Papal Address at Rome's Fosse Ardeatine

"What Happened Here ... Is a Deeply Grave Offense Against God"

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 27, 2011 (Zenit.org).- This is the address Benedict XVI delivered today upon visiting Fosse Ardeatine on the outskirts of Rome to mark the 67th anniversary of the 1944 Nazi massacre of 335 Italians with a private visit to the commemorative monument.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

I gladly accepted the invitation of the "Associazione Nazionale tra le Famiglie Italiane dei Martiri caduti per la libertà della Patria" (National Association of the Italian Families of the Martyrs Who Fell for the Freedom of the Fatherland) to make a pilgrimage to this memorial, dear to all Italians, especially to the people of Rome. I greet the cardinal vicar, the chief rabbi, the president of the association, the commissary general, the director of the mausoleum and, in a special way, the relatives of the victims, and all those present.

"I believe in God and in Italy / I believe in the resurrection / of the martyrs and heroes / I believe in the rebirth / of the fatherland and in / the freedom of the people." These words were scratched on the wall of a torture cell on the Via Tasso in Rome during the Nazi occupation. They are the testimony of an unknown person who was imprisoned in the cell and show that the human soul remains free even in the harshest of conditions.

"I believe in God and in Italy": this expression struck me also because this year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, but above all because it affirms the primacy of faith, from which confidence and hope for Italy and for its future. What happened here on March 24, 1944, is a deeply grave offense against God because it is deliberate violence of man against man. It is the most execrable effect of war, of every war, while God is life, peace, communion.

Like my predecessors, I have come here to pray and to renew the memory. I have come to invoke divine mercy, which alone can fill the voids, the chasms opened by men when, driven by blind violence, they renounce their dignity as sons of God and brothers. I too, as Bishop of Rome, the city consecrated by the blood of the martyrs of the Gospel of Love, I come to pay homage to these brothers, murdered a short distance from the ancient catacombs.

"I believe in God and in Italy." In that testimony scrawled in a place of violence and death, the link between faith and love of the fatherland appears in all of his purity, without any rhetoric. Whoever wrote those words did it out of an intimate conviction, as an extreme witness to truth believed, which ennobles the human soul even in extreme abasement. Every man is called to realize his dignity in this way: witnessing to that truth that he recognizes with his conscience.

Another witness struck me, and this was found right in the Fosse Ardeatine. A sheet of paper on which one of the fallen wrote: "God my great Father, we pray to you that you might protect the Jews from the barbaric persecutions. 1 Pater noster, 10 Ave Maria, 1 Gloria Patri."

In that moment so tragic, so inhuman, in the heart of that person there was the greatest prayer: "God my Father" Father of all! As on the lips of Jesus, dying on the cross: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." In that name, "Father," there is the sure guarantee of hope; the possibility of a different future, free from hatred and revenge, a future of freedom and fraternity, for Rome, Italy, Europe, the world. Yes, wherever he is, on every continent, to whatever people he belongs, man is the son of the Father who is in heaven, he is the brother of all in humanity.

But this being son and brother is not taken for granted. The Fosse Ardeatine unfortunately show this. It is necessary to want it, it is necessary to say yes to good and no to evil. It is necessary to believe in the God of love and of life, and reject every other false image of the divine, that betrays his holy name and consequently betrays man, made in his image.

Thus, in this place, a sorrowful memorial of the most horrendous evil, the truest response is to take each other’s hands, as brothers, and say: Our Father, we believe in you, and with the power of your love we want to walk together, in peace, in Rome, In Italy, in Europe, in the whole world. Amen.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]