THE CATHOLIC HERALD SEPTEMBER 30 2011
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PAPAL VISIT TO GERMANY
Pope urges Lutherans not to ‘water down’ faith
POPE’S ADDRESS TO LUTHERANS BY JOHN THAVIS
VISITING the land of Martin Luther last Friday, Pope Benedict XVI prayed for Christian unity and told Lutheran leaders that secularisation and Christian fundamentalism pose challenges to ecumenism today.
The Pope said in a meeting with 15 representatives of the German Evangelical Church Council: “God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever remote past. Are we to yield to more pressure of secularisation and become modern by watering down the faith?”
The meeting in the central German city of Erfurt, followed by a joint prayer service, was the ecumenical highlight of the Pope’s visit. He stopped to pray in Erfurt Cathedral, where Luther was ordained a Catholic priest in 1507, and then met Lutheran leaders in the former Augustinian friary where Luther lived until 1511.
The Pope listened as a mixed Catholic-Lutheran choir sang hymns in the vaulted chapter house of the former friary, which has become a memorial to Luther, the founder of the Reformation.
Before the Pope’s arrival in Germany there had been speculation that he would make a crucial ecumenical announcement or concession. But during the prayer service in the church of the ancient monastery, the Pope said this conjecture was a “political misreading of faith and of ecumenism”.
Progress in Christian unity was not like negotiating a treaty, he said. Ecumenism will advance when Christians enter more deeply into their shared faith and profess it more openly in society, he said.
Benedict XVI and the Rev Nikolaus Schneider leave the church at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt following a joint prayer service
The Pope’s talks did not examine major ecumenical issues that have been taken up by Catholics and Lutherans in recent years. Instead, he focused on the common need to witness the Christian faith in a broken world.
The key issue today was the issue of God, just as in Luther’s time, he said. But while Luther struggled with how to receive God’s grace, that question appeared less crucial to modern society, he said. “For who is actually concerned about this today, even among Christians?” he said.
Most Christians today presume that God will mercifully overlook their small failings, the Pope said.
“But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage?” he said. In the face of the drug trade, poverty, hunger and violence in the name of religion, Christians should conclude that “evil is no small matter”, he said.
“Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, [evil] could not be so powerful,” he added.
This witness of the faith should take concrete form in defence of the human being “from conception to death – from issues of prenatal diagnosis to the question of euthanasia”, he argued. That is especially important at a time of ethical erosion, he said. The Pope said this common witness had been made more difficult by the rise of fundamentalist groups that were spreading with “overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways”, leaving mainstream Christian denominations at a loss.
“This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a
AP photo question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us – for better and for worse?” he said.
Germany’s Lutheran leaders had requested the encounter with the Pope, and Vatican officials said he was more than happy to make it the main event of his second day in Germany. Pope Benedict has long appreciated Luther’s writings and occasionally cites him in his talks.
The ecumenical service featured a reading of Psalm 146 from
Luther’s translation of the Bible, in what Vatican officials said was a papal sign of respect. It began: “Praise the Lord, my soul; I will praise the Lord all my life, sing praise to my God while I live.”
Luther entered the Erfurt friary in 1505 against the wishes of his father, who foresaw a career in law for his son. By the time he left Erfurt nearly seven years later, Luther was already questioning Catholic teaching about how sin is forgiven and grace is received – a divergence that would lead to his break with Rome and the start of the Reformation in 1517.
The Pope said that despite the split, Christian churches still had much that united them. He said the error of the Reformation period was that “for the most part we could only see what divided us”.
Rev Nikolaus Schneider, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany, welcomed the Pope in a talk that also emphasised areas of agreement. At the same time he said that many Germans, especially those in interdenominational marriages, would like to “partake more freely in Eucharistic fellowship”.
His words touched on a sensitive issue for Lutherans. The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is generally to be shared only by those who fully profess the same faith and share Catholic beliefs about the sacraments.
Seated in the front row were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Lutheran, and German President Christian Wulff, a Catholic married to a Lutheran.
Mr Schneider said that in the runup to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation Catholics and Lutherans should consider if Luther could be a bridge for both churches. He said Luther’s theological approach of seeking God despite uncertainty had never been more relevant.
“It is time to heal the memories of the mutual injuries in the Reformation period,” he said.
Don’t let abuse distort your vision of the Church, says Pontiff
MASS AT BERLIN’S OLYMPIC STADIUM BY JOHN THAVIS
BENEDICT XVI celebrated Mass on Thursday evening in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and appealed for a better understanding of the Church that goes beyond current controversies and the failings of its members.
The Mass was the religious high point of the Pope’s busy first day in the German capital, where he also met government leaders, Jewish representatives and addressed parliament.
About 70,000 Catholics gave the 84-year-old Roman Pontiff a rousing welcome when he rode in the Popemobile through the stadium, which was built by the Nazi regime to host the 1936 Olympic Games. The Pope paused to kiss several babies as young people waved scarves imprinted with the theme of the papal visit: “Where there is God, there is a future.”
In recent years the Church in Germany has experienced a steady drop in religious practice, including Mass attendance. Internal debates have simmered over issues such as priestly celibacy, and revelations of clerical sex abuse have drawn widespread criticism.
In his homily, the Pope said part of the problem was that people mistakenly saw only the outward form of the Church and considered it merely as another organisation in a democratic society. He asked for a broader understanding of the Church as a communion of life with Christ.
He said people needed to realise that, although the Church contains some bad members, “if only these negative aspects are taken into account, then the great and deep mystery of the Church is no longer seen”. When that happens, he said, the Church is no longer a source of joy. “Dissatisfaction and discontent begin to spread, when people’s superficial and mistaken notions of ‘Church’, their ‘dream Church’, fail to materialise,” he said.
The Pope said that when the Church goes through troubled times its members should take comfort and strength from their closeness to Christ. This sense of
“abiding in Christ” is especially needed in “our era of restlessness and lack of commitment, when so many people lose their way... [and] when loving fidelity in marriage and friendship has become so fragile”, he said.
The Pope did not discuss in detail any of the particular issues that divide German Catholics. Instead, he encouraged them to support one another and “stand firm together against the storm”.
Altar girls were prominent in the procession at the start of the papal Mass, carrying the cross and candles as the procession led up a staircase to an altar platform high above the stadium ground level.
After making the rounds in the Popemobile Benedict XVI was greeted by Berlin’s mayor, who gave him a model of the Brandenburg Gate, an emblem of the once-divided city. While the Pope was vesting for Mass rain began to fall on the bishops, priests and dignitaries seated on the stadium’s field. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prelates and politicians around her scrambled to open disposable plastic raincoats.
At the beginning of the Mass
Berlin Archbishop Rainer Woelki formally welcomed the Pope to the “city where only one in three people is a member of a Christian church. You are coming to a city where God has been forgotten and atheism has taken hold.”
But he said the city’s Christians were working to give new life to the faith and to remind people of the great sacrifices Berlin’s Christians made to defend faith and their fellow human beings during the Nazi years.
“This is not a godless city. It is even a city of martyrs,” the archbishop said.
Benedict XVI speaks to faithful flock that withstood Communism
PONTIFF VISITS MARIAN SHRINE BY JOHN THAVIS
ON FRIDAY EVENING the Pope presided over Vespers for 90,000 people gathered at the Marian shrine of Etzelsbach.
The Marian sanctuary does not appear on most maps of Germany. But for Pope Benedict XVI, the tiny shrine looms large on the country’s religious landscape. Despite decades of persecution under Communism this small Catholic community kept the faith.
The Pope travelled there by helicopter at the end of the second day of his trip. After addressing the German parliament, celebrating Mass in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and holding a historic meeting with Lutheran leaders, the stop in Etzelsbach might have seemed an afterthought. But that would be to misread Pope Benedict’s priorities.
If the stated theme of his German visit was to remind a secularised society about God, here was a place where religious values remain strong, an island of belief in a sea of religious indifference and, for the Pope, well worth a pilgrimage.
A multitude turned out for the Pope, and i t was a diverse crowd: schoolchildren and families, tattooed teenagers and elderly pilgrims from the Eichsfeld
Pilgrims arriving for Vespers at the Marian shrine of Etzelsbach AP photo region, a small Catholic enclave.
Living under Communism has left many non-believers in this part of Germany, but a visitor would not know it from the crosses, chapels and roadside Stations of the Cross found in the group of villages surrounding Etzelsbach.
The Marian sanctuary owes its origins to a local tradition that is still well remembered by pilgrims.
About 400 years ago a farmer was ploughing a field when he saw his horse fall repeatedly to its knees at the same spot. The farmer dug in the soil and found a wooden carving of Mary holding the dead Christ and with that the pilgrimages began.
Presiding at Vespers, the Pope prayed before the statue and spoke about its meaning in simple language.
“The hearts of Jesus and his mother are turned to one another; they come close to each other. They exchange their love,” he said.
He said that Mary, with a mother’s tenderness, wants all people to respond to God’s love.
“When we allow God’s love to influence the whole of our lives, then heaven stands open … Then the little things of everyday l i fe acquire meaning, and great problems find solutions,” he said.
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