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Thursday, October 4, 2012


Vatican City,  (VIS) - Benedict XVI today made a pastoral visit to Loreto, Italy, where he entrusted to the Blessed Virgin - venerated in the famous Marian shrine there - two impending ecclesial events: the Synod of Bishops on new evangelisation which is to run from 7 to 28 October, and the Year of Faith which will begin on 11 October. The Holy Father's visit today was also intended to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII's pilgrimage to Loreto during which, on the eve of the inauguration of Vatican II, he entrusted the Council to the Virgin.

The shrine of Loreto, which has been a pilgrim destination since the fourteenth century, conserves the house where Mary lived in Nazareth, the which, according to popular pious tradition, was transported by the angels to Loreto in 1294, shortly after the definitive expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land. Recent examinations of documents and archaeological remains (excavations under the Holy House), as well as philological and iconographic studies, are giving increasing weight to the hypothesis that the stones of the Holy House were transported to Loreto by ship at the initiative of the aristocratic Angelos family which then ruled the region of Epirus. Divine assistance in this undertaking remained as a symbol in the presence of angels. The House is the place where the Virgin was born, lived with St. Joseph, received the Annunciation from Gabriel and conceived the Son of God. It is therefore associated with the Mystery of the Incarnation.

Mary's house in Nazareth was composed of two parts: a grotto which is still to be seen in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and a house with three stone walls. Comparative studies between the Holy House of Loreto and the grotto of Nazareth have revealed the coexistence and contiguity of the two. Another recent study on the way in which the stone has been worked - in the manner used by the Nabateans which was widespread in Galilee at Jesus' time - also confirms the popular tradition. When the three walls of the Holy House arrived in Loreto they were set up, without foundations, in a public street, but almost immediately they became the object of the extraordinary measures of care and protection afforded to a precious relic.

Benedict XVI departed from the Vatican by helicopter at 9 a.m. and arrived in Loreto an hour later, where he was welcomed by the local civil and religious authorities. He then visited the shrine where he greeted the community of Capuchin Friars before going on to adore the Blessed Sacrament and pray before Our Lady of Loreto.

At 10.30 a.m. he celebrated Mass in the Piazza della Madonna di Loreto, pronouncing a homily ample extracts of which are given below.

"On 4 October 1962, Blessed John XXIII came as a pilgrim to this Shrine to entrust to the Virgin Mary the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, due to begin a week later. ... Fifty years on, having been called by divine Providence to succeed that unforgettable Pope to the See of Peter, I too have come on pilgrimage to entrust to the Mother of God two important ecclesial initiatives: the Year of Faith, which will begin in a week, on 11 October, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which I have convened this October with the theme “The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”".

"As I said in my Apostolic Letter announcing the Year of Faith, “I wish to invite my brother bishops from all over the world to join the Successor of Peter, during this time of spiritual grace that the Lord offers us, in recalling the precious gift of faith”. It is precisely here at Loreto that we have the opportunity to attend the school of Mary who was called “blessed” because she “believed”. ... Mary offered her very body; she placed her entire being at the disposal of God’s will, becoming the “place” of His presence, a “place” of dwelling for the Son of God. ... The will of Mary coincides with the will of the Son in the Father’s unique project of love and, in her, heaven and earth are united, God the Creator is united to His creature. God becomes man, and Mary becomes a “living house” for the Lord, a temple where the Most High dwells.

"Here at Loreto fifty years ago, Blessed John XXIII issued an invitation to contemplate this mystery. ... He went on to affirm that the aim of the Council itself was to spread ever wider the beneficial impact of the Incarnation and Redemption on all spheres of life. This invitation resounds today with particular urgency. In the present crisis affecting not only the economy but also many sectors of society, the Incarnation of the Son of God speaks to us of how important man is to God, and God to man. Without God, man ultimately chooses selfishness over solidarity and love, material things over values, having over being. We must return to God, so that man may return to being man. With God, even in difficult times or moments of crisis, there is always a horizon of hope: the Incarnation tells us that we are never alone, that God has come to humanity and that He accompanies us.

"The idea of the Son of God dwelling in the “living house”, the temple which is Mary, leads us to another thought: we must recognise that where God dwells, all are “at home”; wherever Christ dwells, His brothers and sisters are no longer strangers. ... So it is faith which gives us a home in this world, which brings us together in one family and which makes all of us brothers and sisters. As we contemplate Mary, we must ask if we too wish to be open to the Lord, if we wish to offer Him our life as His dwelling place; or if we are afraid that the presence of God may somehow place limits on our freedom, if we wish to set aside a part of our life in such a way that it belongs only to us. Yet it is precisely God Who liberates our liberty, He frees it from being closed in on itself, from the thirst for power; ... He opens it up to the dimension which completely fulfils it: the gift of self, of love, which in turn becomes service and sharing.

"Faith lets us reside, or dwell, but it also lets us walk on the path of life. The Holy House of Loreto contains an important teaching in this respect as well. Its location on a street is well known. ... It is not a private house, ... rather it is an abode open to everyone placed, as it were, on our street. So here in Loreto we find a house which lets us stay, or dwell, and which at the same time lets us continue, or journey, and reminds us that we are pilgrims, that we must always be on the way to another dwelling, towards our final home, the Eternal City, the dwelling place of God and the people He has redeemed.

"There is one more important point in the Gospel account of the Annunciation which I would like to underline, one which never fails to strike us: God asks for mankind’s “yes”; He has created a free partner in dialogue, from whom He requests a reply in complete liberty. ... God asks for Mary’s free consent that He may become man. To be sure, the “yes” of the Virgin is the fruit of divine grace. But grace does not eliminate freedom; on the contrary it creates and sustains it. Faith removes nothing from the human creature, rather it permits his full and final realisation".

"On this pilgrimage in the footsteps of Blessed John XXIII - which comes, providentially, on the day in which the Church remembers St. Francis of Assisi, a veritable “living Gospel” - I wish to entrust to the Most Holy Mother of God all the difficulties affecting our world as it seeks serenity and peace. ... I also wish to place in the hands of the Mother of God this special time of grace for the Church, now opening up before us. Mother of the “yes”, you who heard Jesus, speak to us of Him; tell us of your journey, that we may follow Him on the path of faith; help us to proclaim Him, that each person may welcome Him and become the dwelling place of God".

Following Mass, the Pope had lunch at the local John Paul II Centre. He is due to leave Loreto at 5 p.m. and to arrive back in the Vatican at 6 p.m.
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