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Pope’s Q&A Session With Members of Roman Clergy (Part 2)

“The World Is Changing at an Ever Faster Pace”

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2006 ( Benedict XVI addressed members of the Roman clergy on March 2, in the Hall of Blessings.

After a greeting by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar of Rome, the Pope responded to questions and statements by 10 priests, and later responded to the interventions of five other priests.

Below is Part 2 of a synopsis of the 15 questions and a translation of the Holy Father’s responses. Part 1 of this synopsis, published by the Holy See, appears elsewhere in today’s dispatch.

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9. The feast of the holy patrons of my parish, the Holy Martyrs of Uganda, is celebrated on June 3. I praise God for this pastoral experience. May more people join in prayer in and for Africa.

Benedict XVI: Then, the Martyrs of Uganda. Thank you for your contribution. You remind us of the African continent, which is the great hope of the Church.

In recent months I have received the majority of the African bishops on their “ad limina” visits. I found it very edifying and comforting to see bishops of a high theological and cultural standard. They are zealous bishops, truly enlivened by the joy of faith. We know that this Church is in good hands, but that she still suffers because the nations are not yet formed.

In Europe it was precisely through Christianity that, in addition to the ethnic groups that existed, the great bodies of nations, the great languages were formed, and thus communion of cultures and places of peace, although later, these great areas of peace, in opposition to one another, created a new sort of war that had previously not existed.

However, in many parts of Africa we still have this situation where there are above all dominant ethnic groups. The colonial power then imposed boundaries within which nations now have to develop.

But there is still the difficulty of finding oneself in a great mass and of discovering, in addition to the ethnic groups, the unity of democratic government as well as the possibility of opposing forms of colonial abuse that continue. Africa still continues to be the object of abuse by the great powers, and many conflicts would not have taken this form if the interests of these great powers had not been behind them.

Thus, I have also seen how, in all this confusion, the Church with her Catholic unity is the great factor that unites in dispersion. In many situations, especially now, after the great war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Church has remained the one reality which functions and makes life continue, which provides the necessary assistance, guarantees coexistence and helps to find the possibility of creating one great solution.

In this sense, in these situations, the Church also carries out a service that replaces the political level, giving the possibility of living together and of rebuilding communion after destruction and of rebuilding, after the outburst of hatred, the spirit of reconciliation. Many people have told me that precisely in these situations, the sacrament of penance is of great importance as a force of reconciliation and must also be administered with this in view.

In a word, I wanted to say that Africa is a continent of great hope, of great faith, of moving ecclesial realities, of zealous priests and bishops. But it has always been a continent which, after the destruction we brought to it from Europe, needs our brotherly help. And this cannot but be born from faith that also creates universal love, over and above human divisions.

This is our great responsibility in this epoch. Europe has exported its ideologies, its interests, but has also exported, with the mission, the factor of healing.

Today, we are especially responsible for having a zealous faith that is communicated, that wants to help others, that is aware that giving faith does not mean introducing an alienating power but means giving the true gift that human beings need precisely in order to be creatures of love.

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10. I see with concern the situation in Rome, especially the plight of young people and adolescents “on the fringe of humanity,” many of whom do not go to church. I believe that priests, lay people and religious should be closer to our faithful, especially youth, and we should put our charisms at the service of catechesis.

Benedict XVI: A last point was touched on by the Carmelite parochial vicar of St. Teresa of Avila who has rightly revealed his worries to us.

A simple and superficial optimism which does not discern the great threats to youth, children and families today would certainly be erroneous. We must perceive with great realism these threats that come into being wherever God is absent.

We must be more and more aware of our responsibility so that God will be present and thus, the hope and the ability to walk confidently towards the future.

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11. Adolescents are victims of today’s “desert of love” and suffer appallingly from lack of love. They suffer from the fear of being lonely and misunderstood. Some priests also feel “inwardly dislocated.” How can we be experts in “agape,” in the fullness of love, in order to be able to make the total gift of ourselves to help them?

Benedict XVI: I will now continue, starting with the Pontifical Academy. We can tangibly feel today all that you said about the problem of adolescents, their loneliness and their being misunderstood by adults.

It is interesting that these young people who seek closeness in discothèques are actually suffering from great loneliness and, of course, also from misunderstanding.

This seems to me, in a certain sense, an expression of the fact that parents, as has been said, are largely absent from the formation of the family. And mothers too are obliged to work outside the home. Communion between them is very fragile.

Each family member lives in a world of his or her own: They are isolated in their thoughts and feelings, which are not united. The great problem of this time — in which each person, desiring to have life for himself, loses it because he is isolated and isolates the other from him — is to rediscover the deep communion which in the end can only stem from a foundation that is common to all souls, from the divine presence that unites all of us.

I think that the condition for this is to overcome loneliness and misunderstanding, because the latter also results from the fact that thought today is fragmented. Each one seeks his own way of thinking and living and there is no communication in a profound vision of life.

Young people feel exposed to new horizons which previous generations do not share; therefore, continuity in the vision of the world is absent, caught up as it is in an ever more rapid succession of new inventions.

In 10 years changes have taken place which previously never occurred in 100 years. In this way worlds are really separated. I am thinking of my youth and of the “ingenuousness,” if you will, in which we lived, in a society that was totally agricultural in comparison with contemporary society.

We see that the world is changing at an ever faster pace, so that also with these changes it is fragmented. Therefore, at a moment of renewal and change, the element of stability becomes even more important.

I remember when the conciliar constitution “Gaudium et Spes” was discussed. On the one hand, there was a recognition of the new, of newness, the “yes” of the Church to the new epoch with its innovations, its “no” to the romanticism of the past, a proper and necessary “no.”

However, the Fathers — proof of this is also in the text — also said that in spite of this, in spite of the necessary willingness to move forward and even leave behind other things that were dear to us, there is something that does not change, because it is the human being himself, his being as a creature.

Man is not completely historical. The absolutizing of historicism, in the sense that man is only and always a creature, the product of a certain period, is not true. His nature as a creature exists, and it is precisely this that gives us the possibility to live through change and to retain our identity.

This is not an instant response to what we should do, but it seems to me that the first step should be to obtain the diagnosis. Moreover, why should this loneliness exist in a society that appears to be a society of the masses? Why should there be this lack of understanding in a society where everyone is seeking to understand one another, where communication is everything and where the transparency of all things to all people is the supreme law?

The answer lies in the fact that we see the change in our own world and do not sufficiently live that element which binds us all together, the element of our nature as creatures which becomes accessible and becomes reality in a certain history: the history of Christ, who is not against our nature as creatures but restores all that the Creator desired, as the Lord says about marriage.

Christianity precisely emphasizes history and religion as a historical event, an event in history starting with Abraham. Then, as a historical faith, after opening the door to modernity with its sense of progress and by constantly moving ahead, Christianity is at the same time a faith based on the Creator who reveals himself and makes himself present in a history to which he gives continuity, hence, communicability between souls.

Here too, therefore, I think that a faith lived in depth which is fully open to today but also fully open to God, combines the two things: respect for otherness and newness and the continuity of our being, communicability between people and between times.

The other point was: How can we live life as a gift? This is a question that we ask now, especially in Lent. We want to renew the option for life, which is, as I have said, an option not to possess ourselves but to give ourselves.

It seems to me that we can only do so by means of an ongoing conversation with the Lord and a conversation with one another. Also with “correctio fraternal,” it is necessary to develop the gift of one’s self more and more in the face of an ever insufficient capacity to live.

But, it seems to me that we must also unite both things. On the one hand, we must accept our inadequacy with humility, accept this “I” that is never perfect but always reaches for the Lord in order to arrive at communion with the Lord and with all people. This humility in accepting our own limitations is also very important.

Only in this way, on the other hand, can we also grow, develop and pray to the Lord that he will help us not to tire along the way, also accepting humbly that we will never be perfect and accepting imperfections, especially in others. By accepting our own imperfections we can more easily accept those of others, allowing ourselves to be formed and reformed ever anew by the Lord.

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12. Holy Father, I bring you the greetings of my confreres who work in secular hospitals, of the sick and of health-care workers. We ask you for a word of encouragement to help everyone be salt, light and leaven in the health-care sector.

Benedict XVI: Now for hospitals. Thank you for the greeting from the hospitals. I did not know of the mind-set that sees a priest carrying out his ministry in a hospital because he did something wrong. … I always thought that service to the sick and the suffering was a primary service of the priest, because the Lord came above all to be with the sick. He came to share our suffering and to heal us.

On the occasion of the “ad limina” visits of the African bishops I always say that the two pillars of our work are education — that is, the formation of the human being which involves so many dimensions, such as education, learning, professionalism, the in-depth education of the person — and healing.

The fundamental, essential service of the Church is therefore that of healing. All this is done precisely in the African countries: The Church offers healing. She presents people who help the sick, help them to recover in body and soul.

It seems to me, therefore, that we should see the Lord himself as our model of the priesthood in order to heal, help, assist and accompany people on their way toward recovery. This is fundamental to the Church’s commitment; it is a fundamental form of love and consequently, a fundamental expression of faith. Thus, it is also the central point in the priesthood.

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13. Last September I had the joy of taking part in an ecumenical meeting hosted by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Athens. It was a deeply enriching dialogue. I believe the clergy should avoid a conflictual attitude and establish a frank and serene dialogue with everyone.

Benedict XVI: Then, I respond to the parochial vicar of Holy Patrons of Italy Parish who has spoken to us of the dialogue with the Orthodox and of ecumenical dialogue in general.

In today’s world situation, we see that dialogue at all levels is fundamental. It is even more important for Christians not to be closed in on themselves but open.

Precisely in relations with the Orthodox I see that personal relationships are fundamental. In doctrine, we are largely united on all the fundamental matters, but it is in doctrine that it seems very difficult to make any headway. But drawing close to one another in communion, in our common experience of the life of faith, is the way to recognize one another as children of God and disciples of Christ.

And this is my experience of at least 40 or almost 50 years. This is an experience of common discipleship, that we actually live in the same faith, in the same Apostolic Succession, with the same sacraments and therefore also with the great tradition of prayer; this diversity and multiplicity of religious cultures, of the culture of faith, is beautiful.

To have this experience is fundamental, and it perhaps seems to me that the convinced opposition to ecumenism of some, of a part of the monks of Mount Athos, stems also from the lack of a visible, tangible experience that the other also belongs to the same Christ, to the same communion with Christ in the Eucharist.

So this is very important: We must tolerate the separation that exists. St. Paul says that divisions are necessary for a certain time and that the Lord knows why: to test us, to train us, to develop us, to make us more humble. But at the same time, we are obliged to move toward unity, and moving toward unity is already a form of unity.

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14. Your encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” has deeply enlightened me, especially Part 2 on pastoral charity, since it invites us to practice charity directly, not to wait for the poor to come to us but to reach out to them and do something concrete for them. However, priests find it very difficult to pass on the faith to the younger generations. Sometimes we feel somewhat let down by a young parochial vicar, yet we went to the same seminary and are only a few years older. Are we expecting too much, or is there something lacking in our formation?

Benedict XVI: Let us now turn to the spiritual director of the seminary. The first problem was the difficulty of pastoral charity. We live it on the one hand, but on the other, I would also like to say: Courage. The Church gives many thanks to God, in Africa but also in Rome and in Europe!

She does so much and so many people are grateful to her, both in the area of the pastoral care of the sick and in the pastoral care of the poor and abandoned. Let us continue courageously to seek to find the best paths together.

The other point was focused on the fact that priestly formation even between close generations seems to be a little different for many people, and this complicates the common commitment to the transmission of faith. I noted this when I was archbishop of Munich.

When we entered the seminary, we all had a common Catholic spirituality that was more or less mature. Let us say that we had a spiritual foundation in common. Seminarians now come from very different spiritual experiences. I observed at my seminary that they live on different “islands” of spirituality that had difficulties communicating.

Let us thank the Lord especially because he has given so many new impulses to the Church and also so many new forms of spiritual life, of the discovery of the riches of the faith. It is necessary above all not to neglect the common Catholic spirituality which is expressed in the liturgy and in the great tradition of faith. This seems to me to be very important. This point is also important with regard to the Council.

We need not, as I said to the Roman Curia before Christmas, live the hermeneutic of discontinuity, but rather the hermeneutic of renewal, which is the spirituality of continuity, of going ahead in continuity. This seems to me to be very important also as regards the liturgy. Let me take a concrete example that came to me this very day with today’s brief meditation.

The “Statio” of today, the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, is St. George. Corresponding to this soldier-saint, there were once two readings on two holy soldiers.

The first spoke of King Hezekiah, who was ill and condemned to death and who prayed to the Lord, weeping: “Give me a little more life!” And the Lord was good and granted him another 17 years of life. Hence, a beautiful healing and a soldier who could once again conduct his activities.

The second is the Gospel that tells us of the official of Capernaum with his sick servant. We thus have two motives: that of the healing and that of the “militia” of Christ, of the great fight.

Now, in today’s liturgy, we have two totally different readings. We have the one from Deuteronomy: “Choose life,” and the Gospel: “Take up your cross and follow Christ,” which means it is not necessary to seek your own life but to give life, and this is one interpretation of what “choosing life” means.

I must say that I have always loved the liturgy. I was truly in love with the Church’s Lenten journey, with these “stational churches” and the readings linked to these churches: a geography of faith that becomes a spiritual geography of the pilgrimage with the Lord. And I was somewhat unhappy at the fact that they had taken from us this connection between the “station” and the readings.

Today, I see that these very readings are most beautiful and express the Lenten program: choosing life, that is, renewing the “yes” of baptism, which is precisely, a choice of life. In this regard there is an intimate continuity, and it seems to me that we must learn from this that it is only a fraction between discontinuity and continuity.

We must accept newness but also love continuity, and we must see the Council in this perspective of continuity. This will also help us in mediating between the generations in their way of communicating the faith.

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15. There is a great lack of hope in the world today and widespread secularism. Believing in the Church and with the Church means responding to it, seeking the only thing necessary [love], as you pointed out in the encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.” Contemplation is the only way to understand and love others, a simple way to being more Christian.

Benedict XVI: Lastly, the priest of the Vicariate of Rome ended with a word that I perfectly make my own so that with it we can conclude: becoming simpler. This seems to me to be a very beautiful program. Let us seek to put it into practice and thus we will be more open to the Lord and to people.

Thank you!

© Copyright 2006 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana [adapted]

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