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On the Epiphany

"The Wise Men Are the First Fruits of the Gentiles"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 7, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered Saturday, the solemnity of the Epiphany, before reciting the Angelus with thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters:

The solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates Christ's manifestation to the Wise Men, an event to which St. Matthew attaches great importance (cf. Matthew 2:1-12). He narrates in his Gospel that some "Wise Men" -- probably Persian religious leaders -- arrived in Jerusalem guided by a "star," a luminous heavenly phenomenon interpreted by them as a sign of the birth of the new king of the Jews.

No one in the city knew anything; what is more, Herod, the king on the throne, was very disturbed by the news and conceived the tragic plan of the "killing of the innocents" to eliminate the newly born rival. The Wise Men, on the contrary, allowed themselves to be guided by the sacred Scriptures, in particular, by Micah's prophecy, according to which, the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, located some 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem (cf. 5:2). Following that direction, they saw the star again and, full of joy, followed it until it paused above a hovel. They entered and saw the Child with Mary; they prostrated themselves before him and, in homage to his royal dignity, offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Why is this event so important? Because with it began the adherence of the pagan peoples to faith in Christ, according to the promise that God had made to Abraham, to which the book of Genesis makes reference: "all the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you" (Genesis 12:3). Just as Mary, Joseph and the shepherds of Bethlehem represent the people of Israel that received the Lord, so the Wise Men are the first fruits of the gentiles, also called to form part of the Church, new people of God, which is no longer based on ethnic, linguistic or cultural homogeneity, but only on common faith in Jesus, Son of God.

For this reason, Christ's epiphany is at the same time, the Church's epiphany, that is, the manifestation of her vocation and universal mission. In this context, I joyfully address a cordial greeting to the beloved brothers and sisters of the Eastern Churches that, following the Julian Calendar, celebrate Holy Christmas tomorrow: I affectionately wish them abundance of Christian peace and prosperity.

I like to recall, moreover, that on the occasion of Epiphany, the World Day of Missionary Children is observed. It is the feast of Christian children who live joyfully the gift of faith and pray that the light of Jesus will reach all the children of the world.

I thank the children of "Holy Childhood," present in 110 countries, as they are precious cooperators of the Gospel and apostles of Christian solidarity in favor of the neediest. I encourage educators to cultivate in little ones the missionary spirit, so that impassioned missionaries will arise among them, witnesses of God's tenderness and proclaimers of his love.

We now turn to the Virgin Mary, star of evangelization: That through her intercession Christians throughout the world may live as children of the light and lead men to Christ, authentic light of the world.

[At the end of the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at this Angelus. The celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord invites us to contemplate Jesus as the divine Savior, the light that guides us on our journey to eternity. May Christians everywhere draw nearer to Christ, pay homage to him in word and deed, and share joyfully with others the saving light of the Gospel! I wish you all a pleasant stay in Rome!

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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