Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine
ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the
universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable
predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.
I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and
women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and
ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other
religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and
Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world,
and the Diplomatic Corps.
In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took
Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to
Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but
this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin
Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with
an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time
of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of
Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side
in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful
hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search
for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the
workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church?
By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s
plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first
reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It
is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a
“protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason
he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things
realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians
alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means
protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as
Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting
the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each
and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think
about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one
another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time,
protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in
trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all
of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for
creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are
hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak
havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic,
political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation,
protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.
Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But
to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred,
envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our
emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that
build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!
Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain
tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working
man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!
Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the
ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain
power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it?
Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed
my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when
exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination
on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked
Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace
with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least
important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the
stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with
love are able to protect!
In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed”
(Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light
of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect
every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a
horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the
warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that
we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope
built on the rock which is God.
To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person,
especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!
I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint
Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen