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Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God, 2009

New Year 2009 & 42nd World Day of Peace
Theme: Fighting Poverty to Build Peace

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily
at the Te Deum & 1st Vespers of the Solemnity
31 December 2008 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The year that is ending and that which is approaching on the horizon are both under the blessed gaze of the Most Holy Mother of God. The artistic polychrome sculpture set here next to the altar, which portrays her on a throne with the Child giving his blessing, also recalls her motherly presence. We are celebrating the First Vespers of this Marian Solemnity, in which there are numerous liturgical references to the mystery of the Virgin's divine motherhood.

"O admirabile commercium! O marvelous exchange!". Thus begins the Antiphon of the first Psalm, to then continue: "man's Creator has become man, born of a virgin". "By your miraculous birth of the Virgin you have fulfilled the Scriptures", proclaims the Antiphon of the Second Psalm, which is echoed by the words of the third Antiphon that introduce us to the canticle taken from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians: "Your blessed and fruitful virginity is like the bush, flaming yet unburned, which Moses saw on Sinai. Pray for us, Mother of God". Mary's divine motherhood is also highlighted in the brief Reading proclaimed shortly beforehand, which proposes anew the well-known verses of the Letter to the Galatians: "When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of woman... so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal 4v 4-5). And again, in the traditional Te Deum that we will raise at the end of our celebration before the Most Holy Sacrament solemnly exposed for our adoration singing, "Tu, ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum", in English: "when you, O Christ, became man to set us free you did not spurn the Virgin's womb".

Thus everything this evening invites us to turn our gaze to the one who "received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world", and for this very reason the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council recalls "she is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God" (Lumen gentium, 53). Christ's Nativity, which we are commemorating in these days, is entirely suffused with the light of Mary and, while we pause at the crib to contemplate the Child, our gaze cannot fail to turn in gratitude also to his Mother, who with her "yes" made possible the gift of Redemption. This is why the Christmas season brings with it a profoundly Marian connotation; the birth of Jesus as God and man and Mary's divine motherhood are inseparable realities; the mystery of Mary and the mystery of the Only-Begotten Son of God who was made man form a single mystery, in which the one helps to better understand the other.

Mary Mother of God - Theotokos, Dei Genetrix. Since ancient times Our Lady has been honoured with this title. However, for many centuries in the West there was no feast specifically dedicated to the divine Motherhood of Mary. It was introduced into the Latin Church by Pope Pius XI in 1931 on the occasion of the 15th centenary of the Council of Ephesus, and he chose to establish it on 11 October. On that date, in 1962, the Second Vatican Council was inaugurated. It was then the Servant of God Paul VI who restored an ancient tradition in 1969, fixing this Solemnity on 1 January. In the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus of 2 February 1974, he explained the reason for his decision and its connection with the World Day of Peace. "In the revised ordering of the Christmas period it seems to us that the attention of all should be directed towards the restored Solemnity of Mary the holy Mother of God," Paul VI wrote. "This celebration... is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the "holy Mother'.... It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewing adoration to the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (cf Lk 2, 14), and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace" (n 5).

This evening, let us place in the hands of the heavenly Mother of God our choral hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord for the gifts he has generously granted us during the past 12 months. The first sentiment which spontaneously rises in our hearts this evening is precisely that of praise and thanksgiving to the One who gave us time, a precious opportunity to do good; let us combine with it our request for forgiveness for perhaps not always having spent it usefully. I am glad to share this thanksgiving with you, dear brothers and sisters who represent the whole of our diocesan community to which I address my cordial greeting, extending it to all the inhabitants of Rome. I extend a particular greeting to the Cardinal Vicar and to the Mayor, both of whom have begun their different missions this year, one spiritual and religious, the other civil and administrative at the service of this city of ours. I extend my greeting to the auxiliary bishops, priests, consecrated people and the very many lay faithful who have gathered here, as well as to the authorities present. By coming into the world, the eternal Word of the Father revealed to us God's closeness and the ultimate truth about man and his eternal destiny; He came to stay with us to be our irreplaceable support, especially in the inevitable daily difficulties. And this evening the Virgin herself reminds us of what a great gift Jesus gave us with his Birth, of what a precious "treasure" his Incarnation constitutes for us. In his Nativity Jesus comes to offer us his Word as a lamp to guide our steps; He comes to offer us Himself and we must always affirm Him as our unfailing hope in our daily life, aware that "it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" (Gaudium et spes, 22).

Christ's presence is a gift that we must be able to share with everyone. It is for this purpose that the diocesan community is making an effort to form pastoral workers, so as to equip them to respond to the challenges modern culture poses to the Christian faith. The presence of numerous highly qualified academic institutions in Rome and the many initiatives promoted by the parishes enable us to look confidently to the future of Christianity in this city. As you well know, encountering Christ renews our personal life and helps us to contribute to building a just and fraternal society. This is why we as believers can also make a great contribution to overcoming the current educational emergency. Thus, for a profound evangelization and a courageous human promotion that can communicate the riches that derive from the encounter with Christ to as many people as possible, an increase in synergy among families, schools and parishes is more important than ever. For this I encourage each member of our diocese to continue on the journey they have undertaken, together carrying out the programme for the current pastoral year which aims precisely to "educate to hope through prayer, action and suffering".

In our times, marked by uncertainty and concern for the future, it is necessary to experience the living presence of Christ. It is Mary, Star of Hope, who leads us to Him. It is she, with her maternal love, who can guide to Jesus especially young people, who bear in their hearts an irrepressible question about the meaning of human existence. I know that various groups of parents, meeting in order to deepen their vocation, are seeking new ways to help their children respond to the big existential questions. I cordially urge them, together with the whole Christian community, to bear witness to the new generations of the joy that stems from encountering Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and did not come to take something from us but rather to give us everything.

On Christmas night I had a special thought for children; instead, this evening it is young people above all on whom I wish to focus my attention. Dear young people, responsible for the future of this our city, do not be afraid of the apostolic task that the Lord is entrusting to you. Do not hesitate to choose a lifestyle that does not follow the current hedonistic mindset. The Holy Spirit assures you of the strength you need to witness to the joy of faith and the beauty of being Christian. The growing need for evangelization requires many labourers in the Lord's vineyard; do not hesitate to respond to him promptly if He calls you. Society needs citizens who are not concerned solely with their own interests because, as I recalled on Christmas Day, "If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart".

Dear brothers and sisters, this year is ending with an awareness of the spreading social and financial crisis that now involves the whole world; a crisis that asks for greater moderation and solidarity from all, so that they may go to the aid especially of the individuals and families who are in the most serious difficulty. The Christian community is already making efforts toward this and I know that the diocesan Caritas and other relief agencies are doing their utmost. Nonetheless, everyone's collaboration is necessary, for no one can think of building his own happiness alone. Although many clouds are gathering on the horizon of our future, we must not be afraid. Our great hope as believers is eternal life in communion with Christ and the whole family of God. This great hope gives us the strength to face and to overcome the difficulties of life in this world. This evening the motherly presence of Mary assures us that God never abandons us if we entrust ourselves to him and follow his teachings. Therefore, while we take our leave of 2008 and prepare to welcome 2009, let us present to Mary our expectations and hopes, as well as our fears and the difficulties that dwell in our hearts, with filial affection and trust. She, the Virgin Mother, offers us the Child who lies in the manger as our sure hope. Full of trust, we shall then be able to sing at the end of the Te Deum: "In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum - In you, Lord, is our hope: and we shall never hope in vain". Yes, Lord, in you we hope, today and for ever; you are our hope. Amen!"

Benedetto XVI's Homily at Mass on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
St Peter's Basilica, Sunday 1 January 2009 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Venerable Brothers, Mr Ambassadors, dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the first day of the year, divine Providence brings us together for a celebration that moves us each time because of the riches and beauty of its correspondence: the civil New Year converges with the culmination of the Octave of Christmas on which the divine Motherhood of Mary is celebrated, and this gathering is summed up felicitously in the World Day of Peace. In the light of Christ's Nativity, I am pleased to address my best wishes to each one for the year that has just begun... My good wishes echo the good wishes that the Lord himself has just addressed to us in the liturgy of the Word. A Word which, starting with the event in Bethlehem, recalled in its historical actuality by the Gospel of Luke and reinterpreted in all its saving importance by the Apostle Paul (Gal 4, 4-7), becomes a blessing for the People of God and for all humanity.

Thus the ancient Jewish tradition of blessing is brought to completion (Nm 6, 22-27): the priests of Israel blessed the people by putting the Lord's Name upon them: "so shall they put my name upon the people of Israel". With a triple formula present in the first reading the sacred Name was invoked upon the faithful three times, as a wish for grace and peace. This remote custom brings us back to an essential reality: to be able to walk on the way of peace, men and women and peoples need to be illumined by the "Face" of God and to be blessed by his "Name". Precisely this came about definitively with the Incarnation: the coming of the Son of God in our flesh and in history brought an irrevocable blessing, a light that is never to be extinguished and offers believers and people of good-will alike the possibility of building the civilization of love and peace.

The Second Vatican Council said in this regard that "by his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man" (Gaudium et Spes, 22). This union confirms the original design of a humanity created in the "image and likeness" of God. In fact, the Incarnate Word is the one, perfect and consubstantial image of the invisible God. Jesus Christ is the perfect man. "Human nature", the Council reaffirms: "by the very fact that it was assumed... in him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare." For this reason the earthly history of Jesus that culminated in the paschal mystery is the beginning of a new world, because he truly inaugurated a new humanity, ever and only with Christ's grace, capable of bringing about a peaceful "revolution". This revolution was not an ideological but spiritual revolution, not utopian but real, and for this reason in need of infinite patience, sometimes of very long periods, avoiding any short cuts and taking the hardest path: the path of the development of responsibility in consciences.

Dear friends, this is the Gospel way to peace, the way that the Bishop of Rome is called to reproprose with constancy every time that he sets his hand to writing the annual Message for the World Day of Peace. In taking this path it is at times necessary to review aspects and problems that have already been faced but that are so important that they constantly require fresh attention. This is the case of the theme I have chosen for the Message this year: "Fighting poverty to build peace". This is a theme that lends itself to a dual order of considerations which I can only mention briefly here. On the one hand the poverty Jesus chose and proposed and, on the other, the poverty to be combated in order to bring the world greater justice and solidarity.

The first aspect acquires its ideal context during these days in the Christmas Season. The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem reveals to us that God chose poverty for Himself in coming among us. The scene that the shepherds were the first to see and that confirmed the angel's announcement to them, was a stable in which Mary and Joseph had found shelter, and a manger in which the Virgin had laid the newborn Child wrapped in swaddling clothes. God chose this poverty. He wanted to be born thus but we can immediately add: he wanted to live and also to die in this condition. Why? St Alphonsus Maria Liguori explains it in a Christmas carol that is known all over Italy: "You, Creator of the world had no clothes, no fire, O my Lord. My dear Divine Child, how I love this poverty, since for love you made yourself poorer still". This is the answer: love for us impelled Jesus not only to make himself man, but also to make himself poor. Along these same lines we can quote St Paul's words in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "For you are well acquainted", he writes, with "the favour shown you by our Lord Jesus Christ: how for your sake he made himself poor though he was rich, so that you might become rich by his poverty" (8: 9). St Francis of Assisi was an exemplary witness of this poverty chosen for love. The Franciscan charism, in the history of the Church and of Christian civilization, constitutes a widespread trend of evangelical poverty which has done and continues to do such great good for the Church and for the human family. Returning to St Paul's wonderful synthesis on Jesus, it is significant also for our reflection today that it was inspired in the Apostle precisely while he was urging the Christians of Corinth to be generous in collecting money for the poor. He explains: "I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want" (2 Cor 8, 13).

This is a crucial point that brings us to the second aspect: there is a poverty, a deprivation, which God does not desire and which should be "fought" as the theme of this World Day of Peace says; a poverty that prevents people and families from living as befits their dignity; a poverty that offends justice and equality and that, as such, threatens peaceful co-existence. This negative acceptation also includes all the non-material forms of poverty that are also to be found in the rich and developed societies: marginalization, relational, moral and spiritual poverty. In my message I wanted once again, following in the wake of my predecessors, to consider attentively the complex phenomenon of globalization and its relation to widespread poverty. In the face of widespread scourges such as pandemic diseases, child poverty, the food crisis, I have unfortunately had to return to denouncing the unacceptable arms race. On the one hand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being celebrated and, on the other, military expenditure is increasing, thereby violating the Charter of the United Nations, which endeavours to reduce this expenditure to the minimum. Furthermore, globalization eliminates certain barriers but it can build others. The international community and the individual States must therefore always be alert; they must never lose sight of the dangers of conflict. On the contrary, they must strive to keep the level of solidarity high. The current global financial crisis must be seen in this regard also as a bench test: are we ready to interpret it, in its complexity, as a challenge for the future and not only as an emergency to which we must find short-term solutions? Are we prepared to undertake a profound revision of the prevalent model of development in order to correct it with concerted, far-sighted interventions? In reality, this is required by the state of the planet's ecological health and especially the cultural and moral crisis whose symptoms have been visible for some time in every part of the world, far more than by the immediate financial problems.

Thus it is necessary to seek to establish a "virtuous circle" between the poverty "to be chosen" and the poverty "to be fought". This gives access to a path rich in fruits for humanity's present and future and which could be summarized thus: to fight the evil poverty that oppresses so many men and women and threatens the peace of all, it is necessary to rediscover moderation and solidarity as evangelical and, at the same time, universal values. More practically, it is impossible to combat poverty effectively unless one does what St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in other words if one does not seek "to create equality", reducing the gap between those who waste the superfluous and those who lack what they need. This entails just and sober decisions, which are moreover made obligatory by the need to administer the earth's limited resources wisely. When he says that Jesus Christ "for [our] sake became poor", St Paul offers an important indication not only from the theological point of view but also at the sociological level; not in the sense that poverty is a value in itself, but because it is a condition that demonstrates solidarity. When Francis of Assisi stripped himself of his possessions, it was a decision to witness that was inspired in him directly by God, but at the same time it shows everyone the way of trust in Providence. Thus, in the Church, the vow of poverty is the commitment of some, but it reminds all of the need to be detached from material goods and of the primacy of spiritual riches. This is therefore the message for us today: the poverty of Christ's Birth in Bethlehem, as well as being the subject of adoration for Christians, is also a school of life for every man. It teaches us that to fight both material and spiritual poverty, the path to take is the path of solidarity that impelled Jesus to share our human condition.

Dear brothers and sisters, I believe that the Virgin Mary must have asked herself this question several times: why did Jesus choose to be born of a simple, humble girl like me? And then, why did He want to come into the world in a stable and have his first visit from the shepherds of Bethlehem? Mary received her answer in full at the end, having laid the Body of Jesus in the tomb, dead and wrapped in a linen shroud. She must then have fully understood the mystery of the poverty of God. She understood that God made himself poor for our sake, to enrich us with his poverty full of love, to urge us to impede the insatiable greed that sparks conflicts and divisions, to invite us to moderate the mania to possess and thus to be open to reciprocal sharing and acceptance. Let us trustingly address to Mary, Mother of the Son of God who made himself our brother, our prayer that she will help us follow in his footsteps, to fight and overcome poverty, to build true peace, which is opus iustitiae. Let us entrust to her the profound desire to live in peace that wells up in the hearts of the vast majority of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, once again jeopardized by the outbreak of violence on a massive scale in the Gaza Strip, in response to other violent incidents. Even violence, even hatred and distrust are forms of poverty perhaps the most appalling "to fight". May they not get the upper hand! In this regard the Pastors of those Churches, in these distressing days, have made their voices heard. Together with them and their beloved faithful, especially those of the small but fervent parish of Gaza, let us place at Mary's feet our anxieties for the present and our fears for the future, and likewise the well-founded hope that with the wise and far-sighted contribution of all it will not be impossible to listen to one another, to come to one another's help and to give concrete responses to the widespread aspiration to live in peace, safety and dignity. Let us say to Mary: accompany us, heavenly Mother of the Redeemer, throughout the year that begins today, and obtain from God the gift of peace for the Holy Land and for all humanity. Holy Mother of God, pray for us. Amen."

Papa Benedetto's words at the Angelus on 42nd World Day of Peace
St Peter's Square, New Year's Day 2009 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On this first day of the year, I am pleased to extend my very best wishes for peace and every good to all of you present in St Peter's Square and to those linked to us through radio and television. They are wishes that the Christian faith renders, so to speak, "reliable", anchoring them in the event that we are celebrating in these days: the Incarnation of the Word of God, born of the Virgin Mary. In effect, with and only with the grace of the Lord can we always hope anew that the future will be better than the past. This does not in fact mean to trust in a more fortunate destiny, or in the modern trends of markets and of finance, but rather to make the effort ourselves to be a little better and more responsible, to be able to count on the kindness of the Lord. And this is always possible, because "[God] has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb 1, 2) and speaks to us continually, through the preaching of the Gospel and through the voice of our conscience. In Jesus Christ the road to salvation has been shown to all people a salvation that is first of all spiritual redemption but that involves the entire man, including the social and historical dimension.

For this reason, while the Church celebrates the divine Motherhood of Mary Most Holy on this day that has been for more than 40 years the World Day of Peace, she points to Jesus Christ as Prince of Peace to all. According to the tradition begun by the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, I have written for this occasion a special Message, choosing as its theme: "Fighting poverty to build peace". In this way I wish to place myself in dialogue once again with the leaders of nations and of international institutions, offering the Catholic Church's contribution for the promotion of a world order worthy of man. At the beginning of a new year, my first goal is precisely that of inviting all political leaders and ordinary citizens not to be discouraged in the face of difficulties and failures, but instead to renew their efforts. In the second half of 2008 an economic crisis of vast proportions emerged. That crisis must be studied in depth, like a grave symptom whose cause requires investigation. It is not enough as Jesus would say to sew new patches onto an old garment (cf Mk 2, 21). To put the poor in first place means to decisively implement that kind of global solidarity that John Paul II had already indicated as necessary, uniting market potential with that of civil society (cf Message, 12), in constant respect for the law and always in view of the common good.

Jesus Christ did not organize campaigns against poverty, but he proclaimed the Gospel to the poor, providing an integral redemption from moral and material misery. The Church does the same, with its tireless work of evangelization and of human advancement. Let us invoke the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, so that she may help all peoples to walk together on the Way of peace."

After the Angelus:

"Desidero ringraziare tutti coloro che mi hanno fatto pervenire espressioni augurali per il nuovo anno. In particolare, esprimo la mia riconoscenza al Signor Presidente della Repubblica Italiana e con viva cordialità rinnovo a lui ed all’intera Nazione italiana i migliori voti di pace e di prosperità.

Saluto con gioia i partecipanti alla marcia intitolata "Pacem in terris", promossa dalla Comunità di Sant’Egidio a Roma e in settanta Paesi del mondo. Esprimo il mio apprezzamento per le innumerevoli iniziative di preghiera e riflessione sul tema della pace, tra le quali ricordo quella della Conferenza Episcopale Italiana, svoltasi ieri sera a Palermo. L’anno nuovo inizia con il passo dei cercatori di pace. Grazie di questi gesti! Il Signore ci aiuti e ci dia la pace!

Je suis heureux de vous saluer, chers frères et sœurs francophones. J’adresse en particulier mes salutations affectueuses aux prêtres et aux responsables des Guides et Scouts de France. Que votre venue auprès des tombeaux des apôtres Pierre et Paul, qui ont donné leurs vies pour que la lumière de l’Évangile brille sur le monde, ravive votre engagement au service des jeunes, que vous accompagnez afin qu’ils découvrent à leur tour la joie d’être disciples et serviteurs de Jésus. Je salue également avec joie le groupe de jeunes du Liban. Je les encourage à poursuivre, par leur témoignage et leur chant, leur geste de foi et de solidarité. En ce jour, confions à Dieu la nouvelle année qui commence. Par l’intercession de Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu, qui, par sa maternité virginale, a offert au genre humain les trésors du salut éternel, demandons au Seigneur de combler notre monde de sa paix et chacun de nous d’une foi joyeuse et active. À vous tous, bonne, heureuse et sainte année 2009.

I am very pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Angelus, and I wish you all a happy New Year! I pray that Christians everywhere, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, will be filled with spiritual joy. During this year, may all who believe in Christ promote justice and charity, and bear constant witness to forgiveness, reconciliation and peace! May the Lord bless you and keep you!

Am ersten Tag des Neuen Jahres begrüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Brüder und Schwestern hier auf dem Petersplatz. Heute, am Oktavtag von Weihnachten, feiert die Kirche das Hochfest der Gottesmutter Maria und begeht zugleich den Weltfriedenstag. Maria, die Königin des Friedens, hat Christus zur Welt gebracht, der alle Menschen mit den Gaben des himmlischen Vaters beschenken will. So bitten wir besonders um Gottes Beistand für die Völker, die auch zu Beginn dieses Jahres unter gewalttätigen Auseinandersetzungen leiden, und für uns alle, damit wir den Bedürftigen helfen und so den Frieden fördern. Der Herr segne und behüte euch und eure Familien!

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española que se han unido a esta entrañable oración mariana, precisamente en el día en que la Iglesia celebra la solemnidad de Santa María, Madre de Dios. Saludo en particular al grupo del Santuario de Calasparra, que hace poco ha concluido un fructuoso año jubilar en honor de la Virgen de la Esperanza. Al comenzar el año, os invito a todos a dar un nuevo impulso a vuestra vida de fe, esperanza y caridad, para que todos los hombres, pueblos y naciones encuentren en Cristo la fuente de la paz verdadera. Feliz Año Nuevo.

Pozdrawiam Polaków tu obecnych i tych, którzy łączą się z nami przez radio i telewizję. Zawierzam Maryi Świętej Bożej Rodzicielce rozpoczynający się nowy rok. Niech będzie dla wszystkich dobry i szczęśliwy, obfity w łaski i Boże błogosławieństwo. „Bóg, dawca nadziei, niech wam udzieli pełni radości i pokoju w wierze..." (Rz 15, 13). Do siego roku!

Saluto con affetto i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare le famiglie del Movimento dell’Amore Familiare, che questa notte hanno vegliato in Piazza San Pietro pregando per la pace nei cuori, nelle famiglie e tra i popoli. Saluto i Giovani dell’Opera Don Orione partecipanti al "Capodanno Alternativo", gli studenti e gli insegnanti di Comunione e Liberazione di Genova e gli Sbandieratori di Capalbio. A tutti auguro una buona festa e un anno ricco di ogni bene."


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