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The service to communion

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI
St Peter's Square, Wednesday 5 April 2006 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the new series of catecheses that began a few weeks ago, we are considering the origins of the Church so as to understand Jesus' original plan and thereby grasp the essential of the Church that lives on through the changing times. Thus, we also understand the reason for our being in the Church and how we must strive to live it at the dawn of a new Christian millennium.

In thinking about the newborn Church, we can discover two aspects: a first aspect is strongly highlighted by St Irenaeus of Lyons, a martyr and great theologian of the end of the 2nd century, the first to have given us a theology that was to a certain extent systematic. St Irenaeus wrote: "Wherever the Church is, God's Spirit is too; and wherever God's Spirit is, there is the Church and every grace; for the Spirit is truth" (Adversus Haereses, III, 24, 1: PG 7, 966). Thus, a deep bond exists between the Holy Spirit and the Church. The Holy Spirit builds the Church and gives her the truth; he pours out love, as St Paul says, into the hearts of believers (cf Rom 5: 5). Then there is a second aspect. This deep bond with the Spirit does not eradicate our humanity, with all of its weaknesses. So it is that from the start the community of the disciples has known not only the joy of the Holy Spirit, the grace of truth and love, but also trials that are constituted above all by disagreements about the truths of faith, with the consequent wounds to communion. Just as the fellowship of love has existed since the outset and will continue to the end (cf 1 Jn 1:1), so also, from the start, division unfortunately arose. We should not be surprised that it still exists today. "They went out from us, but they were not of us", John says in his First Letter, "for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they are not of us" (1 Jn 2: 19). Thus, in the events of the world but also in the weaknesses of the Church, there is always a risk of losing faith, hence also love and brotherhood. Consequently, it is a specific duty of those who believe in the Church of love and want to live in her to recognize this danger too and accept that communion is no longer possible with those who have drifted away from the doctrine of salvation (cf 2 Jn 9: 11).

That the newborn Church was well aware of the possible tensions in the experience of communion is clearly shown by John's First Letter: no voice is more forcefully raised in the New Testament to highlight the reality and duty of fraternal love among Christians; but the same voice is addressed with drastic severity to adversaries of the Church who used to be members of the community but now no longer belong to it. The Church of love is also the Church of truth, understood primarily as fidelity to the Gospel entrusted by the Lord Jesus to his followers. It was being made children of the same Father by the Spirit of truth that gave rise to Christian brotherhood: "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Rom 8: 14). However, if the family of God's children is to live in unity and peace, it needs someone to keep it in the truth and guide it with wise and authoritative discernment: this is what the ministry of the Apostles is required to do. And here we come to an important point. The Church is wholly of the Spirit but has a structure, the apostolic succession, which is responsible for guaranteeing that the Church endures in the truth given by Christ, from whom the capacity to love also comes.

The first brief description in the Acts sums up very effectively the convergence of these values in the life of the newborn Church: "And they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2: 42). Communion is born from faith inspired by apostolic preaching, it is nourished by the breaking of bread and prayer, and is expressed in brotherly love and service. We have before us the description of fellowship in the newborn Church with the riches of its internal dynamism and visible expressions: the gift of communion is safeguarded and promoted in particular by the apostolic ministry, which in turn is a gift for all the community.

The Apostles and their successors are therefore the custodians and authoritative witnesses of the deposit of truth consigned to the Church, and are likewise the ministers of charity. These are two aspects that go together. They must always be mindful of the inseparable nature of this twofold service which in fact is only one: truth and love, revealed and given by the Lord Jesus. In this regard, their service is first and foremost a service of love: and the charity they live and foster is inseparable from the truth they preserve and pass on. Truth and love are the two faces of the same gift that comes from God and, thanks to the apostolic ministry, is safeguarded in the Church and handed down to us, to our present time! And the love of the Trinitarian God also reaches us through the service of the Apostles and their successors, to communicate to us the truth that sets us free (cf Jn 8: 32)! All this, which we see in the newborn Church, impels us to pray for the Successors of the Apostles, for all the Bishops and for the Successors of Peter, so that together they may truly be at the same time custodians of truth and love; so that, in this regard, they may truly be apostles of Christ and that his light, the light of truth and love, may never be extinguished in the Church or in the world."


"J’accueille avec plaisir les pèlerins de langue française, particulièrement les Sœurs de la Congrégation de la Présentation de Marie, les séminaristes de Namur, accompagnés de leur Évêque Mgr André-Mutien Léonard, et les nombreux jeunes présents aujourd’hui. En ces jours qui nous conduisent à la célébration de la mort et de la résurrection du Seigneur, accueillez généreusement en vos cœurs le don de l’amour et de la vérité que Dieu vous fait, ainsi vous serez rendus libres !

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I am happy to offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including the class from the NATO Defence College, and the groups from England, Denmark, the Faeroe Islands and the United States of America. May your time in Rome strengthen your faith and renew your love for the Lord and his Church. May God bless you all!

Mit Freude heiße ich alle Pilger und Besucher aus Deutschland, Österreich, der Schweiz und aus Belgien willkommen. Besonders grüße ich die Wallfahrer aus Deggendorf, Twistringen, aus Unterwössen, und aus Nesselwang, vor allem die vielen Jugendlichen und Schüler. Gott schenkt uns durch die Gemeinschaft der Kirche seine Liebe und seine Wahrheit, die uns frei macht. Nehmt diese großen Gaben an und gebt sie als Jünger Jesu Christi weiter an eure Freunde in unsere Zeit hinein. Gottes Segen begleite euch auf das kommende Osterfest hin!

Saludo cordialmente a los visitantes de lengua española, en especial al Obispo de Santander, Monseñor José Vilaplana y acompañantes, venidos con motivo del Año Santo Lebaniego. Saludo también a los profesores y alumnos de distintos colegios e institutos españoles, así como a los demás peregrinos de España y Latinoamérica. Os invito a practicar la caridad con los más necesitados y a fomentar la comunión en la Iglesia. ¡Muchas gracias!

El próximo día 7 de abril se celebran los 500 años del nacimiento de san Francisco Javier, el gran misionero jesuita que predicó el Evangelio por tierras de Asia, abriendo muchas puertas a Cristo. Me uno a dicha celebración agradeciendo al Señor este gran don a su Iglesia. He enviado al Cardenal Antonio María Rouco para presidir los actos en el Santuario de Javier, en Navarra, España. Me uno a él y a todos los peregrinos que acudirán a tan insigne lugar misionero.

Al contemplar la figura de san Francisco Javier, nos sentimos llamados a rezar por quienes dedican su vida a la misión evangelizadora, proclamando la belleza del mensaje salvador de Jesús.

Al mismo tiempo, os invito a rezar para que, por intercesión de este Santo, todos intensifiquen sus esfuerzos por consolidar los horizontes de paz que parecen abrirse en el País Vasco y en toda España, y a superar los obstáculos que puedan presentarse a lo largo de este camino.

Pozdrawiam obecnych tu Polaków. Razem z wami dziękuję Bogu za pontyfikat mojego wielkiego Poprzednika Jana Pawła II. Jego duchowa obecność i dziedzictwo jego nauczania niech umacniają nas w wierze i pomagają w drodze do spotkania z Chrystusem. Niech Bóg błogosławi wam i waszym rodzinom. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Sveikinu maldininkus iš Lietuvos! Nuoširdi Gavėnios malda tepadeda Jums vis labiau pažinti begalinę Dievo meilę žmonijai. Visus Jus laiminu. Garbė Jėzui Kristui!

Szeretettel köszöntöm a magyar híveket, különösen azokat, akik Budapestről érkeztek. E nagyböjt idején kérjük az Úrtól bizalommal a megtérés nagy kegyelmét. Szívesen adom Rátok apostoli áldásomat. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!


Saluto i pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, i fedeli di Campodonico e di Fabriano, accompagnati dal loro Pastore Mons. Giancarlo Vecerrica; quelli di Monteroduni, qui convenuti con il Vescovo di Isernia Mons. Andrea Gemma. Saluto, inoltre, i gruppi della Croce Rossa Italiana, provenienti dall'Italia centrale. Tutti ringrazio per la loro partecipazione e invoco su ciascuno copiose benedizioni celesti.

Lastly, I address a cordial greeting to the sick, the newly-weds and the young people, among whom I greet in particular the students from Ponte Felcino. In this last part of Lent I urge you to continue with commitment on your spiritual journey towards Easter.

Dear young people, intensify your witness of faithful love to the Crucified Christ. May you, dear sick people, look at the Lord's Cross, to offer up the trial of illness courageously. And you, dear newly-weds, ensure that your spousal union is always enlivened by divine love."