The invitation to the faithful at the end of the general audience: "May the Lord comfort and sustain him in this witness of love for the Church until the end." Vatican Press Office: "The condition of the pope emeritus has worsened. Situation currently under control." On the fourth centenary of the death of St. Francis de Sales, the apostolic letter "Everything Pertains to Love" on the relevance of the spirituality of the great bishop of Geneva is released today.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis - at the end of his Wednesday general audience held in the Paul VI Hall - today asked the faithful for a "special prayer" for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI "who in silence is sustaining the Church."
He expressed his special closeness to his 95-year-old predecessor, who has lived retired in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican since 2013. "He is very ill," Francis said, "we ask the Lord to console him and support him in this witness of love for the Church until the end.
Asked by reporters about the emeritus pope's health condition, Vatican Press Office director Matteo Bruni replied, "I can confirm that in the last few hours there has been a worsening due to advancing age. The situation at the moment remains under control, constantly followed by doctors." At the end of the general audience Pope Francis went to Mater Ecclesiae Monastery to visit Benedict XVI.
The invitation to pray for the pope emeritus came at the end of an audience the pontiff dedicated to Christmas with St. Francis de Sales, the great seventeenth-century preacher and master of spirituality, whose fourth centenary since his death falls today.
On this anniversary, the pope explained that he wrote an apostolic letter entitled Totum amoris est ("Everything pertains to love"), which is being published today. This text - which takes up in its title one of the most famous phrases from the Treatise on the Love of God written by this saintly bishop of Geneva - traces his life and but above all the topicality of his thought in a time of transition like ours, in many ways similar to that in which St. Francis de Sales lived.
Already in today's catechesis, the pope offered an example of this by taking up some of his pages on Christmas that emphasize the extraordinary significance of the mystery of a God who becomes a child. "I seem to see Solomon," wrote St. Francis de Sales to St. Frances de Chantal, "on his great throne of ivory, gilded and carved, which he had no equal in any kingdom, as Scripture says (1 Kings 10:18-20); to see, in short, that king who had no equal in glory and magnificence (cf. 1 Kings 10:23). But I would a hundred times rather see the dear little Child in the manger than all the kings on their thrones."
His making himself small in a manger," Pope Francis commented, "shows us the 'style' of God, which is closeness, compassion and tenderness. With this style of his, God draws us to himself. He does not take us by force, he does not impose his truth and justice on us. He wants to draw us with love, with tenderness."
In another letter written just two days before his death, St. Francis de Sales observed that the Infant Jesus "does not refuse the small consolations that his mother gives him, and it is not written that he ever stretches out his hands to have his Mother's breast, but left everything to her care and foreknowledge; so we should desire nothing nor refuse nothing, enduring everything that God will send us, the cold and the insults of the weather."
For Francis this is a great teaching to be grasped even today in Christmas: "to desire nothing and reject nothing, to accept everything that God sends us. But be careful: always and only out of love, because God loves us and always and only wants our good."