Pope Benedict XVI’s delivered his first homily to the people of God today, calling the faithful to fearlessly embrace Christ and to support each other in living the Gospel.
The Pope read his homily with strength and sincerity during the three-hour inauguration mass in St. Peter’s Square. His profound pastoral message was received with cheers and applause by the faithful.
Faced with the daunting task of leading the universal Church, the Pope expressed his conviction that he is not alone in his ministry. Rather, he is accompanied and sustained by the communion of saints and the prayers of the faithful, he told the 500,000-member crowd.
‘The Church is alive!’
He spoke with tenderness of Pope John Paul II and the sadness of the late pontiff’s final days and death. But he also pointed to the hope that was manifested during that time.
“During those sad days of the Pope’s illness and death, it became wonderfully evident to us that the Church is alive. And the Church is young,” the Pope said to spontaneous applause.
“She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future,” he said with enthusiasm. “The Church is alive and we are seeing it: we are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord promised his followers. The Church is alive – she is alive because Christ is alive, because He is truly risen.”
‘No need to present program of governance today’
While most had expected to hear the Pope outline the priorities he has set for his pontificate, he surprised and pleased the crowd in St. Peter’s Square by choosing to share with them a message that was fully pastoral instead.
“At this moment there is no need for me to present a program of governance. I was able to give an indication of what I see as my task in my message of April 20, and there will be other opportunities to do so,” he said as the crowd erupted in applause.
Instead, the Pope commented on the two most important liturgical symbols that represent the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry—the pallium and the Fisherman’s Ring.
The pallium, he said, woven in pure wool “is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life.
“The human race – every one of us – is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way,” he said. “What the Pallium indicates first and foremost is that we are all carried by Christ. But at the same time it invites us to carry one another. Hence, the pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd’s mission.
“The Church as a whole and all her pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert [of poverty, hunger, loneliness, emptiness, etc.], towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance,” he said.
The Pope also commented on the analogy of the fisherman.
“We are living in alienation, in the salt waters of suffering and death; in a sea of darkness without light. The net of the Gospel pulls us out of the waters of death and brings us into the splendor of God’s light, into true life,” he said.
“It is really true: as we follow Christ in this mission to be fishers of men, we must bring men and women out of the sea that is salted with so many forms of alienation and onto the land of life, into the light of God,” he continued.
The Pope once again referred to his particular call to seek Christian unity. “Both the image of the shepherd and that of the fisherman issue an explicit call to unity,” he said. The pontiff had already made mention of this goal as a priority in his first homily to the College of Cardinals earlier this week.
‘Be not afraid!’
Pope Benedict concluded by sharing his reflections of Pope John Paul II’s inauguration 26 years ago and recalling the words that he spoke that day: "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!"
Pope John Paul “was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free,” said Pope Benedict.
“Yes, he would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased. But he would not have taken away anything that pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society,” he said firmly.
He also addressed the fears that people, especially youth, have about fully embracing Christ and his message.
“If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great,” he assured them. “Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.
“And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything,” the Pope emphasized.
“When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life,” he concluded.
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