Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Vatican City

In Homily, Pope Vows To Lead People To Christ

By JOHN THAVIS, CNS | Published April 28, 2005

In the first homily of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI said his primary mission was to lead people out of the modern desert of empty values, alienation and injustice toward the light of Christ.

Speaking April 24 to some 350,000 people who spilled out of St. Peter’s Square, the pope said he took seriously the charge Christ gave to St. Peter, the first pope: “Feed my sheep.”

That means loving the flock and giving them “what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of his presence,” he said.

“The church is alive” was Pope Benedict’s refrain in a talk interrupted more than 30 times by applause. The 35-minute sermon, broadcast to countries around the world, focused on the essentials of the church’s mission and the role of the pope.

Pope Benedict said his inaugural Mass was not the moment to present a detailed plan or program for his pontificate.

“My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by him, so that he himself will lead the church at this hour of our history,” he said.

Instead, the pope’s homily concentrated on two symbols of the investiture ceremony: the pallium, the stole that signifies the shepherd’s mission, and the fisherman’s ring, which represents the pope’s role as a “fisher of men.”

The pope said the lamb’s wool of the pallium is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and leads to “the waters of life.” That has special meaning today, he said.

“The human race—every one of us—is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way,” he said. “The son of God will not let this happen; he cannot abandon humanity in so wretched a condition.”

Likewise, he said, the pastor cannot be indifferent that “so many people are living in the desert.”

“And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life,” he said.

“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction,” he said.

He said the church’s mission must be to “lead people out of the desert, toward the place of life, toward friendship with the son of God, toward the one who gives us life, and life in abundance.”

The pope said the role of shepherd in the church should not be confused with the kind of authority once wielded by kings over their people.

“It is not power, but love that redeems us,” he said.

Pope Benedict acknowledged the doubts many people feel when they look at evil in the world and wonder where God has gone.

“How often we wish that God would show himself stronger, that he would strike decisively, defeating evil and creating a better world,” he said.

But he cautioned that this was the reasoning used by “ideologies of power,” which justify the destruction of “whatever would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity.”

The church’s way is patience, he said.

“We suffer on account of God’s patience. And yet, we need his patience,” he said. “The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man.”

The pope then explained the significance of the second symbol, the fisherman’s ring, which he wore on his right hand. He said it underlined the church’s duty to “put out to the deep sea of history and to let down the nets, so as to win men and women over to the Gospel.”

Here, too, he said, the church responds to a deep need of the contemporary world.

“It is really true: As we follow Christ in this mission to be fishers of men, we must bring men and women out of the sea that is salted with so many forms of alienation and onto the land of life, into the light of God. It is really so: The purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men,” he said.

Pope Benedict said the shepherd and the fisherman are unity figures. Referring to the split between Christian churches, he said: “Lord, remember your promise. Grant that we may be one flock and one shepherd.”

The pope drew applause when he spoke about the sense of loss felt by the whole church with the death of Pope John Paul II and his own trepidation about serving as his successor.

“How alone we all felt after the passing of John Paul II,” he said.

But he said the church knew that the late pope was not alone—that he was in the company of saints and is “truly at home.”

“And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this? How will I be able to do it?” the pope said. His words were met by a burst of applause from the crowd.

The pope said he was certain that he would not be alone. He told the crowd that he would feel sustained by all the saints “and by your prayers, my dear friends, by your indulgence, your love, your faith and your hope.”

The pope drew huge applause when he said the experience of Pope John Paul’s illness and death had reminded everyone that “the church is alive. And the church is young.”

“She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way toward the future,” he said.

The pope closed his sermon by evoking the words of his predecessor at his inaugural Mass more than 26 years ago: “Do not be afraid!”

He said he would preach the same words, especially to the young. In a raised voice he said:

“And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.”