Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI chose for his first visit of 2008 a shelter run by the Missionary of Charity near the Vatican. He came to greet the outgoing superior, Sister Mark, as well as her replacement, Sister Agnes-Marie, but he especially came to “renew [. . .] my gratitude to the sisters, the volunteers and others who collaborate here,” and “to express my spiritual closeness” to the poor and the homeless men and women “who in this house find loving welcome, acceptance and understanding, a form of daily support that is both material and spiritual.”
The ‘Dono di Maria’ (Gift of Mary) shelter was inaugurated in 1988 by John Paul II and the Blessed Teresa of Kolkata in a wing of the building of the former Holy Office where then Cardinal Ratzinger worked for many years.
The shelter feeds hundreds of poor men and women and provides overnight accommodation and staffed medical care for about 70 women.
Talking about it the Pontiff said that “for whoever comes to knock on the door, being welcomed in the loving embrace of the sisters and volunteers is like a gift of Mary” as is “the presence of people who pause to listen to those in difficulty and serve them with the same readiness that caused the mother of the Lord to visit St. Elisabeth. May such evangelical love always distinguish your vocation, enabling you to give the people you meet every day, apart from material assistance, that same passion for Christ and that same luminous 'smile of God' which animated the life of Mother Teresa.”
The Pope who said that “Deus caritas est” also noted that “Mother Teresa liked to say that it is Christmas every time we allow Jesus to love others through us. Christmas is the mystery of love. The Christmas season, by representing our contemplation of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, shows us the infinite goodness of God who, by becoming a child, chose to be close to mankind’s poverty and loneliness. He agreed to dwell among us, sharing our daily difficulties; He did not hesitate to bear along with us the burden of existence with all its pains and concerns. He was born for us, to stay with us and to offer anyone who opens the door to Him the gift of His joy, His peace and His love. Born in a manger because there was no room for Him elsewhere, Jesus experienced the discomforts that many of you experience.”
“Christmas,” added the Holy Father, “helps us understand that God never abandons us and that He comes out to meet us, protects us and concerns himself with each one of us, because each individual, especially those who are weak and defenceless, is precious in the tender and merciful eyes of the Father. For us and our salvation He sent His Son into the world, whom we contemplate in the mystery of Christmas as the Immanuel, God with us. With such sentiments I renew my warmest greetings to all of you for the New Year which just began and I pledge that I shall remember you every day in my prayers. And as I call upon the maternal protection of Mary, Mother of Christ and of us, with affection I bless you all.”
After visiting the men's canteen the Holy Father visited the ward for sick women and then proceeded to a nearby church where he met the Missionary Sisters and Brothers of Charity and their lay collaborators.
After receiving written greetings from the order’s Superior General, Sister Mission Nirmala Joshi, the Pope offered them his encouragement that they may be like the Magi, the Wise Men, who “came from afar to worship the King Messiah” and then went home to their faraway lands.
“You go as well, dear Brothers and Sisters” said the Pontiff by way of conclusion. “Take to the roads of the world; follow Mother Teresa’s example and always bear witness to the joy of the love of Jesus, especially towards the humble and the poor, and may your Blessed founder accompany and protect you from heaven.”