Focuses on Life of St. Ignatius of Antioch

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 14, 2007 ( For the faithful, communion within the Church should be closely linked to the work of evangelization, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this today at the general audience when delivering a catechesis on St. Ignatius of Antioch.

Some 40,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square, about a quarter of whom came from Apulia, Italy, accompanying their bishops for their five-yearly visit to Rome.

The Holy Father continued his cycle of catecheses on the apostolic fathers. St. Ignatius was bishop of Antioch, a town located in what is today Turkey. He was bishop there from A.D. 70 to 107, the year of his martyrdom in Rome.

On his journey to his martyrdom, he wrote seven letters from the cities of Smyrna and Troas.

The Pontiff described these letters as examples of "the freshness of the faith of the generations that had known the apostles" and "the ardent love of a saint."

He continued: "No other Church Father expressed as intensely as Ignatius the wish for union with Christ and life in him.

"For Ignatius, union is 'above all a prerogative of God who being three,' is one in absolute union. He often repeats that God is union and only in God can this be found in the pure and original state."

Divine archetype

Ignatius thus elaborates a particular vision of the Church, according to which the "union to be reached in this world by Christians is but an imitation, the closest possible to the divine archetype," Benedict XVI explained.

He continued: "In general, in Ignatius' letters, we can see a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between the two aspects characteristic of Christian life: on one hand the hierarchical structure of the ecclesial community, and on the other hand, the fundamental union that links all the faithful in Christ.

"Therefore the roles cannot be opposed. On the contrary, the insistence on communion of the faithful among themselves and with their pastors is continually formulated through eloquent images and analogies: the harp, the chords, the tone, the concert, the symphony."

The Pope contended that the "specific responsibility of the bishops, the presbyters and the deacons in the building of the community is evident. To them above all, the invitation to love and union is valid"

The Holy Father called Ignatius a "doctor of unity," and said that his example "invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to a progressive synthesis between configuration to Christ -- union with him, life in him -- and dedication to his Church -- union with the bishop, generous service to the community and to the world."

"In other words, one must achieve a synthesis between communion of the Church within itself and the mission of proclamation of the Gospel to others, until one dimension speaks through the other, and believers are evermore 'in possession of that indivisible spirit that is Jesus Christ himself,'" the Pope added.

Benedict XVI concluded, praying "that the Lord may help us in achieving this unity and to be found without sin, because love purifies the spirit."

Code: ZE07031404

Date: 2007-03-14