"Love I Desire..."
To the 30,000 faithful present in Saint Peter's Square for the recitation of the Angelus, despite the clouds and some sprinklings of rain, the pope spoke of today's Liturgy of the Word, and in particular of the expression of the prophet Hosea, which Jesus quotes in the Gospel: "I desire love, and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than holocausts" (Hos. 6:6). "This is", he affirmed, "a key phrase, one of those that introduce us into the heart of the Sacred Scripture". The pope recalled that the phrase is repeated in the account of the calling of Matthew, who was a "publican", meaning a tax collector who worked for the imperial Roman authority: "for this very reason, he was considered a public sinner by the Jews". To the Pharisees who were scandalised by the fact that Jesus should go to his house together with his disciples, he replied: "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do ... I did not come to call the righteous but sinners". The evangelist Matthew, who is always attentive to the connection between the Old and the New Testament, at this point puts on the lips of Jesus the prophecy of Hosea: "Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'"....and from the "Did he really?" desk, one leading UK paper floats that, after the story floated for days, the pontiff did, in fact, meet with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad late last week:
"Such is the importance of this expression of the prophet", Benedict XVI emphasised, "that the Lord cites it again in another context, in regard to the observance of the Sabbath (cf. Mt. 12:7). "Therefore", the pope continued, "in this oracle of Hosea, Jesus, the Word made man, 'recognises himself', so to speak, completely; he did this with his whole heart and realised it with his behaviour, at the cost even of disturbing the sensibilities of the leaders of his people. This word of God", he concluded, "has come down to us through the Gospels, as one of the summaries of the entire Christian message: true religion consists in love of God and of neighbour. This is what gives value to worship and to the practice of the precepts".
After the recitation of the Marian prayer, while greeting a group of Polish pilgrims, the pope addressed "a special prayer for the miners who last Wednesday lost their lives in the catastrophe of the Borynia mine. I implore for them," he added, "the grace of eternal repose, spiritual comfort for their families, and quick healing for the wounded. May the merciful God", he concluded, "guard us from an untimely death".
Seeking to head off a potential diplomatic headache - casual chats with Iran are a bit of a no-no at the moment due to various tensions, including Ahmadinejad's view of Israel's right to exist - the Vatican announced it had cancelled appointments with seven other world leaders, also in town for the summit, so that no one would feel snubbed.PHOTO: AFP/Getty
However, a very well-informed monsignor advises me this was just a holy smokescreen and there was indeed a top-secret meeting between the Pope and Ahmadinejad on Tuesday afternoon, just after he had finished at the conference.
The notoriously evasive Vatican press office tells me they are not aware of the meeting. 'Tuesday afternoon?' says a spokesman. 'As far as I know, it didn't happen. Why do you want to know? We only record official meetings. The Pope can do whatever he wants. He has a private life and a public life. We record his official engagements.'
The Iranian embassy in the Holy See admits that Ahmadinejad had the opportunity, but they weren't with him. 'It was a short trip,' said a spokesman.
And was there a papal audience? 'I never heard this. Our ambassador in Rome was with him.'
The Iranian embassy in Rome takes a leisurely attitude to communications. Despite a number of calls and a fax, there was still no response by Friday.
Perhaps they don't wish to prove Bismarck's aphorism: 'Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.'