This Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI denounced a “vicious” criminality that wounds the social fabric of the Italian region of Calabria and called on Catholics to take strength and courage from their faith, to overcome the obstacles of injustice, to care more for each other and the common good.
The Holy Father was on a one day pastoral visit to the diocese of Lamezia Terme and Serra San Bruno, which lies in the heartland of the region home to the infamous Ndrangeta mafia. Calabria is Italy’s southernmost region, and one of its’ poorest and least developed with an unemployment rate touching 27%. The setting for Sunday’s mass was particularly poignant, a disused plastics factory, one of the many empty warehouses in the industrial complex just outside the town.
Welcoming Pope Benedict Sunday, Mayor Gianni Speranza spoke of a land of “extraordinary potential and resources” but also of “unacceptable unemployment, and dramatic injustice and violence”. He said “We cannot allow the dominion of the mafia and organised crime to grow stronger, or healthy industries be taken over by illegality”. “Your presence”, the Mayor concluded “gives courage and a voice to all of those who so desperately need it”.
In his homily Pope Benedict responded “never give in to the temptations of pessimism and retreat in on yourselves. Rely on the resources of your faith and your human capacities; strive to grow in the ability to collaborate, to take care of each other and the public good”.
He continued “If we observe this beautiful region, we recognize it as a seismic land not only from the geological point of view but also from a structural, behavioural and social standpoint; a land, that is, where acute and destabilizing problems occur, a land where unemployment is worrying, where an often vicious criminality wounds the social fabric; a land that seems to live in a state of constant emergency”.
“Do not be afraid to live and witness to faith in the various sectors of society, in many situations of human existence! You have every reason to show yourselves strong, confident and courageous, and this by the light of faith and the power of love. And when you encounter the opposition of the world, make your own the words of the Apostle: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me".
Earlier in his homily Pope Benedict had reflected on the Sunday Gospel, which recounts Jesus’ parable of the king’s wedding feast: “In the Gospel Jesus speaks to us about the response given to God's invitation - represented by a king - to participate in this his banquet (cf. Mt 22:1-14). The guests invited are many, but something unexpected happens: they refuse to participate in the feast, they have something else to do, and indeed some show their contempt of the invitation. God is generous to us, He offers us His friendship, His gifts, His joy, but often we do not accept His words, we show more interest in other things, we put our material concerns, our interests first”.
“The invitation of the king even meets with hostile, aggressive reactions. But that does not bridle his generosity. He is not discouraged and he dispatches his servants to invite many other people. The rejection of the first guests invited results in the extension of the invitation to all, even the poorest, the abandoned and neglected. The servants gather all those whom they find, and the hall is filled: the goodness of the king knows no boundaries and all are given the opportunity to respond to his call. But there is a condition for remaining at this marriage feast: they must wear wedding garments. And on entering the hall, the king sees someone who has not wanted to wear the wedding garment, and for this reason he is excluded from the feast. I would like to pause for a moment on this point with a question: why did this guest accept the king’s invitation, enter the banquet hall, the door was opened for him, but he did not put on the wedding garment? What is this wedding garment? In the Mass of the Lord's Last Supper this year I made reference to a beautiful comment on this parable by St. Gregory the Great. He explains that the guest has responded to God's invitation to participate in his banquet, he, in a certain way, has the faith that opened the door of the hall for him, but he is lacking in something essential: the wedding garment, which is charity, love. And St. Gregory adds: "Each of you in the Church, then, who has faith in God has already taken part in the wedding banquet, but can claim to have the wedding garment if you do not cherish the grace of Charity" (Homily 38.9 PL 76.1287). And this garment is symbolically interwoven on two pieces of wood, one above and one below: love of God and love of our neighbour (cf. ibid., 10: PL 76.1288). We are all invited to be guests of the Lord, to come with faith to His banquet, but we must wear and cherish the wedding garment, charity, a life of profound love for God and neighbour”.
“Cherish the wedding garment of love”, urged Pope Benedict, “persevere in the witness of human and Christian values so deeply rooted in faith and in the history of this territory and its population”.
In short their can be no future for this tormented region if first there is no charity.
At the end of mass beneath a sky that threatened rain, Pope Benedict again returned to the need to care more for one another in his midday Angelus address: “Let us invoke the intercession of Mary for the most serious social problems in this area and the whole of Calabria, especially those related to unemployment, young people and the protection of persons with disabilities who require greater attention from all, especially the institutions”.
Then, looking ahead to his Sunday afternoon appointment with the community of monks at the renowned Certosa monastery in Serra San Bruno, Pope Benedict concluded: "Saint Bruno came to this land nine centuries ago, and has left a profound mark on it by the strength of his faith. The faith of the Saints renews the world! With the same faith, today you too, can renew your beloved Calabria!"