In three days the Pope has prayed before the hearts of two of the Saints who are the most popular and dear to modern Catholic devotion. He knelt in prayer in the Vatican Basilica in front of the heart of John Mary Vianney, the Curé d’Ars who died a century and a half ago and was proclaimed Patron of parish priests by Pius xi. He also went on pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo to pray in front of the heart of Padre Pio, who bore the stigmata. The Capuchin from the Gargano who gathered round him a truly “global clientèle”, as Paul vi said three years after the friar's death.
Since, even in the impoverished common parlance of our times, the heart indicates what is most intimate and profound in the human being, Benedict xvi's decision to venerate the hearts of Saints in accordance with the ancient Christian tradition is all the more significant.
In the context of the liturgical memorials of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Heart of the Virgin, at the beginning of the Year which the Pope has wished to dedicate to priests, his scheduled Pastoral Visits in Italy are devoted to three important Saints: Benedict, Pius and Bonaventure.
The meaning of this symbolic choice is clear: holiness, in the footsteps of Christ, is the way to undertake deep reform precisely, in their heart, in the Church and in every human person.
On the day of Pentecost Benedict xvi recalled the presence of the Spirit: without him, in fact, the Church would be no more than an historical movement, even though large, maybe a solid social institution, “perhaps a sort of humanitarian agency” ( Regina Caeli, 31 May; ORE 3 June 2009, p. 1).
And in San Giovanni Rotondo the Pope once again compared the “risks of activism and secularization” to the path taken by Padre Pio: simply “listening to Christ in order to do God's will” ( Homily , 21 June 2009; see pages 8-9).
So we should open our hearts to God and to his mercy. After the example – and here Benedict xvi was addressing priests in particular, but in a broader sense all of the faithful – of the Curé d’Ars and Padre Pio who understood well the importance in their lives of prayer and confession, bearing witness to them and providing them tirelessly to all who turned to them.
These are the models presented in the Year dedicated to priests, in changed social and cultural contexts. In them “one can be overcome by a certain discouragement at the weakening and even the abandonment of faith” in secularized society, in the face of which it is necessary to find “new channels” for proclaiming the Christian message (cf. Meeting with the priests, religious and youth of San Giovanni Rotondo, 21 June 2009; see p. 11).
At San Giovanni Rotondo, the Pope accompanied his customary lucid analysis with serene trust, in referring to the context of phenomena such as unemployment and the reception of refugees, that although difficult, it is right and should be foreseen.
The Barque of the Church, like that of any human being, in the sea of life and the ocean of history, is in fact impelled onwards by the breath of the Spirit, who purifies us from sin and is stronger than all other winds. It is up to each one to open his own heart to this invisible, powerful breath that governs the Church and human events.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 24, 2020
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