Pope's Address to Italian Pilgrims: On Church, Education, Family

«The Church Is Not a Social, Philanthropic Organization»

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 5, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Saturday in Paul VI Hall to a group of pilgrims from the Italian Diocese of Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Fonti.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I am truly happy to receive you, so numerous and full of enthusiasm for the faith. Thank you! I thank your bishop, Mario Paciello, for the words he addressed to me on behalf of all. I greet civil authorities, priests, men and women religious, seminarians and each one of you, extending my thoughts and my affection to your diocesan community, in particular to those who live in situations of suffering and hardship.

I am thankful to the Lord because your visit gives me the possibility to share with you a moment of the synodal journey of the Church that is in Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Fonti. The synod is an event that gives a concrete experience of being «People of God» on the way, of being Church, a pilgrim community in history [journeying] toward its eschatological fulfillment in God. This signifies recognizing that the Church does not possess in herself a life-giving principle, but depends on Christ, of whom she is the sign and effective instrument. In the relationship with the Lord Jesus she finds her own most profound identity: to be gift of God to humanity, prolonging the presence and work of salvation of the Son of God through the Holy Spirit. In this context we understand that the Church is essentially a mystery of love at the service of humanity in view of its sanctification.

On this point, the Second Vatican Council stated: «God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness» (Lumen Gentium, No. 9) We see here that the Word of God has really created a people, a community; it has created a common joy, a common pilgrimage toward the Lord. Hence, being Church does not happen only by our own human organizational strength, but finds its source and its real meaning in the communion of love of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: This eternal love is the source from which the Church springs and the Most Holy Trinity is the model of unity in diversity and generates and molds the Church as a mystery of communion.

It is always necessary to start again and in a new way from this truth to understand and to live more intensely our being Church, «People of God,» «Body of Christ,» «Communion.» Otherwise, we run the risk of reducing the whole to a horizontal dimension, which alters the identity of the Church and the proclamation of the faith and would make our life and the life of the Church poorer. It is important to stress that the Church is not a social, philanthropic organization, as so many others are: She is the Community of God, the Community that believes, that loves, that adores the Lord Jesus and opens her «sails» to the breath of the Holy Spirit, and because of this, she is a Community capable of evangelizing and humanizing. The profound relationship with Christ, lived and nourished by the Word and by the Eucharist, renders proclamation effective, motivates a commitment to catechesis and animates the testimony of charity. Many men and women of our time are in need of encountering God, of encountering Christ or of rediscovering the beauty of the close God, of the God that in Jesus Christ has shown his face as Father and calls us to recognize the meaning and value of existence. To make it understood that it is good to live as man. The present historical moment is marked, we know it, by lights and shadows. We witness complex attitudes: withdrawal into oneself, narcissism, desire to possess and to consume, feelings and affections bereft of responsibility. Many are the causes of this disorientation, which manifests itself in a profound existential uneasiness, but behind all this one can perceive a negation of the transcendent dimension of man and of the fundamental relationship with God. Because of this, it is decisive that Christian communities promote sound and demanding journeys of faith.

Dear friends, particular attention must be given to the way of considering education in Christian life, so that every person can follow an authentic path of faith, through the different ages of life; a path in which — like the Virgin Mary — the person receives profoundly the Word of God and puts it into practice, becoming a witness of the Gospel. In the Declaration Gravissimum Educationis, the Second Vatican Council stated: Christian education «has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, … and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth» (No. 2).

In this educational effort, the family remains the first responsible party. Dear parents, be the first witnesses of the faith! Do not be afraid of the difficulties amid which you are called to realize your mission. You are not alone! The Christian community is close to you and sustains you. Catechesis accompanies your children in their human and spiritual growth, but catechesis is a permanent formation, not limited to preparation to receive the sacraments; we must grow throughout our lives in knowledge of God, thus in knowledge of what it means to be a man. Know how to draw strength and light from the liturgy: participation in the Eucharistic celebration on the Day of the Lord is decisive for the family, for the whole community, it is the structure of our time. Let us remember always that in the sacraments, above all in the Eucharist, the Lord Jesus works for the transformation of men assimilating us to himself. It is precisely thanks to the encounter with Christ, to communion with him, that the Christian community can give a witness of communion, lending itself to service, receiving the poor and the little ones, recognizing the face of God in the sick and in every needy one. Hence I invite you, beginning from contact with the Lord in daily prayer and above all in the Eucharist, to appreciate adequately the educational proposals and the forms of volunteer work in dioceses, to form persons in solidarity, open and attentive to situations of spiritual and material hardship. In short, pastoral action should be geared to forming persons mature in the faith, able to live in contexts in which often God is ignored; persons coherent with the faith, so that the light of Christ will be taken to all environments; persons that live the faith with joy, to transmit the beauty of being Christians.

Finally, I wish to address a special thought to you, dear priests. Always be grateful for the gift received, so that you can serve with love and dedication the People of God entrusted to your care. Proclaim the Gospel with courage and fidelity, be witnesses of the mercy of God and, guided by the Holy Spirit, be able to indicate the truth, not fearing dialogue with the culture and with those who are in search of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust the journey of your diocesan community to Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Lord and Mother of the Church, our Mother. In her we contemplate what the Church is and is called to be. With her «yes» she gave Jesus to the world and now participates fully in the glory of God. We are also called to give the Lord Jesus to humanity, not forgetting to be his disciples at all times. I thank you very much again for your lovely visit and I wholeheartedly thank you for your faith and I accompany you with prayer and impart to all of you and to the entire diocese the Apostolic Blessing.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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