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Easter 2007

Papa Benedetto's Homily at the Easter Vigil

- in Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

From ancient times the liturgy of Easter day has begun with the words: Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum – I arose, and am still with you; you have set your hand upon me. The liturgy sees these as the first words spoken by the Son to the Father after his resurrection, after his return from the night of death into the world of the living. The hand of the Father upheld him even on that night, and thus He could rise again.

These words are taken from Psalm 138, where originally they had a different meaning. That Psalm is a song of wonder at God’s omnipotence and omnipresence, a hymn of trust in the God who never allows us to fall from his hands. And his hands are good hands. The Psalmist imagines himself journeying to the farthest reaches of the cosmos – and what happens to him? “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me’…, even the darkness is not dark to you…; for darkness is as light with you” (Ps 138[139]: 8-12).

On Easter day the Church tells us that Jesus Christ made that journey to the ends of the universe for our sake. In the Letter to the Ephesians we read that He descended to the depths of the earth, and that the One who descended is also the One who has risen far above the heavens, that He might fill all things. The vision of the Psalm thus became reality. In the impenetrable gloom of death Christ came like light – the night became as bright as day and the darkness became as light. And so the Church can rightly consider these words of thanksgiving and trust as words spoken by the Risen Lord to his Father: “Yes, I have journeyed to the uttermost depths of the earth, to the abyss of death, and brought them light; now I have risen and I am upheld for ever by your hands.” But these words of the Risen Christ to the Father have also become words which the Lord speaks to us: “I arose and now I am still with you,” he says to each of us. My hand upholds you. Wherever you may fall, you will always fall into my hands. I am present even at the door of death. Where no one can accompany you further, and where you can bring nothing, even there I am waiting for you, and for you I will change darkness into light.

These words of the Psalm, read as a dialogue between the Risen Christ and ourselves, also explain what takes place at Baptism. Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life. The passage of the Letter to the Romans which we have just read says, in words filled with mystery, that in Baptism we have been “grafted” onto Christ by likeness to his death. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ – He takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through Him, with Him and in Him; so that we live with Him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands, and so we can say with St Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” If we offer ourselves in this way, if we accept, as it were, the death of our very selves, this means that the frontier between death and life is no longer absolute. On either side of death we are with Christ and so, from that moment forward, death is no longer a real boundary. Paul tells us this very clearly in his Letter to the Philippians: “For me to live is Christ. To be with him (by dying) is gain. Yet if I remain in this life, I can still labour fruitfully. And so I am hard pressed between these two things. To depart – by being executed – and to be with Christ; that is far better. But to remain in this life is more necessary on your account” (cf 1:21ff). On both sides of the frontier of death, Paul is with Christ – there is no longer a real difference. Yes, it is true: “Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me” (Ps 138 [139]: 5). To the Romans Paul wrote: “No one … lives to himself and no one dies to himself… Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:7).

Dear baptised, this is what is new about Baptism: our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves. As a result we are never alone, even in death, but are always with the One who lives for ever. In Baptism, in the company of Christ, we have already made that cosmic journey to the very abyss of death. At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go – He who is Life itself.

Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus’ descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!” The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die – this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. “The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light” (cf Ps 138[139] 12). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men who were waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jn 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings – with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. Through his death He takes by the hand Adam, all those who await him, and brings them to the light.

But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal – what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God’s memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. “Out of the depths I cry to you…” Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free. In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil. Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends. The power by which he brings us with him. In union with his love, borne aloft on the wings of love, as persons of love, let us descend with Him into the world’s darkness, knowing that in this way we will also rise up with Him. On this night, then, let us pray: Lord, show us that love is stronger than hatred, that love is stronger than death. Descend into the darkness and the abyss of our modern age, and take by the hand those who await you. Bring them to the light! In my own dark nights, be with me to bring me forth! Help me, help all of us, to descend with you into the darkness of all those people who are still waiting for you, who out of the depths cry unto you! Help us to bring them your light! Help us to say the “yes” of love, the love that makes us descend with you and, in so doing, also to rise with you. Amen!

BXVI - Saint Peter's Basilica, 7 April 2007

Papa Benedetto's Homily at Mass in Pavia on the 3rd Sunday of Easter
"Orti Borromaici" Esplanade, Pavia, Italy - 22 April 2007- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Yesterday afternoon, I met the diocesan Community of Vigevano and the heart of my pastoral visit was the Eucharistic concelebration in Piazza Ducale; today, I have the joy of visiting your Diocese and a culminating moment of our encounter is also here at Holy Mass. I greet with affection my Brothers who are concelebrating with me: Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan, Bishop Giovanni Giudici, Pastor of your Diocese, Bishop emeritus Giovanni Volta, the retired Pastor, and the other Prelates of Lombardy. I am grateful to the Government Representatives and local Administrations for their presence. I address my cordial greeting to the priests, deacons, Religious, leaders of lay associations, the young people, the sick and all the faithful, and I extend my thoughts to the entire population of this ancient and noble City, and of the Diocese.

During the Easter Season, the Church presents to us, Sunday after Sunday, some passages from the preaching with which after Easter the Apostles, particularly Peter, invited Israel to have faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen One, thereby founding the Church. In today's reading, the Apostles stand before the Sanhedrin - before that institution which, having sentenced Jesus to death, could not tolerate that this same Jesus was now beginning to be active again through the Apostles' preaching. They could not tolerate that his saving power was once more making itself felt and that his Name was attracting people who believed in him as the promised Redeemer. They accused the Apostles. Their accusation is: "You want to make us responsible for that man's blood". Peter, however, reacted to this accusation with a brief catechesis on the essence of Christian faith: "No, we do not want to make you responsible for his blood. The effect of the death and resurrection of Jesus is quite different. God has exalted him as "Head and Saviour' of all, and of you, too, his People of Israel". And where will this "Head" lead us? What does this "Saviour" bring? He leads us, St Peter tells us, to conversion - creates for us the leeway and opportunity to mend our ways and repent, begin again. And He gives us forgiveness for our sins: He introduces us into the right relationship with God, hence, into the right relationship of each person with him or her self and with others.

This brief catechesis of Peter's did not only apply to the Sanhedrin. It speaks to us all, for Jesus, the Risen One, is also alive today. And for all generations, for all men, He is the "Head" who shows us the way and the "Saviour" who straightens out our lives. The two terms: "conversion" and "forgiveness of sins", which correspond to the titles of Christ "Head", archegòs in Greek, and "Saviour", are the key words of Peter's catechesis, words intended to move our hearts too, here and now. And what do they mean? The path we must take - the path that Jesus points out to us - is called "conversion". But what is it? What must we do? In every life conversion has its own form, because each man is something new and no one is merely a copy of another. But in the course of history, the Lord has sent us models of conversion to whom we can look to find guidance. We could thus look at Peter himself to whom the Lord said at the Last Supper: "[W]hen you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22: 32). We could look at Paul as a great convert. The City of Pavia speaks of one of the greatest converts in the history of the Church: St Aurelius Augustine. He died on 28 August in 430 in the port town of Hippo, in Africa, at that time surrounded and besieged by the Vandals. After the considerable turmoil of a turbulent history, the King of the Longobards acquired Augustine's remains for the City of Pavia so that today they belong to this City in a special way and, in it and from it, have something special to say to all of us, to humanity, but to all of us here in particular.

In his book, Confessions, Augustine touchingly described the development of his conversion which achieved its goal with Baptism, administered to him by Bishop Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan. Readers of his Confessions can share in the journey that Augustine had to make in a long inner struggle to receive at last, at the baptismal font on the night before Easter 387, the Sacrament which marked the great turning point in his life. A careful examination of the course of St Augustine's life enables one to perceive that his conversion was not an event of a single moment but, precisely, a journey. And one can see that this journey did not end at the baptismal font. Just as prior to his baptism Augustine's life was a journey of conversion, after it too, although differently, his life continued to be a journey of conversion - until his last illness, when he had the penitential Psalms hung on the walls so that he might have them always before his eyes, and when he excluded himself from receiving the Eucharist in order to go back once again over the path of his repentance and receive salvation from Christ's hands as a gift of God's mercy. Thus, we can rightly speak of Augustine's "conversions", which actually consisted of one important conversion in his quest for the Face of Christ and then in the journeying on with Him.

I would like to mention briefly three important landmarks in this process of conversion, three "conversions". The first fundamental conversion was the inner pathway towards Christianity, towards the "yes" of the faith and of Baptism. What was the essential aspect of this pathway? On the one hand, Augustine was a son of his time, deeply conditioned by the customs and passions prevalent then as well as by all the questions and problems that beset any young man. He lived like all the others, yet with a difference: he continued to be a person constantly seeking. He was never satisfied with life as it presented itself and as so many people lived it. The question of the truth tormented him ceaselessly. He longed to discover truth. He wanted to succeed in knowing what man is; where we ourselves come from, where we are going and how we can find true life. He desired to find the life that was right and not merely to live blindly, without meaning or purpose. Passion for truth is the true key phrase of his life. Passion for the truth truly guided him. There is a further peculiarity: anything that did not bear the name of Christ did not suffice for him. Love for this name - he tells us - he had tasted from his mother's milk (cf Confessions, 3, 4, 8). And he always believed - sometimes rather vaguely, at other times, more clearly - that God exists and takes care of us (cf Confessions, 6, 5, 8). But to truly know this God and to become really familiar with this Jesus Christ and reach the point of saying "yes" to Him with all its consequences - this was the great interior struggle of his youthful years. St Augustine tells us that through Platonic philosophy he learned and recognized that "in the beginning was the Word" - the Logos, creative reason. But philosophy, which showed him that the beginning of all things was creative reason, did not show him any path on which to reach it; this Logos remained remote and intangible. Only through faith in the Church did he later find the second essential truth: the Word, the Logos, was made flesh. Thus, He touches us and we touch Him. The humility of God's Incarnation - this is the important step - must be equalled by the humility of our faith, which lays down its self-important pride and bows upon entering the community of Christ's Body; which lives with the Church and through her alone can enter into concrete and bodily communion with the living God. I do not have to say how deeply all this concerns us: to remain seekers; to refuse to be satisfied with what everyone else says and does; to keep our gaze fixed on the eternal God and on Jesus Christ; to learn the humility of faith in the corporeal Church of Jesus Christ, of the Logos Incarnate.

Augustine described his second conversion at the end of the 10th book of his Confessions with the words: "Terrified by my sins and the pile of my misery, I had racked my heart and had meditated, taking flight to live in solitude. But you forbade me and comforted me, saying: "That is why Christ died for all, so that those who live should not live for themselves, but for him who died for them' (II Cor 5: 15)"; Confessions, 10, 43, 70). What had happened? After his baptism, Augustine had decided to return to Africa and with some of his friends had founded a small monastery there. His life was then to be totally dedicated to conversation with God and reflection on and contemplation of the beauty and truth of his Word. Thus, he spent three happy years in which he believed he had achieved the goal of his life; in that period, a series of valuable philosophical and theological works came into being. In 391, four years after his baptism, he went to the port town of Hippo to meet a friend whom he desired to win over for his monastery. But he was recognized at the Sunday liturgy in the cathedral in which he took part. It was not by chance that the Bishop of the city, a man of Greek origin who was not fluent in Latin and found preaching rather a struggle, said in his homily that he was hoping to find a priest to whom he could entrust the task of preaching. People instantly grabbed hold of Augustine and forced him forward to be ordained a priest to serve the city. Immediately after his forced ordination, Augustine wrote to Bishop Valerius: "I was constrained... to accept second place at the helm, when as yet I knew not how to handle an oar.... And from this derived the tears which some of my brethren perceived me shedding in the city at the time of my ordination" (cf Letter 21, 1ff.). Augustine's beautiful dream of a contemplative life had vanished. As a result, his life had fundamentally changed. He could now no longer dedicate himself solely to meditation in solitude. He had to live with Christ for everyone. He had to express his sublime knowledge and thoughts in the thoughts and language of the simple people in his city. The great philosophical work of an entire lifetime, of which he had dreamed, was to remain unwritten. Instead, however, we have been given something far more precious: the Gospel translated into the language of everyday life and of his sufferings. These were now part of his daily life, which he described as the following: "reprimanding the undisciplined, comforting the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, refuting opponents... encouraging the negligent, soothing the quarrelsome, helping the needy, liberating the oppressed, expressing approval to the good, tolerating the wicked and loving all" (Sermon 340, 3). "Continuously preaching, arguing, rebuking, building God's house, having to manage for everyone - who would not shrink from such a heavy burden?" (Sermon 339, 4). This was the second conversion which this man, struggling and suffering, was constantly obliged to make: to be available to everyone, time and again, and not for his own perfection; time and again, to lay down his life with Christ so that others might find Him, true Life.

Further, there was a third, decisive phase on the pathway of conversion of St Augustine. After his Ordination to the priesthood he had requested a vacation period to study the Sacred Scriptures in greater detail. His first series of homilies, after this pause for reflection, were on the Sermon on the Mount; he explained the way to an upright life, "the perfect life", pointed out by Christ in a new way. He presented it as a pilgrimage to the holy mountain of the Word of God. In these homilies it is possible to further perceive all the enthusiasm of faith newly discovered and lived; his firm conviction that the baptized, in living totally in accordance with Christ's message, can precisely be "perfect" in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount. Around 20 years later, Augustine wrote a book called 'The Retractations', in which he critically reviewed all the works he had thus far written, adding corrections wherever he had in the meantime learned something new. With regard to the ideal of perfection in his homilies on the Sermon on the Mount, he noted: "In the meantime, I have understood that one alone is truly perfect and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are totally fulfilled in one alone: Jesus Christ himself. "The whole Church, on the other hand - all of us, including the Apostles - must pray every day: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" (cf Retract. I 19, 1-3). Augustine had learned a further degree of humility - not only the humility of integrating his great thought into the humble faith of the Church, not only the humility of translating his great knowledge into the simplicity of announcement, but also the humility of recognizing that he himself and the entire pilgrim Church needed and continually need the merciful goodness of a God who forgives every day. And we, he added, liken ourselves to Christ, the only Perfect One, to the greatest possible extent when we become, like him, people of mercy.

Let us now thank God for the great light that shines out from St Augustine's wisdom and humility and pray the Lord to give to us all, day after day, the conversion we need, and thus lead us toward true life. Amen."

Papa Benedetto's Homily at the Shrine of Aparecida on 6th Sunday of Easter
at Holy Mass in Brazil for the Inauguration of the 5th General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America & the Caribbean - on 13 May 2007 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear priests, and all of you, brothers and sisters in the Lord!
There are no words to express my joy in being here with you to celebrate this solemn Eucharist on the occasion of the opening of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. I greet each of you most warmly, particularly Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis, whom I thank for the words he addressed to me in the name of the entire assembly, and the Cardinal Presidents of this General Conference. My respectful greeting goes to the civil and military Authorities who have honoured us with their presence. From this Shrine my thoughts reach out, full of affection and prayer, to all those who are spiritually united with us, especially the communities of consecrated life, the young people belonging to various associations and movements, the families, and also the sick and the elderly. To all I say: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:3).

I see it as a special gift of Providence that this Holy Mass is being celebrated at this time and in this place. The time is the liturgical season of Easter; on this Sixth Sunday of Easter, as Pentecost rapidly approaches, the Church is called to intensify her prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The place is the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, the Marian heart of Brazil: Mary welcomes us to this Upper Room and, as our Mother and Teacher, helps us to pray trustingly to God with one voice. This liturgical celebration lays a most solid foundation for the 5th Conference, setting it on the firm basis of prayer and the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis. Only the love of Christ, poured out by the Holy Spirit, can make this meeting an authentic ecclesial event, a moment of grace for this Continent and for the whole world. This afternoon I will be able to discuss more fully the implications of the theme of your Conference. But now, let us leave space for the word of God which we have the joy of receiving with open and docile hearts, like Mary, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit Christ may once again take flesh in the “today” of our history.

The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, refers to the so-called “Council of Jerusalem”, which dealt with the question as to whether the observance of the Mosaic Law was to be imposed on those pagans who had become Christians. The reading leaves out the discussion between “the apostles and the elders” (v 4-21) and reports the final decision, which was then written down in the form of a letter and entrusted to two delegates for delivery to the community in Antioch (v 22-29). This passage from Acts is highly appropriate for us, since we too are assembled here for an ecclesial meeting. It reminds us of the importance of community discernment with regard to the great problems and issues encountered by the Church along her way. These are clarified by the “apostles” and “elders” in the light of the Holy Spirit, who, as today’s Gospel says, calls to mind the teaching of Jesus Christ (cf Jn 14:26) and thus helps the Christian community to advance in charity towards the fullness of truth (cf Jn 16:13). The Church’s leaders discuss and argue, but in a constant attitude of religious openness to Christ’s word in the Holy Spirit. Consequently, at the end they can say: “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28).

This is the “method” by which we operate in the Church, whether in small gatherings or in great ones. It is not only a question of procedure: it is a reflection of the Church’s very nature as a mystery of communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit. In the case of the General Conferences of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, the first, held in 1955 in Rio de Janeiro, merited a special Letter from Pope Pius XII, of venerable memory; in later Conferences, including the present one, the Bishop of Rome has travelled to the site of the continental gathering in order to preside over its initial phase. With gratitude and devotion let us remember the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II, who brought to the Conferences of Medellín, Puebla and Santo Domingo the witness of the closeness of the universal Church to the Churches in Latin America, which constitute, proportionally, the majority of the Catholic community.

“To the Holy Spirit and to us”. This is the Church: we, the community of believers, the People of God, with its Pastors who are called to lead the way; together with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father, sent in the name of his Son Jesus, the Spirit of the one who is “greater” than all, given to us through Christ, who became “small” for our sake. The Paraclete Spirit, our Ad-vocatus, Defender and Consoler, makes us live in God’s presence, as hearers of his word, freed from all anxiety and fear, bearing in our hearts the peace which Jesus left us, the peace that the world cannot give (cf Jn 14:26-27). The Spirit accompanies the Church on her long pilgrimage between Christ’s first and second coming. “I go away, and I will come to you” (Jn 14:28), Jesus tells his Apostles. Between Christ’s “going away” and his “return” is the time of the Church, his Body. 2000 years have passed so far, including these five centuries and more in which the Church has made her pilgrim way on the American Continent, filling believers with Christ’s life through the sacraments and sowing in these lands the good seed of the Gospel, which has yielded thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. The time of the Church, the time of the Spirit: the Spirit is the Teacher who trains disciples: He teaches them to love Jesus; He trains them to hear his word and to contemplate his countenance; He conforms them to Christ’s sacred humanity, a humanity which is poor in spirit, afflicted, meek, hungry for justice, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, persecuted for justice’s sake (cf Mt 5:3-10). By the working of the Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes the “Way” along which the disciple walks. “If a man loves me, he will keep my word”, Jesus says at the beginning of today’s Gospel. “The word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me” (Jn 14:23-24). Just as Jesus makes known the words of the Father, so the Spirit reminds the Church of Christ’s own words (cf Jn 14:26). And just as love of the Father led Jesus to feed on his will, so our love for Jesus is shown by our obedience to his words. Jesus’ fidelity to the Father’s will can be communicated to his disciples through the Holy Spirit, who pours the love of God into their hearts (cf Rom 5:5).

The New Testament presents Christ as the missionary of the Father. Especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus often speaks of himself in relation to the Father who sent him into the world. And so in today’s Gospel he says: “the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me” (Jn 14:24). At this moment, dear friends, we are invited to turn our gaze to him, for the Church’s mission exists only as a prolongation of Christ’s mission: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21). The evangelist stresses, in striking language, that the passing on of this commission takes place in the Holy Spirit: “he breathed on them and said to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (Jn 20:22). Christ’s mission is accomplished in love. He has kindled in the world the fire of God’s love (cf Lk 12:49). It is Love that gives life: and so the Church has been sent forth to spread Christ’s Love throughout the world, so that individuals and peoples “may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). To you, who represent the Church in Latin America, today I symbolically entrust my Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, in which I sought to point out to everyone the essence of the Christian message. The Church considers herself the disciple and missionary of this Love: missionary only insofar as she is a disciple, capable of being attracted constantly and with renewed wonder by the God who has loved us and who loves us first (cf 1 Jn 4:10). The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction”: just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfils her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters! This is the priceless treasure that is so abundant in Latin America, this is her most precious inheritance: faith in the God who is Love, who has shown us his face in Jesus Christ. You believe in the God who is Love: this is your strength, which overcomes the world, the joy that nothing and no one can ever take from you, the peace that Christ won for you by his Cross! This is the faith that has made America the “Continent of Hope.” Not a political ideology, not a social movement, not an economic system: faith in the God who is Love - who took flesh, died and rose in Jesus Christ - is the authentic basis for this hope which has brought forth such a magnificent harvest from the time of the first evangelization until today, as attested by the ranks of Saints and Blesseds whom the Spirit has raised up throughout the Continent. Pope John Paul II called you to a new evangelization, and you accepted his commission with your customary generosity and commitment. I now confirm it with you, and in the words of this Fifth Conference I say to you: be faithful disciples so as to be courageous and effective missionaries.

The second reading sets before us the magnificent vision of the heavenly Jerusalem. It is an image of awesome beauty, where nothing is superfluous, but everything contributes to the perfect harmony of the holy City. In his vision John sees the city “coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God” (Rev 21:10). And since the glory of God is Love, the heavenly Jerusalem is the icon of the Church, utterly holy and glorious, without spot or wrinkle (cf Eph 5:27), permeated at her heart and in every part of her by the presence of the God who is Love. She is called a “bride”, “the bride of the Lamb” (Rev 20:9), because in her is fulfilled the nuptial figure which pervades biblical revelation from beginning to end. The City and Bride is the locus of God’s full communion with humanity; she has no need of a temple or of any external source of light, because the indwelling presence of God and of the Lamb illuminates her from within.

This magnificent icon has an eschatological value: it expresses the mystery of the beauty that is already the essential form of the Church, even if it has not yet arrived at its fullness. It is the goal of our pilgrimage, the homeland which awaits us and for which we long. Seeing that beauty with the eyes of faith, contemplating it and yearning for it, must not serve as an excuse for avoiding the historical reality in which the Church lives as she shares the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted (cf Gaudium et Spes, 1). If the beauty of the heavenly Jerusalem is the glory of God - his love in other words - then it is in charity, and in charity alone, that we can approach it and to a certain degree dwell within it even now. Whoever loves the Lord Jesus and keeps his word, already experiences in this world the mysterious presence of the Triune God. We heard this in the Gospel: “we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23). Every Christian is therefore called to become a living stone of this splendid “dwelling place of God with men”. What a magnificent vocation!

A Church totally enlivened and impelled by the love of Christ, the Lamb slain for love, is the image within history of the heavenly Jerusalem, prefiguring the holy city that is radiant with the glory of God. It releases an irresistible missionary power which is the power of holiness. Through the prayers of the Virgin Mary, may the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean be abundantly clothed with power from on high (cf Lk 24:49), in order to spread throughout this Continent and the whole world the holiness of Christ. To him be glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen."