Pope Benedict XVI greets pilgrims during his general audience in the courtyard of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug. 11. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy –– Pope Benedict XVI urged people to offer needed and generous aid to those hit by massive flooding in central Europe.

Torrential rains, which led to swollen rivers and breached dams across Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, left at least 11 people dead and damaged hundreds of homes and businesses, including the 775-year-old Cistercian monastery of St. Marienthal in eastern Germany.

More than 1,000 people were evacuated when rivers burst their banks and rose in some places to levels 15 feet above the norm. As the waters began receding Aug. 10, the massive cleanup and repair operations began.

During his general audience Aug. 11, the pope said he prayed that God would give victims “the strength to bear the adversity and would encourage the hearts of people of good will to (offer) generous and effective aid.”

The pope made the appeal in Polish after speaking with an estimated 3,000 pilgrims gathered in the courtyard of the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the retired bishop of Hong Kong, was seated in the front row.


A band from Mexico plays in the square outside the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug. 11. The pilgrims were on hand for Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In his main audience talk, the pope asked people to give thanks for the martyrs of the church. He made special mention of two saints whose feast days are celebrated in August: St. Edith Stein and St. Maximilian Kolbe, both of whom were martyred in Nazi death camps.

The pope asked that the faithful recognize how Christian martyrs followed Christ “to the end by offering their own lives in union with his sacrifice on the cross.”

“May their act of supreme love and surrender to God inspire us on the way of holiness and charity toward our brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Martyrdom is a great act of love in response to God’s immense love,” he said.

While most people today will not be called to be martyrs, he said, “none of us is excluded from the divine call to holiness,” which requires taking up one’s own personal cross and following Christ every day.

In a world that seems driven by selfishness and individualism, Christians have as their top priority the task of letting their love for God and their neighbors grow greater every day, he said. This will transform not only one’s own life, but will also transform the whole world.

“Let us ask God to set our hearts on fire so we can be capable of loving just like he loved every one of us,” the pope said.

Read the text of the pope’s audience remarks in English.

Read the text of the pope’s audience remarks in Spanish.