.- One day before the gathering of religious leaders from around the world in the town of Assisi, Pope Benedict XVI declared that the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus ushered in a new kingdom of peace of which Christ is king.
âThe Cross is the new arch of peace, a sign and instrument of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of understanding, a sign that love is stronger than all violence and all oppression, is stronger than death: the evil is overcome with good, with love,â the Pope said to pilgrims gathered in the Vaticanâs Paul VI Hall on Oct. 26.
âThis new reign of peace in which Christ is the king, is a kingdom that extends over the whole earth.â
The Popeâs comments came at his weekly general audience which also served as a prayer vigil ahead of tomorrowâs âDay of Reflection and Prayer for Peaceâ with other world religious leaders in the Italian town of Assisi.
Todayâs vigil was due to take place in St. Peterâs Square but inclement weather forced a change of venue. This resulted in the majority of pilgrims being sent to the Paul VI Hall and the overflow being shepherded into St. Peterâs Basilica.
Pope Benedict briefly greeted those in the basilica and imparted his apostolic blessing upon them. He then proceeded to the audience hall where Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar General of the Diocese Rome, read several passages from sacred scripture, to which the Pope responded with his speech.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ as king of peace, said the Pope, was foreshadowed in the Old Testament reading from the Book of Zechariah. âBehold, your king comes to you. He is just and victorious,â the Old Testament prophet said to the Jewish people.
âBut the announcement does not refer to a king with human powers and force of arms,â said the Pope, âthis is a gentle king who reigns with humility and gentleness before God and man, a king quite different from the great sovereigns of the earth.â
The unfolding of Zechariahâs prophecy first becames apparent at the time of Christâs birth in Bethlehem, Pope Benedict said, recalling how the angels proclaimed âGlory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.â Thus, he said, âthe birth of that baby, who is Jesus, brings a proclamation of peace throughout the world.â
Similarly, the apostles would have recalled Zechariahâs words after âChristâs passion, death and resurrection,â when âwith the eyes of faith, they reconsidered their Master's joyful entry into the Holy City.â
âHe did not enter Jerusalem accompanied by a mighty army of chariots and horsemen. He is a poor king, the king of the poor of God,â said the Pope, âhe is a king who will make the chariots and steeds of battle disappear, who will break the weapons of war, a king who brought peace on the Cross, uniting heaven and earth and building a bridge between all mankind.â
And the kingdom of Jesus, the Pope noted, is universal. Its horizon is not âthe territorial horizon of a State,â but âthe confines of the world,â and wherever Christ is to be found âin the great network of Eucharistic communities covering the earth, wherein the prophecy of Zecheriah re-emerges in splendor.â
Christians can help expand the bounds of this kingdom of peace ânot with the might of war or force of power,â but âwith the giving of self, with love carried to its extreme consequences, even towards out enemies,â said the Pope.
He then turned the pilgrimsâ attention to a physical reminder of that attitude, pointing to a statue of St. Paul with a sword in handâthe means by which he was executed in Romeâlocated on the front of St. Peterâs Basilica.
St. Paulâs strength âlay in the fact that he did not seek a quiet life,â said the Pope, but rather in the fact that âhe was consumed by the Gospelâ and âgave all of himself without reserve.â This led to him becoming the âgreat messenger of peace and reconciliation in Christ.â
Similarly, he said, Catholics today must be willing âto pay in person,â even if that means suffering âmisunderstanding, rejection and persecution.â
âIt is not the sword of the conqueror that builds peace, but the sword of those who suffer and give up their own lives.â
The Holy Father concluded by asking everybody to pray that âtomorrowâs meeting in Assisi might favor dialogue between people from different religions,â so that ârancor may give way to forgiveness, division to reconciliation, hatred to love, violence to humility, and that peace may reign in the world.â