Pompeii (AsiaNews) - Entrusting the synod on the Word of God to Mary, "in whose womb to Word was made flesh," "that it may bring the fruit of authentic renewal to every Christian community," and urging prayers for those who "exert their energies in service of the proclamation of the Gospel to all nations." These are the reasons for the pilgrimage that Benedict XVI made today to Pompeii, the town near Naples reborn last century around the shrine conceived by Blessed Bartolo Longo and dedicated in a special way to the Rosary, which the pope described today as "a singular gift from Mary." It is a prayer to which the shrine is dedicated, conceived by a man who in his youth was "militantly anti-clerical," and devoted "to spiritualistic and superstitious practices," "tendencies that are not lacking in our day."
Starting very early in the morning, tens of thousands of people gathered in the large square in front of the shrine, in order to take part in the Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI, who came "in the footsteps" of John Paul II, "in particular in order to entrust to the Mother of God, in whose womb the Word was made flesh, the assembly of the synod of bishops taking place in the Vatican, on the theme of the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church."
"My visit," he immediately added, "also coincides with World Mission Sunday: by contemplating Mary as She who welcomed to the Word of God and gave him to the world, we will pray at this Mass for those in the Church who exert their energies in service of the proclamation of the Gospel to all nations." "In this month of October, month of missions and of the Rosary," he added at the end of the Mass, before reciting the Angelus, "so many faithful, so many communities offer the holy Rosary for missions and for evangelization! I am therefore happy to find myself here today, at this commemoration, here in Pompeii, at the most important shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of the Holy Rosary. In fact, this gives me an opportunity to emphasize with greater force that the first missionary responsibility of each of us is prayer. And it is above all by praying that the way is prepared for the Gospel; it is by praying that hearts are opened to the mystery of God, and souls are disposed to receive his Word of salvation."
During the Mass, illustrating the Gospel story of the wedding in Cana, the pope highlighted "the role of Mary, who at the beginning is called 'the mother of Jesus', but whom her Son himself then calls 'woman', placing before kinship the spiritual connection according to which Mary personifies the beloved bride of the Lord, meaning the people he has chosen to spread his blessing to the entire human family."
The founder of the "new Pompeii," Bartolo Longo, was remembered by the pope in part because "his spiritual crisis and conversion appear to have great relevance today. In fact, while he was studying at the university in Naples, he was influenced by the immanentist and positivist philosophers, and strayed from his Christian faith, becoming militantly anti-clerical and giving himself to spiritualistic and superstitious practices. His conversion, with the discovery of the true face of God, contains a very eloquent message for us, because unfortunately such tendencies are not lacking in our day. In this Pauline Year, I am pleased to emphasize that Bartolo Longo, like St. Paul, was transformed from a persecutor into an apostle: an apostle of the Christian faith, of Marian devotion, and in particular, of the Rosary, in which he found a synthesis of the entire Gospel." But his conversion itself represents "an historical demonstration of how God transforms the world: by filling man's heart with charity, making it an 'engine' of religious and social renewal. Pompeii is an example of how faith can operate in the city of man, raising up apostles of charity who place themselves at the service of the lowly and the poor, and who work so that even the least may be respected in their dignity, and find acceptance and advancement."
At the end of the Mass, before the Angelus, the pope recited the prayer to the Madonna of Pompeii, which concludes with the offering of the "Golden Rose" to Mary.
Finally, before the Angelus, the pope spoke of today's beatification in Lisieux of Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin, the parents of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, declared by Pius XI as patroness of the missions. "Thinking of the beatification of the Martin couple, I am urged to recall another intention so close to my heart: the family, the role of which is fundamental in raising up children in a universal spirit of openness and responsibility toward the world and its problems, as also in the formation of vocations to the missionary life."