Papal visit to France: Paris (ii)

 Instititute de France

At 9am Saturday morning the Pope arrived at the Institut de France, an institution founded in 1795 which includes five separate academies: the Academie francaise, the Academie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, the Academie des sciences, the Academie des beaux-arts, and the Academie des sciences morales et politiques.

The Institut is made up of eminent figures from all areas of human knowledge. In 1992 the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, became an associate member of the Academie des sciences morales et politiques, succeeding the Nobel Prize winning scientist Andrei Sakharov who died in 1989.

On his arrival, Benedict XVI was greeted by Gabriel de Broglie, chancellor of the Institut de France, and by Helene Carrere d'Encausse, permanent secretary of the Academie francaise, who accompanied him to the hall of the cupola where members of the five academies were gathered. After uncovering a plaque commemorating his visit, Pope Benedict pronounced a brief address.

"For me it is a very great honour to be received this morning under the cupola. ... I could not come to Paris without greeting you personally. I am pleased to have this happy opportunity to emphasise my profound links with French culture, for which I have the greatest admiration".

"As Rabelais rightly asserted in his day: 'science without conscience brings only ruin to the soul!'. It was doubtless in order to contribute to avoiding the risk of such a dichotomy that, at the end of January of last year, and for the first time in three and a half centuries, two academies of the Institut, two pontifical academies and the Institut Catholique in Paris organised a joint 'Colloquium' on the changing identity of the individual. ... This initiative could be taken further, in order to explore together the countless research possibilities in the human and experimental sciences".

Mass on the esplanade of Les Invalides

On Saturday morning, more than 200,000 people attended the Papal Mass on the esplanade of Les Invalides in Paris, a complex of buildings that includes a hospital for war veterans, a military museum and the church of Saint-Louis des Invalides with a great dome under which is the grave of Napoleon Bonaparte.

During his homily the Pope said: "In the First Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians"we discover ... how much the counsels given by the Apostle remain important today. 'Shun the worship of idols', he writes to a community deeply marked by paganism and divided between adherence to the newness of the Gospel and the observance of former practices inherited from its ancestors".

"Apart from the people of Israel, who had received the revelation of the one God, the ancient world was in thrall to the worship of idols. Strongly present in Corinth, the errors of paganism had to be denounced, for they constituted a powerful source of alienation and they diverted man from his true destiny. They prevented him from recognising that Christ is the sole Saviour, the only One Who points out to man the path to God.

"This appeal to shun idols", he added, "is also pertinent today. ... The word 'idol' comes from the Greek and means 'image', 'figure', 'representation', but also 'ghost', 'phantom', 'vain appearance'. An idol is a delusion, for it turns its worshipper away from reality and places him in the kingdom of mere appearances".

"Now is this not a temptation in our own day - the only one we can act upon effectively? The temptation to idolise a past that no longer exists, forgetting its shortcomings; the temptation to idolise a future which does not yet exist, in the belief that, by his efforts alone, man can bring about the kingdom of eternal joy on earth!" In the same way, "have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even for knowledge, diverted man from his true destiny?"

Yet "radical condemnation of idolatry", said the Pope quoting St. John Chrysostom whose feast day falls today, "is never a personal condemnation of the idolater. In our judgements, must we never confuse the sin, which is unacceptable, with the sinner, the state of whose conscience we cannot judge and who, in any case, is always capable of conversion and forgiveness".

"Never does God ... ask man to sacrifice his reason! Reason never enters into real contradiction with faith! The one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - created our reason and gives us faith, proposing to our freedom that it be received as a precious gift. It is the worship of idols which diverts man from this perspective.

"Let us therefore ask God, who sees us and hears us, to help us purify ourselves from all idols, in order to arrive at the truth of our being, in order to arrive at the truth of His infinite being!"

"St Paul asks us to make use not only of our reason, but above all our faith in order to discover Him. Now, what does faith say to us? The bread that we break is a communion with the Body of Christ. The cup of blessing which we bless is a communion with the Blood of Christ".

"Over the last twenty centuries", the Holy Father recalled, "the risen Lord has given Himself to His people. ... Let us give the greatest veneration to the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the Blessed Sacrament of the real presence of the Lord to his Church and to all humanity".

"The Mass is the sacrifice of thanksgiving par excellence, the one which allows us to unite our own thanksgiving to that of the Saviour. ... The Mass invites us to discern what, in ourselves, is obedient to the Spirit of God and what, in ourselves, is attuned to the spirit of evil".

Hence, "to raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, is that not the very best way of 'shunning idols'? ... Every time the Mass is celebrated, every time Christ makes Himself sacramentally present in His Church, the work of our salvation is accomplished. ... He alone teaches us to shun idols, the illusions of our minds".

Yet "who can raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord in the name of the entire people of God, except the priest?", the Pope asked and he made an appeal, "confident in their faith and generosity", to young people "who are considering a religious or priestly vocation: do not be afraid! Do not be afraid to give your life to Christ! Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests at the heart of the Church!"

"Hope will always remain stronger than all else! The Church, built upon the rock of Christ, possesses the promises of eternal life, not because her members are holier than others, but because Christ made this promise to Peter: 'You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it'".

Benedict XVI concluded: "In this unfailing hope of God's eternal presence in the souls of each of us, in this joy of knowing that Christ is with us until the end of time, in this power that the Holy Spirit gives to all those who let themselves be filled with Him, I entrust you, dear Christians of Paris and France, to the powerful and merciful action of the God of love Who died for us upon the Cross and rose victorious on Easter morning. To all people of good will ... I say once more, with St. Paul: Shun the worship of idols, do not tire of doing good!"


At 7.15pm on Saturday, the Pope presided at the celebration of Vespers with priests, religious, seminarians and deacons atg Notre Dame Cathedral. Also present at the celebration were a number of representatives from other Churches and Christian communities.

Commenting in his homily on Psalm 126, 1 - "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain" - the Pope asked: "Who is this Lord, if not our Lord Jesus Christ? It is He Who founded His Church and built it on rock, on the faith of the Apostle Peter". St. Augustine asks "how we can know who these builders are, and his answer is this: 'All those who preach God's word in the Church, all who are ministers of God's divine Sacraments. All of us run, all of us work, all of us build', yet it is God alone Who, within us, 'builds, exhorts, and inspires awe; Who opens our understanding and guides our minds to faith'".

"What marvels", the Pope added, "surround our work in the service of God's word! We are instruments of the Holy Spirit; God is so humble that He uses us to spread His word. We become His voice, once we have listened carefully to the word coming from His mouth. We place His word on our lips in order to bring it to the world. He accepts the offering of our prayer and through it He communicates Himself to everyone we meet".

Benedict XVI highlighted how "our earthly liturgies, entirely ordered to the celebration of this unique act within history, will never fully express its infinite meaning. Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, Who is Himself infinite Beauty. Yet our earthly liturgies will never be more than a pale reflection of the liturgy celebrated in the Jerusalem on high, the goal of our pilgrimage on earth. May our own celebrations nonetheless resemble that liturgy as closely as possible and grant us a foretaste of it!

"Even now the word of God is given to us as the soul of our apostolate, the soul of our priestly life. ... Throughout the day, the word of God becomes the substance of the prayer of the whole Church, as she bears witness in this way to her fidelity to Christ".

The Holy Father encouraged the priests not to be afraid "to spend much time reading and meditating on the Scriptures and praying the Divine Office! Almost without your knowing it, God's word, read and pondered in the Church, acts upon you and transforms you".

Turning to address seminarians, he said: "You are called to become stewards of this word which accomplishes what it communicates. Always cultivate a thirst for the word of God! Thus you will learn to love everyone you meet along life's journey. In the Church everyone has a place, everyone! Every person can and must find a place in her".

To deacons he said: "Without seeking to take the place of priests, but assisting them with your friendship and your activity, may you be living witnesses to the infinite power of God's word!"

Benedict XVI reminded men and women religious, and all consecrated people, that their "only treasure - which, to tell the truth, will alone survive the passage of time and the curtain of death - is the word of the Lord. ... Your obedience is, etymologically, a 'hearing', for the word 'obey' comes from the Latin 'obaudire', meaning to turn one's ear to someone or something. In obeying, you turn your soul towards the One Who is the Way, and the Truth and the Life. ... The purity of God's word is the model for your own chastity, ensuring its spiritual fruitfulness".

Finally, Benedict XVI greeted the representatives from other Churches and Christian communities who "have come to pray Vespers together with us in this cathedral".

"I implore the Lord to increase within us the sense of this unity of the word of God, which is the sign, pledge and guarantee of the unity of the Church: there is no love in the Church without love of the word, no Church without unity around Christ the Redeemer, no fruits of redemption without love of God and neighbour, according to the two commandments which sum up all of Sacred Scripture!"

Pope meets French youth

Following the celebration of Vespers on Saturday, the Pope greeted young people participating in a prayer vigil in preparation for Sunday's Mass on the esplanade of Les Invalides in Paris.

In his remarks to them Benedict XVI recalled how at the recent 23rd World Youth Day "many young people rediscovered the importance of the Holy Spirit for the life of every Christian. The Spirit gives us a deep relationship with God, Who is the source of all authentic human good.

"All of you desire to love and to be loved! It is to God that you must turn, if you want to learn how to love, and to find the strength to love", he added.

The Pope then went on to invite the young "to meditate on the importance of the Sacrament of Confirmation ... which leads you into a mature faith life. It is vital for you to understand this Sacrament more and more in order to evaluate the quality and depth of your faith and to reinforce it. The Holy Spirit enables you to approach the mystery of God; He makes you understand Who God is. He invites you to see in your neighbours the brothers and sisters whom God has given you, in order to live with them in human and spiritual fellowship - in other words, to live within the Church. By revealing Who the crucified and risen Lord is for us, He impels you to bear witness to Christ".

"You need to speak about Christ to all around you, to your families and friends, wherever you study, work and relax. Do not be afraid! Have 'the courage to live the Gospel and the boldness to proclaim it'. ... Bring the Good News to the young people of your age, and to others as well. They know what it means to experience difficulty in relationships, worry and uncertainty in the face of work and study. They have experienced suffering, but they have also known unique moments of joy. Be witnesses of God, for, as young people, you are fully a part of the Catholic community. ... The Church has confidence in you, and I want to tell you so!"

The Holy Father then drew the young people's attention to another subject: "the mystery of the Cross".

"Many of you", he said, "wear a cross on a chain around your neck. I too wear one. ... It is not a mere decoration or a piece of jewellery. It is the precious symbol of our faith, the visible and material sign that we belong to Christ".

"For Christians, the Cross signifies God's wisdom and His infinite love revealed in the saving gift of Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world, and in particular for the life of each and every one of you".

The cross "is not only the symbol of your life in God and your salvation, but also ... the silent witness of human suffering and the unique and priceless expression of all our hopes".

"The Cross in some way seems to threaten our human security, yet above all else, it also proclaims God's grace and confirms our salvation. This evening, I entrust you with the Cross of Christ. ... Paul understood the seemingly paradoxical words of Jesus, Who taught that it is only by giving ('losing') one's life that one finds it, and Paul concluded from this that the Cross expresses the fundamental law of love, the perfect formula for real life".

Having concluded his meeting with the young people, the Pope travelled to the apostolic nunciature where, having had dinner, he appeared at the balcony to greet the faithful gathered below.

"Your warm welcome is most moving for the Pope!" he told them. "Thank you for waiting for me here with such enthusiasm, despite the lateness of the hour!"

"I am glad to be joining the great throng of Lourdes pilgrims tomorrow to celebrate the Jubilee of the apparitions of the Virgin. Catholics in France have greater need than ever to renew their trust in Mary, recognising in her the model of their commitment to the service of the Gospel. ... I am counting on you and on your prayers for this visit to bear fruit. May the Virgin Mary keep you safe!"

Source: VIS

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