After making his first pilgrimage to Mariazell and celebrating the Virgin Mary’s birth with Mass, Pope Benedict XVI traveled to the Hofburg Palace, where he met with the President of Austria, Heinz Fischer. The Pope told the diplomats assembled that, "Europe will grow more sure of itself if it accepts a responsibility in the world corresponding to its singular intellectual tradition, its extraordinary resources and its great economic power.”
The pontiff’s address was given to the rectors of Austria’s universities, the diplomatic corps and other important figures in the world of culture who were gathered in the palace.
"In recent years and decades," the Pope said, "Austria has registered advances which were inconceivable even two generations ago. Your country has not only experienced significant economic progress, but has also developed a model of social coexistence synonymous with the term 'social solidarity.' Austrians have every reason to be grateful for this, and they have demonstrated it not only by opening their hearts to the poor and the needy in their native land, but also by demonstrating generous solidarity in the event of catastrophes and disasters worldwide."
The Holy Father explained how the progress that Austria has achieved by overcoming the horrors of the World Wars can serve Europe’s quest for unity. "After the horrors of war and the traumatic experiences of totalitarianism and dictatorship, Europe is moving towards a unity capable of ensuring a lasting order of peace and just development…. Austria too, as a bridge-country situated at the crossroads of West and East, has contributed much to this unification."
Europe, Do not deny your Christian roots
The Pope highlighted how "Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots. ... Christianity has profoundly shaped this continent: something clearly evident in every country, and particularly in Austria, not least from the number of churches and important monasteries. ... Mariazell, Austria's great national shrine, is also a meeting-place for the different peoples of Europe. It is one of those places where men and women have drawn, and continue to draw, 'strength from on high' for an upright life."
"Nowadays we hear much of the 'European model of life'," said the Pope before going on to indicate how such a model now "faces a great challenge. The oft-cited process of globalization," he added, "cannot be halted, yet it is an urgent task and a great responsibility of politics to regulate and limit globalization, so that it will not occur at the expense of the poorer nations and of the poor in wealthier nations, and prove detrimental to future generations."
"Europe has also experienced and suffered from terribly misguided courses of action. These have included: ideological restrictions imposed on philosophy, science and also faith, the abuse of religion and reason for imperialistic purposes, the degradation of man resulting from theoretical and practical materialism, and finally the degeneration of tolerance into an indifference with no reference to permanent values. But Europe has also been marked by a capacity for self-criticism which gives it a distinctive place within the vast panorama of the world's cultures."
Build a Culture of Life
The Pope then turned his attention to "the fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, [which] is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right."
In this context, the Holy Father made an appeal to politicians "not to allow children to be considered as a form of illness, ... to do everything possible to make European countries once again open to welcoming children," and "to favor conditions enabling young couples to raise children. Yet," he added, "all this will be pointless, unless we can succeed in creating once again in our countries a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not seen as a burden, but rather as a gift for all."
He went on: "Another great concern of mine is the debate on what has been termed 'actively assisted death.' ... The proper response to end-of-life suffering is loving care and accompaniment on the journey towards death, especially with the help of palliative care."
Europe: Become a Christian leader in the world
"Europe will grow more sure of itself if it accepts a responsibility in the world corresponding to its singular intellectual tradition, its extraordinary resources and its great economic power. The European Union should therefore assume a role of leadership in the fight against global poverty and in efforts to promote peace."
The countries of Europe and the European Union "need to make their political importance felt, for example, with regard to the urgent challenges presented in Africa, given the immense tragedies afflicting that continent, such as the scourge of AIDS, the situation in Darfur, the unjust exploitation of natural resources and the disturbing traffic in arms. Nor can the political and diplomatic efforts of Europe and its countries neglect the continuing serious situation in the Middle East, where everyone's contribution is needed to promote the rejection of violence, reciprocal dialogue and a truly peaceful coexistence."
The Pope concluded his address by emphasizing the fact that that "much of what Austria is and possesses, it owes to the Christian faith and its beneficial effects on individual men and women. ... Consequently it should be everyone's concern to ensure that the day will never come when only its stones speak of Christianity! An Austria without a vibrant Christian faith would no longer be Austria."
"The Child Jesus naturally reminds us also of all the children in the world. ... Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished - when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where God is, there is the future."