Archbishop Fisichella's Words on "Light of the World"

“Condensed Here Is His Thought, His Preoccupations and Sufferings”

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 23, 2010 ( Here is a translation of the statement made by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, at the press conference to present German journalist Peter Seewald’s book-interview with Benedict XVI titled “Light of the World,” which was released today in English by Ignatius Press.

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Licht der Welt. Light of the world. The Pope’s handwriting is unmistakable and to find it printed on the first page of the volume has a certain effect. He himself, with utmost probability, chose the title and this is significant. Assumed in an interview is that the one interviewed is entitled to the central role; however, in this case, it is not so. The title chosen does not allow one to pause on the person of the Pope, but goes beyond, to the one who still after 2,000 years illumines history, because he said he was the “light of the world.” Protagonist of these pages, hence, appears immediately the Church. The many questions that make up the conversation, do no more than evidence the nature of the Church, her presence in history, the service that the Pope is called to carry out and, not something secondary, the mission that still today he must continue in order to be faithful to his Lord.
“We really are in an age in which a new evangelization is needed; in which the one gospel has to be proclaimed both in its great, enduring rationality and in its power that transcends rationality, so that it can reenter our thinking and understanding in a new way. […] It is important to understand this and so to conceive the Church, not as an organization that is supposed to perform every possible function — the organization is part of the larger picture, but it has to remain limited — but as a living organism that comes from Christ himself” (pp. 136-137).

In the light of this reference, it is easy to perceive the objective which marks these years of the pontificate, which tends to show what is decisive for the man of today to be able to accept the presence of God in his life to be able to respond in a free way — this, in fact, entails the continuous stressing of rationality — to the qualifying question on the meaning of one’s existence. The course of action that this interview follows is vast, it seems that nothing escapes the curiosity of Seewald, who wants to enter the folds of the Pope’s personal life, in the great questions that mark the theology of the present, the different political ups and downs that have forever accompanied the relations between different countries and, finally, the questions that often occupy a great part of the public debate.

We are before a Pope who does not exempt himself from any question, who wishes to clarify everything with simple language, but not because of this less profoundly, and who accepts with benevolence the provocations that so many questions pose. However, to reduce the whole interview to a phrase extrapolated from the whole of the thought of Benedict XVI would be an offense to the Pope’s intelligence and a gratuitous instrumentalization of his words.

What emerges from the complex picture of these pages, instead, is the vision of a Church called to be light of the world, sign of unity of the whole human race — to use a famous expression of the Second Vatican Council — and instrument to understand the essentials of life. Even if it seems to our eyes a Church that gives scandal, which does not want to adapt herself to the behavior in vogue, which appears incomprehensible in her teachings and which, perhaps, lets one perceive possible internal conspiracies of men that darken her holiness. In any case, the teaching of the Master “light of the world,” city placed on the mountain to be seen by all, sign of contradiction which has the mission to maintain alive in the course of the centuries faith in the Risen Lord until his return.

“We are looking ahead to the coming of Christ. That consequently the One who has come is also, even more so, the One who is to come and that, from this perspective, we should live out our faith toward the future” (p. 63).
Licht der Welt, obviously, is not a volume written by Benedict XVI; yet condensed here is his thought, his preoccupations and sufferings of these years, his pastoral program and his expectations for the future. The impression one gets is that of an optimistic Pope on the life of the Church, despite the difficulties she has always had.

“[The Church] is growing and thriving, she is quite dynamic. The number of new priests worldwide has increased in recent years, also the number of seminarians” (p. 12).

It’s as if to say: the Church cannot be identified only in the fragment of a geographic area; she is a whole that founds, embraces and surpasses every part. A Church made up also of sinners; yet, without minimizing the evil, the Pope can rightly affirm that “It would lead to a collapse of entire sectors of social life if [the Church] were no longer there” (p. 31), because the good she does is before everyone’s eyes, despite the frequent desire to turn one’s gaze elsewhere.

Noted page after page is the patience of wishing to respond with clarity to every question that is posed. Benedict XVI opens the heart of his daily life, just as he expressed with the due “parresia” the problems that appear in the history of these years. If, on one hand, he seems to make one enter in his apartment, sharing with the reader the rhythms of his day, on the other he evokes images that describe well the state of mind of the past months.

 “Yes, it is a great crisis, we have to say that. It was upsetting for all of us. Suddenly so much filth. It was really almost like the crater of a volcano, out of which suddenly a tremendous cloud of filth came, darkening and soiling everything” (p. 23).

The simple tone of his answers is made forceful by the plasticity of the images that often appear, enabling one to understand fully the drama of some events. Yet, from the calm of the answers and the development of his argument, what emerges in a clear way is above all the spirituality that characterizes his life so much so as to make one fall silent.

“Even at the moment when it hit me, all I was able to say to the Lord was simply: ‘What are you doing with me? Now the responsibility is yours. You must lead me! I can’t do it. If you wanted me, then you must also help me!'” (p. 4).

Whoever reads this gives in. Either one accepts the vision of faith as a true surrender to God who takes one where he wishes, or one lets oneself follow the most fanciful interpretations that have often characterized clerical talk. However, the truth is in all those words. If one wishes to understand Benedict XVI, his life and his pontificate, it is necessary to return to this expression. Condensed here is the vocation to the priesthood as a call to follow; here one understands the why of a trajectory which cannot be modified in its vision of the world and of the action of the Church; here one gathers the prospect through which it is possible to enter into the depth of his thought and the interpretation of some of his actions.

There is a term in German that synthesizes all this: “Gelassenheit,” namely confident abandonment “usque ad cadaver.” This expresses the decisive choice of liberty as a radical emptying of self to let oneself be molded and led where the Lord wishes; in sum, the Pope identifies himself more than all the others as “a simple beggar before God” (p. 17). The Christocentric spirituality, which many times is recalled, nourished by a profound bond with the liturgy, enables one to understand the conduct of Benedict XVI. Moreover, he himself affirms it when, responding to the question on the power that a Pope possesses.

“Standing there as a glorious ruler is not part of being Pope, but rather giving witness to the One who was crucified and to the fact that he himself is ready also to exercise his office
in this way, in union with him” (p. 9-10).

From this point of view, it becomes almost paradoxical to read the subsequent expression which seems to contradict what he just affirmed whereas, instead, he places it in his coherent horizon of understanding.

“That Christianity gives joy and breadth is also a thread that runs through my whole life” (p. 11).

In sum, a Pope who continues to be optimistic; not in the first place by the objective dynamism of the Church made evident by so many forces of spirituality, but above all in the strength of love which molds everything and conquers everything.
It is an interview which in many ways becomes a provocation to carry out a serious examination of conscience within and outside the Church to attain a genuine conversion of the heart and mind. The conditions of life, of society, of ecology, of sexuality, of economy and finance, of the Church herself are all topics that require a particular effort to verify the cultural direction of today’s world and the prospects that open for the future. Benedict XVI does not let himself become fearful by the numbers of surveys, because the truth possesses well other criteria.

“Statistics do not suffice as a criterion for morality” (p. 146).

He is aware that we are before a “poisoning of thought, which in advance leads us into false perspectives” (p. 48), because of this he advocates undertaking the necessary path to truth, to be able to offer genuine progress to today’s world. These pages, nevertheless, allow one to perceive with clarity the thought of the Pope and some will have to change their mind for the rash descriptions they gave in the past of the Pope being an obscurantist man and enemy of modernity.

“It is important for us to try to live Christianity and to think as Christians in such a way that it incorporates what is good and right about modernity” (p. 56).


“So there are by nature many issues in which, so to speak, morality suits modernity. The modern world, after all, is not built solely out of the negative. If that were the case, it could not exist for long. It bears within itself great moral values, which also come precisely from Christianity, which through Christianity first emerged as values in the consciousness of mankind. Where they are supported — and they must be supported by the Pope — there is agreement in broad areas” (p. 20).

These claims make one perceive why the Pope often thinks thus on the topic of the new evangelization to reach all those who are in the condition of being “children” of modernity, having taken only some aspects of the phenomenon — not always the most positive — while forgetting the necessary search for truth and, above all, the exigency to turn their life to a unitary vision and not the opposite. This turns out to be one of his programmatic tasks which we will be called to address.

“We must summon fresh energy for tackling the problem of how to announce the gospel anew in such a way that this world can receive it, and we must muster all of our energies to do this. This is one of the points of the program that I have received as my task” (p. 130).
Benedict XVI often returns in these pages to the relationship between modernity and Christianity. A relationship that cannot and must not be lived in parallel, but combining in a correct way faith and reason, individual rights and social responsibility. In a word, “That God is the first thing necessary” (p. 61) to contradict a great part of the culture of passed decades which has focused on demonstrating as superfluous the “God hypothesis” (p. 134).
This is the conversation that Benedict XVI asks of Christians and of all those who wish to hear his voice.

“I think that our major task now, after a few fundamental questions are clarified, is first of all to bring to light God’s priority again. The important thing today is to see that God exists, that God matters to us, and that he answers us. And, conversely, that if he is omitted, everything else might be as clever as can be — yet man then loses his dignity and his authentic humanity and, thus, the essential thing breaks down. That is why, I think, as a new emphasis we have to give priority to the question about God” (p. 65).

This is the task that the Pope sets for his pontificate and, honestly, one cannot deny how arduous it seems.

“Now it is a matter of continuing this and grasping the drama of the time, holding fast in that drama to the Word of God as the decisive word — and at the same time giving Christianity that simplicity and depth without which it cannot be effective” (p. 66).

Familiarity, confidences, irony, in some moments sarcasm but, above all, simplicity and truth are the characteristic traits of the conversation chosen by Benedict XVI to make the greater public share in his thought, in his way of being and his way of conceiving the mission that has been entrusted to him. An enterprise that is not easy in the age of communication that often tends to stress only some fragments and leaves globalism in the shade. A volume to be read or to be meditated to understand once again in what way the Church can be in the world herald of beautiful news that brings joy and serenity.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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