Holy Father's Comments en Route to Berlin

«We Are in Need of a Presence of God in Our Time»

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ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, SEPT. 22, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a draft translation of the question-and-answer session Benedict XVI conducted with the journalists who accompanied him today en route to Berlin. The Pope’s four-day trip to his native Germany marks his first official state visit to the nation.

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Q: Holiness, allow us at the beginning a very personal question. To what point does the Pope still feel himself German? What are the aspects of which you are still aware — perhaps increasingly less so — which your German origin influences?

Benedict XVI: Holderlin once said: «What influences most is one’s birth,» and this, of course, I also feel. I was born in Germany and one cannot and must not sever the root. I received my cultural formation in Germany, my language is German — and language is the way in which the spirit lives and acts — and all my cultural formation took place in that environment. When I do theology, I do so from the interior way I learned in German Universities and, unfortunately, I must admit that I continue to read more books in German than in other languages. For this reason, in my way of being, my being German is very strong. Belonging to its history, with its greatness and its weaknesses, cannot and must not be eliminated.

For a Christian, however, another element is added. With baptism, he is born again, he is born in a new people that is made up of all peoples, a people that includes all peoples and all cultures and to which he really belongs from this moment on, without this making him lose his natural origin. Therefore, when one takes on a great responsibility, as has happened to me, as I have the highest responsibility in this new people, evidently one is increasingly submerged in the community of the Catholic Church, a people made up of all peoples, which becomes ever more alive and profound, it forges the whole of one’s existence without giving up one’s past because of it. Hence, I would say that the origin remains, the cultural origin remains, as does also the particular love and the particular responsibility, but integrated and enlarged in a wider membership, in the «civitas Dei»[the city of God], as St. Augustine would say, in the people of all peoples in which we are all brothers and sisters.

Q: Holy Father, in the last years there has been an increase in those who have abandoned the Church, in part because of the abuses committed against minors by members of the clergy. What is your feeling about this phenomenon? What would you say to those who want to abandon the Church?

Benedict XVI: First of all, we must distinguish the specific reason for their feeling scandalized by these crimes, which have happened in recent times. I can understand that, in the light of this information, especially if they are persons who are close, one can say: «This is no longer my Church. For me the Church was a force of humanization and moralization. If the representatives of the Church do the opposite, I cannot live with this Church.» This is a specific situation.

Generally, the reasons are many in the context of the secularization of our society. In general, this abandonment is the last step in a long chain of estrangement from the Church. In this context, I think it is important to ask oneself: «Why am I in the Church? Am I in the Church as in a sports association, a cultural association, etc., in which I find an answer to my interests and if it’s no longer like this I leave? Or is being in the Church something more profound?»

I would say that it is important to recognize that to be in the Church does not mean to form part of an association, but to be in the net of the Lord, who catches good and bad fish from the waters of death to lead them to the land of life.

It might be that in this net I am with bad fish, and I’m sorry, but it’s true that I’m not here for this one or that one, but because it is the Lord’s net, which is something different from all human associations, a net that touches the foundation of my being. Speaking with these persons I think we must go to the bottom of the question: What is the Church? What is her difference? Why am I in the Church, even if there are terrible scandals?

Thus one can renew one’s awareness of the specific character of being Church, people of all peoples, which is the people of God, and thus learn also to endure scandals and to work against the scandals, forming part precisely of this great net of the Lord.

Q: It’s not the first time that groups of people express their opposition to your arrival in a country. Traditionally, Germany’s relationship with Rome was one of criticism, in part even within the Catholic environment itself. The controversial topics have been known for some time: the condom, the Eucharist, celibacy. Prior your trip, even parliamentarians have adopted positions of criticism. But before your trip to Great Britain the atmosphere also did not seem friendly and then, everything turned out well. With what feelings do you undertake this trip to your old homeland and address Germans?

Benedict XVI: First of all, I would say that it is normal in a free society and in a secularized time that there are positions against the Pope’s visit. It is right that they express to all their opposition: it forms part of our liberty and we must acknowledge that secularism and, specifically, opposition to Catholicism is strong in our societies. When this opposition is expressed in a civil manner, nothing can be said against it. Moreover, it’s also true that there is so much expectation and so much love for the Pope.

In Germany there are several dimensions of this opposition: the old opposition between the Germanic culture and the Romanic, the clashes of history. Moreover, we are in the country of the Reformation, which has accentuated these differences. But there is also a great consensus on the Catholic faith, an increasing conviction that in our time we are in need of a moral force. We are in need of a presence of God in our time.

Along with opposition, which I think is normal, there are many people who await me with joy, who expect a celebration of faith, being together, the joy of knowing God and of living together in the future, that God takes us by the hand and shows us the way. Because of this, I go with joy to my Germany and I feel happy to be taking the message of Christ to my land.

Q: A last question. Holy Father, you will visit Erfurt, the old convent of reformer Martin Luther. Evangelical Christians and Catholics in dialogue with them are preparing to commemorate the fifth centenary of the Reformation. With what message, with what thoughts are you preparing for this meeting? Should this trip be interpreted as a fraternal gesture to brothers and sisters separated from Rome?

Benedict XVI: When I accepted the invitation to make this trip, it was evident to me that the ecumenism with our Evangelical friends should be a strong and central point of this trip. We live in a time of secularism, as I already said, where Christians have the mission to make the message of God present together, the message of Christ, to make belief possible, to go forward with these great ideas, the truth. In this way, being together, Catholics and evangelicals, become a fundamental element for our time, although institutionally we are not perfectly united and, even though big problems remain, problems on the foundation of the faith in Christ, on the Trinitarian God and on man as image of God. We are united and we must show to the world and deepen this unity, which is essential in this historic moment.

For this reason, I am very grateful to our friends, brothers and sisters, Protestants, who have made possible a very significant sign: the meeting in the monastery where Luther began his theological journey, prayer in the church where he was ordained priest and talking together about our responsibility as Christians in this time. I am very happy to be able to manifest this fundamental unity, that we are brother
s and sisters, and that we work together for the good of humanity, proclaiming the joyful message of Christ, of the God who has a human face and who speaks with us.  

[Translation by ZENIT]
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