Vatican City (AsiaNews) - On Tuesday, Benedict XVI will visit quake-stricken communities in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, the pope said today during the Angelus prayer. "I would like it to be a token of solidarity from the whole Church," he said. "Hence, I urge everyone to accompany me with their prayers."
The pope will take off from the Vatican heliport at 9 am and land in a sports field in San Marino di Carpi at 10.15 am, greeted by the bishops of Emilia-Romagna, led by Card Carlo Caffarra. The pontiff will then travel by bus to Rovereto di Novi through the 'red zone' and visit the Church of Santa Caterina di Alessandria, where the local parish priest, Fr Ivan Martini, died trying to rescue an image of Our Lady as the building collapsed. This will be followed by meeting with civil authorities, bishops, parish priests, business representatives and the faithful.
Through Cor Unum, Benedict XVI donated € 100,000 (US$ 125,000) to earthquake communities, which come on top of € 2,000,000 (US$ 2,500,000) already allocated by the Italian Bishops' Conference.
Benedict XVI noted that today, Pope's Charity Day, is celebrated around the world, with offerings and donations for the pontiff to use in his mission. Hence, he thanked "all parish communities, families and individual believers for their constant generous support, which benefits so many brothers in difficulty."
Before the Marian prayer, Benedict XVI spoke about Saint John the Baptist, whose birthday the Church celebrates today. Here is what the pope said:
"Dear brothers and sisters!
Today, 24 June, we celebrate the birth of Saint John the Baptist. Except for the Virgin Mary, the Baptist is the only saint whose birthday is celebrated in the liturgy. This is so because it is closely connected to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Already in his mother's womb, John was Jesus' forerunner. The Angel announced his prodigious conception to Mary as a sign that 'nothing will be impossible for God' (Lk, 1:37), six months before the great prodigy gave us salvation, the union of God with man through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The four Gospels emphasise the figure of John the Baptist as a prophet who brought the Old Testament to a closure and inaugurated the New Testament, highlighting Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, anointed by the Lord.
'Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.' Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he' (Mt, 11:10-11).
John's father, Zechariah, husband to Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, was a Jewish priest. He did not believe at once in his unexpected fatherhood, and so remained silent until the child's circumcision, to whom husband and wife gave the name indicated by God, i.e. John, which means 'the grace of the Lord'. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit, Zechariah thus spoke about his son's mission, 'And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins' (Lk, 1:76-77).
All this came to pass 30 years later, when John began to baptise people on the river Jordan, calling upon them to prepare, through the act of repentance, for the coming of the Messiah, whom God had revealed during his stay in the Judean desert. For this reason, he was called the 'Baptist', the 'Baptiser' (cf Mt, 3:1-6).
One day, when Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptised, John refused at first, then agreed and saw the Holy Spirit come upon Jesus and heard the voice of the celestial Father proclaim his Son (cf Mt, 3:13-17).
Yet, his mission was not complete. Soon after, he was called upon to die a violent death before Jesus. John was beheaded in King Herod's jail and thus bore full witness to the Lamb of God, whom he had first publicly recognised and announced.
Dear friends, the Virgin Mary helped her elderly relative Elisabeth bring to term her pregnancy with John. May she help everyone follow Jesus, Christ, Son of God, whom the Baptist announced with great humility and prophetic ardour.'