Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pope Benedict's Homily in Naples

REUTERS/Tony Gentile (ITALY)

~translated by Teresa Benedetta of Papa Ratzinger Forum

Venerated brothers in the episcopate and the priesthood,
distinguished authorities,
dear brothers and sisters!

With great joy, I received the invitation to visit the Christian community which lives in this historic city. My fraternal embrace goes first of all to your Archbishop, Cardinal Cresencio Sepe, and my special thanks for the words which, in your name, he addressed to me at the start of this solemn eucharistic celebration.

I sent him to your community, knowing his apostolic zeal and I am happy to know that you value him for his gifts of the mind and the heart.

I affectionately greet the auxiliary bishops and the diocesan priests, as well as the religious and other consecrated persons, catechists and laymen, particularly the youth who are actively involved in various pastoral, apostolic and social initiatives of the diocese.

I greet the distinguished civilian and military authorities who honor us with their presence, starting with the President of the Council of Ministers of the Republic, the Mayor of Naples, and the Presidents of the region and the province.

To all of you, gathered in this Piazza in front of the monumental Basilica dedicated to San Francesco di Paola, whose fifth death centenary we celebrate this year, I address my heartfelt thoughts, extending this gladly to all those who are linked to us by radio and television, especially to the cloistered communities, the aged, the sick, the people in prisons and all those whom I will not be able to meet during my brief Neapolitan sojourn.

In a word, I greet the entire family of believers and all the citizens of Naples: I am here among you, dear friends, to share with you the Word of God and the Bread of Life.

Meditating on the Biblical readings of this Sunday and reflecting on the realities of Naples, I am struck by the fact that the Word of God today has prayer as its principal theme, 'the need to pray always without tiring', as the Gospel says (cfr Lk 18,1).

at first glance, this may seem like a message that is not very pertinent, hardly incisive with respect to a social reality with as many problems as yours.

But, reflecting on it, we understand that this Word contains a message that is certainly against the current but destined nevertheless to illuminate profoundly the conscience of your Church and your city.

I would summarize it this way: the power, which in silence and without great clamor, changes the world and transforms it to the Kingdom of God, is faith - and prayer is the expression of faith.

When faith is filled with the love of God, whom we recognize as our good and just Father, prayer becomes persevering and insistent, it becomes a plaint of the spirit, a cry from the soul which penetrates the heart of God.

Thus, prayer becomes the greatest force for transforming the world. In the face of difficult and complex social realities, as yours is certainly, we must strengthen hope, which is founded on faith and is expressed in tireless prayer.

It is prayer which keeps the flame of faith alight. Jesus asks: "When the son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18,8). what shall be our reply to this disquieting question?

Today, let us be together in repeating with humble courage: Lord, may your coming to us in this Sunday celebration find us united with the lamp of faith alight. We believe and trust in you! Make our faith grow!

The Biblical readings we heard present us with some models to inspire us in our profession of faith. They are the figures of the widow whom we meet in the Gospel parable, and that of Moses as recounted in Exodus.

The widow of the Gospel (cfr Lk 18,1-8) makes us think of the 'little people', the least, but also of so many simple and honest persons who suffer from oppression, who feel helpless in the face of persistent social ills and are prey to discouragement.

To them, Jesus says: Look at this poor widow, the tenacity with which she insists and finally gets a hearing from a dishonest judge! How can you think that your heavenly Father, who is good and faithful, who wants only what is good for is children, will not do you justice in his time?

Faith assures us that God hears our prayers and will answer us at the right time, even if our daily experience may seem to belie this certainty.

Indeed, before certain facts of daily news, or even all the daily discomforts of life which are not reported in the newspapers, the cry of the ancient prophet comes spontaneously to mind: "How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not intervene" (Hab 1,2).

There is only one answer to this heartfelt cry: God cannot change things without our own conversion, and our conversion begins with the cry of the soul, which asks for forgiveness and salvation.

Christian prayer is not the expression of fatalism and inertia. Rather, it is everything but an escape from reality or a comforting intimacy. It is the force of hope, maximum expression of faith in the power of God who is Love and will not abandon us.

The prayer which Jesus taught us, culminating in Gethsemane, has the character of agony, that is, of struggle, because we align ourselves decisively beside the Lord to combat injustice and conquer evil with good.

It is the weapon of the little people and the poor in spirit who repudiate every type of violence. Instead, they answer violence with evangelical non-violence, testifying thereby to the truth that Love is stronger than hate and death.

This also emerges in the first Reading - the famous story of the battle between the Israelites an the Amalekites (cfr Ex 17,8-13a). Decisive for the outcome of that hard battle was prayer addressed with faith to the true God.

While Joshua and his men faced the enemy on the battlefield, Moses was on the mountaintop with his hands raised, in the position of one in prayer. The raised hands of the great leader would guarantee the victory of Israel.

God was with his people, he wanted their victory, but he conditioned his intervention on the fact of Moses raising his hands. It seems incredible, but so it was: God needs the raised hands of his servants.

The raised hands of Moses make us think of Jesus's arms on the Cross - arms open wide, hands nailed down, with which the Redeemer won the decisive battle against the infernal enemy.

His struggle - the hands raised to the Father and open wide to the world - demands other arms, other hearts, who will continue to offer themselves with the same love he had, to the end of the world.

I address myself particularly to you, dear pastors of the Church in Naples, taking on the words that St. Paul addressed to Timothy:
"Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching" (cfr 2 Tim 4,2).

And like Moses on the mountain, persevere in prayer for and with the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, so that together you may face every day the good battle of the Gospel.

And now, interiorly illuminated by the Word of God, let us return to look at the reality of your city, which does not lack for healthy energies and good men who who are culturally prepared, and in a sense, live for the family.

But for many, living is not easy: there are so many situations of poverty, lack of lodging, unemployment and under-employment, lack of prospects for the future.

And then there is the sad phenomenon of violence. It is not only the deprecable number of crimes by the Camorra, but the fact that violence tends unfortunately to become a widespread mentality, insinuating itself into the fabric of social life, in the historic quarters of the city center as well as the new and anonymous peripheries which attract the young most especially, who grow in an environment in which illegality, under-the-table deals and a culture of 'settlements' prosper.

How important it is then to intensify the efforts for a serious strategy of prevention which is focused on school, work, and helping the youth to manage their free time.

The intervention must involve everyone in the battle against every form of violence, starting with the formation of conscience and transforming the mentality, the attitudes and the behavior of everyday.

I propose this invitation to every man and woman of good will, at a time when Naples hosts an encounter for peace among the world's religious leaders, which has the theme "For a world without violence - Religions and cultures in dialog."

Dear brothers and sisters, the beloved John Paul II visited Naples for the first time in 1979. It was, like today, Sunday, the 21st of October. The second time, it was in November 1990, a visit to promote the rebirth of hope.

The mission of the Church is to nourish the faith and hope of the Christian people at all times. Your Archbishop has been doing this with apostolic zeal, recently writing a pastoral letter with the significant title, "Blood and hope".

Yes, true hope is born only from the blood of Christ and the blood spilled for him. There is blood which is a sign of death. But there is blood which expresses love and life. The blood of Jesus and the martyrs, like that of your beloved patron San Gennaro, is a spring of new life.

I wish to conclude using a statement from the pastoral letter of your Archbishop: "The seed of hope is perhaps the tiniest, but it can give life to a luxuriant tree and bear much fruit."

This seed is found in Naples and functions, despite the problems and the difficulties. Let us pray to the Lord that he may make authentic faith and firm hope grow in this Christian community, able to counteract discouragement and violence effectively.

Certainly, Naples needs adequate political interventions, but even before that, a profound spiritual renewal. It needs believers who have full trust in God, and with his help, will commit themselves to disseminate the values of the Gospel in society.

For this, let us ask the help of Mary and your sainted protectors, particularly San Gennaro. Amen.

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