.- Pope Benedict XVI made a one-day pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Loreto in Italy to entrust the forthcoming Synod of Bishops and Year of Faith to the Virgin Mary.
“Mother of the ‘yes,’ you who heard Jesus, speak to us of him; tell us of your journey, that we may follow him on the path of faith; help us to proclaim him, that each person may welcome him and become the dwelling place of God,” the Pope said during Mass in the town’s main square, the Piazza della Madonna di Loreto.
The pastoral visit also imitated the pilgrimage made 50 years ago by Blessed Pope John XXIII on the eve of the opening of the Second Vatican Council when he also entrusted the gathering to Christ’s mother.
Pope Benedict placed both the Synod of Bishops on new evangelization and the Year of Faith in the hands of Mary. The synod will last from October 7 to 28, while the Year of Faith begins on Oct. 11, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.
Pope Benedict recalled how his predecessor Bl. John XXIII affirmed that the purpose of the council was “to spread ever wider the beneficial impact of the incarnation and redemption in all spheres of life.”
This goal, the current Pope said, “resounds today with particular urgency.”
“Without God, man ultimately chooses selfishness over solidarity and love, material things over values, having over being. We must return to God, so that man may return to being man,” he urged.
Loreto has been a popular pilgrimage site since the 13th century when the house of the Holy Family was transferred to Loreto by the local aristocratic Angelos family, just before the final expulsion of the Christian crusaders from the Holy Land. Recent scientific research has tended to corroborate this historic version of events. Local legend, however, also likes to ascribe the transfer of the stone dwelling to the holy angels.
As the home where Mary was born, grew up and received the Annunciation from the Archangel Gabriel, the holy house of Loreto has always been strongly associated with the incarnation of Christ.
“As we contemplate Mary, we must ask if we too wish to be open to the Lord, if we wish to offer him our life as his dwelling place,” Pope Benedict explained. Believers must also ask if “we are afraid that the presence of God may somehow place limits on our freedom, if we wish to set aside a part of our life in such a way that it belongs only to us.”
Life with Christ, though, is not enslavement, he said, but genuine freedom, since “it is precisely God who liberates our liberty, he frees it from being closed in on itself, from the thirst for power.” It is God who opens up the dimensions in life that fulfill us, such as “the gift of self, of love, which in turn becomes service and sharing.”
Just as Mary gave her free consent to God within the holy house of Loreto, we too should realize that “grace does not eliminate freedom; on the contrary it creates and sustains it,” the Pope said. “Faith removes nothing from the human creature,” but instead “permits his full and final realization.”
Prior to celebrating Mass, Pope Benedict spent time adoring the Blessed Sacrament and praying before the shrine of Our Lady of Loreto. Following Mass, he had lunch at the local John Paul II Center before departing back to Rome.