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Sunday February 19, 2006 ■ CatholicNews

FOCUS

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict

XVI thanked the members of the world’s religious orders, saying their total dedication to Christ was a strong sign of faith in modern society. The pope, joined by several thousand men and women religious, celebrated a Mass to mark World Day for Consecrated Life, which was observed in Rome on Feb 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. As the liturgy opened, religious priests, sisters and brothers lit candles in the darkened basilica and the pope, holding his own candle, (photo) processed to the main altar. He concelebrated the Mass with priests of 17 religious orders. In a sermon, the pope said he wanted to thank the nearly 1 million members of religious orders for the many different forms of service they carry out. Their complete dedication is an eloquent sign of the presence of the kingdom of God in the world, he said. “Their way of living and of working is capable of demonstrating in a continuous way their full belonging to the one Lord,” the pope said. “Their giving of themselves into the hands of Christ and the church is a strong and clear announcement of the presence of God, in a language that is understood by our contemporaries.” Earlier, at his Sunday blessing on Jan 29, the pope, citing his recent encyclical, said religious orders through the centuries have given the church and the world models of Christian charity.

The pope noted that in his first encyclical, titled “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”), he had written about the important witness of charity given by the saints, from the earliest days of the church to modern times. Many of the saints, he said, were members of religious orders, including figures like St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican theologian; St. John Bosco, the Salesian who worked with young people; and St. Angela Merici, who founded the Ursulines and launched its teaching mission. Among the saints devoted to charity, the pope named Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whose Missionaries of Charity work with the poor around the world. “In truth, the entire history of the church is a history of holiness, animated by the unique love that has its source in God,” he said. “In fact, only supernatural charity, like that which flows continually from the heart of Christ, can explain the exceptional flowering down through the centuries of male and female religious orders and institutes, and other forms of consecrated life.” He said it was important for the modern church to remember the importance of consecrated life as “the expression and the school of charity.” Pope John Paul II inaugurated the annual day for religious in 1997. It is one of the many liturgical and commemorative customs Pope Benedict has chosen to maintain. ■ CNS

– The Consecrated Life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus – the chaste, poor and obedient one – are made constantly “visible” in the midst of the world. – In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an “undivided” heart. Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the

service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society. – The consecrated life has not only proved a help and support for the church in the past, but is also a precious and necessary gift for the present and future of the People of God, since it is an intimate part of her life, her holiness and her mission.
(Excerpts from the apostolic letter “Vita Consecrata” (“The Consecrated Life”) by Pope John Paul II) ■