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 CNS Story:

POPE-NEWYEAR Dec-31-2009 (470 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope offers thanks for 2009, encourages solidarity in 2010

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As 2009 came to a close and a new year was about to be ushered in, Pope Benedict XVI invited the world's Christians to look beyond the passage of time toward eternity.

Presiding over an evening prayer service with eucharistic adoration and the singing of a special hymn of thanksgiving to God Dec. 31, the pope said that with the birth of Christ earthly time was "touched by Christ" and took on a "new and surprising meaning: it became the time of salvation and grace."

The prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica was the pope's first public liturgy in the basilica since Christmas Eve when a mentally disturbed woman leapt over a barrier and knocked the pope down as he processed to the altar.

Italian state and military police were out in force New Year's Eve, keeping everyone out of St. Peter's Square until they showed their ticket for the liturgy and passed through a metal detector or were cleared by an officer with a metal-detecting wand.

After the prayer service, the pope went by popemobile into St. Peter's Square where, under an increasingly heavy rain, he visited the Vatican's Nativity scene. While the Swiss Guard band played Christmas hymns, the pope entered the grotto housing the larger-than-life-sized figures of the Holy Family and knelt in prayer.

In his homily, the pope said people must look back at the past year and forward to the new year recognizing that God has transformed human history into the history of salvation.

"The various events of our lives -- important or small, simple or undecipherable, joyful or sad" -- should be understood in the context of God's great love for each person and the invitation he extends to everyone to set out toward "a goal that is beyond time itself: eternity," the pope said.

"God became human and gives human beings the unheard of possibility of being children of God," he said. "This fills us with great joy and leads us to raise our praises to God."

"With our voices, our hearts and our lives, we are called to say our thanks to God for the gift of his son, who is the source and fulfillment of all the other gifts" with which God has blessed humanity, the pope said.

Pope Benedict encouraged Catholics to make a New Year's resolution to spend more time reading the Bible so that they could become more credible witnesses to God's loving plan of salvation.

"The word believed, proclaimed and lived gives rise to acts of solidarity and sharing," he said. While thanking Catholics for their acts of charity in 2009, the pope said he wanted "to encourage everyone to continue their commitment to alleviating the difficulties in which many families still find themselves because of the economic crisis."

END


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