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Interview With Benedict XVI (Part 1)

"The Quest for 'Something Bigger' Wells Up Again" in the West

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 18, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of an interview Benedict XVI gave to a panel of four German journalists Aug. 5 in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.

The 40-minute interview was broadcast last Sunday on German public television channels ARD and ZDF, on Germany's state-funded worldwide TV service Deutsche Welle, and on Vatican Radio.

The Pope will travel to his native Bavaria on Sept. 9-14.

* * *

Q: Holy Father, your next trip will be to Bavaria. During preparations for the trip your collaborators said you are nostalgic for your homeland. What are the issues you'll be speaking about during the visit and is the concept of "homeland" one of the values you intend touching on, in particular?

Benedict XVI: Of course. The purpose of the visit is precisely because I want to see again the places where I grew up, the people who touched and shaped my life. I want to thank these people.

Naturally I also want to express a message that goes beyond my country, just as my ministry calls me to do. I simply let the liturgical recurrences suggest the themes to me. The basic theme is that we have to rediscover God, not just any God, but the God that has a human face, because when we see Jesus Christ we see God.

Starting from this point we must find the way to meet each other in the family, among generations, and then among cultures and peoples as well. We must find the way to reconciliation and to peaceful coexistence in this world, the ways that lead to the future.

We won't find these ways leading to the future if we don't receive light from above. So I didn't choose very specific themes, but rather, it is the liturgy that leads me to express the basic message of faith which naturally finds its place in everyday reality where we want to search, above all, for cooperation among peoples and possible ways that can lead us to reconciliation and peace.

Q: As Pope you are responsible for the Church throughout the world. But, clearly, your visit focuses attention on the situation of Catholics in Germany as well. All observers say there's a positive atmosphere, partly thanks to your election as Pope. But, obviously, the old problems are still around. Just to quote a few examples: fewer churchgoers, fewer baptisms, and especially less Church influence on the life of society. How do you see the present situation of the Catholic Church in Germany?

Benedict XVI: I'd say, first of all, that Germany is part of the West, obviously with its own characteristics, and that in the Western world today we are experiencing a wave of new and drastic enlightenment or secularization, whatever you like to call it.

It's become more difficult to believe because the world in which we find ourselves is completely made up of ourselves, and God, so to speak, doesn't appear directly anymore. We don't drink from the source anymore, but from the vessel which is offered to us already full, and so on.

Humanity has rebuilt the world by itself and finding God inside this world has become more difficult. This is not specific to Germany: It's something that's valid throughout the world, especially in the West.

Then again, today the West is being strongly influenced by other cultures in which the original religious element is very powerful. These cultures are horrified when they experience the West's coldness toward God. This "presence of the sacred" in other cultures, even if often veiled, touches the Western world again, it touches us at the crossroads of so many cultures. The quest for "something bigger" wells up again from the depths of Western people and in Germany.

We see how in young people there's the search for something "more," we see how the religious phenomenon is returning, as they say. Even if it's a search that's rather indefinite.

But with all this the Church is present once more, and faith is offered as the answer. I think that this visit, like the visit to Cologne, is an opportunity because we can see that believing is beautiful, that the joy of a huge universal community possesses a transcendental strength, that behind this belief lies something important and that together with the new searching movements there are also new outlets for the faith that lead us from one to the other and that are also positive for society as a whole.

Q: Holy Father, you were in Cologne with the young people exactly a year ago. You experienced how amazingly willing youth are to welcome others, and you personally were very warmly welcomed. Will you be bringing a special message for young people on this next trip?

Benedict XVI: First of all, I'd say that I am very happy there are young people who want to be together, who want to be together in faith and who want to do something good.

The tendency to do good is very strong in young people -- just think of the many kinds of volunteer work they do. The commitment of offering your own personal contribution to help the needy of this world is a great thing.

One idea might be to encourage them in this sphere: Go ahead! Look for opportunities to do good! The world needs this desire to do good, it needs this commitment! Then another message might be this: Have the courage to make definitive decisions! Young people are very generous but when they face the risk of a lifelong commitment, be it marriage or a priestly vocation, they are afraid.

The world is moving dramatically: Nowadays I can continually do whatever I want with my life with all its unpredictable future events.

By making a definitive decision am I myself not tying up my personal freedom and depriving myself of freedom of movement? Reawaken the courage to make definitive decisions: They are really the only ones that allow us to grow, to move ahead and to reach something great in life. They are the only decisions that do not destroy our freedom but offer to point us in the right direction. Risk making this leap, so to speak, toward the definitive and so embrace life fully: This is something I'd be happy to communicate to them.

Q: Holy Father, a question about the situation regarding foreign politics. Hopes for peace in the Middle East have been dwindling over the past weeks: What do you see as the Holy See's role in relationship to the present situation? What positive influences can you have on the situation, on developments in the Middle East?

Benedict XVI: Of course we have no political influence and we don't want any political power. But we do want to appeal to all Christians, and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars. Everyone needs peace.

There's a strong Christian community in Lebanon, there are Christians among the Arabs, there are Christians in Israel. Christians throughout the world are committed to helping these countries that are dear to all of us. There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together.

These are the forces we want to mobilize: It's up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.

Q: As Bishop of Rome you are the successor of St. Peter. How can the ministry of Peter manifest itself fittingly in today's world? And how do you see the tensions and equilibrium between the primacy of the Pope, on one hand, and the collegiality of the bishops, on the other?

Benedict XVI: Of course there is a relationship of tension and equilibrium and, we say, that's the way it has to be. Multiplicity and unity must always find their reciprocal rapport and this relationship must insert itself in ever new ways into the changing situations in the world. We have a new polyphony of cultures nowadays in which Europe is no longer the determining factor.

Christians on the various continents are starting to have their own importance, their own characteristics. We must keep learning about this fusion of the different components. We've developed various instruments to help us: the so-called "ad limina" visits of the bishops, which have always taken place. Now they are used much more in order to speak sincerely with all the offices of the Holy See and with me.

I speak personally to each bishop. I've already spoken to nearly all the bishops of Africa and with many of the bishops from Asia. Now it's the turn of Central Europe, Germany, Switzerland. In these encounters in which the center and the periphery come together in an open exchange of views, I think that the correct reciprocal exchange in this balanced tension grows. We also have other instruments like the synod, the consistory, which I shall be holding regularly and which I would like to develop.

Without having a long agenda we can discuss current problems together and look for solutions. Everyone knows that the Pope is not an absolute monarch but that he has to personify, you might say, the totality that comes together to listen to Christ.

There's a strong awareness that we need a unifying figure that can guarantee independence from political powers and that Christians don't identify too much with nationalism. There's an awareness of the need for a higher and broader figure that can create unity in the dynamic integration of all parties and that can embrace and promote multiplicity.

So I believe there's a close bond between the Petrine ministry which is expressed in the desire to develop it further so that it responds both to the Lord's will and to the needs of the times.

Q: As the land of the Reformation, Germany is especially marked by the relationships between the different religious confessions. Ecumenical relations is a sensitive area that constantly encounters new problems. What chances do you see of improving relations with the Evangelical Church or what difficulties do you foresee in this relationship?

Benedict XVI: Maybe it's important to say, first of all, that there are marked differences within the Evangelical Church. If I'm not mistaken, in Germany we have three important communities: Lutherans, Reformed, and Prussian Union.

There are also several free churches [Freikirchen] and within the traditional Churches there are movements like the "confessional Church," and so on. It's a collection of many voices, therefore, with which we have to enter in dialogue searching for unity while respecting the multiplicity of the voices with which we want to collaborate.

I believe that the first thing we need to do is to concern ourselves with clarifying, establishing and putting into practice important ethical directives in society, thus guaranteeing a social ethical consistency without which society cannot fulfill its political ends, namely, justice for all, living together in a positive way, and peace.

In this sense, I think a lot is already achieved, that we already agree on the common Christian basics before the great moral challenges.

Of course, then we have to witness to God in a world that has problems finding him, as we said, and to make God visible in the human face of Jesus Christ, to offer people access to the source without which our morale becomes sterile and loses its point of reference, to give joy as well because we are not alone in this world.

Only in this way joy is born before the greatness of humanity: Humanity is not an evolutionary product that turned out badly. We are the image of God. We have to move on these two levels, so to speak: The level of important ethical points of reference and the level that manifests the presence of God, a concrete God, starting from within and working toward them.

If we do this and, especially, if in all our single communities we try not to live the faith in a specific fashion but always start from its deepest basics, then maybe we still won't reach external manifestations of unity quickly, but we will mature toward an interior unity that, God willing, one day will bring with it an exterior form of unity too.

Q: The issue of the family. A month ago you were in Valencia for the World Meeting of Families. Anyone who was listening carefully, as we tried to do at Vatican Radio, noticed how you never mentioned the words "homosexual marriage," you never spoke about abortion, or about contraception. Careful observers thought that was very interesting. Clearly your idea is to go around the world preaching the faith rather than as an "apostle of morality." What are your comments?

Benedict XVI: Obviously, yes. Actually I should say I had only two opportunities to speak for 20 minutes. And when you have so little time you can't say everything you want to say about "no."

Firstly you have to know what we really want, right? Christianity, Catholicism, isn't a collection of prohibitions: It's a positive option. It's very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today.

We've heard so much about what is not allowed that now it's time to say: We have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it's in this way that marriage develops, first of all, as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then the family, that guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet. So first, it's important to stress what we want.

Second, we can also see why we don't want something. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it's not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other, so that humanity can go on living: All cultures know this.

As far as abortion is concerned, it's part of the Fifth, not the Sixth, Commandment: "You shall not kill!" We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother's womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.

Q: Holy Father, my question is linked to that of Father Von Gemmingen. Throughout the world, believers are waiting for the Catholic Church to answer the most urgent global problems, like AIDS and overpopulation. Why does the Catholic Church pay so much attention to moral issues rather than suggesting concrete solutions to these problems that are so crucial to humanity, in Africa, for example?

Benedict XVI: So that's the problem: Do we really pay so much attention to moral issues? I think -- and I am more and more convinced after my conversations with the African bishops -- that the basic question, if we want to move ahead in this field, is about education, formation.

Progress becomes true progress only if it serves the human person and if the human person grows: not only in terms of his or her technical power, but also in his or her moral awareness.

I believe that the real problem of our historical moment lies in the imbalance between the incredibly fast growth of our technical power and that of our moral capacity, which has not grown in proportion. That's why the formation of the human person is the true recipe, the key to it all, I would say, and this is what the Church proposes.

Briefly speaking, this formation has a dual dimension: Of course we have to learn, acquire knowledge, ability, know-how, as they say. In this sense Europe, and in the last decades America, have done a lot, and that's important.

But if we only teach know-how, if we only teach how to build and to use machines, and how to use contraceptives, then we shouldn't be surprised when we find ourselves facing wars and AIDS epidemics. Because we need two dimensions: Simultaneously we need the formation of the heart, if I can express myself in this way, with which the human person acquires points of reference and learns how to use the techniques correctly. And that's what we try to do.

Throughout Africa and in many countries on Asia, we have a vast network of every level of school where people can learn, form a true conscience and acquire professional ability which gives them autonomy and freedom. But in these schools we try to communicate more than know-how, rather to form human beings capable of reconciliation, who know that we must build and not destroy and who have the necessary references to be able to live together. In much of Africa, relations between Christians and Muslims are exemplary.

The bishops have formed common commissions together with the Muslims to try and create peace in situations of conflict. This schools network, dedicated to human learning and formation, is very important. It's completed by a network of hospitals and assistance centers that reach even the most remote villages.

In many areas, following the destruction of war, the Church is the only structure that remains intact. This is a fact! We offer treatment, treatment to AIDS victims too, and we offer education, helping to establish good relationships with others.

So I think we should correct that image that sees the Church as spreading severe "no's." We work a lot in Africa so that the various dimensions of formation can be integrated and so that it becomes possible to overcome violence and epidemics that include malaria and tuberculosis as well.

Translation of German original issued by the Vatican press office. Part 2 of this interview will appear in the Saturday

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