Here is a translation of the Pope’s address Saturday to participants in a pilgrimage from the Italian Diocese of Brescia.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Diocese of Brescia,
I thank you because you give me the possibility of sharing with you the memory of the Venerable Servant of God Paul VI. I greet you all affectionately, beginning with your bishop, Monsignor Luciano Monari, to whom I am grateful for his kind words. I greet the priests, the men and women religious and lay faithful. This is your pilgrimage in the Year of Faith, and it is good that you wished to make it, on the 50th anniversary of the election of your great fellow-countryman Paul VI.
There are so many things that I would like to say and recall about this great Pontiff. Thinking of him, I will limit myself to three fundamental aspects that he witnessed and taught us, letting his impassioned words illustrate him: the love of Christ, the love of the Church and the love of man. These three words are fundamental but also passionate attitudes.
In difficult years, Paul VI was able to witness faith in Jesus Christ. Still resonating, more intensely than ever, is his invocation: “You are necessary, O Christ!” Yes, Jesus is more necessary than ever for the man of today, for the world of today, because in the “deserts” of the secular city He speaks to us of God, He reveals His face to us. The total love of Christ emerges in Montini’s whole life, also in the choice of his name as Pope, motivated by him with these words: He is the Apostle “who loved Christ supremely, who in the highest degree desired and made the effort to take the Gospel of Christ to all peoples, who offered his life for love of Christ” (Homily [June 30, 1963]: AAS 55 , 619). And he pointed out this same totality to the Council in the opening address of the Second Session at Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, pointing to the great mosaic of the Basilica in which Pope Honorius III appears in miniscule proportions at the feet of the great figure of Christ. So was the Council’s Assembly itself: at the feet of Christ, to be His servants and the servants of His Gospel (cf. Address [September 29, 1963]: AAS 55 , 846-847).
He had a profound love for Christ, not to possess Him but to proclaim Him. We recall his passionate words at Manila: “Christ! Yes, I feel the necessity of proclaiming Him, I cannot be silent about Him! … He is the revealer of the invisible God, He is the first born of all creatures, He is the foundation of everything. He is the Teacher of humanity, He is the Redeemer. He is the center of history and of the world. He is the One who knows and loves us. He is the companion and friend of our life. He is the Man of sorrows and of hope. He is the one who must come one day to be our Judge and, we hope, the eternal fullness of our existence, our happiness” (Homily [November 27, 1970]: AAS 63 , 32). These passionate words are great words. But I confide something to you. This address at Manila, and also that of Nazareth, were spiritual strength for me. They have done me so much good in life. And I go back to this address, I go back and back to it, because it does me good to hear this word of Paul VI today. And we, do we have the same love of Christ? Is He the center of our life? Do we witness Him in our actions every day?
The second point: love of the Church, a passionate love, love of a whole life, joyful and deeply-felt, expressed already in his very first encyclical, Ecclesiam suam. Paul VI lived fully the suffering of the Church after Vatican II, the lights, the hopes, the tensions. He loved the Church and spent himself for her without reservations. In Thought of Death he wrote: I would like to embrace her, greet her, love her in every being that is part of her, in every bishop and priest that assists and guides her, in every soul that lives and illustrates her.” And in the Testament he addressed her with these words: “Receive with my blessed greeting my supreme act of love!” (Teachings [Insegnamenti] XVI , 592). This is the heart of a true Pastor, of a genuine Christian, of a man capable of loving! Paul VI had a very clear vision that the Church is a Mother that bears Christ and takes Christ. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi – for me the greatest pastoral document that has been written up to today – he posed this question: “After the Council and thanks to the Council, which was for her an hour of God in this brief period of history, does the Church feel or not feel herself more able to proclaim the Gospel and to insert it in man’s heart with conviction, freedom of spirit and efficacy?” (December 8, 1975, n. 4: AAS 69 , 7). And he continued: is the Church “truly rooted in the heart of the world and yet sufficiently free and independent to interpellate the world? Does she give witness of her solidarity with men and, at the same time, with the Absolute of God? Is she more ardent in contemplation and in adoration, and at the same time more zealous in her missionary, charitable and liberating action? Is she ever more committed in the effort to seek the re-establishment of the full unity of Christians, which renders common witness more effective “so that the world will believe”? (Ibid., n. 76: AAS 68 , 67). These are questions addressed also to our Church of today, to all of us, we are all responsible for the answers and we must ask ourselves: are we really a Church united with Christ to go out and proclaim Him to all, also and above all to those that I call the “existential peripheries,” or are we shut in on ourselves, in our groups, in our small coteries? Do we love the great Church, the Mother Church, the Church that sends us on mission and makes us come out of ourselves?
And the third element: love of man. This is also linked to Christ, it is God’s passion itself that spurs us to encounter man, respect him, recognize him and serve him. In the last Session of Vatican II, Paul VI gave an address that on rereading it, strikes one every time. In particular where he speaks of the Council’s attention to contemporary man. And he says: “Profane, secular humanism has appeared in the end in its terrible stature and, in a certain sense, it has challenged the Council. The religion of the God who became man encountered the religion of man who makes himself God. What has happened? A clash, a fight, an anathema? It could have been, but it didn’t happen. The old story of the Samaritan was the paradigm of the Council’s spirituality. An immense sympathy pervaded everything. The discovery of human needs. Give it credit for this at least, you modern humanists, who renounce the transcendence of supreme things, and you will recognize our new humanism: we also, we more than all, are the lovers of man” (Homily [December 7, 1965]: AAS 58 . 55-56). And with a global glance at the work of the Council, he observed: “All this doctrinal richness is geared in one direction: to serve man. Man, we say, in his every condition, in his every infirmity, in his every necessity. The Church has virtually declared herself the handmaid of humanity” (Ibid., 57). And this gives us light also today, in this world where man is denied, where there is preference to go by the way of Gnosticism, by the way of Pelagianism, or of “no flesh” – a God who did not become flesh — or the “no God” — Promethean man who can go forward. At this time, we can say the same things Paul VI said: the Church is the handmaid of man; the Church believes in Christ who came in the flesh and because of this serves man, loves man, believes in man. This is the inspiration of the great Paul VI.
Dear friends, it does us good to meet in the name of the Venerable Servant of God Paul VI! His witness enkindles in us the flame of love of Christ, of love of the Church, of the rush to proclaim the Gospel to the man of today, with mercy, patience, courage and joy. I thank you once again for this. I entrust you all to the Virgi
n Mary, Mother of the Church, and I bless you all from my heart, along with your loved ones, especially the children and the sick.