On Monday, Pope Benedict met with clergy of the diocese of Aosta, Italy, where he just finished his summer vacation today. The text of the meeting was published yesterday and shows that his discussions centered on the crisis of faith in the world today, the role of divorced Catholics in the Church and the challenge of vocations.
The "L’Osservatore Romano" published the complete text of the meeting, held at the church of Introd, in which the Pope said that, "The history of the Church has always been marked, in various different forms, by questions that have truly tormented us. What must be done? ... I would like to respond briefly, but I would also like to point out that the Pope is not an oracle, he is infallible only in very rare situations, as we know. Therefore I share these questions with you.”
“I too suffer,” said the pontiff. “But all of us together wish ... to transform problems through suffering, because suffering is the way to transformation, and without it nothing is transformed. This is also the meaning of the parable of the grain of wheat that falls to the earth."
Benedict also referred to the ongoing vocations crisis in the West, and pointed out that the western world has reached a point "in which there is no longer any evidence of the need for God, still less for Christ. ... Consequently, it becomes difficult to believe, and if it is difficult to believe it is even more difficult to offer one's life to the Lord, to be His servant.”
The Western world is in the process of self-destruction, “tired of its own culture,” and overcome by a stale rationalism that makes it difficult to appreciate the evidence of God's existence and love for mankind, said the Pope. The Christian faith is largely misunderstood as “a subjective, arbitrary choice” and as an “antique” with no practical value to modern man.
In this moment in history, particularly in Europe and Australia, “the great churches seem to be dying" and new religious sects are growing, putting traditional religions, particularly mainstream Protestant denominations, “in a very deep crisis,” the Pope said.
However, a new hope emerges in today’s youth. "We are seeing a new generation, after the great crisis of the culture war that began in 1968, when it really seemed that the Christian era had passed,” the Pope said.
Young people in Europe are capable of making commitments, and they should be challenged to religious as well as secular causes, he said.
Priests must live their vocation with joy and engage the community in faith and action to attract these young people. "If young people see priests as isolated, sad, and tired, they will think: If that is my future, I don't want it!" the Pope continued.
He acknowledged that priests enjoy less respect today than in the past, and that they are subject to moral as well as physical fatigue. Nevertheless, priests must have the courage to serve as "ministers to the future of the world," he said.
The Holy Father warned that there are still more challenges ahead for the priesthood, requiring patience and perseverance in the face of suffering.
He remarked on the rapid growth of the Church in Africa and in the number of seminarians due to a "springtime of the faith" on the continent. The Church in Europe should seek to imitate this enthusiasm.
However, he suggested, the high number of seminarians may be because some African men turn to the priesthood seeking prestige and social advancement. For that reason, he said, he has told African bishops that they should be ready to prune the ranks of seminarians, and be content with a somewhat lesser number of future priests.
"We must traverse this tunnel patiently, in the certainty that Christ is the answer and that in the end His light will reappear." the Pontiff said.