VATICAN CITY, APRIL 25, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the homily Benedict XVI delivered today, when visiting the sepulcher of the Apostle to the Gentiles in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
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Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
I thank God because at the beginning of my ministry as Successor of Peter he grants me to pause in prayer before the sepulcher of the Apostle Paul. For me, this is a much longed for pilgrimage, a gesture of faith that I make in my name, but also in the name of the beloved Diocese of Rome, of which the Lord has constituted me Bishop and Pastor, and of the universal Church entrusted to my pastoral care. A pilgrimage so to speak to the roots of the mission, of that mission that the risen Christ entrusted to Peter, to the Apostles and, in particular also to Paul, leading him to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles, until he reached this city where, after having preached the Kingdom of God for a long time (Acts 28:31), he rendered with blood the last testimony of his Lord, who had “made him his own” (Philippians 3:12) and sent him.
Already before Providence led him to Rome, the Apostle wrote to the Christians of this city, capital of the Empire, his most important letter from the doctrinal point of view. Its beginning has just been proclaimed, a profound preamble in which the Apostle greets the community of Rome introducing himself as “servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle” (Romans 1:1). And later he adds: “through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5).
Dear Friends, as Successor of Peter, I am here to revive in faith this “grace of apostleship,” as God, according to another expression of the Apostle to the Gentiles, has entrusted to me “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). Before our eyes is the example of my beloved and venerated predecessor John Paul II, a missionary Pope whose activity, understood in this way, witnessed in more than 100 apostolic trips beyond the confines of Italy, is truly inimitable. What was it that drove him to such dynamism if not the very love of Christ that transformed St. Paul’s life (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14)? May the Lord infuse such a love also in me so that I will not remain calm in face of the urgencies of the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world. The Church by her nature is missionary; her primary task is evangelization. The ecumenical Second Vatican Council dedicated to missionary activity the decree called precisely, “Ad Gentes,” in which we are reminded that “[t]he Apostles themselves, on whom the Church was founded, following in the footsteps of Christ, ‘preached the word of truth and begot churches.’ It is the duty of their successors to make this task endure ‘so that the word of God may run and be glorified (2 Thessalonians 3:1) and the kingdom of God be proclaimed and established throughout the world.”
At the beginning of the third millennium, the Church feels with renewed force that Christ’s missionary mandate is of more current importance than ever. The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 has led her to “start afresh from Christ,” contemplated in prayer, so that the light of his truth is irradiated to all men, above all with the testimony of holiness. I like to recall the motto that St. Benedict proposed in his Rule, when exhorting his monks to “prefer nothing to the love of Christ” (Chapter 4). In fact, the call on the road to Damascus led Paul precisely to this: to make Christ the center of his life, leaving everything for the sublime knowledge of him and of his ministry of love, committing himself later to proclaim him to all, especially pagans “to the glory of his name” (Romans 1:5). Christ’s passion led him to preach the Gospel not only with the word, but also with his very life, which was ever more conformed to that of his Lord. In the end, Paul proclaimed Christ with martyrdom, and his blood, together with that of Peter and of witnesses of the Gospel, watered this land and made fruitful the Church of Rome, which presides over the communion of charity (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch, “Letter to the Romans,” 1,1).
The 20th century was a time of martyrdom. Pope John Paul II highlighted it clearly, asking the Church to “actualize the Martyrology” and canonized and beatified numerous martyrs of recent history. Therefore, the blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians, especially there where it has suffered most for the faith and the testimony of the Gospel.
We entrust this desire to the intercession of St. Paul. May he obtain for the Church of Rome, in particular for her Bishop, and for all the people of God, the joy of proclaiming and witnessing to all the Good News of Christ the Savior.
[Translation by ZENIT]