Pope Benedict XVI United States Visit

Mon, 04/21/2008

 Move Forward in Hope, Urges Pontiff
Celebrates Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral

NEW YORK, APRIL 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI urged those who live inside the life and communion of the Church in the United States to move forward in hope and look toward a new spiritual renewal.

The Pope said this today, the third anniversary of his election to the pontificate, during a Mass he said in St. Patrick's Cathedral, attended by some 3,000 priests, religious and deacons.

In his address, the Pontiff reflected on four aspects of the architecture of St. Patrick's Cathedral, beginning with the stained glass windows, "which flood the interior with mystic light."

"From the outside," he said, "those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor."

The Holy Father said the image of the stained glass is often used to "illustrate the mystery of the Church herself."

Benedict XVI explained: "It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church's communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.

"This is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, 'from the outside': a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to 'enter into' the mystery of the Church."

The Pope said that even for those inside the Church, "the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality."

He continued: "You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future.

"In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world.

"Yet the word of God reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world."

Complexity

Benedict XVI said that, like all Gothic cathedrals, St. Patrick's ""is a highly complex structure, whose exact and harmonious proportions symbolize the unity of God's creation."

The Pope explained: "Medieval artists often portrayed Christ, the creative Word of God, as a heavenly 'geometer,' compass in hand, who orders the cosmos with infinite wisdom and purpose.

"Does this not bring to mind our need to see all things with the eyes of faith, and thus to grasp them in their truest perspective, in the unity of God's eternal plan?"

He said to do this, one needs "constant conversion, and a commitment to acquiring 'a fresh, spiritual way of thinking.'"

"It also calls for the cultivation of those virtues which enable each of us to grow in holiness and to bear spiritual fruit within our particular state of life," the Pontiff continued. "Is not this ongoing 'intellectual' conversion as necessary as 'moral' conversion for our own growth in faith, our discernment of the signs of the times, and our personal contribution to the Church's life and mission?"

Mentioning the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father said that for many the greatest disappointment following the council, which called "for a greater engagement in the Church's mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family."

"We can only move forward," Benedict XVI said, "if we turn our gaze together to Christ! In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions.

"Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear 'what the Spirit is saying' to us and to the Church.

"In this way, we will move together toward that true spiritual renewal desired by the Council, a renewal which can only strengthen the Church in that holiness and unity indispensable for the effective proclamation of the Gospel in today's world."

The Pope asked, "Was not this unity of vision and purpose -- rooted in faith and a spirit of constant conversion and self-sacrifice -- the secret of the impressive growth of the Church in this country?"

Addressing the sexual abuse crisis the Holy Father said, "I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents.

"I join you in praying that this will be a time of purification for each and every particular Church and religious community, and a time for healing. I also encourage you to cooperate with your Bishops who continue to work effectively to resolve this issue."

He urged the Church to "move forward in hope, in love for the truth and for one another."

Unity

Benedict XVI compared the unity of the Church to the unity of a Gothic temple, which he described as "a unity born of the dynamic tension of diverse forces which impel the architecture upward, pointing it to heaven."

He recalled the image used by St. Paul to describe the unity of the Church, "a living body composed of many different members, each with its own role and purpose."

"Here too," the Pope explained, "we see our need to acknowledge and reverence the gifts of each and every member of the body as 'manifestations of the Spirit given for the good of all.'"

The Pontiff acknowledged a difference between the hierarchical and charismatic gifts in the Church, but added, "Yet the very variety and richness of the graces bestowed by the Spirit invite us constantly to discern how these gifts are to be rightly ordered in the service of the Church's mission."

Despite the difference, Benedict XVI said all priests, deacons and religious "are called to be forces of unity within Christ's Body. By your personal witness, and your fidelity to the ministry or apostolate entrusted to you, you prepare a path for the Spirit."

The Pope continued: "So let us lift our gaze upward! And with great humility and confidence, let us ask the Spirit to enable us each day to grow in the holiness that will make us living stones in the temple which he is even now raising up in the midst of our world.

"If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention.

"Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God's truth. In fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles, let us be joyful witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel!"

Spires

Commenting on the spires of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, which Benedict XVI said are "dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline," he noted that they are "a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God."

He concluded, "Let us go forth as heralds of hope in the midst of this city, and all those places where God's grace has placed us. In this way, the Church in America will know a new springtime in the Spirit."

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Pope Continues Giving Message of Hope
Addresses Clergy, Religious and Deacons

By Carrie Gres

NEW YORK, APRIL 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI continued to deliver a message of hope when he urged the Church in the United States to proclaim "the joy born of faith" in a world where egotism, violence and cynicism is prevalent.

The Pope said this today, the third anniversary of his election to the pontificate, during a Mass he said in St. Patrick's Cathedral for priests, religious and deacons.

The Holy Father told those present to proclaim and embody a message of hope "in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people's hearts."

He added, "In a society where the Church seems legalistic and 'institutional' to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God's love."

Some 3,000 people attended the Mass, but the streets surrounding the Manhattan cathedral were packed since before dawn, made up mostly of religious and young people singing "Bene-det-to."

A five-block perimeter was marked off around the church, and to get anywhere near St. Patrick's, one needed tickets and identification.

Jacqueline Lofaro, a public relations associate for the office communications for Cardinal Egan office in New York, said: "I've never seen security in New York City as tight as this."

As for the all the security hassles, Lofaro says New Yorkers are "used to it because of all the celebrities coming to town, but I think the Pope is someone very, very special. New York has turned into a very loving city for the past few days. I've never handled so much media who have been so happy."

Among New Yorkers no was grumbling, she said. "Most of the people are just excited -- there is a sense of tremendous excitement."

For the thousands who gathered on New York's streets on the beautiful Saturday morning, the Mass was broadcast on large screens.

Excitement

Lofaro added that Cardinal Edward Egan, the archbishop of New York, who is hosting Benedict XVI this weekend, is also excited. "He has known the Pope for years and years. And the Pope is the religious father for the clergy. Of course, he is for all of us, but I think the clergy in particular have a special reverence for the Pope as their religious father."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on hand to greet the Holy Father at the cathedral.

Just prior to Benedict XVI's arrival, Bloomberg addressed those present, thanking the organizers and those who had been involved in helping with the event.

He said: "You picked a great weekend. New York is buzzing and it is Passover."

The Jewish mayor then added: "It says everything about New York and America that a small-town, middle-class kid named Bloomberg could be asked to introduce the Pope. Thank you very much. This is a historic day for New York."

Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit St. Joseph's Seminary Saturday afternoon. There he will briefly greet a group of disabled children before moving on to the sports field behind the seminary building for a gathering with young people and seminarians.

Following this, the Pope will return to his residence in New York where he will dine with staff of the Holy See permanent mission to the United Nations.

On Sunday the Holy Father will make a scheduled visit to Ground Zero, and in the afternoon he will celebrate the closing Mass of his visit, at New York's Yankee Stadium.

The Pontiff will depart from John Fitzgerald Kennedy international airport in the evening.[Karna Swanson contributed to this report]

 

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Pope: Education a Matter of Conviction
University President Weighs in on Benedict XVI

By Carrie Gress

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The most important point made by Benedict XVI to Catholic university presidents is that education is not a matter of numbers but of conviction, said the president of Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Father Terence Henry, a Franciscan of the Third Order Regular, spoke with ZENIT about the meeting Benedict XVI had with presidents of U.S. Catholic colleges and universities and directors or superintendents responsible for Catholic education in elementary and secondary schools.

"The Holy Father continued with his two themes of hope and authentic freedom," said Father Henry. "He stressed to Catholic educators that universities can be instruments of hope."

The Pope also addressed those "who think that academic freedom means the freedom to question everything, but he said freedom cannot contradict the truth or else it contradicts the heart of the Church. Universities need to be at that heart," Father Henry explained.

Conviction

"The most powerful point he made in his entire speech," said the Franciscan, "is that Catholic education is not just a matter of numbers, but conviction. That, in other words, knowledge is not just an intellectual understanding of facts, but it is a lived expression of reality."

"That is what I see so present on our campus everyday, that because our students are convicted, they want to bring their whole selves to the playing field. To have three Masses a day packed with 500 students in each one, is a living out of the conviction."

Father Henry said the Holy Father also explained, "The fullness of truth opens up for a young person the adventure of life. To see life as an adventure, as something that comes to you, then it is exciting. I think one of the chief causes of death for young people is suicide. They despair because they are drowning in the secularism and materialism." And for those who don't despair, they are bored without knowing the adventure of life with Christ.

"Chesterton described life as an adventure," continued the priest. "An adventure is a thing by its nature, something that comes to you. The most exciting adventure is being born. When we are born it is the middle of a great epic, in the middle of a drama and then it unfolds."

Future

Before the Pope spoke, said Father Henry, "there were some in the room speculating whether they were going to get rebuked or not, but the Holy Father was more subtle in his approach keeping with the theme of hope and yet challenging them. He was not going for sound bites, he was sowing the seeds of a turn around for the next 20 or 30 years.

"Several times during his talk he reminded the educators that they have a responsibility [and] that their missions are precious. They can offer so much to the world and to education in general. If they try to mainstream, they are going to miss that which is so important to them, the ecclesial union. The proportion of that union is the proportion to which they are effective."

At the end of his address, the Pontiff challenged member of religious communities not to desert the apostolate of teaching. Since 2000, over 1,000 Catholic schools have closed in the United States. "I hope," Father Henry concluded, "that religious communities, who were the pillars of it, don't abandon education. The formation of young people is the greatest contribution that we can make."

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Pope's Homily Durning Mass at St. Patrick's
"Communicate the Joy Born of Faith and the Experience of God's Love"

NEW YORK, APRIL 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the homily Benedict XVI gave today during a Mass he said in St. Patrick's Cathedral for clergy and religious.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

With great affection in the Lord, I greet all of you, who represent the Bishops, priests and deacons, the men and women in consecrated life, and the seminarians of the United States. I thank Cardinal Egan for his warm welcome and the good wishes which he has expressed in your name as I begin the fourth year of my papal ministry. I am happy to celebrate this Mass with you, who have been chosen by the Lord, who have answered his call, and who devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness, the spread of the Gospel and the building up of the Church in faith, hope and love.

Gathered as we are in this historic cathedral, how can we not think of the countless men and women who have gone before us, who labored for the growth of the Church in the United States, and left us a lasting legacy of faith and good works? In today's first reading we saw how, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles went forth from the Upper Room to proclaim God's mighty works to people of every nation and tongue. In this country, the Church's mission has always involved drawing people "from every nation under heaven" (cf. Acts 2:5) into spiritual unity, and enriching the Body of Christ by the variety of their gifts. As we give thanks for past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America. May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ's Kingdom, descend on all present!

In this morning's second reading, Saint Paul reminds us that spiritual unity -- the unity which reconciles and enriches diversity -- has its origin and supreme model in the life of the triune God. As a communion of pure love and infinite freedom, the Blessed Trinity constantly brings forth new life in the work of creation and redemption. The Church, as "a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit" (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4), is called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life. Here in this cathedral, our thoughts turn naturally to the heroic witness to the Gospel of life borne by the late Cardinals Cooke and O'Connor. The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization. For true life -- our salvation -- can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God's gracious gift.

This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people's hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: "Choose life!" (Dt 30:19) was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God's commandments (cf. Adv. Haer. IV, 16, 2-5). Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and "institutional" to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God's love.

I am particularly happy that we have gathered in Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as "a house of prayer for all peoples" (cf. Is 56:7; Mk 11:17). Each day thousands of men, women and children enter its doors and find peace within its walls. Archbishop John Hughes, who -- as Cardinal Egan has reminded us -- was responsible for building this venerable edifice, wished it to rise in pure Gothic style. He wanted this cathedral to remind the young Church in America of the great spiritual tradition to which it was heir, and to inspire it to bring the best of that heritage to the building up of Christ's body in this land. I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.

The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers -- here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne -- have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church's communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.

This is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, "from the outside": a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to "enter into" the mystery of the Church. Even for those of us within, the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality. You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future. In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).

Yet the word of God reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world. "O Lord, my God," the Psalmist sings, "when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps 104:30). These words evoke the first creation, when the Spirit of God hovered over the deep (cf. Gen 1:2). And they look forward to the new creation, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and established the Church as the first fruits of a redeemed humanity (cf. Jn 20:22-23). These words summon us to ever deeper faith in God's infinite power to transform every human situation, to create life from death, and to light up even the darkest night. And they make us think of another magnificent phrase of Saint Irenaeus: "where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace" (Adv. Haer. III, 24, 1).

This leads me to a further reflection about the architecture of this church. Like all Gothic cathedrals, it is a highly complex structure, whose exact and harmonious proportions symbolize the unity of God's creation. Medieval artists often portrayed Christ, the creative Word of God, as a heavenly "geometer", compass in hand, who orders the cosmos with infinite wisdom and purpose. Does this not bring to mind our need to see all things with the eyes of faith, and thus to grasp them in their truest perspective, in the unity of God's eternal plan? This requires, as we know, constant conversion, and a commitment to acquiring "a fresh, spiritual way of thinking" (cf. Eph 4:23). It also calls for the cultivation of those virtues which enable each of us to grow in holiness and to bear spiritual fruit within our particular state of life. Is not this ongoing "intellectual" conversion as necessary as "moral" conversion for our own growth in faith, our discernment of the signs of the times, and our personal contribution to the Church's life and mission?

For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a greater engagement in the Church's mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family. We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ! In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear "what the Spirit is saying" to us and to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7). In this way, we will move together towards that true spiritual renewal desired by the Council, a renewal which can only strengthen the Church in that holiness and unity indispensable for the effective proclamation of the Gospel in today's world.

Was not this unity of vision and purpose -- rooted in faith and a spirit of constant conversion and self-sacrifice -- the secret of the impressive growth of the Church in this country? We need but think of the remarkable accomplishment of that exemplary American priest, the Venerable Michael McGivney, whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus, or of the legacy of the generations of religious and priests who quietly devoted their lives to serving the People of God in countless schools, hospitals and parishes.

Here, within the context of our need for the perspective given by faith, and for unity and cooperation in the work of building up the Church, I would like say a word about the sexual abuse that has caused so much suffering. I have already had occasion to speak of this, and of the resulting damage to the community of the faithful. Here I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents. I join you in praying that this will be a time of purification for each and every particular Church and religious community, and a time for healing. I also encourage you to cooperate with your Bishops who continue to work effectively to resolve this issue. May our Lord Jesus Christ grant the Church in America a renewed sense of unity and purpose, as all -- Bishops, clergy, religious and laity -- move forward in hope, in love for the truth and for one another.

Dear friends, these considerations lead me to a final observation about this great cathedral in which we find ourselves. The unity of a Gothic cathedral, we know, is not the static unity of a classical temple, but a unity born of the dynamic tension of diverse forces which impel the architecture upward, pointing it to heaven. Here too, we can see a symbol of the Church's unity, which is the unity -- as Saint Paul has told us -- of a living body composed of many different members, each with its own role and purpose. Here too we see our need to acknowledge and reverence the gifts of each and every member of the body as "manifestations of the Spirit given for the good of all" (1 Cor 12:7). Certainly within the Church's divinely-willed structure there is a distinction to be made between hierarchical and charismatic gifts (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4). Yet the very variety and richness of the graces bestowed by the Spirit invite us constantly to discern how these gifts are to be rightly ordered in the service of the Church's mission. You, dear priests, by sacramental ordination have been configured to Christ, the Head of the Body. You, dear deacons, have been ordained for the service of that Body.

You, dear men and women religious, both contemplative and apostolic, have devoted your lives to following the divine Master in generous love and complete devotion to his Gospel. All of you, who fill this cathedral today, as wells as your retired, elderly and infirm brothers and sisters, who unite their prayers and sacrifices to your labors, are called to be forces of unity within Christ's Body. By your personal witness, and your fidelity to the ministry or apostolate entrusted to you, you prepare a path for the Spirit. For the Spirit never ceases to pour out his abundant gifts, to awaken new vocations and missions, and to guide the Church, as our Lord promised in this morning's Gospel, into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13).

So let us lift our gaze upward! And with great humility and confidence, let us ask the Spirit to enable us each day to grow in the holiness that will make us living stones in the temple which he is even now raising up in the midst of our world. If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention. Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God's truth. In fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles (cf. 1 Tim 6:20), let us be joyful witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel!
Dear brothers and sisters, in the finest traditions of the Church in this country, may you also be the first friend of the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the sick and all who suffer. Act as beacons of hope, casting the light of Christ upon the world, and encouraging young people to discover the beauty of a life given completely to the Lord and his Church. I make this plea in a particular way to the many seminarians and young religious present. All of you have a special place in my heart. Never forget that you are called to carry on, with all the enthusiasm and joy that the Spirit has given you, a work that others have begun, a legacy that one day you too will have to pass on to a new generation. Work generously and joyfully, for he whom you serve is the Lord!

The spires of Saint Patrick's Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet in the heart of this busy metropolis, they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God. As we celebrate this Eucharist, let us thank the Lord for allowing us to know him in the communion of the Church, to cooperate in building up his Mystical Body, and in bringing his saving word as good news to the men and women of our time. And when we leave this great church, let us go forth as heralds of hope in the midst of this city, and all those places where God's grace has placed us. In this way, the Church in America will know a new springtime in the Spirit, and point the way to that other, greater city, the new Jerusalem, whose light is the Lamb (Rev 21:23). For there God is even now preparing for all people a banquet of unending joy and life. Amen.

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pontiff's Address at Ecumenical Prayer Service
"A Faithful Witness to the Gospel Is As Urgent As Ever"

NEW YORK, APRIL 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered Friday at an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph's Parish.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

My heart abounds with gratitude to Almighty God -- "the Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:6) -- for this blessed opportunity to gather with you this evening in prayer. I thank Bishop Dennis Sullivan for his cordial welcome, and I warmly greet all those in attendance representing Christian communities throughout the United States. May the peace of our Lord and Savior be with you all!

Through you, I express my sincere appreciation for the invaluable work of all those engaged in ecumenism: the National Council of Churches, Christian Churches Together, the Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and many others. The contribution of Christians in the United States to the ecumenical movement is felt throughout the world. I encourage all of you to persevere, always relying on the grace of the risen Christ whom we strive to serve by bringing about "the obedience of faith for the sake of his name" (Rom 1:5).

We have just listened to the scriptural passage in which Paul -- a "prisoner for the Lord" -- delivers his ardent appeal to the members of the Christian community at Ephesus. "I beg you," he writes, "to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1-3). Then, after his impassioned litany of unity, Paul reminds his hearers that Jesus, having ascended into heaven, has bestowed upon men and women all the gifts necessary for building up the Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:11-13).

Paul's exhortation resounds with no less vigor today. His words instill in us the confidence that the Lord will never abandon us in our quest for unity. They also call us to live in a way that bears witness to the "one heart and mind" (Acts 4:32), which has always been the distinguishing trait of Christian koinonia (cf. Acts 2:42), and the force drawing others to join the community of believers so that they too might come to share in the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8; cf. Acts 2:47; 5:14).

Globalization has humanity poised between two poles. On the one hand, there is a growing sense of interconnectedness and interdependency between peoples even when -- geographically and culturally speaking -- they are far apart. This new situation offers the potential for enhancing a sense of global solidarity and shared responsibility for the well-being of mankind. On the other hand, we cannot deny that the rapid changes occurring in our world also present some disturbing signs of fragmentation and a retreat into individualism. The expanding use of electronic communications has in some cases paradoxically resulted in greater isolation. Many people -- including the young -- are seeking therefore more authentic forms of community. Also of grave concern is the spread of a secularist ideology that undermines or even rejects transcendent truth. The very possibility of divine revelation, and therefore of Christian faith, is often placed into question by cultural trends widely present in
academia, the mass media and public debate. For these reasons, a faithful witness to the Gospel is as urgent as ever. Christians are challenged to give a clear account of the hope that they hold (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called "prophetic actions" that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of "local options". Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia -- communion with the Church in every age -- is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23).

Faced with these difficulties, we must first recall that the unity of the Church flows from the perfect oneness of the Trinitarian God. In John's Gospel, we are told that Jesus prayed to his Father that his disciples might be one, "just as you are in me and I am in you" (Jn 17:21). This passage reflects the unwavering conviction of the early Christian community that its unity was both caused by, and is reflective of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, in turn, suggests that the internal cohesion of believers was based on the sound integrity of their doctrinal confession (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-11). Throughout the New Testament, we find that the Apostles were repeatedly called to give an account for their faith to both Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:16-34) and Jews (cf. Acts 4:5-22; 5:27-42).

The core of their argument was always the historical fact of Jesus's bodily resurrection from the tomb (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30). The ultimate effectiveness of their preaching did not depend on "lofty words" or "human wisdom" (1 Cor 2:13), but rather on the work of the Spirit (Eph 3:5) who confirmed the authoritative witness of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-11). The nucleus of Paul's preaching and that of the early Church was none other than Jesus Christ, and "him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). But this proclamation had to be guaranteed by the purity of normative doctrine expressed in creedal formulae -- symbola -- which articulated the essence of the Christian faith and constituted the foundation for the unity of the baptized (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5; Gal 1:6-9; "Unitatis Redintegratio," 2).

My dear friends, the power of the kerygma has lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone is "objective", relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the "knowable" is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of "personal experience".

For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.

Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.

Only by "holding fast" to sound teaching (2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rev 2:12-29) will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the message which the world is waiting to hear from us. Like the early Christians, we have a responsibility to give transparent witness to the "reasons for our hope", so that the eyes of all men and women of goodwill may be opened to see that God has shown us his face (cf. 2 Cor 3:12-18) and granted us access to his divine life through Jesus Christ. He alone is our hope! God has revealed his love for all peoples through the mystery of his Son's passion and death, and has called us to proclaim that he is indeed risen, has taken his place at the right hand of the Father, and "will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead" (Nicene Creed).

May the word of God we have heard this evening inflame our hearts with hope on the path to unity (cf. Lk 24:32). May this prayer service exemplify the centrality of prayer in the ecumenical movement (cf. "Unitatis Redintegratio," 8); for without it, ecumenical structures, institutions and programs would be deprived of their heart and soul. Let us give thanks to Almighty God for the progress that has been made through the work of his Spirit, as we acknowledge with gratitude the personal sacrifices made by so many present and by those who have gone before us.

By following in their footsteps, and by placing our trust in God alone, I am confident that -- to borrow the words of Father Paul Wattson -- we will achieve the "oneness of hope, oneness of faith, and oneness of love" that alone will convince the world that Jesus Christ is the one sent by the Father for the salvation of all.

I thank you all.

© Copyright 2008 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Papal Greeting to Jewish Leaders
"Continue Building Bridges of Friendship"

NEW YORK, APRIL 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is greeting Benedict XVI gave Friday upon meeting with representatives of the Jewish community at the Park East Synagogue.

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Dear Friends,

Shalom! It is with joy that I come here, just a few hours before the celebration of your Pesah, to express my respect and esteem for the Jewish community in New York City. The proximity of this place of worship to my residence gives me the opportunity to greet some of you today. I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place such as this. I thank Rabbi Schneier for his words of welcome and I particularly appreciate your kind gift, the spring flowers and the lovely song that the children sang for me. I know that the Jewish community make a valuable contribution to the life of the city, and I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood. I assure you most especially of my closeness at this time, as you prepare to celebrate the great deeds of the Almighty, and to sing the praises of Him who has worked such wonders for his people. I would ask those of you who are present to pass on my greetings and good wishes to all the members of the Jewish community. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

© Copyright 2008 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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