Blantyre, Malawi, Sep 22, 2011 (CNA) - The president of Malawi and his allies, in the midst of corruption, economic crisis, and a narrowing of civil liberties, have begun political attacks on churches the president sees as enemies of his government.
A rift between President Bingu wa Mutharika and the Catholic Church increased in August when Bishop Joseph Mkasa Zuza of Mzuzu in northern Malawi, gave a public speech in front of the president. The bishop, who is the head of Malawi’s bishop’s conference, said several times that those who believe themselves to be perfect and to have no need of advice are perfect fools.
The bishop intended the speech to be a general criticism of the way the country is led, but the president took it as a personal affront. He now “never misses an opportunity to attack the churches, without any respect,” Montfort missionary Fr. Piergiorgio Gamba told Fides news agency.
“There is a campaign of defamation against the Bishop, with very heavy accusations towards him and his ministry,” said the missionary, who has been working in Malawi for over 30 years.
In response, the Christian churches are showing unity in support of the bishop. In the Catholic Church, Fr. Gamba said, religious men and women and the entire community share “the courageous choice of their bishops.”
But the rift with the bishop is only one aspect of the discontent that is percolating in Malawi.
Opponents of President Mutharika on Sept. 21 called for people to stay indoors and not go to work because police authorities have not granted permission for a national protest demonstration despite the approval of the country’s Supreme Court.
Police said they will not protect any demonstrators, which is why protest organizers are asking people to stay away, civil rights leader Piter Chinoko told Reuters.
Opponents accuse the president of mismanaging the economy and centralizing power at the expense of the country’s democratic gains.
Activists want him to rein in government spending and sell a $13 million presidential jet. They want a ban on the import of luxury cars for government officials, a review of fuel import policies, and mended ties with aid donors who have cut funding over worries about Mutharika’s governance.
The president’s forces killed 20 people when he crushed protests in July.
Fr. Gamba reported a climate of intimidation, especially in the case of journalist Ernest Mahwayo. He was arrested for taking photographs of the president’s multimillion dollar home he is building on his farm.
“It took two days for him to be released from the police cells of Limbe, among the worst ever in the country,” the missionary told Fides.
In August, local U.N. officials negotiated an agreement to postpone further rallies but rights groups pulled out of negotiations last week when the properties of two leading activists were attacked with petrol bombs.
Vatican City, Sep 22, 2011 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Delhi says it is time for Indian Catholics to further help re-evangelize Europe.
“We are very much concerned because it was missionaries from Europe that brought the good news to continents like Asia and Africa,” said Archbishop Vincent Concessao in an interview with CNA.
“There’s no doubt they made tremendous sacrifice to share their knowledge with us and today it looks like it’s our turn to visit them.”
Archbishop Concessao was in Rome for the Indian bishop’s 2011 “ad limina” visit to update the Pope and the Vatican on the health of the Church in India.
He said the issue of the re-Christianizing Europe emerged during discussions with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace about the amount of private Indian wealth deposited in Swiss bank accounts to avoid paying taxes in India. It is a practice Archbishop Concessao described as “immoral,” “unjust” and “depriving the country of what it could do for the poor in India.”
“We asked if the Church could talk to a Catholic country like Switzerland and see how they can help justice be done so that the money can go back and be utilized for the development of our country,” explained Archbishop Concessao.
“We were told they would try. But the big question is: How Catholic are these countries in their practice?”
The conclusion reached by the Indian bishops, said Archbishop Concessao, was that Europe is bankrupt “as regards to moral values which are so important to the Catholic Church.”
This means that “while the Holy Father keeps on harping on about the value of life, on morality, on dignity, and human rights,” this is not necessarily reflected “in terms of the behavior of the people in Europe,” he said.
Hence the increasing need, he said, for Indian Catholics to help re-evangelize the continent which helped to bring Christianity to India. Indeed, Archbishop Concessao’s predecessors as archbishop this century have included men from Wales and Ireland.
“There are already missionaries from India - priests and religious - working and offering pastoral services” in Europe, he explained.
“And it looks like now even the basic Catholic philosophy of life has to be re-communicated to the West in the present context.”
While Catholicism accounts for less than 2 percent of India’s population, that figure still constitutes over 17 million Catholics, a number that is more than three times the amount of Catholics in the United Kingdom.
Archbisop Concessao says their ad limina visit to Rome was a real reminder of the missionary nature of the universal Church.
“We’ve seen thousands of people coming from over the world here and the Holy Father is really the center of attraction,” he said.
“People listening to him, wanting to see him and it is itself a wonderful experience of the holy, Catholic, apostolic church of Christ.”
Peoria, Ill., Sep 22, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bonnie Engstrom remembers praying silently to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen over and over again after her baby son was born lifeless and without a pulse for 61 minutes.
“I held him for a moment, he was blue and limp,” she told CNA. “I just kind of sat there in shock.”
Little James Fulton was the third child that Bonnie and her husband planned to give birth to at home, and everything had been going perfectly in the early hours of Sept. 16, 2010.
“It had been a healthy pregnancy, it was a healthy labor, everything was good,” Bonnie recalled.
But what the couple and attending midwife and birth assistant did not know was that there was a knot in James' umbilical chord which tightened while he was descending the birth canal.
Her son, 9 lbs. 12 oz., was a stillborn.
Bonnie held her motionless baby for a few brief moments before he was quickly taken away for CPR while an ambulance was called.
“I have a memory of repeating Sheen's name, in my head, not out loud, but just kind of saying over and over again 'Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen' while they were still doing CPR,” she said.
Bonnie's husband also baptized the baby James Fulton—“the name we had agreed upon”—before he was rushed to the St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria. During the transport to the hospital, a friend who had attended the birth called others to pray, with some of them invoking Sheen's name as well.
“The intercession for my son with Archbishop Sheen began when I was still pregnant with him,” she explained. “We knew that we were going to name him after Fulton Sheen and so I was praying to him and asking him to watch out for my son to be his kind of patron.”
In the ambulance, paramedics gave the baby two doses of epinephrine to try to restart his heart, “and neither one of those worked,” Bonnie said.
But at the hospital, a full 61 minutes after he was born and while doctors were preparing to declare the time of death, James Fulton suddenly had a pulse.
Although the medical team was stunned, they refrained from being optimistic and simply told Bonnie's husband that the baby had a heartbeat, but that was all they could say.
“My husband interpreted that as 'he's alive, but just for now,'” Bonnie recalled.
Doctors expected James Fulton to die within the week, or at the very least, be on a ventilator or feeding tube—blind and strapped into a wheelchair—for the rest of his short life.
What happened in the following days, however, was nothing short of extraordinary.
“Two days after he was born, we had a Mass and a Holy Hour at the cathedral where Sheen was ordained, and we prayed the intercessory prayer asking for Sheen's prayers that James would be completely healed,” Bonnie said.
The Engstrom family was surprised to be surrounded by over a hundred people gathered together with them at Mass that day.
“People I didn't even know—friends of friends, or they saw it on Facebook and they came.”
Over the next few days, friends and strangers alike held Holy Hours at Newman centers and parishes across the U.S. Multiple Protestant churches also participated in prayer chains.
“There were people from all over the world who e-mailed me and left comments on my blog saying 'we're praying for your son and we are asking for Sheen's intercession,'” Bonnie said. “It was really powerful and humbling.”
Within a week of his birth, doctors were shocked to find that James Fulton was breathing on his own.
“Everyone was just amazed by that—that wasn't supposed to happen.”
And day by day, after all of his vital organs were seen to be functioning properly, it became more apparent that little James Fulton was going to be just fine.
“Definitely by the time we were discharged,” and when the baby was seven weeks old, “the doctors and nurses were already pretty impressed with how far he had come,” she said.
When the follow-up MRI came in three months later in December 2010, the medical team was extremely pleased by what they saw.
James Fulton, a normal, happy little boy, celebrated his first birthday on September 16, 2011.
The Engstrom's were recently sworn into a tribunal of inquiry where members of Bishop Sheen's cause for beatification and canonization will investigate the alleged healing.
At a Sept. 7 ceremony at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Peoria, the family was joined by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi—postulator for Archbishop Sheen’s cause—and members of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation board.
“Because my family believes that James was healed in part because of the intercession of Sheen, there is now an investigation into whether or not this is a real miracle,” Bonnie said. “We don't know what's going to happen, but they are investigating for the beatification.”
Archbishop Sheen died in 1979 and his cause for sainthood was officially opened in 2002. He is presently referred to as a “Servant of God.” The next major step toward being declared a saint would be his beatification by the Pope.
Investigators are also evaluating the case of a 72-year-old Illinois woman who recovered from major complications during lung surgery after her husband prayed for the late archbishop's intercession.
Berlin, Germany, Sep 22, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Germany at the beginning of a four-day state visit. At the official welcoming ceremony he told crowds that he had come back to his homeland “to meet people and to speak about God.”
“I was born in Germany. Such roots cannot be severed, nor should they be,” the Pope told reporters on his flight from Rome to Berlin’s Tegel Airport, where he was greeted by German President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He said aboard the plane that he was relaxed about those who are protesting against his visit because “that is normal in a free society.”
The Pope also fielded questions from the media on the issue of clerical abuse, suggesting that he understood why some victims may be tempted to say “this is not my church anymore.” But he explained that Church is an institution which catches both “good and bad fish.”
After being greeted at the airport, Pope Benedict was escorted to the German president’s residence at Berlin’s Bellevue Palace, where he was officially welcomed by President Wulff.
The Pope noted that in Germany, and elsewhere, there is a significant indifference to religion, with some people considering “the issue of truth as something of an obstacle” to society’s decision-making, and instead giving “priority to utilitarian considerations.”
Yet, he noted, “a binding basis for our coexistence is needed; otherwise people live in a purely individualistic way.” Religion, said the Pope, provides that and is “one of the foundations for a successful social life.”
“Freedom requires a primordial link to a higher instance. The fact that there are values which are not absolutely open to manipulation is the true guarantee of our freedom,” he said.
He suggested that such freedom “develops only in responsibility to a greater good” and “cannot be lived in the absence of relationships.” Pope Benedict explained that these necessities for freedom lead to the two key principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
Solidarity, he explained, is our responsibility towards others, since “what I do at the expense of others is not freedom but a culpable way of acting which is harmful to others and also to myself.”
The Pope then turned to the principle of subsidiarity, which he defined as the idea that communal concerns are best addressed by at the lowest possible institutional level. This requires society to “give sufficient space for smaller structures to develop and, at the same time, must support them so that one day they will stand on their own.”
Both these principles, he said, have helped modern Germany to “become what it is today thanks to the power of freedom shaped by responsibility before God and before one another.”
He concluded by saying that he hoped his visit can “make a small contribution” towards a “profound cultural renewal” and a “rediscovery of fundamental values” which can lead to a better future for all.
Pope Benedict then had private meetings with both President Wulff and Chancellor Merkel before taking a break in his day for lunch at the city’s Catholic Academy.
Later today the Pope will speak before the German parliament, before making his way to the Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, where he will celebrate Mass before an anticipated audience of 70,000.
Rome, Italy, Sep 22, 2011 (CNA) - Germany's apostolic nuncio recently stressed the need for German Catholics to hear Benedict XVI's teachings during his visit to the country.
Archbishop Jean Claude Perisset explained to Vatican Radio that Catholics in Germany have a lot of “questions, because in today’s free society, each person expresses his own viewpoint.”
“But we need to become more aware of the intrinsic treasure in the magisterium of the Church, which throughout the centuries has been enriched and has given life to our community. And today the Pope, together with the bishops, is trying to make it even more vibrant for society today.”
The Pope is visiting Germany Sept. 22 – 25.
“To be ready to listen, that to me is very important. Then we need to respond in such a way that our language can be understood by the people. And I think Pope Benedict is a master at this,” he continued.
Regarding the state of Germany society today, Archbishop Perisset said the Pope will find “a Germany that is similar to other Western societies in which the faith is not lived as much, not even within the Catholic Church herself.”
“Practicing Catholics, those who at least attend Sunday Mass, are barely above 15 percent, and yet people claim to be members of a church: one third Catholic, one third evangelical, and one third who claim no religious affiliation. But I see that those who are not in agreement with the Church are nonetheless interested in her message,” the nuncio continued.
Regarding the ecumenical meaning of the trip, the nuncio said, “(t)o me, the mere fact that the Pope is meeting with evangelical brethren at the place where Luther was a monk (in Erfurt)—and where he abandoned the teachings of the Church to promote his own personal vision—is quite relevant.”
“The Pope wishes to give this sign: not only of dialogue with the representatives of the Evangelical Church and of other groups attached to the reform, but also a moment, an act of ecumenical prayer.
This corresponds to what the Scripture says: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst,'” Archbishop Perisset said.
Commenting on the protests announced by some lawmakers against the Pope’s speech in the German Parliament, the nuncio said, “This attitude shows that they don’t know what a state visit means and what the Pope represents.”
He expressed hope that the protests would take place within the bounds of tolerance.
Brasilia, Brazil, Sep 22, 2011 (CNA) - The apostolic nuncio to Brazil expressed joy Sept. 18 as the World Youth Day cross arrived in Brazil. He explained that Pope Benedict XVI wants the Brazilian youth to welcome it and to carry it to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, the countries that make up the region of South America known as the Southern Cone.
“The Pope is entrusting this important mission to you, young people, to be the protagonists in the adventure that is carrying the cross and the icon of Our Lady to all of Brazil and the Southern Cone,” said Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri. “Therefore, embrace the desire of the cross and cultivate the joy of living and of achieving happiness.”
He noted that the cross represents Christ and that only the Lord “can give us a new spirit of fidelity in the mission because it is he who compels us to bear witness to the faith.”
For his part, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno, the president of the Brazilian bishops' conference, thanked Benedict XVI for choosing Brazil to host World Youth Day 2013. The cross and the icon, he said, have great meaning for young people.
“From now until 2013, we will be experiencing a favorable time of evangelization, a time to involve young people in the life of the Church, to convey the patrimony of the faith to the new generations,” the cardinal said.
“May the eternal youth of Mary encourage us to persevere in following Jesus Christ. You, young people, are the hope of Brazil, the sentinels of the morning,” he added.
The World Youth Day cross and icon will be taken to each diocese in Brazil through November 2012. From Dec. 1-31, 2012, it will be taken to the capital city of each country in the Southern Cone.
Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, urged President Obama and his administration to end their attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the religious freedom of those who support it.
Archbishop Dolan warned in his Sept. 20 letter that by continuing its current course of action, the administration would “precipitate a national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions.”
In an accompanying analysis, the bishops’ conference said it is concerned that if the administration continued its fight to redefine marriage, Catholic individuals and institutions would face lawsuits for supposed “sexual orientation discrimination” in their efforts to serve the common good in areas including employment, education and adoption services.
“Society will suffer when religious entities are compelled to remove themselves from the social service network due to their duty to maintain their institutional integrity and not compromise on basic moral principles,” it said.
The archbishop reaffirmed “the immeasurable personal dignity and equal worth of all individuals, including those with same-sex attraction” and rejected “all hatred and unjust treatment against any person.”
At the same time, he wrote, the Church’s “profound regard for marriage as the complementary and fruitful union of a man and a woman does not negate our concern for the well-being of all people but reinforces it.”
“While all persons merit our full respect, no other relationships provide for the common good what marriage between husband and wife provides,” Archbishop Dolan said. “The law should reflect this reality.”
“I urge yet again that your Administration end its campaign against DOMA, the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom,” he said.
With his letter, the archbishop sent the president a bishops’ conference analysis of recent federal threats to marriage. The analysis expressed alarm at several actions taken by the administration to attack traditional marriage in recent months.
Last spring, the Department of Justice announced that it would not defend the marriage act in court. Now, the analysis noted, the department has taken a “more aggressive position” against the law. The conference’s report referenced a brief filed by the Department of Justice in July arguing that the Defense of Marriage Act should be rejected as a form of “sexual orientation discrimination.”
In addition, the analysis expressed concern over reports of efforts to institute a sexual orientation “sensitivity training” program for all federal agencies. This program, it said, tells employees that support for the marriage act is to be treated as “an actionable form of ‘heterosexism,’ which is explained as being “an ‘ism’ like sexism or racism.”
“According to the government’s view, support for a definition of marriage that recognizes that sexual difference as a defining and valuable feature of marriage now constitutes a forbidden intent to harm a vulnerable class of people,” said the analysis.
The bishops’ conference further rejected the claim “that animus is at work” when people promote marriage as “the union of man and woman as husband and wife” and support the complementary differences between the sexes.
The Obama administration was also criticized for disregarding the will of the American people.
“In every state where citizens have been allowed to vote on state constitutional versions of DOMA, twenty-nine states in all, voters by sizable majorities have affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman,” it stated.
Additionally, 41 states now have “statutory or constitutional DOMAs on the books.”
The bishops also contended that the administration’s approval of same-sex adoptions contradicts President Obama’s own acknowledgment of the importance of both mothers and fathers in his Mother’s Day and Father’s Day proclamations this year.
In those proclamations, President Obama recognized “the extraordinary importance of mothers in our lives,” and observed that a “father’s absence is felt by children, families, and communities in countless ways, leaving a hole that can have lasting effects.”
Berlin, Germany, Sep 22, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI told the German parliament Sept. 22 that the country’s Nazi past highlights the dangers of power divorced from an objective morality rooted in the natural law.
“We have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the State became an instrument for destroying right,” he told the parliament, which is called the Bundestag.
The Pope described the Nazi regime as “a highly organized band of robbers,” which was “capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.”
The Pope was addressing the German parliament on the first day of his state visit. The speech was boycotted by some left-wing parliamentarians but, on the whole, the Pope found himself looking out upon a packed chamber.
Threatened protests in the surrounding streets also failed to materialize with police estimating “several thousand” demonstrators in the capital’s Potsdamer Platz, far fewer than organizers had predicted.
The Pope addressed the parliament as a “fellow-countryman who for all his life has been conscious of close links to his origins, and has followed the affairs of his native Germany with keen interest.”
The purpose of his 30-minute address, he said, was to provide “some thoughts on the foundations of a free state of law.”
The model of a good politician, he said, was King Solomon who upon accession to the throne asked not for success, wealth, long-life nor the destruction of his enemies but “for a listening heart so that he may govern God’s people, and discern between good and evil.”
This choice highlights that “politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace,” said the Pope.
These fundamental principles cannot simply be determined by a show of hands, he said, noting that “for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough.”
The Pope said that “unlike other great religions,” Christianity “has never proposed a revealed body of law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation.” Instead, Christianity points to “nature and reason” as the true sources of law and to the “harmony of objective and subjective reason,” presupposing both to be rooted in “the creative reason of God.”
The Pope said the assumptions of “natural law” have been uprooted in the past century by the philosophy of “positivism” which asserts that the only authentic knowledge is that which is based on sense, experience and positive verification.
“The idea of natural law is today viewed as a specifically Catholic doctrine, not worth bringing into the discussion in a non-Catholic environment, so that one feels almost ashamed even to mention the term,” observed the Pope.
While not entirely dismissing positivism, the Pope said that it was insufficient as a sole guide to ethics. He noted, “where positivist reason considers itself the only sufficient culture and banishes all other cultural realities to the status of subcultures, it diminishes man, indeed it threatens his humanity.”
Pope Benedict pictured life in a culture dominated by positivism as akin to living in “a concrete bunker with no windows,” one in which “we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world.”
Now, he said, was the time that “the windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.”
He suggested that rise of the green movement in Germany since the 1970s has been an example of a political movement which has moved thinking beyond the simply positivist ideas but added it was now time to develop “an ecology of man.”
“Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself,” said the Pope, suggesting that “the objective reason that manifests itself in nature” points toward “a creative reason, a Creator Spirit.”
It was this “conviction that there is a Creator God” that gave rise to the idea of inalienable human rights in the first place, he said.
“Our cultural memory is shaped by these rational insights. To ignore it or dismiss it as a thing of the past would be to dismember our culture totally and to rob it of its completeness.”
He concluded by saying that politicians should, like Solomon, as for a “listening heart” that would allow them to “discern between good and evil, and thus to establish true law, to serve justice and peace.”
Pope Benedict was met with a standing ovation after he completed his remarks.
Berlin, Germany, Sep 22, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict met with over a dozen representatives of Germany’s Jewish community in Berlin on Sept. 22. He urged the growth of mutual understanding and condemned the Nazis’ “reign of terror,” “racist myth” and rejection of God.
“The Church feels a great closeness to the Jewish people,” he said at the meeting, which was held in the Reichstag Building.
He encouraged Christians to become “increasingly aware of our own inner affinity with Judaism,” since for Christians, there “can be no rupture in salvation history. Salvation comes from the Jews.”
Jesus’ conflict with the Judaism of his time cannot be “superficially interpreted” as a breach with the Old Covenant, the Pope explained. The Sermon on the Mount does not abolish the Mosaic Law, but “reveals its hidden possibilities and allows more radical demands to emerge. It points us towards the deepest source of human action, the heart, where choices are made between what is pure and what is impure, where faith, hope and love blossom forth.”
Jewish-Christian dialogue should “strengthen our common hope in God in the midst of an increasingly secularized society,” he added.
“Without this hope, society loses its humanity.”
The Jewish delegation at the meeting was led by the President of the Jewish Community, Dr. Dieter Graumann. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the German Bishops’ Conference president, introduced the meeting.
Pope Benedict said that further growth is needed in “a loving relationship of mutual understanding between Israel and the Church.” But Catholic-Jewish exchanges in Germany have borne “promising fruits” and have forged “enduring relations of trust.”
He expressed his appreciation for the “deepening dialogue” of the Catholic Church with Judaism. He cited the Second Vatican Council declaration on relations with the Jews, “Nostrae Aetate,” as an “irrevocable commitment” to the path of “dialogue, fraternity and friendship.”
The Catholic Church in Germany is conscious of its “particular responsibility” on this issue.
The Holocaust was planned and organized from the Reichstag, he noted.
“The Nazi reign of terror was based on a racist myth, part of which was the rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ and of all who believe in him. The supposedly ‘almighty’ Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol, who wanted to take the place of the biblical God, the Creator and Father of all men,” Pope Benedict said.
“Refusal to heed this one God always makes people heedless of human dignity as well. What man is capable of when he rejects God, and what the face of a people can look like when it denies this God, the terrible images from the concentration camps at the end of the war showed.”
Since the war, Catholics and Jews have organized a “week of fraternity” as well as several discussion forums. The Pope noted the March 2006 “historic meeting” for Jewish-Christian dialogue, in which Cardinal Walter Kasper participated.
“That meeting has continued to bear rich fruit right up to the present time,” he said.
Pope Benedict is in Germany for a four-day state visit ending on Sept. 25.
Berlin, Germany, Sep 22, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI has urged German Catholics to love the Church and not view it as a merely human institution.
“Many people see only the outward form of the Church. This makes the Church appear as merely one of the many organizations within a democratic society,” said the Pope during his homily at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.
He seemed particularly keen to encourage those Catholics demoralized by the clerical abuse scandal.
“If to this is added the sad experience that the Church contains both good and bad fish, wheat and darnel, and if only these negative aspects are taken into account, then the great and deep mystery of the Church is no longer seen.”
Today’s celebration was Pope Benedict’s first public Mass of his four-day state visit to his homeland. Some 70,000 filled the stadium which was originally built for the 1936 Olympics. The Pope said his “heart is filled with great joy and confidence,” at the sight of such a large number of people.
Pope Benedict also gently, but strongly, addressed criticism of the Church by those Germans who call themselves Catholic and dissent from Church teaching.
“To abide in Christ means, as we saw earlier, to abide in the Church as well,” he reminded the crowd.
Pope Benedict drew much of his reflections on communion with the Church from today’s Gospel, in which Jesus Christ tells his apostles that “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
“This belonging to each other and to him is not some ideal, imaginary, symbolic relationship, but – I would almost want to say – a biological, life-transmitting state of belonging to Jesus Christ,” said the Pope.
He explained how Christ and his Church were one and the same. Hence, he said, “on the road to Damascus, Christ himself asked Saul, the persecutor of the Church: ‘Why do you persecute me?’”
With these words, said the Pope, “the Lord expresses the common destiny that arises from his Church’s inner communion of life with himself.” He said that Jesus “continues to live in his Church in this world,” quoting from the Second Vatican Council which described the Church as the “universal sacrament of salvation.”
The Pope cautioned that when Catholics start to see the Church in solely human terms – open to change according to popular fashion or only as the sum of its sinful members -- then “belonging to this vine, the ‘Church,’ is no longer a source of joy.”
“Dissatisfaction and discontent begin to spread, when people’s superficial and mistaken notions of ‘Church,’ their ‘dream Church,’ fail to materialize!”
He described the modern era as one of “restlessness and lack of commitment, when so many people lose their way and their grounding,” and urged people to “cry out like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘Lord, stay with us, for it is almost evening and darkness is all around us!’ then the risen Lord gives us a place of refuge, a place of light, hope and confidence, a place of rest and security.”
“Every one of us is faced with this choice,” concluded the Pope, urging people to choose the Church and Jesus Christ.
Among the dignitaries at today’s Mass was German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Upon arrival at the stadium, Pope Benedict traveled in the popemobile around the stadium race track stopping only to kiss several babies. Amid the Berlin drizzle, the crowd sang hymns and waved yellow scarves emblazoned with the motto of the visit - “Gott ist Zukunft” or “God is the future.”