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Monday, December 19, 2005


VATICAN CITY, DEC 18, 2005 (VIS) - The traditional practice of visits by the Bishop of Rome to parishes in his diocese resumed today as Benedict XVI made his first pastoral visit to a Roman parish, arriving at 9 a.m. in the parish of Santa Maria Consolatrice in the neighborhood of Casal Bertone, where he celebrated Mass. As a cardinal, Benedict XVI was titular holder of this parish until 1993.

  In his homily, delivered entirely off-the-cuff, the Holy Father recalled "October 15, 1977, when I took possession of this titular church. ... Now we are all together again here. This truly is a great joy. Since then, our mutual bond has become progressively stronger and deeper. A bond of affection and friendship that warmed my heart, and warms it again today. This bond did not slacken when in 1993 I became titular holder of the diocese of Velletri, and acquired a new and more profound dimension by my becoming bishop of Rome."

  The Pope went on to comment the scene of the Annunciation as recounted in today's Gospel. "With the angel's greeting to Mary - 'kaire' in the Greek, which means 'be joyful' - the New Testament begins," he said. "We could say that the first word of the New Testament is 'be joyful,' 'be happy,' in other words, 'joy.' This is the true meaning of Christmas: God is near us, so near that He became a child."

  The Holy Father then highlighted how "we realize that today's world, where God is absent, is dominated by fear, by uncertainty." Nonetheless, "the words 'be joyful because God is with you and with us,' truly open a new time."

  "Joy is the true gift of Christmas, not the expensive gifts that call for time and money. We can communicate this joy simply: with a smile, a kind gesture, a little help, forgiveness. And the joy we give will certainly come back to us. ... Let us pray that this presence of the liberating joy of God shines forth in our lives."

  Later in his homily, the Benedict XVI commented the phrase "do not be afraid," with which the angel comforted the Virgin as she faced the mission with which God had entrusted her. "This world of ours is a world of fear," said the Pope, "fear of misery and poverty, fear of sickness and suffering, fear of solitude, fear of death. ... The only worthwhile assurance in such moments is the one that comes from the Lord. ... We may fall, but in the end we fall into the hands of God; and God's hands are good hands."

  In closing, he referred to Mary's "yes," her acceptance of the Lord's will, something "apparently too great for a human being to bear. ... Initially, this may appear as an almost unsupportable burden, an unbearable yoke, but in reality God's will is not a burden, it gives us wings that we may fly. And so, with Mary, we too may dare to open the door of our lives and the doors of this world to God, saying 'yes' to His will, in the knowledge that this will is the true goodness that guides us to true happiness."
  Following Mass, the Holy Father returned to the Vatican by car. His next visit to a parish community is scheduled to take place on March 16, 2006, the third Sunday of Lent.
HML/.../SANTA MARIA CONSOLATRICE                    VIS 20051219 (580)

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