Cultural Promotion in Church's DNA (Part 1)

Interview With Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone After Mexico Visit

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 12, 2009 ( Proclamation of the Gospel is cultural creation, and Catholic institutions must show that they can address progress and development successfully, said the Pope’s secretary of state.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was in Mexico from Jan. 15 to 19 to preside over the 6th World Meeting of Families and to meet with Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, as well as with the representatives of the world of culture.

On his return to the Vatican, the secretary of state gave a joint interview to Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano and the Vatican Television Center, in which he evaluated his visit.

This interview was conducted by Carlo Di Cicco, deputy director of the Vatican newspaper, and Roberto Piermarini, director of the news service of the papal radio.

Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.

Q: Eminence, your visit to Mexico seemed very different from your previous ones. In addition to the fact that you took part as a papal legate, it seemed to mark a new beginning in relations between the Church, the Holy See and Mexican society. What actually happened?
Cardinal Bertone: It was a trip of a profound pastoral character — as papal legate for the 6th World Meeting of Families — and, of course, [it was] also political to have meetings with the president of the republic and other authorities.

We must recall that Archbishop Dominique Mamberti also went recently to Mexico on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, which was a great change in Mexico, a stage marked in 1993 by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of his trip for World Youth Day in Denver.

The secretary of state went to Mexico as papal legate but also as secretary of state, which put the accent on these positive aspects. Not that there is a positive secularism in Mexico — a subject that was discussed later in the meeting of Queretaro — but yes, there are more positive meetings and relations between the Church and the state.

There is a Church that is reassuming itself — a martyr Church, which the Mexican [Church] is. It was an exceptional occasion in which the Pope made himself present with two messages: his recorded blessing and live transmission during which the joyful and palpitating Mexican cry resounded: «the Pope is present.»

It is a conviction that expresses the great desire for the presence of the Pope, but also the sense of full communion and fellowship with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome.
Q: Family and culture were the two most important points in all your speeches. Why did you give so much attention to these topics?
Cardinal Bertone: Because in reality, the family is the first transmitter of values and culture for the new generations; for children and young people growing up, the family is the transmitter of values.

This is a proven fact in the experience of family life, despite all the difficulties that mark the way, not only in Europe but also in Latin America.

I recall a conference, a debate, that took place here in Rome, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, with Professor Barbiellini Amidei, precisely about the family, regarding its capacity or incapacity to address other instances of socialization in the task of transmitting values.

In the end we agreed that the family is the first instance of the transmission of values — and this is also the conviction of the Popes: of John Paul II and, particularly, Pope Benedict, as taken up in the two messages addressed to Mexico — the family is the first instance of human and Christian formation.

It transmits the identity, the family’s own identity, and the cultural and spiritual identity of a people.

Then the state is born thanks to the grouping, the communion among families, that is why the state should have the mission to strengthen the identity of a people grounded in its roots, in its origins, which later determine the development of both the political and ecclesial community.
Q: In some way, you seemed to encourage a re-foundation of Mexican Catholic culture. With what objective?
Cardinal Bertone: There are great cultural traditions in Mexico: there are many universities and many educational institutions, and there is a risk that these realities, which were reborn after the Church was given a space of freedom, will remain in a corner.

There is a strong strain of secularism, there are forces which are opposed to the Church, which oppose the Church’s mission to educate and form, the Church’s function to develop culture.

But we must recall that the Church was the creator of the university; the universities were born in the heart of the Church, and in Mexico they say there are more than 2,000 universities, counting the state and private ones, many of them Catholic, also belonging to religious institutes.

It is an immense resource that must be tapped, so to speak, that must be made present and active, so that it can influence the people’s culture and demonstrate — and herein lies the problem of the evangelization of the culture — that also universities of a Catholic nature or Catholic inspiration can address science, make it progress and thus create new ambits and forms of cultural development, precisely for the good of the Mexican nation. That is why I sought to encourage and stimulate this type of development.
Q: In the meeting with [people of] the world of culture and education you emphasized the limited success that Mexican culture had during the last century. Is it not a rather harsh judgment for a Church that suffered persecution, including a bloody one?
Cardinal Bertone: It is, in fact, a question of harsh judgment. I literally quoted an author, Gabriel Zaid, who remembers his meeting with a European bishop who asked him: «Is a Catholic culture possible in Mexico? Can the Catholic Church have some cultural influence in the country?»  

When this European bishop, more precisely this Dutch bishop, asked him what could be expected of Mexico, Zaid, desolate, said: «I couldn’t give him any hope.

«In Mexico, beyond the vestiges of better times and popular culture, Catholic culture has ended» — you must realize that we were in the 70s — it remained on the margin, in one of the most notable centuries of Mexican culture: the 20th century. How could that happen? — Zaid replied — «I’m still asking myself that!»

This diagnosis is certainly pessimistic: I have taken it up again precisely because there have been incentives, highly significant positive aspects, so that it would be very unjust to stress the negative and subscribe fully to this diagnosis.

Nevertheless, the writer’s observation and the bishop’s question require an answer; they are stimulating.

That culture is necessary in the work of the Church, and even more so in humanity itself, was affirmed by Pope John Paul II, in his great address in UNESCO, when he cried out: «The future of man depends on culture! The peace of the world depends on the primacy of the Spirit! The peaceful future of humanity depends on love!» Thus he related peace, culture and love.

For the Church, cultural promotion is an innate reality, written in her DNA, in her history: It is an urgent and necessary imperative.

By the very fact that the Gospel is itself creator of culture, the proclamation of the Gospel is cultural creation.
The truth is that the Church in Mexico was persecuted and gave many martyrs. I received and venerated the relics of a 15-year-old boy, who looked much more mature than his age, José Sánchez del Río, who took part in a cultural circle of Catholic Action.

Despite his young age, he was arrested, and after his capture he was killed. Before dying, he wrote «Long Live Christ the King,» which was the cry of Mexican martyrs.

That is why Mexico’s Church is certainly a martyr Church, but also because of this she has been marginalized.

This Chur
ch has always practiced a great religion of worship, very significant, source of her fidelity to Christ and of her enthusiasm for the faith, but somewhat resigned from the cultural point of view.

That is why it was and is necessary to re-launch the whole of cultural promotion that — as I said — is innate to the mission of the Church, particularly in Mexico.

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