John XXIII, Benedict XVI, and the “speech to the moon”

Tonight there was a candlelight procession in Rome from Castel Sant’Angelo to St. Peter’s Basilica.  Benedict XVI spoke to the crowd and made a reference to the famous – especially because it was informal – speech to the crowds by John XXIII under the moon.  The so-called “Discorso alla/della luna” the Speech to/of the Moon.  HERE.


Something of the unbridled optimism of the day comes through in John XXIII’s talk.

Little did they know.

I haven’t found a complete transcript of John XXIII’s chatty talk, or therefore a good translation.  Even the version on the Vatican website is incomplete – without the asides.  The translations I have seen of the speech are clunky.

In any event, this was the speech in which John said “I hear your voices! Mine is just one, but it sums up the voices of the whole world; and here, in fact, the world is represented. you could say that even the moon hurried here tonight, … Look at it up there… to watch the spectacle.”  At the end he famously said, “Returning home, go to your children. Give them a hug and say: ‘this is the Pope’s hug’.  Maybe you will find some tears to dry.  Have a some word of comfort for those who suffer.  Let the afflicted know that the Pope is with his children especially in hours of sorrow and bitterness.’

Back in the day, Pope’s didn’t speak in this informal way to crowds.  It must have been electrifying.

Tonight, Pope Benedict referred to the “Speech of the Moon” and he also spoke without notes.  But even while he spoke of the joy and optimism of fifty years ago, his was a characteristically more realistic message.  Here is a part, which I saw at Famiglia cristiana:

Anche oggi siamo felici, portiamo la gioia nel nostro cuore, ma direi una gioia più sobria, una gioia umile: in questi 50 anni abbiamo imparato e esperito che il peccato originale esiste e si traduce in peccati personali, che possono divenire strutture di peccato, visto che nel campo del Signore c’è anche la zinnania, che nella rete di Pietro ci sono anche pesci cattivi, che la fragilità umana è presente anche nella Chiesa, che la nave della Chiesa sta navigando con vento contrario, con minacce contrarie e qualche volte abbiamo pensato “il Signore dorme e ci ha dimenticato”.

“Today, too, we carry joy in our hearts, but I would say a joy that is more sober, a humble joy: in these fifty years we have learned and experienced that original sin exists, and that it translates itself into personal sins, which can become structures of sin, given that even in the Lord’s field there are also weeds, that even in Peter’s net there are bad fish, that human weakness is present even in the Church, that the ship of the Church is sailing with a contrary wind, with opposing threats and sometimes we have thought that ‘the Lord is sleeping and has forgotten us.”

One of the things that Pope Benedict is probably reacting to here, and this is consistent with his earliest commentaries on the Council, was an impression from documents such as Gaudium et spes that perhaps.. perhaps… salvation was a human achievement rather than a gift from the Lord.  Certainly the optimistic focus on man and his accomplishments, and the openness to dialogue with modernity, lead many to forget about the perennial teaching of the Church about the fact that we are flawed and sinful and that we have constant threats from the world, the flesh and the Devil.

However, what strikes me here is that, while John XXIII spoke about giving a carezza to our children, and that Pope Benedict echoed those same words at the end of his talk, Benedict also used the image of the Church as a ship.   He used that same image in his Good Friday reflections in 2005 when he spoke of the ship taking on water from every side, when he spoke of the filth that was in the Church.  He was also talking about sexual abuse of children by priests and bishops – and nuns, by the way.  Thus, the give a carezza to our children takes on another tone entirely.  I think this is one of the reasons why the Holy Father chose this otherwise happy moment to remind us that we are sinners and that unless we are careful, we can lose the salvation that Christ has offered us, provided we beg His mercy and we conform ourselves to His will.

After his sobering words, Pope Benedict added:

“Ma anche abbiamo fatto esperienza della presenza del Signore, della sua bontà della sua presenza: il fuoco di Cristo non è divoratore né distruttivo, è un fuoco silenzioso una piccola fiamma di bontà: il Signore non ci dimentica, il suo modo è umile, il Signore è presente, dà calore ai cuori, crea carismi di bontà e carità che illuminano il mondo e sono per noi garanzia della bontà di Dio”. “Sì, Cristo vive con noi e possiamo essere felici anche oggi, alla fine oso fare mie le parole indimenticabili di papa Giovanni, ‘andate a casa date una carezza ai bambini e dite che è la carezza del Papa’ e di tutto cuore vi imparto la benedizione”.

“But we have also experienced the presence of the Lord, of His goodness, of His presence: the flame of Christ is not a devourer, nor is it destructive, it is a silent fire, a little flame of goodness: the Lord does not forget us, His way is humble, the Lord is present, He gives warmth to hearts, creates charisms of goodness and charity which illuminate the world and are, for us, the guarantee of the goodness of God. Yes, Christ lives with us and we can be happy even today. At the end, I dare to make mine the unforgetable words of Pope John, ‘go home and give a caress to our children and tell them that this is the Pope’s caress’, and with all my heart I impart to you the blessing.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Bryan Boyle says:

    Reading the good Holy Father’s words (while trying to ignore Plug’s condescending laughter coming over the TV in the den upstairs from the Ham Shack…), what I am struck with is a sense of longing to have had the privilege of being a student in one of his university classes, or even serving as an aide in his time in Rome. Imagine being able, like a student of old, being able to sit at the feet of a teacher like this and experience his insight? Accessible, not lofty, and every word means just what it says…so weasel words or slickness there.

    May he reign for many years to come.

  2. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Bryan Boyle — Ditto! That’s why I love to read his work, pre- or papal.

    Re: the speech, it sounds like B16 is still working through his Book of Revelation readings from preparing the audience talks on prayer, and (ten to one) from reading the new editions of the Revelation commentary tradition of Tyconius, St. Victorinus, Primasius, St. Caesarius of Arles, St. Beatus, etc. that came out this spring. The idea of the wheat and the tares growing side by side is very big in all the Tyconius-influenced authors, and of course influenced St. Augustine to write both a book on interpreting Scripture the Tyc-ish way, and The City of God. It’s a sort of middle ground position between optimism and pessimism, so it’s easy to see why his thoughts would spend a little time working with it.

  3. anna 6 says:

    I especially enjoy watching Pope Benedict when he speaks off the cuff, or when he takes off his reading glasses and puts the paper down in order to elaborate on an idea. The eloquence of his words when heard the through the heart of this caring pastor and passionate believer always touches me deeply.
    Here is the video…beautiful.

  4. Captain Peabody says:

    What a truly great man.

    Viva il Pappa!

  5. Bryan–Ditto indeed! There is just something so lucid, direct, elegant…..
    I never listen to him speak or read anything he has said or written without being struck .
    Really words fail me. What a wonderful privilege, to have been one of his students! What a gift to us all he is as a teacher, an intellect, our Shepherd. I pray for him fervently everyday and thank God for the gift he is to us.

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