Over 100 thousand people filled St. Peter's Square with tremendous enthusiasm to pray with Pope Benedict XVI at noon today. Tens of thousands of members of the Italian Catholic Action league came from all parts of Italy to meet the Vicar of Christ on the occasion of its 140th anniversary.
Before reciting the Regina Coeli prayer, Pope Benedict likened the enthusiasm of the crowd to an "open air upper room" where the disciples waited and prayed with Mary in the days leading up to Pentecost. Today is celebrated as the feast of the Ascension in several countries, including Italy.
The Pope spoke about the Ascension of Jesus who, he said, "came into the world to bring man to God, not as a philosopher or a master of wisdom - but really, as pastor who wants to bring the sheep back."
"God in man, man in God: This is not merely a theoretical truth, but is real. So the Christian hope, founded in Christ, is not an illusion but, as stated in the Letter to the Hebrews' is the "anchor of our lives' (cf Heb 6:19), an anchor that penetrates Heaven where Christ has gone before us."
The Pope then turned his thoughts to Mary, whose presence in our midst he said, is part of the "solid anchoring" for our existence.
"Turning our gaze to you, like the first disciples, we are immediately brought back to the reality of Jesus: the Mother refers to the Son, who is no longer physically among us, but awaits us in the house of the Father. Jesus invites us not to stay to look up, but to stand together united in prayer, to invoke the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only, in fact, to the one who "is born again from above", by the Spirit of God, is the gate of the kingdom of heaven open. (cf Jn3:3-5); and the first "reborn from above" is the Virgin Mary. To her, therefore, we turn in the fullness of Easter joy."
At the end of the Regina Coeli began the meeting with the Catholic Action League.
Benedict XVI called on members of the Catholic Action league to witness holiness in the world by remaining true to the deep roots of faith, adhering fully to the Word of God, by unconditional love for the Church, and participating with vigilance in civic life.
He urged members of the group to respond "generously to this call to holiness", in keeping with the appropriate vocation as lay people, and to "to serve selflessly the cause of the common good, for the building of a just ordering of society and the State."
In his final exhortation before imparting his apostolic blessing, the Pope again called on all present to be "courageous witnesses" in confronting the "relativistic, hedonistic and consumerist mindset" of society, to "respond without fear, always trusting in the mercy of God," to the call of the Church, who "calls people to a point of heroism of holiness."