Pope highlights Eucharist, Christian unity

On the shores of the Adriatic Sea, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his first Mass outside Rome as pope, encouraging Catholics to demonstrate to the world the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, "the sacrament of his love."

Catholic News Service reports that Sunday's Mass, celebrated under a hot sun on the seashore, marked the conclusion of the weeklong Italian eucharistic congress.

Pope Benedict, who spoke of the importance of celebrating the Eucharist as a community united in faith, used the Mass as an opportunity to affirm his commitment to promoting Christian unity.

"The Christ we encounter in the Eucharist is the same here in Bari as in Rome, in Europe as in America, Africa, Asia and Oceania," Pope Benedict said. "It is the one Christ who is present in the eucharistic bread everywhere on earth."

The fact that all who eat of Christ's body and drink his blood are incorporated as one into his body means that "we cannot communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate among ourselves," he said.

"If we want to present ourselves to him, we also must go out to meet each other," Pope Benedict said.

"The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity," he said, "but unfortunately Christians are divided, precisely in the sacrament of unity."

Pope Benedict said that receiving the Eucharist must make Christians feel more strongly the need to work and pray "with all our strength for that full unity for which Christ ardently prayed."

"I want to restate my desire to take on, as a fundamental commitment, working with all my energy for the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ," he said to great applause.

The pope told the Bari crowd that Jesus could have said: "Friends, do not worry. I spoke of flesh, but it is only a symbol."

However, he said, Jesus stood firm in his statement and Christians rejoice at having him so close to them.

"We need this bread," the pope said.

The Mass also marked the first time since Italy and the Vatican signed a treaty in 1929 recognising each other's territorial rights that Swiss Guards, dressed in their ceremonial uniforms and carrying their halberds, stood watch at a papal Mass in Italy outside Vatican territory.

Passionist Fr Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, said he did not know the details of the agreement between the Vatican and Italy that led to the guards' presence, but he said Swiss Guards would continue to accompany the pope on Italian trips.

In Bari, pope highlights importance of Eucharist, Christian unity (Catholic News Service 31/5/05)

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32 Jun 2005