Vatican City (AsiaNews) - In our era, marked by “signs of loss of conscience and morality and in which there is an obvious lack of esteem for the sacrament of confession", the shepherd of souls and the confessor must have "fidelity to Catholic moral teaching "and" a charitable understanding, and gentle attitude ", so penitents may "feel guided, supported and encouraged in their journey of faith and Christian life”.
This is the teaching of "Doctor of the Church", Saint Alphonsus Liguori, described by Benedict XVI to 20 thousand faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square for the general audience. During the gathering, the Pope also appealed for reconciliation in Côte d'Ivoire, where he announced the dispatch of Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson, ,president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace "to express my solidarity and that of the universal Church to victims of the conflict and encourage reconciliation and peace. "
Returning to St. Alphonsus, the Pope described him as a "great moralist Monk," to whom we are "highly indebted" for his work especially for simple people, and author of the words and music of one of the best-loved Italian Christmas carols "You come down from the stars".
Benedict XVI stressed the relevance of the Neapolitan saint’s teachings on moral issues and in particular with regard to the tasks of the confessor. In his day, he explained, " a very strict interpretation of the moral life had spread, partly because of the Jansenist mentality that instead of nourishing trust and hope in the mercy of God, fomented fear that depicted a severe and grim God far from the image revealed in Jesus". St. Alphonsus "offers a balanced and convincing synthesis between the needs of God's law and the dynamics of conscience and freedom of man in adherence to truth and goodness allowing maturation and personal fulfilment. He recommended pastors of souls and confessors, to be faithful to Catholic moral teaching, having a charitable, understanding and gentle attitude, so penitents may feel guided, supported and encouraged in their journey of faith and Christian life. "
Alfonso was born in Naples in 1696. A gifted young man, at only 16 years of age he was awarded a degree in civil and canon law and became the most brilliant lawyer of the Court of Naples, winning all his cases for eight years. However, in 1723 "outraged by the corruption and injustice in the forensic sphere" he decided to leave the profession to become a priest despite the opposition of his father. He had "great teachers" and in 1726 was ordained a priest. In the Diocesan Congregation of the missions he began his apostolic mission of evangelization and catechesis among the most humble strata of the population of Naples.
"Quite a few of these people, poor and simple, whom he was addressing, were often in the grips of vices and performed criminal acts. He patiently taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of life. Alfonso obtained excellent results: in the poorest neighbourhoods of the city groups of people multiplied who, in the evening, met in private homes and shops, to pray and meditate on the Word of God under the guidance of some catechists trained by Alfonso and other priests, who regularly visited these groups of believers. When, at the behest of the archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they took on the name of 'Evening Chapels'. They were a real source of moral education, social rehabilitation, mutual support among the poor: theft, duels, prostitution almost disappeared. "
"Although the social and religious context of the time of St. Alphonsus was very different from ours, the 'Evening Chapels' appear a model of missionary activity that can inspire us today for a new evangelization, especially among the poorest, and to build a more human, just and fraternal solidarity in society. Priests were given the task of spiritual ministry, and well-formed lay Christian leaders can be effective, authentic Gospel leaven in society. "
At 35 St. Alphonsus came into contact with farmers and shepherds of the inner regions of the kingdom, who were spiritually and materially poor. In 1732 he founded the Religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. "These men, led by Alfonso, were true itinerant missionaries, reaching even the most remote villages exhorting to conversion and perseverance in the Christian life, especially through prayer. Even today, the Redemptorists, scattered in many countries around the world with new forms of apostolate continue this mission of evangelization. I think of them with gratitude, urging them to always be faithful to the example of their holy founder. " In 1762 he was appointed bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths, which he left in 1765 due to illness. "He was a saint exclaimed Pope Pius VI at the news of his death in 1787. And he was not wrong. " He was beatified in 1816 and canonized in 1787 and in 1817 Pope Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church and Pope Pius XII in 1950, wanted him patron saint of confessors and moralists
Finally, Benedict XVI underlined his insistence "on the need for prayer" and recalled the motto of the saint, "he who prays is saved," and the exhortation of John Paul II: "Our Christian communities must become schools of prayer. It is therefore essential that education in prayer becomes a priority of all pastoral planning”