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Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood!
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Thank you for coming in such large numbers to this last General Audience of my pontificate.
A heartfelt thanks! I am truly moved! And I see the Church alive! And I think we should also thank the Creator for the beautiful weather that He is giving us today while we’re still in winter.
As the Apostle Paul in the biblical text that we have heard, I too feel in my heart that I must above all thank God, who guides and builds up the Church, who sows his Word and thus nourishes the faith in his People. At this moment my heart expands to embrace the whole Church throughout the world, and I thank God for the "news" that in these years in the Petrine ministry I have been able to receive about the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love that circulates in the Body of the Church and makes it live in love, and about the hope that opens us and directs us towards the fullness of life, towards the heavenly homeland.
I feel that I carry everyone in prayer, in a present that is God’s, where I recall every meeting, every trip, every pastoral visit. I gather everything everyone in prayer to entrust them to the Lord, so that we may have full knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, and so that we may comport ourselves in a manner worthy of Him, of His love, bearing fruit in every good work (cf. Col 1:9-10).
At this time, I feel great trust, because I know, all of us know, that the Word of the truth of the Gospel is the strength of the Church, it is its life. The Gospel purifies and renews, it bears fruit, wherever the community of believers listens and receives the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my trust, this is my joy.
When, on April 19 almost eight years ago, I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I felt this certainty firmly, and it has always accompanied me. At that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: Lord, why are you asking this of me and what are you asking of me? It is a great weight you are placing on my shoulders, but if this is what You ask, at your word I will let down the nets, confident that You will guide me, even with my weaknesses. And eight years later I can say that the Lord has truly guided me, He has been close to me, I could feel His presence every day. It has been a stretch of the Church's journey, which has had moments of joy and light, but also difficult moments; I felt like St. Peter and the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days when the fishing has been plentiful, and there were also times when the water was rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church and the Lord seemed to sleep. But I always knew that the Lord is in the boat, and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but it is His. And He will not let her sink, it is He who leads it, certainly also through the men he has chosen, because so He has willed it. This was and is a certainty, that nothing can obscure. And that is why today my heart is filled with gratitude to God because He has never left me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.
We are in the Year of Faith, which I wanted to strengthen our faith in God in a context that seems to put it more and more into the background. I would like to invite everyone to renew their firm trust in the Lord, to trust like children in the arms of God, certain that those arms support us always and are what allow us to walk every day, even when fatigued. I would like everyone to feel loved by that God who gave his Son for us and has shown us his boundless love. I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian. A beautiful prayer to be recited daily in the morning says: "I adore you, my God, I love you with all my heart. Thank you for having created me, for having made me Christian..." Yes, we are happy for the gift of faith; it is the most precious thing, that no one can take from us! We thank God for this every day, with prayer and with a coherent Christian life. God loves us, but expects that we too love Him!
But it is not only God that I want to thank at this time. A Pope is not alone in guiding the barque of Peter, even if the primary responsibility is his; and I have never felt alone in carrying the joy and weight of the Petrine ministry; the Lord has put next to me many people, with generosity and love for God and the Church, they have helped me and have been close to me. First of all you, dear Brother Cardinals: your wisdom, your advice, your friendship has been precious to me; my collaborators, starting with my Secretary of State who has accompanied me faithfully over the years, the Secretary of State and the whole of the Roman Curia, as well as all those who, in various fields, give their service to the Holy See: there are many faces who do not appear, they remain in the shadow, but precisely in this silence, in their daily work, in a spirit of faith and humility, they have been a solid and reliable support for me. A special thought to the Church of Rome, my diocese! I cannot forget the Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, consecrated persons and the entire People of God: in the pastoral visits, in encounters, in the audences, in my travels, I have always perceived great care and deep affection, but I also have loved each and every one, without exception, with that pastoral charity which is the heart of every pastor, especially the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Every day I have remembered each of you in my prayers, with a father's heart.
I would like my greetings and my thanks, then, to reach everyone: the heart of a Pope extends to the whole world. And I would like to express my gratitude to the Diplomatic Corps at the Holy See, which makes present the great family of nations. Here I also think of all those who work for a good communication and I thank them for their important service.
At this point I would like to thank from my heart all the many people around the world who in recent weeks have sent me touching tokens of attention, friendship and prayer. Yes, the Pope is never alone, now I experience this again in so great a way that it touches my heart. The Pope belongs to everyone and many people feel very close to him. It is true that I receive letters from the great ones of the world - from Heads of State, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. But I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and make me feel their affection, born from being together with Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write to me the way one writes, for instance, to a prince or a to great person that one does not know. They write to me as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of a very affectionate family tie. Here one can touch firsthand what the Church is - not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way and to be able almost to touch with your hands the power of its truth and its love, is a source of joy, in a time when many speak of its decline. But we see how the Church is alive today!
In recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God earnestly in prayer to enlighten me with His light to make me take the right decision not for my sake, but for the good of the Church. I have taken this step in full awareness of its seriousness and also its novelty, but with profound peace of mind. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make tough choices, difficult ones, having always before oneself the good of the Church and not oneself.
Here allow me to return once again to April 19, 2005. The seriousness of the decision also lay precisely in the fact that from that moment on I was busy always and forever with the Lord. Always - whoever assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and totally to everyone, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of its private dimension. I experienced, and I am experiencing it now, that one receives life when one gives it. I said before that many people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and are fond of him, that the Pope truly has brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and that he feels safe in the embrace of their communion; because he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.
The "always" is also a "forever" - there is no return to the private sphere. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I will not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remain in a new way with the Crucified Lord. I no longer carry the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter's bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be for me a great example in this. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.
I thank each and everyone for the respect and understanding with which you have accepted this important decision. I will continue to accompany the journey of the Church through prayer and reflection, with the dedication to the Lord and to His Spouse, with which I have tried to live every day until now and with which I want to live forever. I ask you to remember me before God, and above all to pray for the Cardinals, who are called to so important a task, and for the new Successor of Peter: may the Lord accompany him with the light and the power of his Spirit.
Let us invoke the maternal intercession of Mary, Mother of God and of the Church, that she accompany each of us and the whole ecclesial community; we entrust ourselves to Her, with deep confidence.
Dear friends! God guides His Church, he sustaines her always, and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the Church and the world. In our heart, in the heart of each of you, may there always be the joyous certainty that the Lord is near us, he does not abandon us, he is near us and surrounds us with his love. Thank you!
[Translation by Peter Waymel/ZENIT News Agency]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I offer a warm and affectionate greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors who have joined me for this, my last General Audience. Like Saint Paul, whose words we heard earlier, my heart is filled with thanksgiving to God who ever watches over his Church and her growth in faith and love, and I embrace all of you with joy and gratitude.
During this Year of Faith, we have been called to renew our joyful trust in the Lord’s presence in our lives and in the life of the Church. I am personally grateful for his unfailing love and guidance in the eight years since I accepted his call to serve as the Successor of Peter. I am also deeply grateful for the understanding, support and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also throughout the world.
The decision I have made, after much prayer, is the fruit of a serene trust in God’s will and a deep love of Christ’s Church. I will continue to accompany the Church with my prayers, and I ask each of you to pray for me and for the new Pope. In union with Mary and all the saints, let us entrust ourselves in faith and hope to God, who continues to watch over our lives and to guide the journey of the Church and our world along the paths of history.
I commend all of you, with great affection, to his loving care, asking him to strengthen you in the hope which opens our hearts to the fullness of life that he alone can give. To you and your families, I impart my blessing. Thank you!
[Original text: English]
© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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I extend a cordial welcome to all the Italian-speaking pilgrims. Thank you for your love and affection. Thank you! Dear friends, thank you for the past eight years among you and thank you for your participation in such great numbers at this gathering, as well as for your love and for the joy of your faith. They are feelings that I warmly reciprocate, assuring you of my prayers for you here present, for your families, for your loved ones, for beloved Italy and Rome.
My thought goes finally to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. May the Lord fill the heart of each of you with His love, dear young people, so that you may be prepared to follow him with enthusiasm; may He sustain you, dear sick people, so that you can accept with serenity the burden of suffering, and guide you, dear newlyweds, so that you make your families grow in holiness.
[Translation by Peter Waymel/ZENIT News Agency]