At 9 a.m. today, Benedict XVI travelled to the parish of "Santa Maria delle Grazie" at Casal Boccone, in the northern sector of the diocese of Rome. There, in the courtyard of the parish complex which were inaugurated last year, he was greeted with dances and songs by children from the local primary school. The Holy Father expressed his thanks for the welcome and pronounced some off-the-cuff remarks.
"I wish everyone a happy Sunday. We know that Christmas is approaching so let us prepare ourselves, not just with gifts but with our hearts. Let us think that Christ the Lord is close to us, that He enters our lives and brings us light and joy. 'Pray incessantly' says St. Paul today in his Letter to the Thessalonians. ... What this means is that we must not lose contact with God in our hearts. If such contact exists then we have a reason to be joyful. To all of you I wish the joy of Christmas, the presence of the Baby Jesus Who is the God of our hearts".
Mass began at 9.30 a.m. with a greeting delivered by the parish priest, Fr. Domenico Monteforte. Excerpts from Benedict XVI's homily are given below:
"Advent is a time of waiting, hope and preparation for the visit of the Lord. As we heard in the Gospel reading, the person and preaching of John the Baptist invite us to take up this commitment". John the Baptist "is the precursor, a mere witness, entirely subject to the One Whom he announces. He is voice in the desert, just as today, in the desert of the great cities of this world, in the great absence of God, we need voices which tell us simply that God exists, that He is always close even when He seems distant".
John the Baptist "is a witness of the light. This fact touches our hearts, because in a world so full of shadows and darkness, we are all called to be witnesses of the light. This is the mission of Advent: being witness of the light, and we can do this only if we carry the light within us. ... In the Church, in the Word of God, in the celebration of the Sacraments, in the Sacrament of Confession and the forgiveness we receive, in the Eucharist where the Lord gives Himself into our hands and hearts, in of all this we touch the light and receive our mission: the mission of bearing witness to the fact that the light exists, of bringing that light into our world".
"This 'Gaudete' Sunday is the Sunday of joy. It tells us that, even amidst our doubts and difficulties, joy exists because God exists and He is with us".
"Looking at this church and the parish buildings, I see the fruits of patience, dedication and love. At the same time, by my presence here, I wish to encourage you also to raise that Church of living stones, which you yourselves represent. Each of you should feel yourselves to be an element of this living structure. A community is constructed with the contribution each person makes, with the commitment of everyone. I am thinking in particular of the field of catechesis, the liturgy and charity, the columns which support Christian life".
"I also wish to draw your attention to the importance and the central role of the Eucharist. May the Mass be the focus of your Sunday, which must be rediscovered and lived as the day of the Lord and of the community, a day on which to praise and celebrate the One Who was born for us, Who died and rose again for our salvation, and Who asks us to live together joyfully, to be a community open and ready to welcome anyone who is alone and in difficulty. Do not lose your understanding of the significance of Sundays, and remain faithful to your appointment with the Eucharist. Early Christians were ready to give their lives for this".
"Another point I would like to raise is that of the witness of charity, which must characterise your life as a community. Over recent years you have seen a rapid growth in numbers, but you have also witnessed the arrival of many people in situations of difficulty and want. These people need you, they need your material aid but also and above all of your witness as believers. Ensure that your community always remains a concrete expression of the love of God Who is rich in mercy, and that it invites people to approach Him with trust".
Following the Mass, the Pope held a brief meeting with the members of the parish council. Before returning to the Vatican for the Angelus prayer, he addressed some remarks to faithful waiting outside the church to bid him farewell.
"Thank you for your presence and the warmth of your welcome", he said. "Your beautiful, open and heartfelt cordiality reminded me of my visit to Africa. It is a great joy to me to see how, ... in this new parish, people actively participate in the Eucharist and prepare for Christmas.
"Today, preparing for Christmas is very difficult", the Holy Father added. "I know that people have many commitments, but getting ready for Christmas does not only mean shopping and making preparations, it means being in contact with the Lord, going out to meet Him. I feel it is important not to forget this dimension. ... This is not an additional burden, but the power that enables us to do all we need to do. I hope you maintain permanent contact with Jesus, that His joy and strength might help you to live in this world".