Love Is the Soul of the Church, Says Pope

Offers St. Augustine as Example

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PAVIA, Italy, APRIL 23, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI reiterated again the central message of his pontificate -- God is love -- when visiting the tomb of St. Augustine.



The Pope spoke of charity on Sunday before Augustine's remains at the Basilica of St. Peter in the Golden Sky.

"Contemporary humanity needs this essential message, incarnated in Christ Jesus," the Holy Father said, concluding his trip to Pavia.

"Everything should begin here, and from here, everything should be directed: all pastoral action, all theological theses," the Pontiff said in his homily at the celebration of vespers with priests, religious and seminarians of this northern Italian diocese.

He began by explaining: "I wanted to come here to venerate the mortal remains of St. Augustine to express both the homage of the entire Church to one of the greatest 'fathers,' and my personal devotion and recognition of him who has had such importance in my life as a theologian and a pastor, and I would say even more, as a man and a priest."

The writings of St. Augustine (354-430), bishop of Hippo and doctor of the Church, have marked the life of Joseph Ratzinger. In 1953, Father Ratzinger dedicated his doctoral thesis to the saint's teachings.

Deus caritas est

"Before the tomb of Augustine," Benedict XVI said, "I wish to again spiritually offer to the Church and to the world my first encyclical, which contains precisely this central message of the Gospel: 'Deus caritas est,' God is love."

This is "the message that St. Augustine continues repeating to the entire Church," the Pope added. "Love is the soul of the life of the Church and its pastoral action.

"Only one who lives the personal experience of love for the Lord is capable of carrying out the task of guiding and accompanying others in the path of following Christ.

"I repeat this truth to you as the Bishop of Rome; meanwhile, with an ever renewed joy, I accept this truth along with you as a Christian."

The Holy Father underlined: "To serve Christ is, above all, a question of love. The Church is not a mere organization of mutual encounters, nor is it, on the other hand, the sum of individuals who live a private religion.

"The Church is a community of persons that believe in the God of Jesus Christ and commit themselves to live in the world the commandment of love which he left us.

"It is, therefore, a community in which one is educated in love, and this education comes not despite but rather through the events of life."

Benedict XVI invited his listeners to live the Christian life, which "has charity as the bond of perfection and should be transformed into a style of moral life inspired by the Gospels, inevitably contrary to the currents of modern criteria, but which always needs to be witnessed to, in a humble, respectful and cordial way."

After his pilgrimage to Augustine's tomb, and after saying good-bye to the community of Augustinian religious there, the Pope boarded a helicopter which brought him to the Milan airport. From there, he returned to Rome.

This third pastoral visit of the Holy Father to Italy included two cities. In Vigevano, he celebrated Mass on Saturday afternoon. And in Pavia, he had a program of encounters with the public on Sunday.