Pope Benedict XVI


Question and Answer Session With Parish Priests
H.H. Benedict XVI
February 26, 2009

Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome for a question-and-answer session.

Question 1 - "Let Us Not Lose the Simplicity of the Truth"
[Father Gianpiero Palmieri:]

Holy Father, I am Father Gianpiero Palmieri, pastor of St. Frumenzio ai Prati Fiscali parish. I would like to ask you a question on the evangelizing mission of the Christian community and, in particular, on the role and formation of priests within this evangelizing mission.

To explain myself, I will start with a personal experience. When I was a young priest, I began my pastoral service in a parish and school; I felt strong because of the weight of my studies and the formation received, well affirmed in the realm of my convictions of the systems of thought. A believing and wise woman, seeing me in action, shook her head smiling and said to me: "Father Gianpiero, when will you wear long pants, when will you be a man?" It was an incident that remained engraved in my heart.

That wise woman was trying to explain to me that life, the real world, God himself, are greater and more surprising than the concepts we elaborate. She was inviting me to listen to the human to try to understand, to comprehend, without being in a hurry to judge. She was asking me to learn how to enter into relationship with reality, without fears, because reality is inhabited by Christ himself who acts mysteriously in his Spirit.

In face of the evangelizing mission today, we priests feel unprepared and inadequate, always with short pants. Whether under the cultural aspect -- detailed knowledge of the great guidelines of contemporary thought escapes us, in its positivity and its limits -- or, especially, under the human aspect. We run the risk of being too schematic, incapable of knowing in a wise way the heart of the men of today. Is not the proclamation of salvation in Jesus also the proclamation of the new man Jesus, Son of God, in which our poor humanity is redeemed, made genuine, transformed by God?

Therefore, this is my question: do you share these thoughts? Many people wounded by life come to our Christian communities. What venues and ways can we invent to help others' humanity in the encounter with Jesus? And how can we priests construct a beautiful and fruitful humanity? Thank you, Your Holiness.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you! Dear brothers, first of all I would like to express my great joy at being with you, parish priests of Rome: my pastors, we are in family. The cardinal vicar has told me that it is a moment of spiritual rest. And in this sense I am also grateful to be able to begin Lent with a moment of spiritual rest, of spiritual breath, in contact with you.

And he also said: We are together so that you can tell me your experiences, your sufferings, also your successes and joys. Therefore, I wouldn't say that the oracle speaks here, to whom you ask questions. We are, rather, in a family exchange, in which it is very important for me to know, through you, life in the parishes, your experiences with the Word of God in the context of our world today. I also would like to learn, to come close to the reality, of which in the Apostolic Palace one is also a bit removed. And this is also the limit of my answers. You live in direct contact, day by day, with today's world; I live in diversified contacts, which are very useful.

For example, I have now had the ad limina visit of the bishops of Nigeria, and I have been able to see, through individuals the life of the Church in an important country of Africa, with 140 million inhabitants, a large number of Catholics, and touch the joys and also the sufferings of the Church.

But for me this is obviously a spiritual rest, because it is a Church as we see her in the Acts of the Apostles. A Church where there is a fresh joy of having found Christ, of having found God's Messiah. A Church that lives and grows each day. People are happy that they have found Christ. They have vocations, so they can give fidei donum priests to the different countries of the world. And to see, not a tired Church, as we often find in Europe, but a young Church, full of the joy of the Holy Spirit, is certainly a spiritual refreshment. However, with all these universal experiences, it is also important for me to see my diocese, the problems and all the realities you live in this diocese.

In this sense, I am essentially in agreement with you: It is not enough to preach or to do pastoral work with the precious cargo acquired in theology studies. This is important, it is essential, but it must be personalized: from academic knowledge, which we have learned and also reflected upon, in a personal vision of my life, in order to reach other people. In this sense, I would like to say that it is important, on one hand, to make the great word of the faith concrete with our personal experience of faith, in our meeting with our parishioners, but also to not lose its simplicity. Naturally, great words of the tradition -- such as sacrifice of expiation, redemption of Christ's sacrifice, original sin -- are incomprehensible as such today. We cannot simply work with great formulas, [although] truths, without putting them in the context of today's world. Through study and what the masters of theology and our personal experience with God tell us, we must translate these great words, so that they enter into the proclamation of God to the man of today.

And, on the other hand, I would say that we must not conceal the simplicity of the Word of God in valuations that are too heavy for human approaches. I remember a friend who, after hearing homilies with long anthropological reflections in order to bring others near the Gospel, said: But I am not interested in these approaches, I want to understand what the Gospel says! And it seems to me that often instead of long summaries of approaches, it would be better to say -- I did so when I was still in my normal life: I don't like this Gospel, we are the opposite of what the Lord says! But what does it mean? If I say sincerely that at first glance I am not in agreement, I already have their attention: It is understood that I would like, as a man of today, to understand what the Lord is saying. Thus we can, without circumlocution, enter fully into the Word.

And we must also keep in mind, free of false simplifications, that the Twelve Apostles were fishermen, artisans, of the province of Galilee, without special preparation, without knowledge of the great Greek and Latin worlds. And yet they went to all the places of the Empire, even outside of it, to India, and proclaimed Christ with simplicity, with the force of simplicity of what is true. And this also seems important to me: Let us not lose the simplicity of the truth. God exists and he is not a distant, hypothetical being, rather, he is close, he has spoken to us, he has spoken to me. And so we say simply what it is and how naturally it should be explained and developed. However, we must not lose the awareness that we do not propose reflections, we do not propose a philosophy, but rather the simple proclamation of the God who has acted, and who has also acted with me.

And then, in regard to the Roman cultural context, which is absolutely necessary, I would say that the first assistance is our personal experience. We don't live on the moon. I am a man of this time if I live my faith sincerely in today's culture, being one who lives with today's media, with dialogues, with the realities of the economy, with everything; if I myself take seriously my own experience and try to personalize these realities in myself. Thus we'll be on the way to making ourselves understood also by others. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said in his book of reflections to his disciple, Pope Eugene: "Try to drink from your own fount, that is, from your own humanity."

If you are sincere with yourself and you begin to see in yourself what faith is, with your human experience in this time, drinking from your own well, as St. Bernard says, you can also say to others what must be said. And in this sense it seems important to me to be really attentive to today's world, but also to be attentive to the Lord in oneself: to be a man of this time and at the same time a believer in Christ, who in himself transforms the eternal message into a current message.

And who knows the men of today better than the parish priest? The sacristy is not in the world, but in the parish. And there, to the pastor, men often come normally, without a mask, without other pretexts, but in situations of suffering, infirmity, death, family issues. They come to the confessional unmasked, with their own being. It seems to me that no other profession gives this possibility of knowing man as he is in his humanity, and not in the role he has in society. In this sense, we can really study man in his depth, far from his roles, and we ourselves also learn about the human being, to be a man in the school of Christ. In this sense, I would say that it is absolutely important to know man, the man of today, in ourselves and in others, but always in attentive listening to the Lord and accepting in myself the seed of the Word, because in me it is transformed into wheat and is able to be communicated to others.

Question 2 - "To Be in the Church Means to Be in the Prospect of a Great Opening to the Future"
[Father Fabio Rosini:]

I am Father Fabio Rosini, parish priest of St. Francesca Romana all'Ardeatino. In the face of the present process of secularization and of its evident social and existential consequences, [and] the exhortation to the urgency of the first proclamation -- which on many occasions we have opportunely received from your magisterium, in admirable continuity with your venerable predecessor -- [the exhortation] to pastoral zeal for evangelization or re-evangelization, to the assumption of a missionary mentality, we have understood the importance of the conversion of ordinary pastoral action, no longer presupposing the faith of the masses and contenting ourselves with taking care of that portion of believers that perseveres, thank God, in the Christian life, but becoming involved more decisively and organically with the many lost, or at least disoriented, sheep.

In many and with different points of view, we Roman priests have tried to respond to this objective urgency to reignite or even ignite the faith. The experiences of first proclamation are multiplying, and there is no lack of very encouraging experiences. Personally, I can confirm how the Gospel, proclaimed with joy and frankness, takes no time to win the hearts of the men and women of this city, precisely because it is the truth and corresponds to what the human person most profoundly needs. The beauty of the Gospel and of the faith, in fact, if presented with kind authenticity, are evident in themselves. But the numeric result, perhaps surprisingly high, does not in itself guarantee the goodness of an initiative. There is no lack of examples in the history of the Church, including recently. A pastoral success, paradoxically, might conceal an error, a defect in its approach, which perhaps is not seen immediately.

That is why I want to ask you: What must be the indispensable criteria of this urgent action of evangelization? In your view, what are the elements that guarantee that one does not run in vain in the pastoral effort of proclamation to this generation contemporary to us? I ask you humbly to point out to us, in your prudent discernment, the parameters, the elements that must be respected and valued to be able to carry out an evangelizing endeavor that is genuinely Catholic and that bears fruits for the Church. My heartfelt thanks for your illumined magisterium. Bless us.

[Benedict XVI:]

I am happy to hear that this first proclamation is being made, which goes beyond the limits of the faithful community, of the parish, in search of the so-called lost sheep, that an attempt is being made to go to the man of today who lives without Christ, who has forgotten Christ, to proclaim the Gospel to him. And I am happy to hear that not only is this being done, but that numerically comforting successes also are obtained from this. I see, therefore, that you are able to talk to those people in which the faith must be re-ignited or even ignited.

I can give no recipes for this concrete endeavor, because there are different paths to follow, according to the individuals, their professions, the distinct situations. The Catechism points out the essence of what must be proclaimed. But it is he who knows the situations who must apply the indications, find a method to open hearts and invite persons to walk on the path with the Lord and with the Church.

You speak of the criteria of discernment so as not to run in vain. I would like to say first of all that the two parts are important. The community of the faithful is something precious that we must not underestimate -- even looking at the many who are far away -- the beautiful and positive reality that these faithful constitute, who say yes to the Lord in the Church, trying to live the faith, trying to follow in the footsteps of the Lord. We must help these faithful, as we said a moment ago responding to the first question, to see the presence of the faith, to understand that it is not something of the past, but that it shows the way today, it teaches how to live as a man. It is very important that these faithful really find in their parish priest a pastor who loves them and helps them to listen today to the Word of God, to understand that it is a Word for them and not only for people of the past or the future, to help them even more, in the sacramental life, in the experience of prayer, in listening to the Word of God, and on the path of justice and charity, because Christians should be the leaven of our society with so many problems, with so many dangers and with as much corruption as there is.

In this way I believe that they can also play a missionary role "without words," given that they are people who really live a just life. And thus they offer a testimony of how it is possible to live well on the paths indicated by the Lord. Our society needs precisely these communities that are able to live justice today, not only for themselves but for others. Persons who are able to live, as we heard in the first reading, the life. At the beginning, this reading says: "Choose life;" it's easy to say yes. But then it continues: "Your life is God." Therefore, to choose life is to choose the option for life, because it is the option for God. If there are persons or communities that make this choice of life and make visible the fact that the life they have chosen is really life, they give witness of very great value.

And I come to a second reflection. We need two elements for the proclamation: the Word and witness. As we know from the Lord himself, the Word is necessary, which says what he has said to us, which makes the truth of God appear, the presence of God in Christ, the path that opens before us. Hence, it is about proclamation in the present, as you have said, which translates the words of the past into the world of our experience. It is something that is absolutely indispensable, fundamental, with witness to give credibility to this Word, so that it does not appear to be only a pretty philosophy, or a pretty utopia, but rather a reality. A reality with which one can live, but not only this: a reality that makes one live. In this sense, I think that the witness of the believing community of the proclamation, as background to the Word, is of the greatest importance. With the Word we must open venues of experience of the faith to those who are seeking God. This is what the primitive Church did with the catechumens, which was not simply a catechesis, something doctrinal, but a place of progressive experience of the life of faith, in which the Word also opens, which becomes comprehensible only if it is interpreted by life, carried out in life.

Therefore, it seems to me important, together with the Word, that there be a place of hospitality of the faith, a place where there is a progressive experience of the faith. And here I also see one of the tasks of the parish: hospitality toward those who do not know this life that is typical of the parish community. We must not be a circle enclosed in ourselves. We have our customs, but nevertheless we must open ourselves and try to create vestibules, that is, venues of closeness. One who comes from afar cannot enter immediately into the formed life of a parish, which already has its customs. For the former at present everything is very surprising, far from his life. Therefore, we must try to create, with the help of the Word, what the primitive Church created with the catechumens: venues in which to begin to live the Word, to follow the Word, to make it comprehensible and realistic, corresponding to real forms of experience. In this sense, what you have pointed out seems very important to me, namely, the need to unite the Word with the witness of a just life, of being for others, of being open to the poor, to the needy, but also to the rich, who need to be open in their hearts, to feel that their hearts are called. Hence, it's a question of different venues, according to the situation.

It seems to me that in theory little can be said, but the concrete experience will show the paths to be followed. And, naturally it is necessary to be always in great communion with the Church -- always an important criterion to follow -- although perhaps still in a somewhat distant interval: that is, in communion with the bishop, with the Pope, thus in communion with the great past and with the great future of the Church. In fact, to be in the Catholic Church does not only imply to be on the great path that precedes us, but it means to be in the prospect of a great opening to the future. A future that opens only in this way. We could perhaps continue talking about the contents, but we can find another occasion for this.

Question 3 - "The Priest as Teacher Must Himself Be Well Formed"
[Father Giuseppe Forlai:]

Holy Father, I am Father Giuseppe Forlai, parish vicar of San Giovanni Crisostomo parish, in the northern sector of our diocese. The educational emergency, of which Your Holiness has spoken authoritatively, is also, as we all know, an emergency of teachers, especially, I believe, under two aspects. First of all, it is necessary to have a broader view on the continuity of the presence of the teacher-priest. A young person does not establish a pact of growth with someone who leaves after two or three years, also because he is emotionally involved in managing his relations with parents who leave their home, the father's or mother's new relations, precarious teachers who change every year. One must be present in order to educate. Therefore, I feel that the primary need is that of a certain stability of position of the teacher-priest.

The second aspect [is this]: I believe that what is essentially at stake in youth pastoral care is related to culture. Culture understood as emotive-emotional competence and as possession of the words contained in the concepts. A youth without this culture might be the poor man of tomorrow, a person who runs the risk of failing in the affective [dimension] and of drowning in the world of work. A youth of this culture runs the risk of being a nonbeliever, or worse still, a practicing [Catholic] without faith, because incompetence in relationships deforms one's relationship with God, and the ignorance of words blocks the understanding of the excellence of the Word of the Gospel.

It is not enough that young people physically fill the spaces of our parishes to spend some free time. I would like the parish to be a place where they learn to develop relational competencies and where they are heard and given school support. A place that is not the constant refuge of those who do not want to study or make an effort, but a community of people that ask the right questions opening them to religious meaning and where the great work of charity that is helping one to think is practiced. And here a serious reflection should also be initiated on the collaboration between parishes and religion teachers.

Your Holiness, give us one more authoritative word on these two aspects of the educational emergency: the necessary stability of the agents and the urgency of having culturally capable teacher-priests. Thank you.

[Benedict XVI:]

Let us begin with the second point. We can say that it is broader and, in a certain sense, easier. Needless to say, a parish in which only games are played and drinks are shared would be absolutely superfluous. The meaning of a parish should really be the cultural, human and Christian formation of a personality, which must become a mature personality. On this we are in absolute agreement and, it seems to me, today there is a cultural poverty in which many things are known, but without the heart, without an inner unity because there is no common vision of the world. For this reason, a cultural solution inspired in the faith of the Church, in the knowledge that God has given us, is absolutely necessary. I would say that this is precisely the function of the parish: that one not only find possibilities for one's free time, but above all that one can find an integral human formation that completes his personality.

And for this reason, naturally, the priest as teacher must himself be well formed and be positioned in today's culture, rich in culture, to also help young people enter into a culture inspired by faith. I would add, of course, that in the end the point of orientation of all culture is God, the God present in Christ. Today we see people who have much knowledge, but no interior orientation. Thus science can also be dangerous for man, because without more profound ethical guidelines, it leaves man to his own free will and, consequently, without the necessary orientation to really become a man. In this sense, the heart of all cultural formation, which is so necessary, must be without a doubt the faith: to know the face of God which has been shown to us in Christ and thus to have the orientation point for the rest of culture, which otherwise is disoriented and becomes disorienting. A culture without personal knowledge of God, and without knowledge of the face of God in Christ, is a culture that could even be destructive, because it does not know the necessary ethical guidelines. In this sense, I believe, we really have a mission of profound cultural and human formation, which opens to all the riches of the culture of our time, but which gives the criterion, the discernment to test what is true culture and what could become anti-cultural.

The first question is much harder for me -- the question is also [addressed] to Your Eminence [the vicar, Cardinal Agostino Vallini] -- namely, the permanence of the young priest to give guidance to young people. Undoubtedly, a personal relationship with the teacher is important and must also have the possibility of a certain period to get to know each other. And, in this sense, I can agree that the priest, point of orientation for young people, cannot change every day, because in this way, in fact, he loses this orientation. On the other hand, the young priest must also have different experiences in different cultural contexts, precisely to obtain, in the end, the cultural equipment necessary to be, as pastor, the point of reference for a long time in the parish. And I would say that in the life of the young person, the dimensions of time are different from those of the life of the adult. The three years, from 16 to 19, are at least as long and as important as the years between 40 and 50. Precisely here is where the personality is formed: It is an interior journey of great importance, of great existential extent.

In this sense, I would say that three years for an assistant pastor is a good period of time to form a generation of young people; and in this way, moreover, he can also know other contexts, learn about other situations in other parishes, enrich his human knowledge. The time is not that brief in order to give a certain continuity, an educational path of the common experience, to learn to be a man. On the other hand, as I have said, for youth three years is a decisive and very long time, because the future personality is really being formed. It seems to me, therefore, that both needs can be reconciled: on one hand, that the young priest have the possibility of different experiences to enrich his store of human experience; and on the other, the need to stay for a determined period of time with the young people to really introduce them to life, to teach them to be human persons. In this sense, I think that both aspects can be reconciled: different experiences for a young priest, continuity in the accompaniment of the young people in order to guide them in life. However, I do not know if the cardinal vicar can say something to us in this regard.

[Cardinal Vicar for Rome, Agostino Vallini:]

Holy Father, of course I share these two needs, the combination between the two needs. It seems to me, from the little I have been able to learn, that in Rome somehow we still have a certain stability of young priests in the parishes, for at least a few years, with exceptions. There can always be exceptions. But the real problem stems, perhaps, from serious needs or concrete situations, above all in the relations between the pastor and the assistant pastor -- and here I touch a raw nerve -- and also in the lack of young priests. I was also able to mention this to you when you received me in audience, one of the grave problems of our diocese is, in fact, the number of vocations to the priesthood. Personally, I am convinced that the Lord calls, that he continues to call. Perhaps we should do more. Rome can give vocations, it will give them, I am certain. But in all this complex matter perhaps many aspects interfere. I surely think that a certain stability already exists and I also will follow, insofar as I can, the lines pointed out to us by the Holy Father.

Question 4 - "Our Humble, Daily Work Is Essential"
[Father Giampiero Ialongo:]

Holiness, I am Father Giampiero Ialongo, one of the many parish priests that exercises his ministry on the outskirts of Rome, specifically in Torre Angela, together with Torbellamonaca, Borghesiana, Borgata Finocchio, Colle Prenestino, the latter being suburbs, as many others, which are often forgotten and ignored by public institutions. I am happy because the president of the municipality has called us to a meeting this afternoon: We will see what materializes from this meeting with the town council. Perhaps more than in other areas of our city, in our suburbs people are experiencing in a very intense way the unease caused by the international economic crisis, which is beginning to be felt in the concrete conditions of the life of many families.

As a parish Caritas, but above all as a diocesan Caritas, we promote many initiatives that are oriented, first of all, to listening, as well as to specific material aid for those who request it, regardless of race, culture or religion. Despite this, we realize increasingly that we are faced with a genuine emergency. I think that many, too many people, not only those who have retired but also those who have work, a contract for an indeterminate time, are experiencing serious difficulties in having their families reach the end of the month. The food and clothes packages that we offer, and on occasion concrete financial aid to pay light and water bills or the rent, can be a help, but is certainly not the solution.

I am convinced that, as the Church, we must ask ourselves what more we can do, but above all we should ask ourselves what are the reasons that have led to this generalized situation of crisis. We should have the courage to denounce an economic and financial system that is unjust at its roots. Given the injustice introduced in this system, I do not think a bit of optimism is enough.

What is needed is an authoritative word, a free word, which will help Christians, as you have already said in a certain sense, Holy Father, to administer the goods that God has given, and that he has given for all and not only for a few, with evangelical wisdom and responsibility. In this context, I would like to hear this word once again, as you have already expressed it on other occasions. Thank you, Your Holiness.

[Benedict XVI:]

First of all, I would like to thank the cardinal vicar for his words of confidence: Rome can give more candidates for the Lord's harvest. Above all we must pray to the Lord of the harvest, but also do our part to encourage young people to say yes to the Lord. And, of course, young priests are called to give an example to today's youth: that it is good to work for the Lord. In this sense, we are full of hope. Let us pray to the Lord and do what we should.

I now answer the question that touches the sensitive point of the problems of our time. I would make a distinction between two levels. The first is the level of macroeconomics, which is made a reality and reaches even the last citizen, who suffers the consequences of an erroneous construction. Naturally, to denounce this is a duty of the Church. As you know, for a long time we have been preparing an encyclical on these issues. And on this long path I see how difficult it is to speak competently, because if the economic reality is not addressed competently, one cannot be credible. And, on the other hand, we must speak with a great ethical consciousness, created and inspired by a conscience forged by the Gospel. Hence, these fundamental errors must be denounced, the underlying errors, which have now manifested themselves with the bankruptcy of the large American banks.

In the end, it is about human avarice as sin or, as the Letter to the Colossians says, of avarice as idolatry. We must denounce that idolatry that is opposed to the true God and that falsifies the image of God through another god, "mammon." We must do so with courage, but also by being specific. Because great morality is not helpful if it is not based on knowledge of the reality, which also helps to understand what can be done concretely to change the situation gradually. And, of course, to be able to do so, knowledge of that truth and the good will of all is necessary.

We are faced with the central point: Does original sin really exist? If it did not exist, we could appeal to lucid reason, with arguments that are irrefutable and accessible to all, and to the good will that is in everyone. With that alone we could adequately proceed and reform humanity. But it is not like this: reason -- ours also -- is confused; we see it every day. Because egoism, the root of avarice, consists in loving myself more than anything else and of loving the world in reference to myself. It happens in all of us.

It is the obscuring of reason, which can be very learned, with extremely beautiful scientific arguments but which, nevertheless, can be confused by false premises. So one goes forward with great intelligence and makes great strides on an erroneous path. As the Fathers [of the Church] say, the will is also "twisted:" it does not simply try to do good, but above all seeks itself or seeks the good of its own group. For this reason, it is not easy to really find the path of reason, of true reason; it is developed with difficulty through dialogue. Without the light of faith, which penetrates the darkness of original sin, reason cannot go forward. But it is faith, precisely, that then runs into the resistance of our will. It does not want to see the way, which would be a path of self-denial and of correction of one's own will in favor of the other, not of oneself.

That is why I would say that what is needed is the reasonable and reasoned denunciation of the errors, not with great moral statements, but rather with concrete reasons that prove to be understandable in today's economic world. The denunciation is important, it has always been a mandate for the Church. We know that in the new situation that was created by the industrial world, the social doctrine of the Church, beginning with Leo XIII, has attempted to make these denunciations -- and not only the denunciations, which are not sufficient -- but also to show the difficult paths in which, step by step, the assent of reason and of the will is called for, together with the correction of my conscience, to deny my own will, in a certain sense, to deny myself in order to be able to collaborate in the true objective of human life, of humanity.

Having said this, the Church always has the duty to remain vigilant; she must discover with her best efforts the reasons of the economic world, to enter its reasoning and to illumine this reasoning with the faith that frees us from the egoism of original sin. It is a task of the Church, to enter into this discernment, into this reasoning, to make itself heard, including at the various national and international levels, to help and to correct. And it is no easy task, given that so many personal interests and national groups are opposed to a radical correction.

Perhaps it is pessimism, but for me it seems to be realism: While there is original sin, we will never achieve a radical and total correction. Nevertheless, we must do everything possible to implement corrections that are at least provisional, sufficient to enable humanity to live and to put obstacles to the dominance of egoism, which presents itself under pretexts of science and of national and international economy.

This is the first level. The other consists in being realistic. To realize that these great objectives of macro-science are not realized in micro-science -- the macroeconomics in the microeconomics -- without the conversion of hearts. If there are no just men, there is no justice either. We have to accept this. For this reason, education in justice is a priority objective, we can even say it is the priority. Because St. Paul says that justification is the effect of the work of Christ, it is not an abstract concept related to sins that do not interest us today, but refers precisely to integral justice. Only God can give it to us, but he gives it to us with our cooperation at various levels, at all possible levels.

Justice cannot be created in the world only with good economic models, even if these are necessary. Justice is only brought about if there are just men. And there are no just men without the humble, daily endeavor of converting hearts, and of creating justice in hearts. Only in this way is corrective justice extended. That is why the work of the parish priest is so essential, not only for the parish, but for humanity. Because if there are no just men, as I have said, justice remains something abstract. And good structures are not put in place if they face the opposition of egoism, including that of competent people.

Our humble, daily work is essential to attain the great objectives of humanity. And we must work together at all levels. The universal Church must denounce, but she must also proclaim what can be done and how it can be done. The episcopal conferences and the bishops must act. But we must all educate in justice. I believe that even today Abraham's dialogue with God is genuine and realistic (Genesis 18:22-23), when he says: "Will you really destroy the city? Perhaps there are 50 just men, perhaps 10." And 10 just men are enough for the city to survive. That is why we must do what is necessary to educate and guarantee at least 10 just men, but if it is possible, many more. With our proclamation we make it possible to have many just men, for justice to really be present in the world.

Hence, the two levels are inseparable. If, on one hand, we do not proclaim macro-justice, micro-justice does not grow. But, on the other, if we do not carry out the humble endeavor of micro-justice, macro-justice will not grow either. And always, as I said in my first encyclical, with all the systems that can grow in the world, in addition to the justice we seek, charity continues to be necessary. To open hearts to justice and charity is to educate in the faith, to lead to God.

Question 5 - "We Must All Collaborate in Celebrating the Eucharist Ever More Profoundly"
[Father Marco Valentini:]

Holy Father, I am Father Marco Valentini, vicar of St. Ambrose parish. When I was being formed, I was not aware, as I am now, of the importance of the liturgy. Of course there was no lack of celebrations, but I did not understand how this was "the highest point to which the action of the Church tends and the source from which her energy emanates" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). Instead, I regarded it as a technical matter for the success of a celebration, or a pious practice and not, rather, as a contact with the saving mystery, allowing oneself to be conformed to Christ to be the light of the world, a source of theology, a means to bring about the longed for integration between what is studied and the spiritual life. On the other hand, I did not believe that the liturgy was strictly necessary to be Christian and to be saved, and that it was enough to put the Beatitudes into practice. Now I wonder what charity would be without the liturgy, and if without it our faith would be reduced to morality, an idea, a doctrine, an event of the past, and we priests would not be so much teachers and advisers as mystagogues who introduce people in the mystery. The very Word of God is a proclamation that is realized in the liturgy and that has an amazing relationship with it. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 6; Praenotanda of the Lectionary 4 and 10). And let's also think of the passage of Emmaus or the Ethiopian minister (Acts 8).
Hence, this is my question: Given our specificity, and without lessening our human, philosophical and psychological formation, should not the universities and seminaries offer greater liturgical formation, or does the practice and structure of the studies at present already satisfy sufficiently the Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" 16, which states that the liturgy must be considered among the necessary and most important and principal subjects, and should be taught under the theological, historical, spiritual, pastoral and legal aspects, and that professors of other subjects must make the connection with the liturgy clear? I have asked this question because, taking note of the decree, "Optatam Totius," I think that the many actions of the Church in the world and our own pastoral efficacy depends a lot on our own consciousness of the inexhaustible mystery of our being baptized, anointed and priests.

[Benedict XVI:]

If I have understood correctly, the question is, what is the space and place of liturgical education and of the reality of the celebration of the mystery in the whole of our pastoral work, which is multiple and of so many dimensions. In this sense, it seems to me that it is also a question about the unity of our proclamation and of our pastoral work, which has so many dimensions. We must seek the unifying point, so that our many concerns are all together the work of a pastor. If I have understood well, you seem to think that the unifying point, which creates the synthesis of all the dimensions of our work and our faith, might be, precisely, the celebration of the mysteries; hence, mystagogy, which teaches us to celebrate.

What is really important for me is that the sacraments, the Eucharistic celebration of the sacraments, not be something foreign along with more contemporary endeavors such as moral education, economics, and all the things we have already mentioned. It can easily happen that the sacrament remains somewhat isolated in a more pragmatic context and becomes a reality that is not altogether inserted in the totality of our being. Thank you for the question, because we must really teach what it means to be men. We must teach this great art: how to be a man. As we have seen, this calls for many things: from the great denunciation of original sin in the roots of our economy and of so many aspects of our life, to concrete guidelines on justice, to the proclamation to non-believers. But the mysteries are not something exotic in the cosmos of the most practical realities.

The mystery is the heart from which comes our strength, and to which we return to find this center. And that is why I think that catechesis, let us say mystagogic [catechesis], is really important. Mystagogic also means realistic, referred to our life of men of today. If it is true that man in himself knows not his measure -- that he is just and that he is not just -- but that he finds his measure outside of himself, in God; it is important that this God not be distant but reconcilable, concrete, that he enter our lives and really be a friend with whom we can talk and who talks with us. We must learn to celebrate the Eucharist, learn to know Jesus Christ, the God with a human face, up close, really enter into contact with him, learn to listen to him and to allow him to enter into us. Because sacramental communion is precisely this interpenetration between two persons. I am not taking a piece of bread, or flesh, but I take or I open my heart so that the Risen One will enter the context of my being, so that he is within me and not just outside of me, and thus speaks with me and transforms my being. He gives me the sense of justice, the dynamism of justice, in zeal for the Gospel.

This celebration, in which God not only comes close to us, but enters into the fabric of our existence, is essential to really be able to live with God and for God and to take the light of God to this world. Let us not go into too many details now. But it is always important that the sacramental catechesis be an existential catechesis. Of course, even accepting and increasingly learning the mystic aspect -- where words and reasoning fail -- the latter is totally realistic, because it leads me to God, and God to me. It leads me to the other because the other receives the same Christ, as I do. Hence, if the same Christ is in him and me, we also are no longer separate individual beings. Herein lies the birth of the doctrine of the Body of Christ, because we have all been incorporated if we receive the Eucharist correctly in the same Christ. Hence, my neighbor is truly close: we are no longer two separate "I"s, but we are united in the same "I" of Christ.

In other words, Eucharistic and sacramental catechesis must really go to the depth of our existence, to be, in fact, education to open myself to the voice of God, to let myself be opened to break this original sin of egoism and to open my existence profoundly, so that I will really be just. In this sense, it seems to me that we must all learn the liturgy better, not as something exotic but as the heart of our being Christian, which does not open easily to a distant man, but which is, on the other hand, precisely openness to the other, to the world. We must all collaborate in celebrating the Eucharist ever more profoundly: not only as a rite but as an existential process that touches me profoundly, more than anything else, and changes me, transforms me and, by transforming me, sparks the transformation of the world that the Lord desires and of which He wishes to make me an instrument.

Question 6
[Father Lucio Maria Zappatore:]

Most Blessed Father, I am Father Lucio Maria Zappatore, Carmelite, parish priest of Santa Maria Regina Mundi parish in Torrespaccata.

To justify my intervention, I refer to what you said last Sunday, during the recitation of the Angelus, in regard to the Petrine ministry. You spoke of the singular and specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome, who presides over the universal communion of charity. I ask you to continue this reflection, extending it to the universal Church: What singular charism does the Church of Rome have and what are the characteristics that make her, by a mysterious gift of Providence, unique in the world? To have as bishop the Pope of the universal Church -- what does this entail in your mission, today in particular? We do not want to know what privileges we have: once it was said "Parochus in urbe, episcopus in orbe"; but we want to know how to live this charism, this gift of living as priests in Rome, and what you expect from us, the Roman parish priests.

In a few days you will go to the Campidoglio to meet with the civil authorities of Rome, and you will speak about the material problems of our city. Today we ask you to speak to us about the spiritual problems of Rome and of its Church. And, in regard to your visit to the Campidoglio, I have taken the liberty to dedicate a sonnet to you in Roman dialect, requesting that you be pleased to hear it.

Er Papa che salisce al Campidojo / e un fatto che te lassa senza fiato / perche 'sta vortas sorte for dar sojo, / pe creanza che tie 'n bon vicinato. / Er sindaco e la giunta con orgojo / janno fatto 'n invito, er piu accorato, / perche Roma, se sa, vojo o nun vojo / nun po' fa' proprio a meno der papato. / Roma, tu ciai avuto drento ar petto / la forza pe porta la civirta. / Quanno Pietro t'ha messo lo zicchetto / eterna Dio t'ha fatto addiventa. / Accoji allora er Papa Benedetto / che sale a beneditte e a ringrazia!

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you. We have heard the Roman heart speak, which is a heart of poetry. It is lovely to hear a bit of Roman dialect spoken and to feel that poetry is profoundly rooted in the Roman heart. This is, perhaps, a natural privilege that the Lord has given Romans. It is a natural charism that precedes the ecclesial.

If I have understood correctly, your question is made up of two parts. First of all, what concrete responsibility does the Bishop of Rome have today? And then you correctly extend the Petrine privilege to the whole Church of Rome -- it was thus regarded also in the early Church -- and you ask what are the obligations of the Church of Rome to respond to this vocation of hers.

It is not necessary to develop the doctrine of the primacy here; you all know it very well. It is important to reflect on the fact that the Successor of Peter, Peter's ministry, really guarantees the universality of the Church, the transcendence of nationalism and other borders that exist in humanity today, to be truly one Church in diversity and in the wealth of so many cultures.

We also see how the other ecclesial communities, the other Churches see the need of a unifying point so as not to fall prey to nationalism, identification with a determined culture, to be really open, all for all and to be almost obliged to be always open to others. I think this is the essential ministry of the Successor of Peter: to guarantee this catholicity which implies multiplicity, diversity, cultural wealth, respect of differences and that, at the same time, excludes absolutism and unites all, obliges them to open themselves, to come out of their own absolutism to meet in the unity of the family of God that the Lord has desired and of which the Successor of Peter is the guarantee, as unity in diversity.

Of course, the Church of the Successor of Peter must bear, with her Bishop, this burden, this joy of the gift of her responsibility. In Revelation the bishop appears in fact as the angel of his Church, that is, somewhat like the incorporation of his Church, to which he must respond being of the same Church. Hence, the Church of Rome, together with the Successor of Peter and as his particular Church, must guarantee precisely this universality, this openness, this responsibility for the transcendence of love, this presiding in love which excludes particulars. It must also guarantee fidelity to the Word of the Lord, to the gift of faith, which we have not invented, but which is really a gift that could only come from God himself. This will always be the duty, but also the privilege, of the Church of Rome, against the fashion, against the particular, against absolutism in some aspects, against heresies which are always the absolutizing of an aspect. Also the duty to guarantee universality and fidelity to the integrity, to the richness of her faith, of her path in history that is always open to the future. And, together with this testimony of faith and universality, she must of course give example of charity.

So said St. Ignatius, identifying in this somewhat enigmatic word the sacrament of the Eucharist, the action of loving others. And, to return to the previous point, this is very important: namely, this identification with the Eucharist which is agape, charity, the presence of charity which was given to us in Christ. She must always be charity, sign and cause of charity in openness to others, in giving herself to others, in responsibility towards the needy, the poor, the forgotten. This is a great responsibility.

Presiding over the Eucharist must be followed by presiding in charity, which can be witnessed only by the community itself. I think this is the great duty, the great question posed to the Church of Rome: to really be an example and point of departure of charity. In this sense, she presides in charity.

In the presbytery of Rome we are from all the continents, all the races, all the philosophies and all the cultures. I am happy that the presbytery of Rome expresses precisely the universality; [it expresses], in the unity of the small local Church, the presence of the universal Church. More difficult and exacting is to be bearers also of the testimony of charity, of being with others with our Lord. We can only pray to the Lord to help us in each parish, in each community, so that all together we will be really faithful to this gift, to this command to preside in charity.

Question 7 - "Mary is Really the Woman Who Listens"
[Father William M. Cassone:]

Holy Father, I am Father William M. Cassone, of the Community of Schoenstatt Fathers in Rome, parish vicar in the parish of Italy's patron saints, St. Francis and St. Catherine, in Trastevere.

Following the synod on the Word of God, reflecting on Proposition 55, "Maria Mater Dei et Mater Fidei," I wonder how we could improve the relationship between the Word of God and Marian devotion, be it in the priestly spiritual life or in pastoral action. Two images are helpful to me: the Annunciation for listening and the Visitation for the proclamation. I would like to ask you, Your Holiness, to enlighten us with your teaching on this subject. Thank you for this gift.

[Benedict XVI:]

I think that you yourself have answered your question. Mary is really the woman who listens: We see it in the meeting with the angel, and we see it again in all the scenes of her life, from the wedding at Cana to the cross and to the day of Pentecost, when she was in the midst of the Apostles precisely to receive the Spirit. She is the symbol of openness, of the Church that awaits the coming of the Holy Spirit.

At the moment of the proclamation we can already have an attitude of listening -- a true listening, a listening that is internalized, which does not simply say yes, but which assimilates the Word, takes the Word, and then follows with true obedience, as if it were an internalized Word, that is, converted into a Word in me and for me, almost the form of my life. This seems very beautiful to me: to see this active listening, a listening that attracts the Word so that it enters and becomes Word in me, reflecting on it and accepting it in the depth of my heart. Thus the Word becomes incarnate.

We see the same in the Magnificat. We know that it is a fabric made up of words of the Old Testament. We see that Mary is really a woman who listens, who knew the Scriptures in her heart. She did not just know some texts, but was so identified with the Word that the words of the Old Testament became synthesized, a song in her heart and on her lips. We see that her life was really penetrated by the Word, she had entered the Word, had assimilated it and it had become life in her, transforming itself again in a Word of praise and proclamation of the greatness of God.

Referring to Mary, I think that St. Luke says at least three times, perhaps four times, that she assimilated and kept the Word in her heart. For the Fathers, she was the model of the Church, the model of the believer that keeps the Word, bears the Word in himself; who does not just read it or interpret it with his intelligence in order to know what happened at that time, what the philological problems are. All this is interesting and important, but it is more important to listen to the Word that is kept and that becomes Word in me, life and the Lord's presence in me. That is why I find the connection important between Mariology and theology of the Word, of which the synodal fathers spoke and of which we shall speak in the post-synodal document.

It is obvious: The Virgin is the word of listening, silent word, but also word of praise, of proclamation, because in listening, the Word again becomes flesh and thus becomes the presence of God's greatness.

[Father Pietro Riggi:]

Holy Father, I am Pietro Riggi and I am a Salesian. I work in the Borgo Ragazzi Don Bosco. I would like to ask you: The Second Vatican Council brought many very important novelties in the Church, but it did not abolish the things she already had. I think that many priests and theologians would like to make things happen as coming from the spirit of the Council, which have nothing to do with the Council itself. For example, indulgences. We have the Manual of Indulgences of the Apostolic Penitentiary. Through indulgences we have access to the treasure of the Church and help can be offered for the souls in Purgatory. There is a liturgical calendar that states when and how plenary indulgences can be obtained, but many priests no longer speak about them, preventing very important assistance from reaching the souls in Purgatory. [Also,] blessings. We have the Manual of Blessings which provides for the blessing of individuals, environments, objects and even foods. But many priests do not know these things; others consider them pre-Conciliar, and pay no attention to those faithful who request what they should have by right.

More known pious practices: The first Fridays of the month were not abolished by the Second Vatican Council, but many priests no longer speak about this, or even speak badly about it. Today there is a sense of aversion to all this, because they are regarded as old and harmful, as old things and pre-Conciliar, whereas I think that all these Christian prayers and practices are very timely and very important; they must be recovered and properly explained to the People of God, in a healthy balance and in truth in the integrity of Vatican II.

I would also like to ask you: speaking of Fatima, you once said that there is a link between Fatima and Akita, the lacrimation of the Virgin in Japan. Both Paul VI and John Paul II celebrated a solemn Mass in Fatima and used the same passage of sacred Scripture, Revelation 12, the woman clothed with the sun who struggles in a decisive battle against the ancient serpent, the devil, Satan. Is there an affinity between Fatima and Revelation 12?

I conclude: last year a priest gave you a picture. I cannot paint but I also wanted to give you a gift, so I thought I would give you three books which I wrote recently. I hope you will like them.

[Benedict XVI:]

There are realities of which the Council did not speak, but which are implied as realities in the Church. They live in the Church and develop. Now is not the time to go into the great subject of indulgences. Paul VI re-ordered this subject and showed us the way to understand it. I would say that it is simply about an exchange of gifts, that is, whatever is good in the Church is there for all. With this key [understanding] of the indulgence we can enter into this communion with the goods of the Church.

Protestants are opposed, saying that Christ is the only treasure. But for me, what is marvelous is that Christ -- who is more than sufficient in his infinite love, in his divinity and humanity -- wished to add our poverty also to all that he had made. He does not regard us only as objects of his mercy, but makes us subjects of his mercy and love together with him so that -- though not quantitatively, at least in the mystical sense -- he would like to add us to the great treasure of the Body of Christ. He wishes to be the head with his body, in which all the wealth of what he has done is fulfilled. As a result of this mystery there is, in fact, a "tesaurus ecclesiae," that the body, as well as the head, gives so much, which we can receive from one another and give to one another.

And so it is with other things. For example, the Friday of the Sacred Heart is something very beautiful in the Church. They are not necessary things, but have arisen in the richness of meditation on the mystery. So the Lord offers us these possibilities in the Church. I do not think that now is the time to enter into all the details. Each one can understand more or less what is most important and what is not; but no one should scorn this wealth, which has grown over the centuries as an offering and as the multiplication of lights in the Church. The only light is that of Christ. It appears in all its colors and offers knowledge of the richness of his gift, the interaction between the head and the body, the interaction between the members, so that we can really be together a living organism, in which one gives to all, and all give to the Lord, who has given himself completely to us.

[Translation by ZENIT]


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