… that this love should always be stronger than our weaknesses!
In November of 1978, almost a month after his election as the Bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II officially took possession of his cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
In reading his words today, we feel the same inspiration as his listeners did more than 40 years ago: “Only love constructs,” he proclaimed. “Hatred destroys. Hatred does not construct anything.”
Entering the Basilica of St John Lateran today, there flashes before my eyes the moment when Mary crosses the threshold of the house of, Zechariah to greet Elizabeth, the mother of John. The Evangelist writes that at this greeting “the babe leaped in her womb” (Lk 1:41) and so many Fathers and writers have added, sine the most remote times, that from that moment John received the Savior’s grace. And therefore he himself was the first to proclaim Him. He was the first, with the whole people of Israel, to wait for Him on the banks of the Jordan. And it was he who showed Him to the people with the words: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). The Lamb of God means the Redeemer, it means the Savior of the world!
This Basilica, dedicated to St John the Baptist as well as to St John the Evangelist, is rightly consecrated to the Most Holy Savior. It is as if, today also, as throughout the centuries, we hear this voice ringing out on the banks of the Jordan. The voice of the Forerunner, the voice of the Prophet, the voice of the Bridegroom’s Friend. John spoke as follows: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).
This first confession of faith in Christ the Savior was, as it were, the key which closed the Old Covenant, a time of expectation, and opened the New Covenant, a time of fulfillment. This first fundamental confession of faith in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, had already been heard by the future Apostles of Christ on the banks of the Jordan. It was probably heard also by Simon Peter. It helped him to proclaim later, at the beginning of the New Covenant: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).
It is right, therefore, that Peter’s Successors should come to this place to receive, as Peter once received it, the confession of John: “Behold, the Lamb of God,” and transfer it to the new age of the Church, proclaiming: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In the framework of this marvelous meeting of the old and the new, I wish today, as the new Bishop of Rome, to begin my ministry to the People of God of this City and of this Diocese, which became, because of St Peter’s mission, the first in the large family of the Church, in the family of the sister-dioceses. The essential content of this ministry is the commandment of charity: this commandment which makes us, men, friends of Christ: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14). “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love” (Jn 15:9).
O Eternal City, O dear Brothers and Sisters, O Roman citizens! Your new Bishop wishes above all that we should remain in Christ’s love, and that this love should always be stronger than our weaknesses. May it help us to model the spiritual face of our community, because, in the presence of this love, hatred, envy, all maliciousness and perversity disappear, in great as in little things, in social questions as in interpersonal ones. May love be the strongest!
Love constructs; only love constructs!
Hatred destroys. Hatred does not construct anything. It can only disintegrate. It can disorganize social life, it can at the most bring pressure to bear on the weak, without, however, building up anything.
For Rome, for my new Diocese, and at the same time for the whole of the Church and for the world, I desire love and justice. Justice and love, so that we may be able to construct.
I ask further of all you Romans, without exception, all of you who are present here today and all of those whom the voice of your new Bishop reaches: Go in spirit to the bank of the Jordan, where John the Baptist taught: John, who is the patron saint of this Basilica, the cathedral of Rome. Listen once more to what he said, indicating the Christ:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Behold, the Savior!
Believe in Him with renewed faith, with faith as fervent as that of the first Roman Christians, who persevered here for three centuries of ordeals and persecutions.
Believe with renewed faith—as it is necessary for us, Christians of the second millennium which is about to end—in Christ, the Savior of the world! Amen.
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