VATICAN CITY, APR 21, 2007 (VIS) - Shortly after 3 p.m. today, Benedict XVI departed from Rome's Ciampino airport bound for the northern Italian town of Vigevano, on the first stage of his two-day pastoral visit to the dioceses of Vigevano and Pavia.
At 4.40 p.m., after a brief stopover in the airport of Milan, the Pope's helicopter landed in Vigevano's "Dante Merlo" stadium from where he travelled by popemobile to the town center. Along the route, he passed in front of the convent of cloistered nuns of the Sisters Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament who came out to greet him. At 5.15, he arrived at the bishop's residence where he was welcomed by the local religious and civil authorities.
The Pope appeared at the balcony of the episcopal residence, overlooking Piazza Sant'Ambrogio, to greet the thousands of people gathered there, including many young people and groups of sick. "I thank you," he said, "for your cordial and enthusiastic welcome. As I descended from the helicopter, I could almost hear the echo of the bells of all the churches in the diocese which rang out at midday today to wish me a choral welcome."
"Here in Vigevano, the only diocese in Lombardy not visited by my venerated predecessor John Paul II, I have chosen to begin my pastoral pilgrimage within Italy. Thus it is as if I am resuming the path he followed, to continue to proclaim to the men and women of Italy the announcement, ancient yet ever new, that resounds with particular vitality in this time of Easter: Christ is risen! Christ is alive! Christ is with us today and forever."
After his greetings, Benedict XVI went to Piazza Ducale where he presided at a Eucharistic concelebration with Lombard bishops and priests of the diocese of Vigevano.
In his homily he recalled the words from the Gospel reading, "cast the net ... and you will find" which Jesus addressed to His disciples on Lake Tiberias after a fruitless fishing expedition that had lasted all night. The empty net, the Pope remarked, must have appeared to the Apostles "as the outcome of their experience with Jesus: they had known Him and accompanied Him, and He had promised them so much, and yet there they were with their nets empty of fish."
Christ came out to meet them, though the disciples did not recognize Him. Nonetheless "they trusted Jesus and the result was a miraculously abundant catch of fish." It was then that John became aware of the presence of the Risen One and exclaimed: "'It is the Lord!' This spontaneous profession of faith," said Pope Benedict, "is also an invitation for us to proclaim that the Risen Christ is the Lord of our lives."
"I have come here among you," the Holy Father continued, "above all to encourage you to be zealous witnesses to Christ. It is faithful adherence to His word that will make your pastoral activities fruitful. When the work in the Lord's vineyard seems in vain, like the Apostles nighttime efforts, it must not be forgotten that Jesus is capable of overturning everything in a moment. This evangelical episode ... reminds us, on the one hand, that we must commit ourselves to pastoral activities as if the outcome depended entirely upon our own efforts; on the other hand, it brings us to understand that the true success of our mission is entirely a gift of Grace. In the mysterious designs of His wisdom, God knows when it is time to intervene."
"What does Christ's invitation to 'cast the net' actually mean?" the Pope asked. "In the first place it means, as it did for the disciples, believing in Him and trusting in His word. Jesus asks you, as He asked them, to follow Him with a sincere and firm faith. Listen, then, to His word and meditate upon it every day. ... Following the fundamental guidelines of the Synod and the instructions of your pastor, remain united and open yourselves to the vast horizons of evangelization. ... Sharing, collaborating and a feeling of joint responsibility, this is the spirit that must constantly animate your community.
"Such a community requires everyone's contribution" he added. "Individual parishes - like the tiles of a mosaic and in full harmony among themselves - will form a living Church that is an organic part of the People of God." Moreover, "an indispensable contribution to evangelization comes from lay associations, communities and groups."
Benedict XVI also encouraged his listeners "to continue to look after young people, both those who are 'near' and those who are 'far away.' In this context tirelessly promote ... a form of vocational pastoral care that helps the young in their search for a true meaning to give to their lives." The Pope also recalled that the family "is the principal element of social life, and so only by working in support of families can we renew the fabric of the ecclesial community and of civil society itself."
The Pope concluded his homily by mentioning the patron saints of Vigevano: St. Ambrose, St. Charles Borromeo and Blessed Matteo Carreri, and he also referred to other people from the local area whose causes of beatification are currently underway. These include Fr. Francesco Pianzola who "went out to meet the spiritual poverty of his time with a courageous missionary style," and Teresio Olivelli, a layman of Catholic Action "who died at the age of just 29 in the Hersbruck concentration camp, a sacrificial victim of a brutal form of violence which he tenaciously opposed with the ardor of charity."
Finally, the Holy Father commended the community to the Mother of God "that a renewed effusion of the Holy Spirit" may descend upon the diocese. He also reiterated how the "disciples' tiring and fruitless night's fishing is a perennial admonishment for the Church of all times: alone, without Jesus, we can do nothing!"
Following the Mass, the Pope travelled by helicopter to Pavia where he arrived at 8.15 p.m.
PV-ITALY/HOMILY/VIGEVANO VIS 20070423 (1010)