.- 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.”