.- In his homily yesterday evening at the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his desire to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor John Paul II who made the missionary mandate of the Church a cornerstone of his pontificate.
Thirty-five cardinals and representatives from other Christian confessions were present for this, Pope Benedict’s first official trip outside the Vatican in which he greeted and blessed the thousands present, pausing to kiss a number of children.
After venerating the tomb of St. Paul, and recalling his words in the letter to the Romans, the Holy Father noted that his visit represented "a much longed-for pilgrimage, a gesture of faith that I undertake in my own name, but also in the name of the dear diocese of Rome, of which the Lord has made me bishop and pastor, and in that of the Universal Church which is entrusted to my pastoral care.”
He called it “A pilgrimage, so to speak, at the roots of the mission, the mission that the risen Christ entrusted to Peter, to the Apostles, and in a particular way also to Paul, urging him to announce the Gospel to the people until he reached this city where, after having long preached the Kingdom of God, he gave with his own blood the final witness to the Lord, who had 'conquered' and sent him."
Pope Benedict pointed out that as Peter's successor, he had come to the basilica "to revitalize in faith this 'grace of the apostolate'," about which St. Paul speaks.
He likewise recalled the example of John Paul II, "a missionary Pope, whose intense activity, as witnessed by more than 100 apostolic trips outside Italy, is truly inimitable.”
“What impelled him to such dynamism”, the Pope asked, “if not that same love of Christ that transformed the existence of St Paul?”
“May the Lord also nourish such a love in me, that I do not hold back before the urgent need of announcing the Gospel in the world today. The Church is missionary by nature, her primary task is evangelization."
He said that, "At the beginning of the third millennium the Church feels with renewed vitality that Christ's missionary mandate is more imperative than ever," and recalled the motto used by his namesake, St. Benedict in his Rule, who exhorted his monks "to put nothing before the love of Christ."
The Holy Father emphasized that, "the passion for Christ brought [St. Paul] to preach the Gospel not only with words but with life itself, ever more conformed to his Lord. In the end St. Paul announced Christ through martyrdom, and with his blood - together with that of St. Peter and of so many other witnesses to the Gospel - he bathed this land and made fruitful the Church of Rome, which presides over the universal communion of charity."
“The twentieth century”, Pope Benedict stressed, “was a time of martyrdom.”
“This”, he said, “was much emphasized by Pope John Paul II who asked the Church 'to update the Martyrologium,' and who canonized and beatified numerous martyrs of modern history.”
“If then, the blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians, at the beginning of the third millennium we may expect a new flowering of the Church, especially where she suffered most for the faith and the witness of the Gospel."
He concluded, saying that, "We entrust this desire to the intercession of St. Paul. May he obtain for the Church of Rome - especially her new bishop and all the people of God - the joy of announcing and bearing witness to the Good News of Christ the Savior."
Thousands gathered outside the church to greet the new pontiff, some commenting that they were impressed by his charisma and human touch.
The Pope also met with his German compatriots in a separate audience. (See following story.)