Benedict XVI's Inaugural Mass Homily

Your Eminences, 

My dear Brother Bishops and Priests, 

Distinguished Authorities and Members of the Diplomatic Corps, 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

During these days of great intensity, we have chanted the litany of the saints
on three different occasions: at the funeral of our Holy Father John Paul II; as
the Cardinals entered the Conclave; and again today, when we sang it with the
response: "Tu illum adiuva" – sustain the new Successor of Saint Peter. On each
occasion, in a particular way, I found great consolation in listening to this
prayerful chant. How alone we all felt after the passing of John Paul II – the
Pope who for over twenty-six years had been our shepherd and guide on our
journey through life! He crossed the threshold of the next life, entering into
the mystery of God. But he did not take this step alone. Those who believe are
never alone – neither in life nor in death. At that moment, we could call upon
the Saints from every age – his friends, his brothers and sisters in the faith –
knowing that they would form a living procession to accompany him into the next
world, into the glory of God. We knew that his arrival was awaited. Now we know
that he is among his own and is truly at home. 

We were also consoled as we made our solemn entrance into Conclave, to elect the
one whom the Lord had chosen. How would we be able to discern his name? How
could 115 Bishops, from every culture and every country, discover the one on
whom the Lord wished to confer the mission of binding and loosing? Once again,
we knew that we were not alone, we knew that we were surrounded, led and guided
by the friends of God. And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I
must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can
I do this? How will I be able to do it? All of you, my dear friends, have just
invoked the entire host of Saints, represented by some of the great names in the
history of God's dealings with mankind. In this way, I too can say with renewed
conviction: I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could
never carry alone. All the Saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me
and to carry me. And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, your love,
your faith and your hope accompany me. 

Indeed, the communion of Saints consists not only of the great men and women who
went before us and whose names we know. All of us belong to the communion of
Saints, we who have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and
of the Holy Spirit, we who draw life from the gift of Christ's Body and Blood,
through which he transforms us and makes us like himself. Yes, the Church is
alive – this is the wonderful experience of these days. During those sad days of
the Pope's illness and death, it became wonderfully evident to us that the
Church is alive. And the Church is young. She holds within herself the future of
the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future. The Church
is alive and we are seeing it: we are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord
promised his followers. The Church is alive – she is alive because Christ is
alive, because he is truly risen. In the suffering that we saw on the Holy
Father's face in those days of Easter, we contemplated the mystery of Christ's
Passion and we touched his wounds. But throughout these days we have also been
able, in a profound sense, to touch the Risen One. We have been able to
experience the joy that he promised, after a brief period of darkness, as the
fruit of his resurrection. 

The Church is alive – with these words, I greet with great joy and gratitude all
of you gathered here, my venerable brother Cardinals and Bishops, my dear
priests, deacons, Church workers, catechists. I greet you, men and women
Religious, witnesses of the transfiguring presence of God. I greet you, members
of the lay faithful, immersed in the great task of building up the Kingdom of
God which spreads throughout the world, in every area of life. With great
affection I also greet all those who have been reborn in the sacrament of
Baptism but are not yet in full communion with us; and you, my brothers and
sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual
heritage, one rooted in God's irrevocable promises. Finally, like a wave
gathering force, my thoughts go out to all men and women of today, to believers
and non-believers alike. 

Dear friends! At this moment there is no need for me to present a program of
governance. I was able to give an indication of what I see as my task in my
Message of Wednesday, April 20, and there will be other opportunities to do so.
My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own
ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will
of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at
this hour of our history. Instead of putting forward a program, I should simply
like to comment on the two liturgical symbols which represent the inauguration
of the Petrine Ministry; both these symbols, moreover, reflect clearly what we
heard proclaimed in today's readings. 

The first symbol is the Pallium, woven in pure wool, which will be placed on my
shoulders. This ancient sign, which the Bishops of Rome have worn since the
fourth century, may be considered an image of the yoke of Christ, which the
Bishop of this City, the Servant of the Servants of God, takes upon his
shoulders. God's yoke is God's will, which we accept. And this will does not
weigh down on us, oppressing us and taking away our freedom. To know what God
wants, to know where the path of life is found – this was Israel's joy, this was
her great privilege. It is also our joy: God's will does not alienate us, it
purifies us – even if this can be painful – and so it leads us to ourselves. In
this way, we serve not only him, but the salvation of the whole world, of all
history. The symbolism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb's wool is
meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his
shoulders and carries to the waters of life. For the Fathers of the Church, the
parable of the lost sheep, which the shepherd seeks in the desert, was an image
of the mystery of Christ and the Church. The human race – every one of us – is
the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way. The Son of God will
not let this happen; he cannot abandon humanity in so wretched a condition. He
leaps to his feet and abandons the glory of heaven, in order to go in search of
the sheep and pursue it, all the way to the Cross. He takes it upon his
shoulders and carries our humanity; he carries us all – he is the good shepherd
who lays down his life for the sheep. What the Pallium indicates first and
foremost is that we are all carried by Christ. But at the same time it invites
us to carry one another. Hence the Pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd's
mission, of which the Second Reading and the Gospel speak. 

The pastor must be inspired by Christ's holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of
indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many
kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and
thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is
the desert of God's darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their
dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are
growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth's
treasures no longer serve to build God's garden for all to live in, but they
have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church
as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of
the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God,
towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance. The symbol of the lamb
also has a deeper meaning. In the Ancient Near East, it was customary for kings
to style themselves shepherds of their people. This was an image of their power,
a cynical image: to them their subjects were like sheep, which the shepherd
could dispose of as he wished. 

When the shepherd of all humanity, the living God, himself became a lamb, he
stood on the side of the lambs, with those who are downtrodden and killed. This
is how he reveals himself to be the true shepherd: "I am the Good Shepherd . . .
I lay down my life for the sheep," Jesus says of himself (John 10:14). It is not
power, but love that redeems us! This is God's sign: he himself is love. How
often we wish that God would show himself stronger, that he would strike
decisively, defeating evil and creating a better world. All ideologies of power
justify themselves in exactly this way, they justify the destruction of whatever
would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity. We suffer on
account of God's patience. And yet, we need his patience. God, who became a
lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the Crucified One, not by those who
crucified him. The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by
the impatience of man. 

One of the basic characteristics of a shepherd must be to love the people
entrusted to him, even as he loves Christ whom he serves. "Feed my sheep," says
Christ to Peter, and now, at this moment, he says it to me as well. Feeding
means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving
the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God's truth, of God's word, the
nourishment of his presence, which he gives us in the Blessed Sacrament. My dear
friends – at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love
the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and
more – in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you
together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray
for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one

The second symbol used in today's liturgy to express the inauguration of the
Petrine Ministry is the presentation of the fisherman's ring. Peter's call to be
a shepherd, which we heard in the Gospel, comes after the account of a
miraculous catch of fish: after a night in which the disciples had let down
their nets without success, they see the Risen Lord on the shore. He tells them
to let down their nets once more, and the nets become so full that they can
hardly pull them in; 153 large fish: "and although there were so many, the net
was not torn" (John 21:11). This account, coming at the end of Jesus' earthly
journey with his disciples, corresponds to an account found at the beginning:
there too, the disciples had caught nothing the entire night; there too, Jesus
had invited Simon once more to put out into the deep. And Simon, who was not yet
called Peter, gave the wonderful reply: "Master, at your word I will let down
the nets." And then came the conferral of his mission: "Do not be afraid.
Henceforth you will be catching men" (Luke 5:1-11). Today too the Church and the
successors of the Apostles are told to put out into the deep sea of history and
to let down the nets, so as to win men and women over to the Gospel – to God, to
Christ, to true life. 

The Fathers made a very significant commentary on this singular task. This is
what they say: for a fish, created for water, it is fatal to be taken out of the
sea, to be removed from its vital element to serve as human food. But in the
mission of a fisher of men, the reverse is true. We are living in alienation, in
the salt waters of suffering and death; in a sea of darkness without light. The
net of the Gospel pulls us out of the waters of death and brings us into the
splendor of God's light, into true life. It is really true: as we follow Christ
in this mission to be fishers of men, we must bring men and women out of the sea
that is salted with so many forms of alienation and onto the land of life, into
the light of God. It is really so: the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to
men. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the
living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and
meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is
nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with
Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others
of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of
men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is
truly a service to joy, to God's joy which longs to break into the world. 

Here I want to add something: both the image of the shepherd and that of the
fisherman issue an explicit call to unity. "I have other sheep that are not of
this fold; I must lead them too, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be
one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16); these are the words of Jesus at the end
of his discourse on the Good Shepherd. And the account of the 153 large fish
ends with the joyful statement: "although there were so many, the net was not
torn" (John 21:11). Alas, beloved Lord, with sorrow we must now acknowledge that
it has been torn! But no – we must not be sad! Let us rejoice because of your
promise, which does not disappoint, and let us do all we can to pursue the path
towards the unity you have promised. Let us remember it in our prayer to the
Lord, as we plead with him: yes, Lord, remember your promise. Grant that we may
be one flock and one shepherd! Do not allow your net to be torn, help us to be
servants of unity! 

At this point, my mind goes back to Oct. 22, 1978, when Pope John Paul II began
his ministry here in Saint Peter's Square. His words on that occasion constantly
echo in my ears: "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!" The Pope
was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ
might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they
were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, he would certainly have taken something
away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the
freedom to do as they pleased. But he would not have taken away anything that
pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society. 

The Pope was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps
all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open
ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away
from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something
unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up
diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we
let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what
makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors
of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human
existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and
liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the
basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do
not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.
When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open,
open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen. 

[Translation issued by Vatican press office]