09/08/2007, 00.00
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Pope: In Mariazell, the pilgrim’s restless heart finds Christ, the Truth

Benedict XVI urges Christians to witness Christ, the Truth and love, in the midst of men and women of all religions and the “West” indifferent to the truth and in crises. Science without God, a“threat for humanity”. The God-Child and the crucified God are truth and love without intolerance. The Commandments, our sustenance in the face of the challenges of our times.

Mariazell (AsiaNews) – Leaning on a pilgrims stick, the pope enters the gothic portal of the Mariazell sanctuary, in the heart of Austria (Stiria). After receiving the holy water he makes his way to the central altar, where among baroque volumes and Silver cornices the medieval statue of the Madonna of the Graces, the Mother with Child rests, and then he pauses for a moment of silent prayer.  Benedict XVI wanted to carry out the gestures which millions of pilgrims have enacted in the 850 years of the shrines history, a shrine which has become a place of devotion for Austrians, Bosnians, Croatians, Slovenians, Hungarians.

All of these languages are reflected in the hymns and readings of the mass celebrated in the square before the basilica, attended by tens of thousands of pilgrims under an inclement sky, with bishops and cardinals wrapped up in cellophane cloaks.  In his homily the pontiff explains the dee meaning of his journey to Austria: “Today we join in this great centuries-old pilgrimage. We rest awhile with the Mother of the Lord, and we pray to her: Show us Jesus. Show to us pilgrims the one who is both the way and the destination: the truth and the life”.

For the pope, the pilgrimage is a metaphor for life: “Making a pilgrimage means setting out in a particular direction, travelling towards a destination”. The “nostalgia of the destination” reflects “an open and restless heart”. And even if some people forget the destination during their journey, “again and again, though, the Lord calles forth people whose longing for the goal drives them forward, people who direct their whole lives towards it.”. That goal is God: “We need God, the God who has shown us his face and opened his heart to us: Jesus Christ”.

Benedict XVI underlined the inique and absolute value of  Christ in the face of any search for religious meaning: “Certainly, there are many great figures in history who have had beautiful and moving experiences of God. Yet these are still human experiences, and therefore finite. Only he is God and therefore only he is the bridge that brings God and man together. So if we call him the one universal Mediator of salvation, valid for everyone and, ultimately, needed by everyone, this does not mean that we despise other religions, nor are we arrogantly absolutizing our own ideas; on the contrary, it means that we are gripped by him who has touched our hearts and lavished gifts upon us, so that we, in turn, can offer gifts to others”.

Christ also regains his absolute space in the secularised and indifferent West: “our faith is decisively opposed to the attitude of resignation that considers man incapable of truth – as if this were more than he could cope with. This attitude of resignation with regard to truth lies at the heart of the crisis of the West, the crisis of Europe. If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. And then the great and wonderful discoveries of science become double-edged: they can open up significant possibilities for good, for the benefit of mankind, but also, as we see only too clearly, they can pose a terrible threat, involving the destruction of man and the world. We need truth.”.

The pope admits “because of our history”, sometimes we are afraid “that faith in the truth means intolerance”.  In order to remove all fear of intolerance, he reflected on the theme of pilgrimage, “Gaze upon Christ” and indicates the two images present in the sanctuary, the Child held by the Mother and the Crucified: “These two images in the Basilica tell us this: truth prevails not through external force, but it is humble and it yields itself to man only via the inner force of its veracity. Truth proves itself in love. It is never our property, never our product, just as love can never be produced, but only received and handed on as a gift. We need this inner force of truth. As Christians we trust this force of truth. We are its witnesses. We must hand it on as a gift in the same way we have received it”.

Mary presents Jesus above all “as a child”: “God has made himself small for us. God comes not with external force, but he comes in the powerlessness of his love, which is where his true strength lies. He places himself in our hands. He asks for our love. He invites us to become small ourselves, to come down from our high thrones and to learn to be childlike before God.”.

The God-Child urges commitment to the world’s children, in the East and the West: “Children who live in poverty; who are exploited as soldiers; who have never been able to experience the love of parents; sick and suffering children, but also those who are joyful and healthy. Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished – when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where God is, there is the future”.

The pope comments on that the sense of the other image with which God reveals himself, the Crucified: “God saved the world not by the sword, but by the Cross. In dying, Jesus ….lets himself be nailed to the Cross for us, in order to give us his life. Yet outstretched arms are also the posture of one who prays, the stance assumed by the priest when he extends his arms in prayer: Jesus transformed the Passion, his suffering and his death, into prayer, into an act of love for God and for humanity. That, finally, is why outstretched arms are also a gesture of embracing, by which he wishes to draw us to himself, to enfold us in his loving hands. In this way he is the image of the living God, he is God himself, and we may entrust ourselves to him”.

From this it descends that Christianity  “is more than and different from a moral code, from a series of requirements and laws. It is the gift of a friendship that lasts through life and death”, which is expressed in a much needed moral force “ahead of the challenges of our time”.

“If with Jesus Christ and his Church we constantly re-read the Ten Commandments of Sinai”, entering into their full depth, then a great teaching unfolds before us. It is first and foremost a “yes” to God, to a God who loves us and leads us, who carries us and yet allows us our freedom: indeed, it is he who makes our freedom real (the first three commandments). It is a “yes” to the family (fourth commandment), a “yes” to life (fifth commandment), a “yes” to responsible love (sixth commandment), a “yes” to solidarity, to social responsibility and to justice (seventh commandment), a “yes” to truth (eighth commandment) and a “yes” to respect for other people and for what is theirs (ninth and tenth commandments). By the strength of our friendship with the living God we live this manifold “yes” and at the same time we carry it as a signpost into our world.”.

The pope’s last thoughts was an invitation to “gaze upon Christ” even in daily life, asking the Blessed Virgin: “Show us Jesus!”: “yes, whenever we look towards Mary, she shows us Jesus. Thus we can find the right path, we can follow it step by step, filled with joyful confidence that the path leads into the light – into the joy of eternal Love. Amen.”.

Before concluding, Benedict XVI incensed the statue venerated in Mariazell, remaining for a long period in silence before the image, while a choir sang Bruckner’s Ave Maria. He then commented on the fact that two pilgrims had died this morning during the mass, and assured his prayers.  Before leaving the sanctuary, the pope had wanted to salute some of the pilgrims in their various languages: Hungarian, Slovenian, Croatian, Czech, Slovakian, Polish.  The Pope then delivered the Acts of the Apostles to some representatives of the Austrian diocesan councils and blessing them he invited them to be “the yeast of new life, salt of the earth and light of the world” adding that : “Let us write the Acts of the Apostles with your own lives”:


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