.- Over 50,000 people gathered a the Vatican yesterday for the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, which Pope Benedict called an integral dimension to the faith and prayer life of all Christians.
The Pope’s words came prior to praying the Regina Coeli, which replaces the traditional Angelus prayer during the season of Easter. He used the opportunity to praise the late John Paul II, who both initiated the yearly Divine Mercy celebration and died on its occasion one year ago.
Benedict began his address to the crowd by quoting the Gospel of John, which recounts Jesus' appearance to His disciples gathered in the Upper Room on the evening of the "first day of the week" and then again "eight days later."
"From the very beginning,” the Holy Father said, “the Christian community began to live according to a weekly rhythm marked by the meeting with the Risen Lord."
He pointed out that this rhythm is underlined by the Vatican Council II Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium", which says, "By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ's resurrection, the Church celebrates the Paschal mystery every eighth day; with good reason this, then, bears the name of the Lord's day or Sunday."
Pope Benedict went on to say that the wounds which Christ showed the apostles on both of the recorded occasions "are an inexhaustible fount of faith, hope and love from which everyone can draw, especially the souls that most thirst for divine mercy."
Likewise, he recalled his predecessor John Paul II, who "wished the Sunday after Easter to be particularly dedicated to Divine Mercy; and Providence ordained that he himself should die on the eve of that day."
The pontiff added that "The mystery of God's merciful love lay at the center of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor. We particularly recall his 1980 Encyclical 'Dives in misericordia' and his dedication of the new Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland in 2002.”
“The words he pronounced on that occasion”, Benedict mused, “were like a summary of his entire Magisterium, highlighting how the cult of divine mercy is no secondary form of devotion, but an integral dimension of a Christian's faith and prayer."
The Pope concluded his Sunday address by calling on "Most Holy Mary, Mother of the Church ... to enable all Christians fully to experience Sunday as 'the Easter of the week,' savoring the beauty of the encounter with the Risen Lord and drawing from the fount of His merciful love in order to be apostles of His peace."
He also recalled that Sunday was the first day of Easter for the world’s Eastern Christians. "In the festive climate of this day," he said, "I cannot fail to recall that many of these people - in Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria - are suffering because of the flooding of recent days.”
He assured them of his closeness to them “in prayer” and expressed his “heartfelt hope that, with a contribution from everyone, they may soon overcome these difficult moments."