Pope Benedict gave his welcome and blessing to over 7,000 Catholics from southern Italy on July 2. The pilgrims from the Diocese of Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Fonti are visiting Rome as part of their diocesan synod, a time of reflection on the local Church’s future.
The Pope told them that the synod was an event which gave them the chance to “live the experience of being ‘People of God,’ of being Church, a pilgrim community in history moving towards its eschatological fulfillment.”
He also spoke to them about the true nature of the Church, pointing out that it is “not a social or charitable organization.”
“It is the community of God, the community that believes, loves and adores the Lord Jesus, opens its ‘sail’ to the breath of the Holy Spirit and, because of this, is a community that is capable of evangelizing,” he explained to the pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall.
The diocese of Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Fonti is situated in the Puglia region of Italy – the "heel" in the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. Pilgrims started arriving in Rome from first thing in the morning, with most undertaking the five-hour journey by coach.
In his remarks to the pilgrims, the Pope recognized that the present era is “marked by light and shadows” in which many people suffer “deep existential distress” leading to “a turning in on self, narcissism, a desire for possession and consumption, with feelings and affections disconnected from responsibility.”
The ultimate “cause of this confusion,” he said, was “the denial of the importance of the transcendent foundations of the relationship between man and God.”
To counter this, the Pope suggested, the Diocese of Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Fonti should use its synod to examine how well it is educating people in the Catholic faith.
A thorough religious education, he said, can help a person “make a real journey of faith, through the different stages of life, a journey in which - like the Virgin Mary - the person receives the Word of God deeply and puts it into practice, becoming a witness of the Gospel.”
The first school of this education, the Pope said, should be the home.
“Dear parents, be the first witnesses of the faith! Do not be afraid of difficulties, in the midst of which you are called to carry out your mission. You are not alone!”
Finally, he urged priests to cooperate with families in this task by proclaiming “the Gospel with courage and loyalty, being witnesses to the mercy of God and guided by the Holy Spirit.”
The Pope concluded by entrusting the diocese to the protection of Mary, the mother of Jesus, before imparting his apostolic blessing.