Conflicts, wars, violence and terrorism have gone on for too long in the Middle East. Peace, which is a gift of God, is also the result of the efforts of men of goodwill, of the national and international institutions, in particular of the states most involved in the search for a solution to conflicts. We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace. Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is the indispensable condition for a life worthy of humanity and society. Peace is also the best remedy to avoid emigration from the Middle East. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” we are told in the Psalm (122:6). We pray for peace in the Holy Land. We pray for peace in the Middle East, undertaking to try to ensure that this gift of God to men of goodwill should spread through the whole world.
Another contribution that Christians can bring to society is the promotion of an authentic freedom of religion and conscience, one of the fundamental human rights that each state should always respect. In numerous countries of the Middle East there exists freedom of belief, while the space given to the freedom to practice religion is often quite limited. Increasing this space of freedom becomes essential to guarantee to all the members of the various religious communities the true freedom to live and profess their faith. This topic could become the subject of dialogue between Christians and Muslims, a dialogue whose urgency and usefulness was reiterated by the Synodal Fathers.
During the work of the Synod what was often underlined was the need to offer the Gospel anew to people who do not know it very well or who have even moved away from the Church. What was often evoked was the need for a new evangelization for the Middle East as well. This was quite a widespread theme, especially in the countries where Christianity has ancient roots. The recent creation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization also responds to this profound need. For this reason, after having consulted the episcopacy of the whole world and after having listened to the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, I have decided to dedicate the next Ordinary General Assembly, in 2012, to the following theme: “Nova evangelizatio ad christianam fidem tradendam — The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”.
Dear brothers and sisters of the Middle East! May the experience of these days assure you that you are never alone, that you are always accompanied by the Holy See and the whole Church, which, having been born in Jerusalem, spread through the Middle East and then the rest of the world. We entrust the results of the Special Assembly for the Middle East, as well as the preparation for the Ordinary General Assembly, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace. Amen.
St Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This morning at the Vatican Basilica the solemn Celebration concluded the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops with the theme with the slogan: “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: communion and witness”. Moreover this Sunday is also World Mission Day: “The construction of Ecclesial Communion is the key to the Mission”. This motto displays a similarity between the themes of both ecclesial events. Each invite us to look at the Church as a mystery of communion that, by her nature, is destined for the whole person and for all people. The Servant of God Pope Paul vi stated the Church “exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in Holy Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection” (Apostolic Exortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 8 December 1975, n. 14: p. 8 ). So the next Ordinary General Synod of Bishops in 2012 will have the theme: “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”. At any time or any place, even today in the Middle East, the Church is present and works to welcome every person and offer him/her the fullness of life in Christ. As the Italian-German theologian Romano Guardini once wrote, “The reality of the ‘Church’ implies a complete fullness of being Christian, which grows as it embraces the fullness the human being in relation to God” (cf. Formazione liturgica, Brescia, 2008, pp. 106-107).
Dear friends, in the today's Liturgy we read the testimony of St Paul concerning the final reward that the Lord will grant “to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim 4:8). This testimony does not mean an idle or solitary waiting. Quite the contrary! The Apostle lived in communion with the Risen Christ to “proclaim the Word [Gospel] fully” so that “all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17). The missionary task is not to revolutionize the world, rather to transfigure it, drawing upon the strength of Jesus Christ who “summons us to the banquet of his word and of the Eucharist, to taste the gift of his presence, to be formed at his school and to live ever more closely united to him, our teacher and Lord” (Message for the 84th World Mission Sunday). Also, Christians of today – as it is written in the Epistle to Diognetus – “show how marvellous and... extraordinary their associated life is. They spend their life on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their way of living go beyond these laws... They are condemned to death, from which they draw life. While doing good, they are... persecuted and they grow in number every day” (v, 188.8.131.52; vi 9, n. 33, Paris 1951, 62-66).
To the Virgin Mary, that from Jesus crucified received the new mission to be the Mother of all those who desire to believe in and follow Him, we entrust the Christian community of the Middle East and all missionaries of the Gospel.
After the Angelus:
I am pleased to announce that yesterday in Vercelli, Italy, Sr Alfonsa Clerici of the Congregation of Most Precious Blood of Monza was proclaimed Blessed. She was born in Lainate, near Milan in 1860, and died in Vercelli in 1930. We give thanks to God for this Sister, who the Lord guided to perfect charity.
To the English-speaking pilgrims gathered for this Angelus prayer I offer warm greetings. We give thanks to God for the blessings received during the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which concluded this morning in St Peter’s Basilica. We also celebrate today World Mission Sunday, which reminds us that ecclesial communion is the key to our task of proclaiming the Gospel. Entrusting this mission to the intercession of our Mother Mary, I invoke upon you and your families God’s abundant blessings.
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homilies of Pope Benedict XVI, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells a parable on the need to pray always, never wearying. The main character is a widow whose insistent pleading with a dishonest judge succeeds in obtaining justice from him. Jesus concludes: if the widow succeeded in convincing that judge, do you think that God will not listen to us if we pray to him with insistence? Jesus' words are very strong: “And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7).
“Crying day and night” to God! This image of prayer is striking, but let us ask ourselves: Why does God want this? Doesn’t he already know what we need? What does it mean to “insist” with God?
This is a good question that makes us examine an important aspect of the faith: God invites us to pray insistently not because he is unaware of our needs or because he is not listening to us. On the contrary, he is always listening and he knows everything about us lovingly. On our daily journey, especially in times of difficulty, in the battle against the evil that is outside and within us, the Lord is not far away, he is by our side. We battle with him beside us, and our weapon is prayer which makes us feel his presence beside us, his mercy and also his help. But the battle against evil is a long and hard one; it requires patience and endurance, like Moses who had to keep his arms outstretched for the people to prevail (cf. Exodus 17:8-13). This is how it is: there is a battle to be waged each day, but God is our ally, faith in him is our strength and prayer is the expression of this faith. Therefore Jesus assures us of the victory, but at the end he asks: “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). If faith is snuffed out, prayer is snuffed out, and we walk in the dark. We become lost on the path of life.
Therefore, let us learn from the widow of the Gospel to pray always without growing weary. This widow was very good! She knew how to battle for her children! I think of the many women who fight for their families, who pray and never grow weary. Today let us all remember these women who by their attitude provide us with a true witness of faith and courage, and a model of prayer. Our thoughts go out to them!
Pray always, but not in order to convince the Lord by dint of words! He knows our needs better than we do! Indeed persevering prayer is the expression of faith in a God who calls us to fight with him every day and at every moment in order to conquer evil with good.
After the Angelus:
Dear brothers and sisters, today is World Mission Sunday. What is the mission of the Church? To spread throughout the world the flame of faith which Jesus kindled in the world: faith in God who is Father, Love, Mercy. The method of Christian mission is not proselytism but rather that of sharing the flame that warms the soul. I wish to thank all those who through their prayer and practical help support missionary work, especially the work of the Bishop of Rome to spread the Gospel. On this Day, we are close to all men and women missionaries who work so hard without making any noise and who give their lives, like the Italian missionary Afra Martinelli who worked for many years in Nigeria. Some days ago she was killed during a robbery. Everyone mourned her loss, Christians and Muslims. They loved her. She proclaimed the Gospel with her life, with the work she carried out at the educational centre she had set up. In this way she spread the flame of faith, and fought the good fight! Let us think of our sister of ours and let us all remember her with with a round of applause!
My thoughts also turn to Stefano Sándor, who was beatified in Budapest yesterday. He was a Salesian layman and a model of service to youth in the oratory and in his profession as a teacher. When the communist regime closed all Catholic institutions, he courageously faced persecution and was killed at the age of 39. We join in giving thanks to the Salesian family and the Church in Hungary.
I wish to express my closeness to the peoples of the Philippines who have been struck by a severe earthquake, and I invite you to pray for that dear nation which recently has undergone various calamities.
I warmly greet all of the pilgrims present here, beginning with the young people who participated in the “100 metre sprint for faith” sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture. Thank you, for you remind us that the believer is a spiritual athlete! Thank you very much!
Have a blessed Sunday! Goodbye and have a good lunch!
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homily of Pope Francis I, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.