VATICAN CITY, 17 MAY 2008 (VIS) - This afternoon, the Holy Father began his pastoral visit to the Italian cities of Savona and Genoa, departing from Rome's Ciampino airport at 3.30 p.m. and landing at Christopher Columbus airport in Genoa at 4.20 p.m. From there he travelled by helicopter to Savona and thence to the nearby shrine of Our Lady of Mercy.
On his arrival at the shrine Benedict XVI was greeted by the religious authorities. He then entered the building, pausing in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and praying before the image of the Virgin, at whose feet he laid a golden rose in memory of his visit. Subsequently he was taken in an open-top car to Savona's Piazza del Popolo where he celebrated Mass and pronounced a homily.
The ladies of the Pope's fan club
In his remarks, the Pope commented on the day's readings where, in a passage from Exodus, God reveals His name to Moses. "The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness", said the Pope quoting the biblical text. "These are human words", he added, "they tell us the truth about God. They were true yesterday, they are true today and they will be true always. They cause us to see the face of the Invisible with the eyes of the mind. They tells us the name of the Ineffable. That name is Mercy, Grace, Faithfulness".
He then recalled how the Virgin Mary had appeared to a local peasant in the year 1536, and how she is still venerated today with the name of Virgin of Mercy. "This is the essence of Christianity because it is the essence of God Himself", he exclaimed. "God is One in that He is entirely and solely Love, but precisely because He is Love He is openness, acceptance, dialogue. And in His relations with us, sinful mankind, He is mercy, compassion, grace, forgiveness. God created everything for existence, and He always and exclusively wills life".
"During the history of the Church, the Virgin Mary has always invited her children to return to God, to entrust themselves to Him in prayer, to knock with trusting insistence at the door of His merciful Heart. ... My visit to Savona on the day of the Blessed Trinity is above all a pilgrimage, through Mary, to the font of faith, of hope and of love".
Benedict XVI then recalled the figure of his predecessor Pius VII. "Two centuries on", he said, "I have come to renew the recognition of the Holy See and of the Church for the faith, the love, and the courage with which your fellow citizens supported the Pope during the exile imposed upon him here by Napoleon Bonaparte".
"That dark page of European history has, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become a rich source of grace and education, even for our own time. It teaches us the courage to face the challenges of the world (materialism, relativism, laicism), never giving way to compromise but ready to pay in person in order to remain faithful to the Lord and His Church".
Those events, and the apparition of the Virgin at a tragic moment in the history of Savona, "come together to transmit a message of hope to the Christian generations of our own day. They encourage us to have faith in the instruments of Grace which the Lord places at our disposal in all situations".
Among these "instruments of Grace", the Holy Father highlighted "individual, family and community prayer". In this context he also recalled how "Sunday needs to be rediscovered in its Christian roots, beginning with the celebration of the Risen Lord", and how "the Sacrament of Penance" represents a "fundamental means of spiritual development".
"Works of charity are other indispensable means of growth", he continued. "In the modern world, which often makes beauty and physical efficiency an ideal to be pursued in every possible way, we are called as Christians to discover the face of Jesus Christ, 'the most handsome of men', in the suffering and the excluded".
In this context, the Holy Father then greeted "prisoners and staff in the St. Augustine penitentiary of Savona" and the sick people of the city.
Turning to address members of the clergy, the Pope invited them "to trust in the effectiveness of your daily priestly service", and to "go out and seek people, as the Lord Jesus did, ... making your presence felt in all areas of work and life". To religious he reiterated the fact that "the world has need of your witness and your prayer".
Finally, Pope Benedict called upon young people "to put your youth at the service of God and your fellows. ... Give this city the passion and enthusiasm that derive from your living experience of faith, an experience that does not dampen the expectations of human life but exalts them by sharing in Christ's own experience".
Following the Eucharistic celebration, the Pope travelled by car to the port of Savona whence he was taken by helicopter to Genoa where he spent the night at the shrine of Our Lady of Guard.
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