OFFICIAL VISIT OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE TO PERU
HOMILY OF CARDINAL TARCISIO
Cathedral of Chimbote
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
In an atmosphere of intense religious fervour, we are celebrating today two particularly solemn events: the dedication of your Cathedral Church and the Opening of the National Eucharistic Congress. I thank the Lord who has offered me the joy of sharing this profound ecclesial experience with you and address my most affectionate greeting and good wishes to each one of you.
I greet first of all dear Bishop Ángel Francisco Simón Piorno, together with the other Prelates, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, catechists, seminarians and all who work at the service of the Gospel.
I respectfully greet all the civil and military Authorities present, with a special thought for Mr Ambassador of the Italian Republic in Peru. I extend my greeting to the whole city of Chimbote.
I would especially like to reach out to everyone with the cordial greeting, solidarity and comforting Blessing of His Holiness Benedict XVI, who especially in these days of great apprehension and grief is following the Church's life in Peru with fatherly concern. May the certainty of his spiritual and material closeness be a consolation to those who have been harshly tried and to the entire Nation.
The National Eucharistic Congress that begins today is, as it were, a "pilgrimage" in spirit to the Upper Room, to relive the atmosphere of the Last Supper when Jesus, celebrating the Passover with his "own", mystically anticipated his death on the Cross for us in the Sacrament.
Today, the entire Church of Peru is gathered in spirit round the Eucharist; in spirit, she enters the Upper Room to remain there in prayer and adoration.
This is an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to live anew the great mystery of salvation. We will hear resonating within us the Lord's words which are the heart of every Eucharistic celebration. "This is my Body which is given for you". "This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my Blood" (Lk 22: 19-20). The words of salvation! The mystery of salvation!
The Second Vatican Council states: "In the Most Blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ himself our Pasch and the living bread which gives life to men through his flesh - that flesh which is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit. Thus, men are invited and led to offer themselves, their works and all creation with Christ" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5).
I know that your Pastors, with the help of their priests and other pastoral agents, are actively engaged in promoting the knowledge and practice of the Church's liturgy, following the spirit and guidelines of the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent Magisterial Documents.
Among these, I would like to recall the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, in which he stresses that active, full and conscious participation in Holy Mass must be constantly inculcated in the faithful.
At the same time, you are intensely aware of the need to increase and strengthen the meaning of the Eucharist as the focus of pastoral planning, the organization of the apostolate, the search for new ways and forms of evangelization and the effort to inculturate faith in the experiences of daily life.
It can never be sufficiently stressed that the apostolic mission of the Christian community holds the Eucharist as its primary source and its pulsating heart; and there can never be enough insistence on fostering adequate appreciation of Sunday, the Lord's Day.
Indeed, a secularized and consumeristic culture which threatens to alienate the faithful from the duty of sanctifying the Lord's Day by taking part in the Eucharist is spreading in almost every part of the world.
At the close of the Italian National Eucharistic Congress in May 2005, Benedict XVI desired once again "to present Sunday as the "weekly Easter', an expression of the identity of the Christian community and the centre of its life and mission" (Homily, Bari, Italy, L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 1 June 2005, p. 6).
Thus, it is important that special attention be paid to ensure that Sunday continues to have a central place in our personal life and in the life of every Christian community.
Furthermore, the theme chosen for the Eucharistic Congress: "Christ gave himself for us, so that we may have life in him", with a clear reference to the theme of the recent General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences ["Disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that our peoples may have life in him"], is an effective antidote against the risks and temptations of forms of particularism and subjectivism in the faith, in moral life and in ecclesial discipline, as well as against the dangers of discord, division, friction and exasperated protagonism which lead to losing sight of the common good.
In fact, entering into intimacy with Jesus in the Eucharist means moving with the logic of thinking together, loving one another and when necessary, sharing the weight of one another's burdens (cf. Gal 6: 2) by giving priority to what unites and combating what divides.
Learning at the school of the Eucharist, moreover, entails an effort to participate actively in the Church's life and the willingness to contribute to civil society's authentic progress in order to build together the civilization of love.
In inaugurating this Congress, let us ask the Lord to grant the members of each community - priests, Religious and lay people - the grace to obtain from this strong ecclesial experience a renewed, authentic and vigorous Eucharistic spirituality, and may it be an incentive to respond generously to Christ's call in the different ecclesial vocations and various ministries and forms of the apostolate, always preserving solid unity and communion among all.
The other event we are celebrating today is closely connected to the Eucharistic Mystery, that is, the dedication of your Cathedral Church, placed under the special protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Peter the Apostle.
Please allow me to reflect briefly on the meaning of this Rite of Dedication and on its importance for the People of God.
In all dioceses throughout the world the cathedral is the place where, in certain important celebrations, the faithful gather around their Bishops to publicly express and proclaim their faith and unity in Christ and with Christ. Precisely because it is united with the Bishop's figure, the cathedral is rightly called the "mother" of all the other churches of the diocese.
In fact, "the individual Bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches" (Lumen Gentium, n. 23). Therefore, "Bishops" are fully entitled "as vicars and legates of Christ, [to] govern the particular Churches assigned to them by their counsels, exhortations and example, but over and above that also by the authority and sacred power which indeed they exercise exclusively for the spiritual development of their flock in truth and holiness" (ibid., n. 27).
It can then be understood that the episcopal "cathedra" situated in the church - from which it takes its name - is the reference point for the entire People of God in the diocese. The teaching which the Bishop, in communion with the Successor of Peter, imparts to the faithful from it is a reliable instruction for them on the journey to eternal salvation.
It is easy, therefore, to understand how the "communion" of the entire particular Church, united with her own legitimate Pastor, is expressed in the cathedral and through the cathedral. This communion is highlighted in a special way in the celebration of the Eucharist.
For this very reason, the Council insisted that everyone "hold in the greatest esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centred around the Bishop, especially in his cathedral church. They must be convinced that the principal manifestation of the Church consists in the full, active participation of all God's holy people in the same liturgical celebrations, especially in the same Eucharist, in one prayer, at one altar, at which the Bishop presides, surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 41).
Let us now look briefly at the Readings which have been proclaimed and which help us to understand what we are experiencing.
The first is taken from the Book of Nehemiah, which recounts the re-establishment of the Jewish community after the destruction of Jerusalem, the dispersion of the people and their exile. It is consequently the book of the origins of a community.
Today's passage is focused on two great figures: a priest, Ezra, and a lay man, Nehemiah, who represent respectively the religious authority and the civil authority of that time.
The text describes the solemn moment when the little remnant of the Jewish community was officially re-established after the dispersion. It was the moment for the public reiteration of the Law, and everything developed in an atmosphere of simplicity and poverty.
When they heard the reading from the Book of the Law, written in Hebrew and translated by the Levites into Aramaic, which was the language of the people, some people were moved to tears by the joy of being able once again to listen freely to the Word of God after the tragedy of the destruction of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah instructed them, telling them that it was a feast day and that to obtain strength from the Lord they should be happy, rejoice and be grateful for God's gifts.
What a throng of memories fill this moment! How much ground has been covered in these years! How many dreams, projects and perhaps, as always, how many difficulties!
But we are now given the opportunity to proclaim and to listen together to the Word of God in a beautiful church that radiates serenity, recollection, joy; a church that desires to be the image of strong faith, lived in a close-knit community.
Let us therefore thank God for his gifts and express gratitude to those who worked to build this church.
At the same time, let us commit ourselves to transforming this church into a place where people learn to listen to the Word of God, given that this listening is a continuous school of Christian life.
The Second Reading reminds us that it would be a grave error if the faithful, swept up by enthusiasm for one preacher, were to conflict with another. The Church is built on one foundation, Jesus. The community has one Teacher, Jesus. All the others are his collaborators.
The community, the Apostle writes, is even more sacred than the material temple that we are now consecrating; indeed, the baptized, Christian families, are the true temple, the true house of God which is home to different activities; from the liturgy or catechesis, from works of charity to missionary and cultural action.
The care we give to the material building - sprinkling it with holy water, anointing it with the oils, filling it with the fragrance of incense - must be even greater when it is a question of building a temple created with living stones, which is the community of the baptized.
Lastly, the Gospel passage focuses on the figure of the Apostle Peter. It reports a conversation between Jesus and his disciples, between Peter and Jesus in particular, centred on the person of Christ. There was something about him that people noticed. Some thought he was John the Baptist restored to life; others said he was Elijah, back on this earth, and yet others, that he was the Prophet Jeremiah.
Peter, however, on behalf of the disciples, declares that Jesus is far more than a prophet. He is God's messenger, he is the Son of God himself. And Jesus says to Peter: on this rock I will build my Church. Peter becomes stone, the rock on which the Church is founded.
In this passage Peter is presented as intimately united with Jesus, who is the Church's one foundation: Peter is associated with Jesus because of his faith in the Son of God.
Thus, once again we face the proclamation of Jesus as the foundation of our faith, the foundation of this community, as he is of every diocesan community.
It is Jesus who is proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word; it is he who makes himself the nourishment of the faithful in the Eucharist. Everything - both in the church-building and in the church-community - speaks of him, everything refers to him.
The task of Bishops and priests, the goal of lay people in their apostolic action, is to proclaim Christ as our Saviour and as the Son of God.
Therefore, in him and through him we now dedicate this Church to God the Father, as we pray for the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and of St Peter.
Let us ask the Lord to bless this community that belongs to him and make it grow in faith and love; let us ask him to inspire in it many holy priestly, religious and missionary vocations.
On this day, may the last words of the First Reading become reality within us: "The joy of the Lord is our strength". Yes, beloved brothers and sisters, may the joy of the Lord sustain and guide us on the journey through daily life.
May the intercession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, of St Peter the Apostle and of all our holy Patrons obtain this gift for us. Amen.