Pope Benedict XVI prayed last night at the Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square. (CNS/Paul Haring)
VATICAN CITY — Celebrating the feast of Mary the Mother of God and World Peace Day this morning, Pope Benedict XVI focused on how God revealed his face in the person of Jesus Christ, born of Mary in Bethlehem.
“God, by his nature, is invisible,” he said, yet the Bible frequently uses the metaphor of God’s face. “To show his face is an expression of his benevolence, while hiding his face indicates his anger or indignation.”
The pope said that to meditate “on the mystery of God’s face and of the human face” is a way that leads to peace because it involves respect and the recognition of others as persons “no matter the color of their skin, their nationality, their language or their religion. In reality, only if we have God in our hearts will we be able to recognize others as brothers and sisters in humanity, not means toward an end, not rivals or enemies, but others like us,” he said.
Pope Benedict said:
From the time they are small, it is important to educate children to respect others, even when they are different from us. It already is more common to have school classes composed of children of various nations, but even when this does not occur, their faces are a prophecy of the humanity we are called to form: a family of families and peoples. The smaller these children are, the more they elicit from us tenderness and joy for an innocence and brotherhood that is evident: despite their differences, they cry and laugh in the same way, they have the same needs, communicate spontaneously and play together. The faces of children are like a reflection of how God sees the world. So why extinguish their smiles? Why poison their hearts?
Unfortunately, the icon of the Mother of God of Tenderness finds its tragic opposite in the sad images of many children and their mothers at the mercy of wars and violence: refugees, asylum seekers, forced migrants. Faces lined by hunger and disease, faces disfigured by pain and desperation. The faces of these innocent little ones are a silent appeal to our responsibility: before their helpless condition, all the false justifications for war and violence fall away. We simply must convert to projects of peace, lay down weapons of every kind and, all of us together, make a commitment to building a world more worthy of humanity.
The pope’s message for World Peace Day focused on the theme, “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.” During his homily this morning, he said that people will only respect the environment to the extent that they respect themselves and others. True respect for the environment, he said, requires seeing all of creation as a reflection of God, the creator.
During the Christmas season, we recite a Psalm that contains, among other things, a stupendous example of how the coming of God transforms creation and provokes a kind of cosmic feast. This hymn begins with a universal invitation to praise: ‘Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name.’ Then, at a certain point, this appeal extends to all creation: ‘Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them. Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice.’ The celebration of faith becomes the celebration of humanity and of creation: it is that celebration, which at Christmas, also is expressed through the decorations on the trees, the streets and in our houses. Everything blooms because God has appeared among us.
The altar servers and other ministers at the Mass this morning were from St. Mark’s Seminary, the seminary of the Diocese of Erie, Pa., which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009.
Reciting the Angelus after Mass, the pope wished people a Happy New Year, a year during which, “with the help of God, we can make our common home, the world, a better place.”
First of all, he said, everyone must recognize that they can and must make a difference in protecting the environment.
And, he said, “if we must take care of the creatures around us, what care we must have for people — our brothers and sisters! On the first day of the year, I want to appeal to the consciences of those who are part of any kind of armed group. To each and every one I say: Stop, reflect and abandon the path of violence.”
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