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Determination on the path to peace

· Benedict XVI denounces the strategy of violence targeting Christians ·

The serious attack on the Christian Coptic community in Alexandria, Egypt”, the Pope said after praying the Angelus with the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, 2 January, is a “despicable act of death, like the current trend of setting bombs close to the homes of Christians in Iraq to force them to leave”. The Holy Father also greeted the faithful gathered in Madrid, Spain, for a demonstration in defence of marriage and the family. The following is a translation of the Holy Father's Reflection, which was given in Italian and Spanish.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I renew to you all my good wishes for the New Year and I thank all those who have sent me messages of spiritual closeness.

This Sunday’s Liturgy proposes anew the Prologue of the Gospel according to St John, solemnly proclaimed on Christmas Day. This wonderful text expresses the mystery of the Incarnation, preached by eyewitnesses, the Apostles, and in particular by John whose feast — not by chance — is  celebrated on 27 December.

St Chromatius of Aquileia said that “John was the youngest of all the Lord’s disciples; the youngest in age, but already old in faith” ( Sermo II, 1 De Sancto Iohanne Evangelista, ccl 9a, 101).

When we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1), the Evangelist, traditionally compared with an eagle — soars above human history, scrutinizing God’s depths; but very soon, following his Teacher, he returns to the earthly dimension, saying: “and the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14).

The Word is “a living reality: a God who... communicates himself by making himself man (J. Ratzinger, Teologia della liturgia, LEV, 209 10, 618). In fact, John testifies that he “dwelt among us” and “we have beheld his glory” (Jn 1:14).

“He lowered himself to assume the humility of our condition”, St Leo the Great comments, “without this diminishing his majesty” ( Tractatus XXI, 2, ccl 138, 86-87).

Further, we read in the Prologue: “From his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). “What is the first grace that we have received?”, St Augustine asks and answers, “it is faith”. The second grace, he immediately adds, is “eternal life” ( In evangelium Johannis tractatus III, 8.9, ccl 36, 24.25).

I now address in Spanish the thousands of families meeting in Madrid for an important demonstration. I greet with affection the many Pastors and faithful who are gathered in Plaza de Colón, Madrid, in order to celebrate joyfully the value of marriage and the family, on the theme: “The Christian family, hope for Europe”.

Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to be strong in love and to contemplate with humility the Mystery of Christmas that continues to speak to the heart and to become a school of family and fraternal life. The motherly gaze of the Virgin Mary, the loving protection of St Joseph and the sweet presence of the Baby Jesus are a clear image of what every Christian family must be: an authentic sanctuary of fidelity, respect and understanding in which faith is passed on, hope is strengthened and love is kindled.

I encourage one and all to live the Christian vocation in your homes with renewed enthusiasm, as genuine servants of the love that welcomes, accompanies and protects life. Make your home a real nursery of virtues and a serene and luminous place of trust, in which, guided by God’s grace, it is possible to discern wisely the call of the Lord who continues to invite people to follow him.

With these sentiments I fervently commend to the Holy Family of Nazareth the resolutions and fruit of this meeting, so that there may be an increasing number of families in which joy, mutual giving and generosity hold sway. May God always bless you. Let us ask the Virgin Mary, whom the Lord entrusted as Mother to “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, for the strength to behave as children “who were born ... of God” ( cf . Jn 1:13), accepting one another and thereby expressing brotherly love.

After the Angelus the Pope said:

Yesterday morning we learned with sorrow the news of the serious attack on the Christian Coptic community in Alexandria, Egypt. This despicable act of death, like the current trend of setting bombs close to the homes of Christians in Iraq to force them to leave, offends God and the whole of humanity which, only yesterday was praying for peace and began a New Year with hope.

In  the face of this strategy of violence that is targeting Christians with consequences on the entire population, I pray for the victims and their relatives and I encourage the ecclesial communities to persevere in faith  and  in  the  witness  of  non-violence which comes to us from the Gospel.

I am also thinking of the numerous pastoral workers killed in 2010 in various parts of the world: we likewise address to them our affectionate remembrance before the Lord. Let us remain united in Christ, our hope and our peace!

The world needs God if it is to find the necessary strength to oppose selfishness and violence and to rediscover the path to peace. This is what the Pope said during his Homily on Saturday, 1 January, 2011, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and the 44th World Day of Peace. The following is the English translation of of the Holy Father's Homily, which was given in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Still immersed in the spiritual atmosphere of Christmas, in which we have contemplated the mystery of Christ’s birth, today we are celebrating the Virgin Mary, whom the Church venerates as Mother of God with the same sentiments since she gave flesh to the Son of the Eternal Father. The biblical Readings of this Solemnity put the emphasis mainly on the Son of God made man and on the “Name” of the Lord. The First Reading presents to us the solemn Blessing that the priests pronounced over the Israelites on the great religious feasts: it is marked, precisely, by the Name of the Lord, repeated three times, as if to express the fullness and power that derive from this invocation. This text of liturgical Blessing, in fact, calls to mind the riches of grace and peace that God gives to man, with a benevolent attitude to him, and which is expressed by the “shining” of the divine face and his “turning” it to us.

Today the Church listens once again to these words, while she asks the Lord to bless the New Year that has just begun, in the awareness that in the face of the tragic events that mark history, in the face of the logistics of war that unfortunately have not yet been fully overcome, God alone can move the human spirit in its depths and assure hope and peace to humanity. By now it is a firm tradition, on the first day of the year that, the Church throughout the world raise a unanimous prayer to invoke peace. It is good to begin a new stretch of the journey by setting out with determination on the path of peace. Today let us respond to the cry of so many men, women, children and elderly people who are the victims of war, which is the most appalling and violent face of history. Let us pray today that peace, which the Angels announced to the shepherds on Christmas night, may reach everywhere: “ super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis ” (Lk 2:14). For this reason, especially with our prayers, we wish to help every person and every people, in particular all those who have the responsibility of government, to walk with ever grater determination on the path of peace.

In the Second Reading St Paul sums up in the adoption as sons the work of salvation brought about by Christ in which the figure of Mary is honoured. Thanks to her the Son of God, “born of woman” (Gal 4:4), was able to come into the world as a real man, in the fullness of time. This fulfilment, this fullness, concerns the past and the messianic expectations, which were brought about, but at the same time also refers to fullness in the absolute sense: in the Word made flesh, God said his ultimate and definitive word. Thus on the threshold of a new year, the invitation to walk joyfully towards the light of the “day that shall dawn... from on high” (Lk 1:78) resounds in this way, because in the Christian perspective all time is inhabited by God, there is no future that is not oriented to Christ and no fullness exists outside that of Christ.

Today’s Gospel passage ends with the imposition of the Name of Jesus, while Mary participates in silence, meditating in her heart upon the mystery of this Son of hers who in a completely unique way is a gift of God. But the Gospel passage we have heard particularly highlights the shepherds who returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Lk 2:20). The Angel had announced to them that in the city of David, that is, Bethlehem, the Saviour was born and that they would find the sign : a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger ( cf . Lk 2:11-12). Having left in haste, they had found Mary and Joseph and the Child. Let us note that the Evangelist speaks of Mary’s motherhood starting with the Son, with that “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes”, because it is he — the Word of God (Jn 1:14) — who is the reference point, the centre of the event that is being brought about, and it is he who ensures that Mary’s motherhood is described as “divine”.

This priority attention that today’s Readings pay to the “Son”, to Jesus, does not lessen the Mother’s role, on the contrary, it puts it in the right perspective: Mary, in fact, is the true Mother of God precisely by virtue of her total relationship to Christ. Therefore, in glorifying the Son one honours the Mother and in honouring the Mother one glorifies the Son. The title of “Mother of God” which the Liturgy highlights today, stresses the unique mission of the Blessed Virgin in the history of salvation: a mission that is at the root of the worship and devotion which the Christian people reserve for her. Indeed, Mary did not receive God’s gift for herself alone, but in order to bring him into the world: in her fruitful virginity, God gave men and women the gifts of eternal salvation ( cf . Collect ). And Mary continually offers her mediation to the People of God, on pilgrimage through history towards eternity, just as she once offered it to the shepherds of Bethlehem. She, who gave earthly life to the Son of God, continues to give human beings divine life, which is Jesus himself and his Holy Spirit. For this reason she is considered the Mother of every human being who is born to Grace and at the same time is invoked as Mother of the Church.

It is in the name of Mary, Mother of God and of men, that since 1 January 1968 the World Day of Peace has been celebrated throughout the world. Peace is a gift of God, as we heard in the First Reading: May “the Lord… give you peace” (Nm 6:26). It is a messianic gift par excellence, the first fruit of the love that Jesus gave us, it is our reconciliation and pacification with God. Peace is also a human value to be achieved at the social and political levels, but it is rooted in the mystery of Christ ( cf . Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes , nn. 77-90).

In this solemn celebration, on the occasion of the 44th World Day of Peace, I am glad to address my respectful greeting to the distinguished Ambassadors to the Holy See, with my best wishes for their mission. Then a cordial brotherly greeting goes to my Secretary of State and to the Heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, with a special thought for the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and for his collaborators. I would like to express to them my deep gratitude for their daily commitment to promote peaceful coexistence among the peoples and arouse an ever deeper awareness of peace in the Church and in the world. In this perspective, the ecclesial community is ever more committed to working, in accordance with the instructions of the Magisterium, to provide a reliable spiritual patrimony of values and principles in the continuous quest for peace.

I wished to recall in my Message for today’s Day, entitled “Religious freedom, the path to peace”: “The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels” (n. 15). I therefore stressed that “religious freedom… is an essential element of a constitutional State; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone” (n. 5).

Humanity cannot appear to be resigned to the negative power of selfishness and violence; it must not become accustomed to conflicts that claim victims and jeopardize the future of peoples. Before the threatening tensions of the moment and, especially, before the discrimination, abuse and religious intolerance that today are striking Christians in particular ( cf . ibid ., n. 1), I once again address a pressing invitation not to give in to discouragement and resignation. I urge everyone to pray so that the efforts made by various parties to promote and build peace in the world may be successful. For this difficult task words do not suffice; what is needed is the practical and constant effort of the leaders of Nations, and it is necessary above all that every person be motivated by the authentic spirit of peace, to be implored ever anew in prayer and to be lived in daily relations in every environment.

In this Eucharistic celebration we have before our eyes, for our veneration, the image of Our Lady of the Sacro Monte di Viggiano, so dear to the peoples of Basilicata. May the Virgin Mary give us her Son, may she show us the Face of her Son, the Prince of Peace. May she help us to remain in the light of this face that shines upon us ( cf . Nm 6:25), in order to rediscover all the tenderness of God the Father; may it be she who supports us in invoking the Holy Spirit, so that he will renew the face of the earth and transform hearts, dissolving their hardness in the face of the disarming goodness of the Child who was born for us. May the Mother of God accompany us in this New Year; may she obtain for us and for the whole world the desired gift of peace.

Amen.

On Saturday, 1 January, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and the 44th World Day of Peace, before praying the Angelus with the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square, referring to his Message for this World Day, the Holy Father commented on the theme: “Religious freedom, the path to peace”. The following is a translation of the Pope’s Reflection, which was given in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this first Angelus of 2011, I offer everyone my good wishes for peace and well-being as I entrust them to Mary Most Holy, whom we celebrate today as Mother of God. At the beginning of a new year the Christian people gathers in spirit at the Grotto in Bethlehem, where the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

We ask the Mother for her Blessing and she blesses us by showing us the Son: indeed, he in person, is the Blessing. In giving us Jesus God has given us everything: his love, his life, the light of truth, the forgiveness of sins; he has given us peace. Yes, Jesus Christ is our peace ( cf . Eph 2:14). He brought into the world the seed of love and peace, that is stronger than the seed of hatred and violence; stronger, because the Name of Jesus is superior to any other name, it contains the whole Lordship of God, as the Prophet Micah announced: “But you, O Bethlehem... from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler.... He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.... And this shall be peace” (5:1-4).

This is why on this day, in front of the icon of the Virgin Mother, the Church invokes from God, through Jesus Christ, the gift of peace: the World Day of Peace is a favourable opportunity to reflect together on the great challenges our epoch confronts humanity with.

One such is religious freedom, dramatically urgent in our day. For this reason, this year I have chosen to dedicate my Message to the theme: “ Religious freedom, the path to peace ”.

Today we are witnessing two opposing trends, two extremes, both negative: on the one hand secularism, which marginalizes religion in order to confine it to the private sphere; and on the other, fundamentalism which, on the contrary, would like to impose it upon everyone by force.

In reality, “God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian” ( Message for the World Day of Peace 2011 , n. 8).

Wherever religious freedom is effectively acknowledged the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and through a sincere search for the true and the good, the moral conscience and the institutions and civil coexistence themselves are strengthened ( cf. ibid., n. 5). Religious freedom is therefore a privileged path for building peace.

Dear friends, let us once again turn our gaze to Jesus in the arms of Mary, his Mother. In looking at the One who is the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6), we understand that peace is not obtained with weapons nor with the power of economics, politics, culture or the media.

Peace is achieved by consciences that are open to the truth and to love. May God help us to progress on this path in the New Year he is granting us to live.

After the Angelus the Pope said:

Dear brothers and sisters, in my Message for today’s World Day of Peace I have had the opportunity to emphasize that the great religions can constitute an important factor of unity and peace for the human family. In this regard, moreover, I recalled that this year, 2011, is the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace which Venerable John Paul II convoked in Assisi in 1986.

Therefore next October I shall go as a pilgrim to the town of St Francis, inviting my Christian brethren of various denominations, the exponents of the world’s religious traditions to join this Pilgrimage and ideally all men and women of good will. It will aim to commemorate the historical action desired by my Predecessor and to solemnly renew the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.

Those journeying to God cannot but transmit peace, those who are building peace cannot but draw close to God. I ask you, from this moment, to accompany this project with your prayers.

In this context I wish to greet and encourage all those who have been praying for peace and religious freedom since yesterday evening and today throughout the day.

In Italy, the traditional march promoted by the Italian Episcopal Conference, Pax Christi and Caritas has taken place in Ancona, a city in which the [Italian] National Eucharistic Congress will be held next September.

Here in Rome, and in other cities of the world, the Community of Sant’Egidio has proposed the “Peace in all Lands” project: I cordially greet cordially everyone who has taken part in it. I also greet the members of the Movimento dell’Amore Familiare [Family Love Movement], who have spent the night watching in St Peter’s Square and in the Diocese of L’Aquila, praying for peace in families and among nations.

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