Vatican City (AsiaNews) - “I come as a pilgrim of peace” said Benedict XVI today in a message directed to the people of the Holy land, describing his “impatience” to be among them, to “share in your hopes and dreams, as well as your pain and difficulties”. The Popes message to the Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian people among whom he will be this Friday, was read at the end of his audience. “I want to take this opportunity – he said – to greet these peoples and these nations this morning through the radio and television”. “My first wish – he continued – is to visit the holy sites of Jesus’ lifetime and to pray there for the gift of peace and unity for your families and all those for whom the Holy Land and Middle East is home”. “Among the many religious and civil appointments during the week, there will be meetings with representatives of the Muslim and Jewish communities with whom we have made great progress in dialogue and cultural exchanges”. Finally he had a very special greeting for the region’s Catholics: “I ask you to join me in prayer so that my visit will bear fruit for the spiritual and civil life of all those who live in the Holy Land. Let us all pray to God for His goodness. Let us all nourish hope. Let us all remain firm in our desire and efforts for peace”.
Before reading his message to the 20 thousand people present at today’s audience the Pope had spoken about St John Damascene and Christian optimism, which allows us to see the good and beautiful in nature, despite the human “destruction” of it, a result of our contempt of the” material”. “Nothing created by God is contemptible”, noted the pope, and material elements taken from nature can become instruments of grace, provided that they are used according to the dictates of true faith.
In recalling the figure of VII century St John Damascene, of ‘primary importance’ in the history of the church, the pope stressed the “three discourses on sacred images against those who sought to slander them”. “We can trace in these texts the first attempts to theologize on the veneration of sacred images”, John Damascene “was the first to distinguish in private and public worship the difference between adoration and veneration. The former being highly spiritual can only be directed towards God, the latter can employ images to seek intercession with the images’ subject, but “the saint cannot be identified as being the material image”. John Damascene, noted the Pope, gave us the theology of the material; “still of great topical interest today”, in order to explain how and why Christians overcame the prohibition of sacred images contained in the Old Testament and, added the pope, why the Islamic world “accepts the total exclusion of the veneration of sacred images”.
“God has never been represented in a sacred image, being without body and face”, but since “he has made himself material for me; I venerate the material through which His salvation came to me”. “Is the wood of the cross not material and the ink with which the Book of Salvation was written, and before all other things, the blood and flesh of my Lord?”. “I do not venerate material, he would say, but the creator of the material”.
“We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder before the works of Providence, overcoming the temptation to see aspects which seem unjust”. This is the “optimism of seeing the good and beautiful in creation”, but “Christian optimism is not naive, it is aware of the wounds inflicted by human freedom and all the consequent disorder derived from it”. Nature was “reinforced and renewed by God’s Son becoming man. The path to the sea of God’s love needed to be concretely indicated to mankind. Thus the Son came down to his servants; he lowered the heavens in coming among us, fulfilling the newest of all things, the only truly new thing”.