"The greatest persecution of the Church comes from within"
by Edward Pentin
Below is the full transcript of Pope Benedict XVI’s briefing with journalists on the papal plane to Portugal this morning, courtesy of Vatican Radio:
Q. - What message will you bring to Portugal, a deeply Catholic country in the past and a bearer of faith in the secular world of today. How can the faith be announced in a context which is indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to the Church?
First of all, good morning to all of you. I hope we will all have a good trip, despite the famous ash cloud which we are above right now.
In terms of Portugal, first of all I have feelings of joy and gratitude for everything this country has done and is doing in the world and in history, the deep humanity of this people which I have come to know through a past visit and so many Portuguese friends. I would say it is true that Portugal has been a great force for the Catholic faith, and it has carried that faith to every part of the world. A courageous, intelligent, creative faith, it has known how to create great cultures, we see this in Brazil, in Portugal itself, but also the presence of the Portuguese spirit in Africa and Asia.
On the other hand, this presence of secularism is not entirely new. The dialectic between secularism and faith has a long history in Portugal. By the seventeenth century, there was already a strong current of the Enlightenment. We need only think of names such as Pombal. In these centuries, Portugal lived this dialectic which today naturally has been radicalized and is reflected in all of the signs of the current European spirit. This seems to me a challenge, but also a great possibility. In these centuries, the dialectic between the Enlightenment, secularism and faith always had people who wanted to build bridges and to create a dialogue. Unfortunately, the dominant tendency was to see a contradiction and to see one as excluding the other. Today we can see this is false. We have to find a synthesis and be able to dialogue. In the multi-cultural situation we’re all in, it’s clear that a European culture which aims to be solely rationalist, without any sense of the transcendent dimension, would not be in a position to dialogue with the other great cultures of humanity – all of which have this sense of the transcendent dimension, which is a dimension of the human person. To think that there’s a pure reason, even a historic reason, which exists entirely in itself, is an error, and we are discovering this more and more. It touches only a part of the human person expressed in a given historic situation, and is not reason as such. Reason as such is open to transcendence, and only in the meeting between transcendent reality, faith and history is human life fully realized.
I think the mission of Europe in this situation is to find a path to this dialogue, to integrate faith, rationality, and modernity in a single anthropological vision of the concrete human person and render that vision for the future of humanity.
For that reason, I think the task and mission of Europe in this situation is to find this dialogue, to integrate faith and reason in a single modern anthropological vision of the concrete human person and thus also render it communicable to other human cultures. So I would say that the presence of secularism is a normal thing, but the separation, the opposition between faith and secularism is anomalous. The great challenge of this moment is that the two meet, so they may find their true identity. It is a mission for Europe and a human necessity in our time.
Q: - Thank you, Holy Father. Continuing on the theme of Europe, the economic crisis has recently gotten a lot worse in Europe, especially in Portugal. Some European leaders think the future of the European Union is at risk. What lessons should we learn from this crisis, including at the ethical and moral level? What are the keys for consolidating the unity and cooperation of the European nations in the future?
I would say that this economic crisis, with its undeniable moral component, is a case of applying and making concrete what I said earlier, that is of two separate cultural currents meeting, otherwise we will not find a path to the future. Here, too, I believe there is a false dualism. There is an economic positivism that thinks it is possible to realize itself without an ethical component, a market that regulates itself according to its own economic strength, by a positivistic and pragmatic reasoning of the economy. Ethics is something different, something extraneous. In reality, we can see today that a pure economic pragmatism which ignores the reality of the human person, who is inherently ethical, has no positive ending, but creates irresolvable problems. This is the moment to recognize that ethics is not something exterior, but rather interior to all forms of rationality, including economic reason.
On the other hand, we also have to confess the Catholic-Christian faith often has been overly individualistic. It left the concrete things of the economy to the world, thinking only of individual salvation and its religious aspects, without recognizing that these imply a global responsibility and a responsibility for the world. So here too we must enter into a concrete dialogue. I tried to do as much in my encyclical Caritas in veritate, and the whole tradition of the social teaching of the church moves in this sense, broadening the ethical aspect of the faith from the individual to a responsibility for the world, to a reason that is perforated by ethics. On the other hand the most recent events on the markets, in the last two or three years, have amply shown us that the ethical dimension is an internal one and that it must enter into economic action, because man is an one. A healthy anthropology that takes everything into account. Only in this way will we solve the problem. Only in this way will Europe deliver and succeed in its mission.
Q: Thank you. Now we come to Fatima, which will be the spiritual culmination of this trip. Holy Father, what meaning do the apparitions of Fatima have for us today? When you presented the Third Secret of Fatima in a press conference at the Vatican Press Office in June 2000, many of us and other colleagues asked if the message of the secret could be extended, beyond the assassination attempt against John Paul II to other sufferings of the popes. Could the context of that vision also be extended to the suffering of the church today,for the sins of the sexual abuse of minors?
First of all, I want to express my joy to go to Fatima, to pray before Our Lady of Fatima, and to experience the presence of the faith there, where from the little ones a new force of the faith was born, and which is not limited to the little ones, but has a message for the whole world and all epochs of history, and touches history in its present and illuminates this history. In 2000, during the presentation, I said there is a supernatural impulse which does not come from the individual imagination but from the reality of the Virgin Mary, from the supernatural, that impulse which enters into a subject, and is expressed according to the possibilities of the subject.
The subject is determined by his or her historic, personal, temperamental, situation. Therefore, supernatural impulse is translated according to the subject’s possibilities to see, imagine or express it. But in these expressions, formed by the subject, a content is hidden, that goes beyond, goes deeper. Only in the passage of time is the true depth, that was clothed in this vision, revealed to us, only then is it possible for concrete people.
Here too, beyond this great vision of the suffering Pope, which we can initially circumscribe to John Paul II, other realities are indicated which over time will develop and become clear. Thus it is true that beyond the moment indicated in the vision, one speaks about and sees the necessity of suffering by the Church, which is focused on the person of the Pope, but the Pope stands for the church, and therefore sufferings of the Church are announced. The Lord told us that the Church will always be suffering in various ways, up to the end of the world. The important point is that the message, the answer of Fatima, it not substantially addressed to particular devotions, but is the fundamental response: permanent conversion, penance, prayer, and the three cardinal virtues: faith, hope and charity. Here we see the true, fundamental response the Church must give, which each of us individually must give, in this situation.
In terms of what we today can discover in this message, attacks against the Pope or the Church do not only come from outside; rather the sufferings of the Church come from within, from the sins that exist in the Church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way: the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from enemies on the outside, but is born from the sin within the church, the Church therefore has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the need for justice. Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice. In one word we have to re-learn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. That is how we respond, and we need to be realistic in expecting that evil will always attack, from within and from outside, but the forces of good are also always present, and finally the Lord is stronger than evil and the Virgin Mary is for us the visible maternal guarantee that the will of God is always the last word in history... Read the original.
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- Fr. Christopher George Phillips
- Fr. Phillips is the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, the first Anglican Use parish, established on August 15, 1983. Not that there is any confusion, but he is on the left, shown in his younger, less gray-headed days.