The Feast of All Saints is keenly felt in Rome and early November first tens of thousands of Romans made their way to Saint Peter’s square under foreboding skies. The police had completely shut down the area around the Vatican basilica and the long boulevard that leads up to Bernini’s colonnades, freeing Via della Conciliazione from its incessant traffic and creating an oasis of pedestrian peace. As the tourists and pilgrims curiously looked on and the bells signaled the end of mass, the Romans, with a quick glance at the Pope’s study window and a sign of the cross set off on the All Saints marathon.
The 10 kilomters takes in Romes historic centre looping from the two beating hearts of the eternal city, St Peter’s and the Campidoglio, or Capitol Hill, seat of the city government. The runners, of varying ages and ability were enthusiastically cheered as they passed all determined to cross the finish line in time for the ultimate goal, the midday Angelus prayer with their bishop, Pope Benedict XVI.
As the canons from the Gianiculum Hill sounded noon, the Holy Father appeared at his study window high above the square, saluting the runners joined by pilgrims to the Vatican. He spoke of the liturgical feast, and how it draws our earthly gaze toward Heaven. He spoke of how the Saints, those we are familiar with and those known only to God, are where heaven and earth meet because formed and opened by the spirit of Christ already here on earth, encountered in the communion of his Mystical Body, the Church:
Below is a translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus reflections:
“Dear brothers and sisters!
Today we have the joy of meeting on the Solemnity of All Saints. This feast day helps us to reflect on the double horizon of humanity, which we symbolically express with the words "earth" and "heaven": the earth represents the journey of history, heaven eternity, the fullness of life in God And so this feast day helps us to think about the Church in its dual dimension: the Church journeying in time and the Church that celebrates the never-ending feast, the Heavenly Jerusalem. These two dimensions are united by the reality of the "communion of saints": a reality that begins here on earth and that reaches its fulfillment in heaven.
On earth, the Church is the beginning of this mystery of communion that unites humanity, a mystery totally centered on Jesus Christ: it is He who introduced this new dynamic to mankind, a movement that leads towards God and to same time towards unity, towards peace in its deepest sense. Jesus Christ - says the Gospel of John (11:52) - died "to gather into one the dispersed children of God," and this work continues in the Church which is inseparably "one", "holy" and "catholic". Being a Christian, being part of the Church means being open to this communion, like a seed that unfolds in the ground, dying, and sprouts upwards, toward heaven.
The Saints – those which the Church proclaims such, but also all those saints known only to God, and whom we also celebrate today - have lived this dynamic intensely. In each of them, in a very personal way, Christ was present, thanks to his Spirit which acts through the Word and the Sacraments. In fact, being united to Christ, in the Church, does not negate ones’ personality, but opens it, transforms it with the power of love, and confers on it, already here on earth, an eternal dimension.
In essence, it means being conformed to the image of the Son of God (cf. Rom 8:29), fulfilling the plan of God who created man in His own image and likeness. But this insertion in Christ also opens us - as we have said - in communion with all the other members of his Mystical Body which is the Church, a communion that is perfect in "Heaven", where there is no isolation, no competition or separation . In today's feast, we look forward to the beauty of this life fully open to the gaze of love of God and neighbor, in which we are sure to reach God and one another in God .With this hope filled faith we honor all the saints, and we prepare to commemorate tomorrow the faithful departed. In the saints we see the victory of love over selfishness and death: we see that following Christ leads to life, eternal life, and gives meaning to the present, every moment that passes, because it is filled with love and hope. Only faith in eternal life makes us truly love the history and the present, but without attachment, with the freedom of the pilgrim, who loves the earth because his heart is in Heaven.
May the Virgin Mary obtain for us the grace to strongly believe in eternal life and feel ourselves in true communion with our deceased loved ones”.