During his apostolic visit to Portugal, the Holy Father presided over Mass in Lisbon's Palace Square on Tuesday evening. Despite negative media attention over sexual abuse that has dogged the Catholic Church in recent weeks, the Pope assured the crowd of 160,000 people that the “resurrection of Christ assures us that no adverse power will ever be able to destroy the Church.”
At the sun-filled open air Mass, a cheering throng welcomed Pope Benedict and the hundreds of clergy who led the procession to the altar. With Lisbon's Tagus River serving as a backdrop, local Cardinal Jose de la Cruz Policarpo presented the Holy Father with the gift of a crucifix featuring seafaring imagery and representing the identity of the country.
In his homily, the Pope centered his message on the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, where Christ told his disciples, “I am with you always to the close of the age.”
“These words of the risen Christ take on a particular significance in this city of Lisbon, the Pope noted, recalling that from the city “generations upon generations of Christians – bishops, priests, consecrated and lay persons, men and women, young and not so young – have journeyed forth in great numbers in obedience to the Lord’s call.”
The Holy Father praised the country for its missionary commitment, saying that Portugal “has gained a glorious place among the nations for the service rendered to the spreading of the faith: in all five continents there are local churches that owe their origin to Portuguese missionary activity.”
“Today, as you play your part in building up the European Community, you offer the contribution of your cultural and religious identity,” he said. “Indeed, just as Jesus Christ joined the disciples on the road to Emmaus, so today he walks with us in accordance with his promise: 'I am with you always, to the close of the age.'”
“We too have a real and personal experience of the risen Lord, even if it differs from that of the Apostles,” the Pope observed.
“In the living river of ecclesial Tradition, Christ is not two thousand years distant from us, but is really present among us: he gives us the Truth and he gives us the light which is our life and helps us find the path towards the future.”
But Christ's presence in the Church can be taken for granted, Pope Benedict warned. “Often we are anxiously preoccupied with the social, cultural and political consequences of the faith, taking for granted that faith is present, which unfortunately is less and less realistic,” he said. “Perhaps we have placed an excessive trust in ecclesial structures and programmes, in the distribution of powers and functions; but what will happen if salt loses its flavor?”
“In order for this not to happen,” the Pope said, “it is necessary to proclaim anew with vigor and joy the event of the death and resurrection of Christ, the heart of Christianity, the fulcrum and mainstay of our faith, the firm lever of our certainties, the strong wind that sweeps away all fear and indecision, all doubt and human calculation.”
“The resurrection of Christ assures us that no adverse power will ever be able to destroy the Church,” Pope Benedict underscored.
He then exhorted the faithful, saying “Never doubt his presence! Always seek the Lord Jesus, grow in friendship with him, receive him in Communion.”
“Learn to listen to his word and also to recognize him in the poor. Live your lives with joy and enthusiasm, sure of his presence and of his unconditional, generous friendship, faithful even to death on the cross,” the Pope urged.
“Bear witness to all of the joy that his strong yet gentle presence evokes, starting with your contemporaries,” he added.
“Tell them that it is beautiful to be a friend of Jesus and that it is well worth following him. With your enthusiasm, demonstrate that, among all the different ways of life that the world today seems to offer us – apparently all on the same level – the only way in which we find the true meaning of life and hence true and lasting joy, is by following Jesus.”
To read Pope Benedict's full homily, click here.