THIS SUNDAY IN MONTECASSINO:
The special bond between
Benedict XVI and St. Benedict
the Italian service of
The Church of Montecassino awaits the pastoral visit of Benedict XVI on Sunday, May 24. One of the high points of the visit will be the celebration of Vespers in the Benedictine Abbey with all the Benedictine abbots and abbesses from around the world.
It is a time to underscore how much Benedict XVI is linked to the figure of St. Benedict of Norcia.
Alessandro Gisotti reviews some of the reflections Benedict XVI has made on the saint who is the Patron of Europe and the father of Western monasticism:
St. Benedict is not only in the Pope's chosen name. Above all, he is in his heart.
On April, 1, 2005, a few weeks before being elected to the Chair of Peter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was at the Convent of St. Scholastica in Subiaco near Rome, where he delivered a memorable discourse on the permanent value of the Christian faith in comparison to the limits to the present rationalistic culture.
"We need men like Benedict of Norcia," he said then, "who, at a time of dissipation and decadence" succeeded "to found Montecassino, the city on the hill.. that gathered together the forces from which a new world was formed."
"We need men like St. Benedict," he said, "who have their gaze directed to God, in order to understand true humanity."
Three weeks later, on April 27, at St. Peter's Square, the new Pontiff held his first General Audience and explained his choice of the name Benedict, underscoring how much the Patriarch of Western monasticism is venerated in his homeland, Bavaria:
"St. Benedict constitutes a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the irrenunciable Christian roots of her culture and her civilization."
The Pope recalled the recommendation left by Benedict to the monks of his Rule: "Place nothing ahead of Christ" - an exhortation which he made his own at the start of his Petrine ministry:
"At the start of my service as the Successor of Peter, I ask St. Benedict to help us keep firm the centrality of Christ in our existence. May he always have first place in our thoughts and in our every activity."
The Pope spoke about the Benedictine model and its actuality when he addressed the French world of culture at the College des Bernardins in Paris in September 2008. The roots of European culture, he reiterated, took hold in the fertile terrain of Western monasticism. The monks, in their search for God, founded a new civilization. An experience that should be rediscovered:
“Quaerere Deum, chercher Dieu et se laisser trouver par Lui - to search for God and allow oneself to be found by him", the Pope said, "is no less necessary today than it was in the past,"
And he warns against a culture that is 'merely positivistic' which has dismissed the question of God. This represents, he said, 'a setback for humanism'.
"That which founded the culture of Europe - the search for God and the readiness to listen to him - " he reiterated, "remains even today the foundation of every true culture."
And on September 20, 2008, receiving Benedictine abbots from around the world, he exhorted them to announce without compromise the primacy of God, especially in a world that is ever more desacralized:
"In your monasteries, it is you above all who renew and deepen daily your encounter with the person of Christ, whom you always have with you as guest, friend and companion. That is why your convents are places where men and women even in our day seek out in order to find God and to learn to recognize the signs of the presence of Christ, his charity and his mercy."
The Pope dedicated his catechesis of April 9, 2008, to the saint whom St. Gregory the Great called a 'luminous star'. The Pope emphasized the significance of the construction of the abbey at Montecassino:
"In the year 529, Benedict left Subiaco to settle in Montecassino... He came to this decision because he had entered a new phase of his interior maturation and his monastic experience... Monastic life in its hiddenness has a reason for being, but a monastery also has a public end in the life of the Church and of society - it should give visibility to the faith as a force of life".
Thus the Pope calls on a Europe that has lost its way, that in trying to rediscover its own identity, it should look to St. Benedict and his teachings:
"In order to create a new and lasting unity, political, juridical and economic instruments are certainly necessary, but one must also awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws from the Christian roots of the Continent. Otherwise, one cannot rebuild Europe... In seeking true progress, let us listen even today to the Rule of St. Benedict as a light for our path. The great monk remains a true teacher in whose school we can learn the art of living true humanism."
As first reported last December, here are the pastoral visits that the Pope will be making outside Rome this year:
PASTORAL VISITS IN 2009
BY THE PRIMATE OF ITALY
The three pastoral visits outside Rome announced for the Holy Father in 2009 are all in
central Italy, fairly near to Rome. Monte Cassino is 80 miles south; San Giovanni Rotondo
is 180 miles east; Viterbo is 40 miles north, with Bagnoregio 10 miles away.
Both Monte Cassino and Viterbo-Bagnoregio are in the Lazio region, where Rome is. And
San Giovanni Rotondo is at the northern top of Puglia, which the Pope has visited twice
before (Bari in 2005, Brindisi earlier this year).
San Giovanni Rotondo does not appear on the large map but it is just a few miles directly to the east of San Severo, as the satellite photo shows.
The Italian service of
has this interesting take on the places chosen.
St. Benedict, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, and St. Bonaventure: Benedict XVI's announced pastoral visits in Italy next year will be under the aegis of the three saints associated with Montecassino, San Giovanni Rotondo and Viterbo-Bagnoregio, respectively.
The first visit will be to Montecassino and its famous abbey on May 24.
The abbot of Monte Cassino, dom Pietro Vittorelli (left photo, above), spoke to Alessandro Gisotti of the joy in the Benedictine community at the confirmation of the visit.
DOM VITTORELLI: The enthusiasm was uncontainable. I must say that I received so many manifestations of joy from the diocese, especially since this would come 29 years since a papal visit to Monte Cassino, and 5 years since the last visit of Cardinal Ratzinger who came here in November 2004. At that time, he celebrated a Mass for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a few months later, he was elected Pope.
We know how Cardinal Ratzinger and now as Benedict XVI has always indicated St. Benedict as a model, especially for Europe today...
I met the Holy Father last on Sept. 20 in Castel Gandolfo. I had the chance to thank him personally for the beauty of the address he gave at the College des Bernardins in Paris, an address which was all woven through with the Benedictine monastic spirit.
He was speaking to the men of culture in France, but he was also addressing European culture in general in recalling the symbolic, historical and powerful significance that the Benedictine monks had in the construction of a post-barbarian Europe.
I believe that with this coming visit, the Pope will address the Benedictine world itself precisely to make us more conscious and responsible for this mission that we Benedictines have not only in Europe but in the world.
On June 21, the Pope will be in San Giovanni Rotondo, to pray before the remains of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, which has been exposed since last April for public veneration.
Gratitude to the Pope was expressed by Mons. Domenico D'Ambrosio, Bishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo (left photo, above).
MONS. D'AMBROSIO: It was, of course, the desire of the entire community, but above all, of the great family of devotees of every kind to Padre Pio. When I made the announcement last night at Church, the joy of everyone was visible, particularly Padre Pio's own brothers, the Capuchin monks.
And it is beautiful to have the Pope with us. His ministry is to confirm us in our faith. We need to feel validated in our commitment to the faith which here assumes a special character because of the spirituality and sanctity of padre Pio.
The Pope will also visit the hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo...
Of course. The hospital is the great materialization of Padre Pio's charity, and the Pope will give hope and encouragement to all those who are working in the example of St. Pio who made the hospital 'a temple of prayer and science'. [The saint's Casa di Sofferenze in San Giovanni Rotondo is recognized as one of Italy's finest hospitals offering tertiary (specialized) care.]
The third visit on September 6 will be to two small cities of Lazio - Viterbo and Bagnoregio. This is what Bishop Lorenzo Chiarinelli said:
MONS. CHIARINELLI: There was a great explosion of joy. The community feels the need to be confirmed in their faith. This encounter with the Supreme Pastor is a necessary experience of the Church which will be very beautiful.
We will be preparing the faithful along this line, not only within the Church, but also in the context of the diocesan territory. The civilian institutions are giving great resonance to the event.
Then there are our local cultural realities like the University, the theological institute we have expanded at Sant'Anselmo, the fact that people in the area strongly feel a link with the Successor of Peter. [Viterbo, one of the beautiful little walled cities of Italy, has a Palace of the Popes, since it was the seat of the Popes from 1257 to 1281, during which time five conclaves were held in Viterbo.]
The Pope will also be going to Bagnoregio, the birthplace of St. Bonaventure...
The figure and the work of St. Bonaventure are dear to this Pope, who is a scholar and theologian like the saint. His professorial qualification thesis in Germany was on his work. And just as he visited Pavia for St. Augustine, he said to me one day, "Bagnoregio, too, will be a reference point."
Additional info from Monte Cassino
Pope asks all Benedictine abbots
and abbesses worldwide to join him
at Monte Cassino on May 24
Dec. 9, 2008
Pope Benedict's visit to Monte Cassino will be historic for two reasons.
Announcing the visit of the Holy Father on May 24, Ascension Sunday, dom Pietro Vittorelli, the abbot, said the Pope had also asked him to convene all the abbots and abbesses of Benedictine monasteries around the world on that day so they could all pray together at the tomb of St. Benedict, one of Europe's patron saints.
"We will will celebrate Vespers together, and pray for the whole world," the abbot said, "It will truly be a uniquely special moment for the entire Benedictine order."
St. Benedict wrote the famous Rule of the order at Monte Cassino around 540. He died in the abbey in 547.
Dom Vittorelli also said that for the first time, a papal Mass at Monte Cassino will be celebrated in the open on the plain of Campo Miranda at the foot of the mountain.
He will proceed to tbe mountaintop abbey after the Mass.
"Benedict XVI comes to our Abbey 29 years after John Paul II made a visit," dom Pietro said, "and five years since his own visit here as a cardinal in November 2004, five months before he became Pope."
The Pope will also visit the Polish cemetery at the foot of the mountain to mark the 65th anniversary of the Allied bombings in World War II which resulted in the destruction of the abbey (fully reconstructed after the war and now a UNESCO World Heritage site).
During the visit, Benedict will also inuagurate the Casa della Carita, a center to help the most disadvantaged, established by the Roman Curia in what was a hospital in Cassino town. It will provide temporary shelter for homeless persons and other families in difficulty.
After the abbot's announcement of the Pope's visit, all the bells in all the parishes of the diocese pealed out for 15 minutes in celebration.
Last April, another city was added to the Pope's Italian itinerary in 2008:
POPE ADDS BRESCIA
TO PASTORAL VISITS
IN ITALY THIS YEAR
At the end of his Chrismal Mass homily today, the Bishop of Brescia (in northern Italy), Mons. Luciano Monaro, made this announcement (translated here) which also appears on the site of the Diocese of Brescia:
I am happy to be able to officially make an announcement that is cause for joy among our priests and for the entire church of Brescia.
The Pope will come to visit us on November 8. Of course, the immediate reason is the 30th anniversary of the death of Paul VI. [A belated one, since the 30th anniversary was last year. on August 6.]
Papa Ratzinger, as you know, was crated a cardinal y Paul VI, and has always had great esteem and affection for our Brescian Pope.
The program will be defined by the Prefecture of the Papal Household and will be published in the next few weeks, but the significance of this visit is very clear. It will be a day of intense prayer and communion....
Earlier announced pastoral visits in Italy this year were to Cassino, San Giovanni Rotondo (Padre Pio shrine), and Viterbo-Bagnoregio - all of them fairly close to Rome. Brescia, on the other hand, is 60 miles east of Milan.
NB: The Pope also made an unforeseen pastoral visit to L'Aquila on April 28 following the earthquake of April 6.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/20/2009 11:11 AM]