Pope Benedict XVI made a pilgrimage Sunday to Monte Cassino, the site of a decisive World War II battle in southern Italy and home to a Benedictine monastery particularly dear to the pontiff.
Benedict was celebrating an open-air Mass followed by vespers in the Monte Cassino abbey, founded in 529 by St. Benedict of Nursia. Known as the father of Western monasticism, St. Benedict is a patron saint of Europe.
Later, the German-born Benedict was to visit the nearby Polish military cemetery, containing the remains of Polish troops who fought alongside the Allies and died trying to take control of the abbey and surrounding positions from German troops. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the 1944 Allied bombardment of Monte Cassino and the battle for the abbey, which was decisive for the Allied advance on Rome 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the north.
The pope has spoken frequently about his strong affinity for St. Benedict, the 6th century hermit and monk who wrote the "Rule of St. Benedict," which became the basis for the Benedictine order and heavily influenced western Christian monasticism.