On Sunday, 24 May , the Holy Father arrived at the
Benedictine Archabbey of Monte Cassino. He was met at the monastery door
by the Abbot, Dom Pietro Vittorelli, who provided the water to wash his
hands as prescribed by St Benedict's Rule. The Pope led a procession in
the afternoon to the Basilica. In the Basilica Abbot Dom Vittorelli
greeted the Pope on behalf of the community and the Holy Father presided
at the celebration of Second Vespers of the Ascension with the
Benedictines. During the celebration the Pope knelt in prayer at the
tombs of St Benedict and St Scholastica situated behind the main altar.
The following is a translation of the Pope's Discourse, which was given
Dear Brothers and Sisters
of the great Benedictine Family,
At the end of my Visit
today I am particularly glad to pause in this sacred place, in this
Abbey, four times destroyed and rebuilt for the last time after the
bombing of the Second World War 65 years ago.
the words of the new coat of arms
clearly convey its history. Monte Cassino, like the age-old oak planted
by St Benedict, "stripped of its leaves" by the violence of the war,
sprang up even more vigorously than before. More than once I have been
able to enjoy the hospitality of the monks and have spent unforgettable
moments of stillness and prayer in this Abbey.
This evening we entered
singing the Laudes regiae in order to celebrate Vespers together
on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus. I express to each one of you
the joy of sharing this moment of prayer, as I greet you all with
affection, grateful to you for your welcome and to all who have
accompanied me on this Apostolic Pilgrimage.
I greet in particular Dom
Pietro Vittorelli, the Abbot, who has expressed your common sentiments.
I extend my greeting to the Abbots, the Abbesses and the Benedictine
communities who are present here.
The liturgy today invites
us to contemplate the mystery of the Lord's Ascension. In the short
Reading from the First Letter of Peter, we were urged to fix our gaze on
our Redeemer who died "for sins once for all", that he might bring us
back to God; he "has gone into Heaven" and is at the right hand of God
"with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him" (cf. 1 Pt 3:18,
"Carried up into Heaven"
and made invisible to the eyes of his disciples, Jesus nevertheless did
not abandon them. Indeed, "put to death in the flesh but made alive in
the spirit (1 Pt 3:18), he is now present in a new way, within
believers, and in him salvation is offered to every human being
independently of his race, language or culture.
The First Letter of Peter
contains precise references to fundamental Christological events of the
Christian faith. The Apostle is concerned to shed light on the universal
significance of salvation in Christ. We find a similar incentive in St
Paul, the 2,000th anniversary of whose birth we are celebrating and who
wrote to the community at Corinth: "He (Christ) died for all, that those
who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their
sake died and was raised" (2 Cor 5:15) .
To live no longer for
ourselves but for Christ: this is what gives full meaning to the life of
those who let themselves be conquered by him. This is clearly
demonstrated by the human and spiritual life of St Benedict who, having
abandoned all things, set out to follow Jesus Christ faithfully.
Embodying the Gospel in his life, he became the pioneer of a vast
movement of spiritual and cultural rebirth in the West.
I would like here to
mention an extraordinary event in his life related by St Gregory the
Great, his biographer, and which is certainly well known to you.
One might almost say that
the holy Patriarch was also "carried up into Heaven" in an indescribable
mystic experience. On the night of 29 October 540, we read in the
biography, while leaning out of the window, "his eyes fixed on the stars
and wrapt in divine contemplation, the Saint felt that his heart was
burning... for him the starry firmament was like the embroidered curtain
that veiled the Holy of Holies. At a certain point, his soul felt
transported to the other side of the veil, to contemplate unveiled the
Face of the One who dwells in inaccessible brightness" (cf. A.I.
Schuster, Storia di san Benedetto e dei suoi tempi, Ed. Abbazia
di Viboldone, Milan, 1965, p. 11 and ff.).
Of course, similarly to
what happened for Paul after he had been taken up into Heaven, for St
Benedict too subsequent to this extraordinary spiritual experience, a
new life had to begin. Indeed, although the vision was but fleeting the
effects endured, his features themselves, the biographers say, were
altered by it, his expression always remained serene and his behaviour
angelic and although he lived on earth it was obvious that his heart was
already in Paradise.
St Benedict did not of
course receive this divine gift to satisfy his intellectual curiosity,
but rather so that the charism with which God had endowed him might
enable him to reproduce in the monastery the very life of Heaven and to
re-establish the harmony of creation through contemplation and work.
Rightly, therefore, the
Church venerates him as an "eminent teacher of monastic life" and a
"doctor of spiritual wisdom in his love of prayer and work"; a luminous
"guide of the peoples to the light of the Gospel" who, "lifted up to
Heaven on a shining path", teaches men and women of all the epochs to
seek God and the eternal riches prepared by him (cf. Preface of the
Saint in the monastic supplement to MR, 1980, 153).
Yes, Benedict was a shining
example of holiness and pointed Christ out to the monks as the one great
ideal; he was a teacher of civilization who, in suggesting a balanced
and adequate vision of the divine requirements and ultimate destiny of
the human being, always also kept clearly in mind the needs and reasons
of the heart, to teach and inspire authentic and constant brotherhood so
that in the complex social relations people would not lose sight of a
spiritual unity that would always be capable of building and fostering
It is not by chance that
the word PAX is used to greet pilgrims and visitors at the
entrance of this Abbey, rebuilt after the dreadful disaster of the
Second World War; it rises like a silent warning to reject every form of
violence in order to build peace: in families, in communities, among
peoples and throughout humanity. St Benedict invites every person who
climbs this hill to seek peace and to follow him: "inquire pacem et
sequere eam (Ps 33:14-15)" (Rule, Prologue,
At his school monasteries
down the centuries became fervent centres of dialogue, encounter and a
beneficial blending of different peoples, unified by the evangelical
culture of peace. Monks have been able to teach the art of peace by word
and example, putting into practice the three "bonds" that Benedict
mentions as necessary to preserve the unity of the Spirit among human
beings: the Cross, that is the very law of Christ; the book, or in other
words culture; and the plough that implies work, the domination of
matter and of time.
Thanks to the activity of
monasteries that is structured in accordance with the threefold daily
commitment of prayer, study and work, entire peoples on the European
continent have experienced authentic redemption and a beneficial moral,
spiritual and cultural development, learning the meaning of continuity
with the past, practical action for the common good, openness to God and
the transcendent dimension. Let us pray that Europe may always be able
to make the most of this patrimony of Christian principles and ideals
that constitutes an immense cultural and spiritual wealth.
This is possible but only
if one accepts the constant teaching of St Benedict, that is the "quaerere
Deum", the quest for God, as man's fundamental commitment. Human
beings cannot completely fulfil themselves, they cannot be truly happy
without God. It is your task in particular, dear monks, to be living
examples of this inner and profound relationship with him, implementing
without compromise the programme that your Founder summed up in the "nihil
amori Christi praeponere", "prefer nothing to the love of Christ"
(Rule 4:21). Holiness consists of this, a valid proposal for
every Christian, especially in our time, in which people feel the need
to anchor life and history to sound spiritual references.
For this reason, dear
brothers and sisters, your vocation is more up to date than ever and
your mission as monks and nuns is indispensable.
From this place, where his
mortal remains rest, the holy Patron of Europe continues to invite
everyone to pursue his work of evangelization and human promotion.
In the first place he
encourages you, dear monks, to stay faithful to the spirit of your
origins and to be authentic interpreters of his programme of spiritual
and social rebirth. May the Lord grant you this gift through the
intercession of your Holy Founder, of St Scholastica, his sister, and of
the Order's Saints. And may the heavenly Mother of the Lord, whom we
invoke today as "Help of Christians," watch over you and protect this
Abbey and all your monasteries as well as the diocesan community that
has grown up around Monte Cassino. Amen!