Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sapienza Storms the Vatican

Following the cancellation of the Pope's planned appearance tomorrow at Rome's University of La Sapienza, a supportive group of its students and faculty -- who, ironically enough, come from the ranks of his beloved cielini -- came to this morning's General Audience.

The group toted signs and, according to AsiaNews, led chants as the pontiff delved into his second catechesis of his series on his "favorite" saint, Augustine of Hippo.
"Freedom, Freedom!": the shout raised by a group of university students of the Communion and Liberation movement, at the beginning of today's general audience, met with warm applause from the six thousand persons present in the Paul VI audience hall, and was an echo of the decision Benedict XVI took yesterday not to go to the La Sapienza university of Rome. The decision was due to opposition from a small group of teachers and students, against the invitation that had been extended to him to participate in the inauguration of the academic year. "So there are three places where the pope cannot go: Moscow, Beijing, and the university of Rome", commented one of the young people present at the audience. "If Benedict does not go to La Sapienza, La Sapienza comes to Benedict", read one of the banners that the young people raised.

The pope did not mention the affair, not even in the greeting that he addressed to the students. For the second week, Benedict XVI dedicated the discourse of his general audience to Saint Augustine, dwelling in particular on the last year of the life of the bishop of Hippo, who died during the Vandal assault on his city in 430. The pope emphasised in particular Augustine's call to the pastors to remain close to the faithful in moments of difficulty, as so many priests have done so often throughout history.

Benedict XVI recalled Augustine's protests against the conflict that would lead to the barbarian invasion, citing the statement that "the greater honour is that of slaying war with the word, rather than slaying men with the sword," and of "defending peace with peace". The tragic events of killing and devastation that struck the region drove some priests to ask the bishop if it were right to flee in order to save one's life. "When all are in danger", Augustine replied, in the words repeated today by the pope, "those who are in need should not be abandoned by those whose duty it is to assist them. They should be saved together, or face calamity together. This is the supreme proof of charity". "The world", Benedict XVI commented, "recognises in these words the heroic message that so many priests throughout the ages have welcomed and made their own".

In the third month of the siege, the pope continued, Augustine was confined to bed with the illness that would end his life. He affirmed that no one - bishop, priest, or layperson - can face death without doing penance. Augustine died on August 4 of the year 430. His body was brought to Sardinia, and from there to Pavia, where it still rests.

But, "when I read the writings of Saint Augustine", the pope commented, "I do not get the impression that he was a man who died about 1,600 years ago, but that he is a man of today, a friend, a contemporary, who speaks to me, who speaks to us, with his faith that is still fresh and relevant today".
PHOTO: Reuters/Dario Pignatelli