The end of the civil year – and for Christians the celebration of Christ's birth – is an opportunity for reflection and evaluation. It was so for Benedict xvi too, who gave his customary Discourse to his closest collaborators (Cardinals, Members of the Roman Curia Papal Representatives), summing up the year in a light that might be surprising but is the one true light: “in the presence of God”. And he presented his vision of these past months to anyone who may be interested.
Speaking on his three important international Journeys this year – to Africa, to the Holy Land, to the heart of Europe – the Pope reflected on human beings who, knowingly or unbeknown to them, stand, precisely, before God. Indeed, Benedict xvi's concern is to witness to this reality. And he chose to do so in a year was to a great extent “marked by Africa”, but also during his Pilgrimage to the land promised to Moses where Jesus went about proclaiming and inaugurating the Kingdom of God; and during his Visit to the Czech Republic, in the heart of a Europe which for 20 years has enjoyed its newfound freedom and peace, in spite of being beset by grave new forms of division, injustice and intolerance.
As always, the Pope grasps the essential, without however attenuating his attentive realism, a quality all too often found wanting in government leaders and politicians. This realism, on the contrary, is the main characteristic of the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, just as it was at the Synodal Assembly which, however, did not claim unwarranted political competences.
The essential point is that Heaven is no longer closed and that God is close. For this reason African Catholics live every day the sense of sacredness. They have accepted the papal primacy as an obvious “point of convergence for the unity of the Family of God”, and celebrate joyful and dignified Liturgies that reminded Benedict xvi of the sobria ebrietas dear to ancient mysticism, both Jewish and Christian.
Reconciliation, for the Pope, is as urgent for Africa as it is for every other society, in line with the exemplary process that began in Europe after the tragedy of the last World War.
But reconciliation is brought about, first of all, in the sacrament of Penance, which has largely disappeared from the habits of Christians due to a loss of “truthfulness with regard both to ourselves and to God” endangering our humanity and the diminishing our capacity for peace. And in the face of evil, it is essential to be on the alert: for this reason Benedict xvi recalled his Visit to Yad Vashem, which commemorates the extermination of six million Jews and the desire to drive the God of Abraham and Jesus out of the world.
However, the most striking image in this important Papal Discourse which will live on is that of the “Court of the Gentiles”, reserved in the Temple of Jerusalem for pagans who desired to pray to the one God and which Jesus wished to clear of those who had transformed it into a “den of thieves”.
In imitation of Christ, Benedict xvi said, today too a space must be created for all peoples and for those who know God from afar or to whom he is unknown or a stranger. To help them to “latch on to God”, before whom every human creature stands.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 22, 2019
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