After the Mass and Regina Caeli prayers, the Holy Father proceeded to the Casa della Carita, a project of the Benedictine Abbey with the support of the regional government of Lazio as a hospitality center for needy persons, particularly new immigrants and newly released prisoners who have no homes.
He was greeted by Pietro Marazzo, president of Lazio Region and by Mayor Bruno Scittarelli of Cassino. The Holy Father unveiled a marker for the event then he said a prayer and blessed the center.
The Holy Father reached the Abbey at 1:30 and was greeted at the portal by Abbot Vittorelli with the rite of Washing the Hands according to the Rule of St. Benedict.
At 4:30, he met the monastic community of Montecassino as well as some of the organizers of the visit.
At 5 p.m., the Pope presided at the Celebration of Vespers with the participation of Benedictine abbots and abbesses from around the world along with the local Benedictine community.
Dear brothers and sisters of the great Benedictine family!
Coming close to the end of my visit today, I am particularly pleased to be in this sacred place, in this Abbey that has deen destroyed and rebuilt four times, the last time after the bombardments of the Second World War 65 years ago.
“Succisa virescit” [When cut down, it grows again]: the words on its new coat of arms indicate its history well. Montecassino, like a centuries-old oak planted by St. Benedict, was 'stripped of leaves' by the violence of war, but rose again more vigorous than ever.
More than once I, too, had the occasion to enjoy the hospitality of the monks, and in this Abbey, I have spent unforgettable moments of quiet and prayer.
This evening, we entered here seeing the 'Laudes regiae' to celebrate Vespers together on the solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus. To each of you I express the joy of sharing this moment of prayer, greeting each of you with affection, thankful for the welcome that you have given me and those who are with me on this apostolic pilgrimage.
In particular, I greet the abbot, Dom Pietro Vittorelli, who expressed your common sentiments. I extend my greeting to the abbots, abbesses and the Benedictine communities who are present.
Today the liturgy invites us to contemplate the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord. In the brief reading taken from the First Letter of Peter, we are exhorted to fix our gaze on our Redeemer, who "died for our since once and for all" in order to lead us back to God, at whose right hand he is seated after "having gone into heaven, and is ... with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him" (1 Pt 3, 18.22).
'Lifted' and then having become invisible to the eyes of his disciples, Jesus nonetheless had not abandoned them: in fact, he was "put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit" (1 Pt 3,18) - he is now present in a new way, interiorly in believers, and in him, salvation is offered to every human being regardless of race, language and culture.
The First Letter of Peter contains precise references to the fundamental Christological events of the Christian faith. The concern of the Apostle was to bring to light the universal importance of salvation in Christ.
We find an analogous concern in St. Paul, whose bimillennial birth anniversary we are celebrating, when he wrote to the community in Corinth: "He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Cor 5,15).
No longer to live for oneself but for Christ: this is what gives full sense to the life of whoever allows hismelf to be conquered by him.
And this is manifested clearly in the human and spiritual experience of St. Benedict, who having abandoned everything, placed himself in a faithful following of Christ. Incarnating the Gospel in his own existence, he initiated a vast movement of spiritual and cultural rebirth in the West.
I wish to refer to an extraordinary event of his life, which his biographer St. Gregory the Great cites, and is certainly well known to you.
It can almost be said that the sainted Patriarch was 'lifted up' himself in an indescribable mystic experience. On the night of October 29, 540 - we read in the biography - while he was looking out the window "with eyes fixed on the stars as he entered into divine contemplation, the saint felt that his heart was on fire... For him, the starry firmament was like an embroidered curtain that revealed the Holy of Holies. At a certain point, his soul felt transported to the other side of the veil to contemplate openly the face of Jesus who lives within an inaccessible light" (cfr A.I. Schuster, Storia di san Benedetto e dei suoi tempi, Ed. Abbazia di Viboldone, Milano, 1965, p. 11 e ss.).
Certainly, in a way analogous to what happened to Paul after his abduction into heaven, for St. Benedict, too, after such an extraordinary spiritual experience, a new life must have begun. If the vision was fleeting, the effects remained, and his very physiognomy, his biographers say, was changed by it: his face became always serene and his manner angelic, and although he still lived on earth, it was clear his heart was alrady in Paradise.
St. Benedict received this divine gift certainly not to satisfy his intellectual curiosity, but rather so that the charism with which God had gifted him would be able to reproduce in the monastery the life of heaven itself and re-establish the harmony of creation through contemplation and work.
Rightly, then, the Church venerates him as 'the eminent master of monastic life' and 'doctor of spiritual wisdom in the love of prayer and work', 'radiant leader of peoples in the light of the Gospel' who. "raised to heaven along a luminous road", teachges men of all times to seek God and the eternal riches prepared by him (cfr Preface of the Saint in the monastic supplement to the Roman Missal, 1980, 153).
Yes, Benedict wa a luminous example of sanctity, showing his monks the one great ideal, Christ. He was a teacher of civilizwation who, proposing a balanced and adequate vision of divine exigencies and man's ultimate ends, always kept in mind the needs and reasons of the heart, in order to teach and inspire an authentic and constant fraternity, so that in the overall complex of social relations, the goal may not be lost of that spiritual unity capable of constructing and nourishing peace for always.
It is not by chance that the word PAX welcomes pilgrims and visitors at the gates of this Abbey, reconstructed after the huge disaster of teh Second World War. These gates stand like a silent reminder to reject every form of violence in order to build the peace: in families, in communities, among peoples and in the entire human family.
St. Benedict invites every person who comes up this mountain to seek peace and to follow it -“inquire pacem et sequere eam (Ps. 33,14-15)” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Prolog, 17).
In his school, monasteries have become, in the course of centuries, fervent centers of dialog, of encounter and of a beneficial fusion among different peoples, unified by the evangelical culture of peace.
The monks have always known how to teach the art of peace by word and example, realizing concretely the three 'links' that Benedict indicates as necessary to conserve the unity of the Spirit among men: the Cross, which is the law of Christ himself; the book, and therefore culture; and the plow, which signifies labor, mastery over matter and time.
Thanks to the activity of the monasteries, articulated in the triple daily commitment to prayer, study and work, entire peoples of the European continent have known authentic rescue and a beneficial moral, spiritual and cultural development, educating themselves in the sense of continuity with the past, in concrete action for the common good, in an openness to God and the transcendent dimension.
Let us pray that Europe may always know how to value this patrimony of Christian principles and ideals which constitute an immense cultural and spiritual wealth.
But this is possible only if St. Benedict's constant teaching - 'quaerere Deum', to seek God - is accepted as man's fundamental commitment.
The human being will not fully realize himself, he cannot be truly happy, without God. It falls on you in particular, dear monks, to be living examples of this interior profound relation with him, carrying out without compromises the program that your founder synthesized as
“nihil amori Christi praeponere” - do not plsce anything ahead of the love of Christ (Rule 4,21).
This is what constitutes holiness, a proposition that is valid for every Christian, more than ever in our time, when one feels the necessity of anchoring life and history on firm spiritual ground. That is why, dear brothers and sisters, your vocation is more than ever relevant, and your mission as monks indispensable.
From this place, where his mortal remains repose, the Patron Saint of Europe continues to invite everyone to follow his work of evangelization and human promotion. I encoourage you, dear monks, to remain faithful, int he first plce, to the spirit of your beginnings and to be authentic interpreters of St. Benedict's program for spiritual and social renewal.
May the Lord grant you this gift, through the itnercession of your holy founder, of his sister St. Scholastica, and all the saints of the order.
And may the heavenly Mother of the Lord, whom we invoke today as the Help of Christians, watch over you and protect this Abbey and all your monasteries, along with the diocesan community that lives around Montecassino. Amen!
After Vespers, the Pope venerated the remains of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica who are buried behind the main altar of the Basilica.