During his visit to L’Aquila, the pope said that he wanted the central Italian city to become a “capital of forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation.”
“This is how peace is built through forgiveness received and given,” he said.
L’Aquila is the burial place of Pope Celestine V, who led the Catholic Church for just five months before his resignation on Dec. 13, 1294. The pope, who was canonized in 1313, is buried in L’Aquila’s Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio.
In the spring, the Vatican’s announcement that Pope Francis would visit L’Aquila prompted unsourced speculation that the trip could be the prelude to the 85-year-old pope’s resignation.
When Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign in almost 600 years in 2013, Vatican-watchers recalled that he had visited the tomb of Celestine V years earlier. During his trip on April 28, 2009, he left his pallium — the white wool vestment given to metropolitan archbishops — on the tomb. In hindsight, commentators suggested that Benedict was indicating his intention to resign.
In his homily in L’Aquila, Pope Francis praised Pope Celestine V for his humility and courage.
Mentioning Dante Alighieri’s description of Celestine as the man of “the great refusal,” Pope Francis underlined that Celestine should not be remembered as a man of “no” — for resigning the papacy — but as a man of “yes.”
Pope Francis said: “Indeed, there is no other way to accomplish God’s will than by assuming the strength of the humble, there is no other way. Precisely because they are so, the humble appear weak and losers in the eyes of men, but in reality they are the true winners, for they are the only ones who trust completely in the Lord and know his will.”
At the end of the Mass, the crowd prayed the Litany of Saints and watched as Pope Francis made history when he opened the basilica’s Holy Door. According to Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi of L’Aquila, Pope Francis is the first pope to open the Holy Door in 728 years.
Visiting cardinals have opened the Holy Door for the Celestinian Forgiveness in past years, after a reading of the bull of forgiveness by the local mayor. Celestine donated the papal bull to L’Aquila, where it is kept in an armored chapel in the tower of the town hall.
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The bull of forgiveness drawn up by Celestine V offered a plenary indulgence to all who, having confessed and repented of their sins, go to the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio from Vespers on Aug. 28 to sunset on Aug. 29. A plenary indulgence is a grace granted by the Catholic Church through the merits of Jesus Christ, Mary, and all the saints to remove the temporal punishment due to sin.
Celestine’s indulgence was exceptional at the time, given it was available to anyone, regardless of status or wealth, and cost nothing except personal repentance at a time when indulgences were often tied to almsgiving.
After opening the Holy Door, Pope Francis was wheeled through the basilica to the tomb of Pope Celestine V, where he spent a moment in silent prayer before the relics of his papal predecessor who was declared a saint in 1313.
“In the spirit of the world, which is dominated by pride, today’s Word of God invites us to be humble and meek. Humility does not consist in the devaluation of self, but rather in that healthy realism that makes us recognize our potential and also our miseries,” Pope Francis said.
“Starting precisely from our miseries, humility causes us to look away from ourselves and turn our gaze to God, the One who can do everything and also obtains for us what we cannot have on our own. ‘Everything is possible for those who believe (Mark 9:23).'”
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