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Palm Sunday 2011 & the 26th World Youth Day

XXVI World Youth Day was celebrated with Pope Benedict XVI on Palm Sunday in St Peter's Square and internationally in August in Madrid, Spain.

XXVI WYD/JMJ Message: “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf Col 2, 7)

Papa Benedict XVI's Homily at Mass on Palm Sunday
St Peter's Square, Sunday, 17 April 2011 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters, Dear young people!
It is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go up the mountain with Jesus, towards the Temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries, young people and people of every age acclaim him, crying out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But what are we really doing when we join this procession as part of the throng which went up with Jesus to Jerusalem and hailed Him as King of Israel? Is this anything more than a ritual, a quaint custom? Does it have anything to do with the reality of our life and our world? To answer this, we must first be clear about what Jesus Himself wished to do and actually did. After Peter’s confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi, in the northernmost part of the Holy Land, Jesus set out as a pilgrim towards Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. He was journeying towards the Temple in the Holy City, towards that place which for Israel ensured in a particular way God’s closeness to his people. He was making his way towards the common feast of Passover, the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt and the sign of its hope of definitive liberation. He knew that what awaited Him was a new Passover and that He Himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering Himself on the cross. He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine He would give Himself for ever to his own, and that He would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God Himself; to those heights He wanted to lift every human being.

Our procession today is meant, then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make. But how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn’t it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to “be like God”, to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters in recent months which have caused so much suffering for humanity.

The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.

Following the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer where the Lord comes into our midst, the Church invites us to lift up our hearts: “Sursum corda!” In the language of the Bible and the thinking of the Fathers, the heart is the centre of man, where understanding, will and feeling, body and soul, all come together. The centre where spirit becomes body and body becomes spirit, where will, feeling and understanding become one in the knowledge and love of God. This is the “heart” which must be lifted up. But to repeat: of ourselves, we are too weak to lift up our hearts to the heights of God. We cannot do it. The very pride of thinking that we are able to do it on our own drags us down and estranges us from God. God Himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to Himself, to the living God. He humbled himself, as today’s second reading says. Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God’s humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards.

Psalm 24, which the Church proposes as the “song of ascent” to accompany our procession in today’s liturgy, indicates some concrete elements which are part of our ascent and without which we cannot be lifted upwards: clean hands, a pure heart, the rejection of falsehood, the quest for God’s face. The great achievements of technology are liberating and contribute to the progress of mankind only if they are joined to these attitudes – if our hands become clean and our hearts pure, if we seek truth, if we seek God and let ourselves be touched and challenged by his love. All these means of “ascent” are effective only if we humbly acknowledge that we need to be lifted up; if we abandon the pride of wanting to become God. We need God: he draws us upwards; letting ourselves be upheld by his hands – by faith, in other words – sets us aright and gives us the inner strength that raises us on high. We need the humility of a faith which seeks the face of God and trusts in the truth of his love.

The question of how man can attain the heights, becoming completely himself and completely like God, has always engaged mankind. It was passionately disputed by the Platonic philosophers of the 3rd and 4th centuries. For them, the central issue was finding the means of purification which could free man from the heavy load weighing him down and thus enable him to ascend to the heights of his true being, to the heights of divinity. Saint Augustine, in his search for the right path, long sought guidance from those philosophies. But in the end he had to acknowledge that their answers were insufficient, their methods would not truly lead him to God. To those philosophers he said: recognize that human power and all these purifications are not enough to bring man in truth to the heights of the divine, to his own heights. And he added that he should have despaired of himself and human existence had he not found the One who accomplishes what we of ourselves cannot accomplish; the One who raises us up to the heights of God in spite of our wretchedness: Jesus Christ who from God came down to us and, in his crucified love, takes us by the hand and lifts us on high.

We are on pilgrimage with the Lord to the heights. We are striving for pure hearts and clean hands, we are seeking truth, we are seeking the face of God. Let us show the Lord that we desire to be righteous, and let us ask him: Draw us upwards! Make us pure! Grant that the words which we sang in the processional psalm may also hold true for us; grant that we may be part of the generation which seeks God, “which seeks your face, O God of Jacob” (cf Ps 24:6). Amen."

Papa Benedetto's words at the Angelus in St Peter's Square
Palm Sunday, 17th April 2011 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Je salue avec joie les pèlerins francophones. En suivant Jésus qui s’avance vers sa Passion et sa Résurrection, accueillons son enseignement au cœur de nos vies. Puisse sa lumière éclairer nos jugements et nos choix! Chers jeunes, demeurez enracinés dans le Christ et fermes dans la foi! Ainsi, vous serez les témoins joyeux et inlassables de l’amour infini de Dieu pour nous aujourd’hui. Que la Vierge Marie nous accompagne dans notre montée vers Pâques !

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here in Rome this Palm Sunday, as the whole Church sings “Hosanna” to the Son of David, commemorating Our Lord’s solemn entry into Jerusalem in the days leading up to his Passion and death. In a special way I greet all the young people present and I look forward to celebrating World Youth Day in Madrid this summer with many thousands of others from around the world.

Von Herzen grüße ich alle Pilger und Besucher deutscher Sprache. In der Liturgie des Palmsonntags folgt auf den Jubelruf „Hosanna“ beim Einzug des Herrn in Jerusalem kurz darauf das Geschrei des „Kreuzige ihn“ im Leidensbericht. Beide Haltungen liegen nahe beisammen und machen die Unbeständigkeit des menschlichen Herzens sichtbar. Bitten wir den Herrn in dieser Heiligen Woche, daß er uns in der Treue zu ihm bewahre. Dazu möge er uns die Gnade schenken, die aus seinem Tod und seiner Auferstehung kommt. Euch allen wünsche ich eine gesegnete Karwoche!

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española y los animo a vivir las celebraciones de la pasión del Rey de la Gloria, para alcanzar la plenitud de lo que estas fiestas significan y contienen. Me dirijo ahora en particular a vosotros, queridos jóvenes, para que me acompañéis en la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud, que tendrá lugar en Madrid el próximo mes de agosto, bajo el lema: “Arraigados y edificados en Cristo, firmes en la fe”.

Hoy pienso también en Colombia, donde el próximo Viernes Santo se celebra la Jornada de Oración por las Víctimas de la Violencia. Me uno espiritualmente a esta importante iniciativa y exhorto encarecidamente a los colombianos a participar en ella, al mismo tiempo que pido a Dios por cuantos en esa amada Nación han sido despojados vilmente de su vida y sus haberes. Renuevo mi urgente llamado a la conversión, al arrepentimiento y a la reconciliación. ¡No más violencia en Colombia, que reine en ella la paz!

Uma saudação amiga para os jovens e demais peregrinos de língua portuguesa, com votos de uma Semana Santa rica de frutos espirituais, vivendo-a unidos à Virgem Maria para aprender d’Ela a escutar Deus no silêncio interior, a olhar os outros com o coração puro e a seguir Jesus, com fé amorosa, pelo caminho do calvário que conduz à alegria da ressurreição. Até Madrid, se Deus quiser!

Serdeczne pozdrowienie kieruję do pielgrzymów z Polski, szczególnie do młodych, którzy przygotowują się do światowego spotkania w Madrycie. Pozwólcie, że dziś, w niedzielę Męki Pańskiej, powtórzę słowa z przesłania na ten dzień: Krzyż « jest Bożym „tak” dla człowieka, najwyższym wyrazem miłości i źródłem, z którego wypływa życie wieczne. (...) Mogę zatem jedynie ponaglić Was, byście przyjęli Krzyż Jezusa, znak Bożej miłości, jako źródło nowego życia». Niech Bóg wam błogosławi!

Saluto infine con affetto i pellegrini di lingua italiana, specialmente i giovani, ai quali do appuntamento a Madrid, per la Giornata Mondiale della Gioventù, nel prossimo mese di agosto.

Ed ora ci rivolgiamo in preghiera a Maria, affinché ci aiuti a vivere con fede intensa la Settimana Santa. Anche Maria esultò nello spirito quando Gesù fece il suo ingresso regale in Gerusalemme, compiendo le profezie; ma il suo cuore, come quello del Figlio, era pronto al Sacrificio. Impariamo da Lei, Vergine fedele, a seguire il Signore anche quando la sua via porta alla croce.

Angelus Domini…"