Benedict XVI prays for bushfire victims, points Australians to ‘vision of hope’


Upon receiving the Letters of Credence of the new ambassador of Australia to the Vatican, Pope Benedict spoke of his sadness for the bushfire victims and encouraged Australians to seek truth and beauty in order to unite society and discover hope.

Before diving into his address, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow upon hearing of the recent bush fires in the Australian region of Victoria that have already killed 181 people.  The Pontiff asked the new ambassador, Timothy Anthony Fischer, to send his condolences “to the grieving individuals and families.”

The Holy Father then pointed out how the new ambassador is Australia’s first residential ambassador to the Holy See, marking a “new stage” in the diplomatic relations between the two countries.  He explained to Fischer that the Church's interactions with “civil society” are anchored in her conviction that human progress depends upon the “recognition of the supernatural vocation of each person.” 

God’s plan for every person, the Pope said, includes the gifts of dignity and the ability to seek “truth and goodness.”  These gifts can serve as an antidote to the prevailing Western tendencies to use pragmatism and consequentialism to solve problems, he counseled.

The difficulty with these approaches, the Holy Father warned, is that they “engage only with the symptoms and effects of conflicts, social fragmentation, and moral ambiguity, rather than their roots.”

When the spiritual dimension of humanity “is brought to light,” he continued, “individuals’ hearts and minds are drawn to God and to the marvels of human life: being itself, truth, beauty, moral values, and other persons.”  It is this way that society can be united and a “vision of hope can be found.”

Moving on to recall last July’s World Youth Day celebration in Sydney, Australia’s capital, the Pope commented that every WYD “is a spiritual event: a time when young people, not all of whom have a close association with the Church, encounter God in an intense experience of prayer, learning, and listening.”  He then prayed that “this young generation of Christians in Australia and throughout the world will channel their enthusiasm for all that is true and good into forging friendships across divides and creating places of living faith in and for our world."

It is this sort of “cultural diversity” that “brings much richness to the social fabric of Australia today,” the Pope said, recalling the decades that the country was “tarnished by the injustices so painfully endured by the indigenous peoples,” and expressing his delight with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology offered last year to the aboriginal people.  “Now, renewed in the spirit of reconciliation, both government agencies and aboriginal elders can address with resolution and compassion the plethora of challenges that lie ahead."

The Holy Father also praised Australia’s support for the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, “numerous regional partnerships, and initiatives to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” 

The activity of the Church within the health care sector was a topic raised by the Pope as well.  While praising Australia’s “high-quality obstetrical care for women,” Benedict XVI expressed his concern at the availability of abortion. 

“How ironic it is, when some groups, through aid programs, promote abortion as a form of 'maternal' healthcare: taking a life, purportedly to improve the quality of life."

Ending his address, the Holy Father assured the new ambassador that his appointment “will further strengthen the bonds of friendship which already exist between Australia and the Holy See.”  He concluded with a blessing, “Upon you and your family together with your fellow citizens, I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.”