Pope Benedict XVI says he saw an “inspiring witness” during his three-day apostolic visit to the June 1-3 World Meeting of Families in Milan.
“This joyful international gathering was an inspiring witness to the rich and varied identity of the family as a communion of love based on marriage, a sanctuary of life, a domestic church and the primary cell of society,” he told pilgrims at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on June 6.
The international gathering in Milan brought together families from more than 150 countries to the northern Italian city to pray, celebrate and study marriage and family life. The theme for this year’s event was “The Family: Work and Celebration.”
“It is in the family that we discover our God-given vocation to love, to enter into relationship with others and to live together in harmony,” Pope Benedict reminded those at today’s audience.
It is customary for the Pope to use his first general audience following an apostolic journey to reflect on his visit. He recalled how on his first evening in Milan’s historic cathedral square he challenged the people of the city “to live the faith as part of their individual and community experience,” and in doing so, “create a stable and authentic ‘well-being’ on the basis of the family, which must be rediscovered as mankind's most important heritage.”
Later that evening, the Pope attended a concert in his honor at the famous Scala Theater, where “the notes of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony expressed that aspiration to universality and fraternity which the Church tirelessly seeks by announcing the Gospel.” The choral symphony, which concludes with the famous Ode to Joy, was performed by the theater’s orchestra and chorus under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. At the end of the concert, the Pope said he told theatergoers that the family is where “we first experience how human beings are not created to live closed in themselves, but in relation with others.”
The following day, Pope Benedict met with priests, religious and seminarians at Milan’s cathedral and reaffirmed “the importance of celibacy and consecrated virginity, which was dear to the great St. Ambrose,” the 4th-century bishop of the city. “These are a luminous sign of love for God and for our brothers and sisters, founded on an increasingly intimate relationship with Christ in prayer and expressed in the total gift of self,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Milan’s San Siro soccer stadium, the Pope challenged thousands of young people “to say their free and responsible ‘Yes’ to the Gospel of Jesus.”
The youthful group consisted of those from the archdiocese who had just received the sacrament of confirmation as well as those about to receive it. Pope Benedict urged them to “welcome the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which mold them as Christians and enable them to live the Gospel and to be active members of the community.”
At a subsequent meeting with representatives of civil society, the Pope explained that he called on lawmakers to ensure that “the legislation and activities of state institutions” are always at the service of individuals. This begins, he said, with the right to life, but should also include upholding the “specific identity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman.”
Later on Saturday evening, Pope Benedict led a “Celebration to Witness” at Milan’s Bresso Park, where he responded to various questions put to him by families. “I wanted to provide a sign of the open dialogue that exists between families and the Church, between the world and the Church,” he said as he reviewed the event.
The Pope said he was “greatly struck by the moving testimonies of couples and children from different continents on the important issues of our day.” The following morning he returned to Bresso Park to preside over Sunday Mass with 1 million pilgrims, thus transforming the area “into a kind of open-air cathedral” for the day. At the Mass, he called on those present “to build ecclesial communities increasingly similar to families” and so capable of “reflecting the beauty of the Blessed Trinity,” since “love is the only power that can transform the world.”
Before imparting his apostolic blessing upon the crowds in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict prayed that “the experience of Milan (will) bring abundant fruits to the Church and favor increased attention to the cause of the family, which is the cause of man and of civilization.”