Talk of Pope Paul VI in Aquino, September 14, 1974
Honor St. Thomas
by studying his thought
We publish below, in bold, sections of a talk given by Paul VI in Aquino,
Italy – birthplace of St. Thomas Aquinas – which were previously unpublished.
I would like to have not a minute, but an hour to speak with you, because I have arrived in a marvelous world, and the first marvel is you, who have welcomed me so!
I thought I would come to Aquino almost unnoticed, to pass through like a fugitive pilgrim and not meet with anyone except the Bishop and priests who work in this Basilica. Without the surprise of this sudden vision of so many people, so good and so welcoming. This is the first and greatest surprise which has filled me with happiness at your welcome!
And then I learned that you are now an industrial city, and they even showed me a machine which you have produced. You are already part of the “great circle” of modern civilization, but I hope you will not leave behind your fields, which are gardens of beauty, prosperity and fecundity. You know how to combine this toil with the other labor, the modern labor of industry. I congratulate you and all those who have contributed to this development.
And then I remember what has passed through here, in Montecassino, during the war and after the war and how much was done to rebuild the panorama of your villages. And I would say that I am amazed and happy to see new homes, new buildings…everything is new! I have seen the streets of your beautiful city, clean and modern. You have nothing to envy from a city, as they say, “of the North” where they are more advanced in taking care of the things of this world.
I am very pleased and I would like to spare a thought for those who have labored so that your lives could have this structure, this way of expression and of renewal. I knew those who worked and organized this work, but I did not know that the results would be so considerable and so worthy of applause, of hope and of good wishes for your future.
I said: I would like very much to have more time available! Ah, how we become exaggerated and paradoxical in our desires! But they are desires of the heart, to speak with each one of you, to say a word to each one of you, to tell each one of you of my affection and my admiration and esteem for you; for each of you and the whole of this population!
How many priests I have seen and how many bishops are here, wanting to honor my visit with their presence; how many mayors! The population is also present in their civic and community organizations. May you all be blessed, the pastors of souls and also administrators of cities, villages and the things of this world! May you all be blessed! And the families I have seen, the babies, how many, how many! I would like to caress you all and give you all a blessing!
Know that this moment which I spend with you is very precious to me! Because it places in my heart such abundance of feeling, seeing you, and I would say such an awareness of my ministry that I would truly like to be capable of doing what Jesus did, to multiply his graces when he found himself in the midst of a crowd. May the Lord bless you!
This city is too famous for us not to make at least a brief stay to honor it and to meet the Bishop, the priests, the faithful and also the civil authorities of Aquino. We have visited with great veneration Fossanova, where St. Thomas died; now we are visiting with no less devotion the city that gives St. Thomas his name and makes it celebrated in all the world and I would say in all of history and culture: Aquino! Just recently, I heard from a nun (to tell you how far your name flies in space and time), a good religious, an American sister, “What is his name?” “Aquinas!” which means, “from Aquino!”
We are glad to be able to share with you today a moment of prayer to venerate his memory and implore his intercession.
To you, the inhabitants of Aquino, what shall we say? It is certainly unnecessary to urge you to be always happy and proud to be the descendants and fellow-citizens of such a great man, a Saint, a Doctor of the Church, who expounded her doctrine as no one else, perhaps, has succeeded in doing in her history. A great glory for you, a great fortune! Let us hope, nay more let us urge you to be worthy of it!
How can a people like yourselves, (and here comes the most pressing and important question) seven centuries after St. Thomas' death and caught up in a historical and social context very different from that in which that Saint lived and worked, be in some way in the line of his tradition? How can you call yourselves children, relatives and fellow citizens of St. Thomas?)
You do not claim to vie with him in wisdom or to follow in the steps of his vocation, either religious or intellectual. No one can claim to keep step with such a Master! But all of us who are faithful sons of the Church can and must be his disciples, at least to some extent! We will do this if we give to our religious instruction and formation the importance it deserves to have. Where, if not at Aquino, should the study of our religion, even in its elementary but necessary and wise form, be held in honor and be carried out by everyone with particular commitment? If you are not faithful to the teaching and wise inheritance of study and understanding of the Revelation of God which the Master Thomas witnessed and spread, who can be? If you are not the first disciples of St. Thomas Aquinas, what can the others say?.... “In Aquino, they do not even think about him, so…”
This, then, is the lesson that still comes to us from your Holy Master, Thomas Aquinas: let us endeavor to study assiduously and lovingly the Christian doctrine, that taught to you by your Bishop, your parish priest, your priests and teachers of religion, men and women, both in Church and in the schools. Just this morning we received in audience a large group of young students, from many parts of Italy, who were the winners of the "Veritas" Competition, namely, that free Competition for the young who have made a special study of religion. You should know that I thought, “Who knows if there is not a student from Aquino among them!” I don’t know because we did not verify it. But if the Lord gives us life, if the Lord gives us life, may the coming year give us at least one, two, ten or one-hundred of your children from Aquino, where the study of religion is loved! It would be very good.
So we take the liberty of stressing this recommendation of ours: if you are really aware of the honor of belonging to Aquino, which gives its name to the greatest theologian in our schools, not only in medieval but also in modern times, try to make a diligent effort in regular and persevering study of religion. It comes to mind that a man of the State and University professor, who is present here today, just a few days ago explained how the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas is the load-bearing structure of our culture!
We make this recommendation especially to those students who have chosen the ecclesiastical or religious life as their vocation: honor St. Thomas by studying his thought!
The Church, while admitting as legitimate and necessary the knowledge of the new and various forms of religious culture, has not ceased to recommend, also in the recent Council, a preference for the study of the Works of St. Thomas. He is such a Master that he is still considered relevant today and, in the diffusion of so many false or questionable opinions, providential! Let this exhortation of ours go to our seminaries. our religious houses, and even our Universities!
And now speaking from Aquino, we address also the teachers of philosophy and theology, who in Christ's Church carry out the great mission of transmitting the genuine doctrine of the Church.
We look to them with great confidence, with great hope! We beseech them, in Christ's name, to be faithful to the magisterium that Christ has entrusted to his Church, to be, like St. Thomas, passionate defenders of religious truth in its authentic expression; and let our fatherly exhortation, our encouraging gratitude, our Apostolic Blessing go to them, on this occasion and from this blessed place!
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