CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) — Marking the feast of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, Pope Benedict XVI said Christians must not bow to the pressure of the powerful who demand a denial of Christ or of the truth he taught.
“The truth is the truth and there is no compromise,” the pope said at his weekly general audience Aug. 29, the day the church remembers St. John the Baptist's beheading.
An estimated 2,500 people gathered in the town square just outside the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo for the main part of the pope's audience.
Walking with a cane, the pope then held a second, mini-audience in the courtyard of the papal villa with 2,600 French altar servers — boys and girls — who were on a pilgrimage to Rome.
Pope Benedict told the young people they were blessed to be “particularly close to Christ Jesus in the Eucharist. You have the enormous privilege of being close to the altar, close to the Lord.”
The pope prayed that being an altar server would help the young people deepen their friendship with Christ and enthusiastically share God's love with their friends and families.
“And, if one day you feel called to follow the path to the priesthood or religious life, respond generously,” he told the youngsters.
In his main audience talk, the pope said St. John the Baptist, “out of love for the truth, would not compromise with the powerful” who wanted him to deny Christ.
Celebrating the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist is a reminder that “we cannot accept compromises about the love of Christ, his word, his truth,” he said.
Pope Benedict said St. John's strength to preach conversion, to lead people to Jesus and to face martyrdom flowed from prayer and a total reliance on God.
The periods St. John spent in the desert were part of his preparation. The desert is a place “where man experiences his own poverty because, deprived of support and material security, he understands that the only solid point of reference remaining is God,” the pope said.
The Baptist's example of prayer, he said, teaches believers that “prayer isn't time wasted, it does not steal time away from work — even apostolic work.”
Rather, he said, St. John the Baptist's life is a reminder that “only if we have a faithful, constant, trusting prayer life, God himself will give us the ability and strength to live happily and serenely, to overcome difficulty and witness to him courageously.”