VATICAN CITY, FEB. 3, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today upon receiving in audience the new ambassador from Austria to the Holy See, Alfons M. Kloss.
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Very dear Ambassador,
With pleasure I accept the letters through which the president of the Austria accredits you as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Holy See. At the same time I thank you for the cordial words with which you also expressed the closeness of the president and of the government to the Successor of Peter. I wish to send to the president, to the chancellor, and to the members of the government, as well as to all the citizens of Austria, my affectionate greetings and I wish to express the hope I have that relations between the Holy See and Austria will continue giving fruits in the future.
The culture, history and daily life of Austria — “land of cathedrals” (National Hymn) — are profoundly marked by the Catholic faith. I was able to verify this also during my pastoral visit to that country and during the pilgrimage to Mariazell four years ago. The faithful, whom I have been able to meet, represent the thousands of men and women of the whole country, who with their life of faith in their daily routine and their availability to others, show the most noble features of man and spread the love of Christ.
At the same time, Austria is a country in which the peaceful coexistence of several religions and cultures has a long tradition. “Strength resides in love,” said the old popular hymn already in the time of the monarchy. This is also true for the religious dimension which has its roots in the depth of man’s conscience and because of this belongs to the life of every individual and to the coexistence of the community. The spiritual homeland, as point of support, of which many persons are in need, who live a working situation of greater mobility and constant movement, should be able to exist publicly and in a climate of peaceful coexistence with the rest of the confessions of faith.
In many European countries, the relationship between the state and religion is facing a particular tension. On one hand, the political authorities take care not to grant public places to religions, understanding them as merely individual ideas of faith of the citizens. Sought, on the other hand, is the application of criteria of a secular public opinion to religious communities. It seems that they would like to adapt the Gospel to the culture and yet, they seek to impede, in an almost shameful way, that the culture be molded by the religious dimension.
Despite what has been said, account must be taken of the attitude of some states of Central and Eastern Europe that seek to make room for man’s fundamental questions, faith in God, and faith in salvation through God. The Holy See has been able to observe with satisfaction some activities of the Austrian government in this connection. Examples are the important position assumed in relation to the so-called “decision of the crucifix” (Kreuzurteil) of the European Court of the Rights of Man, and the proposal of the minister of Foreign Affairs “that the new European service for external action, not only observe the situation of religious liberty in the world, but that it also write a report on it regularly and present it to the minister of Foreign Affairs of the European Union” (Austria Press Agentur, Dec. 10, 2010).
Recognition of religious liberty allows the ecclesial community to develop its manifold activities, which benefit the whole of society. Reference is made to the different institutes of formation and charitable services run by the Church which you, Mr. Ambassador, have mentioned.
The effort of the Church for the needy makes evident the way in which she is the spokesman of underprivileged persons. This ecclesial effort, which receives widespread recognition in the society, cannot be reduced to mere welfare. Its most profound roots are in God, in the God who is love. Hence it is necessary to respect fully the action proper to the Church, without converting it into one of the many services of social aid. It is necessary to consider it in the totality of its religious dimension. Therefore, it is always necessary to combat the egoistic isolation of man. All the social forces have the urgent and constant task of guaranteeing the moral dimension of culture, the dimension of a culture that is worthy of man and of his life in community. That is why the Catholic Church will work with all her strength for the good of society.
Another important intention of the Holy See is a balanced policy destined to the family. The latter occupies a place in society that implies the foundations of human life. The social order finds an essential support in the spousal union of man and woman, which is also directed to procreation. Because of this, marriage and the family call for special protection on the part of the state. It is for all its members a school of humanity with positive effects for the individuals in addition to being so for society. In fact, the family is called to live and protect mutual love and truth, respect and justice, fidelity and collaboration, service and availability to others, in particular towards the weakest.
However, the family with many children is often harmed. The problems in this type of families, as for example a high potential of tensions and disputes, low standard of life, difficult access to formation, indebtedness and increase in divorces, make one think that they should be eliminated from society. Moreover, it is necessary to lament that the life of newborns does not receive sufficient protection, and in addition, they are often given a secondary right of existence in relation to the liberty of their parents’ decision.
The building of the common European home can come to a good end only if this continent is conscious of its own Christian roots and of the values of the Gospel, in addition to the Christian image of man, which are — also in the future — the leaven of European civilization. Faith lived in Christ and active love for one’s neighbor, reflecting the word and life of Christ, and the example of the saints, must weigh more in Western Christian culture. Your compatriots proclaimed saints recently, such as Franz Jagerstatter, Sister Restituta Kafka, Ladislaus Batthyany-Strattman and Karl of Austria, can offer us wider perspectives. These saints, through different paths of life, offered themselves with the same dedication to the service of God and of his message of love for one’s neighbor. Thus they leave us an example of guidance in the faith and of their witness of understanding among peoples.
Finally, Mr. Ambassador, I wish to assure you that in the development of the important mission that has been entrusted to you, you can count on my support and on that of my collaborators. I entrust you, your family and all the members of the embassy of Austria in the Holy See to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Magna Mater Austriae,” and from my heart I give you and all the beloved Austrian people the apostolic lessing.[Translation by ZENIT]