Pope Benedict XVI: March 2009 Archives

Good Shepherd.jpgOn the occasion of the next World Day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life, which will be celebrated on 3 May 2009, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, I want to invite all the People of God to reflect on the theme: Faith in the divine initiative - the human response. The exhortation of Jesus to his disciples: "Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38) has a constant resonance in the Church. Pray! The urgent call of the Lord stresses that prayer for vocations should be continuous and trusting. The Christian community can only really "have ever greater faith and hope in God's providence" (Sacramentum Caritatis, 26) if it is enlivened by prayer.


The vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life constitutes a special gift of God which becomes part of the great plan of love and salvation that God has for every man and woman and for the whole of humanity. The Apostle Paul, whom we remember in a special way during this Pauline Year dedicated to the Two-thousandth anniversary of his birth, writing to the Ephesians says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Ef 1:3-4). In the universal call to holiness, of particular relevance is God's initiative of choosing some to follow his Son Jesus Christ more closely, and to be his privileged ministers and witnesses. The divine Master personally called the Apostles "to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons" (Mk 3:14-15); they, in turn, gathered other disciples around them as faithful collaborators in this mission. In this way, responding to the Lord's call and docile to the movement of the Holy Spirit, over the centuries, countless ranks of priests and consecrated persons placed themselves totally at the service of the Gospel in the Church. Let us give thanks to God, because even today he continues to call together workers into his vineyard. While it is undoubtedly true that a worrisome shortage of priests is evident in some regions of the world, and that the Church encounters difficulties and obstacles along the way, we are sustained by the unshakable certitude that the one who firmly guides her in the pathways of time towards the definitive fulfilment of the Kingdom is he, the Lord, who freely chooses persons of every culture and of every age and invites them to follow him according to the mysterious plans of his merciful love.


Our first duty, therefore, is to keep alive in families and in parishes, in movements and in apostolic associations, in religious communities and in all the sectors of diocesan life this appeal to the divine initiative with unceasing prayer. We must pray that the whole Christian people grows in its trust in God, convinced that the "Lord of the harvest" does not cease to ask some to place their entire existence freely at his service so as to work with him more closely in the mission of salvation. What is asked of those who are called, for their part, is careful listening and prudent discernment, a generous and willing adherence to the divine plan, and a serious study of the reality that is proper to the priestly and religious vocations, so as to be able to respond responsibly and with conviction.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly reminds us that God's free initiative requires a free response on the part of men and women; a positive response which always presupposes acceptance of and identification with the plan that God has for everyone; a response which welcomes the Lord's loving initiative and becomes, for the one who is called, a binding moral imperative, an offering of thanksgiving to God and a total cooperation with the plan which God carries out in history (cf. n. 2062).


Eucahristic table.jpgContemplating the mystery of the Eucharist, which expresses in a sublime way the free gift of the Father in the Person of his Only Begotten Son for the salvation of mankind, and the full and docile readiness of Christ to drink to the dregs the "cup" of the will of God (cf. Mt 26:39), we can more readily understand how "faith in the divine initiative" models and gives value to the "human response". In the Eucharist, that perfect gift which brings to fulfilment the plan of love for the redemption of the world, Jesus offers himself freely for the salvation of mankind. "The Church", my beloved predecessor John Paul II wrote, "has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as a gift - however precious - among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11).


It is priests who are called to perpetuate this salvific mystery from century to century until the Lord's glorious return, for they can contemplate, precisely in the Eucharistic Christ, the eminent model of a "vocational dialogue" between the free initiative of the Father and the faithful response of Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist it is Christ himself who acts in those whom he chooses as his ministers; he supports them so that their response develops in a dimension of trust and gratitude that removes all fear, even when they experience more acutely their own weakness (cf. Rm 8:26-28), or indeed when the experience of misunderstanding or even of persecution is most bitter (cf. Rm 8:35-39).


The awareness of being saved by the love of Christ, which every Mass nourishes in the faithful and especially in priests, cannot but arouse within them a trusting self-abandonment to Christ who gave his life for us. To believe in the Lord and to accept his gift, therefore, leads us to entrust ourselves to Him with thankful hearts, adhering to his plan of salvation. When this does happen, the one who is "called" voluntarily leaves everything and submits himself to the teaching of the divine Master; hence a fruitful dialogue between God and man begins, a mysterious encounter between the love of the Lord who calls and the freedom of man who responds in love, hearing the words of Jesus echoing in his soul, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (Jn 15:16).


This intertwining of love between the divine initiative and the human response is present also, in a wonderful way, in the vocation to the consecrated life. The Second Vatican Council recalls, "The evangelical counsels of chastity dedicated to God, poverty and obedience are based upon the words and examples of the Lord. They were further commanded by the apostles and Fathers of the Church, as well as by the doctors and pastors of souls. The counsels are a divine gift, which the Church received from its Lord and which it always safeguards with the help of His grace" (Lumen Gentium, 43).


Once more, Jesus is the model of complete and trusting adherence to the will of the Father, to whom every consecrated person must look. Attracted by him, from the very first centuries of Christianity, many men and women have left families, possessions, material riches and all that is humanly desirable in order to follow Christ generously and live the Gospel without compromise, which had become for them a school of deeply rooted holiness. Today too, many undertake this same demanding journey of evangelical perfection and realise their vocation in the profession of the evangelical counsels. The witness of these our brothers and sisters, in contemplative monasteries, religious institutes and congregations of apostolic life, reminds the people of God of "that mystery of the Kingdom of God is already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven" (Vita Consecrata, 1).


Call Peter and Andrew.jpgWho can consider himself worthy to approach the priestly ministry? Who can embrace the consecrated life relying only on his or her own human powers? Once again, it is useful to reiterate that the response of men and women to the divine call, whenever they are aware that it is God who takes the initiative and brings His plan of salvation to fulfilment, is never patterned after the timid self-interest of the worthless servant who, out of fear, hid the talent entrusted to him in the ground (cf. Mt 25:14-30), but rather expresses itself in a ready adherence to the Lord's invitation, as in the case of Peter who, trusting in the Lord' word, did not hesitate to let down the net once more even after having toiled all night and catching nothing (cf. Lk 5:5). Without in any sense renouncing personal responsibility, the free human response to God thus becomes "co-responsibility", responsibility in and with Christ, through the action of his Holy Spirit; it becomes communion with the One who makes it possible for us to bear much fruit (cf. Jn 15:5).


An emblematic human response, full of trust in God's initiative, is the generous and unmitigated "Amen" of the Virgin of Nazareth, uttered with humble and decisive adherence to the plan of the Most High announced to her by God's messenger (cf. Lk 1:38). Her prompt "Yes" allowed Her to become the Mother of God, the Mother of our Saviour. Mary, after this first "fiat", had to repeat it many times, even up to the culminating moment of the crucifixion of Jesus, when "standing by the cross of Jesus" as the Evangelist John notes, she participated in the dreadful suffering of her innocent Son. And it was from the cross, that Jesus, while dying, gave her to us as Mother and entrusted us to her as sons and daughters (cf. Jn 19:26-27); she is especially the Mother of priests and consecrated persons. I want to entrust to her all those who are aware of God's call to set out on the road of the ministerial priesthood or consecrated life.


Dear friends, do not become discouraged in the face of difficulties and doubts; trust in God and follow Jesus faithfully and you will be witnesses of the joy that flows from intimate union with him. Imitating the Virgin Mary whom all generations proclaim as blessed because she believed (cf. Lk 1:48), commit yourselves with every spiritual energy, to realise the heavenly Father's plan of salvation, cultivating in your heart, like her, the ability to be astonished and to adore him who is mighty and does "great things", for Holy is his name (cf. Lk 1:49).


From the Vatican, 20 January 2009

Benedictus PP. XVI

The head of the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) Jesuit Father Michael Czerny reflects on the Pope's comments on condoms in an online article, "A human and spiritual wake-up call." The author deals with what the Pope actually said, not what the what media heard. Father Czerny does a good job with the matter.

In a letter of greeting to Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino the Pope on the occasion of the "Life, Family, Development: The Role of Women in the Promotion of Human Rights," conference which took place week in the Vatican he wrote of that Christianity is life giving, and not full of despair in front of reality and that following John Paul insight, there is a new feminism informed by the Gospel that has the power to change people.

I am pleased to extend cordial greetings to you and to all those taking part in the International Conference on the theme "Life, Family and Development: the Role of Women in the Promotion of Human Rights." This event, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, with the cooperation of the World Women's Alliance for Life and Family, the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations and other associations, is an exemplary response to my predecessor Pope John Paul II's call for a "new feminism" with the power to transform culture, imbuing it with a decisive respect for life (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 98-99).

Every day we learn of further ways in which life is compromised, particularly in its most vulnerable stages. While justice demands that these be decried as a violation of human rights, they must also evoke a positive and proactive response. The recognition and appreciation of God's plan for women in the transmission of life and the nurturing of children is a constructive step in this direction. Beyond this, and given the distinctive influence of women in society, they must be encouraged to embrace the opportunity to uphold the dignity of life through their involvement in education and their participation in political and civic life. Indeed, because they have been gifted by the Creator with a unique "capacity for the other," women have a crucial part to play in the promotion of human rights, for without their voice the social fabric of society would be weakened (cf. Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 13). As you reflect on the role of women in the promotion of human rights, I invite you to keep in mind a task to which I have drawn attention on several occasions: namely, to correct any misconception that Christianity is simply a collection of commandments and prohibitions. The Gospel is a message of joy which encourages men and women to delight in spousal love; far from stifling it, Christian faith and ethics make it healthy, strong and truly free. This is the exact meaning of the Ten Commandments: they are not a series of "noes" but a great "yes" to love and to life (cf. Address to the Participants at the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome, 5 June 2006).

It is my sincere hope that your discussions over these next two days will translate into concrete initiatives that safeguard the indispensable role of the family in the integral development of the human person and of society as a whole. The genius of women to mobilize and organize endows them with the skills and motivation to develop ever-expanding networks for sharing experiences and generating new ideas. The accomplishments of WWALF and the UMOFC/WUCWO are an outstanding example of this, and I encourage their members to persevere in their generous service to society. May the sphere of your influence continue to grow at regional, national and international levels for the advancement of human rights based on the strong foundation of marriage and family.

I once more extend best wishes for the success of this conference and my prayers for the continuing mission of the participating organizations. Invoking the intercession of Mary, "the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 570), I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.



PS: a video clip on the Pope's remarks the other on women

Some points of interest from the Pope's Laetare Sunday homily:


Pope San Antonio Church.jpgWhen 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.


God dwells, we know, in the hearts of all who put their faith in Christ, who are reborn in Baptism and are made temples of the Holy Spirit. Even now, in the unity of the Body of Christ which is the Church, God is calling us to acknowledge the power of his presence within us, to re-appropriate the gift of his love and forgiveness, and to become messengers of that merciful love within our families and communities, at school and in the workplace, in every sector of social and political life.


I ask you today, in union with all our brothers and sisters throughout Africa, to pray for this intention: that every Christian on this great continent will experience the healing touch of God's merciful love, and that the Church in Africa will become "for all, through the witness borne by its sons and daughters, a place of true reconciliation" (Ecclesia in Africa, 79).


You have received power from the Holy Spirit to be the builders of a better tomorrow for your beloved country. In Baptism you were given the Spirit in order to be heralds of God's Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace (cf. Roman Missal, Preface of Christ the King). On the day of your Baptism you received the light of Christ. Be faithful to that gift! Be confident that the Gospel can 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. Be grateful, then, for the light of Christ! Be grateful for those who brought it, the generations of missionaries who contributed -- and continue to contribute -- so much to this country's human and spiritual development. Be grateful for the witness of so many Christian parents, teachers, catechists, priests and religious, who made personal sacrifices in order to pass this precious treasure down to you! And take up the challenge which this great legacy sets before you. Realize that the Church, in Angola and throughout Africa, is meant to be a sign before the world of that unity to which the whole human family is called, through faith in Christ the Redeemer.


How much darkness 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?


Laetare Sunday.jpgEven if it means being a "sign of contradiction" (Lk 2:34) in the face of hardened attitudes and a mentality that sees others as a means to be used, rather than as brothers and sisters to be loved, cherished and helped along the path of freedom, life and hope.


Dear young friends: you are the hope of your country's future, the promise of a better tomorrow! Begin today to grow in your friendship with Jesus, who is "the way, and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6): a friendship nurtured and deepened by humble and persevering prayer. 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.


Pope Benedict XVI

Laetare Sunday Mass

22 March 2009

Here are three paragraphs that I find particularly important in what the Pope said about the plight of women and our responsibilities according to the Divine Plan. The Pope reflects to us not only the problems women face in other nations but it should be taken to heart even in first world nations like the USA. He speaks the truth; he calls us to follow Christ and to do it according to the ways the Lord has shown. Men bear the responsibility for the lack of dignity women face and that is clearly not living imago Dei.


I call everyone to an effective awareness of the adverse conditions to which many women have been -- and continue to be -- subjected, paying particular attention to ways in which the behavior and attitudes of men, who at times show a lack of sensitivity and responsibility, may be to blame. This forms no part of God's plan. In the Scripture reading, we heard that the entire people cried out together: "all that the Lord has spoken, we will do!" Sacred Scripture tells us that the divine Creator, looking upon all he had made, saw that something was missing: everything would have been fine if man had not been alone! How could one man by himself constitute the image and likeness of God who is one and three, God who is communion? "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18). God went to work again, fashioning for the man the helper he still lacked, and endowing this helper in a privileged way by incorporating the order of love, which had seemed under-represented in creation.

As you know, my dear friends, this order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the Trinitarian life, the Holy Spirit being the personal hypostasis of love. As my predecessor Pope John Paul II once wrote, "in God's eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root" (Mulieris Dignitatem, 29). In fact, gazing upon the captivating charm that radiates from woman due to the inner grace God has given her, the heart of man is enlightened and he sees himself reflected in her: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen 2:23). Woman is another "I" who shares in the same human nature. We must therefore recognize, affirm and defend the equal dignity of man and woman: they are both persons, utterly unique among all the living beings found in the world.

Pope with women.jpgMan and woman are both called to live in profound communion through a reciprocal recognition of one another and the mutual gift of themselves, working together for the common good through the complementary aspects of masculinity and femininity. Who today can fail to recognize the need to make more room for the "reasons of the heart"? In a world like ours, dominated by technology, we feel the need for this feminine complementarity, so that the human race can live in the world without completely losing its humanity. Think of all the places afflicted by great poverty or devastated by war, and of all the tragic situations resulting from migrations, forced or otherwise. It is almost always women who manage to preserve human dignity, to defend the family and to protect cultural and religious values.


Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholic Movements for the Promotion of Women

22 March 2009

Two paragraphs from a speech by Benedict XVI in Angola:


Angola.jpgFriends, I wish to say that my visit to Cameroon and to Angola has stirred within me that profound human delight at being among families. Indeed I think that those who come from other continents can learn afresh from Africa that "the family is the foundation on which the social edifice is built" (Ecclesia in Africa, 80). Yet the strains upon families, as we all know, are many indeed: anxiety and ignominy caused by poverty, unemployment, disease and displacement, to mention but a few. Particularly disturbing is the crushing yoke of discrimination that women and girls so often endure, not to mention the unspeakable practice of sexual violence and exploitation which causes such humiliation and trauma. I must also mention a further area of grave concern: the policies of those who, claiming to improve the "social edifice", threaten its very foundations. How bitter the irony of those who promote abortion as a form of "maternal" healthcare! How disconcerting the claim that the termination of life is a matter of reproductive health (cf. Maputo Protocol, art. 14)!

The Church, in accordance with the will of her divine founder, you will always find standing alongside the poorest of this continent. I wish to assure each of you that for her part, through diocesan initiatives, through the innumerable educational, healthcare and social works of Religious Orders, and through the development programmes of Caritas and other agencies, the Church will continue to do all she can to support families - including those suffering the harrowing effects of HIV/Aids - and to uphold the equal dignity of women and men, realized in harmonious complementarity. The Christian spiritual journey is one of daily conversion. To this the Church invites all leaders so that the path opened for all humanity will be one of truth, integrity, respect and compassion.


Pope Benedict XVI's address to the Civil Authorities and Diplomatic Corps of Angola

20 March 2009.




At Mass today Pope Benedict spoke of the need to know and to share the faith, that is, to evangelize. The truth of Jesus Christ needs to be known and lived, especially by Christians. The work of evangelization today remains as important as it was when Catholics first arrived in this part of Africa 500 years ago. He said in part:


"Today it is up to you, brothers and sisters, following in the footsteps of those heroic and holy heralds of God, to offer the risen Christ to your fellow citizens. So many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers."


Pope Benedict was critical of the idea of seeking to convert people to the offense of believers of other faiths. "Someone may object: 'Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth, and we have ours,'" he said. "We do no injustice to anyone if we present Christ to them and thus grant them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves, the joy of finding life," he added. For Pope Benedict the faith is never imposed on anyone; the beauty of the faith is proposed.


21 March 2009

Excerpts from the Pope's speech at the Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger Centre, Cameroon, yesterday:

Faced with suffering, sickness and death, it is tempting to cry out in pain, as Job did, whose name means "suffering" (cf. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, I,1,15). Even Jesus cried out, shortly before his death (cf. Mk 15:37; Heb 5:7). As our condition deteriorates, our anguish increases; some are tempted to doubt whether God is present in their lives. Job, however, was conscious of God's presence; his was not a cry of rebellion, but, from the depths of his sorrow, he allowed his trust to grow (cf. Job 19; 42:2-6). His friends, like each of us when faced with the suffering of a loved one, tried to console him, but they used hollow and empty words.

In the presence of such torment, we feel powerless and we cannot find the right words. Before a brother or sister plunged into the mystery of the Cross, a respectful and compassionate silence, a prayerful presence, a gesture of tenderness and comfort, a kind look, a smile, often achieve more than many words. This was the experience of a small group of men and women, including the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John, who followed Jesus in the depths of his suffering at the time of his Passion and his death on the Cross. Among them, the Gospel tells us, was an African, Simon of Cyrene. He was given the task of helping Jesus to carry his Cross on the way to
. This man, albeit through no choice of his own, came to the aid of the Man of Sorrows when he had been abandoned by all his followers and handed over to blind violence. History tells us, then, that an African, a son of your continent, took part, at the price of his own suffering, in the infinite suffering of the one who ransomed all men, including his station 5.jpgexecutioners. Simon of Cyrene could not have known that it was his Saviour who stood there before him. He was "drafted in" to assist him (cf. Mk15:21); he was constrained, forced to do so. It is hard to accept to carry someone else's cross. Only after the resurrection could he have understood what he had done. Brothers and sisters, it is the same for each of us: in the depths of our anguish, of our own rebellion, Christ offers us his loving presence even if we find it hard to understand that he is at our side. Only the Lord's final victory will reveal for us the definitive meaning of our trials.

Can it not be said that every African is in some sense a member of the family of Simon of Cyrene? Every African who suffers, indeed every person who suffers, helps Christ to carry his Cross and climbs with him the path to
in order one day to rise again with him. When we see the infamy to which Jesus was subjected, when we contemplate his face on the Cross, when we recognize his appalling suffering, we can glimpse, through faith, the radiant face of the Risen Lord who tells us that suffering and sickness will not have the last word in our human lives. I pray, dear brothers and sisters, that you will be able to recognize yourselves in "Simon of Cyrene". I pray, dear brothers and sisters who are sick, that many of you will encounter a Simon at your bedside.

B16 Cameroon.jpgSince the resurrection, and right up to our own time, there have been countless witnesses who have turned, with faith and hope, towards the Saviour of mankind, recognizing his presence at the heart of their suffering. May the Father of mercies graciously grant the prayers of all who turn to him. He answers our call and our prayer, as and when he wishes, for our good and not according to our desires. It is for us to discern his response and to accept the gifts that he offers us as a grace. Let us fix our gaze upon the Crucified one, with faith and courage, for from him come life, comfort, and healing. Let us learn to gaze on him who desires our good and knows how to wipe the tears from our eyes. Let us learn to abandon ourselves into his embrace, like a small child in his mother's arms.

My friends, I believe a particularly urgent task of religion today is to unveil the vast potential of human reason, which is itself God's gift and which is elevated by revelation and faith. Belief in the one God, far from stunting our capacity to understand ourselves and the world, broadens it. Far from setting us against the world, it commits us to it. We are called to help others see the subtle traces and mysterious presence of God in the world which he has marvellously created and continually sustains with his ineffable and all-embracing love. Although his infinite glory can never be directly grasped by our finite minds in this life, we nonetheless catch glimpses of it in the beauty that surrounds us. When men and women allow the magnificent order of the world and the splendour of human dignity to illumine their minds, they discover that what is "reasonable" extends far beyond what mathematics can calculate, logic can deduce and scientific experimentation can demonstrate; it includes the goodness and innate attractiveness of upright and ethical living made known to us in the very language of creation.

This insight prompts us to seek all that is right and just, to step outside the restricted sphere of our own self-interest and act for the good of others. Genuine religion thus widens the horizon of human understanding and stands at the base of any authentically human culture. It rejects all forms of violence and totalitarianism: not only on principles of faith, but also of right reason. Indeed, religion and reason mutually reinforce one another since religion is purified and structured by reason, and reason's full potential is unleashed by revelation and faith.


Pope Benedict XVI address to the Muslim Leaders of Cameroon

Apostolic Nunciature

19 March 2009

OLPH.jpgHoly Mary, Mother of God, Protectress of Africa, you have given to the world the true Light, Jesus Christ. Through your obedience to the Father and the grace of the Holy Spirit, you have given us the source of our reconciliation and our justice, Jesus Christ, our peace and our joy. Mother of Tenderness and Wisdom, show us Jesus, your Son and the Son of God. Guide our path of conversion, so that Jesus might shine his glory on us in every aspect of our personal, familial and social lives.

Mother, full of Mercy and Justice, through your docility to the Spirit, the Counselor, obtain for us the grace to be witnesses of the Risen Lord, so that we will increasingly become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Mother of Perpetual Help, we entrust to your maternal intercession the preparation and fruits of the Second Special Assembly for Africa. Queen of Peace, pray for us! Our Lady of Africa, pray for us!

In the published comments of Pope Benedict to the distinguished representatives of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Catholic delegates he said in part:


The Church recognizes that the beginnings of her faith are found in the historical divine intervention in the life of the Jewish people and that here our unique relationship has its foundation. The Jewish people, who were chosen as the elected people, communicate to the whole human family, knowledge of and fidelity to the one, unique and true God. Christians gladly acknowledge that their own roots are found in the same self-revelation of God, in which the religious experience of the Jewish people is nourished.


I sit choir with a group of monks and other Christians praying the Scritpures on a daily basis and I'm coming to understand (judge, evaluate) more and more the connections, i.e., the reality that exists between Jewish and Catholic theology/liturgy. This is especially true in the Psalms but no less with the daily readings from Pentateuch and the Prophets. One of the books I am re-reading selections from these days is Father Richard Veras' book, Jesus of Israel: Finding Christ in the Old Testament (Servant Books, 2007), who speaks about the promises made to us down through the ages by the Lord, promises of the hundredfold, promises of life, liberation and communion with the Lord as they are revealed in the sacred Scriptures.


For what it's worth, Pope Benedict said the following 19 years ago when he was still known as Joseph Ratzinger, the CDF Prefect:


Abraham, father of the people of Israel, father of faith, thus become the source of blessing, for in him all the families of the earth shall call themselves blessed. The task of the Chosen People is, therefore, to make a gift of their God - the one true God - to every other people; in reality, as Christians we are the inheritors of their faith in the one God. Our gratitude, therefore, must be extended to our Jewish brothers and sisters who, despite the hardships of their own history, have held on to faith in this God right up to the present, and who witness to it in the sight of those peoples who, lacking knowledge of the one God, dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Down through the history of Christianity, already-strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth in many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes, which throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to its atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.

Perhaps it is precisely because of this latest tragedy that a new vision of the relationship between the Church and
Israel has been born: a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism, and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other, and on reconciliation. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, it must begin with a prayer to our God, first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people - the people of Israel - to whom belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen. And this not only in the past, but still today, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. In the same way, let us pray that he may grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son, and the gift they have made to us
. Since we are both awaiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we follow may converge.

It is evident that, as Christians, our dialogue with the Jews is situated on a different level than that in which we engage with other religions.
The faith witnessed to by the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament for Christians) is not merely another religion to us, but is the foundation of our own faith. Therefore, Christians - and today increasingly in collaboration with their Jewish sisters and brothers - read and attentively study these books of Sacred Scripture, as a part of their common heritage. (Excerpts from Cardinal Ratzinger's "The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas," L'Osservatore Romano, 29 December 2000)


In light of all of this public speaking I think today's allocution by the Pope reveals a consistent line of teaching not only by a man with a keen intellect and a profound faith in the Divinity but also consistent with magisterial teaching of the Holy See. Hence, I don't think that Benedict's thoughts today are not throw away lines to ease tensions, real or imaginary between the Catholic Church and the Jewish leadership. Moreover, I also don't think it's a political ploy before a papal visit to the Holy Land in May.


My sense is that the Pope is rather genuine in his judgment that Christians and Jews need each other because each provide an interpretative key in self-identity and the theological journey we both make toward our destiny. For Christians we need to grasp what is being done (the action) and what is said (the content) in order to take seriously our own faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior and Brother. So no, these remarks today aren't lines denoting mere policy, mechanical ways to engage a touchy politic serving a group's interests. These lines reflect not only this pontiff's thinking but the Church's self-understanding and theological grounding. Nostra Aetate (1965) and Dabru Emet (2000) like documents demonstrate a commitment from which to work with each other in an effort to know, love and serve the Almighty while coming to understand a common theological and liturgical history. Consequently, Jews and Catholics should not only work on projects that serve the common good but also work for greater understanding in the process of dialogue leading to the eternal.


Some will say that the Pope made a nice gesture by speaking honestly with the Jews. But that would be yet another example of a tyranny of the "nice," and we don't need more "nice." What we need is true honesty, faith and reason before reality. What I believe the Pope is indicating to us is the profound need because it is reasonable as people of faith to draw deeply from the common faith experience in order to discern our relationship with the Lord and to foster a deeper communion between Jews and Christians. We need to understand the reality that's in front of us, the gift of friendship in faith with others on a similar path to destiny.

The Pope pointed out that the example of the saints "shows that when a person encounters Christ, he is not enclosed in himself, but is open to the needs of others and, in every realm of society, puts the good of all before his own interests."

Arinze.jpgFrom March 1-7 you won't be seeing too much Vatican activity since many, if not all, of the curial officials (the people who run the various Vatican offices for Pope's apostolic ministry) are making their annual Lenten retreat. This year the retreat is being preached by Francis Cardinal Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the theme of  "The priest encounters Jesus and follows him."


Cardinal Arinze was interviewed by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano about the retreat. The following comments have been excerpted from that interview, translated by NCRegister correspondent Edward Pentin.


Why did you choose this theme for the retreat of the Pope?

Cardinal Francis Arinze: I thought that in the meeting and following of Jesus, we are able to see a summary of all Christianity. On one side there is Jesus who calls us. On the other, we have with us our response: the encounter, so we follow and this becomes a program for life. It was like that for the first apostles: Jesus saw them and told them to follow him. In the following there includes listening to his teaching, miracles, prayer.


We can say that the apostles have completed three years in seminary and the rector was the Son of God. But the call of Jesus is not only for the priests.

Certainly, the reflections that are offered to the Pope are not only for priests but apply to everyone, because Christianity is about the encounter of Jesus with everyone. Everyone can apply it to himself, according to his vocation and mission. And each can give a different answer.

Among the disciples, there were those who immediately left their nets and became his disciples. But there were also those who remained attached to material things, asked for time, and wanted to first return to their loved ones before leaving.


Since then, two thousand years have passed. Can the man of today still meet Jesus?

If you want to, you can meet him, but always two major obstacles must be overcome. The first is superficiality, distraction. And the second is fear. Pontius Pilate is the paradigm of those who are afraid to face the truth. Jesus speaks to him, but he's afraid. He says, "I have come to bear witness to the truth." And Pilate asks, "What is truth?"


But his question is not that of a philosopher who is awaiting the reply. It's one asked without listening, without waiting, without realizing that the truth is right in front of him. Even today many people are missing an appointment with the truth, because they are afraid of what Jesus is and his message. They do not realize that faith is not an obstacle to existence, but a promise of life and truth that goes beyond what is contingent.


Where can this meeting take place?

One of the key places -- not physical but spiritual -- is prayer. Prayer is to leave a space of silence for God, not only externally, but especially internally. You listen. The meditations I am giving the Pope will speak particularly of this, and will remember the long hours of prayer that Jesus spent alone, and will emphasize that the question the disciples asked: "Lord, teach us to pray".

Another meeting place is in scripture: Jesus is the Word of God who became man. Scripture is the written Word of God. When we read the Bible and when we proclaim it during the liturgy, it is God who speaks. The Gospel is not a dusty book of the past. It is the voice of God today.

A third place is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. He himself has chosen this as the first pillar, he has given his guarantee that she will always be with you and has promised her the Holy Spirit. In the meditations I will emphasize this dimension: the Church is the Body of Christ, with Christ as the head. This is reflected in the liturgy where we meet Jesus, really and substantially, through Eucharistic communion. It is recognized in charity, especially towards the sick, the elderly, refugees, the poor. Jesus can speak in all these situations. Paul told us that the Church looks at the face of every suffering person and sees Jesus. We do not expect that Jesus will appear, because we are already close to him.


If for the Christian encountering Jesus means to follow Him, what happens when such an attitude of discipleship is missing from the priest?

It is Jesus who gives meaning to the life of the priest. Without him, the priest cannot understand, he no longer makes sense. I would say that his vocation becomes like a farce. For those who, in fact, celebrate, preach, and work?


St. Paul said: "For me, to live is Christ." The priest is Christ's ambassador. So if it is necessary for every Christian to follow Jesus, the more so for the priest. His testimony is before the eyes of everyone, especially those who do not believe.


Of course, it is possible that there are deficiencies in priests. Not all priests have been, and are, saints. The Gospel does not hide the weaknesses and falls of the disciples of Christ. There were those who asked Jesus to set fire to a city of Samaria, or who attributed themselves the right to be the first among all.


And then there is Judas Iscariot, who was with Jesus, but didn't love him. He hardened his heart, closed it to him. This demonstrates that the human heart can fail, that the freedom given by God can be misused. In the history of the Church, unfortunately this has happened other times.


Can the penitential dimension of Lent help a priest renew his experience of his encounter with Christ?

Yes, starting with the act of receiving the ashes, which means to accept being sinners. The Church asks to pray a lot during Lent not only as a sign of adoration to God but also to repent of sins committed. It is not enough to receive forgiveness from God, we must also recognize that we have offended the love of God.


And then there is fasting to which the Pope has dedicated his Lenten message. It is today seen just as a gesture, but it should be understood in the proper meaning. Its true meaning is doing something pleasing for others such as sharing goods with the poor.

Solidarity with the suffering is also a way to show the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration. At the end of Mass the priest says: Go and live what has been celebrated, heard, meditated and prayed. Helping those who are elderly, alone, imprisoned, disabled, is a way to live the Eucharist.


Benedict XVI clearly says this in Deus Caritas Est: If the Eucharist does not translate into works of charity it is fragmented, incomplete.


But shouldn't we still recall the sobriety with which the Pope has re-launched his message of this year?

To fast is to accept that we are sinners. You do without something. It is also a means of spiritual 'training', similar to what athletes practice in order to succeed in a sport.

Then there is the most dynamic dimension, which is precisely that of helping the poor. Spend less and help our brothers who have not: it is the lifestyle advocated by the Pope in his message for World Day of Peace this year. The Christian spirit must go in the opposite direction with respect to unfettered consumerism.


Having beliefs and cabinets that are full -- full of things that often we do not need or use just a few times -- is an insult to the poor.

B16 in prayer.jpgPrayer is a "dialogue with God" and the "engine of the world,"  Pope Benedict said on Ash Wednesday. He also reminded us that Lent is a journey of conversion that invites all believers to prayer, penitence, and fasting.


The general intention

That all nations of our world may grow in appreciation of the dignity and value of women and their roles in society.


The missionary intention

That all the bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and laity of the Catholic Church in China may strive to be instruments of unity, communion, and peace, as enjoined by the letter sent to them by Pope Benedict XVI.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.



Humanities Blog Directory

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Pope Benedict XVI category from March 2009.

Pope Benedict XVI: February 2009 is the previous archive.

Pope Benedict XVI: April 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.