TO THE BASILICA OF SAINT LAWRENCE OUTSIDE THE WALLS
ON THE OCCASION OF THE 1750th ANNIVERSARY
OF THE MARTYRDOM OF THE HOLY DEACON
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
First Sunday of Advent, 30 November 2008
Dear brothers and sisters, the thought of Christ’s presence and his return at the end of time is particularly significant in this Basilica of yours beside the monumental cemetery of Verano where so many of our beloved deceased rest while they await resurrection. How often are funerals celebrated in this temple; how often do the works of the liturgy ring out full of comfort: “In him who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality” (cf. Preface for Christian Death I).
Yet your monumental Basilica, which makes us think back to the primitive Basilica built by the Emperor Constantine and later transformed to acquire its present appearance, speaks above all of the glorious martyrdom of St Lawrence, Archdeacon of Pope St Sixtus II and his reliable steward in the administration of the community’s goods. Today I have come to celebrate the Blessed Eucharist to join you in paying homage to him in a most unusual circumstance, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of Lawrence, established to commemorate the 1,750th anniversary of holy Deacon’s birth in Heaven. History confirms to us how glorious is the name of this Saint, by whose sepulchre we have gathered. His concern for the poor, the generous service that he rendered to the Church of Rome in the context of assistance and charity, his fidelity to the Pope which he took to the point of desiring to follow him in the supreme trial of martyrdom and the heroic witness of pouring our his blood, which he suffered only a few days later, are facts well known to all. St Leo the Great, in a beautiful homily, thus comments on the atrocious martyrdom of this “illustrious hero”: “The flames of could not overcome Christ’s love and the fire that burned outside was less keen than that which blazed within”. And he adds: “The Lord desired to spread abroad his glory throughout the world, so that from the East to the West the dazzling brightness of his deacon’s light does shine, and Rome is become as famous through Lawrence as Jerusalem was ennobled by Stephen” (Homily 85, 4: PL 54, 486).
The 50th anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Pope Pius XII falls this year and this reminds us of a particularly dramatic event in the centuries-old history of your Basilica. It took place during the Second World War, when, exactly on 19 July 1943, a violent bombardment caused severe damage to the building and to the whole neighbourhood, sowing death and destruction. The generous gesture made by my venerable Predecessor can never be eradicated from the memory of history: he hastened here immediately to help and to comfort the people so badly hit, among the still smouldering ruins. Nor have I forgotten that this same Basilica also contains the urns of two other great people: in the hypogeum in fact, are placed for the veneration of the faithful the mortal remains of Bl. Pius IX, while in the atrium is the tomb of Alcide De Gasperi, who was a wise and balanced guide for Italy during the difficult years of the post-war reconstruction and, at the same time, a distinguished statesman capable of looking to Europe with a broad Christian vision.
While we are gathered here in prayer, I would like to greet you all with affection, starting with the Cardinal Vicar, with Monsignor Vicegerent, who is also Commendatory Abbot of the Basilica, with the Auxiliary Bishop of the Northern Sector of Rome and with your Parish Priest, Fr Bruno Mustacchio, whom I thank for his kind words at the beginning of the liturgical celebration. I greet the Minister General of the Order of Capuchins and the Friars of the Community who carry out their service with zeal and dedication, welcoming the many pilgrims, assisting the poor with charity and witnessing to hope in the Risen Christ to all those who visit the Cemetery of Verano. I would like to assure you of my appreciation, and, above all, of my remembrance in prayer. I also greet the various groups who are involved in the animation of the catechesis, the liturgy, charity, the members of the two polyphonic choirs, the Franciscan Third Order, local and regional. Then I have learned with pleasure that for some years the “diocesan missionary laboratory” has been housed here, to inculcate in the parish communities a missionary awareness, and I willingly join you in expressing the hope that this initiative of our Diocese will help to inspire a courageous missionary pastoral action that will bring the proclamation of God’s merciful love to every corner of Rome, involving mainly young people and families. Lastly, I would like to extend my thoughts to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, especially to the elderly, the sick and people who are lonely and in difficulty. I remember all and each one at this Holy Mass.
(For the full text, please see here).