On Sunday Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass near Venice for a congregation of 300,000, telling them to give hope to modern man by “listening to and loving the Word of God.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! I have come among you as the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter's ministry to confirm fidelity to the Gospel and communion,” he told those gathered in San Giuliano Park in Mestre, an industrial town on the other side of the lagoon from the famous island city of Venice.
“As in the past, when those churches were known for apostolic zeal and pastoral dynamism, so today we need to promote and defend the truth with courage and unity of the faith. You must give an account of Christian hope for modern man, often overwhelmed by vast and disturbing issues that arise in crisis and shake the very foundations of his being and his activity.”
In a grand pastiche of the byzantine splendor of the city’s St. Mark’s basilica, the organizers of today’s Mass had erected a domed sanctuary draped with golden mosaics printed on cloth.
There, the Pope gave a commentary on today’s gospel, which recounts the disappointment of two disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus. They shared their gloom while walking towards the town of Emmaus near Jerusalem.
Pope Benedict connected these disciples’ feelings to present attitudes.
“The disciples of today are moving away from the Jerusalem of the Crucified Jesus and the Risen Lord, no longer believing in the power and the living presence of the Lord,” he explained. The problems of evil, pain and suffering, of injustice and oppression, lead today’s Christians to similarly say, “we were hoping that the Lord deliver us from evil, pain, suffering, fear, injustice.”
The Pope suggested that the solution to such despair was the same today as it was for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus – listening to Jesus and receiving him “in the breaking of bread.”
First, he said, it is necessary to be “listening to and loving the Word of God, reading it in light of the Paschal Mystery, for it warms our hearts and enlightens our mind, and helps us to interpret the events of life and give them meaning.
“Then, you must sit at the table with the Lord, to become his guests, so that his humble presence in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood we restore our eyes of faith, to look at everything and everyone through the eyes of God, in light of his love.”
The Pope concluded by calling upon the Catholics of the region to uphold the Christian values of their forebears and to set “new missionary objectives” for themselves including building “bridges of dialogue between peoples and nations.”
After the Mass, in scenes reminiscent of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Venice in 1985, Pope Benedict crossed Venice’s Grand Canal in a gondola river boat. His destination was the church of Our Lady of Good Health, where he delivered a speech to leading figures from civil society.
Sunday was the second and final day of the Pope’s first papal visit to Venice and surrounding areas, where tradition holds that Saint Mark the Evangelist brought the Christian gospel.
On Saturday Pope Benedict visited the historic town Roman port town of Aquileia. He’ll return to the Vatican by plane this evening.