Vatican City – On Sunday, April 5, the Holy Father Benedict XVI presided the Mass for Palm Sunday and the Lord's Passion in Saint Peter's Square. Many youth from Rome and other Diocese participated in the event marking the XXIV World Youth Day. In the homily, the Pope reflected on the meaning of the Kingdom of God announced by Christ.
The Pope explained that “St. John, in his Gospel, after the account of the entrance into Jerusalem...first of all reports that among the pilgrims who 'wanted to worship God' during the feast, there were also some Greeks. Let us note the fact that the true objective of these pilgrims was to worship God...The true scope of the pilgrimage must be that of encountering God, to worship him... Dear friends, that is why we are gathered here together: We want to see Jesus.” From the Gospel it is not clear whether there was a meeting between Jesus and those Greeks. “Jesus' gaze reaches far higher: 'If the grain of wheat falls to the ground and does not die, it will remain alone; but if it dies, it will bear much fruit.' This means that right now a more or less brief discussion with a few persons, who will then return home, is not important. As a grain of wheat dead and risen in a totally new way, that goes beyond the limits of the moment, he will go out to meet the world and the Greeks. Through the resurrection Jesus passes beyond the limits of space and time.”
Then, the Risen Lord “goes to the Greeks and speaks with them, he manifests himself to them in such a way that they, the ones who are faraway, draw near and, precisely in their language, in their culture, his word will be carried forward in a new way and understood in a new way -- his kingdom comes,” the Pope said. He then mentioned two essential characteristics of this kingdom: it passes through the Cross and it is universal.
Universality, “catholicity,” “means that no one can posit himself as absolute, his culture, his time and his world. This means that we all welcome each other, renouncing something of ourselves. Universality includes the mystery of the cross -- the overcoming of ourselves, obedience toward the universal word of Jesus Christ in the universal Church. Universality is always an overcoming of ourselves, a renunciation of something that is ours. Universality and the cross go together. Only in this way can peace be created.”
Responding to the Greeks, Jesus “formulates once again the fundamental law of human existence: 'He who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life in this world will save it for eternal life.' He who wants to have his life for himself, live only for himself, squeeze out everything for himself and exploit all the possibilities -- he is the one who lose his life. It becomes boring and empty. Only in abandoning ourselves, only in the disinterested gift of the 'I' in favor of the 'Thou,' only in the 'Yes' to the greater life, precisely the life of God, our life too becomes full and more spacious. Thus, this fundamental principle that the Lord establishes is, in the final analysis, simply identical with the principle of love...It is this principle of love that defines man's journey, it is once again identical with the mystery of the cross, with the mystery of death and resurrection that we encounter in Christ,” the Pope continued.
In addressing especially the youth, the Holy Father reflected on the fact that “it is not just a simple matter of recognizing a principle, but of living its truth, the truth of the cross and the resurrection.” Therefore, “the great 'Yes' of the decisive moment in our life -- the 'Yes' to the truth that the Lord places before us -- must then be daily re-conquered in the everyday situations...Sacrifice, renunciation, also belongs to an upright life. He who permits himself a life without this ever renewed gift of self, deceives people. There is no successful life without sacrifice.”
Lastly, commenting on Jesus' fear in the face of the power of death, which is mentioned in the Gospel, the Pope recalled how “As a human being, Jesus also felt driven to ask that he be spared the terror of the passion. We too can pray in this way. We too can lament before the Lord like Job, present all our questions that arise in us in the face of the injustice in the world and the problems affect us personally. Before God we must not take refuge in pious phrases, in a world of make-believe...In the end, God's glory, his lordship, his will is always more important and more true than my thoughts and my will. And this is what is essential in our prayer and in our life: understanding this right order of reality, accepting it interiorly; trusting in God and believing that he is doing the right thing; understanding that his will is the truth and is love; understanding that my life will be a good life if I can learn how to conform to this order. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the guarantee that we can truly entrust ourselves to God. It is in this way that his kingdom is realized.”
In concluding the homily, the Holy Father recalled that at the end of the Mass, the young people from Australia would give the World Youth Day Cross to the young people of Spain. “When we touch the cross, indeed, when we carry it, we touch the mystery of God, the mystery of Jesus Christ. The mystery that God so loved the world -- us -- that he gave his only-begotten Son for us. We touch the marvelous mystery of God's love, the only truth that is really redemptive. But we also touch the fundamental law, the constitutive norm of our life, that is, that without the 'Yes' of the cross, without walking in communion with Christ day after day, life can never be a success.”
Vatican City, April 5, 2009 - A crowd of at least 40,000 people took part in the first ceremonies for Holy Week, with the celebration of Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square, presided over by Benedict XVI. Most of them were young people from Rome and various nations, with multicolored T-shirts, hats, shoes, bandannas, and a thicket of palms and olive branches, who had come for the 24th World Youth Day, which this year is celebrated at the diocesan level. Last year, the Day took place at the worldwide level in Sydney (Australia), and in 2011 will be held in Madrid. For this reason, at the end of the celebration Australian young people handed over the Cross of the young people to their Spanish peers.
After the long and moving singing of the Passion of Jesus according to St. Mark, the pope addressed the young people with a profound, demanding proposal. Taking his cue from today's celebration, the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the pontiff recalled the value of the days in Sydney ("the essential objective was this: We want to see Jesus"), acclaimed, as in today's liturgy, as "he who comes in the name of the Lord," and as the "kingdom of our father David that is to come!" (Mark 11:9f).
The pope asked: "Do we understand what is the Kingdom of which He spoke in the interrogation before Pilate? Do we comprehend what it means that this Kingdom is not of this world? Or do we perhaps desire that instead it should be of this world?" "We can recognize two essential characteristics of this Kingdom," he explained. "The first is that this Kingdom passes through the cross . . . the second characteristic says: his Kingdom is universal."
But Benedict XVI immediately stressed what makes the kingdom of Jesus Christ different: "[it] is not the rule of a political power, but is exclusively based on the free adherence of love - a love that, for its part, responds to the love of Jesus Christ that is given for all. I think that we must constantly relearn these two things - first of all, universality, catholicity. This means that no one can set up himself, his culture, and his world as absolute. This requires that we all accept one another, renouncing something of our own. Universality includes the mystery of the cross - transcending oneself, obedience to the common word of Jesus Christ in the common Church. Universality is always a transcendence of oneself, the renunciation of something personal. Universality and the cross go together. This is the only way in which peace is created."
To the "We want to see Jesus" (John 12:21) - the theme of the Day in Sydney - Jesus responds with his words about the "grain of wheat that dies" (John 12:24), which is "the fundamental law of human existence. 'Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life' (John 12:25). He who wants to have his life for himself, to live only for himself, to clutch everything to himself and exploit all of its possibilities - this is the very person who loses his life. It becomes tedious and empty. Only in the abandonment of oneself, only in the disinterested gift of the 'I' in favor of the 'you', only in the 'yes' to a greater life, proper to God, does our own life become full and great."
The pope explained that this principle established by Jesus is in the end the very principle of love: "Love . . . means leaving oneself, giving oneself, not wanting to possess oneself, but becoming free from one's self: not turning back upon oneself - what will become of me - but looking forward, toward the other - toward God and toward the people He sends into my life. And this principle of love, which defines the journey of man, is once again identified with the mystery of the cross, with the mystery of the death and resurrection that we encounter in Christ."
"An upright life," the pope specified, "also includes sacrifice, renunciation. He who promises a life without this constantly renewed gift of self deceives people. There is no such thing as a successful life without sacrifice. If I look back over my own life, I must say that precisely the moments in which I said 'yes' to a renunciation were the great and important moments of my life."
The pope then turned his consideration to the moments of "Jesus' fear," "his fear before the power of death, before the entire abyss of evil that He sees and into which he must descend." "We as well," Benedict XVI explained, "are able to pray in this way. We as well are able to complain before the Lord as Job did, to present to him all of our questions which, in the face of the injustice of the world and the difficulty of our own selves, emerge within us. Before Him, we must not take refuge in pious phrases, in a fictitious world. Praying always means fighting with God as well, and like Jacob we are able to say to Him: 'I will not let you go until you bless me' (Gen. 32:27)."
In the end, however, "the glory of God, his lordship, his will is increasingly more important, and more true than my thoughts and my will. And this is the essential thing about our prayer and our lives: learning this just order of reality, accepting it intimately; confiding in God and believing that He is doing the right thing; that his will is truth and love; that my life becomes good if I learn to adhere to this order. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are for us the guarantee that we can truly trust in God. And it is in this way that his Kingdom is realized."
Returning to the symbol of the cross of the young people that passes from country to country, accompanied by the young people, he stresses: "When we touch the Cross, moreover when we carry it, we touch the mystery of God, the mystery of Jesus Christ. The mystery that God so loved the world - us - as to give his only begotten Son for us (cf. John 3:16). We touch the marvelous mystery of the love of God, the only truly redeeming reality. But we also touch the fundamental law, the essential norm of our life, meaning the fact that without the 'yes' to the Cross, without walking in communion with Christ day after day, life cannot be a success. The more we are able to make certain renunciations out of love for the great truth and love of God, the more our lives become great and rich. He who wishes to keep his life for himself, loses it. He who gives his life - every day, in the small gestures that are part of a great decision - he is the one who finds it. This is the demanding but also profoundly beautiful and liberating truth into which we wish to enter step by step during the Cross's journey across the continents. May the Lord bless this journey. Amen."
Vatican City, April 3, 2009 – Young people must be the “hope” of the Church and avoid the danger, so much present in our society, that “Christian hope” might be “reduced to ideology, group slogan, an outer cover.” Giving young people Jesus as the true basis for hope was John Paul II”s deepest concern, something that continues to motivate Benedict XVI in his quest to confront today’s “educational emergency.” In tonight’s mass in St Peter’s Basilica in memory of John Paul II who died four years ago today, his successor insisted on the continuing need to be concerned about young people.
Young people from Sydney and Madrid, coming from the last and the next city to host World Youth Day, joined those from Rome to hear the Pope speak. Together, they stood for the millions who participate in this international gathering promoted by the late Pontiff. Young Poles came as well, accompanying the current cardinal of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was John Paul II’s personal secretary from the time he was archbishop till his last breath.
“Your presence,” Benedict XVI said as he focused his attention on young people, “reminds me of the enthusiasm John Paul II was able to inspire in young generations. [. . .] Since his youth he was a fearless and ardent defender of Christ. For Him he did not spare his energy in order to spread His light everywhere. He chose not to compromise when it came to proclaiming His Truth and defending it. He never tired from spreading love. From the start of his pontificate until 2 April 2005 he was never afraid to proclaim to one and all that only Jesus is the Saviour, the true Liberator of mankind, the whole of mankind.”
“Looking at his life we see how God’s pledge of fecundity to Abraham unfolded,” said the Pope. “Specifically, we can see how, during his long pontificate, he instilled faith in so many youths, at World Youth Day, now in its 23rd edition, in various parts of the world. How many people owe their vocation for the priesthood and the consecrated life to him! How many young families chose to live by the evangelical ideal in search for holiness inspired by the way my venerated predecessor preached and bore witness! How many young men and women converted or kept to the Christian path because of his prayers, encouragement, support and example!”
“It is true! John Paul II was able to impart a strong urge for hope, based on faith in Jesus Christ. As a loving father and attentive educator, he pointed the way to safe and sound points of reference that are indispensable for all, but especially for the young. As he lay dying, the new generation showed how it understood his example, gathering in silent prayer in St Peter’s Square and many other places around the world, feeling that they were losing their Pope; that their “father” in faith was passing away, dying. Yet they also felt he was leaving them in legacy the courage and coherence of his witness. Did he not in fact insist on several occasions that a radical commitment to the Gospel was need? Did he not exhort adults and young people alike to take seriously their joint educational responsibility? I, too, do focus on this concern of his, having stressed it on several occasions when I spoke about the educational emergency now affecting the family, the Church, society and above all young people. As they grow up young people need adults who can provide them with principles and values. At their age they feel the need for others to teach how to live up to high ideals by example even more than by words. But where can we get the light and wisdom to accomplish such a mission which involves all of us in the Church and society? Certainly it is not enough to rely on human resources alone; we must trust divine help first of all.”
Dear young people, without hope life does not exist. Experience shows that everything, our life included, is in danger and can collapse at any time if it has no internal or external reason. This is normal because all that is human, including hope, has no basis in and of itself, but requires a “rock” to stand. That is why Paul writes that Christians are called to build human hope on the “living God” for “only in Him can it be certain and reliable.”
“Be careful though, at a time like ours, and in the cultural and social context in which we live, we might see Christian hope reduced to ideology, group slogan, an outer cover. There is nothing more antithetical to the message of Jesus than this. He does not want his disciples to “play” a role, not even that of hope. He wants them to “be” the hope, and they can be it only if they remain united with Him. He wants each one of you, my dear young people, to be a little spring of hope for your fellow man, so that together all of you can be an oasis of hope for the society in which you live.”
“If Christ’s words dwell in us, we can spread the fire of love he set on earth and carry on high the torch of faith and hope with we which we move towards Him, as we await his glorious return at the end of times.”
“That is the torch Pope John Paul II left us as our inheritance. He handed it to me, his successor, and as an ideal I hand it to you, once more, to you especially, young people of Rome, so that you can continue to keep watch in the morning, vigilant and joyful, in this, the dawn of the 3rd millennium. Please, respond to Christ’s appeal with generosity!”
Benedict XVI’s ended by addressing Mary with the words Totus tuus, John Paul II’s motto, as he entrusted the “noble soul” of the late Pope to the Virgin.
Luanda, March 22, 2009 - Only the light of God can overcome the great "darkness" present in "many parts of our world," the evil represented by wars and tribal violence, but also by the egoism of men who exploit other men, leading to that hedonism which is at the source of escape into drugs, "sexual irresponsibility," destruction of families and innocent human lives through abortion. Benedict XVI today addressed an invitation to reconciliation and hope to all of Africa, from the esplanade of Cimangola, in Luanda, Angola, where a million people gathered to participate in the great celebration that in a certain way concludes the first trip of Benedict XVI to Africa, from where he will depart again tomorrow.
"Our prayer," he said at the Angelus, "rises today from Angola, from Africa, and embraces the whole world. May the men and women from throughout the world who join us in our prayer, turn their eyes to Africa, to this great Continent so filled with hope, yet so thirsty for justice, for peace, for a sound and integral development that can ensure a future of progress and peace for its people."
Peace, reconciliation, and justice, which will be the theme of the Synod for Africa next October, take on special resonance in this country where 27 years of civil war have left more than one antipersonnel mine for each of the 13 million inhabitants, and where the enormous natural resources - from oil to diamonds - are giving rise to economic development dominated by China - which does not "interfere" in questions like respect for human rights - with extremely deep social inequalities.
The pope also made reference to war. Taking as his point of departure the readings at Mass, he said that "its vivid description of the destruction and ruin caused by war echoes the personal experience of so many people in this country amid the terrible ravages of the civil war. How true it is that war can 'destroy everything of value' (cf. 2 Chr 36:19): families, whole communities, the fruit of men’s labour, the hopes which guide and sustain their lives and work! This experience is all too familiar to Africa as a whole: the destructive power of civil strife, the descent into a maelstrom of hatred and revenge, the squandering of the efforts of generations of good people. When God’s word – a word meant to build up individuals, communities and the whole human family – is neglected, and when God’s law is 'ridiculed, despised, laughed at' (ibid., v. 16), the result can only be destruction and injustice: the abasement of our common humanity and the betrayal of our vocation to be sons and daughters of a merciful Father, brothers and sisters of his beloved Son."
"How much darkness," he added, "there is in so many parts of our world! Tragically, the clouds of evil have also overshadowed Africa, including this beloved nation of Angola. We think of the evil of war, the murderous fruits of tribalism and ethnic rivalry, the greed which corrupts men’s hearts, enslaves the poor, and robs future generations of the resources they need to create a more equitable and just society – a society truly and authentically African in its genius and values. And what of that insidious spirit of selfishness which closes individuals in upon themselves, breaks up families, and, by supplanting the great ideals of generosity and self-sacrifice, inevitably leads to hedonism, the escape into false utopias through drug use, sexual irresponsibility, the weakening of the marriage bond and the break-up of families, and the pressure to destroy innocent human life through abortion?"
To this country and to Africa as a whole, represented here by bishops and faithful who came from all the nearby countries, the pope's message was that of becoming "new" thanks to the faith. God, he said, has given us "his commandments, not as a burden, but as a source of freedom: the freedom to become men and women of wisdom, teachers of justice and peace, people who believe in others and seek their authentic good. God created us to live in the light, and to be light for the world around us!" The "gift" of the Gospel, he added, "affirm, purify and ennoble the profound human values present in your native culture and traditions: your strong families, your deep religious sense, your joyful celebration of the gift of life, your appreciation of the wisdom of the elderly and the aspirations of the young."
To the young people who are the majority of the population on this continent, and whom, yesterday, he had urged to have the courage to make definitive decisions, to take on a lifelong commitments, today he said they should "grow in your friendship with Jesus." "Seek his will for you by listening to his word daily, and by allowing his law to shape your lives and your relationships. In this way you will become wise and generous prophets of God’s saving love. Become evangelizers of your own peers, leading them by your own example to an appreciation of the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and the hope of a future shaped by the values of God’s Kingdom. The Church needs your witness! Do not be afraid to respond generously to God’s call, whether it be to serve him as a priest or a religious, as a Christian parent, or in the many forms of service to others which the Church sets before you."
The pope had already spoken about young people at the beginning of the Mass, when he expressed his sadness over the death of two young women yesterday at the stadium of Luanda and sent his wishes for a speedy recovery to the 40 young people injured in the stampede at the entrance to the stadium. "I wish to include in this Eucharist," he said, "a special prayer for the two young women who yesterday lost their lives at the stadium Dos Coqueiros. Let us entrust them," he continued, "to Jesus, that he may welcome them into his kingdom. To their relatives and friends I express my solidarity and my most profound condolences, in part because they were coming to see me. At the same time, I pray for those injured, and wish them a speedy recovery. Let us entrust ourselves," he concluded, "to the unfathomable designs of God."
Luanda, Angola, Mar 21, 2009 - Pope Benedict gathered the bishops of Angola and Sao Tome at the apostolic nunciature on Friday night to speak about the state of the Church in their country, warning them to fight the spread of relativism by promoting an "adult and mature faith."
"God will reward you," he told the prelates, "for all the apostolic work which you have accomplished in difficult conditions, both during the war and at the present time, in spite of so many limitations, thus helping to give the Church in Angola and in Sao Tome and Principe that dynamism which everyone acknowledges."
However, the Church still faces other challenges such as "widespread relativism which acknowledges nothing as definitive and, even more, tends to make its ultimate measure the individual and his personal caprice," the Pope cautioned.
In the face of relativism, he said, "we hold out another measure: the Son of God, Who is also true man. Christ is the measure of true humanism. The Christian marked by an adult and mature faith is not one who is borne along by the waves of fashion and the latest novelties, but one who lives deeply rooted in the friendship of Christ. This friendship opens us up to all that is good, and it provides us with the criterion for discerning between error and truth."
The Holy Father also praised the efforts of the bishops to develop a communications strategy since "culture and models of behavior are nowadays more and more conditioned and shaped by the images set forth by the communications media." This strategy, the Pope observed, "will enable you to provide everyone with a Christian interpretation of human events, problems and realities."
As he did in Cameroon, Pope Benedict also focused the bishops’ attention on the "difficulties and threats" facing families, which he said "are particularly in need of evangelization and practical support." This is all the more necessary because many marriages are proving to be fragile and there is a "widespread tendency in society and culture to call into question the unique nature and specific mission of the family based on marriage."
"In your pastoral concern which extends to every human being," he added, "continue to raise your voice in defense of the sacredness of human life and the value of the institution of marriage, as well as in promotion of the family's proper role in the Church and in society, at the same time demanding economic and legislative measures to support the family in bearing and raising children."
Pope Benedict also shared his joy at the vibrancy of the faith community in Angola and Sao Tome, citing the increasing number of native priests and of the faithful.