This morning in Lisbon, Pope Benedict emphasized the importance of truth and tradition to culture while speaking to a large gathering of cultural leaders. He presented the Church as a “champion” of tradition and her “mission of truth” as a need for modern societies.
After having celebrated Mass privately at the nunciature earlier on Wednesday morning, Pope Benedict XVI met with representatives of Portuguese culture, led by 101-year old movie maker Manoel de Oliveira, in the auditorium of the Cultural Center of Belem in Lisbon.
Oliveira began the encounter by offering remarks that highlighted the anxieties of the Portuguese people in the midst of the “turbulence” of the contemporary world. After the Portuguese film maker's observations, the Holy Father related that “today’s culture is permeated by a ‘tension,’ which at times takes the form of ‘conflict’ between the present and tradition.
“The dynamic movement of society gives absolute value to the present, isolating it from the cultural legacy of the past and without attempting to trace a path for the future,” he said.
Pope Benedict stressed that today's emphasis on the “present” as the source of meaning in life clashes with Portugal’s strong cultural tradition, which, he noted, has been deeply marked for 1,000 years by Christianity and a sense of global responsibility.
In this context, he went on, “The Church appears as the champion of a healthy and lofty tradition, whose rich contribution she sets at the service of society.” But, he continued, while society respects and appreciates her service to the common good, it “distances itself from that ‘wisdom’ which is part of her legacy.”
The conflict between tradition and the present, observed the Pope, “finds expression in the crisis of truth, yet only truth can provide direction and trace the path of a fulfilled existence both for individuals and for a a people.”
The nation that ceases to know its own truth, he underlined, “ends up lost in the maze of time and history, deprived of clearly defined values and lacking great and clearly formulated goals.”
The Pope also said that there is still much to learn about the Church's place in society, because it helps people to understand that its proclamation of truth is a service that opens up "new horizons for the future, horizons of grandeur and dignity.”
In effect, he said, the Church has "a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation." This mission, based on fidelity to man and truth, is "something that the Church can never renounce," he underscored.
Reflecting on contemporary Portuguese society, the Pope said, “For a society made up mainly of Catholics, and whose culture has been profoundly marked by Christianity, the search for truth apart from Christ proves dramatic.”
Noting that Christians believe that Christ himself is the truth, the Holy Father explained that the work to spread the Gospel is ongoing, and the Church, "in her adherence to the eternal character of truth, is in the process of learning how to live with respect for other ‘truths’ and for the truth of others. Through this respect, open to dialogue, new doors can be opened to the transmission of truth."
Speaking to journalists on the papal plane on the way to Lisbon on Tuesday, the Holy Father commented on the need for a dialogue leading to an integration of faith and modern rationality in Europe. He said that "the great challenge of the current time" is for secularism and the culture of faith "to meet and thus discover their true identity."
This, he said, "is a mission for Europe and the (great) human need of our own history."
To the cultural leaders in Lisbon he underscored that “Ours is a time that requires the best of our efforts, prophetic courage, and renewed capacity to ‘point out new worlds to the world,’” quoting Portuguese national poet, Luigi di Camoes.
Concluding his remarks to the Portuguese cultural leaders, he said that the Church knows that “her most important mission in today’s culture is to keep alive the search for truth, and consequently for God; to bring people to look beyond penultimate realities and to seek those that are ultimate.”
He invited the cultural leaders of Portugal to deepen their knowledge of God “as he has revealed himself Jesus Christ for our complete fulfilment.
“Produce beautiful things,” he encouraged them, “but above all make your lives become places of beauty.”
The Pope's words, met with a standing ovation, came on the second morning of his four-day Apostolic Journey to Portugal. The high point of the trip will be his visit to the Marian shrine of Fatima, where he will arrive by helicopter on Wednesday afternoon. His meeting with Portuguese cultural leaders was followed by an audience with the nation's prime minister Jose Socrates Carvalho Pinto de Sousa.
To read the full speech Pope Benedict gave to cultural leaders, click here.