April 17, 2012

Vatican Information Service Bulletin

The following, in it's entirety, is a copyrighted transcript of the Vatican Information Service.

Summary

- HOLY FATHER'S HOMILY ON HIS BIRTHDAY

- CONSTANTINE THE GREAT: RELIGION AND THE STATE AT THE DAWN OF EUROPE

 

HOLY FATHER'S HOMILY ON HIS BIRTHDAY

Vatican City, 17 April 2012 (VIS) - Yesterday morning in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, a Mass of thanksgiving was celebrated to mark two anniversaries the Pope is celebrating this week: his eighty-fifth birthday on 16 April, and the seventh anniversary of his election on 19 April. The Mass was attended by members of the College of Cardinals and by a group of bishops from the Pope's native region of Bavaria.

In his homily the Pope recalled how on the day he was born and baptised the liturgy "erected three signposts showing me where the road led and helping me find it": the feast of St. Bernardette of Lourdes, the feast of St. Benedict Joseph Labre, and Easter Saturday which in the year of the Pope's birth fell on 16 April.

St. Bernardette grew up in "a poverty we find difficult to imagine", he said. But "she could see with a pure and genuine heart, and Mary showed her a source ... of pure, living uncontaminated water, water which is life, water which gives purity and health. ... I believe we can see this water as an image of the truth which comes to us in the faith; unsimulated and uncontaminated truth. ... This little saint has always been a sign for me, showing me where the living water we need comes from, the water which purifies and gives life. She has been a sign showing me how we should be. With all our knowledge and abilities, which are of course necessary, we must not lose ... the simple gaze of the heart, which is capable of discerning the essential. And we must always pray to the Lord to help us retain the humility which allows the heart ... to see the simple and essential beauty and goodness of God, and to find the source from which the life-giving purifying water comes".

The Pope then turned his attention to St. Benedict Joseph Labre, who lived in the eighteenth century. "He was a rather particular saint who wandered as a mendicant from one shrine to another, wishing to do nothing but pray and so bear witness to what is important in this life: God. ... He shows us that, ... over and above what may exist in this world, over and above our needs and abilities, ... what is essential is to know God. He alone is enough". The life of the saint, who travelled to shrines all over Europe, "shows that the person who opens himself to God is not a stranger to the world of men, rather he finds brothers. ... Only God can eliminate frontiers, because thanks to Him we are all brothers".

"Finally there is the Paschal Mystery. On the day I was born, thanks to my parents, I was also reborn with the water of the Spirit. ... Biological life is in itself a gift, yet it begs an important question. It becomes a true gift only if, together with that life, we are given a promise stronger than any misfortune that may threaten us, if life is immersed in a power which guarantees that it is a good thing to be a man, and that the person is a benefit whatever the future may bring. In this way rebirth is associated with birth, the certainty that it is good to exist because the promise is greater than the threat. This is what it means to be reborn from water and from the Spirit. ... This rebirth is given to us in Baptism, but we must continually grow therein, we must ever and anew allow God to immerse us in His promise, in order to be truly reborn into the great new family of the Lord, which is stronger than all our weaknesses and all the negative powers that threaten us. That is why today is a day of thanksgiving.

"The day I was baptised ... was Easter Saturday. At the time it was still customary to hold the Easter vigil in the morning, followed by the darkness of Easter Saturday without a Hallelujah. This singular paradox, this anticipation of light in a day of darkness, can almost be seen as an image of the history of our own times. On the one hand there is the silence of God and His absence, yet the resurrection of Christ contains an anticipation of God's 'yes'. We live in this anticipation, through the silence of God we hear His words, and through the darkness of His absence we glimpse His light. The anticipation of the resurrection in the midst of evolving history indicates the path we must follow and helps us to continue the journey".

"I am in the final stage of my life journey and I do not know what awaits me. However, I do know that the light of God exists, that He rose again, that His light is stronger than all darkness, that the goodness of God is stronger than all the evil in this world. This helps me to continue with confidence. This helps us to continue, and I would like to thank everyone who, through their faith, continually makes me aware of God's 'yes'".

 

CONSTANTINE THE GREAT: RELIGION AND THE STATE AT THE DAWN OF EUROPE

Vatican City, 17 April 2012 (VIS) - "Constantine the Great. The Roots of Europe" is the title of an international academic congress to be held in the Vatican from 18 to 21 April. The event has been organised by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences to mark the 1700th anniversary of the battle of the Milvian Bridge and the conversion of the Emperor Constantine.

The congress was presented this morning at a press conference held in the Holy See Press Office, by Fr. Bernard Ardura O. Praem., president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; Claire Sotinel, professor of Roman history at the University of Paris-Creteil and a member of the Ecole Francaise in Rome, and Giovanni Maria Vian, director of the "Osservatore Romano" newspaper.

"The conference", Fr. Ardura explained, "is the outcome of effective academic cooperation with important cultural institutions such as the Vatican Secret Archives, the Vatican Apostolic Library, the Italian National Research Council, the Ambrosian Library and the Sacred Heart Catholic University in Milan". It is also taking place "with the cooperation and contribution of the European Union delegation to the Holy See, the Lazio Regional Council and the Pontifical Lateran University".

This congress is the first of two, the second of which will be held in Milan in 2013 for the 1700th anniversary of the promulgation of the Edict of Milan, which established freedom of religion in the Roman empire and put an end to the persecution of certain religious groups, particularly Christians. While the 2013 congress will concern itself with what is known as the "Constantinian revolution", tomorrow's event will focus on the environment in which Constantine lived and on relations between Christians and the Roman empire prior to the year 313. Participants will "examine the relationship between religion and the State, the idea of religious freedom in the empire, and religion from the point of view of the emperor and the senate", Fr. Ardura said.

One key area will be the conversion and baptism of Constantine himself, and his attitude towards Christians following the battle of the Milvian Bridge, which took place on 28 October 312 and led to the death of his rival Maxentius. Contemporary and later Christian historians, influenced by the narrative of Eusebius of Cesarea, saw Constantine's victory as the result of divine intervention.

Fr. Ardura pointed out that "from a purely strategic-military viewpoint the battle was not very important, but it soon became the founding symbol of the new world which came into being when Constantine found Christianity. Indeed, ... the era of imperial persecution against Christians was about to come to an end, giving way to the evangelisation of the entire empire and moulding the profile of western Europe and the Balkans; a Europe which gave rise to the values of human dignity, distinction and cooperation between religion and the State, and freedom of conscience, religion and worship. Of course these things would need many centuries to come to maturity, but they all existed 'in nuce' in the 'Constantinian revolution' and therefore in the battle of the Milvian Bridge".

For her part, Claire Sotinel explained that attentive and critical historical analysis "facilitates our understanding of what happened following the victory at the Milvian Bridge, helping us in the twenty-first century to reflect on important issues such as the interaction between religions and political power, the creation of religious pluralism, and the possibility of coexistence among different religions".

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