This Sunday Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholics worldwide to join in prayer with the Church in China, so that believers of the great nation may become ever more consistent in their witness to the faith.
In a series of appeals following the midday recitation of the Regina Caeli prayer, the Holy Father also strongly condemned a bomb attack on a high school in southern Italy Saturday that left one young student dead and others seriously wounded and called for prayers for the victims of a magnitude 5.9 earthquake that struck the north-east region of Emilia Romagna early Sunday morning.
Despite the threat of rain St Peter’s Square was thronged with pilgrims and visitors this Sunday, which for many parishes worldwide marks the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. In his reflections before the Marian prayer, Pope Benedict spoke to all those gathered about this mystery, the fulfilment of mankind’s salvation:
Below a Vatican Radio translation of Pope Benedict’s Regina Caeli address and appeals
Dear brothers and sisters!
Forty days after the Resurrection – according to the Acts of the Apostles - Jesus ascended to heaven, that is he returned to the Father, from whom he was sent into the world. In many countries, this mystery is not celebrated on Thursday, but today, the following Sunday. The Ascension of Our Lord marks the fulfilment of salvation which began with the Incarnation. After having instructed his disciples for the last time, Jesus ascended into heaven (cf. Mk 16.19). He, however, "did not separate himself from our condition" (cf. Prefazio), in fact, in his humanity, he took mankind with him in the intimacy of the Father, and so has revealed the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage. Just as he came down from heaven for us, and for us suffered and died on the cross, so for us he rose again and ascended to God, who therefore is no longer distant, but "Our God", "Our Father" (cf. Jn 20:17).
The Ascension is the ultimate act of our deliverance from the yoke of sin, as the Apostle Paul writes: "He ascended on high, and took prisoners captive" (Eph. 4.8). St. Leo the Great says that with this mystery " not only is the immortality of the soul proclaimed, but also that of the flesh. Today, in fact, not only are we confirmed possessors of paradise, but in Christ we also penetrated the heights of heaven "(De Ascension Domains, Tractatus 73, 2.4: CCL 138 A, 451,453). For this, the disciples, when they saw the Master rise from the ground towards the heavens, they were not overwhelmed by dejection, indeed, they felt great joy and compelled to proclaim the victory of Christ over death (cf. Mk 16:20) . And the Risen Lord worked with them, distributing to each a their own charism, so that the Christian community as a whole, would reflect the harmonious richness of Heaven. St. Paul writes: "He gave gifts to men ... And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ"(Eph 4,8.11-13).
Let us beseech the Virgin Mary to help us contemplate the heavenly things, which the Lord promises us, and become more credible witnesses of divine life.
Dear brothers and sisters!
Today we celebrate the World Day of Social Communications, on the theme "Silence and the Word: the process of evangelization." Silence is an integral part of communication, it is a privileged place of encounter with the Word of God and our brothers and sisters. I invite all to pray so that communications, in all forms, always serves to establish a genuine dialogue with others, founded on mutual respect, listening and sharing.
Thursday, May 24, is a day dedicated to the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, venerated with great devotion at the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai: we join in prayer with all Catholics who are in China, so that they may announce with humility and joy the Risen Christ, be faithful to his Church and the Successor of Peter and live their daily life in a manner consistent with the faith we profess. Mary, Virgin most faithful, support the path of Chinese Catholics, render their prayer them ever more intense and precious in the eyes of the Lord, and advance the affection and the participation of the universal Church in the journey of the Church in China.
I address a cordial greeting to the thousands of members of the Italian Movement for Life, meeting in Paul VI Hall. Dear friends, your movement has always been committed to defending human life, according to the teachings of the Church. In this line you have announced a new initiative called "One of us," to uphold the dignity and rights of every human being from conception. I encourage and urge you to always be witnesses and builders of a culture of life.
Greetings in Italian
I greet the various school students present, and here today unfortunately I have to remember the girls and boys of the school in Brindisi, who yesterday were involved in a cowardly attack. Let us pray together for the wounded, some very seriously, especially for young Melissa, an innocent victim of brutal violence and for her family, who are in pain. My affectionate thoughts go also to the dear people of Emilia Romagna affected by an earthquake a few hours ago. I am spiritually close to those who are suffering from this calamity: we implore God's mercy for those who are dead and relief from suffering for the wounded. I wish everyone a good Sunday.