The following is a translation of the homily that the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin gave in the course of the Eucharistic celebration at Pompeii, on the Day of Prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am grateful to His Excellency Monsignor Tommaso Caputo, Archbishop Prelate of Pompeii for his courteous invitation to preside over this celebration on the Day of Prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Pompeii. I thank the Mayor and the other civil and military Authorities for their kind presence, a testimony of their affection for the Shrine and the importance it entails for the city and the region, as well as for the devotion of all the Catholic faithful, many of whom come from all over the world to thank the Mother of Jesus for the many graces of which she is the benevolent mediatrix and to implore for them always again. I am happy to be a pilgrim, together with you, in this twice famous city in the world for the excavations of the ancient Roman city and for the more than ever living and operating presence of this splendid Shrine of the Blessed Virgin, founded by Blessed Bartolo Longo.
To hear the readings in the “city of Mary,” the other name of this wonderful land so rich in history, offers suggestions which the closeness to the paschal time renders even more intense and significant.
Today’s liturgy presents to us first of all the nascent Church. The Apostles, reinvigorated by the gift of the Holy Spirit, begin their mission to proclaim the Good News. Peter, indicated by Jesus as shepherd of the small flock, proclaims his faith in the crucified and risen Christ and invites those present to repent of their sins and to wash their faults in the water of Baptism to be reborn to the new life. A first question comes to mind: what does this new life consist of? For Christians, there can be but one answer: it consists of love and is manifested in charity.
We are in a place where charity has pitched its tent, it is inserted as a constitutive element of a history of faith that continues to look ahead, driven by the powerful and humble force of its origin: here prayer, the Rosary beads of which the founder Bartolo Longo made himself the apostle, descended into a reality that spoke about something else. It spoke of misery and abandonment, of injustice and oppression. Man was stricken in his dignity and the poor, the least in line, were scarcely considered.
Charity opened the doors, in fact it opened them wide to hope, giving life to a new era. No problem, no apprehension, no matter how strong or motivated, can keep distant a hope that, precisely in this place is manifested as concrete, made of works that speak the language of a charity that transforms, builds and makes everything new. This remains true even if today what we live does not shield us from difficulties and anxieties, such as the snare of a violence that always lies in ambush, or the scarce and uncertain prospects of work for our young people, to whom not only the economic crisis of these times, but old and structural delays make it difficult to look at the future with serenity and confidence.
“We have passed from death to life because we love the brethren,” says John in the First Letter.
What reflections, therefore, can we distill from these readings? What does the Lord wish to say to us today? I would like to pause, together with you, on three concepts in particular: to profess our faith, to put it into practice with love of our neighbor; to be light for the world (mission).
To profess our faith. We think of Peter, poor fisherman of Galilee, drawn by Jesus to an adventure that is greater than he is. The Lord gives him the keys of the Kingdom, he makes him the head of the Apostles, he gives him confidence. And what does he do? At the moment of need, he denies him three times. However, faith in Christ is stronger! Peter “wept bitterly,” he repented of what he had done and, after Jesus’ Resurrection he gathered his brothers. But he was still frightened. His humanity was fragile. Behold, then, God sent the Holy Spirit who gave the Apostles, gathered with Mary in the Cenacle, the grace, the strength to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
How can we fail to see Mary’s presence in the Cenacle? At the side of the Apostles, close to each one of them at the moment in which the Holy Spirit was driving them on the way of witness and mission, Mary, in a certain sense, answered the “yes” of the Annunciation, making herself present as the first evangelizer. Thus Mary placed herself at the service of Jesus and the Gospel, humble handmaid of the Lord, but also Mother of our faith. This is first of all the dimension that she offers us, particularly in this her “beautiful house” of Pompeii, a shrine placed in the heart of a city that grew in her shadow and under her protection. None of the anxieties, of the preoccupations, as well as the joys and hopes of this community can be foreign to her. She watches over as a loving and diligent Mother not only the affairs of our daily life, but over the firmness of our faith. She is the one who invites us to look at her Son. She is the one who continues to help the apostles of our days, for whom the duty has not changed of witness and mission.
We are all baptized and have received in Confirmation the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us make this gift bear fruit. Let us profess our faith as Saint Peter, even if this should cost us, as happened to him. Let us think of the thousands of Christians that, still today, in the 21st century, suffer because of their faith, are persecuted, see their rights trampled. Let us pray for them and, above all, let us act like them, without descending to compromises but living and professing our faith in fullness.
To put our faith into practice, namely, to love our neighbor. Here, in fact, is the heart of our faith. This is the revolution brought by Jesus. Mutual love is the commandment that he gave to his own before he died, defining it His and New. It is, therefore, the very essence of his teaching. Only through love of a brother, in fact, Saint John tells us, “we pass from death to life.” We are reborn, that is, to a new life.
An example of new life is the land that welcomes us today, and on which today I have been able to experience the joy of the Eucharistic celebration.
That “New” which, in fact, precedes Pompeii’s name, does not only indicate the great distance of time from the ancient and splendid city of the excavations, handed down to us by a monumental complex unique in the world. The distance of the “New Pompeii” is, instead, in relation to the territory of the desolate valley that appeared before the eyes of an evangelizer like Bartolo Longo. A layman, with life experiences that were somewhat difficult and tormented, who saw in that abandoned and infested land of degradation and evil life, not a place to which to turn his back, but the point of departure for a “new beginning.” He had, in fact, a hope to rebuild. Bartolo Longo thought it necessary to put his faith into practice, namely, to love his neighbor, to trust Providence and the mercy of God. Found at the center of the project of the “New Pompeii” was prayer. The beads of the Rosary, of which he was the tireless propagator, became the true and most solid bricks for the building of the Shrine, common house of faith and hope of a new people.
Lived faith witnesses the experience of Pompeii, it becomes our strength, it united and includes all our actions and leads us to God. Love among human beings is what is most at God’s heart, what He wants for us, because He is the Father of all. Therefore, by loving one another we are closer to God. And union with Him is the inexhaustible source of interior light, it is source of life, of spiritual fecundity, of continual renewal.
To be light for the world (mission). Strong in our faith, determined to love our brother, every brother, we can then truly be, as Jesus, light for the world. We must take this light, this truth to the world, we must witness it and proclaim it to all. And we must do so with joy, as Pope Francis exhorts: “Never be sad men and women: a Christian can never be so! Do not let yourselves fall prey to discouragement! Ours is not a joy that is born from possessing many things, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, of knowing that with Him we are never alone, even in difficult moments, even when the path of life runs into problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many!” We must help the men of this difficult time of ours to believe in Jesus and in Him who sent him; we must give back hope to humanity, because He has not come to condemn us, but to save us: this cannot but be our commitment as mature and courageous Christians. We cannot keep to ourselves this joyful certainty, but we must communicate it to others, because – as Pope Francis says again in Evangelii Gaudium – “ we will succeed in being fully human when we are more than human, when we allow God to lead us beyond ourselves so that we attain our truest being.” (n. 8).
Let us think of Mary, who here at Pompeii we venerate with the title Virgin of the Rosary. She received the gift that God gave her and took it to the world. In the Magnificat, she professed her faith, living at the same time concrete love to brothers. She followed Jesus to the end, under the cross, being in her Stabat, a living witness of the light of faith, and still today she gives herself to her children.
The founder of the Shrine of Pompeii, Blessed Bartolo Longo, also lived fully these fundamentals of the Christian faith. After his conversion, he did not hesitate to profess his faith, using all the means available at his time. He made love of brothers, especially of the least and the marginalized, the purpose of his life. He radiated the light of faith in the whole world, with his tireless evangelizing action, which continues at present thanks to the commitment of the Shrine.
Let us entrust to Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, but especially our sweetest Mother, the “most tender among mothers,” all our preoccupations, our anxieties, our needs. Let us pray for the Church, let us pray for Pope Francis who asked me to have us remember him particularly in this Day and place – let us pray for the whole world, let us pray for peace.
May the Child we see on Mary’s knees and the mystical chaplet we see in her hand inspire in us the confidence that we will be heard. So be it.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]