Pope delivers his penultimate homily

Thousands of pilgrims gather to listen to Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square in the Vatican yesterday afternoon. photograph: gregorio borgia

Thousands of pilgrims gather to listen to Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square in the Vatican yesterday afternoon. photograph: gregorio borgia

Mon, Feb 18, 2013, 00:00

Tens of thousands of pilgrims packed out St Peter’s Square yesterday to hear Pope Benedict XVI give his traditional Sunday Angelus homily, the penultimate such homily of his pontificate and the first since he announced last Monday that he would resign on February 28th.

While some of the pilgrims might have their doubts about the reason for Benedict’s historic resignation, the first by a pope in almost 600 years, others were only too keen to manifest their affection for him.

One large banner in the centre of the square read: “We Have Loved You So Much, Thank You.”

When the pope finished the Angelus prayer, such was the sustained ovation afforded him by the crowd that he eventually had to indicate to them to stop in order to allow him continue with his multilingual greetings.

In his speech the pope made no reference to his resignation but rather pointed out that last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, signalled the start of Lent, the church’s annual moment of “conversion and penitence in preparation for Easter”.

The pope said that this was a good moment to “refind faith in God as the guiding criteria in life”.

Renounce pride

He added: “The church calls on all its members to renew themselves in spirit and to decisively reorient themselves towards God, renouncing pride and egoism and choosing to live in love . . .”

Having finished the Angelus prayer, the pope, as he does every Sunday, then addressed the crowd in French, English, German, Spanish and Polish.

In his final greeting, he thanked Italian pilgrims for “coming today in such numbers”, calling their presence “a sign of affection and spiritual solidarity ”.

Yesterday’s Angelus came at the end of a busy weekend for Pope Benedict, who on Saturday had met both with bishops from Lombardy on an ad limina visit and with Italian prime minister Mario Monti, just one week away from an Italian general election.

Among the Lombardy bishops was Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, one of the leading Italian contenders to succeed Benedict.

Talking with Vatican Radio afterwards, Cardinal Scola said that Benedict’s resignation had been a “punch in the stomach” but one that made you lift up your head. “The pope has made us see what faith really is . . . He has shown no attachment to the things of this world, nor indeed to power.

“Rather, he has abandoned himself totally to the will of God . . .”

Conclave of Cardinals

As for the Conclave of Cardinals to elect Benedict’s successor next month, senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi on Saturday admitted an earlier-than-anticipated start was under consideration.

According to the apostolic constitution that governs the “interregnum” period between one pontificate and the next, the conclave should begin between March 15th and 19th.

However, given the unprecedented nature of this conclave, prompted by the resignation, not the death of a pope, it would seem to make sense to shorten the interregnum period intended to allow for a period of mourning and to allow cardinals time to travel to Rome.

Accelerated process

Given there is no mourning and the speed of modern travel, it only makes sense to accelerate the whole electoral process.

On top of all that, there is the danger that, were a mid-March conclave to prove long and intractable, it might run into Holy Week, which this year begins on March 24th, Palm Sunday.

Fr Lombardi gave no dates but Vatican insiders believe that the conclave may begin on March 10th.