ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, MARCH 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the transcription of the press conference Benedict XVI granted to journalists during the papal flight Tuesday en route to Yaoundé, Cameroon.
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Father Lombardi: Holiness, welcome in the midst of this group of colleagues; we are about 70 who are on the point of living this journey with you. We wish you the very best and hope that we will be able to accompany you with our service, in such a way that many other people can participate in this adventure.
As usual, we are very grateful to you for the conversation that you are now granting us; we prepared for it by gathering, in the past days, a certain number of questions on the part of colleagues — I have received about 30 — and then we chose some that might present a rather complete conversation on this trip and that might be of interest to all. We are very grateful for the answers you will give us.
The first question, is posed by our colleague Lucio Brunelli, of Italian television, who is here, on our right.
Brunelli: Good day. Holiness, for some time — and in particular after your last letter to the bishops of the world — many newspapers have spoken of the “loneliness of the Pope.” So, what do you think? Do you really feel alone? After the recent events, with what feelings are you now flying with us to Africa?
Benedict XVI: To tell the truth, I must say that this myth of my loneliness makes me feel like smiling: In no way do I feel alone. Every day I receive, on the list of visits, my closest collaborators, starting with the secretary of state to the Congregation De Propaganda Fide, etc. I then see all the heads of dicasteries regularly. Every day I receive bishops on their “ad limina” visit — recently all the bishops, one after the other, of Nigeria, then the bishops of Argentina. We had two plenaries in recent days, one of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, and the other of the Congregation for Clergy, and then some friendly talks; a network of friendship, including my companions at Mass from Germany who came recently for a day to chat with me.
So, then, loneliness is not a problem, I am really surrounded by friends in a wonderful collaboration with bishops, with collaborators, with laymen and I am grateful for this.
I am going to Africa with great joy: I love Africa, I have so many African friends from the time I was a professor up to today; I love the joy of the faith, the joyful faith that is found in Africa. You know that the Lord’s mandate for the Successor of Peter is “to confirm brothers in the faith”: I try to do this. But I am sure that I myself will return confirmed by my brothers, infected — so to speak — by their joyful faith.
Father Lombardi: The second question comes from John Thavis, Rome bureau chief for [Catholic News Service].
Thavis: Holiness, You are traveling to Africa while a world economic crisis is under way which has its repercussions also on poor countries. Moreover, at this time Africa is facing a food crisis. I would like to ask three things: Will this situation find an echo in your trip? And, will you turn to the international community so that it takes charge of Africa’s problems? And, the third thing, will you also speak of these problems in the encyclical you are preparing?
Benedict XVI: Thank you for the question. Of course, I am not going to Africa with a political/economic program, for which I lack the competence. I am going with a religious program, of faith, of morality, but this is precisely also an essential contribution to the problem of the economic crisis that we are living at this moment. We all know that an essential element of the crisis is, in fact, a lack of ethics in economic structures. It has been understood that ethics is not something “outside” of the economy, but “inside” of it, and that the economy does not function if it does not bear in itself the ethical element. Because of this, speaking of God and speaking of the great spiritual values that constitute the Christian life, I will also seek to make an appropriate contribution to overcome this crisis, to renew the economic system from within, where the point of the real crisis is to be found.
And, of course, I will appeal to international solidarity: the Church is catholic, that is, universal, open to all cultures, to all continents. It is present in all political systems and so solidarity is a fundamentally internal principle for Catholicism. Naturally, I would like to appeal first of all to Catholic solidarity itself, extending it however also to the solidarity of all those who see their responsibility in the human society of today.
Obviously, I will also speak of this in the encyclical: This is a reason for the delay. We were about to publish it, when this crisis was unleashed and we took the text up again to respond more adequately, in the ambit of our competence, in the ambit of the social doctrine of the Church, but with reference to the real elements of the present crisis. Hence I hope that the encyclical will also be an element, a force to overcome the present difficult situation.
Father Lombardi: Holiness, the third question is posed by our colleague Isabelle de Gaulmyn, of La Croix.
De Gaulmyn: Very Holy Father, good day. I ask the question in Italian, but could you kindly answer it in French. The Special Council for Africa of the Synod of Bishops requested that the strong quantitative growth of the African Church become also a qualitative growth. At times, those in charge of the Church are regarded as a group of wealth and privilege and their conduct is not consistent with the proclamation of the Gospel. Will you invite the Church in Africa to commit herself to an examination of conscience and of purification of her structures?
Benedict XVI: I will try, if possible, to speak in French. I have a more positive view of the Church in Africa: It is a Church that is very close to the poor, a Church with those who suffer, with people who are in need of aid and so it seems to me that the Church is really an institution that still functions, when other structures no longer function, and with her system of education, hospitals, aid, in all these situations, she is present in the world of the poor and of the suffering.
Of course, original sin is also present in the Church; there is no perfect society and so there are also sinners and deficiencies in the Church in Africa, and in this sense an examination of conscience, an interior purification is always necessary and I recall also in this sense the Eucharistic liturgy: One always begins with a purification of the conscience, and a new beginning before the Lord’s presence. And I would say that more than the purification of structures, which is always also necessary, a purification of hearts is necessary, because structures are the reflection of hearts, and we do what is possible to give a new force to spirituality, to God’s presence in our heart, whether to purify the structures of the Church, or also to aid the purification of structures of society.
Father Lombardi: Now, a question that comes from the German component of this group of journalists: it is Christa Kramer, who represents Sankt Ulrich Verlag, who poses the question.
Kramer: Heiliger Vater, gute Reise! Father Lombardi asked me to speak in Italian, so I ask the question in Italian. When you address Europe, you often speak of a horizon on which God seems to disappear. It isn’t like this in Africa, but there is an aggressive presence of sects there, the traditional African religions are there. What then is the specificity of the message of the Catholic Church that you wish to present in this context?
Benedict XVI: Now, we all acknowledge that in Africa the problem of atheism is almost not an issue, because the reality of God is so present, so real in Africans’ hearts that not to believe in God, to live without God doesn’t seem to be a temptation. It i
s true that there is the problem of sects: We don’t proclaim, as some of them do, a Gospel of prosperity, but a Christian realism; we don’t proclaim miracles, as some do, but the sobriety of Christian life. We are convinced that all this sobriety, this realism which proclaims a God who became man, hence a profoundly human God, a God who suffers, also with us, gives meaning to our suffering with a proclamation that has a more vast horizon, that has more future.
And we know that these sects are not very stable in their consistency: At the moment, the proclamation of prosperity, of healings, of miracles, etc. might do good, but after a while one sees that life is difficult, that a human God, a God who suffers with us is more convincing, more true, and offers greater help for life. Also important is that we have the structure of the Catholic Church. We proclaim not a small group that after a certain time is isolated or lost, but we enter into this great universal network of catholicity, not only trans-temporal, but present above all as a great network of friendship that unites us and helps us also to overcome individualism to attain this unity in diversity, which is the true promise.
Father Lombardi: And now, we again give the word to a French voice: It is our colleague Philippe Visseyrias of France 2.
Visseyrias: Holiness, among the many evils that scourge Africa, there is also and in particular that of the spread of AIDS. The position of the Catholic Church on the way to fight against this is often regarded as unrealistic and ineffective. Will you address this topic during the trip? Very Holy Father, would it be possible for you to answer this question in French?
Benedict XVI: I would say the opposite. I think that the most efficient, most truly present player in the fight against Aids is the Catholic Church herself, with her movements and her various organizations. I think of the Sant’Egidio community that does so much, visibly and also behind the scenes, in the struggle against Aids, I think of the Camillians, and so much more besides, I think of all the Sisters who take care of the sick.
I would say that this problem of Aids cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help [by responsible behaviour], the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering.
And so these are the factors that help and that lead to real progress: our twofold effort to renew humanity inwardly, to give spiritual and human strength for proper conduct towards our bodies and those of others, and this capacity to suffer with those who are suffering, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so.
Father Lombardi: And now, a last question that comes in fact from Chile, because we are very international: we also have the correspondent of Chilean Catholic television with us. And we give the voice for the last question to Maria Burgos.
Burgos: Thank you, Father Lombardi. Holiness, what signs of hope does the Church see in the African continent? And, do you think you can address a message of hope to Africa?
Benedict XVI: Our faith is hope by definition: sacred Scripture says it. And because of this, one who has faith is convinced of also having hope. It seems to me, despite all the problems we well know, that there are great signs of hope.
New governments, a new willingness to collaborate, to fight against corruption — a great evil that must be overcome! — and also the opening of traditional religions to the Christian faith, because in the traditional religions all know God, the only God, but he seems a bit distant. They hope he will come closer. And in the proclamation of the God who became man they will recognize that God has really come closer.
Then, the Catholic Church has so much in common: lets say, the worship of ancestors finds its answer in the communion of saints, in Purgatory. The canonized are not the only saints, all our dead are saints. And so, realized in the Body of Christ is, in fact, also all that the worship of ancestors intuited. And so on. Thus there is a profound encounter that really gives hope.
And interreligious dialogue also grows — I have now spoken with more than half of the African bishops, and relations with Muslims, despite the problems that can be verified, are very promising, they have told me; dialogue grows in mutual respect and collaboration in the common ethical responsibilities.
And as regards the rest, this sense also grows of the catholicity that helps to overcome tribalism, one of the great problems, and the joy arises of being Christians. A problem of traditional religions is the fear of spirits. An African bishop told me: One is really converted to Christianity, has become fully Christian when one knows that Christ is really stronger. There is no longer fear. And even this is a phenomenon that is growing.
Hence, I would say, with so many elements and problems that are not lacking, spiritual, economic and human forces are growing that give us hope, and, in fact, I would like to highlight the elements of hope.
Father Lombardi: Many thanks, Holiness, for the time you have given us, for the things you have said. It is an excellent introduction to follow your trip with great enthusiasm. We will do all we can to extend your message to the whole continent and to all our readers and listeners.