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Saturday, 25 August 2007

Your Eminence,
Dear Brother Bishops,

Before I begin my discourse to you, I would first like to remember the victims, the injured and all who have been left in situations of great difficulty by the recent earthquake in your Country. I know that this earthquake has caused untold damage and that numerous families are in very precarious conditions. The Holy Father, who from the very moment he learned of it at Castel Gandolfo has constantly followed the development of the situation, has specifically asked me to convey his sentiments of spiritual and material solidarity. The Successor of Peter expresses his cordial closeness to you, dear Pastors of such a harshly tried portion of the Lord's flock, so that you in turn may pass it on to all who are suffering at this time, inviting them to trust in the Lord always. Even when he puts us to the test, God never allows us to lack his love and his paternal and loving Providence.

I warmly thank you for your cordial welcome; I greet you all with affection. I gladly accepted the invitation to spend a few days in your beautiful Country and come here motivated by the desire to know its spiritual and social situation better. Over the next few days I will have the opportunity to take part in liturgical events of great importance to the Church, such as the National Eucharistic Congress and the episcopal ordination of Fr Gaetano Galbusera. I will also be able to visit humanitarian institutions that are being set up with the collaboration of volunteers from other countries, especially Italians, who come to put their professionalism at the service of the local communities in the context of the Mato Grosso Operation, promoted by my Salesian confreres.

I thank the Lord for the possibility he has given me to meet with you today, dear Brothers in the Episcopate responsible for the People of God who live and work in this part of the Latin American Continent. I express to each one of you my warmest and most fraternal sentiments; above all, I convey the Holy Father's sentiments to you. When I met with him a few days ago to tell him about my visit to Peru, he charged me to bring to you and your communities his affectionate greeting and the expression of his spiritual closeness. He knows well the situation of the Church in Peru and encourages you, the Pastors of this chosen portion of the Lord's flock, to persevere enthusiastically in your mission at the service of the Gospel, doing your best to be reliable guides and loving fathers to the communities entrusted to your care, custodians of doctrine and tireless champions of works of justice and charity. His Holiness always supports and accompanies you with prayer and remembers you especially during his daily celebration of Holy Mass. He follows with special attention the situation of the Church on the Latin American Continent, where a large percentage of the world's Catholics live, an important presence of youth.

The Holy Father's Visit to Brazil last May, during which he inaugurated the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences, made a deep impression on his heart. Looking with hope at your young and promising Churches, two months ago he wrote a Letter to his Brothers of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopates, approving the publication of the Final Document which gathers the reflections and practical guidelines that resulted from the Aparecida Meeting. I too had the joy of being able to take part in the Opening Session of this General Conference and it was an especially useful experience for me. After returning to the Vatican, I continued to follow the work of the Assembly with interest through the information provided by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Reports of the Apostolic Nuncio and the news bulletins in the mass media. I then read carefully the Document compiled. It is a programmatic text which looks to the future of the Church and clearly shows the shared concern that all the Church's members may feel called to be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ. Indeed, this was the very theme of the Meeting at Aparecida: "Disciples and Missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that our peoples may have life in him. "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life' (Jn 14: 6)".
Starting with the prophetic impulse of the Second Vatican Council and in "creative continuity" with the previous Conferences in Rio de Janeiro (1955), Medellin (1968), Puebla (1979) and Santo Domingo (1992), the Latin American Episcopate has desired to outline some common lines to give a renewed impetus to the new evangelization in every region of your Continent. This is undoubtedly a great pastoral challenge which calls every baptized person to bear a coherent witness to his or her own faith and membership in the one People of God. As an indispensable prerequisite, this witness presupposes a permanent inner conversion to Christ, a personal and communal encounter with him, our one and only Redeemer.

In fact, the Final Document of Aparecida should serve in the first place to awaken in Christians a renewed fidelity to Christ, with its goal of promoting and supporting a vast continental "mission". It is indeed indispensable that every believer personally welcome Christ, who came into the world so that all "may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10: 10). May Christ, Christ alone, therefore be the heart and centre of the longed-for and authentic pastoral and missionary renewal of the Church in Latin America! This important programmatic text, which outlines pastoral approaches in Latin America for the next 10 years, rightly presents a broad Christological vision that begins with a profound reflection on the life of Christ, the Only-Begotten Son who received from the Father the mission to be High Priest, Teacher and Pastor.

Aware of the promise of her Bridegroom and Lord - "Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28: 20) - since the day of Pentecost, the Church has never ceased to carry out her mission among the peoples, faithful to his teachings and docile to the action of his Spirit, the Spirit of truth and love.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, this impulse of renewed evangelization must take into account the great challenges that mark the modern world and are also making themselves felt in your Country. I shall limit myself here to pointing out some of them. For example, the trend of globalization, which is a characteristic of the contemporary world. This complex phenomenon affects the economic sector with vast social repercussions, as well as the cultural context where the mass media are now everywhere imposing "new scales of values that are often arbitrary and basically materialistic, in the face of which it is difficult to maintain a lively commitment to the values of the Gospel" (cf. Ecclesia in America, n. 20). Then there is the increasing tendency to urbanization which gives new frontiers to the Church's pastoral action, since she is obliged to face the cultural uprooting of people, the erosion of family customs and peoples' detachment from their religious traditions, which frequently leads to the loss of faith because it is deprived of those manifestations which contributed to sustain it. Furthermore, there is corruption, a serious problem that must be considered carefully because it "encourages impunity and the illicit accumulation of money, lack of trust in political institutions, especially the administration of justice, and public investments, which are not always transparent, equal for all and effective" (ibid., n. 23). The narcotics trade and drug consumption pose a serious threat to social structures in Latin American countries. Deep anxiety for ecology and for the respect and conservation of creation can also be noted. In this regard, one must think of the devastation of the Amazon forest, an immense territory that affects various other nations as well as Peru. And then there is the crisis of the family infected by Western cultural trends, young people who face numerous difficulties in building their future due to the employment crisis, inequality between social groups, the danger of violence, the emergence of societies where the powerful predominate, marginalizing and even eliminating the weak. I am thinking here of "unborn children, helpless victims of abortion; the elderly and incurably ill, subjected at times to euthanasia; and the many other people relegated to the margins of society by consumerism and materialism" (ibid., n. 63). I also know that in your Country the activities of sects and new religious groups constitute a serious obstacle to evangelization. Venerable Pope John Paul II, in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of 12 January 1999 cited above, said of this: "No one can deny the urgency of prompt evangelizing efforts aimed at those segments of the People of God most exposed to proselytism by the sects" (n. 73).

I do not intend to dwell at length on an analysis of the situation which, moreover, the recent General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences amply developed. Yet, I would like to note how sometimes a widespread secularism, closed to transcendence, seems to be turning our world into a "great and terrible wilderness" (Dt 8: 15), where the space between people for attention to spiritual and material needs is reduced, almost to the point of disappearing. In other words, humanity seems to reject God's plan in order to build a world with their own hands, without or even against God. The results of this dramatic option flash before our eyes. It is as if man were refusing God's "bread" in order to satisfy himself with another food, as we are reminded by Jesus' discourse on the bread in the Gospel: "This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died" (Jn 6: 58). The truth is that today, just as 2,000 years ago, the Church alone can offer men and women the bread of salvation; the Church alone is the bearer of a plan of salvation which is not merely human. The Church proclaims and offers Christ, true God and true man, Redeemer of man and of the whole of man. In his long controversy with the Jews in the synagogue at Capernaum after the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus said: "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (Jn 6: 48-51). At the end of this long diatribe, even marked by dramatic tones when many of his disciples left him because they considered his language "hard", the Evangelist recounts Peter's profession of faith.

To Jesus' provocative question to the Twelve: "Will you also go away?", the Apostle responds: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn 6: 67-69). Jesus' words and Peter's reply make us realize that attachment to Christ always demands a choice, a choice that is sometimes dramatic but is nevertheless indispensable. Actually, this Gospel passage effectively presents to us a rift between the Lord's disciples: some leave him, others instead continue to follow him. The Church means being in Christ's "company": she can only understand herself through Christ, to whom she is closely bound. The Eucharist is an image and a reality of this intimate union between the Head and the Body.

In his last Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the late John Paul II wrote: "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the very mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfilment of the promise: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28: 20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity.... "The Second Vatican Council rightly proclaimed that the Eucharistic sacrifice is "the source and summit of the Christian life' (Lumen Gentium, n. 11).... Consequently, the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, in which she discovers the full manifestation of his boundless love" (n. 1). Each Christian community grows around the Eucharist and experiences its effective sanctifying action, especially when it comes together in the Lord's Day, Sunday, the weekly Easter. It is useful to emphasize that from the very earliest times of the Church, Pastors have ceaselessly reminded the faithful of the importance of sanctifying the Lord's Day and the need to take part in the liturgical assembly. "Leave everything on the Lord's Day and run diligently to your assembly, because it is your praise of God. Otherwise, what excuse will they make to God, those who do not come together on the Lord's Day to hear the word of life and feed on the divine nourishment which lasts forever?" (Didascalia Apostolorum, II, 59, 23). The Pastors' reminder generally met with the convinced and cordial adherence of the faithful, who in numerous dangerous situations faced even persecution with true heroism. Among the many, it suffices to recall those Christians during Emperor Diocletian's reign who challenged the imperial edict which prohibited assemblies of Christians and accepted death rather than miss the Sunday Eucharist. The response of a martyr of Abitina in Proconsular Africa is famous. Standing before his accusers he said: "We cannot live without the Lord's Supper.... Yes, I went to the assembly and I celebrated the Lord's Supper with my brothers and sisters, because I am a Christian" (Acta SS. Saturnini, Dativi et aliorum plurimorum martyrum in Africa, 9, 10).

We should ask ourselves whether our communities today live the meaning of the Sunday Eucharistic celebration with the same intensity. Frequently felt is the pastoral need to recover the joyful awareness of celebration, without which the Christian identity is weakened. This can only imply a new commitment on the part of all, starting with priests, to make celebrations of the Eucharist increasingly a transparent fidelity of that mystery of faith in which "we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory". This entails attention to cordially welcoming people in churches, to the care and beauty of sacred song and to making the most of liturgical acts and of the prayer of the faithful. Priests in particular are asked to foster the art of celebration with religious dignity and a more thorough catechesis on the Eucharistic mystery, and also with careful preparations of the Sunday homily. Again, in the Encyclical on the Eucharist Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II urged the entire Church to live true and real "Eucharistic wonder". We are all in great need of this "wonder", amazement at the gift of God who offers himself for the life of the world. Not only are we recipients who marvel and are filled with happiness at this gift, but we are also involved in it in order to become its witnesses on the highways of our world. This experience of Sunday Mass means living communion, which binds us all closely to Jesus Christ and nourishes within us the desire for mission, so that the world may believe and share with us in the joy of salvation.

But this demands conversion and renewal on the part of all. If mission is an essential part of the Eucharist and if the Eucharist is experienced in its "truth", those who take part in the Mass should leave the church with renewed missionary zeal. In my first Pastoral Letter as Archbishop of Genoa, taking up the words of my predecessor, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, today Pastor of the large Archdiocese of Milan, I wrote that the enthusiasm and effectiveness of Christ's "Go, therefore...", that is, his missionary mandate, are directly proportional to the personal "quality" of the Mass and the intensity of the spiritual and liturgical participation with which the individual faithful and the Christian communities celebrate the Eucharist. It clearly appears that the acquisition of ever deeper trust in the Word of God, an irreplaceable moment in the celebration, is becoming necessary for fruitful participation in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, in the Eucharistic assembly the encounter with the Risen Lord takes place through twofold participation in the banquet of the Word and of the Bread of Life. It is listening to the Word which opens us to understanding the mystery of the Bread of Life, and, more profoundly, to understanding the history of the salvation which Jesus himself, Risen from the dead, procured for his disciples. It should not be forgotten that it is he who speaks when the Church listens to and reads Sacred Scripture. This requires a serious commitment to listening attentively to the Word and to formation, in order to understand it and to live it ever more deeply.

Returning to the Final Document of Aparecida, in my opinion it clearly highlights the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church's life, while appropriately showing that the Eucharistic dimension constitutes the central element in the mission of every Ecclesial Community throughout the American Continent.
Eucharist, celebration, mission are three interconnected goals and are especially practical for an evangelizing action that aims to make Christ, really present in the Sacrament of the Altar, the centre of every initiative. The celebration of the National Eucharistic Congress in these days will certainly be a favourable opportunity for the Church in Peru to reaffirm this faith in the Eucharistic Christ, the centre and summit of the life of every believer and of the entire People of God. It will also be an occasion to strengthen communion among all her members: Pastors, priests, deacons and men and women religious, the faithful and families. The Eucharist is in fact the Sacrament of Unity. As the Holy Father Benedict XVI said two years ago in his Homily for the conclusion of the Italian Eucharistic Congress: "We are touching on a further dimension of the Eucharist.... The Christ whom we meet in the Sacrament is the same here in Bari as he is in Rome, here in Europe, as in America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. He is the one same Christ who is present in the Eucharistic Bread of every place on earth. This means that we can encounter him only together with all others. We can only receive him in unity. "Is not this what the Apostle Paul said in the reading we have just heard? In writing to the Corinthians he said: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf' (I Cor 10: 17). "The consequence is clear: we cannot communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with one another. If we want to present ourselves to him, we must also take a step towards meeting one another. "To do this we must learn the great lesson of forgiveness: we must not let the gnawings of resentment work in our soul, but must open our hearts to the magnanimity of listening to others, open our hearts to understanding them, eventually to accepting their apologies, to generously offering our own. The Eucharist, let us repeat, is the Sacrament of Unity (Homily, Mass for the Close of the 24th Italian National Eucharistic Congress, Bari, Italy, 29 May 2005; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 1 June, p. 6). Moreover, in his Homily on the Feast of Corpus Christi last year he noted once again: "The primitive Church discovered yet another symbol in the bread. The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, a book written around the year 100, contains in its prayers the affirmation: "Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom' (IX, 4). "Bread made of many grains contains also an event of union: the ground grain becoming bread is a process of unification. We ourselves, many as we are, must become one bread, one body, as St Paul says (cf. I Cor 10: 17). In this way the sign of bread becomes both hope and fulfilment" (Homily, 15 June 2006; ORE, 21 June, p. 6). Dear Brother Bishops, may you always be committed to building communion and preserving it among yourselves first of all, and then in and among your Communities. In some cases, doing this will demand of us Pastors courage and firmness; on other occasions, it will be necessary to appeal to patience and indulgence; we must always adopt meekness and forbearing. Above all, we must remain united to Christ and learn from him, the Good Shepherd, to be good Pastors of the flock that he himself entrusts to us.

I have in fact desired to dwell on the Eucharist because for us Christians, both in the Church's life and mission as well as in the vicissitudes of the world, everything converges and finds its truest meaning in the Eucharistic Christ. Consequently, the entire development of pastoral care cannot fail to be oriented to him and start from him. It is around Jesus, Bread of Life, the eternal heritage for all who come close to him, that the true identity of the new People, the People chosen by God, is fulfilled: those who received him at this Table form the Church, the "family" of the Redeemer of man. And this family must grow in the awareness of its own identity, its responsibilities and its mission in the world through an intense liturgical, sacramental and charitable life. The Church in Peru, insofar as I can know, is very active in this effort through a constant commitment to proclaim the Gospel and through catechesis, as well as the continuing formation of the clergy and the other pastoral agents. Formation, which in the first place includes an education in personal and liturgical prayer, is particularly necessary today to prepare Christians to respond in a mature and knowledgeable way to the challenges of sects. These religious movements, of which there are many here in Latin America and which attract many members of your Communities with their message, seem in some cases to be targeting the disintegration of the People of God, breaking-up and narcotizing communities, families and societies. Christian catechetical action and education that form a convinced and solid laity are therefore indispensable. It is also necessary that the Church not be perceived merely as a humanitarian organization but in her truest reality, that of God's family, enlivened by love for Christ, whose aim is to bring to every man and woman on earth the message of integral salvation, that is, the salvation of the entire human being, body and soul. The work of human promotion which is carried out with great generosity will thus be the visible witness of the love of Christ, who wants all people to attain knowledge of the truth and to experience the renewing power of his Spirit. We must not forget that our true and definitive dwelling place is Heaven, as the recent Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary reminded us. And it is to Heaven that we, and all who are entrusted to our care, are destined.

The Church is a great family to which Jesus calls us and into which he integrates us. Through her he makes us live with the gifts that he offers us; he calls us to take part in his mission through a wealth of ministries. Today, as yesterday, Christ is fullness of meaning in a world that is seeking its own lost meaning. In addition, not only does he give meaning to the human condition overall, but he also illuminates the practical problems of this condition. After all, these problems arise from the human being's relations with the world (milieu, work and progress), with others (otherness in the forms of justice, friendship, work and progress), with himself (loneliness, suffering, illness, death) and with God (human sin and mercy-salvation through the Incarnate Son, the Crucified and Risen Christ). The one who takes part in the Eucharist, especially on Sundays, realizes that at the very moment when he receives the Body and Blood of the Lord, he takes on the whole of his humanity: humanity suffering, open to God, manifested in the faces of all our brothers and sisters. This leads Christians to experience that the disciple of Jesus does not follow a figure of past history but the living God, present in the today and the now of our history. Christ is the Living One who walks beside us, revealing to us the meaning of events, of suffering and of death, of happiness and of festivity, entering our homes and remaining in them, nourishing us with the Bread that gives life.
For this reason, as I said above, the Eucharist is fundamental in the Church and the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist must be the centre of every Christian life.

The meeting with Christ in the Eucharist inspires the commitment to evangelization and drives solidarity forward; it awakens in Christians a strong desire to proclaim the Gospel and to bear witness to it in society in order to make society more just and human. Down the ages, an immense wealth of charity, of participation in the difficulties of others, of love and justice, has sprung from the Eucharist. This is because Christ fully reveals man to himself, deciphers him, interprets him, transfigures him. In this context it is beautiful to recall Pope Paul VI's words, full of love and wisdom, which he spoke on his historical Journey to Manila on 29 November 1970: "Jesus... is the centre of history and of the world; he is the one who knows us and who loves us; he is the companion and the friend of our life... he is the light and the truth; indeed, he is "the way, the truth and the life'.... Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. He is the king of the new world, he is the secret of history; he is the key to our destiny" (Homily, Mass at Quezon Circle, Manila, the Philippines, 29 November 1970; ORE, 10 December, p. 3).

Furthermore, the mystery of Christ which the Church proclaims, celebrates and lives, becomes visible in a privileged way wherever a community aspires to practice holiness. As our Pope Benedict XVI often likes to repeat, being holy is basically being true and faithful friends of Christ, recognizing him and loving him concretely in one's brothers and sisters. Every community must reflect this light of holiness and joy. I am thinking at this moment of the parish, that group of baptized people which, like a miniature cosmos, contains more or less all the members of the Church: priests, Religious, lay faithful (families, children, youth and older people). It is here that vocations to the service of the Kingdom of God are born and develop. In my last Pastoral Letter written as Archbishop of Genoa, I observed: "If the liturgy, with trusting emphasis, says that God sows vocations by the handful in the field of the Church (cf. Roman Missal, 791), the parish community plays a fundamental role in their identification and their growth". Indeed, what belongs to the Church is born in the Church. From this observation it is possible to draw demanding consequences: if, in fact, vocations to the ordained ministry and to the consecrated life are in decline, this means that parish communities are not in healthy conditions. Many aspects of this situation are obvious to all; and this is why in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, John Paul II said: "There is an urgent need, especially nowadays, for a more widespread and deeply felt conviction that all the members of the Church, without exception, have the grace and responsibility to look after vocations. The Second Vatican Council was quite explicit in this regard: "The duty of fostering vocations falls on the whole Christian community, and they should discharge it principally by living full Christian lives' (Optatam Totius, n. 2)" (n. 41).

The parish community needs to revitalize its channels of communication which make it a mediator between Christ who calls eternally and potentially called people, who may sometimes feel far from encouraged by the mediocre lifestyle of some local Churches. I know, dear Brother Bishops, how much you have at heart vocations and the formative and spiritual guidance of candidates to the priesthood and consecrated life. I would like here to consider some essential approaches for greater vocational fertility in the parish, in accordance with the instructions of John Paul II, the great apostle of youth. "Vocations of special consecration", he wrote in his Message for the 27th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 1990, "are a specific living out of the baptismal vocation; they are nourished, grow and reach fruition through a constant care for the divine life received in Baptism", and use "means which will encourage the full development of an interior life, possibly leading to the choice of a life completely dedicated to the glory of God and the service of others:

"- careful attention to the Word of God, which will help to shed light on the choices that can lead to a more radical following of Christ;
"- active participation in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which is the essential core of the spiritual life, and the source and nourishment of all vocations;
"- also the Sacrament of Reconciliation which, because it encourages an ever more total conversion of heart, purifies the process of personal commitment to God's plan and strengthens the bond of union with Christ;
"- personal prayer, which enables one to live constantly in the presence of God; and liturgical prayer, which unites all of the baptized in the public prayer of the Church;
"- spiritual direction, which is an effective means for discerning the will of God: responding to God's will is the beginning of spiritual maturity;
"- filial love for the Blessed Virgin, which is particularly significant for the spiritual and vocational growth of every Christian;
"- finally, a commitment to asceticism, since the response to God's call often involves the kind of renunciation and sacrifice that is made possible only through healthy and balanced ascetical practices" (ORE, 12 February 1990, p. 2).

Dear and venerable Brother Bishops, as I conclude, I would like to thank you for your attention. In addressing you, I have borne in mind the conclusions of the General Conference of Aparecida which focus everything on the Eucharist. Likewise, I wanted to convey the constant concern of His Holiness Benedict XVI for the Ecclesial Communities of Latin America. I desire to encourage you on his behalf to journey on: "Duc in altum!". This invitation which the late John Paul II launched at the end of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 was taken up by his Successor at the very beginning of his ministry as Pastor of the universal Church.

Dear Brothers, let us put out into the deep with trust and enthusiasm! Let us not be distressed by difficulties or frightened by trials and suffering. Christ is alive and accompanies us. May this certainty never cease to be a viaticum of hope and joy for us. May Mary, to whom the Peruvian People turn with confidence, invoking her with many beautiful names, sustain and guide them on their way. May the Saints whom you venerate as Patrons in your respective Dioceses also protect you in your daily ministry. Among them, I especially invoke the intercession to St Turibius of Mogrovejo, the second Bishop of Lima and Patron of the Latin American Episcopate. For my part, I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and with affection to one and all, I renew the expression of my esteem together with my cordial encouragement.