HOMILY BY CARD. ANGELO SODANO
Cathedral Basilica of Savona
It is the season of Advent! The time to meditate on the mystery of human history! The liturgy invites us to turn our gaze to our Saviour, to contemplate his humble birth in Bethlehem and his glorious return at the end of time. Between Christ's Advent and the Second Coming of Christ, the believer sees the history of human beings and civilization flow past like a stream, mingling freedom and God's providence.
"Man proposes, God disposes", as a well-known old proverb reminds us. And indeed, with the eyes of faith, the Christian discerns God's presence in the steady flow of human events. Then, in prayer, believers ask God to be close to them and to guide them on their way. This is what we said in the Responsorial Psalm: "Lord, make me know your ways. Lord, teach me your paths. Make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my Saviour" (Ps 25: 4-5).
Today, let us look with the eyes of faith at the history of the Church as she has advanced down the ages, directed towards carrying out the mission Christ entrusted to her: to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to the world and to gather all men and women into one family, the family of God's children.
The keys of the Kingdom that Christ gave to Peter have already passed through the hands of 265 Pontiffs. They bear witness to the perpetuity of the Church. One wave succeeds another and breaks foaming on the seashore, but the sea continues to give life to the earth. So it is in the Church.
Among the Successors of the Apostle Peter in the See of Rome, today we would like to recall a famous son of Savona who occupied an important place in the series of Roman Pontiffs. He was called to the Chair of Peter in a difficult period and had to confront earthly powers that sought to condition the Church and curtail her freedom.
Liguria was truly beneficent, bestowing upon the Holy See in the course of its history seven Supreme Pontiffs. In 1200, Liguria had already provided two Popes from the Fieschi family: Innocent IV (1243-1254) and Adrian V (1276, although only for 38 days).
Then in the 15th century Sarzana offered Pope Nicholas V, Tommaso Parentucelli (1447-1455) and a little later, Genoa contributed Pope Innocent VIII, Giovanni Battista Cibo (1484-1492). In more recent times, the Ligurian capital was to give the Church Giacomo della Chiesa, the great Pope Benedict XV, (1914-1922).
However, it was precisely Savona, at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th, that offered two of its illustrious sons to the Church; they were the two della Rovere Popes: Francesco della Rovere, who took the name of Sixtus IV (1471-1484), then Giuliano della Rovere, Julius II, a native of Albisola (1503-1513), the Pope we desire to commemorate today on the anniversary of his coronation on the Chair of Peter, to be exact, on 26 November 1503.
For my part, I am pleased to be here with you on this occasion. I rejoice with you in the vitality of your Christian communities which have made so important a contribution to Christ's Church, and to ask the Lord to continue to bless this earth today and to inspire generous souls willing to work to spread the Kingdom of God in the contemporary world.
To me, a Vatican resident, the figure of Julius II has become familiar. I have come across the coat of arms of the della Roveres in many places and never cease to admire the generosity and ingenuity of this son of your land.
Someone wrote of Julius II that, on becoming Pope, his deep admiration for the Emperor Julius Caesar prompted him to choose his name. Whatever may have been the grounds for this interpretation, it is certain that he liked to think big and wanted the Church of Rome to shine before the world with a visible beauty too.
How can we fail to think of him when we contemplate the grandeur of the St Peter's Basilica in its present form? It was he who wanted it to be built, he who entrusted its construction to the genius of Bramante in 1505.
How can we forget that it was he who created in 1506 the Swiss Guard Corps, with the characteristic uniform that we still admire today? In honour of the Pope who founded the Swiss Guard, we have with us here today the Commandant and several Halberdiers. Let us offer them our cordial greetings.
Julius II was of course one of the most typical figures of the Italian Renaissance. The 10 years of his Pontificate were filled with great projects, including some for the defence of the territory.
The cry: "Keep the barbarians out!" that has been attributed to him, may never have actually come from his lips, but certainly corresponds with his commitment to defend the peninsula from foreign invasion. Julius II also felt that he was a temporal Sovereign called to defend his people. Not for nothing did he wish to have the famous statue of Moses sculpted on his tomb, the image of the great leader of the Chosen People.
Today, of course, it is difficult to understand the methods of government of that time. Not for nothing was he succeeded by Roman Pontiffs who began to place a greater emphasis on the spiritual mission of the Pope.
The work of the Bishop of Rome, however, should be seen in its proper context. Otherwise, it is incomprehensible. This is what I said last 12 October in Anagni, commemorating the seventh centenary of the death of Pope Boniface VIII.
We Christians must lift the often opaque veil of human events to discover the true face of the Church. Down the centuries the Church has had to face "kingdoms" of this world that were hostile to her, and her reactions are far from easy for us to understand today.
It should be noted, however, that the distinction between the temporal and the spiritual planes developed in the Church only very gradually, and only in recent centuries has there been a clear distinction of roles.
Even with these limitations, Julius II proved to be an exceptional personality in the geographical and political setting of his time. Nor should we forget his global vision of the Church's problems.
In Latin America, he is remembered with gratitude as the Pope concerned about the evangelization of those territories which Christopher Columbus had discovered just a few years earlier. It is enough to think of the creation of the first Diocese in Latin America, at Santo Domingo, with a Bull signed by Julius II in 1511: it was the first Diocese in the New World.
Then, to initiate the internal reform of the Church, Julius II convoked an Ecumenical Council: the Fifth Lateran Council of 1512.
Nevertheless, although his outlook could not but be typical of his time, he was a Pope who strove to serve the Church and to sacrifice himself for her until the Lord called him at the age of 72.
Dear friends of Savona,
To pay homage to his great Predecessor, Pope John Paul II has sent me here as his Legate. For my part, I have come willingly because of the ties that bind me to this area and to pay tribute to your history: a glorious history of hard work, sacrifice and solidarity in both the civil and ecclesial contexts.
I hope that you will all make progress on this fruitful path of good. I offer my best wishes for a fruitful apostolate to the venerable Pastor of this diocese, Bishop Domenico Calcagno, and to his collaborators, the priests, so that the Church in Savona may always be a shining beacon of Christian life and apostolic fervour, also for the generations to come.
Lastly, as a memento, I leave to everyone the invitation to love with ever greater love Christ's Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. This is the most beautiful fruit that the commemoration of a Pope such as Julius II can produce.
What would our Church have been if so many martyrs and saints had not made her holy, if so many pastors had not defended her, if so many theologians had not explained her doctrine, if so many missionaries had not spread Christ's Gospel throughout the world?
Looking towards Zion the Psalmist exclaimed: "Gloriosa dicta sunt de te, civitas Dei!" Of you are told glorious things, O city of God! (Ps 86: 3).
As we think of Christ's Holy Church, we can make the same exclamation today. Today she is a Church which does not want to withdraw into herself but seeks to view the world with tolerance and serenity. May all our love go to this Church. Amen.