The Pope celebrated New Year’s Day Mass in St Peter’s Basilica together with Card Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Card Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of State of the Vatican, Mgr Fernando Filoni, substitute for the Secretariat of State, Mgr Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States and Mgr Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Referring to the Gospel reading in today’s Mass (Lk 2: 16-21), the Pope explained: “The Birth of Christ in Bethlehem reveals to us that God chose poverty for himself as he made his way among us . . . love for us not only led Jesus to become man, but also poor.” At the same time, “there is a kind of poverty or indigence that God does not want and which must ‘fought’, as the theme of today’s World Day of Peace suggests; a kind of poverty that offends justice and equality and as such threatens peaceful society. Non-material kinds of poverty like marginalisation, relational, moral and spiritual deprivation found in rich and advanced societies also fall into this negative category.” Similarly, the arms race is one of the many contradictory aspects of our world that the Pontiff slams. “On the one hand we celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whilst on the other military spending increases in violation of the United Nations charter itself, which calls for reductions to a minimum (cf. Article 26).
The Christian proposal to the world is “to establish a ‘virtuous cycle’ between the poverty one can ‘choose’ and the poverty one must ‘fight’. This way a fruitful path is open to humanity’s present and future, one that can be summed up as follows: In order to fight the unjust poverty that oppresses so many men and women and threatens peace for all, we must rediscover moderation and solidarity which are equally evangelical and universal values. More to the point, we cannot effectively fight destitution . . . if we do not seek ‘equality’, and reduce the gap between those who waste the superfluous and those who lack even the necessary.”
“Poverty,” said the Pontiff, “is not a value in itself, but . . . a condition to achieve solidarity.” By the same token, “the poverty in which Christ was born in Bethlehem, in addition of being the object of Christian worship, is also a school of life for each man. It teaches us that the path to follow in the fight against material and spiritual destitution is that of solidarity, which pushed Jesus to share our human condition.”
Benedict XVI’s proposal is even more urgent in the current “global social crisis,” which is a litmus test for him. “Are we are ready,” said the Pope, “to read in its complexity a challenge for the future instead of just an emergency to which we provide short term answers? Are we willing to profoundly revise the dominant model of development so as to correct it in a concerted and far-sighted way? More than coping with short term financial difficulties, such changes are needed to address the planet’s environmental health and even more so our cultural and moral crises, whose symptoms have been visible for quite some time in every part of the world.”
Addressing the members of the Roman Curia and many ambassadors to the Holy See, the Pope stressed that “to walk on the path of peace, men and people must be enlightened by the ‘face’ of God and blessed by his ‘name’. . . . The coming of the Son of God in our flesh and history brought an irrevocable blessing, a light that cannot be extinguished and which offers believers and men of good will the possibility of building a civilisation of love and peace.”
There is an “Evangelical Way to peace,” said the Pope. “Jesus’ earthly story, which culminated in the Pascal Mystery, was the beginning of a new world because it actually inaugurated a new humanity, clever, always and only with the grace of Christ, to carry out a peaceful ‘revolution’; a spiritual rather than an ideological revolution; one that is real, not utopian; hence one that needed infinite patience, over a long period of time, avoiding any shortcut but taking instead the hardest way, i.e. a path during which man’s sense of responsibility matured.”
Oftentimes the Pope cites Saint Francis of Assisi as a model of this “Evangelical Way”, but he is especially drawn to Mary, the Mother of God. In his view, she “understood that God became poor on our behalf in order to enrich us with his love-filled poverty, to exhort us to put a stop to the insatiable greed that stirs up struggles and divisions, to urge us to moderate our fervour for possessions so that we can share and accept one another.”
Benedict XVI concluded his homily with a new appeal for peace in the Holy Land. Again, referring to the Mother of God he said: “We entrust to Her the deep desire to live in peace that rises from the heart of most Israelis and Palestinians, who are endangered once again by the massive violence that broke out in the Gaza Strip in reaction to other violence. Violence, hatred and mistrust are kinds of poverty—perhaps the worst kind—and must ‘be fought’. Let them not get the upper hand! It is in that sense that the Pastors of these Churches have made their voice heard. Together with them and their dear faithful, especially those from the small but fervent parish of Gaza, we lay at Mary’s feet our concerns for the present and our fears for the future, but also our well-founded hope that, thanks to everyone’s wise and far-sighted contribution, it will not be impossible to listen to one another, meet one another and give concrete answers to widespread aspirations to live in peace, security and dignity. We say to Mary: Accompany us, Celestial Mother of the Redeemer, throughout the year that begins, and obtain for us from God the gift of peace in the Holy Land and for humanity as a whole. Holy Mother of God, pray for us. Amen.”