Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "In order to encounter God, we must become capable of seeing with our hearts. We must learn to see with the heart of a child, a youthful heart that is not obstructed by prejudice and not blinded by self-interest. And so, in the little ones who recognise Him with this kind of free and open heart, the Church has seen the image of the believers of all time, its own image". This is the invitation that Benedict XVI extended to the more than 60,000 faithful gathered in St Peter's Square to celebrate the 23rd World Youth Day at the diocesan level, in preparation for the international WYD 2008, which will be held in Sydney.
Tens of thousands of young people were present at the Mass for Palm Sunday, which begins the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week.
In his homily, after the reading of the Passion according to Matthew, the pope took as his point of departure today's remembrance of the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, where He was welcomed by a jubilant crowd, to highlight the episode in which Jesus, entering into the temple, chases out "the animal vendors and moneychangers who were occupying the place of prayer with their business". The space where this commerce took place was "the atrium of the pagans", the place of prayer reserved for non-Israelites. "The God of Israel", the pontiff comments, "was the only God of all peoples. And even if the pagans did not enter, so to speak, inside Revelation, they were nonetheless able, in the atrium of faith, to associate themselves with the prayer to the one God. The God of Israel, the God of all men, was always waiting for their prayer, for their searching, for their invocation. Now, instead, it was business that dominated there".
Benedict XVI asked whether the Christians of today are not themselves so suffocated by "greed" and " idolatry " that it becomes difficult for non-Christians to adhere to the faith: "Is our faith pure and open enough, so that on this basis even the 'pagans', the people who today are seeking and questioning, can glimpse the light of the one God, join in our prayer in the atria of faith, and through their questioning, perhaps, become worshipers themselves? Are we aware of how greed and idolatry affect even our own hearts and way of life? Do we not, perhaps, in various ways allow idols to enter into the world of our faith as well? Are we willing to allow ourselves to be continually purified by the Lord, permitting Him to drive out from us and from the Church everything that is contrary to Him?".
The "purification of the temple", however, is more than a "fight against abuses": it signifies "a new chapter of history", in which Jesus offers Himself as the New Temple, the new place in which God is encountered.
"The purification of the temple", the pope explains, "as the culmination of the solemn entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, is the sign both of the impending ruin of the building and of the promise of the New Temple; the promise of the Kingdom of reconciliation and love that, in communion with Christ, is established beyond all boundaries".
"Immediately after Jesus' words about the house of prayer for all peoples, the evangelist [Matthew] continues in this way: 'The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them'. And furthermore, Matthew tells us that there were children repeating in the temple the acclamation that the pilgrims had made at His entrance into the city: 'Hosanna to the son of David' (Mt 21:14 ff). To the selling of animals and the business of the moneychangers Jesus opposes his own healing goodness. This is the true purification of the temple. He does not come as a destroyer, He does not come with the sword of the revolutionary. He comes with the gift of healing. He dedicates himself to those who because of their infirmity are driven to the extremes of their life and to the margin of society. Jesus shows God as He who loves, and His power as the power of love. And so He tells us what will always be part of the true worship of God: healing, service, the goodness that heals ".
"And then there are children paying homage to Jesus as Son of David, and acclaiming Him with Hosannas. Jesus had told his disciples that, in order to enter the Kingdom of God, they would have to become like children. He Himself, who embraces the entire world, became small in order to encounter us, in order to set us on the path toward God ".
For this reason, the pontiff further emphasises, "in the little ones who recognise Him with this kind of free and open heart, the Church has seen the image of the believers of all time, its own image".
And he concludes: "Dear friends, at this moment let us join the procession of the young people of that time - a procession that crosses all of history. Together with the young people of the entire world, let us move toward Jesus. Let us allow Him to guide us toward God, in order to learn from God Himself the correct way of being men. Together with Him let us thank God, because with Jesus, the Son of David, He has given us a place of peace and reconciliation that, in the Holy Eucharist, embraces the world. Let us pray to Him that we too may become, together with Him and beginning with Him, messengers of his peace, so that His kingdom may increase within us and around us".
Before concluding the Mass with the Angelus, after remembering the sacrifice of Paulos Faraj Rahho, archbishop of Mosul, who died while he was being held in captivity by kidnappers (of which we speak in another article), Benedict XVI greeted all of the young people who are preparing for World Youth Day in Sydney:
"And now, dear brothers and sisters", he said, "I renew my cordial greetings to all of you. I address this especially to the young people who have come from many countries for the occasion of Youth Day, which the beloved servant of God John Paul II wanted to link to Palm Sunday. My thoughts at this moment go to Sydney, in Australia, where preparations are underway for the great encounter that I will have with young people from all over the world next July 15-20. I thank the Australian bishops' conference, and in particular Cardinal Pell, archbishop of Sydney, and his collaborators, for all of their work and efforts; I am also grateful to the Australian authorities, both federal and state, for their generous support for this important initiative. See you in Sydney!".
Young people from all over the world are expected at the WYD in Sydney. It is also certain that some Chinese young people will also participate. Almost as if to recall the strong bond between the universal Church and the Chinese Church, at the Palm Sunday Mass today in St Peter's Square, the first prayer in the general intercessions was entrusted to a young Chinese man, who prayed for the pope and for the mission of the Church in the world.