MASS IN MANGER SQUARE: GOD TELLS US TO SEEK THE CHILD IN A WORLD WHERE SO MANY OF THEM LIVE IN INHUMAN CONDITIONS
Vatican City, 25 May 2014 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father celebrated the Eucharist in Bethlehem's Manger Square, at the confluence of Milk Grotto Street (the site of a shrine situated in a grotto carved out of white tuff rock, where according to tradition Mary fed the baby Jesus) and Paul VI Street, named to commemorate Pope Montini's visit on 6 January 1964. During his journey to the Presidential Palace of Bethlehem to Manger Square, the Pope got out of the jeep and prayed before the wall dividing Bethlehem from Israel, after which he rested his head on it for a moment.
The Mass was attended by the president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, and groups of faithful from the Gaza Strip and Galilee (State of Israel), as well as many immigrant workers from Asia.
“What a great grace it is to celebrate the Eucharist in the place where Jesus was born!” exclaimed the Pope. “I thank God and I thank all of you who have welcomed me on my pilgrimage: President Mahmoud Abbas and the other civil authorities; Patriarch Fouad Twal and the other bishops and ordinaries of the Holy Land, the priests, the consecrated persons and all those who labour to keep faith, hope and love alive in these lands; the faithful who have come from Gaza and Galilee, and the immigrants from Asia and Africa. Thank you for your welcome!”
“The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is the sign given by God to those who awaited salvation, and he remains forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world: 'This will be a sign for you: you will find a child…'. Today too, children are a sign. They are a sign of hope, a sign of life, but also a 'diagnostic' sign, a marker indicating the health of families, society and the entire world. Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human. Here we can think of the work carried out by the Ephpheta Paul VI institute for hearing and speech impaired Palestinian children: it is a very real sign of God’s goodness; it is a concrete sign of a better society. To us, the men and women of the twenty-first century, God also says: 'This will be a sign for you', look to the child… The Child of Bethlehem is frail, like all newborn children. He cannot speak and yet he is the Word made flesh who came to transform the hearts and lives of all men and women. This Child, like every other child, is vulnerable; he needs to be accepted and protected. Today too, children need to be welcomed and defended, from the moment of their conception.
“Sadly, in this world of ours, with all its highly developed technology, great numbers of children continue to live in inhuman situations, on the fringes of society, in the peripheries of great cities and in the countryside”, he continued. “All too many children continue to exploited, maltreated, enslaved, prey to violence and illicit trafficking. Still too many children live in exile, as refugees, at times lost at sea, particularly in the waters of the Mediterranean. Today, in acknowledging this, we feel shame before God, before God who became a child. And we have to ask ourselves: Who are we, as we stand before the Child Jesus? Who are we, standing as we stand before today’s children? Are we like Mary and Joseph, who welcomed Jesus and care for him with the love of a father and a mother? Or are we like Herod, who wanted to eliminate him? Are we like the shepherds, who went in haste to kneel before him in worship and offer him their humble gifts? Or are we indifferent? Are we perhaps people who use fine and pious words, yet exploit pictures of poor children in order to make money? Are we ready to be there for children, to 'waste time' with them? Are we ready to listen to them, to care for them, to pray for them and with them? Or do we ignore them because we are too caught up in our own affairs?”.
“'This will be a sign for you: you will find a child…'. Perhaps that little boy or girl is crying. He is crying because he is hungry, because she is cold, because he or she wants to be picked up and held in our arms… Today too, children are crying, they are crying a lot, and their crying challenges us. In a world which daily discards tons of food and medicine there are children, hungry and suffering from easily curable diseases, who cry out in vain. In an age which insists on the protection of minors, there is a flourishing trade in weapons which end up in the hands of child-soldiers, there is a ready market for goods produced by the slave labour of small children. Their cry is stifled: they must fight, they must work, they cannot cry! But their mothers cry for them, as modern-day Rachels: they weep for their children, and they refuse to be consoled”.
“'This will be a sign for you'. The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, every child who is born and grows up in every part of our world, is a diagnostic sign indicating the state of health of our families, our communities, our nation. Such a frank and honest diagnosis can lead us to a new kind of lifestyle where our relationships are no longer marked by conflict, oppression and consumerism, but fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation, solidarity and love”.
The Pope concluded with a prayer to the Holy Virgin: “Mary, Mother of Jesus, you who accepted, teach us how to accept; you who adored, teach us how to adore; you who followed, teach us how to follow. Amen”.
St. Philip Neri
MISSIONARY AND FOUNDER
Feast: May 26
|Philip Neri was born in Florence in the year 1515, one of four children of the notary Francesco Neri. The mother died while the children were very young, her place being filled by a capable stepmother. From infancy Philip had a docile, merry disposition. They called him "Pippo buono," "good little Phil," for he was a dutiful, attractive, cheerful lad, popular with all who knew him.|
At eighteen Philip was sent to the town of San Germano, to live with a childless kinsman who had a business there and would be likely to make Philip his apprentice and heir. It is hard to imagine anyone with less aptitude for business than Philip. Soon after his arrival he had a mystical experience which in after years he spoke of as his "conversion," and which radically changed his life. He left his kinsman's house, to set out for Rome without money or plan, trusting entirely to God's providence. In Rome he found shelter under the roof of a former Florentine, one Galeotto Caccia, a customs official, who offered him an attic and the bare necessaries of life, in return for which Philip was to give lessons to Caccia's two small sons. Under his tutoring the little boys improved rapidly in all respects, according to their grateful mother. This promised well for Philip's future human relationships. Indeed, as we shall see, he had a natural talent for bringing out the best in people of all ages and conditions.
Except for the hours he devoted to his pupils, Philip seems to have passed his first two years at Rome as a recluse, spending much time in prayer in his bare, uncomfortable attic. He ate frugal meals of bread, water, and a few olives or vegetables. It was a period of intense preparation, and at its dose he emerged from obscurity with his spirit strengthened, his resolve to live for God confirmed. He now took courses in philosophy and theology at the Sapienza and at St. Augustine's monastery. For three years he worked so hard that he was considered an unusually promising scholar. Then, quite suddenly, moved by some inner prompting, he put an end to classes and studying, sold most of his books, and launched on a mission to the people of Rome.
Religion was at a low ebb in the papal city, which had not yet recovered from the atrocious depredations of the German and Spanish armies of 1527, a decade earlier. There were also grave abuses within the Church, and although they had long been recognized, too little was being done to cure them. Elections to the Sacred College were controlled by the Medici family, with the result that the cardinals, with a few notable exceptions, were princes of the state, worldlings who thought in terms of power and politics, rather than men dedicated to God and the Church. The enthusiasm for classical writers and the tendency towards scepticism, fostered by the humanists of the Renaissance, had gradually substituted pagan for Christian ideals in Italian intellectual circles. Indifference and luxury, if not corruption, were rife among the clergy, many of whom allowed their churches to fall into disrepair, seldom said Mass, and completely neglected their flocks. Little wonder that the laity were lapsing into cynicism and disbelief ! To fill the people of Rome with new ardor, to re-evangelize the city, became Philip Neri's life work.
He began in the most direct way possible, making acquaintances on street corners and in the public squares, where people were inclined to loiter. At first he interested himself especially in the young Florentines who were employed in the banks and shops of the busy Sant'Angelo quarter near the Vatican. He has been compared to Socrates for the way he could seize on opportunities for engaging in conversation and then lead his hearers on by questions and suggestions to consider a better way of life. His warm friendliness and lively sense of humor would quickly catch the attention of passersby, and once caught, they found it difficult to break away. By this warm, personal approach he gradually prevailed on many to give up their careless way of life. His customary question, "Well, brothers, when shall we begin to do good?" soon brought a response, provided he led the way. Losing no time in converting good intentions into action, he would take them to wait on the sick in the hospitals or to pray in the Seven Churches, one of Philip's own favorite devotions. His days were wholly given up to others, but towards evening it was his habit to retire into solitude, to spend the night in a church porch or in the catacombs beside the Appian Way, gathering strength for another day's work.
In one of the grottoes along the Appian Way he had an experience which affected him profoundly. He was praying on the eve of Pentecost, 1544, when there appeared to him what seemed to be a globe of fire; it entered his mouth and afterwards he felt a dilation of the heart. Immediately he was filled with such paroxysms of divine love that he fell to the ground exclaiming, "Enough, enough, Lord, I can bear no morel " When he had come to himself and risen up, he discovered a swelling over his heart, though neither then nor later did. it give him pain. From that day on, under stress of spiritual emotion, he was apt to be seized with palpitations; at such times he would ask God to mitigate His visitations lest he should die of love.
In the year 1548, when Philip had been carrying out his informal mission for some ten years, he founded, with the help of his confessor, Father Persiano Rossa, a confraternity of poor laymen who met for spiritual exercises in the church of San Salvatore in Campo. He popularized the devotion of the Forty Hours, and undertook to provide for needy pilgrims, a work which led to the building of the famous hospital Santa Trinita. During the Year of Jubilee of 1575 it cared for no less than a hundred and forty-five thousand pilgrims. Later it received convalescents also.
Thus by the time he was thirty-four, Philip had accomplished a great deal. His confessor, however, was convinced that as a priest his work would be even more effective. Philip's humility made him shrink from taking Holy Orders, but at last, on May 23, 1551, he was ordained. He went to live with Father Rossa and other priests at San Girolamo and thereafter carried on his mission mainly through the confessional. Starting before daybreak and continuing hour after hour, he sat in the tribunal of penance, while men and women of all ages and ranks flocked to him. Sometimes he conducted informal discussions with those who desired to lead a better life, or he would read aloud to them, choosing the lives of the saints, martyrs, and missionaries. The story of the heroic life and death of St. Francis Xavier so inspired Philip that he himself considered service in the foreign mission field: a Cistercian whom he consulted persuaded him that Rome was to be his Indies.
To accommodate the increasing number of those who attended Philip's discussions, a large room was built over the nave of San Girolamo. Several other priests were appointed to assist him. The people called them "Oratorians" because they rang a little bell to summon the faithful to prayers in their "oratory." The actual foundation of the Congregation of the Priests of the Oratory was laid a few years later, when Philip presented five of his young followers for ordination and sent them to serve the church of San Giovanni, which had been put in his charge by fellow Florentines living in Rome. The future cardinal and Church historian, Caesar Baronius, was among them. Philip drew up for them some simple rules: they were to share a common table and perform spiritual exercises under his direction, but they were not to bind themselves to the life by vow or to renounce their property. The organization grew rapidly, although it met with opposition in certain quarters. In 1575, the Congregation received the formal approbation of Pope Gregory XIII, who later bestowed on it the ancient church of Santa Maria in Vellicella. The building was in a ruinous condition and far too small. Philip was not long in deciding to demolish it and rebuild on a large scale.
He had no money, but contributions poured in from his friends, rich and poor. Pope Gregory and Charles Borromeo gave generously, as did other prominent men. Cardinals and princes were now among Philip's disciples, though he sometimes shocked them by his impulsiveness. His desire was always to establish a close, human bond with others, even though it meant indulging in a wine-drinking contest, practical joking, or other undignified behavior. He acted in a jocular manner to conceal his deep emotion, or to put himself on a level with those around him. Humility was the virtue he strove most of all to practice, but of course he could not conceal his extraordinary gifts or sanctity. More than once he foretold events which later came to pass. He lived in such a state of spiritual exaltation that at times it was with difficulty that he carried on his daily labors. Men declared that his face often glowed with a celestial radiance.
By April, 1577, work on the Nuova Chiesa, or New Church, had advanced sufficiently for the Congregation of the Oratory to be transferred there. Philip stayed at San Girolamo for another seven years before he moved to quarters in the New Church. Although he ate his meals apart from the group, he was far from leading the life of a solitary. Not only did his spiritual sons have free access to him, but his room was constantly crowded by others. Rich and poor mounted the steps that led to his refuge at the top of the house, with its balcony looking over the roofs of Rome. The Italian people loved and venerated him, and visitors came from other countries to speak with him. Thus he continued his apostolate when the infirmities of age prevented him from leading an active life. The College of Cardinals frequently sought his advice, and although he refrained from becoming involved in political matters, he broke this rule when he persuaded Pope Clement VII to withdraw the excommunication and anathema laid on Henry IV of France. In the words of one of his biographers, "He was all things to all men.... When he was called upon to be merry, he was so; if there was a demand upon his sympathy, he was equally ready.... In consequence of his being so accessible and willing to receive all comers, many went to him every day, and some continued for the space of thirty, nay, forty years, to visit him very often both morning and evening, so that his room went by the agreeable nickname of the "Home of Christian mirth." The tradition of this genial saint was very much alive two hundred years later, when the German poet Goethe was living in Rome. He heard so much of Neri that he studied the sources and wrote a highly appreciative essay about him, entitled, "The Humorous Saint."
Two years before his death Neri retired from his office of Superior in favor of his disciple, Caesar Baronius. He obtained permission from the Pope to celebrate Mass daily in a little Oratory adjoining his room. So enraptured did he become at such times that it was the practice of those who attended to retire respectfully at the
One of the most famous members of the Oratorian order, Cardinal Newman, wrote of Neri nearly three hundred years after his death, "he contemplated as the idea of his mission, not the propagation of the faith, nor the exposition of doctrine, nor the catechetical schools; whatever was exact and systematic pleased him not; he put from him monastic rule and authoritative speech, as David refused the armor of his king.... He came to the Eternal City and he sat himself down there, and his home and his family gradually grew up around him, by the spontaneous accession of materials from without. He did not so much seek his own as draw them to him. He sat in his small room, and they in their gay, worldly dresses, the rich and the wellborn, as well as the simple and the illiterate, crowded into it. In the mid-heats of summer, in the frosts of winter still was he in that low and narrow cell at San Girolamo, reading the hearts of those who came to him, and curing their souls' maladies by the very touch of his hand.... And they who came remained gazing and listening till, at length, first one and then another threw off their bravery, and took his poor cassock and girdle instead; or, if they kept it, it was to put haircloth under it, or to take on them a rule of life, while to the world they looked as before."