By David Kerr
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Vatican City, Oct 26, 2011 / 12:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One day before the gathering of religious leaders from around the world in the town of Assisi, Pope Benedict XVI declared that the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus ushered in a new kingdom of peace of which Christ is king.
“The Cross is the new arch of peace, a sign and instrument of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of understanding, a sign that love is stronger than all violence and all oppression, is stronger than death: the evil is overcome with good, with love,” the Pope said to pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Oct. 26.
“This new reign of peace in which Christ is the king, is a kingdom that extends over the whole earth.”
The Pope’s comments came at his weekly general audience which also served as a prayer vigil ahead of tomorrow’s “Day of Reflection and Prayer for Peace” with other world religious leaders in the Italian town of Assisi.
Today’s vigil was due to take place in St. Peter’s Square but inclement weather forced a change of venue. This resulted in the majority of pilgrims being sent to the Paul VI Hall and the overflow being shepherded into St. Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Benedict briefly greeted those in the basilica and imparted his apostolic blessing upon them. He then proceeded to the audience hall where Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar General of the Diocese Rome, read several passages from sacred scripture, to which the Pope responded with his speech.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ as king of peace, said the Pope, was foreshadowed in the Old Testament reading from the Book of Zechariah. “Behold, your king comes to you. He is just and victorious,” the Old Testament prophet said to the Jewish people.
“But the announcement does not refer to a king with human powers and force of arms,” said the Pope, “this is a gentle king who reigns with humility and gentleness before God and man, a king quite different from the great sovereigns of the earth.”
The unfolding of Zechariah’s prophecy first became apparent at the time of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, Pope Benedict said, recalling how the angels proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” Thus, he said, “the birth of that baby, who is Jesus, brings a proclamation of peace throughout the world.”
Similarly, the apostles would have recalled Zechariah’s words after “Christ’s passion, death and resurrection,” when “with the eyes of faith, they reconsidered their Master’s joyful entry into the Holy City.”
“He did not enter Jerusalem accompanied by a mighty army of chariots and horsemen. He is a poor king, the king of the poor of God,” said the Pope, “he is a king who will make the chariots and steeds of battle disappear, who will break the weapons of war, a king who brought peace on the Cross, uniting heaven and earth and building a bridge between all mankind.”
And the kingdom of Jesus, the Pope noted, is universal. Its horizon is not “the territorial horizon of a State,” but “the confines of the world,” and wherever Christ is to be found “in the great network of Eucharistic communities covering the earth, wherein the prophecy of Zecheriah re-emerges in splendor.”
Christians can help expand the bounds of this kingdom of peace “not with the might of war or force of power,” but “with the giving of self, with love carried to its extreme consequences, even towards out enemies,” said the Pope.
He then turned the pilgrims’ attention to a physical reminder of that attitude, pointing to a statue of St. Paul with a sword in hand—the means by which he was executed in Rome—located on the front of St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Paul’s strength “lay in the fact that he did not seek a quiet life,” said the Pope, but rather in the fact that “he was consumed by the Gospel” and “gave all of himself without reserve.” This led to him becoming the “great messenger of peace and reconciliation in Christ.”
Similarly, he said, Catholics today must be willing “to pay in person,” even if that means suffering “misunderstanding, rejection and persecution.”
“It is not the sword of the conqueror that builds peace, but the sword of those who suffer and give up their own lives.”
The Holy Father concluded by asking everybody to pray that “tomorrow’s meeting in Assisi might favor dialogue between people from different religions,” so that “rancor may give way to forgiveness, division to reconciliation, hatred to love, violence to humility, and that peace may reign in the world.”