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"I'm old, too," Pope tells Muslim sheik in touching encounter

June 6, 2010
This trip to Cyprus has indeed been a full one with, no doubt, reams of fruit yet to come.
One highlight of the the trip came to us only after the cameras stopped rolling yesterday. Catholic News Service's Cindy Wooden writes about a moment involving the grand sheik of a Muslim spiritual movement from northern Cyprus crossing paths with the Holy Father.
The Muslim leader of northern Cyprus invited the Holy Father to cross the UN-patrolled border even though he himself would not cross. Though Pope Benedict did not travel to the northern Turk-occupied part of Cyprus, he did have a Providential exchange with Sheik Nazim, a small 'L' leader in the Muslim community (the sheik's authority, Cindy emphasized, extends only to his disciples).
POPE-CYPRUS/BISHOPThe moment took place as the Holy Father left the nunciature en route to celebrate Mass at Holy Cross Church yesterday. The sheik was seated in a chair on the street where the Holy Father stopped to greet him.
The sheik told the pope, “I’m sorry. I’m very old, so I sat to wait,” the spokesman said.
The pope responded, “I’m old, too,” he said.
Sheik Nazim brought the pope a walking stick and a set of Muslim prayer beads, Father Lombardi [the Vatican spokesman] said. The pope gave the sheik commemorative medals of his pontificate.
The sheik asked the pope if he could embrace him, the pope said, “yes,” and the whole thing was over in just 3 or 4 minutes, the spokesman said. “It was brief and very beautiful.”
On his last day in Cyprus, Pope Benedict celebrated Mass at the Elftheria Sports Centre in Nicosia.
The following is the full text of his homily:
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I greet with joy the Patriarchs and Bishops of the various ecclesial communities of the Middle East who have come to Cyprus for this occasion, and I thank especially the Most Reverend Youssef Soueif, Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, for the words that he addressed to me at the start of Mass.
Let me also say how glad I am to have this opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist in the company of so many of the faithful of Cyprus, a land blessed by the apostolic labours of Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas. I greet all of you most warmly and I thank you for your hospitality and for the generous welcome you have given me. I extend a particular greeting to the Filipino, Sri Lankan and other immigrant communities who form such a significant grouping within the Catholic population of this island. I pray that your presence here will enrich the life and worship of the parishes to which you belong, and that you in turn will draw much spiritual sustenance from the ancient Christian heritage of the land that you have made your home.
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood. Corpus Christi, the name given to this feast in the West, is used in the Church’s tradition to designate three distinct realities: the physical body of Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, his eucharistic body, the bread of heaven which nourishes us in this great sacrament, and his ecclesial body, the Church. By reflecting on these different aspects of the Corpus Christi, we come to a deeper understanding of the mystery of communion which binds together those who belong to the Church. All who feed on the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist are “brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit” (Eucharistic Prayer II) to form God’s one holy people. Just as the Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, so too the same Holy Spirit is at work in every celebration of Mass for a twofold purpose: to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine, that they may become the body and blood of Christ, and to fill all who are nourished by these holy gifts, that they may become one body, one spirit in Christ.
St. Augustine expresses this process magnificently (cf. Sermon 272). He reminds us that the bread is not made from a single grain, but many. Before all these grains become bread, they must be ground. He is referring here to the exorcism which catechumens must undergo before their baptism. Each of us who belong to the Church needs to leave the closed world of his individuality and accept the fellowship of others who "share the bread" with us. We must not think in terms of 'me' but in terms of 'we'. That's why every day we pray 'our' Father, 'our' daily bread. Breaking down the barriers between us and our neighbours is the prerequisite for entering the first divine life to which we are called. We need to be liberated from all that imprisons us and isolates us: fear and mistrust of others, greed and selfishness, unwillingness to take the risk of vulnerability to which we expose ourselves when we open ourselves to love.
The grains of wheat, once crushed, are mixed into the dough and baked. Here, Saint Augustine refers to immersion in the baptismal waters followed by the sacramental gift of the Holy Spirit, which inflames the heart of the faithful with the fire of God's love. This process that unites and transforms single, isolated grains into one bread provides an evocative image of the unifying action of the Holy Spirit upon the members of the Church, made so prominent in the celebration of the Eucharist. Those who take part in this great Sacrament become the Body of Christ Church, as they consume His Eucharistic Body. "Be what you can see," St. Augustine encourages, "and receive what you are."
These strong words invite us to respond generously to the call to "be Christ" to those around us. We are His Body now on earth. To paraphrase a famous remark attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila, we are the eyes with which he looks upon those in need with compassion, we are the hands with which He blesses and to heals, we are the feet that He uses to do good, and we are the lips by which his Gospel is proclaimed. However, it is important to understand that when we participate in His greeting work, we are not honoring the memory of a dead hero in extending what he did: on the contrary, Christ is alive in us, His body, the Church, his sacramental people. By consuming Him in the Eucharist and receiving the Holy Spirit in our hearts we truly become the Body of Christ that we receive, we are truly in communion with him and with each other, and we truly become instruments, witnessing to him before the world.
“Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). In the first Christian community, nourished at the Lord’s Table, we see the effects of the Holy Spirit’s unifying action. They shared their goods in common, all material attachment being overcome by love for the brethren. They found equitable solutions to their differences, as we see for example in the resolution of the dispute between Hellenists and Hebrews over the daily distribution (cf. Acts 6:1-6). As one observer commented at a later date: “See how these Christians love one another, and how they are ready to die for one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39). Yet their love was by no means limited to their fellow believers. They never saw themselves as exclusive, privileged beneficiaries of divine favour, but rather as messengers, sent to bring the good news of salvation in Christ to the ends of the earth. And so it was that the message entrusted to the Apostles by the Risen Lord was spread throughout the Middle East, and outwards from there across the whole of the world.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called, just as they were, to be of one heart and one soul, to deepen our communion with the Lord and with one another, and to bear witness to him before the world.We are called to overcome our differences, to bring peace and reconciliation where there is conflict, to offer the world a message of hope. We are called to reach out to those in need, generously sharing our earthly goods with those less fortunate than ourselves. And we are called to proclaim unceasingly the death and resurrection of the Lord, until he comes. Through him, with him and in him, in the unity that is the Holy Spirit’s gift to the Church, let us give honour and glory to God our heavenly Father in the company of all the angels and saints who sing his praises for ever. Amen.
(CNS photo/Yiorgos Karahalis, Reuters)
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