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Saturday, March 21, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 21 MAR 2009 (VIS) - At 10 a.m. today, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass at the church of Sao Paulo in Luanda, Angola. The church, built by the Capuchin Fathers in 1935, has been the property of the Salesians since 1982. The ceremony was attended by bishops, priests, religious, members of ecclesial movements and catechists of Angola and Sao Tome.

  "St. Paul, the patron saint of the city of Luanda and of this splendid church, ... speaks to us from personal experience about this God Who is rich in mercy", said the Holy Father in his homily. "I feel great joy to be here today with you, my fellow-workers in the Lord's vineyard, where you labour daily to prepare the wine of divine mercy and to pour it out as balm on the wounds of your people who have suffered so many tribulations".

  The decisive event in the life of the Apostle of the Gentiles, noted Benedict XVI, "was his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. ... The Apostle saw the Risen Jesus; and in Him he beheld the full stature of humanity. As a result Paul experienced an inversion of perspective; he now saw everything in the light of this perfect stature of humanity in Christ".

  "'Let us make haste to know the Lord', the Risen One!" he exclaimed. "As you know, Jesus, perfect man, is also our true God. In Him, God became visible to our eyes, to give us a share in His divine life. With Him a new dimension of being, of life, has come about, a dimension which integrates matter and through which a new world arises".

  This new dimension "comes to each of us through faith and Baptism. This Sacrament is truly death and resurrection, transformation and new life. ... I live, but no longer I. In a certain way, my identity has been taken away and made part of an even greater identity; I still have my personal identity, but now it is changed and open to others as a result of my becoming part of Another: in Christ I find myself living on a new plane".

  "Through this process of our 'Christification' by the working and grace of God's Spirit, the gestation of the Body of Christ in history is gradually being accomplished in us. At this moment I would like to go back in thought five centuries, to the years following 1506, when, in these lands, then visited by the Portuguese, the first sub-Saharan Christian kingdom was established, thanks to the faith and determination of the king, Dom Alphonsus I Mbemba-a-Nzinga, who reigned from 1506 until his death in 1543. The kingdom remained officially Catholic from the sixteenth century until the eighteenth, with its own ambassador in Rome. You see how two quite different ethnic groups the Bantu and the Portuguese were able to find in the Christian religion common ground for understanding, and committed themselves to ensuring that this understanding would be long-lasting, and that differences - which undoubtedly existed, and great ones at that - would not divide the two kingdoms! For Baptism enables all believers to be one in Christ.

  "Today it is up to you", he added, "to offer the Risen Christ to your fellow citizens. So many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers. Who can go to them to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers? Someone may object: 'Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth, and we have ours. Let us all try to live in peace, leaving everyone as they are, so they can best be themselves'.

  "But if we are convinced and have come to experience that without Christ life lacks something, that something real - indeed, the most real thing of all - is missing, we must also be convinced that we do no injustice to anyone if we present Christ to them and thus grant them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves, the joy of finding life. Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty to offer everyone this possibility of attaining eternal life".

  "Let us enable human poverty to encounter divine mercy", the Pope concluded. "The Lord makes us His friends, He entrusts Himself to us, He gives us His Body in the Eucharist, He entrusts His Church to us. ... Let us embrace His will, like St. Paul: 'Preaching the Gospel ... is a necessity laid upon me; woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!'"

  At the end of Mass, the Holy Father travelled back to the apostolic nunciature, where he had lunch.
PV-ANGOLA/MASS CLERGY/LUANDA                VIS 20090321 (810)

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