Weekly General Audience August 13, 2008

After a month-long vacation that was interrupted by his trip to Australia for World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI resumed his general audiences Aug. 13. He met with a group of pilgrims and local residents at Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father’s summer residence. Recalling the feast days of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on Aug. 9 and St. Maximilian Kolbe on Aug. 14, the Holy Father briefly shared his thoughts on their heroic witness to God’s love for mankind.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Having just returned from Bressanone, where I spent some time resting, I am happy to meet together with you and greet you — the beloved residents of Castel Gandolfo and the pilgrims who have come here to visit me today.

Once again, I would like to thank all those who welcomed me and cared for me during my stay in the mountains. Those were days of peaceful relaxation, during which I constantly entrusted to the Lord all those who have asked me to pray for them.

Truly, there are many, many people who write asking me for prayer. They share their joys but also their concerns, their plans in life, their problems at home and at work, their expectations and their hopes, as well as the anxieties that are associated with the uncertainties that mankind is experiencing at this time.

I can assure you that I remember each and everyone in prayer, especially during my daily celebration of Holy Mass and as I recite the Rosary. I know very well that the primary service I can render the Church and mankind is precisely that of prayer, because in prayer, I can confidently place into the Lord’s hands the ministry that he himself has entrusted to me, as well as the fate of the entire community, both civil and ecclesial.

Those who pray never lose hope, even when they find themselves in difficult situations, even those situations that seem hopeless from a human point of view. This is what sacred Scripture teaches us, and this is what the history of the Church bears witness to.

Indeed, there are many examples that we could cite in which it was precisely prayer that sustained the saints and the Christian people during their journey.

Among the witnesses of our time, I wish to cite two saints whom we remember during these days: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), whose feast day we celebrated on Aug. 9, and Maximilian Maria Kolbe, whom we commemorate Aug. 14, the eve of the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Both ended their life here on earth as martyrs at the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

From all appearances, their lives could be considered a defeat, but it is precisely in their martyrdom that the splendor of love shines forth to overcome the shadows of selfishness and hatred.

The following words are attributed to St. Maximilian Kolbe and were reportedly spoken at the height of the Nazi persecution: “Hatred is not a creative force. Only love is.”

Heroic proof of this is the generous sacrifice that he made of himself by taking the place of one of his prison companions — a sacrifice that ended with his death in the starvation bunker on Aug. 14, 1941.

On Aug. 6 of the following year, three days before her tragic end, Edith Stein, gathered together some of her fellow nuns at the monastery of Echt in the Netherlands and spoke the following words to them: “I am ready for everything. Jesus is here among us. Up to now, I have been able to pray very well and I have said with all my heart, ‘Ave, crux, spes unica [Hail, O cross, our only hope].’”

Eyewitnesses who managed to escape the horrible massacre have said that Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, as she walked consciously toward her death dressed in her Carmelite habit, was distinguished by her peaceful comportment and her serene attitude, as well as by her calm attentiveness to everyone’s needs.

Prayer was the secret of this saintly co-patroness of Europe, who “after having reached the truth in the peace of contemplative life, had to live to the very end the mystery of the cross” (see Lettera Apostolica Spes aedificandi, Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XX, 2, 1999, p. 511).

Ave Maria!” These were the last words on St. Maximilian Kolbe’s lips as he held out his arm to the man who killed him with an injection of phenol acid. It is moving to see how humble and confident recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary is always a source of courage and peace.

As we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption — one of the most beloved Marian feasts of our Christian tradition — let us once again entrust ourselves to her who watches over us from heaven with motherly love at every moment.

Indeed, this is what we say in that familiar prayer, the Hail Mary, asking her to pray for us “now and at the hour of our death.”

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