Benedict XVI's Q-and-A En Route to Spain

3 Trips to Nation «Is a Sign of Love»

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ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, NOV. 7, 2010 ( Here is a translation of ZENIT’s unofficial transcription of the press conference Benedict XVI participated in with journalists aboard his flight on Saturday to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, posed the questions on behalf of the journalists.

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Father Lombardi: Your Holiness, in the message for the recent congress on shrines that took place, in fact, at Santiago de Compostela, you said that you are living your pontificate with the sentiments of a pilgrim. On your coat of arms there is also the scallop shell of the pilgrim. Would you like to tell us something about your perspective on this pilgrimage, in your personal life too and in your spirituality, and about the thoughts you have as you travel as a pilgrim to Santiago?

Benedict XVI: Hello! I can say that being on a journey is already inscribed in my biography. But this is perhaps something external; nevertheless, it makes me think of the instability of this life, of being on a journey. Of pilgrimages one could say: God is everywhere, there is no need to go to another place, but it is also true that faith, according to its essence, is being a pilgrim.

The Letter to the Hebrews shows [this] in the figure of Abraham, who leaves his land and remains a pilgrim toward the future all of his life, and this Abrahamic movement remains in the act of faith, it is being a pilgrim above all interiorly, but it must also express itself exteriorly. Sometimes, leaving behind the everyday, the world of the useful, of practical goals, leaving it behind only to be truly on the path to transcendence, transcending oneself and the everyday and thus also finding a new freedom, a time of interior rethinking, of identifying oneself, to see the other, God, and in this way it is also always being on a pilgrimage: not only a leaving behind of self but also a traveling together. The pilgrimage reunites, we are going together to the other and thus we both rediscover each other.

Let me just say that the trips taken to Santiago de Compostela are an element in the spiritual formation of the European continent. Making a pilgrimage here constitutes, has constituted the common European identity, and today too this movement is being reborn, these dreams of being in spiritual and physical movement, of this person or that finding himself and thus to find silence, freedom, renewal, and to find God.

Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness. Now let’s turn our gaze to Barcelona. What meaning can the consecration of a church such as the Sagrada Familia [Holy Family] at the beginning of the 21st century? And is there some specific aspect of the vision of [Antoni] Gaudí that has particularly struck you?

Benedict XVI: In reality, this cathedral is also a sign precisely for our time. There are above all 3 elements that I find in Gaudí’s vision. This synthesis between continuity and the new, tradition and creativity. Gaudí had this courage to insert himself in the great tradition of the cathedrals, to dare — in his century, with a totally new vision — once again the reality of the cathedral, the place of meeting between God and man in great solemnity, and this courage to be in the tradition but with a new creativity that renews the tradition and thus show the unity and progress of history; it is a beautiful thing.

Secondly, Gaudí desired this trinomial: the book of nature, the book of Scripture, the book of the liturgy. And precisely today this synthesis is of great importance. In the liturgy the Scripture becomes present, becomes reality today, it is no longer a bit of writing from 2,000 years ago but is celebrated, realized. And in the celebration of Scripture nature speaks, it meets creation and finds its true response, because, as St. Paul says, creation suffers – and instead of being destroyed, despised – awaits the children of God, that is, those who see it in the light of God. And thus this synthesis between the meaning of creation, Scripture and adoration is indeed a very important message for today.

And finally, the third point, this cathedral was born from a devotion typical of the 19th century: St. Joseph, the Holy Family of Nazareth, the mystery of Nazareth, but precisely this devotion of yesterday, one could say, is of very great relevance because of the problem of the family, of the renewal of the family as the basic cell of society – it is today’s big issue and tells us where we can go both in building society and in the unity between faith and life, between religion and society. The family is the fundamental theme that is expressed here, saying that God himself became the child of a family and calls us to build and live family.

Father Lombardi: And continuing along this line, Gaudí and the Sagrada Familia represent, as you said, the binomial of faith and art. How can faith rediscover its place today in the world of art and culture? Is this one of the important themes of your pontificate?

Benedict XVI: Yes. You know that I very much insist on the relationship between faith and reason, that faith, the Christian faith, has its identity only in opening up to reason, and that reason becomes itself if it transcends itself toward faith.

But the relationship between faith and art is in the same way important, because truth — the goal and life of reason — is expressed in beauty and becomes itself in beauty, it finds itself as beauty. And so where there is truth beauty must be born, where man realizes himself in the way that is proper and good, he expresses himself in beauty. The relationship between truth and beauty cannot be broken and this is why we need beauty.

In the Church at the beginning, even in the very modest and impoverished time of the persecutions, art, painting, the expressing of  God’s salvation in images of the world, song, and then also in architecture, all of this is constitutive for the Church and always remains constitutive. Thus the Church was mother of the arts for centuries and centuries, the great treasury of art – music, architecture, painting – was born in the Church from faith.

Today there is a certain dissent, but this harms both art and faith: art that loses its root in transcendence, that no longer moves toward God, would be an art that is incomplete (“dimezzata”), would lose its vital root; and a faith whose art is only from the past, would no longer be a faith that is in the present. Thus, the dialogue or meeting, I would say, between art and faith is inscribed in the deepest essence of the faith; we must do all we can even today for faith to express itself in authentic art, like Gaudí in continuity and newness, and for art so that it does not lose contact with faith.

Father Lombardi: The new dicastery for the new evangelization is being launched in these months. And many have asked whether, in fact, Spain, with the developments of secularization and the rapid diminishment of religious practice, is a country about which you thought of as being an objective for the new dicastery, or whether it is not really the principal objective…

Benedict XVI: With this dicastery I thought per se of the whole world because the newness of thought, the difficulty of thinking in the terms of Scripture, of theology, is universal, but naturally there is a center and this is the Western world with its secularism, its laicism, and the continuity of faith that must try to renew itself to be faith today and to respond to the challenge of atheism.

In the West all the major countries have their own way of manifesting this problem: we traveled, for example, to France, to the Czech Republic, to the United Kingdom, where this same problem is present everywhere in way that is specific to this nation, to this history, and this is also true in a very real way for Spain.

Spain has always been, on the one hand, a foundational country for the faith. We think of the rebir
th of Catholicism in the modern epoch that occurred above all thanks to Spain [with] such figures as St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John [of the Cross]; they are figures who finally renews Catholicism and formed the physiognomy of modern Catholicism.

But it is equally true that in Spain a laicism was born, an anti-clericalism, a strong and aggressive secularism, as we saw precisely in the 1930s, and this dispute, more, this conflict between faith and modernity, both very lively, occurs today too in Spain: thus for the future of faith and the engagement — not the conflict! — but the engagement between faith and laicism, has a central point even precisely in Spanish culture. In this sense I thought precisely of all the great countries of the West but above all also of Spain.

Father Lombardi: With the trip to Madrid next year for World Youth Day, you will have made three trips to Spain, something that has not happened for any other country. Why this privilege? Is it a sign of love or of special worry?

Benedict XVI: Naturally it is a sign of love. You could say that it is by chance that I will have gone to Spain three times. The first was the great international meeting of families in Valencia: How can the Pope be absent if the families of the world meet? Next year World Youth Day, the meeting of the youth of the world in Madrid, and the Pope cannot be absent on this occasion. And finally we have the holy year of St. James, we have the consecration after more than 100 years of work of the cathedral of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, how can the Pope not come? So, the occasions themselves are challenges, almost a necessity to go, but just the fact that precisely in Spain so many events are focused, really shows that it is country full of dynamism, full of the power of faith, and faith responds to challenges that are equally present in Spain: this is why we say that chance brought me here, but this chance demonstrates a deeper reality, the power of faith and the power of challenge for faith.

Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness. And now if you would like to say something further to conclude this meeting of ours, is there some special message that you hope to give to Spain to the world today on this trip?

Benedict XVI: I would say that this trip has 2 themes. It has the theme of pilgrimage, of being on the journey, and it has the theme of beauty, of the expression of truth in beauty, of the continuity between tradition and renewal. I think that these 2 themes of the trip are also a message: be on the journey, do not lose the journey of faith, seek the beauty of faith, the newness and tradition of the faith that knows how to express itself and knows how to engage with modern beauty, with the world of today. Thank you.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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