Papal Words on Vatican City State 80th Anniversary

«A Small Territory for a Great Mission»

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 16, 2009 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s address last Saturday at an audience with participants in a meeting held on the 80th anniversary of the creation of Vatican City State.

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Lord Cardinals,
Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am very pleased to address a cordial greeting to all of you, organizers, reporters and participants in the congress organized to commemorate the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the foundation of Vatican City State. «A small territory for a great mission» is the theme on which you have focused your attention, reflecting together on the spiritual and civil value of this small sovereign state, placed totally at the service that Jesus Christ entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his successors. I thank Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo not only for his words of greeting addressed to me on your behalf, but also for the commitment that he and his collaborators of the governorate have shown to solemnize this significant date of the 80 years of existence and activity of Vatican State.
I express my true pleasure for the celebrations and the different commemorative initiatives of these days, oriented to deepening knowledge of and to knowing better the history and physiognomy of the Civitas Vaticana. Eighty years after its foundation, it is a reality achieved peacefully, though not always well understood in its reasons for being and in the many tasks that it is called to carry out. For those who work daily at the service of the Holy See or who live in the city, it is a given that in the heart of Rome there is a small sovereign state, but not all know that it is the fruit of quite a tormented historical process, which made possible its constitution, motivated by lofty ideals of faith and wide consciousness of the objectives it must fulfill. Thus we could say that the celebration, which justifies our meeting today, invites one to a more profound awareness of what Vatican City State means and is.
When the memory harkens back to Feb. 11, 1929, it is impossible not to feel a profound recognition for he who was the first and main architect and protagonist of the Lateran Pacts, my venerated predecessor, Pius XI. He was the Pope of my childhood, whom we looked upon with so much veneration and love. Precisely in these days his name has resonated on several occasions, as with the lucidity of a lofty outlook and indomitable will he was the real founder and first builder of Vatican City State. Moreover, the historical studies on his pontificate, which continue to take place, make us perceive increasingly the greatness of Pope Ratti, who guided the Church in the difficult years between the two World Wars. With a firm hand he stimulated ecclesial action in its many dimensions: Let us recall the missionary expansion, attention to the formation of God’s ministers, promotion of the activity of the lay faithful in the Church and in society, and the intense relationship with the civil community.

During his pontificate, the «librarian Pope» had to address the difficulties and persecutions that the Church was suffering in countries such as Mexico and Spain, and the confrontations triggered by totalitarianism — national socialism and fascism — which arose and were consolidated in those years. In Germany, his great encyclical «Mit Brennender Sorge» has not been forgotten, as a strong sign against Nazism. The wise and strong work of this Pontiff truly awakens admiration, who only wished for the Church the freedom that would allow her to carry out her mission integrally. Vatican City State, which arose as a consequence of the Lateran Pacts and, in particular, of the Treaty, was also considered by Pius XI as an instrument to guarantee the necessary independence from all human authority, to give the Church and her supreme Pastor the possibility to fully comply with the mandate received from Christ the Lord. The usefulness and benefit of this small but complete reality for the Holy See, for the Church, as well as for Rome and the whole world, was seen just 10 years later, when World War II broke out, a war whose violence and sufferings reached the doors of the Vatican.
Hence, it can be affirmed that in the eight decades of its existence, Vatican State has demonstrated that it is a flexible instrument and that it has always measured up to the needs posed and that continue to be posed both in the mission of the Pope and the needs of the Church, as well as the ever changing conditions of society. Precisely for this reason, under the guidance of my venerated predecessors, from the Servant of God Pius XII to Pope John Paul II, a constant adaptation of the norms, of the structures and of the means of this singular state, built around the tomb of the Apostle Peter, continue to be carried out before the eyes of all.

The significant anniversary we are celebrating these days is, therefore, the reason for profound gratitude to the Lord, who guides the fortunes of his Church in the often turbulent vicissitudes of the sea of history, and assists his Vicar on earth in carrying out his office of Christianae religionis summus Antistes. My gratitude extends to all those who in the past have been and are today protagonists of the life of Vatican City State, some known, but many others unknown in their humble and precious service. My thoughts go to the members of the present community of life and work of the governorate and the other structures of the state, thus interpreting the sentiments of the whole people of God. At the same time, I would like to encourage all those who work in the different Vatican offices and services to carry out their tasks with honesty and professional competence, but also with an ever more lively awareness that their work constitutes a precious service to the cause of the Kingdom of God.
The Civitas Vaticana is, in truth, an almost invisible point on the world map, a diminutive and defenseless state, deprived of fearful armies, seemingly irrelevant to the great international geopolitical strategies. And yet, this shelter of absolute independence of the Holy See has been and is a center of radiation of constant action in favor of solidarity and the common good. Is it not true, in fact, that for this reason this small handful of earth is looked upon in all parts of the world with great attention?

Vatican State, which encloses treasures of faith, of history, of art, is custodian of a precious patrimony for humanity. From its heart, where the Pope lives near the tomb of St. Peter, an incessant message rises of genuine social progress, of hope, of reconciliation and of peace. Now our state, after solemnly observing the 80th anniversary of its foundation, takes up the path again with a stronger apostolic thrust. May Vatican City be increasingly a genuine «city on the hill,» luminous, thanks to the conviction and generous dedication of those who work in it at the service of the ecclesial mission of the successor of Peter. With this hope, I invoke the maternal protection of Mary, the intercession of Sts. Peter and Paul and the other martyrs who have made this soil sacred, and impart my heartfelt blessing to all of you gathered here, extending it with affection to the great family of Vatican City State.
 [Translation by ZENIT] 
Copyright 2009 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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