This period of the Conclave has been filled with meaning not just for the College of Cardinals but also for all the faithful. During these days we have felt almost palpably the affection and solidarity of the universal Church, as well as the attention of many people who, even if not sharing our faith, look upon the Church and the Holy See with respect and admiration.
From every corner of the earth a heart-felt chorus of prayer was raised by Christian peoples for the new Pope, and my first encounter with the crowds filling St. Peter’s Square was an emotional one. With that eloquent image of a praying and joyful populace still fixed in my mind, I would like to manifest my sincere gratitude to the Bishops, priests, consecrated persons, young people, families, and to the aged for their spiritual closeness which is so touching and sincere.
I feel the need to express my deepest gratitude to all of you, venerable and dear Brother Cardinals, for your collaboration in running the Church during the Sede Vacante. I greet, to begin with, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, who I thank with expressions of devotion for the kind wishes he extended to me in your name. With him I thank Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, for his fine work during this delicate transition phase, and also Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who led us in the Conclave. Many thanks! I think with particular affection of the venerable Cardinals who, because of age or illness, assured us of their participation and love for the Church by offering their suffering and prayers. And I would like to inform them that, the day before yesterday, Cardinal Mejia had a heart attack and is in hospital. I believe he is in stable condition and he has sent us his greetings.
I cannot forget to thank all those, who in so many ways, worked to prepare and conduct the Conclave, ensuring the safety and tranquillity of the Cardinals during this very important time in the life of the Church.
I extend an especially affectionate thought, filled with gratitude, to my venerable predecessor, Benedict XVI, who, during the years of his pontificate enriched and invigorated the Church with his teaching, his goodness, guidance, faith, humility, and his meekness, which will remain the spiritual patrimony of all. The Petrine ministry, lived with total dedication, found in him a wise and humble interpreter with his gaze always fixed on Christ, the Risen Christ, present and alive in the Eucharist. Our fervent prayer will always accompany him, our eternal memory, and affectionate gratitude. We feel that Benedict XVI lit a flame in the depth of our hearts, a flame that continues to burn because it will be fanned by his prayers that will continue to sustain the Church on its spiritual and missionary journey.
Dear Brother Cardinals, this meeting of ours is meant to be the continuation of that intense ecclesial communion we experienced during this period. Animated by a profound sense of responsibility and sustained by a great love for Christ and for the Church, we prayed together, fraternally sharing our feelings, our experiences and reflections. In this very cordial atmosphere our reciprocal knowledge of one another and mutual openness to one another, grew. And this is good because we are brothers. As someone told me: the Cardinals are the Holy Father’s priests. But we are that community, that friendship, that closeness, that will do good for every one of us. That mutual knowledge and openness to one another helped us to be open to the action of Holy Spirit. He, the Paraclete, is the supreme protagonist of every initiative and manifestation of faith. It’s interesting and it makes me think. The Paraclete creates all the differences in the Church and seems like an apostle of Babel. On the other hand, the Paraclete unifies all these differences – not making them equal – but in harmony with one another. I remember a Church father who described it like this: “Ipse harmonia est.” The Paraclete gives each one of us a different charism, and unites us in this community of the Church that adores the Father, the Son, and Him – the Holy Spirit.
Starting from the authentic collegial affection that united the College of Cardinals, I express my desire to serve the Gospel with renewed love, helping the Church to become ever more in Christ and with Christ, the fruitful life of the Lord. Stimulated by the Year of Faith, all together, pastors and faithful, we will make an effort to respond faithfully to the eternal mission: to bring Jesus Christ to humanity, and to lead humanity to an encounter with Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life, truly present in the Church and, at the same time, in every person. This encounter makes us become new men in the mystery of Grace, provoking in our hearts the Christian joy that is a hundredfold that given us by Christ to those who welcome Him into their lives.
As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us so many times in his teachings and, finally, with that courageous and humble gesture, it is Christ who guides the Church through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, with His life-giving and unifying strength. Of many He makes a single body – the mystical Body of Christ. Let us never give in to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil tempts us with every day. Let us not give into pessimism and let us not be discouraged. We have the certainty that the Holy Spirit gives His Church, with His powerful breath, the courage to persevere, the courage to persevere and to search for new ways to evangelise, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Christian truth is attractive and convincing because it responds to the deep need of human existence, announcing in a convincing way that Christ is the one Saviour of the whole of man and of all men. This announcement is as valid today as it was at the beginning of Christianity when the Church worked for the great missionary expansion of the Gospel.
Dear Brothers, have courage! Half of us are old: I like to think of old age as the seat of wisdom in life. Old people have wisdom because they know they have journeyed through life – like the aged Simeon and Anna in the Temple. It was that wisdom that allowed them to recognise Jesus. We must give this wisdom to young people: like good wine that improves with age, let us give young people this life’s wisdom. I’m reminded of what a German poet said about aging: “Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm” – “age is the time of peace and prayer”. We need to give young people this wisdom.
You are returning to your respective Sees to continue your ministry, enriched by these days so filled with faith and ecclesial communion. This unique and incomparable experience has allowed us to capture all the beauty of the ecclesial reality, which is a refection of the light of the Risen Christ: one day we shall gaze upon the beautiful face of that Risen Christ.
I commit my ministry, and your ministry, to the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church. Beneath her maternal gaze, may each one of us walk and listen to the voice of her divine Son, strengthening unity, persevering together in prayer and giving witness to the true faith in the continual presence of the Lord. With these sentiments, sincere sentiments, I impart my Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to your collaborators and to the people under your pastoral care.