Just as he went there fifty years ago, the Bishop of Rome has returned to Loreto. At that time it was John XXIII – “that unforgettable Pope”, as his Successor described him – who, on the first journey a Pope had made to Loreto for more than a century, invoked the protection of the Mother of God upon the Council, the largest ever celebrated and which was about to open on the Feast of the Motherhood of Mary. And today it is Benedict XVI, at a time when the papacy too has become itinerant, who has made the same gesture on the eve of the 50th anniversary of that historic and blessed day.
So it is an important anniversary that the Pope has wished not only to celebrate but also and above all to see in its most authentic meaning, in order to return to the essential: keeping the flame of faith alight in an epoch that seems to want to do without God but instead, even unconsciously, is yearning for and seeking him, even, as it were, gropingly. Since the times of the women and men who met and knew Jesus and bore witness to him, this is the fundamental situation that believers in Christ down the centuries have had most at heart.
And this was the concern of the Pontiff who intuited and convoked Vatican II, just as it was the concern of his Successors, the Popes of the Council, who took part in that event as bishops, from Paul VI who confirmed it, directed it and brought it to conclusion. Today Benedict XVI – who participated in the Council as a promising young theologian and who, for reasons of age, was to be the last Successor of the Apostle Peter who contributed to it in person – wishes to point out, with two initiatives which are certainly far from usual, that the Church is continuing on her way. And she is doing so by continuing in that uninterrupted Tradition which obviously embraces the Second Vatican Council and continues to be alive, like the Lord, to whom she wants to bear witness until the end of time.
This is why the Synod that is about to open – a practical result of the Council and a consolidated expression of the principle of collegiality – will ask itself how to proclaim the Gospel, just as Vatican II did. It is for this reason that on the very day of its 50th anniversary, the Pope is inaugurating a Year of Faith, just as Paul VI did a few months after the conclusion of the Council; for the sole purpose of looking at the essential, in the daily purification to which the Church is called. And the essential is, precisely, the transmission of the Christian faith to the women and men of our time. It is a faith founded on the Incarnation: “We must return to God, so that man may return to being man”, Benedict XVI said, because “we are never alone”, since “God has come to humanity and accompanies us”. And this is the sign of Loreto, the Italian Shrine par excellence where the Bishop of Rome went on the day of the Feast of St Francis, combining the symbols of this profound identity, as Pope John did exactly fifty years ago in his Journey, which took him to Assisi and to the town of Our Lady of Loreto.
Under the banner of a house open to all and, like Mary's, set on the route that wants to recall the true meaning of the human condition: the condition of a family on its way towards the only reality that counts.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 20, 2020
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