Milan (AsiaNews) - "I am very pleased to be here today with you and thank God for this opportunity to visit your illustrious city. My first encounter with the Milanese takes place in this Piazza del Duomo, the heart of Milan, where the imposing monument that is the symbol of this city rises. With its forest of spires, it invites us to look upwards, to God. This very momentum towards the heavens has always characterized Milan and allowed the city over the years to respond fruitfully to its mission: to be a crossroads - Mediolanum - of peoples and cultures." With his eyes turned to Milan's Duomo with its square overflowing with more than a million faithful, Benedict XVI began his pastoral visit to Milan, Italy's economic powerhouse, which is currently hosting the Meeting of Families.
The pope arrived at Milan's Linate Airport around 5.15 pm where he was greeted by Card Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan; Card Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family; and Card Dionigi Tettamanzi. Lombardy President Roberto Formigoni, Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia and, representing the Italian government, International Cooperation Minister Andrea Riccardi were present as well. The last time, a pope visited the city was in 1983.
In greeting the people of the city, Benedict XVI described the city's character, which includes positive secularism and a strong Catholic background combined with efficiency and generosity
"An affectionate thought," he said, goes "to those in need of help and comfort, and who are plagued by various worries: to the people who are lonely or in difficulty, the unemployed, the sick, prisoners, those who are without a home or the means by which to live a dignified life. The collective and constant involvement of the community should never be lacking to these our brothers and sisters. In this regard, I welcome what the Diocese of Milan has done and continues to do to concretely reach out to the needs of families affected by the economic crisis, and for having arrived immediately, together with the whole Church and civil society in Italy, to help the earthquake victims in Emilia Romagna, who are in our hearts and our prayers and towards whom, once again, I encourage a generous solidarity
The pontiff also noted "The deep sense of Church and the sincere affection of communion with the Successor of Peter," which "have been part of the richness and identity of your Church throughout its journey, and shine through in the figures of the great pastors who have led it" like Saint Charles Borromeo; Card Andrea Carlo Ferrari, the apostle of catechesis and oratories; Blessed Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster; Achille Ratti, who became Pope Pius XI, and Giovanni Battista Montini, who became Paul VI,
With families in his mind, the Holy Father cited Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, "a wife and mother, a woman engaged in ecclesial and civil life, she made beauty and joy, faith, hope and charity shine."
"Dear friends," he went onto to say, "your history is rich in culture and faith. This wealth has innervated the art, music, literature, culture, industry, politics, sports, charity initiatives and the entire Archdiocese of Milan. It is now up to you, heirs of a glorious past and a spiritual heritage of inestimable value, to commit to transmitting to future generations the torch of such a shining tradition. You well know the urgent need to merge the Gospel leaven into the current cultural context. Faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us, who is living among us, must animate the entire fabric of your life, personal and communal, private and public, so as to enable a stable and authentic "well being", beginning with the family, which needs to be rediscovered as humanity's principal patrimony, coefficient and sign of a true and stable culture in favour of man. The unique identity of Milan should not isolate it or separate from it, closing in on itself. Instead, safeguarding the sap of the roots and traits of its history, it is called to look to the future with hope, cultivating an intimate and propulsive connection with life throughout Italy and Europe. In the clear distinction of roles and purposes, the positively "secular" Milan and the Milan of faith are called to support the common good."
In concluding, Benedict XVI entrusted the city "to the protection of the Virgin Mary, who from the highest spire of the cathedral holds maternally vigil day and night on this City."
At present, a Vatican flag flies next to the little statue of Our Lady, affectionately called 'Madonnina,' or little Madonna.
In greeting the pope in the square, an orchestra played a famous tune, 'O mia bela Madunina", based on a famous popular song in the Milanese dialect.
Tonight Benedict XVI will attend a concert at La Scala in his honour as well as other guests from the Meeting of Families. La Scala General Music Director Daniel Barenboim will conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.