A new message of encouragement and support comes from Benedict XVI's Visit to Sulmona in the Abruzzo region, severely tried by unemployment and by the earthquake, to which the Bishop of Rome, who is the Primate of Italy, wished to return for the third time.
He demonstrated his caring, to which a great many people responded with open affection, especially in the moving encounters with a delegation of prisoners and with youth.
And it was precisely to them that the Pope addressed words that go far beyond the boundaries of the Abruzzo and of Italy. He urged the young people to love the Church, their Bishop and their priests in these rather “difficult times”, as he described them in the affectionate Letter he addressed to his Secretary of State for the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
In spite of “all our weaknesses” – Benedict XVI then repeated with exemplary humility – “priests are precious presences in your life”.
The Pope's constant support of Catholic priests is important. They are the “clear and credible witnesses” of reconciliation with God at the very time when an effort is being made to cloud the reality and beauty of their mission. They are in fact irreplaceable and fundamental during the Church's earthly pilgrimage. As are, in a sort of exchange, the growing demonstrations of sympathy and affection that reach the Pontiff – and not only from Catholics – especially during his Journeys and Visits, as was seen in Malta, in Turin, in Portugal and in Cyprus but also in celebrations in Rome, especially during the conclusion of the Year for Priests.
In the Jubilee Year dedicated to Peter of Morrone, to whom Paul VI paid homage immediately after the Council, stressing the ongoing need for renewal in continuity with tradition – the Pope recalled his medieval Predecessor in particular as “a seeker of God” in his choice of silence. That silence which, having returned to the Vatican, Benedict XVI emphasized as a distinctive feature of Joseph, his Patron Saint, and which means above all attention and availability to God in a society that on the contrary wants to overwhelm him with a thousand contradictory voices in a chaotic confusion that disorientates the people of today.
Christians must never forget that neither history nor the choice of silence and prayer are alien to reality. On the contrary – with an emphasis never to be taken for granted in an age that is increasingly ignorant of history – the Pope reminded the young people of the importance of having a historical memory in order to understand themselves and to open themselves to the future; and he put them on guard against the kind of prayer that alienates them from real life.
“Faith and prayer do not solve problems but rather enable us to face them with fresh enlightenment and strength”, in a realistic way that is only possible if one “keeps the ‘inner eyes’” always open, “the eyes of our heart”.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 22, 2020
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