At the General Audience Benedict XVI wished to recall the figure and work of Pius x, the last of his Predecessors to be canonized.
In fact it was Pope Pius XII who beatified and canonized Pope Sarto, immediately after the middle of the past century. His beatification was clearly an attempt to relaunch in the contemporary age the dimension – usually not emphasized in the Church of Rome – of papal holiness to which, after the collapse of temporal power, Pius ix and Leo XIII had given a preliminary impetus by confirming the devotion to a series of medieval Pontiffs.
Benedict XVI, Pius x's current Successor, has offered us an especially important interpretation of his role, outlining his historically well-founded and authentic profile as a reformer. This is due in particular to the pastoral stamp of his character, strong yet at the same time gentle.
In fact Giuseppe Sarto, born, unlike his Predecessors, just outside the Papal States – then nearing their end – completed all the stages of a pastor of souls. Due to his formation and temperament, he was essentially a pastor far-removed throughout his life from any nostalgia for worldly things.
The reform of the Roman Curia and the beginning of the codification of canon law, farsighted attention to the formation of the clergy and of the faithful, wise attention to the Liturgy, concern for the deposit of the Church's doctrine and for its scientific examination, were mentioned by Benedict XVI as salient features of the Pontificate of Pope Sarto. And he stressed that formation was a trait they shared.
The aspects of Pius x's reforms and pastoral governance that stood out in his Successor's interpretation were Sarto's work for the renewal of catechetical instruction, from the time of his years as a parish priest, and his concern for the Christian formation of the smallest children.
This became apparent especially in the Pope's measure that lowered the age for receiving First Communion, “appropriately”, Benedict XVI underlined, “to about seven”, the age, that is, “when a child begins to reason”, as he stated in the Decree Quam Singulari , whose centenary was commemorated in these past few days in [the Italian daily edition of] L’Osservatore Romano, particularly in Cardinal Cañizares' reflection.
And Benedict XVI gave a pastoral reinterpretation of the most controversial issue of Pius x's Pontificate: namely, the decisive condemnation of modernism. Accentuating the protection of the simplest people's faith yet not refraining from a “scientific examination of Revelation”, although it is Pope Sarto's union with Christ that accounts for his holiness.
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