CARDINAL ANGELO SODANO
HOMILY: 120 YEARS OF WITNESS BY THE SISTERS OF CHARITY
Saturday, 11 December 2004
Dear Sisters of Charity,
A feeling of gratitude has gathered us this evening around the altar of the Lord to raise together a hymn of thanksgiving to divine Providence for the good that the Sisters of Charity have done in the Vatican over the long span of history from 1884 to this day.
Thanks be to God, Rome was spared at that time from the contagious disease. Consequently, in 1891, the great Pope Joaquin Pecci destined the new hospice to serve the neediest in the Borgo and Trastevere districts, and to offer assistance to pilgrims.
Thus began a glorious page of caring service to the many men and women who flocked to Rome even in conditions of hardship. The Pope's house always had to be the house of charity.
In the meantime the residence was embellished: in 1901 it was equipped with electricity, and in 1902, the new chapel was built, the beautiful chapel in which many of us have prayed for years.
Then, with the need for new kinds of service, its radius of action was extended to priests in need and to the Gendarmes and the Swiss Guards. The Saint Martha Hospice continued to be a house of charity, always and for all.
During the Second World War, from 1940-45, Saint Martha Hospice even extended hospitality to Ambassadors to the Holy See of those countries with which Italy had broken off diplomatic relations, from the United States of America to Great Britain, from France to Belgium, and from Yugoslavia to Poland.
When the war was over, the Hospice opened its doors to take in the many priests summoned by the Holy Father to work in the Secretariat of State and in the various offices of the Holy See. This is the recent history of this house, as many of you already know.
In 1996, the current residence was built to meet the changed needs of modern times.
Long ago, in 1884, the first four women religious arrived, led by a strong and generous woman, Sr Luisa Lequette, who had also been Mother General of the Institute.
Since then, a multitude of praiseworthy Religious have passed through these walls, whose names live on in blessing among us. They belong to that legion of the Sisters of Charity who, in the path marked out by St Vincent de Paul, St Louise de Marillac and St Catherine Labouré, dedicated their lives to serving their neighbour.
I also remember with deep gratitude the help the Sisters offered to me during the seven years I spent in the old House of Saint Martha. How can we forget, among others, the sweet face of such marvellous Sisters as Sr Inés, a true mother to so many of us young priests?
I would then also like to highlight the spirit of serenity that the Sisters of Charity can instil in all of us, that spirit of spiritual joy which is born from the heart of someone who is fully consecrated to the Lord, hence, completely open to others.
In addition to their service for priests, you, dear Sisters, are also dedicated to other works of charity for children and those in need of help, and also offer precious assistance to pilgrims and the Vatican personnel. For all the good you do among us you must feel holy pride and at the same time, deep Christian joy.
We meet you today, in this chapel, with the same inner jubilation.
Tomorrow is the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday, after the first words of the Entrance Antiphon: "Gaudete in Domino semper". "Rejoice in the Lord always", as the Apostle Paul said to the Christians of Philippi.
The liturgy speaks to us of the spiritual joy that pervades every Christian's life. And today, in this attitude of exultation, let us too sing a hymn of gratitude to the Lord for all the marvels of grace that he always inspires among us.
As disciples of Christ, we are called to prepare the ways of the Lord for the people of today, as John the Precursor did. Today too, we must proclaim the Gospel of salvation to the people and nations of the whole world.
And you, dear Religious, collaborate in this apostolic work, carrying out both Martha's and Mary's task, and make of this house a new house of Bethany. May the Lord reward you for all your work and grant you the joy of daily service, every day feeding the flame of your love.
All of us, the Bishops and priests of the Roman Curia who enjoy your generous service, are also close to you. We would like to express the same gratitude to all the staff who collaborate with you in this House.
Go forward, therefore, with renewed commitment on the way marked out by Pope Leo XIII 120 years ago. So far it has been a fertile path of good. May it continue to be so also in the future!