Benedict XVI's Words En Route to Cyprus

«There Is a Great and Ancient Christianity in the Middle East»

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ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, JUNE 6, 2010 ( Here is a translation of the press conference Benedict XVI gave Friday en route to his three-day apostolic trip to Cyprus.

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Father Lombardi: Your Holiness, we would like to thank you for being with us, as on every trip, and for speaking with us to orient our attention in these days that will be quite intense. Unfortunately, the first question, of course, must be about the matter that struck us so sadly yesterday, the assassination of Bishop Padovese, and which was an occasion of deep sorrow for you. So, on behalf of all my colleagues, I wanted to ask you to say a word about how you took this news and how you are experiencing the trip to Cyprus in this atmosphere.

Benedict XVI: Naturally, I am deeply saddened by the death of Bishop Padovese, who contributed a great deal to the preparation of the Synod; he collaborated, and he would have been a precious part of this Synod. Let us recommend his soul to the goodness of the Lord. This shadow, however, has nothing to do with the themes themselves and the reality of the trip, becaue we must not attribute this deed to Turkey or Turks. It is something about which we have little information. It is certain that it is not a political or religious assassination; it is rather something personal. We still await all the explanations, but we do not wish now to mix up this tragic situation with dialogue with Islam and with all the issues of our trip. It is an unrelated matter that causes sadness but must not in any way cloud the dialogue in all senses that will be the theme of this trip.

Father Lombardi: Cyprus is a divided land. Your Holiness, you will not go to the northern part occupied by the Turks. Do you have a message for the inhabitants of that region? And how do you think that your visit will contribute to closing the distance between the Greek part and the Turkish part, to moving toward a solution of peaceful coexistence, in respect to religious freedom, to the spiritual and cultural patrimony of the different communities?

Benedict XVI: This trip to Cyprus is, in many senses, a continuation of last year’s trip to the Holy Land and this year’s trip to Malta. The trip to the Holy Land had three parts: Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. In all three it was a matter of a pastoral, religious trip; it was not a political or tourist trip. The fundamental theme was the peace of Christ, which must be universal peace in the world. So the theme was, on the one hand, the announcement of our faith, the witness to the faith, the pilgrimage to these places that witness to the life of Christ and all of sacred history; on the other hand, the common responsibility of all who believe in God the Creator of heaven and earth, in a God in whose image we are created.

Malta and Cyprus powerfully add the theme of St. Paul, great believer, evangelizer, and St. Barnabas too, who is a Cypriot and who had opened the door to the mission of St. Paul. So, witness to our faith in the one God, dialogue and peace are the themes. Peace in a very profound sense: it is not a political add-on to our religious activity, but peace is a word of the heart of our faith, it is at the center of the Pauline teaching; we think of the Letter to the Ephesians, where it says that Christ brought peace, that he destroyed the walls of enmity. This remains a permanent mandate; thus, I do not go with a political message, but with a religious message, that must prepare souls more to find openness for peace. These are not things that go from today to tomorrow, but it is very important not only to take the necessary political steps, but above to prepare souls to be capable of taking the necessary political steps, to create that interior openness for peace, that, in the end, comes from faith in God and from the conviction that we are all sons of God and brothers and sisters to each other.

Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness. This next question is very much in continuity with the previous one, however, I will ask it anyway, in such a way that if you would like to add something else, you can. You are going to the Middle East a few days after the Israeli attack on the flotilla off Gaza added tensions to the already difficult peace process. How do you think that the Holy See can contribute to overcoming this difficult moment for the Middle East?

Benedict XVI: I would say that we contribute above all in a religious way. We can also be of help with political and strategic advice, but the essential work of the Vatican is always that which is religious, that touches the heart. With all of these episodes that we experience, there is always the danger that one loses patience, that one says «Enough now,» and does not want to seek peace any longer. And here there comes to my mind, in this Year for Priests, a beautiful story about the Curé of Ars. To the people who said to him «It doesn’t make sense that I go to confession now and receive absolution because after tomorrow I am sure to fall into the same sins again,» the Curé of Ars answered: «It doesn’t matter. The Lord willingly forgets that after tomorrow you will commit the same sins. He pardons you now completely, he will be forbearing, and continue to help you, to come to you.» So, we must almost imitate God, his patience. After all the cases of violence, do not lose patience, do not lose courage, do not lose the longanimity to start again; create these dispositions of heart always to start again, in the certainty that we can make progress, that we can arrive at peace, that violence is not the solution, but the patience of goodness. It seems to me that creating this disposition is the principal work that the Vatican and its structures and the Pope can do.

Father Lombardi: Thank you! Let’s move to another topic, that of ecumenism. Your Holiness, dialogue with the Orthodox has taken many steps forward from the cultural, spiritual and life perspective. On the occasion of the recent concert given as a gift to you by the Patriarch of Moscow one felt a deep harmony between the Orthodox and Catholics in the face of the challenges posed to Christianity in Europe by secularization. But what is your view on the dialogue, also from the more properly theological perspective?

Benedict XVI: I would like first of all to stress this great progress that we have made in the common witness to Christian values in the secularized world. Let’s say that this is not just a moral, political coalition, but truly something that is deeply of faith, because the fundamental values by which we live in this secularized world are not moralisms, fundamental physiognomy of the Christian faith. When we are able together to witness to these values, to engage in dialogue, in discussion about this world, in the witness to live these values, we have already given a fundamental testimony to a very profound unity of faith. Naturally, there are many theological problems, but here too the elements of unity are strong. I would like to indicate three elements that bind us, that show us to be ever closer, make us ever closer.

First, Scripture. The Bible is not a book that fell out of the sky, that exists now and everyone picks up, but a book that grew in the people of God and lies in this common subject of the people of God and only here does it remain ever present and real, that is, the Bible cannot be isolated, rather, the Bible stands within the nexus of tradition and Church. This awareness is fundamental and belongs to the foundation of Orthodoxy and Catholicism and gives us a common road.

As a second element, let us say the tradition that interprets us, that opens the doors of Scripture to us, also has an institutional, sacred form, sacredly willed by the Lord, namely, the episcopacy; it has a personal form, that is, the college of bishops is together a witness and presence of this tradition.

And the third point: the so-called «regula fidei,» that is, the confession of faith elaborated in the ancient councils is the summary of what is in
Scripture and opens the «doors» of interpretation. Then there are other elements: the liturgy, the common love for Mary bind us deeply and more and more it becomes clear to us too that they are the foundation of the Christian life. We must be more aware of and delve into the details, but it seems to me that even if the different cultures, the different situations, created misunderstandings and difficulties, we grow in the consciousness of the essential and of the unity of the essential. I would like to add that it is not theological discussion that by itself creates unity; it is an important dimension, but the whole Christian life, getting to know each other, the experience of fraternity, learning, despite the experience of the past, this common fraternity, these are experiences that also demand great patience. But it seems to me that we are indeed learning patience and love, and with all the dimensions of theological dialogue we move forward, leaving it up to the Lord the time when he will grant us perfect unity.

Father Lombardi: And now one last question. One of the purposes of this trip is the consignment of the working paper of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. What are your principal expectations and hopes for this Synod, for the Christian communities and for the believers of other faiths in this region?

Benedict XVI: The first important point is that different bishops, heads of different Churches will be here, because we have so many Churches — various rites are dispersed in different countries, in different situations — and they often appear isolated, often they also have little information from the other; seeing them together, meeting together, and thus becoming aware of each other, of the problems, of the differences and the common situations, forming together a judgment about the situation, about the road to take. This concrete communion of dialogue and life is the first point. Second is also the visibility of these Churches, that it is seen, that is, by the world that there is a great and ancient Christianity in the Middle East, that often is not before our eyes, and that this visibility also help to be closer to them, to deepen our mutual knowledge, to learn from each other, to help each other, and in this way help also the Christians of the Middle East not to lose hope, to stay, even if the situations can be difficult. Thus — the third point — in the dialogue between them they also open to dialogue with the other Orthodox Christians, Armenians, etc., and develop a common awareness of Christian responsibility and also a common capacity for dialogue with the Muslim brothers, who are brothers, despite the differences; and it seems to me that there should likewise be encouragement, regardless of all the problems, to continue, with a common vision, the dialogue with them. All the efforts at a coexistence that is ever more fruitful and fraternal are very important. This is therefore a meeting within the Catholic Christianity of the Middle East in the different rites, but it is also a meeting of opening up, of renewed capacity for dialogue, of courage and hope for the future.

Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness, for this wide panorama and thanks especially such a positive and encouraging vision that you gave us of the purpose of this trip. So we truly wish you well so that the trip unfolds in this atmosphere and with these results, and let’s try to work together for good information to this end. Thank you, Your Holiness, and have a good trip!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

© Copyright 2010 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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