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Monday, 24 January 2005


A month has passed since that morning of last 26 December, when the distressing news of the terrible tragedy that had struck various countries in Southeast Asia, causing more than 200,000 deaths, came like a bolt from the blue.

The various television stations relayed to homes across the world images of the threatening waves caused by the seaquake in the depths of the Indian Ocean. At the same time, we saw the destruction of the coasts of those Nations, from Indonesia to Sri Lanka, from India to the Maldives, from Bangladesh to Myanmar, from Thailand to Malaysia, with repercussions as far-reaching as the African coasts.

The Japanese word "tsunami" actually becomes universal.

Once again, human beings felt tiny as they faced the complexity of the planet on which we live.

We felt a spontaneous inner urge to look to the heavens, seeking some response to the many questions that arise in moments of bewilderment.
Some have wondered how it is possible that man, who can go to the moon, who can send a probe to Titan [largest moon of planet Saturn] more than a million kilometres from the earth, could be so powerless in the face of disasters of this kind.

Many have then asked themselves whether the Christian faith has a response that can explain the enigma of grief. And the response of believers was immediate:  yes, God always loves men and women and is always close to them with his fatherly love!

Brothers and sisters, the Word of God which has been proclaimed at this Holy Mass echoes through the world even more forcefully than the "tsunami". God is always close to us! He became man to share our existence in both the sorrowful and happy moments of life.

In this regard, a well-known writer puts an expressive answer on Christ's lips when a poor wayfarer speaks to him after falling into the mud. "Where are you, O my God", the pilgrim cries, sinking into the mire. But he immediately hears a mysterious voice answering him from on high:  "I am with you in the mud!".

This is the lesson of faith:  God accompanies men and women at every moment of their lives!

These are Job's words that we heard in the First Reading. The rich and happy servant of God was afflicted with the most painful trials that affected his possessions, his children, his wife, his relatives and his friends. Worn out by suffering, he asked God for a response to his torment, but subsequently realized that he had spoken foolishly. Prostrating himself before God, he regales us with a profound profession of faith:  "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord".

And the inspired author of the Book of Job concludes with an elegant, incisive comment, "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong" (Jb 1: 20-22).

Like Job, human beings of every epoch ask themselves the same question about the meaning of suffering. St Augustine himself noted in his Confessions:  "Quaerebam unde malum et non erat exitus":  "I sought "whence is evil', and found no way" (cf. Confessions, 7, 7, 11).

He was later to find an answer by contemplating Christ, who came into the world to tell human beings that they are always cherished by God at every moment of their lives, in joy and in suffering. Of course, a great many things escape the understanding of human reason, but the eye of faith reveals to believers that God is always beside us and indeed, that he is love (I Jn 4: 5, 16).

The words contained in the Message that the Second Vatican Council addressed to the poor, the sick and the suffering of this world still have profound meaning:  "Christ did not do away with suffering. He did not even wish to unveil to us entirely the mystery of suffering. He took suffering upon himself and this is enough to make you understand all its value".
My brothers and sisters, today's Gospel has shone a powerful beam of light on the meaning of human existence. Life is transitory for us all. It is a pilgrimage for us all towards eternity. Death is our common challenge, but as the liturgy for the deceased succinctly states, "the sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality" (Preface, Mass for the Deceased).

The words that Jesus said to Martha are engraved on every believer's heart:  "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (Jn 11: 25).

This inner certainty sustains us on our earthly journey, since we know well that life is only a passage to eternity. Indeed, according to Christian spirituality, believers consider themselves as exiles awaiting their return to the House of the Father.

Brothers and sisters in the Lord, now, as we are praying, the Pope is close to us, and with us he entrusts the souls of all who died in the terrible seaquake in Southeast Asia into God's hands. As soon as he learned of the tragic event, already at the Angelus on Sunday, 26 December, he expressed his deep sympathy with these sorrowing brethren of ours. He then asked everyone to make concrete gestures of solidarity for these people and has personally followed all the relief action taken by the Holy See and the various particular Churches scattered across the world.

In the course of his glorious Pontificate, John Paul II has had the opportunity to visit these countries himself. He has always shown great interest in the material and spiritual progress of these peoples.

Today, the Pope joins us in praying for the repose of those who have departed this life, and he is praying for divine comfort for the bereaved who are grieving.

In addition, the Vicar of Christ continues to address an invitation to us all to show solidarity to these brothers and sisters of ours, reminding us of a Saint's famous words:  "When the evening of this life comes, we shall be judged on love..." (St John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, n. 57).

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