06/04/2006, 00.00
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Pope: Church's universality and missionary effectiveness flow from Spirit

Benedict XVI emphasized the significance of Pentecost: the mission of the Church, thanks to the Spirit, frees people from confusion and leads them to communion beyond boundaries of race, culture, space and time. At the Regina Caeli, he recalled the impressive vigil held with ecclesial movements the day before.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Feast of Pentecost was celebrated today by Benedict XVI as a teaching on prayer and universality. The celebration took place in the square of the basilica of St Peter, with prayers offered in Spanish, German, Russian and Polish and the offertory born by Mexicans, Africans of Burkina, Chinese, Italians and Samoans. The crowd of more than 40,000 people filling the square waved American, Brazilian, Canadian, Bavarian, German, Ukrainian, Russian and Polish flags. Many of those present had taken part in yesterday's vigil, and they wore multi-coloured tops, hats, scarves and kerchiefs that featured in the meeting of Benedict XVI with ecclesial movements.

In his homily, the pope highlighted the "universal" element of the people of God, fruit of the new Pact of Pentecost, "to the extent that they are no longer bound by any borders of race or culture, of space or time". He added: "The pride and egotism of man always create division and build walls of indifference, of hate and of violence. The Holy Spirit, on the contrary, makes hearts capable of understanding the languages of all, because it re-establishes the bridge of authentic communion between Earth and Heaven."

To tackle its mission in the world, the Church must receive the Spirit. And there are two prerequisites for this, specified the pope: "staying together" and praying. "Staying together was the condition imposed by Jesus to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; a prerequisite of their harmony was prolonged prayer. In this, we can trace a formidable lesson for any Christian community. At times, it is thought that effective missionary work depends mainly on careful planning and consequent intelligent implementation through concrete commitment. Certainly, the Lord asks for our collaboration, but before any answer we may give, his initiative is necessary: it is his Spirit that is the true protagonist of the Church."

At the Regina Caeli, proclaimed before the end of Mass, the pope talked once more about the Spirit, who calls forth gifts and charisms, and he recalled yesterday's vigil and the witness of ecclesial movements:

"Among the realities awakened by the Spirit in the Church, there are Movements and Ecclesial Communities, which I had the joy of meeting yesterday in this square, in a large global meeting. The entire Church, as Pope John Paul II loved to say, is one big movement animated by the Holy Spirit, a river that runs through history to irrigate it with the grace of God and to make it fertile with life, goodness, beauty, justice and peace". Benedict XVI then greeted groups of pilgrims in different languages. Finally, talking in Italian, Benedict XVI recalled Cancer Survivors' Day, marked today, saying: "I give assurance of my prayers and express appreciation for the support of sick people and for solidarity in facing difficult moments together – sick people, relatives, and volunteers".

We reproduce here the complete text of Benedict XVI's homily:

Dear brothers and sisters!

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down with power on the Apostles; thus started the mission of the Church in the world. Jesus himself had already prepared the Eleven for this mission, appearing them to several times after his resurrection (cfr Acts 1:3). Before the Ascension into heaven, he ordered them 'not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father' (cfr Acts 1:4-5); that is, he asked them stay together to prepare themselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And they gathered in prayer with Mary in the Cenacle in anticipation of the promised event (cfr Acts 1:14).

Staying together was the condition imposed by Jesus to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; a prerequisite of their harmony was prolonged prayer. In this, we can trace a formidable lesson for any Christian community. At times, it is thought that effective missionary work depends mainly on careful planning and consequent intelligent implementation through concrete commitment. Certainly, the Lord asks for our collaboration, but before any answer we may give, his initiative is necessary: it is his Spirit that is the true protagonist of the Church. The roots of our being and our actions lie in the knowing silence and providence of God.

The images that St Luke uses to indicate the descent of the Holy Spirit – wind and fire – recall Sinai, where God revealed himself to the people of Israel and conceded a covenant with them. (cfr Ex 19:3ff). The feast of Sinai, that Israel used to celebrate 50 days after Easter, was the feast of the Pact. Talking about tongues of fire (cfr Acts 2:3), St Luke wants to represent Pentecost as a new Sinai, as a feast of the new Pact in which the Covenant with Israel is extended to all the peoples of the Earth. The Church has been Catholic and missionary right from the time it was born. The universality of salvation is significantly highlighted by the list of numerous ethnicities of those who heard the first proclamation of the Apostles (cfr Acts 2:9-11).

The People of God, who found their first configuration on Sinai, have now been enlarged to the extent that they are no longer bound by any borders of race or culture, of space or time. As opposed to what happened with the tower of Babel (cfr Gen. 11:1-9), when men who wanted to build a path to heaven with their own hands, ended up by destroying their own capacity for mutual understanding, in Pentecost, the Spirit, with the gift of tongues, reveals how his presence unites and transforms confusion into communion. The pride and egotism of man always create division and build walls of indifference, of hate and of violence. The Holy Spirit, on the contrary, makes hearts capable of understanding the languages of all, because it re-establishes the bridge of authentic communion between Earth and Heaven. The Holy Spirit is love.

But how to enter into the mystery of the Holy Spirit, how to understand the secret of Love? The pages of today's Gospel take us today to the Cenacle where, once the last Supper was over, a sense of confusion saddened the Apostles. The reason was that the words of Jesus had raised worrying questions: He talked about hatred of the world for him and his followers, he talked about his mysterious departure and there were many other things yet to be said, but for the time being, the Apostles were not capable of carrying the burden (cfr Jn:16:32). To tackle them, he explains the meaning of his distance: he will leave, but he will return; in the meantime, he will not abandon them, he will not leave them orphans. He will send the Consoler, the Spirit of the Father, and it will be the Spirit who will lead them to understand that the work of Christ is a labour of love: the love of He who has sacrificed himself, the love of the Father who gave him up.

This is the mystery of Pentecost: the Holy Spirit enlightens the human spirit, and, revealing the crucified and resurrected Christ, shows the way to becoming more like Him, that is, to being 'an expression and instrument of the love that emanates from him' (Deus Caritas Est, 33). Gathered together with Mary, as it was at the time of its birth, the Church today prays: 'Veni Sancte Spiritus! – Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love!' Amen.

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