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Pope Benedict XVI presented his vision for the Church in his first message to the world's cardinals and in his inaugural Mass homily. Learn six priorities of the new pope that involve Church leadership, Vatican II, the Eucharist, Christian unity, the whole human family and youth.

Catholic Update

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My Vision for the Church
by Benedict XVI

This Update is drawn from two important talks, in the first days of his papacy, in which Pope Benedict XVI presented his vision for the Church: his first message to the world’s cardinals who elected him (April 20, 2005) and the homily from his inaugural Mass (April 24). For ease of reading, we’ve added headings to six priorities of the pope contained in his first message.

In my soul there are two contrasting sentiments. On the one hand, a sense of inadequacy and human turmoil for the responsibility entrusted to me as the Successor of the Apostle Peter in this See of Rome, with regard to the Universal Church. On the other hand I sense within me profound gratitude to God who does not abandon his flock, but leads it throughout time, under the guidance of those whom he has chosen as vicars of his Son, and made pastors.

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I consider this a grace obtained for me by my venerated predecessor, John Paul II. It seems I can feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and listen to his words, addressed to me especially at this moment: ‘Do not be afraid!’

The death of the Holy Father John Paul II, and the days which followed, were for the Church and for the entire world an extraordinary time of grace.

The funeral of John Paul II was a truly extraordinary experience in which was perceived in some way the power of God who, through his Church, wishes to form a great family of all peoples. In the hour of death, conformed to his Master and Lord, John Paul II crowned his long and fruitful pontificate, confirming the Christian people in faith, gathering them around him and making the entire human family feel more united.

I have been thinking about what happened in the region of Caesarea of Philippi two thousand years ago: I seem to hear the words of Peter: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God,” and the solemn affirmation of the Lord: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church…I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” You are Christ! You are Peter! It seems I am reliving this very Gospel scene; I, the Successor of Peter, repeat with trepidation the anxious words of the fisherman from Galilee and I listen again with intimate emotion to the reassuring promise of the divine Master.

If the weight of the responsibility that now lies on my poor shoulders is enormous, the divine power on which I can count is surely immeasurable: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.” Electing me as the Bishop of Rome, the Lord wanted me as his Vicar; he wished me to be the “rock” upon which everyone may rest with confidence. I ask him to make up for the poverty of my strength, that I may be a courageous and faithful pastor of his flock, always docile to the inspirations of his Spirit.

I undertake this special ministry, the “Petrine” ministry at the service of the Universal Church, with humble abandon to the hands of the Providence of God. And it is to Christ in the first place that I renew my total and trustworthy adhesion.

1. A collegial style of leadership at the service of the Church

As Peter and the other Apostles were, through the will of the Lord, one apostolic college, in the same way the Successor of Peter and the bishops, successors of the Apostles—and the [Second Vatican] Council forcefully repeated this—must be closely united among themselves. This collegial communion, even in the diversity of roles and functions of the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops, is at the service of the Church and the unity of faith, from which depends in a notable measure the effectiveness of the evangelizing action of the contemporary world.

2. The Second Vatican Council to be the Church’s ‘compass’

With the Great Jubilee the Church was introduced into the new millennium carrying in her hands the gospel, applied to the world through the authoritative re-reading of Vatican Council II. Pope John Paul II justly indicated the Council as a ‘compass’ with which to orient ourselves in the vast ocean of the third millennium.

I, too, as I start in the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, wish to affirm with force my decided will to pursue the commitment to enact Vatican Council II, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the millennia-old tradition of the Church. Precisely this year is the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of this conciliar assembly (December 8, 1965).

With the passing of time, the conciliar documents have not lost their timeliness; their teachings have shown themselves to be especially pertinent to the new exigencies of the Church and the present globalized society.

3. The Eucharist to remain central

In a very significant way, my pontificate starts as the Church is living the special year dedicated to the Eucharist. How can I not see in this providential coincidence an element that must mark the ministry to which I have been called? The Eucharist, the heart of Christian life and the source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but be the permanent center and the source of the Petrine service entrusted to me.

The Eucharist makes the risen Christ constantly present: Christ who continues to give himself to us, calling us to participate in the banquet of his Body and his Blood. From this full communion with him comes every other element of the life of the Church, in the first place the communion among the faithful, the commitment to proclaim and give witness to the gospel, the ardor of charity towards all, especially towards the poor and the smallest.

The Eucharist will be at the center, in August, of World Youth Day in Cologne and, in October, of the ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which will take place on the theme “The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.” I ask everyone to intensify love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus and to express in a courageous and clear way the real presence of the Lord, above all through the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations.

4. Our primary commitment: to promote Christian unity

Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel stimulated to tend towards that full unity for which Christ hoped in the Cenacle [the Upper Room].

Thus, in full awareness and at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome that Peter bathed with his blood, the current Successor [of St. Peter] assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition, this is his compelling duty. He is aware that to do so, expressions of good feelings are not enough. Concrete gestures are required to penetrate souls and move consciences, encouraging everyone to that interior conversion which is the basis for all progress on the road of ecumenism.

The current Successor of Peter feels himself to be personally implicated in this question and is disposed to do all in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism. In the wake of his predecessors, he is fully determined to cultivate any initiative that may seem appropriate to promote contact and agreement with representatives from the various Churches and ecclesial communities. Indeed, on this occasion too, he sends them his most cordial greetings in Christ, the one Lord of all.

5. Promoting the unity and good of the whole human family

In this moment, I go back in my memory to the unforgettable experience we all underwent with the death and the funeral of the lamented John Paul II. Around his mortal remains, lying on the bare earth, leaders of nations gathered, with people from all social classes and especially the young, in an unforgettable embrace of affection and admiration. The entire world looked to him with trust.

To many it seemed as if that intense participation, amplified to the confines of the planet by the social communications media, was like a choral request for help addressed to the pope by modern humanity which, wracked by fear and uncertainty, questions itself about the future.

The Church today must revive within herself an awareness of the task to present the world again with the voice of the One who said: “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” In undertaking his ministry, the new pope knows that his task is to bring the light of Christ to shine before the men and women of today: not his own light but that of Christ.

With this awareness, I address myself to everyone, even to those who follow other religions or who are simply seeking an answer to the fundamental questions of life and have not yet found it. I address everyone with simplicity and affection, to assure them that the Church wants to continue to build an open and sincere dialogue with them, in a search for the true good of mankind and of society.

From God I invoke unity and peace for the human family and declare the willingness of all Catholics to cooperate for true social development, one that respects the dignity of all human beings.

I will make every effort and dedicate myself to pursuing the promising dialogue that my predecessors began with various civilizations, because it is mutual understanding that gives rise to conditions for a better future for everyone.

6. Maintaining dialogue with youth

I am particularly thinking of young people. With you, dear young people, I will continue to maintain a dialogue, listening to your expectations in an attempt to help you meet ever more profoundly the living, ever young, Christ.

A prayer for the Church

Mane nobiscum, Domine!” Stay with us, Lord! This invocation, which forms the dominant theme of John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter for the Year of the Eucharist, is the prayer that comes spontaneously from my heart as I turn to begin the ministry to which Christ has called me. Like Peter, I too renew to him my unconditional promise of faithfulness. He alone I intend to serve as I dedicate myself totally to the service of his Church.

These condensations by Catholic Update are drawn from the full text of Pope Benedict’s first message to the cardinal-electors and from his inaugural Mass homily, which can be read in full at www.Vatican.va.

Next: Finding Jesus in the Eucharist: Four Ways That He Is Present (by Lawrence E. Mick)

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