Cardinal Cordes Presents Pope's Message for Lent

«Divine Justice … Is Essentially Different From Human Justice»

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2010 ( Here is a translation of the Italian-language address given today by Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, at the press conference that presented Benedict XVI’s message for Lent.

The Pope’s message has as its theme: «The Justice of God Has Been Manifested Through Faith in Jesus Christ.» Lent begins Feb. 17.

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In the autumn of last year some 250 bishops, priests and laymen gathered in Rome on the occasion of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. For more than three weeks they reflected, under the presidency of Pope Benedict XVI, on the topic «Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.» As president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, I also participated in the discussions and in the formulation of proposals that are now at the disposition of the Holy Father for the writing of the instructions on the post-synodal document.
Those who followed the news on the synod, or who in fact were among its members, know that the suffering and misery of the people of that continent was constantly recalled, to the point that it became in a way the main topic. Thus it was, for example, when Bishop Abegunrin of Osogbo in Nigeria said that «bad government due to corruption, tribalism and the lack of respect for the law impede justice and reconciliation. In Africa, from north to south, from east to west, our young people are […] the first victims of ethnic violence, of genocide, of banditry, of crime, of the traffic in human beings, of corruption and of the bad management of the State.» So many interventions pointed out similar difficulties. Extraordinary was the articulated special report on Sudan and, in particular, on the province of Darfur. A lay African, Rodolphe Adada, had three quarters of an hour to report in detail on the Calvary that the population is going through in that region. The reporter is the joint special representative of the General Secretariat of the United Nations and of the president of the Commission of the African Union in Darfur, Sudan.
He mentioned, among other things, that hostilities in Darfur began as early as 1989. In 2003, a group of rebels formed the Sudan Liberation Army, who hunted the inhabitants of the province in their villages, so that thousands upon thousands of persons had to escape to find refuge in camps. Some time ago I had the opportunity to visit in person one such camp and I saw the misery of the people who were there. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of persons have met with death during the conflicts. The United Nations, the African Union and the European Union have tirelessly promoted initiatives — even if at times probably with little conviction. To date one can certainly not speak of a cessation of combat. The top representative of the United Nations probably wished to reassure us and observed that in the meantime the conflict is at this point of little intensity.
Hence, not without reason does the appeal for justice resound in the world. Certainly the situation in the «dark continent» is particularly tragic. But, as the president, Dr. Pottering, already explained, the world of politics and the coexistence of peoples require everywhere this association between various social forces. This is the field of justice. Justice is needed in relations between groups and individuals. It is trampled on with violence, with the suppression of liberty and with the lack of respect for human dignity, with bad laws and with the violation of rights, with exploitation and with wages of starvation.
This year, the Holy Father Benedict XVI’s Lenten Message is about justice. Given the many ways it is violated, he begins by giving the definition of the term «justice,» which in Western culture was already current beginning in the third century: «Give each one his own — cuique suum.» Thus the Pope makes clear that, first of all, the need formulated in such a definition must be realized politically. Hence, there are social factors that are correct; and in this struggle — it must not be forgotten — the Church has without a doubt its merits. It would be a calumny to place us Christians among the well-to-do who are opposed to just redistribution and have also continually taken advantage of the defense of an unjust social order.
Denied would be the contribution of Christianity to the promotion of the well-being and the dignity of the person. Following the example of Jesus, already the first Christians made themselves responsible for mankind’s needs. Pope Callistus I (d. 222), who himself had been a slave, instituted a sort of bank of the poor which sheltered widows and orphans from usurers, impeding their being reduced to slavery. Basil of Cesarea (d. 379), better known as a great theologian, was the first to found hospitals and, thanks to his personal notoriety, became the advocate of so many of the oppressed in face of the powerful — as for example the Roman Emperor Valente (d. 378).

Or later, in that Medieval Age, which is said was so «dark,» let us think of the «Tregua Dei.» The men of the Church made safe the goods of the simple people in face of the nobility, inviting to mass protests that at the cry «Pax, pax, pax» promoted the enthusiastic desire for peaceful coexistence; the bishops, as confirmed in decrees of peace, brandished the pastors toward the heavens. Coming from France, the movement of the «Tregua Dei» spread to Spain, Italy and Germany. Then, in the modern era: when European States made other countries and continents their colonies, subjecting them not rarely to savage exploitation, Christian missionaries and religious not only took the faith to the inhabitants of those lands, but often also taught them a style and quality of life.

Certainly, in the meantime, our governments have also learned to do something against the misery in distant countries. But it is still undeniable that even in the 18th and 19th century one would seek in vain for «ministries for development.» In the past, Christians were among the first promoters of greater justice. In their commitment in favor of peace they have nothing to envy the effectiveness of State agencies, although not much is said about it. The Synod of Bishops for Africa mentioned earlier has given eloquent testimony of it.
However, whoever analyzes in a more precise way the contribution of the Church in favor of peaceful understanding between human beings, soon observes that the problem of a just coexistence cannot be resolved only with worldly interventions. It goes beyond political categories. In so far as Church we must push our thought beyond the horizon of society. Because of this, we would underestimate the depth of the Pontiff’s reflections, if we wish to consider as already resolved the question that interests us with the claim to «give each one his own.» Thus the Pope teaches that this classic definition does not consider sufficiently in what the granting of that «own» consists of. And it does not take much to recognize that «his own» cannot be prescribed by law and cannot be obtained with administrative measures.
The Pope observes that a full life depends on something that has the character of a gift. Surpassing the merely mundane horizon in claiming justice, he says unequivocally: «We can say that man lives from that love that only God can communicate to him having created him to his image and likeness.» Distributive justice, which is pursued and which every promoter of peace recognizes, is not yet able to give man all that of which he has need, his «own.»
Like the Pope we must also go beyond the common way of conceiving anthropology to attain a complete vision of man: thus the concept of justice reveals all its content. Benedict XVI guides himself by the Word of God, but, choosing this way, he in no way gets lost in idle speculation. He only confirms what we see in ourselves and in history, if we look with sufficient attention. Evil comes from within, from man’s heart as the Lord says in
the Gospel (cf. Mark 7:14 ff.). William Shakespeare and Georges Bernanos made us see it in their works, as for example in «Richard III» or «Under Satan’s Sun»; Stalin, for example in Ukraine — and Hitler — in Auschwitz — had no scruples in giving full vent to their own malice. In fact the experience of evil teaches us that it would be naive to entrusts ourselves only to human justice which intervenes on structures and their conduct from outside. Men’s hearts are in need of being healed. To be healed from within is not the result of one’s own effort; each one must become conscious of his own condition. But man cannot heal by his own effort, with physical and mental training. Pope Benedict says: «Hence, to enter into justice it is necessary to come out of that illusion of self-sufficiency, of that profound state of being shut-in, which is the very origin of injustice.»
As every year, the Lenten Message exhorts all men of our time to carry out good actions. It does not omit soliciting a better distribution of food, water and medicine. Then we see after the terrible earthquake in Haiti the great generosity of very many people. But the Pope’s message is above all a challenge to our willingness to entrust ourselves to God and to believe in Him. Hence he brings to the fore what is easily forgotten or silenced in general discussions on justice and peace. To such a self-isolation far from God — one could speak of an «autism of man caused by secularization» — Pope Benedict opposes his firm reference to God and his offer of love. In fact, he never misses the occasion to recall it in any of his important addresses; it was no accident that also last Sunday he put God at the center of the brief meditation before the Angelus. In this ever more self-sufficient world, evidently he regards as his most important service that of witnessing God and of urging men to entrust themselves to Him in faith.
In the last part of his Message, the Pope highlights the salvation of Christ as the foundation of human justice. To evidence this he refers to a central passage of the Letter of St. Paul to Christians of this, our city. Without having merited it, men are justified by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 3:24). Thus every attempt to obtain justice as one’s merit is carried ad absurdum. Particularly for us today this might seem only irritating, given that we constantly experience that only that which we have earned with our effort belongs to us and that nothing is given to us; given that we are ignored if we do not raise our voice to claim that which is ours. Ordinary life today does not refer us to God; his absence marks our daily experience. At other times we discover that the Gospel is not in tune with bourgeois good sense and because of this, it must always be proclaimed anew.
With the Pope’s words: divine justice, which came in the blood of Christ, is essentially different from human justice. «God paid for us in his Son the price of ransom, a truly exorbitant price. In face of the justice of the Cross man can rebel, because it makes evident that man is not a self-governing being, but has need of Another to be fully himself. To be converted to Christ, to believe in the Gospel, means at bottom this: to come out of the illusion of self-sufficiency to discover and accept one’s indigence — indigence of others and from God the need for his forgiveness and his friendship.»

[Translation by ZENIT]
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