through respect for the environment
On Friday morning, 1
January 2010, the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God and the 43rd World Day
of Peace on the theme: "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect
Creation", the Holy Father presided at Mass in St Peter's Basilica.
Concelebrating with him were Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of
State, and other Cardinals and Bishops. The following is a translation
of the Pope's Homily, given in Italian.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the first day of the New
Year we have the joy and the grace of celebrating the Most Holy Mother
of God and, at the same time, the World Day of Peace. In both these
events we are celebrating Christ, Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary
and our true peace! To all of you who are gathered here: representatives
of the world's peoples, of the Roman and universal Church, priests and
faithful; and to all who are connected via radio and television, I
repeat the words of the ancient Blessing: "The Lord lift up his
countenance upon you, and give you peace" (Nm 6:26).
Today I wish to develop
precisely the theme of the Face and of faces, in the light of the word
the Face of God and human faces
a theme that also gives us a key to the interpretation of the problem of
peace in the world.
We heard in both the First
Reading from the Book of Numbers and in the Responsorial Psalm, several
expressions with reference to God that contain the metaphor of the face:
"The Lord make his face to shine upon you, / and be gracious to you" (Nm
6:25). "May God be gracious to us and bless us /and make his face to
shine upon us / that your way may be known upon earth, / your saving
power among all nations" (Ps 67 :1-3 ) .
The face is the expression
of the person par excellence. It is what makes him or her recognizable
and from it transpire sentiments, thoughts and heartfelt intentions. God
by his nature is invisible, yet the Bible applies this image to him too.
Showing his face is an expression of his benevolence, whereas hiding it
indicates his anger and indignation.
The Book of Exodus says
that "The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to
his friend" (Ex 33:11), and again it was to Moses that the Lord promised
his closeness with a very unusual formula: "my presence [face] will go
with you, and I will give you rest" (Ex 33:14). The Psalms show
believers to us as those who seek God's Face (cf. Ps
27:8);105:4), and who, in worship, long to see him (Ps
42:3) and tell us that "the upright" shall "behold his face" (Ps
One may interpret the whole
biblical narrative as the gradual revelation of the Face of God, until
it reaches his full manifestation in Jesus Christ. "When the time had
fully come", the Apostle Paul has reminded us today too, "God sent forth
his Son", (Gal 4:4), immediately adding, "born of woman, born under the
law". God's Face took on a human face, letting itself be seen and
recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, who for this reason we
venerate with the loftiest title of "Mother of God". She, who had
preserved in her heart the secret of the divine motherhood, was the
first to see the face of God made man in the small fruit of her womb.
The Mother had a very special, unique and, in a certain way, exclusive
relationship with the newborn Son.
The first face a child sees
is that of his mother and this gaze is crucial for his relationship with
life, with himself, with others and with God; it is also crucial if he
is to become a "son of peace" (Lk 10:6).
Among the many typologies
of icons of the Virgin Mary in the Byzantine tradition is the one called
"of tenderness" that portrays the Child Jesus with his face resting,
cheek to cheek, against his Mother's. The Child gazes at the Mother and
she is looking at us, almost as if to mirror
for those who are observing and praying
the tenderness of God who came down to her from Heaven and was incarnate
in the Son of man, whom she holds in her arms. We can contemplate in
this Marian image something of God himself: a sign of the ineffable love
that impelled him "to give his Only Son" (cf. Jn 3:16).
But that same icon also
shows us, in Mary, the face of the Church which reflects Christ's light
upon us and upon the whole world, the Church through which the Good News
reaches every person: "You are no longer a slave but a son" (Gal 4:7),
as once again we read in St Paul.
Brothers in the Episcopate
and in the Priesthood, Mr Ambassadors, dear friends, meditating on the
mystery of the Face of God and on the human face is a privileged path
that leads to peace. It starts, in fact, with a respectful look that
recognizes a person in the face of the other, whatever the colour of his
skin, whatever his nationality, language or religion.
But who, other than God,
can guarantee, so to speak, the "depth" of the human face? In fact, only
if we have God in our hearts are we able to perceive in the face of the
other a brother in humanity, not a means but an end, not a rival or
enemy but another self, another facet of the infinite mystery of the
human being. Our perception of the world and, in particular, of our
fellows, depends essentially on the presence within us of God's Spirit.
It is a sort of "resonance": those whose hearts are empty only perceive
flat images lacking in depth.
On the other hand, the more
we are inhabited by God the more we are sensitive to his presence in our
surroundings: in all creatures and especially in other human beings,
although the human face, in turn marked by the trials of life and by
evil, may be difficult to appreciate and accept as an epiphany of God.
With all the more reason then, to recognize and respect each other as we
really are, in other words as brothers and sisters, we need to refer to
the Face of a common Father who loves us all despite our limitations and
It is important to be
taught respect for others, even when they are different from us, from an
early age. Increasingly today classes in schools consist of children of
various nationalities but even when this is not the case their faces are
a prophecy of the humanity we are called to form: a family of families
and peoples. The smaller these children are, the more they awaken in us
tenderness and joy at an innocence and brotherhood that seem obvious to
us despite their differences, they cry and laugh in the same way, they
have the same needs, they communicate spontaneously, they play
together.... Children's faces are like a reflection of God's gaze on the
So why extinguish their
smiles? Why poison their hearts? Unfortunately the icon of the Mother of
the God of Tenderness finds its tragic opposite in the sorrowful images
of so many children and their mothers at the mercy of war and violence,
refugees, asylum seekers and forced migrants. Faces hollowed by hunger
and disease, faces disfigured by suffering and desperation and the faces
of little innocents are a silent appeal to our responsibility: before
their helpless plight, all the false justifications of war and violence
fall away. We must simply convert to projects of peace, lay down every
kind of weapon and strive all together to build a world that is worthier
of the human being.
My Message for
today's 43rd World Day of Peace, "If You Want to Cultivate Peace,
Protect Creation", fits within the perspective of God's Face and of
human faces. Indeed, we can say that the human being is capable of
respecting creatures insofar as he bears in his mind a full sense of
life, otherwise he will be inclined to despise himself and all that
surrounds him, to have no respect for the environment in which he lives
and no respect for Creation.
Those who can recognize in
the cosmos the reflections of the Creator's invisible face, tend to have
greater love for creatures and greater sensitivity to their symbolic
value. The Book of Psalms is especially rich in testimonies of this
truly human way of relating to nature: to the sky, the sea, mountains,
hills, rivers, animals.... "O Lord, how manifold are your works!", the
Psalmist exclaims: "In wisdom have you made them all; / the earth is
full of your creatures" (Ps 104:24).
The perspective of the
"face" in particular invites us to reflect on what, also in this
Message, I have
called "human ecology". In fact there is a very close connection between
respect for the human being and the safeguard of creation. "Our duties
towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person,
considered both individually and in relation to others" (n. 12).
If the person becomes
degenerate the environment in which he lives deteriorates; if culture is
inclined to nihilism — if not theoretical practical — nature cannot but
pay the consequences. In fact, it is possible to note a reciprocal
influence between the human face and the "face" of the environment:
"when 'human ecology' is respected within society, environmental ecology
also benefits" (Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, n. 51).
I therefore renew my appeal
to invest in education, proposing as an objective, in addition to the
necessary transmission of technical and scientific notions, a broader
and deeper "ecological responsibility", based on respect for human
beings and their fundamental rights and duties. Only in this way can the
commitment to the environment truly become an education in peace and in
Dear brothers and sisters,
a Psalm recurs in the Christmas Season that contains, amongst other
things, a wonderful example of how God's coming will transfigure the
creation and give rise to a sort of cosmic celebration. This hymn begins
with an invitation to all peoples to praise: "Sing to the Lord a new
song; / sing to the Lord, all the earth! / Sing to the Lord, bless his
Name" (Ps 96:1). Yet at a certain point this appeal for exultation
is extended to the whole of creation: "Let the Heavens be glad, and let
the earth rejoice; / let the sea roar, and all that fills it; / let the
field exalt, and everything in it! / Then shall all the trees of the
wood sing for joy" (vv. 11-12).
The celebration of faith
becomes a celebration of the human being and of creation: that
celebration which is also expressed at Christmas in decorations on
trees, in streets and in houses. Everything flourishes anew because God
has appeared in our midst. The Virgin Mother shows the Infant Jesus to
the shepherds of Bethlehem, who rejoice and praise the Lord (cf. Lk
2:20). The Church renews the mystery for people of every generation, she
shows them God's Face so that, with his Blessing, they may walk on the
path of peace.