reflection is the passion of Jesus Christ. In that sense, it reflects Pope Benedict 's view of Christianity's relationship with the non-Christian world -- that the Gospel enlightens and fulfills the beliefs of other faiths.
Indian Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati wrote the meditation on the 14 stations, to be read as the pope leads the candelit "Via Crucis" at Rome's Colosseum.
The pope chose Archbishop Menamparampil, a 72-year-old Salesian, after hearing him deliver an impressive talk at last year's Synod of Bishops on Scripture. The archbishop took it as a sign of the pope's interest in Asia.
"His Holiness regards very highly the identity of Asia, the cradle of civilization. Moreover, our Holy Father has a prophetic vision for Asia, a continent very much cherished by him and his pontificate," he said.
The immediate assumption among many Vatican observers was that the choice of an Indian would serve to highlight religious freedom issues in the wake of anti-Christian violence in parts of India.
Archbishop Menamparampil has assumed a leading role in conflict resolution among warring ethnic groups in northeast India, and his Good Friday meditation reflects his conviction that violence is never the way to resolve problems.
But he doesn't explicitly mention anti-Christian discrimination. His aim here is not to list Christianity's grievances, but to present its hopes and its answers to universal questions.
The archbishop is chairman of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences' Commission for Evangelization, and has spoken many times about the receptivity of Asians to the Gospel. He has argued that the church's presentation of the Christian message tends to be intellectual and doctrinal, but that it works best in Asia when it is more personal, experiential and poetic.
He follows that approach in his "Via Crucis" meditation, focusing on the way Jesus deals with violence and adversity, and finding parallels in Asian culture.
Condemned to death before the Sanhedrin, for example, Jesus' reaction to this injustice is not to "rouse the collective anger of people against the opponent, so that they are led into forms of greater injustice," the archbishop wrote.
Instead, he said, Jesus consistently confronts violence with serenity and strength, and seeks to prompt a change of heart through nonviolent persuasion -- a teaching Gandhi brought into public life in India with "amazing success."
He cited another Christian success story in India, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, when reflecting on how Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross.
Simon was like millions of Christians from humble backgrounds with a deep attachment to Christ -- "no glamour, no sophistication, but profound faith," in whom we discover "the sacredness of the ordinary and the greatness of what looks small," the archbishop said.
It was Jesus' plan to lift up the lowly and sustain society's poor and rejected, and Blessed Mother Teresa made that her vocation, he said.
"Give me eyes that notice the needs of the poor and a heart that reaches out in love. Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service," he said, borrowing a line from the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Archbishop Menamparampil echoed one of Pope Benedict 's favorite themes when he spoke about Jesus being mocked before his crucifixion. Today, he said, Jesus is humiliated in new ways: when the faith is trivialized, when the sense of the sacred erodes and when religious sentiment is considered one of the "unwelcome leftovers of antiquity."
The archbishop said the challenge today is to remain attentive to God's "quiet presences" found in tabernacles and shrines, the laughter of children, the tiniest living cell and the distant galaxies. His text reflected the idea that Jesus' own life embodies Indian values, including an awareness of the sacred through contemplation.
"May we never question or mock serious things in life like a cynic. Allow us not to drift into the desert of godlessness. Enable us to perceive you in the gentle breeze, see you in street corners, love you in the unborn child," he wrote.
Archbishop Menamparampil seemed equally comfortable drawing from the Western and Eastern Christian traditions. He illustrated the "mystic journey" of personal faith set in motion by Christ's death on the cross with a verse from a psalm and an eighth-century Irish hymn.
He ended with a meditation on Jesus' entombment, borrowing insights from the Eastern spiritual distinction between reality and illusion.
"Tragedies make us ponder. A tsunami tells us that life is serious. Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain pilgrim places. When death strikes near, another world draws close. We then shed our illusions and have a grasp of the deeper reality," he said.
He quoted a prayer from the Hindu holy writings, the Upanishads: "Lead me from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality." He said this was the path taken by the early Christians, who were inspired by Jesus' life to carry his message to the ends of the earth.
That message remains a simple one today, he said: "It says that the reality is Christ and that our ultimate destiny is to be with him."