Far from the Vatican curia, Benedict XVI’s authentic profile appears. His communication with the crowd is direct. His word arrives intact to those who listen.

This is what happened in Milan between Friday, June 1, and Sunday, June 3, with the Pope’s visit to the archdiocese of Saints Ambrose and Charles (Borromeo), and at the seventh world meeting of families, to the rejoicing of at least a million faithful who had come together from many nations. And it happened above all outside of the official discourses.

For example, in the moments in which Pope Joseph Ratzinger responded off the cuff to questions from adults and children.

Or in the moments in which he opened autobiographical glimpses into the “paradise” of his childhood and his passion for great music.

The great music that Benedict XVI had an opportunity to listen to and meditate on in Milan was at the Teatro della Scala on the evening of June 1: the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

The Pope associated the “terrible dissonance” that introduces the final part of the symphony with the suffering and destruction that afflict men, not the least of which is the earthquake that is still shaking an area of Emilia, not far from Milan. It is a dissonance that brings to mind a God who is blind and far away, all alone above the starry sky, indifferent to the evil in the world.

But the Pope said that one must not give in to this thought. He said so in the very words of Beethoven, sung by the baritone: “Friends, not these tones! Let us intone others more pleasant and joyful.” He said so with the trustful vigor of the Ode to Joy by Schiller, which crowns the symphony.

A joy that for Christians is that of knowing that God is near. The God “who suffers with us and for us, and in this way has made men and women capable of sharing the suffering of the other and of transforming it into love.” The God worshiped in the Eucharist (as shortly afterward, in effect, took place in the cathedral of Milan).

As for his ad-lib remarks, Benedict XVI began on the morning of Saturday, June 2, in the stadium of San Siro packed with young people of confirmation age:

“Dear friends, do not believe those who tell you that it is not worthwhile to talk about vocation at your age. A future great painter is already painting as a child. Be attentive to the presence of the Lord. Perhaps he is calling us.”

But above all, the Pope filled with spontaneous words on the vigil of the seventh world meeting of families, on the evening of that same day.

Benedict XVI responded to five questions from families of different continents. For example, in responding to a family from Greece, the Pope explained how to confront the economic crisis that is weighing upon many, addressing an exhortation to political parties as well:

“It seems to me that the sense of responsibility must grow in all parties, which should not promise things that cannot be realized, should not seek only votes for themselves, but should be responsible for the good of all and should understand that politics is also always a human, moral responsibility before God and men.”

But the Pope said the most original things in the three responses presented below, the first of which was to a question from a little Vietnamese girl. Here are those words:

Hi, Pope! I am Cat Tien, I come from Vietnam. I am seven years old and I would like to introduce my family to you. This is my dad, Dan, and my mom’s name is Tao, and this is my little brother Binh. I would really like to know something about your family and about when you were little like me…

Pope Benedict XVI: Thank you, dearest, and your parents: thank you from my heart. So then, you have asked what my memories of my family are like: there are so many! I would like to say just a few things. For us, the essential point for the family was always Sunday, but Sunday already began on Saturday evening. Our father would read us the readings, the readings for Sunday, from a book very widespread in Germany at the time, in which the texts were also explained. That is how Sunday began: we were already entering into the liturgy, in an atmosphere of joy.

The next day we would go to Mass. I come from a home close to Salzburg, so we had a lot of music – Mozart, Schubert, Haydn – and when the Kyrie started, it was like heaven was opened.

And then at home it was important, of course, to have a big lunch together. And then we sang a lot: my brother is a great musician, already as a boy he made compositions for all of us, so the whole family would sing. Dad would play the zither and sing; those are unforgettable moments.

Then, of course, we went on trips and walks together; we were close to a forest and so walking in the forest was a very beautiful thing: adventures, games, et cetera.

In a word, we were of one heart and one soul, with so many shared experiences, even in very difficult times, because there was wartime, before the dictatorship, and then poverty. But this mutual love among us, this joy even over simple things was strong, and this made it possible to overcome and bear even these things.

It seems to me that this was very important: that even little things gave joy, because in this way the heart of the other was expressed. And in this way we grew up in the certainty that it is good to be a man, because we saw that the goodness of God was reflected in parents and siblings.

And to tell the truth, if I try to imagine a little of how it will be in heaven, it always seems to me like the time of my youth, of my childhood. Thus, in this context of trust, of joy, and of love, we were happy, and I think that in heaven it must be similar to what it was like in my youth. In this sense I hope to go “home,” in going to “the other part of the world.”

Your Holiness, we are Fara and Serge, and we come from Madagascar. […] The family models that dominate the West do not convince us, but we are aware that many traditional ways of our Africa must in some manner be overcome. […] We want to get married and build a future together. We also want every aspect of our life to be guided by the values of the Gospel. But speaking of marriage, Your Holiness, there is one word that more than any other attracts us and at the same time frightens us: “forever”…

Pope Benedict: Dear friends, thank you for this testimony. My prayer accompanies you in this journey of engagement, and I hope that you can create, with the values of the Gospel, a family “forever.” You made reference to different kinds of marriage: we know the “mariage coutumier” (traditional marriage) of Africa, and Western marriage. In Europe as well, to tell the truth, until the 19th century there was as now another dominant model of marriage: often marriage was in reality a contract between clans, in which there was an effort to preserve the clan, to open the future, to defend property, etcetera. The one was sought for the other on the part of the clan, hoping that the one would be suited to the other. It was this way in part in our towns as well. I remember that in a small town, in which I went to school, it was still this way in large part.

But then, beginning in the 19th century, there followed the emancipation of the individual, the freedom of the person, and marriage was no longer based on the will of others, but on one’s own decision. First comes falling in love, then engagement, and then marriage. At that time, we were all convinced that this was the only correct model, and that love in and of itself would guarantee the “forever,” because love is absolute, it wants all and therefore also the totality of time: it is “forever.”

Unfortunately, reality is not like that: it can be seen that falling in love is beautiful, but perhaps not always perpetual, just as is sentiment: it does not remain forever. Therefore, it can be seen that the passage from falling in love to engagement and then to marriage demands different decisions, interior experiences. As I have said, this sentiment of love is beautiful, but it must be purified, it must become part of a journey of discernment, which means that reason and will must also enter in; there must be a union of reason, sentiment, and will.

In the rite of marriage, the Church does not say: “Are you in love?” but “Do you want?” “Are you determined?” That is: falling in love must become true love by involving the will in a journey, which is that of engagement, of purification, of greater profundity, such that really the whole man, with all of his capacities, with the discernment of reason, the power of will, says: “Yes, this is my life.”

I often think of the wedding of Cana. The first wine is wonderful: it is being in love. But it does not last to the end: a second wine must come, it must ferment and grow, mature. A definitive love that really becomes “second wine” is more wonderful, better than the first wine. And we must seek this.

And here it is also important that the I not be isolated, the I and the you, but that the parish community also be involved, the Church, friends. This, all just personalization, the communion of life with others, with families that support each other, is very important, and only in this way, in this involvement of the community, of friends, of the Church, of the faith, of God himself, does a wine grow that endures forever. Best wishes to you!

Your Holiness, as in the rest of the world, in our Brazil as well the failures of marriage continue to increase. My name is Maria Marta, he is Manoel Angelo. We have been married for 34 years and are already grandparents. As physician and family psychotherapist we meet so many families, noting in the conflicts of couples a more distinct difficulty in forgiving and accepting forgiveness, but in different cases we have encountered the desire and will to construct a new union, something lasting, including for the children who are born from the new union. Some of these remarried couples would like to approach the Church again, but when they are denied the sacraments their disappointment is great. They feel excluded, marked by a decision without appeal. These great sufferings wound deeply those who are involved; lacerations that also become part of the world, and are also our wounds, and of all humanity. Holy Father, we know that these situations and these persons are very close to the Church’s heart: what words and what signs of hope can we give them?

Pope Benedict: Dear friends, thank you for your work of psychotherapy for families, which is very necessary. Thank you for all that you do to help these suffering persons. In reality, this problem of the divorced and remarried is one of the great sufferings of the Church of today. And we do not have simple recipes. The suffering is great, and we can only help the parishes and individuals to help these persons to endure the suffering of this divorce.

I would say that prevention, of course, is very important, which means deepening the sense of being in love right from the beginning into a profound, mature decision; moreover, accompaniment during marriage, so that families are never alone but are really accompanied on their journey.

And then, as for these persons, we must say – as you have said – that the Church loves them, but they must see and feel this love. It seems to me a great task for a parish, for a Catholic community, to make it really possible for them to feel that they are loved and accepted, that they are not “outside” even if they cannot receive absolution and the Eucharist: they must see that even in this way they live fully in the Church.

Perhaps, if absolution in the confessional is not possible, nonetheless a ­permanent contact with a priest, with a guide of the soul, is very important so that they may see that they are accompanied, guided.

Then it is also very important that they feel that the Eucharist is true and participated in if they really enter into communion with the body of Christ. Even without the “corporal” reception of the sacrament, we can be spiritually united with Christ in his body.

And making this understood is important. That they really find the possibility of living a life of faith, with the Word of God, with the communion of the Church, and may see that their suffering is a gift for the Church, because in this way they also serve everyone in defending the stability of love, of marriage; and that this suffering is not only a physical and psychological torment, but is also suffering in the community of the Church for the great values of our faith. I think that their suffering, if it is really accepted internally, is a gift for the Church. They must know that precisely in this way they are serving the Church, they are in the heart of the Church. Thank you for your commitment.

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