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St. Benedict and the key to European unity April 09, 2008

At his regular weekly public audience on April 9, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the enormous influence of his namesake, St. Benedict.

Speaking to about 22,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father resumed his series of talks on the Church fathers, which he had interrupted during the past two weeks to focus on the liturgical events of Holy Week and the Easter vigil.

St. Benedict, the Pope said, is "the father of western monasticism, who with his life and work exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture." His life and work-- recounted in a biography that was written by Pope Gregory the Great-- helped Europe to emerge from the "dark night of history" that followed the fall of the Roman empire.

The influence of St. Benedict produced "a true spiritual ferment" in Europe, and over the coming decades his followers-- the fast-growing Benedictine order-- spread across the continent to establish a new cultural unity based on Christian faith.

The Pope said that St. Benedict's decision to found an abbey at Monte Cassino was symbolically important because although the site was remote from nearby towns it was very visible on the mountain. The location sent a message, the Pope observed: "monastic life has its raison d'etre in withdrawal and concealment, but a monastery also has a public role in the life of the Church and of society."

The followers of St. Benedict, following his famous Rule, combined prayer and reflection with active work, because "Benedict's spirituality was not an interior life divorced from reality," the Pope said. Carefully distinguishing between what is important and what is unimportant, the Rule "maintains its illuminating power up to today," he said.

In 1964, Paul VI named St. Benedict as patron saint of Europe. Today a recognition of his influence is even more important to a European society that is "searching for its own identity," Pope Benedict said. He closed with the observation that the "vital lifeblood" of European unity is the Christian heritage to which St. Benedict made such an enormous contribution.

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