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Pope: God is basis of western progress
POPE ADDRESSES THE BUNDESTAG BY JOHN THAVIS
ARRIVING in Germany for a four-day visit, Pope Benedict XVI strongly defended the Church’s voice in public affairs and said that to dismiss religious values as irrelevant would “dismember our culture”.
In a major address to the German parliament last Thursday the Pope said belief in God was the foundation for western progress in law and social justice through the centuries.
He said: “The conviction that there is a creator God is what gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions.”
It was Benedict XVI’s third trip as Pope to his homeland but his first state visit and his first foray outside Germany’s Catholic strongholds. Parts of the country are extremely secularised and the German Catholic Church has been strained by contentious internal debates.
Answering questions from reporters on his flight from Rome the Pope said he recognised that an increasing number of Catholics in Germany were leaving the Church. Some, he said, were motivated by revelations of “terrible” scandals, a reference to clerical sex abuse cases that have come to light over the past two years.
The Pope said he could understand their feelings. But he said that if they accepted the Church as the “people of God” and not as a typical social organisation, Catholics should “withstand and work against these scandals, precisely because they are on the inside”. When the Pope stepped off his plane in Berlin, the German capital, he was greeted by President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela
Merkel. The Pope smiled as a boy and a girl presented him with a bouquet of flowers.
A small group of Catholics cheered on the edge of the tarmac and cannons boomed out a 21-gun salute.
At a welcoming ceremony at Bellevue Palace, the presidential residence, the Pope was applauded by nearly 1,000 civil dignitaries and ecclesiastical leaders. He said he had come to Germany primarily “to meet people and to speak about God”.
He said that religious indifference was leading people to focus on individualistic and materialistic goals, losing sight of their “responsibility before God and before one another”.
The world needs “a profound cultural renewal and the rediscovery of fundamental values upon which to build a better future”, he said.
In his own speech to the Pope Mr Wulff, 52, said that the Church’s message was needed in society even if it was not always easy to hear. The economic crisis had left many Germans searching for meaning in their lives, he said, and the Church is in a position to offer answers.
Mr Wulff added that the Church itself was challenged by important questions: “How compassionately will it treat points of rupture in the lives of individuals? How will it approach points of rupture in its own history or the wrongdoing of members of its clergy?”
Mr Wulff, a Catholic, is divorced and civilly remarried. He had told newspapers that he would ask the Pope to be more understanding towards people in that situation.
In his address to the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, Pope Benedict offered a classic defence of Christianity as a protector and promoter of social justice. Justice means knowing and doing what is right, he said, and Germany’s Nazi past illustrates that without justice, the state becomes “a highly organised band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it
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Nazis rejected God, says Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI and the German President Christian Wulff at a welcoming ceremony at Bellevue Palace CNS photo to the edge of the abyss”. Today, he said, when man has acquired previously inconceivable power, the threat is even more dramatic.
“Man can destroy the world. He can manipulate himself. He can, so to speak, make human beings and he can deny them their humanity,” he said.
The Pope said that while majority rule worked for many political matters it was not enough when fundamental issues of human dignity were at stake. In that context, he noted that Christian resistance to certain legal systems had a strong tradition, including resistance movements against the Nazis and other totalitarian regimes.
In general, he said, Christianity has always tried to help people to recognise what is right, not by proposing a revealed body of law to the state, but by pointing to nature and reason as the true sources of law, rooted in the “creative reason of God”. The danger today is that ethics and religion are considered “subjective” and no longer valid, overshadowed by a “purely functional” concept of nature, he said. This has cut Europe off from the sources of its own culture, he said.
The Pope said the ecological movement in Germany reflected an awareness, especially among young people, that “something is wrong with our relationship with nature”. He said there was a need for an “ecology of man” that recognises that recognises that “man does not create himself”.
It was the first time Pope Benedict had addressed a parliamentary body. The speech was boycotted by dozens of politicians who claimed that it violated the separation of Church and state. ................................................ Full text: Page 5
Believers ought to work together to protect family and life, says Pope
BENEDICT XVI MEETS MUSLIMS BY CINDY WOODEN
BELIEVERS in God have a contribution to make toward building a better world marked by respect for each human being, Benedict XVI told representatives of Germany’s Muslim communities last Friday.
The Pope said: “As believers, setting out from our respective convictions, we can offer an important witness in many key areas of life in society”, including “the protection of the family based on marriage, respect for life in every phase of its natural course or the promotion of greater social justice”.
He met 15 Muslim representatives in a small meeting room at the apostolic nunciature in Berlin.
Officials of the German bishops’ conference said they tried to invite people who could represent the variety present among the almost 4.5 million Muslims living in Germany. About 70 per cent of the country’s Muslims are of Turkish origin. The others come from Arabic countries, the Balkans and Iran.
Pope Benedict said the importance many Muslims give the role of religion in their lives was thought-provoking in a country that “tends to marginalise religion or, at most, to assign it a place among the individual’s personal choices”.
The Pope meets Ali Dere, professor of Islamic theology at Bonn university AP photo
While real differences exist between Muslims and Christians, he said, mutual respect also exists and grows where believers meet one another and work together to promote and protect the dignity of each human being and other basic ethical values.
“It is inconceivable, in fact, that a society could survive in the long term without consensus on fundamental ethical values,” the Pope said.
Pope Benedict told the Muslim leaders that he convoked a large interreligious meeting for peace in Assisi on October 27 to reiterate the important role religion can play in modern society.
“Through this gathering, we wish to express, with simplicity, that we believers have a special contribution to make toward building a better world, while acknowledging that if our actions are to be effective, we need to grow in dialogue and mutual esteem,” he said.
Mouhanad Khorchide, a Lebanese-born professor of Islam at the University of Münster, spoke on behalf of the Muslim leaders and encouraged greater exchanges between Catholic and Muslim theologians so they could help their followers to recognise values they hold in common. While Christians would describe God’s primary attribute as love and Muslims would use the term “mercy,” both believe that they have a religious obligation to reflect those attributes in the way they live and treat others, he said.
“God, therefore, reveals himself in love and mercy experienced and lived here and now in this world,” he said.
Professor Khorchide said that love and mercy were the criteria by which Christians and Muslims discern whether something is good and godly.
POPE SPEAKS TO JEWISH LEADERS BY CINDY WOODEN
THE NAZI “reign of terror” showed the depths of evil that men are capable of when they deny God and the dignity of all people he created, Benedict XVI has told leaders of Germany’s Jewish community.
Speaking to Jewish representatives in a meeting room in the Reichstag, which houses the German parliament, the Pope spoke about the need to remember the horror of the Shoah, the importance of Catholic-Jewish dialogue and the need for all believers in God to work together to bring moral values to society.
The Reichstag is a place of “appalling remembrance”, the Pope said, because it was in the parliament building that “the Shoah, the annihilation of our Jewish fellow citizens in Europe, was planned and organised”.
The number of Jews in Germany today is estimated at about 105,000, most of whom emigrated from the former Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.
The activity of Germany’s 108 Jewish communities is coordinated by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which was founded in 1950 – a time when the country’s Jewish community numbered only about 15,000 members.
According to the council, there were between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews in Germany in the early 1930s. As the Nazis enacted progressively more restrictive laws, thousands of Jews fled.
Pope Benedict said: “The Nazi reign of terror was based on a racist myth, part of which was the rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ and all who believe in him.
“The supposedly ‘almighty’ Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol who wanted to take the place of the biblical God, the creator and father of all men,” the Pope said.
The result of the Nazi attempt to replace God was horrific, he said.
“Refusal to heed this one God always makes people heedless of human dignity as well,” the Pope said. He said the “terrible images from the concentration camps at the end of the war” showed “what man is capable of when he rejects God and what the face of a people can look like when it denies this God”.
Pope Benedict renewed the Church’s commitment to dialogue at a time when some Jewish leaders have expressed concerns over the Pope reaching out to the Society of St Pius X, which questions many teachings of the Second Vatican Council, particularly regarding relations with other Christians and other religions.
The Pope quoted a remark he made last year when he visited Rome’s main synagogue. He said that with the Second Vatican Council an “irrevocable commitment to pursue the path of dialogue, fraternity and friendship” had been made.
Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews, told the Pope that Jews were concerned about the Vatican’s rapprochement with traditionalists. In a text he distributed but did not read, he said the SSPX “in our view still stands for fanaticism, fundamentalism, racism and antiSemitism”. One of the group’s leaders, Bishop Richard Williamson, has been convicted of denying the Holocaust.
In his prepared text Mr Graumann wrote that 50 years of progress in Catholic-Jewish dialogue had laid a firm foundation for the partners in dialogue to be honest with one another, which is why he felt free to bring to the Pope his concerns about the traditionalists and about the possible beatification of Pope Pius XII, whom many believe did not speak forcefully enough in defence of the Jews during World War II.
Pope Benedict also told the group: “It seems to me that we Christians must also become increasingly aware of our own inner affinity with Judaism.”
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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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