To Christians of the Middle East
But does a "Saviour" still have any value and meaning for the men and women of the third millennium? Is a "Saviour" still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature’s secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvellous codes of the human genome? Is a Saviour needed by a humanity which has invented interactive communication, which navigates in the virtual ocean of the internet and, thanks to the most advanced modern communications technologies, has now made the Earth, our great common home, a global village? This humanity of the twenty-first century appears as a sure and self-sufficient master of its own destiny, the avid proponent of uncontested triumphs.
So it would seem, yet this is not the case.
People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism. Some people remain enslaved, exploited and stripped of their dignity; others are victims of racial and religious hatred, hampered by intolerance and discrimination, and by political interference and physical or moral coercion with regard to the free profession of their faith.
Others see their own bodies and those of their dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence, at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress, solidarity and peace for all.
And what of those who, bereft of hope, are forced to leave their homes and countries in order to find humane living conditions elsewhere?
How can we help those who are misled by facile prophets of happiness, those who struggle with relationships and are incapable of accepting responsibility for their present and future, those who are trapped in the tunnel of loneliness and who often end up enslaved to alcohol or drugs? What are we to think of those who choose death in the belief that they are celebrating life?
How can we not hear, from the very depths of this humanity, at once joyful and anguished, a heart-rending cry for help?
It is Christmas: today "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9) came into the world. "The word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14), proclaims the Evangelist John.
Today, this very day, Christ comes once more "unto his own", and to those who receive him he gives "the power to become children of God"; in a word, he offers them the opportunity to see God’s glory and to share the joy of that Love which became incarnate for us in Bethlehem.
Today "our Saviour is born to the world", for he knows that even today we need him. Despite humanity’s many advances, man has always been the same: a freedom poised between good and evil, between life and death. It is there, in the very depths of his being, in what the Bible calls his "heart", that man always needs to be "saved".
I think constantly of the Catholic communities in your countries, and with even more acute concern during the Christmas season. It is towards your lands that the star seen by the Magi leads us, the star that led them to the Baby and Mary his mother (cfr Mt 2,11).Vespers and Te Deum on New Year's Eve
It was in the East that Jesus offered His life to make "of two one people only, breaking down the wall of spearation (which is) enmity" (Eph 2,14).
It was there He told His disciples: "Go forth into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mk 16,15).
It was there that the disciples of the Master were first called Christians (cfr Acts 11,26).
It was there that the Church of the Fathers was born and developed, and where diverse rich spiritual and liturgical traditions flourished.
To you, dear brothers and sisters, heirs of these traditions, I affectionately express my personal closeness in the situation of uncertainty, of daily suffering, of fear and of hope that you are experiencing.
To your communities, I repeat, above all, the words of the Redeemer: "Do not fear, little flock, because it pleases the Lord to give you His kingdom" (Lk 12, 32). You may count on my full solidarity with you in your present circumstances. And I am sure I can speak for the universal Church that shares that solidarity.
Every faithful Catholic in the Middle East, together with the community he belongs to, should not feel alone or abandoned. Your Churches are accompanied along their difficult paths by the prayers and charitable support of local Churches the world over, following the example and spirit of the early Church *(cfr Acts 11,29-30).
On this evening of December 31, two different perspectives converge: one is the end of the calendar year, the other is the solemn liturgy of Mary, the Most Blessed Mother of God, which concludes the Octave of the Nativity. The first event is common to everyone, the second is for believers.Che viva il Papa!
Their convergence gives these vesper celebrations a sungular character, a particular spiritual climate which invites us to reflection.
The first occasion, very suggestive, is linked to the dimension of time. In the final hours of the solar year, we assist at so many wordly 'rites' that are, in the present context, predominantly devoted to entertainment, and often lived as an escape from reality, almost as if to exorcise its negative aspects and to propitiate improbable good fortune.
How different should the attitude of the Christian community be!
The Church is called on to live these hours by taking on the sentiments of the Virgin Mary. Together with her, we are invited to look on the Baby Jesus - a new sun that has appeared on the horizon of humanity, and comforted by His light, urges us to present to Him 'the joys and hopes, the sowrrows and anguish of men today, especially the poor and all who suffer." (Vat. Council II. Gaudium et spes,1).
Thus, two different valuations of the dimension 'time' confront each other - one quantitative, the other qualitative. On the one hand, the solar cycle, with its rhythms; on the other, that which St. Paul calls 'the fullness of time'(Gal 4,4), that is, the culminating moment of the history of the universe and the human species, when the Son of God is born to the world.
The time of promises is fulfilled, and when Mary's pregnancy reaches term, "earth," as a psalm says, "gave forth its fruit." (Ps 68,7).
The coming of the Messiah, pre-announced by the prophets, is the event that is qualitatively the most important in history, on whom it confers its ultimate and full sense.