An enormous crowd turned out in support of the Holy Father Sunday, filling St. Peter’s Square to overflowing.
The Vatican said around 150,000 people attended the Regina Coeli prayer yesterday. Other estimates put the crowd higher, at 200,000.
The pilgrims, many of whom were members of the new movements, had come from all over Italy to show their solidarity with Benedict XVI, and to call for a purification of the Church after the recent disclosures of sexual abuse by clergy over the past 50 years.
The Pope, visibly moved and rejuvenated by the outward expression of support, spoke of his “deep gratitude” for their presence, and repeated what he said on his trip last week to Fatima: that the “real enemy is sin, spiritual evil, which sometimes taints members of the Church.”
“I thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for your warm and cherished presence! Thank you!,” the Pope said. “Accepting the invitation of the National Council of Lay Groups, you have enthusiastically joined this beautiful and spontaneous expression of faith and solidarity, which also includes a substantial group of parliamentarians and local administrators.”
The Pope added: “Dear friends, today you have shown the great affection and profound closeness of the Church and of the Italian people to the Pope and to your priests, who daily take care of you, because, in commitment to spiritual and moral renewal, we can always better serve the Church, the People of God, and those who come to us in faith.”
“The real enemy to fear and fight,” he went on, “is sin, spiritual evil, which sometimes taints the members of the Church. We live in the world – says the Lord – but we are not of the world (cf Jn, 17:14), and we must guard ourselves against its seductions. Rather we must fear sin and for this, we must be strongly rooted in God, be one with what is good, with love and service. It is what the Church and its ministries, together with the faithful, have done and continue to do with fervid commitment for the spiritual and material wellbeing of people in every part of the world. Above all, it is what you usually try to do in your parishes, associations and movements, which is to serve God and mankind in the name of Christ. Let us continue together with confidence on this path, and let the trials, which the Lord allows, push us towards greater radicality and coherence.”
The Pope said the huge crowd reminded him of the enormous crowds in Fatima where he called for the “conversion of hearts” through the intercession of Mary. “I renew this call today,”, he said, “comforted by your presence so large! Thank you! Again, thank you all!”
Also taking part in Sunday’s Regina Coeli was Cardinal Vicar of Rome Agostino Vallini and a large group of immigrants celebrating the “Festival of Peoples” at St. John Lateran basilica. They joined the rally through a live television link-up.
Many churches around Britain are holding ‘Holy Hours’ in reparation for child abuse, says Joanna Bogle. There are also plans to hold a special day of reparation in the Vatican, although a date has yet to be confirmed. Readers may know of other parishes that are also taking similar initiatives.
Earlier in his Regina Coeli address, Benedict XVI spoke about the Ascension of the Lord, celebrated yesterday in Italy. “The Lord,” he said, “draws the Apostles’ attention towards Heaven to show them how to follow the path of goodness during their earthly existence. However, he remains in the plan of human history and is close to each one of us. He leads our Christian journey and accompanies those who are persecuted because of their faith. He is in the heart of all those who are marginalised and is present in those who are denied the right to life. We can listen, see and touch Lord Jesus in the Church, especially through the words and sacramental deeds of his Pastors. The Lord, by opening the way to heaven, gave us a foretaste of divine life on this earth.”
Quoting Pavel Aleksandrovich Florensky, a 20th century Russian Orthodox philosopher and theologian, the Pope said: “Gaze at the stars more often. When your soul is burdened, look up at the stars or the blue sky. When you feel sad, when you are slighted . . . talk . . . with heaven. Your soul will then find peace.”
Yesterday was also World Social Communication Day, whose topic this year was: “The priest and pastoral ministry in a digital world: new media at the service of the word”. The Holy Father called on priests “to be distinguished by a determined witness to the Gospel” (taken from the Pope’s declaration the Year for Priests) and said that by using new communication technologies, “priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries discover the face of Christ.”