On the Lateran Basilica

«The Temple of Stones Is a Symbol of the Living Church»

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 9, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the Angelus together with the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today the liturgy celebrates the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, called “mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world.” In fact, this basilica was the first to be built after Emperor Constantine’s edict, in 313, granted Christians freedom to practice their religion.

The emperor himself gave Pope Miltiades the ancient palace of the Laterani family, and the basilica, the baptistery, and the patriarchate, that is, the Bishop of Rome’s residence — where the Popes lived until the Avignon period — were all built there. The basilica’s dedication was celebrated by Pope Sylvester around 324 and was named Most Holy Savior; only after the 6th century were the names of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist added, and now is typically denominated by these latter.

Initially the observance of this feast was confined to the city of Rome; then, beginning in 1565, it was extended to all the Churches of the Roman rite. The honoring of this sacred edifice was a way of expressing love and veneration for the Roman Church, which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch says, “presides in charity” over the whole Catholic communion (Letter to the Romans, 1:1).

On this solemnity the Word of God recalls an essential truth: the temple of stones is a symbol of the living Church, the Christian community, which in their letters the Apostles Peter and Paul already understood as a “spiritual edifice,” built by God with “living stones,” namely, Christians themselves, upon the one foundation of Jesus Christ, who is called the “cornerstone” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17; 1 Peter 2:4-8; Ephesians 2:20-22). “Brothers, you are God’s building,” St. Paul wrote, and added: “holy is God’s temple, which you are” (1 Corinthians 3:9c, 17).

The beauty and harmony of the churches, destined to give praise to God, also draws us human being, limited and sinful, to convert to form a “cosmos,” a well-ordered structure, in intimate communion with Jesus, who is the true Saint of saints. This happens in a culminating way in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia,” that is, the community of the baptized, come together in a unified way to listen to the Word of God and nourish themselves with the Body and Blood of Christ. From these two tables the Church of living stones is built up in truth and charity and is internally formed by the Holy Spirit transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, in this way becomes the spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.

Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God. Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the “house of God,” living temple of his love.

[After the Angelus the Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In Italian he said:]

Today is the 70th anniversary of that sad event, which occurred during the nights of Nov. 9-10, 1938, when Nazi fury was unleashed against the Jews in Germany. Shops, offices, dwellings and synagogues were attacked and many people were also killed, initiating the systematic and violent persecution of German Jews, which ended with the Shoah. Today I still feel pain over what happened in those tragic circumstances. The memory of these things must serve to prevent similar horrors from ever happening again and must lead us to dedicate ourselves, at every level, to fight against every form of anti-Semitism and discrimination, educating the younger generations in respect and reciprocal acceptance. I invite you to pray for the victims of that time and to join with me in manifesting a deep solidarity with the Jewish world.

Troubling news continues to come from the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Bloody armed skirmishes and systematic atrocities have caused and continue to cause many casualties among innocent civilians; destruction, looting and violence of every type have forced tens of thousands of persons to abandon even what little they had to survive. The number of refugees is estimated at more than 1 and a half million. To all and to each one I desire to express my special nearness, as I encourage and bless those who are working to alleviate their sufferings, among whom are the pastoral workers of the Church of that region. To families and their loved ones I offer my condolences and assure my prayers. Finally, fervently call upon all to work together to restore peace, respect for law and the dignity of every person to that land, for too long martyred.

In Italy today the Day of Thanksgiving is celebrated. This year’s theme is: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat.” I join my voice to that of the Italian bishops who, guided by these words of Jesus, draw attention to the grave and complex problem of hunger, which has become more dramatic due to price increases on staple foods. The Church, re-proposing the basic ethical principle of the universal destination of goods, following the example of the Lord Jesus, puts this principle into practice with multiple initiatives. I pray for farmers, especially for small farmers in developing countries. I encourage and bless those who work to make sure that no one lacks healthy and adequate food: whoever gives succor to the poor gives succor to Christ himself.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic] [In English, he said]

I greet the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims who are here today, especially the groups from Billingham in England, Heulen in the Netherlands and Los Angeles, California. Today we celebrate the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the Mother Church of all the churches throughout the world. Let us rejoice in this great sign of our unity in faith and love, and let us resolve to become living stones, constantly growing into a holy Temple in the Lord. May God bless you all!

© Copyright 2008 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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