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On Benedict XVI and St. Augustine

Interview With Father Rovert Prevost

ROME, APRIL 24, 2007 (Zenit) - The prior general of the Augustinians says that Benedict XVI's reflections on the Fathers of the Church is the apex of the re-evalution of those figures begun with the Second Vatican Council.

The Pope is in Pavia today, paying a visit to the tomb of St. Augustine. The bishop of Hippo was the topic of the then Father Joseph Ratzinger's doctoral thesis.

In this interview with us, Father Prevost reflects on the Holy Father's fascination with St. Augustine.

Q: How did this visit of the Pope to Pavia come about?

Father Prevost: In October 2005, with Bishop Giovanni Giudici of Pavia, we invited the Pope to Pavia precisely to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the Grand Union, the last act of the foundation of the Order of St. Augustine.

In November of the same year we received the affirmative response of the Pope through the Vatican secretary of state. The date was left to be determined.

This event was concretized in the pastoral visit to the Dioceses of Vigevano and Pavia, a visit that will conclude in the Basilica of St. Peters in the Golden Sky, the place where the relics of St. Augustine have been kept since about 725, when the king of the Lombards, Liutprand, had them brought to Pavia from Sardinia.

Q: Benedict XVI has a special moment in this visit to pray to the saint who was such an inspiration for his life and thought.

Father Prevost: Exactly. In St. Peter's in the Golden Sky the Pope is meeting together with the clergy and consecrated persons to celebrate vespers.

The Pope is very close to the figure of St. Augustine. In 1953 he wrote his doctoral thesis on the Holy Doctor: "People and House of God in St. Augustine's Doctrine of the Church."

In the course of his visit to the Major Seminary of Rome on Feb. 17, 2007, the Pope said that he was fascinated by the great humanity of St. Augustine, who was not able initially simply to identify himself with the Church, because he was a catechumen, but had to struggle spiritually to find, little by little, the way to God's word, to life with God, right up to the great "yes" to his Church.

This is how he conquered his very personal theology, which is above all developed in his preaching.

The Pope has made many direct references, for example the synthesis of the figure of St. Augustine presented during the Angelus on Aug. 27, 2006, the eve of the feast of St. Augustine.

He spoke of him as "the great pastor" in the meeting with the parishioners and clergy of the Diocese of Rome on Feb. 22, 2007. He recalls him in the last postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" on the Eucharist, food of truth, gratuitous gift of the Holy Trinity, the "Christus Totus," that is, the indivisible Christ, the whole together in the image of the head and members of the body.

In the reflections of Benedict XVI we can see the apex of the re-evaluation of the Fathers of the Church, and Augustine in particular, already begun by Vatican II and present in the principal documents of the Church.

Q: What will remain of this visit of the Pope to the Augustinians?

Father Prevost: Above all the honor and privilege of having him as a guest, and also, during his visit to the basilica, he will bless the first stone of the future cultural center, named for Benedict XVI, which will relaunch some initiatives already in existence, for example, "Pavian Augustinian Week," with new initiatives, giving life to a new cultural pole that has St. Augustine as its guide.

There is also a lamp that the Pope lit before the celebration of vespers that will always remain lit next to the mortal remains of the saint. This light is meant to indicate that Augustine is still alive today, in his works and in those who live his spirituality, as we Augustinians do for example. In fact, around the ark there are 50 little flames that burn, which signify the 50 countries where we friars, together with the nuns, are present.

Q: A final question. What other Popes have prayed at the tomb of Augustine?

Father Prevost: John Paul II, at the beginning of his pontificate; then we would have to go too far back in time to find another. But Cardinal Roncalli, the future John XXIII, and Cardinal Montini, the future Paul VI, visited it along with many other illustrious visitors.

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