REGISTER SUMMARY Pope Benedict XVI met with 25,000 pilgrims during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 23. It was his first general audience after his recent trip to Brazil, and he shared his reflections on his trip to a region of the world that is home to many of the world’s Catholics.
Dear brothers and sisters,
During this general audience, I would like to reflect on my recent apostolic trip to Brazil from May 9-14. After two years in the pontificate, I finally had the joy of going to Latin America, a place I love dearly and where a great number of the world’s Catholics reside.
My destination was Brazil, but my intention was, at the same time, to express my deep affection for the entire continent of Latin America since the ecclesial event that summoned me there was the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean.
I wish to reiterate my profound gratitude for the welcome I received from my dear fellow bishops, particularly the bishops of São Paulo and Aparecida. I thank the president of Brazil and the other civil authorities for their cordial and generous cooperation. With deep affection, I thank the people of Brazil for the warm way in which they welcomed me — it truly was overwhelming and moving — and for their attentiveness to my words.
My journey was, first of all, an act of praise to God for the “wonders” he has done among the people of Latin America and for the faith that has provided inspiration for their lives and for their culture for more than 500 years. In this sense, it was a pilgrimage, the culminating point of which was the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, the principal patron of Brazil.
The theme of the relationship between faith and culture was always dear to the hearts of my venerated predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II. I wanted to reiterate this theme in order to confirm the Church in Latin America and in the Caribbean in its journey of faith, which has been and still is an ongoing history of popular piety and art that is in dialogue with its rich pre-Columbian traditions as well as a multitude of influences from Europe and other continents.
Of course, when remembering a glorious past, we cannot ignore the shadows that accompanied the work of evangelization on the continent of Latin America: It is impossible to forget the sufferings and injustices that the colonizers inflicted on the indigenous peoples, whose basic human rights were often trampled underfoot.
But dutifully mentioning these unjustifiable crimes — crimes that were condemned at the time by missionaries such as Bartolomé de Las Casas and theologians such as Francisco de Vitoria of the University of Salamanca — must not impede us from noting and expressing gratitude for the marvelous work that God’s grace achieved among those people over the course of the centuries.
Thus, the Gospel became for the continent of Latin America the mainstay of a dynamic synthesis that has various facets in its different nations but that expresses at the same time the identity of the peoples of Latin America. Today, in this age of globalization, this Catholic identity presents itself as a very fitting solution, provided that it is inspired by serious spiritual formation and by principles based on the Church’s social doctrine.
Brazil is a great country that preserves its deeply rooted Christian values but that is experiencing at the same time enormous social and economic problems.
In order to contribute to their resolution, the Church must mobilize all the moral and spiritual strength of its communities, seeking opportune points of agreement with other wholesome forces within the country. Among the positive elements we have to point out the creativity and the productivity of the Church there, which continually gives birth to new movements and new institutes for living the consecrated life.
Equally praiseworthy is the generous dedication of the many faithful laypeople who are very active in the various initiatives that the Church promotes.
Brazil is also a country that is capable of offering the world a new model of development. In fact, Christian culture can encourage a “reconciliation” between mankind and creation based on the restoration of personal dignity in the relationship with God the Father. An eloquent example of this is the Fazenda da Esperança (Farm of Hope), a network of rehabilitation centers for young people who wish to escape from the dark tunnel of drug abuse.
At the center I visited, which made a deep impression on me that remains etched in my heart, the presence of a monastery of Poor Clares is significant. I felt this is symbolic for the world today, which certainly needs psychological and social “rehabilitation,” but which needs spiritual rehabilitation even more deeply.
The canonization that we joyfully celebrated of the first native Brazilian saint, Father Antonio de Sant’Ana Galvão, was also symbolic. This Franciscan priest of the 18th century, who was deeply devoted to the Blessed Virgin and who was an apostle of the Eucharist and of confession, was called “a man of peace and charity” while he was still alive. His witness is further confirmation that holiness is truly revolutionary and is capable of promoting the authentic reform of the Church and society.
In the cathedral of São Paulo, I met with the Brazilian bishops — the largest bishops’ conference in the world. One of the major goals of my mission was to convey to them the support of the Successor of Peter because I know the great challenges that they face in proclaiming the Gospel in that country.
I encouraged my brother bishops to advance and reinforce their commitment to the New Evangelization, exhorting them to develop a way to spread God’s word in a methodical and comprehensive way so that the innate and widespread religious fervor of the people can grow deeper and become a mature faith that adheres to the God of Jesus Christ, both on a personal level and as a community.
I encouraged them to reclaim everywhere the lifestyle of the early Christian community that is described in the Acts of the Apostles — a lifestyle dedicated to catechesis, to the sacramental life and to works of charity. I recognized the dedication of these faithful servants of the Gospel who wish to present the Gospel without taking anything away or causing any confusion but safeguarding the deposit of faith with discernment.
Their constant concern is to promote social development, mainly through the formation of the laity who are called to take on roles of responsibility in the political and economic spheres. I thank God for allowing me to deepen my communion with the Brazilian bishops and I continue to remember them in my prayers.
Another important moment of the journey was, without a doubt, my meeting with the young people, who are the hope not only for the future but also a vital force for the present in the Church and in society.
‘Festival of Hope’
this reason, the vigil that they held and led in São Paulo was a festival of
hope, illuminated by Christ’s words to the “rich young man” who asked him,
“Teacher, what good must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16).
Jesus pointed out, first of all, the “commandments” as a way of life and then invited him to leave everything to follow him. The Church does the same thing today.
First of all, it proposes the commandments as the true road for education in freedom for personal and social good. Above all, it proposes the “first commandment,” the commandment of love, because without love even the commandments cannot give full meaning to life and procure true happiness.
Only those who experience the love of God in Christ and set out on this path in order to live it among mankind become his disciples and missionaries. I invited the young people to be apostles among their peers, to take great care of their own human and spiritual formation, to have high esteem for marriage and the path that leads to marriage through chastity and responsibility and to be open to the call to the consecrated life for God’s kingdom. In short, I encouraged them to take advantage of the great “riches” of their youthfulness in order to be the Church’s young face.
The highlight of my trip was the inauguration of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. The theme for this important meeting, which will continue until the end of the month, is “Disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that our people may have life in him: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’”
These two words, “disciples” and “missionaries” correspond to what the Gospel of Mark says concerning the call of the apostles: “(Jesus) appointed twelve that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach” (Mark 3:14-15). The word “disciple” recalls the dimension of formation and of following in communion and in friendship with Jesus; the term “missionary” expresses the fruit of discipleship, in other words, bearing witness to and communicating a real experience of the truth and love that a person has known and assimilated.
To be disciples and missionaries implies a close link with the Word of God, with the Eucharist and the other sacraments, living within the Church and listening obediently to its teachings. Joyfully renewing the desire to be Jesus’ disciples — “to remain with him” — is the fundamental condition for being his missionaries, who “start again with Christ” to use the words of John Paul II to the entire Church following the Jubilee Year 2000.
My venerated predecessor always insisted on an evangelization that was “new in its ardor, its methods and its expression,” as he himself said when speaking to the CELAM Assembly on March 9, 1983 in Haiti (Insegnamenti VI/1 , 698).
During my apostolic trip, I wanted to exhort people to continue along this path, offering as a unifying perspective my encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), a social and theological perspective that is inseparable and that can be summed up in this expression: “It is love that gives life.”
“God’s presence, friendship with the Son of God incarnate and the light of his Word are always fundamental conditions for the presence and efficacy of justice and love in our societies” (“Inaugural Speech of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean,” 4: L’Osservatore Romano, May 14-15, 2007, p.14).
I entrust the fruits of this unforgettable apostolic trip to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary who is venerated as Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of all of Latin America, and to the new Brazilian saint, Father Antonio of Sant’Ana Galvão.