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Papal Homily at Italian Eucharistic Congress

"The Sacrament of Unity"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 30, 2005 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today in Italian during the closing Mass of the 24th Italian National Eucharistic Congress, in the esplanade of Marisabella.

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"Glorify the Lord, Jerusalem, Zion praise your God" (Responsorial Psalm). The psalmist's invitation, made also in the sequence, expresses very well the meaning of this Eucharistic celebration: We have gathered to praise and bless the Lord. This is the reason that has led the Italian Church to meet here, in Bari, on the occasion of the National Eucharistic Congress.

I also wished to join all of you today to celebrate with particular prominence the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ and, in this way, render homage to Christ in the sacrament of his love, and reinforce at the same time the bonds of communion that unite me to the Church in Italy and its pastors. My venerated predecessor, Pope John Paul II, would also have liked to be present at this important ecclesial event. We feel he is close to us and, with us, glorifies Christ, good shepherd, whom he can now contemplate directly.

I greet all of you with affection who participate in this solemn liturgy: Cardinal Camillo Ruini and the other cardinals present, the Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari-Bitonto, the bishop of Apulia and the numerous bishops who have come from all over Italy; the priests, men and women religious and the laity, in particular, those who have cooperated in the organization of the congress. I also greet the authorities who, with their presence, emphasize that Eucharistic congresses are part of the history and culture of the Italian people.

This Eucharistic congress, which comes to a close today, intended to present Sunday again as a "weekly Easter," expression of the identity of the Christian community and center of its life and mission. The theme chosen, "We Cannot Live without Sunday," takes us back to the year 304, when Emperor Diocletian prohibited Christians, under pain of death, to possess the Scriptures, to meet on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist and to build premises for their assemblies. In Abitene, a small village in what today is Tunis, 49 Christians, meeting in the home of Octavius Felix, were taken by surprise on a Sunday while celebrating the Eucharist, defying the imperial prohibitions. Arrested, they were taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the proconsul Anulinus.

Significant, in particular, was the response given to the proconsul by Emeritus, after being asked why he had violated the emperor's order. He said: "Sine dominico non possumus," we cannot live without meeting on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would not have the strength to face the daily difficulties and not succumb. After atrocious tortures, the 49 martyrs of Abitene were killed. Thus, they confirmed their faith with the shedding of blood. They died but they were victorious; we now remember them in the glory of the risen Christ.

We, Christians of the 21st century, must also reflect on the experience of the Abitene martyrs. It is not easy for us either to live as Christians. From a spiritual point of view, the world in which we find ourselves, often characterized by rampant consumerism, religious indifference, secularism closed to transcendence, might seem such a harsh wilderness as that "great and terrible" wilderness (Deuteronomy), of which the first reading spoke to us, taken from Deuteronomy.

God went to help the Jewish people in difficulty with the gift of manna to make them understand that "man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:3). In today's Gospel, Jesus explained to us for what kind of bread God wanted to prepare the people of the new covenant with the gift of manna. Alluding to the Eucharist, he said: "This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever" (John 6:58). The Son of God, becoming flesh, could become bread and in this way be the nourishment of his people journeying toward the promised land of heaven.

We need this bread to cope with the toil and exhaustion of the journey. Sunday, day of the Lord, is the propitious occasion to draw strength from him, who is the Lord of life. The Sunday precept, therefore, is not a simple duty imposed from outside. To participate in the Sunday celebration and to be nourished with the Eucharistic bread is a need of a Christian, who in this way can find the necessary energy for the journey to be undertaken. A journey, moreover, that is not arbitrary; the way that God indicates through his law goes in the direction inscribed in the very essence of man. To follow the way means man's own fulfillment, to lose it, is to lose himself. ...

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