Pope Francis waves during his Sunday Angelus on Dec. 31, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 31, 2023 / 10:21 am (CNA).

In his final Angelus address of 2023, Pope Francis paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI on the one-year anniversary of his predecessor’s death, saying that the late pontiff continues to bless and aid the Church from heaven. 

Speaking Dec. 31 from the window of the Apostolic Palace and following a longer discourse on the Holy Family’s secret to enduring hardships, Francis said that Benedict XVI “lovingly and wisely” served the Church. 

“We feel so much affection for him, so much gratitude, so much admiration. From heaven he blesses us and accompanies us,” said Pope Francis on the Feast of the Holy Family, as pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square below applauded. 

Benedict died on Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95. The Bavarian prelate had served as pope from 2005-2013, and is considered by many to be one of the most important theologians of contemporary times. He had lived the last nine years of his life as “pope emeritus” at the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery after resigning from the Petrine office on February 11, 2013, the first pope to do so in 600 years.  

Earlier in the day, a special Mass in honor of Benedict XVI had been celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica, part of a two-day conference on the late pope’s life, teaching, and legacy, sponsored by EWTN and others. 

During his Angelus address, Pope Francis also reflected on how the Holy Family experienced hardships but endured them by marveling at God’s presence in their lives. 

The pope noted the “surprising” fact that Jesus was born into a family that was “expert in suffering,” as evidenced by today’s Gospel reading: when Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple, they offer the lowliest prescribed sacrifice, a pair of birds, and Mary is told by Simeon that “a sword will pierce through your own soul.” 

“How is it that, the Family of Jesus, the only family in history who could boast of having God present in flesh and blood among them, instead of being rich, was poor!” the pope said. “Instead of having things easy, it seems this family encounters obstacles! Instead of being free from hardship, this family is immersed in tremendous sorrow!”  

Pope Francis said this fact shows that God, in Christ, “came to live our life with its problems,” and “saved us in this way, living in our midst.” By becoming incarnate in a family that faced hardships, Pope Francis said that Christ tells families facing difficulties today, “I know what you are experiencing.” 

“I experienced it, I, my mother and my father, we experienced it so we can say to your family too: You are not alone!” 

Pope Francis said the Holy Family also has a lesson to teach families facing challenges: the importance of the “ability to marvel” before God, “not getting used to the ordinariness of things,” which “can be a secret for moving forward well as a family.” 

The pontiff spoke about the importance of marveling at one’s own spouse, taking his or her hand or “looking the other tenderly in the eyes for a few seconds in the evening.” 

“Marveling always brings us to tenderness,” the pope said, noting that “tenderness is beautiful in marriage.” 

Francis also recommended marveling at the miracle of life by taking time to play with children. In his customary off the cuff fashion, he shared that, on a phone call yesterday, he had asked a friend where she was. She told him she was at the park, on a walk with her children. 

“This is good parenting,” the pope said.  

Pope Francis also said that instead of shutting grandparents out of our lives, families should marvel at their wisdom by listening to their stories. 

“Grandparents bring us back to what is essential,” said Francis. 

Concluding his remarks on the Holy Family and the importance of marveling, Pope Francis said each prson should marvel “at our own story of love,” paying attention to how God has walked with us, even in the midst of negative aspects. The pope asked Mary, Queen of the family, to “help us marvel every day at the good, and to know how to teach others the beauty of marveling.” 

Following his recitation of the Angelus prayer, the pope expressed his closeness to people in the Nigerian state of Plateau, where bandits killed over 140 people during attacks on Christmas Eve, and also to those in Liberia, where a tanker truck explosion killed 40 on Dec. 27. Pope Francis also asked for continued prayers for those suffering due to war in Ukraine, Palestine and Israel, and Sudan, as well as the Rohingya people in Indonesia. 

Connecting with his reflection on the Gospel, the pope also underscored that the family is the basic cell of society, which “always needs to be defended and sustained, always!” 

In closing, Pope Francis wished those gathered a serene end of the year, and expressed his eagerness to see them again in 2024. 

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