It was and is secular and religious Milan that welcomed and surrounded with affection Benedict XVI, Successor of the Apostle Peter. Two dimensions, that of secularism and that of faith, are in a certain way already engraved in the life of Ambrose, governor of the imperial city — Mediolanum, a crossroads in the great northern plain of Italy who became bishop, a wise mediator between the Christian cultures of the East and West. The man whose service to the temporal sovereign was exemplary was thus able, following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, to make himself a fervent servant of the invisible Sovereign and ever close to his people.
The papal visit — the fourth in six centuries to what in many respects is still today the largest diocese in the world — began under the banner of welcome. This of course was the welcome that had surrounded Benedict XVI from the moment of his arrival, but also, in the background, was the characteristically Milanese hospitality which was underlined by the Pope in his Address in front of the Cathedral, where he was greeted by Mr Giuliano Pisapia, the Mayor and by Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop.
In this regard Milan’s role continues to be important, as is demonstrated by the proverbial solidarity it shows to those who are suffering the most because of the economic crisis and, in the past few days, to the populations of Emilia, hit and overwhelmed by the earthquake, as the Pope has repeatedly mentioned.
Both secular and religious, Milan has hosted the World Meeting of Families, and it is specifically the family that must be rediscovered as the “principal patrimony of mankind” and the “sign of a true and enduring culture in favour of the human being”. Benedict XVI himself stressed this, pointing out the family institution as a possible common terrain for collaboration, with an eye on the future: “ In the clear distinction between roles and aims, the positively “secular” Milan and the Milan of faith are called to coordinate for the common good”, on the basis of a heritage of important civil and religious traditions.
“Where Peter is, there is the Church”, Ambrose left in writing. This affirmation seemed to stand out clearly in the waves of deafening applause that greeted the Pope during the prayer of the Midday Hour in the Cathedral and in the extraordinary celebration which later transformed the colourful San Siro Stadium, overflowing with young men and women from the whole archdiocese in a place that will be unforgettable to the 80,000 young candidates for Confirmation. These were both events that showed the vitality and the most authentic face of Christ’s Church that wants to open herself to all.
And in spirit it was to all, without distinction, that the Pope spoke at the Scala, where he did honour to one of the greatest — and not only in Italy — cultural institutions, after a moving performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, wonderfully conducted by Daniel Barenboim in the sign of hope, despite the anguishing consequences of the earthquake; the hope which, perhaps obscurely, dwells in every human person’s the heart. And sorrow itself, Benedict XVI recalled, shows how in the profound reality of human life we are “in search of a close God” and of a “brotherhood which sustains others in the midst of suffering and thereby helps them to move ahead”.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 17, 2019
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