VATICAN CITY, APR 22, 2007 (VIS) - After his meeting with representatives from the world of culture in the University of Pavia, Benedict XVI travelled to the basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro to celebrate Vespers. Before entering the basilica, the Holy Father paused on the patio of the convent of St. Augustine where he blessed the cornerstone of a new Augustinian cultural center, which the Order intends to dedicate to him.
Once inside the basilica, the Pope incensed the urn containing the relics of St. Augustine and, after greeting Bishop Giovanni Giudici of Pavia and Fr. Robert Francis Prevost, prior general of the Augustinian Order, pronounced his homily.
"In this moment of prayer I would like to gather here, at the tomb of the 'Doctor gratiae,' a significant message for the journey of the Church," said the Pope. "This message comes to us from the encounter between the Word of God and the personal experience of the great bishop of Hippo. ... Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, ... is the revelation of the face of God Love to all human beings as they travel along the paths of time towards eternity. ... This is the heart of the Gospel, the central nucleus of Christianity. The light of this love opened Augustine's eyes and brought him to encounter the 'beauty, ever ancient and ever new' in which alone the human heart finds peace."
"Here before the tomb of St. Augustine," the Pope continued, "I would like once again to consign ideally to the Church and to the World my first Encyclical, which contains this central message of the Gospel: 'Deus caritas est,' God is love," and which is "greatly indebted to the thought of St. Augustine who was enamoured of the Love of God."
"In the wake of the teachings of Vatican Council II and of my venerated predecessors, I am convinced ... that contemporary humanity has need of this essential message. ... Here everything must begin and here everything must lead, all pastoral activity and all theological treatises."
"Love is the heart of Church life and of her pastoral activity. ... Only those who have a personal experience of the Lord's love are able to exercise the task of guiding and accompanying others on the road of following Christ. ... Following Christ is above all a question of love."
The Holy Father went on: "May your membership of the Church and your apostolate always stand out for their freedom from any kind of personal interest and for their unreserved adhesion to Christ's love. Young people in particular need to receive the announcement of freedom and joy, the secret of which is in Christ. He is the most authentic response to the expectations of their hearts which are troubled by the many questions they carry within."
"Following the footsteps of St. Augustine, you too must be a Church that frankly announces the 'good news' of Christ. ... The Church is not simply an organization for collective expression nor, at the other extreme, is she the sum of individuals living a private religion. The Church is a community of people who believe in the God of Jesus Christ and commit themselves to living in the world the commandment of love that He left us."
"I encourage you," the Holy Father concluded, "to pursue the 'exalted degree' of Christian life which considers charity as the bond of perfection, and which must also be translated into a form of moral life inspired by the Gospel."
A the conclusion of Vespers, the Pope went to Pavia's "P. Fortunati" stadium whence he travelled by helicopter to the airport of Milan. There he boarded a plane that took him back to Rome where he landed shortly before 8.30 p.m.
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