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In Europe, "It's Important That We Don't Give Up"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 21, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is the second part of the transcription of the interview that Benedict XVI gave, in German, to TV channels ARD and ZDF, television service Deutsche Welle, and Vatican Radio.

The interview took place Aug. 5 at the summer papal residence of Castel Gandolfo and was broadcast last Sunday.

Part 1 as published in Catholic Online.

* * *

Q: Holy Father, Christianity has spread around the world starting from Europe. Now many people think that the future of the Church is to be found in other continents. Is that true? Or, in other words, what is the future of Christianity in Europe, where it looks like it's being reduced to the private affair of a minority?

Benedict XVI: I'd like to introduce a few subtleties. It's true, as we know, that Christianity began in the Near East. And for a long time, its main development continued there. Then it spread in Asia, much more than what we think today after the changes brought about by Islam. Precisely for this reason its axis moved noticeably toward the West and Europe. Europe -- we're proud and pleased to say so -- further developed Christianity in its broader intellectual and cultural dimensions.

But I think it's important to remind ourselves about the Eastern Christians because there's the present danger of them emigrating, these Christians who have always been an important minority living in a fruitful relationship with the surrounding reality. There's a great danger that these places where Christianity had its origins will be left without Christians. I think we need to help them a lot so that they can stay.

But getting back to your question: Europe definitely became the center of Christianity and its missionary movement. Today, other continents and other cultures play with equal importance in the concert of world history. In this way the number of voices in the Church grows, and this is a good thing.

It's good that different temperaments can express themselves -- the special gifts of Africa, Asia and America, Latin America in particular. Of course, they are all touched not only by the word of Christianity, but by the secular message of this world that carries to other continents the disruptive forces we have already experienced.

All the bishops from different parts of the world say: We still need Europe, even if Europe is only a part of a greater whole. We still carry the responsibility that comes from our experiences, from the science and technology that was developed here, from our liturgical experience, to our traditions, the ecumenical experiences we have accumulated: All this is very important for the other continents too.

So it's important that today we don't give up, feeling sorry for ourselves and saying: "Look at us, we are just a minority; let's at least try and preserve our small number!" We have to keep our dynamism alive, open relationships of exchange, so that new strength for us comes from there.

Today there are Indian and African priests in Europe, even in Canada, where many African priests work in a very interesting way. There's this reciprocal give-and-take. But if we receive more, in [the] future we also need to continue giving with courage and with growing dynamism.

Q: This is a subject that's already been touched partially, Holy Father. When it comes to important political or scientific decisions, modern society doesn't base itself on Christian values, and the Church, according to research, is considered as simply a warning voice or a controlling voice. Shouldn't the Church come out of this defensive position and assume a more positive attitude with regard to the building of the future?

Benedict XVI: I'd say that, in any case, we have to stress better what we want that is positive. And we need to do this, above all, in dialogue with cultures and religions because, as I think I've already said, the African continent, the African spirit and the Asian spirit too, are horrified by the coldness of our rationality. It's important for them to see that's not all we are.

On the other hand, it's important that our secular world comes to understand that the Christian faith is not an impediment but a bridge for dialogue with other worlds. It's not right to think that a purely rational culture has an easier approach to other religions just because it's tolerant.

To a large extent what's missing is a "religious centerpiece" which can act as point of departure and arrival for those who want to enter into a relationship. That's why we must, and we can, show that, precisely because of the new intercultural environment in which we live, pure rationality separated from God is insufficient.

We need a wider rationality that sees God in harmony with reason and is aware that the Christian faith that developed in Europe is also a means to bring together reason and culture and to integrate them with action in a single and comprehensive vision. In this sense I believe we have an important task, namely to show that this Word which we possess, isn't part of the trash of history, so to speak, but it's necessary today.

Q: Holy Father, let's talk about your travels. You live in the Vatican and maybe it hurts you to be far from people and separated from the world, even in the beautiful surroundings of Castel Gandolfo. You'll be turning 80 soon. Do you think that, with God's grace, you'll be able to make many more trips? Do you have any idea of where you'd like to go? To the Holy Land, or Brazil? Do you know already?

Benedict XVI: To tell the truth I'm not that lonely. Of course there are, you may say, the walls that make it more difficult to get in, but there's also a "pontifical family," lots of visitors every day, especially when I'm in Rome.

The bishops come and other people; there are state visits. There are also personalities who want to talk to me personally, and not just about political issues. In this sense there are all kinds of encounters that, thank God, I have continually.

And it's also important that the seat of the Successor of Peter be a place of encounter, don't you think? From the time of John XXIII onward the pendulum began to swing in the other direction too: The Popes started going out to visit others.

I have to say that I've never felt strong enough to plan many long trips. But where such a trip allows me to communicate a message or where, shall I say, it's in response to a sincere request, I'd like to go -- in the "measure" that's possible for me.

Some are already planned: Next year there's the meeting of CELAM, the Latin American bishops' council, in Brazil, and I think that being there is an important step in the context of what Latin America is living so intensely, to strengthen the hope that's so alive in that part of the world. Then I'd like to visit the Holy Land, and I hope to visit it in a time of peace. For the rest, we'll see what Providence has in store for me.

Q: Allow me to insist. Austrians also speak German and they are waiting for you at Mariazell ...

Benedict XVI: Yes, it's been agreed. Quite simply I promised them, a little imprudently. I really liked that place and I said: Yes, I'll come back to the Magna Mater Austriae. Of course, this became a promise that I will keep, that I will keep happily.

Q: I insist further. I admire you every Wednesday when you hold your general audience. Fifty thousand people come. It must be very tiring. How do you manage to hold out?

Benedict XVI: Yes, the good Lord gives me the necessary strength. When you see the warm welcome, you're obviously encouraged.

Q: Holy Father, you've just said you made a rather imprudent promise. Does that mean that, despite your ministry, despite the many protocols and limitations, you haven't lost your spontaneity?

Benedict XVI: I try, in any case. As much as things are fixed, I'd like to keep doing some things that are purely personal.

Q: Holy Father, women are very active in many different areas of the Catholic Church. Shouldn't their contribution become more clearly visible, even in positions of higher responsibility in the Church?

Benedict XVI: We reflect a lot about this subject, of course. As you know, we believe that our faith and the constitution of the college of the apostles obliges us and doesn't allow us to confer priestly ordination on women.

But we shouldn't think either that the only role one can have in the Church is that of being a priest. There are lots of tasks and functions in the history of the Church. Starting with the sisters of the Fathers of the Church, up to the Middle Ages when great women played fundamental roles, up until modern times.

Think about Hildegard of Bingen who protested strongly before the bishops and the pope; of Catherine of Siena and Brigit of Sweden. In our own time, too, women, and we with them, must look for their right place, so to speak.

Today they are very present in the departments of the Holy See. But there's a juridical problem: According to canon law the power to take legally binding decisions is limited to sacred orders. So there are limitations from this point of view but I believe that women themselves, with their energy and strength, with their superiority, with what I'd call their "spiritual power," will know how to make their own space.

And we will have to try and listen to God so as not to stand in their way but, on the contrary, to rejoice when the female element achieves the fully effective place in the Church best suited to her, starting with the Mother of God and with Mary Magdalen.

Q: Holy Father, recently there's been talk of a new fascination with Catholicism. What is the attraction and the future of this ancient institution?

Benedict XVI: I'd say that the entire pontificate of John Paul II drew people's attention and brought them together. What happened at the time of his death remains something historically very special: how hundreds of thousands of people flowed toward St. Peter's Square in an orderly fashion, stood for hours, and while they should have collapsed, they resisted as if moved by an inner strength.

Then we relived the experience on the occasion of the inauguration of my pontificate and again in Cologne. It's very beautiful when the experience of community becomes an experience of faith at the same time. When the experience of community doesn't happen just anywhere but that this experience becomes more alive and gives to Catholicism its luminous intensity right there in the places of the faith.

Of course, this has to continue in everyday life. The two must go together. On one hand, the great moments during which one feels how good it is to be there, that the Lord is present and that we form a great community reconciled beyond all boundaries.

From here we get the impetus to resist during the tiring pilgrimage of everyday existence, to live starting from these bright points and turning toward them, knowing how to invite others to join our pilgrim community.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say: I blush when I think of all the preparations that are made for my visit, for everything that people do. My house was freshly painted, a professional school redid the fence. The evangelical professor helped to do the fence. And these are just small details but they're a sign of the many things that are done.

I find all of this extraordinary, and I don't think it's for me, but rather a sign of wanting to be part of this faith community and to serve one another. Demonstrating this solidarity means letting ourselves be inspired by the Lord. It's something that touches me and I'd like to express my gratitude with all my heart.

Q: Holy Father, you spoke about the experience of community. You'll be coming to Germany for the second time following your election. After the World Youth Day and, for different reasons, after the World [Cup] championships, the atmosphere seems to have changed. The impression is that Germans have become more open to the world, more tolerant and more joyful. What would you still like from us Germans?

Benedict XVI: I'd say that from the end of the Second World War German society began an inner transformation. The German way of thinking, too, which was further reinforced after reunification.

We have become more deeply part of world society and, naturally, we have been changed by its mentality. Aspects of the German character which others weren't aware of before, have come to light.

Perhaps we were always depicted too much as always very disciplined and reserved, which has some basis in truth. But if we now see better that which everyone is seeing, I think it's lovely: Germans aren't just reserved, punctual and disciplined, they are also spontaneous, happy and hospitable. This is very lovely.

This is my hope: that these virtues may continue to grow and that they may last and may receive added impetus from the Christian faith.

Q: Holy Father, your predecessor beatified and canonized a huge number of Christians. Some people say even too many. This is my question: Beatifications and canonizations only bring something new to the Church when these people are seen as true models. Germany produces relatively few saints and blessed in comparison with other countries. Can anything be done to develop this pastoral sphere so that beatifications and canonizations can give real pastoral fruit?

Benedict XVI: In the beginning I also thought that the large number of beatifications was almost overwhelming and that perhaps we needed to be more selective; choosing figures that entered our consciousness more clearly.

Meanwhile, I decentralized the beatifications in order to make these figures more visible in the specific places they came from. Perhaps a saint from Guatemala doesn't interest us in Germany and vice versa; someone from Altoetting is of no interest in Los Angeles, and so on, right?

I also think that this decentralization is more in keeping with the collegiality of the episcopate, with its collegial structures, and that it's suitable for stressing how different countries have their own personalities and these are especially effective in these countries.

I've also seen how these beatifications in different places touch vast numbers of people and that people say: "At last, this one is one of us!" They pray to him and are inspired. The blessed soul belongs to them and we're happy there are lots of them. And if, gradually, with the development of a global society, we too get to know them, that's wonderful.

But it's especially important that multiplicity exists in this field also because it's important that we too in Germany get to know our own figures and are happy for them. Besides this issue, there's that of the canonization of greater figures who are examples for the whole Church.

I'd say that the individual episcopal conferences ought to choose, ought to decide what's best for them, what this person is saying to us, and they should give visibility to people who leave a profound impression, but not too many of them.

They can do it through catechesis, preaching, or through the presentation of a film, perhaps. I can imagine some wonderful films. Of course, I only know well the Church Fathers: a film about Augustine, or one on Gregory Nazianzen who was very special, how he continually fled the ever greater responsibilities he was given, and so on.

We need to study: There are not only the awful situations we depict in many of our films, there are also wonderful historical figures who are not at all boring and who are very contemporary. We must try not to overload people too much but to give visibility to many figures who are topical and inspirational.

Q: Stories with humor in them too? In 1989 in Munich you were given the Karl Valentin Orden Award. What role does humor play in the life of a Pope?

Benedict XVI: I'm not a man who constantly thinks up jokes. But I think it's very important to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension and not to take everything too tragically.

I'd also say it's necessary for my ministry. A writer once said that angels can fly because they don't take themselves too seriously. Maybe we could also fly a bit if we didn't think we were so important.

Q: When you have an important job like yours, Holy Father, you are much observed. Other people talk about you. I was reading and I was struck by what many observers say: that Pope Benedict is different from Cardinal Ratzinger. How do you see yourself, if I may be so bold as to ask?

Benedict XVI: I've been taken apart various times: in my first phase as professor and in the intermediate phase, during my first phase as cardinal and in the successive phase. Now comes a new division.

Of course circumstances and situations and even people influence you because you take on different responsibilities. Let's say that my basic personality and even my basic vision have grown, but in everything that is essential I have remained identical. I'm happy that certain aspects that weren't noticed at first are now coming into the open.

Q: Would you say that you like what you do, that it isn't a burden for you?

Benedict XVI: That would be saying a bit too much, because it really is tiring. But in any case, I try to find joy here too.

Conclusion: In the name of my colleagues, I'd like to thank you sincerely for this conversation, for this "world first." We're looking forward to your upcoming visit to Germany, Bavaria. Goodbye.

[Translation of German original issued by the Vatican press office; adapted here]

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Reading 1, Job 9:1-12, 14-16
1 Job spoke next. He said:2 Indeed, I know it is as you say: ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 88:10-11, 12-13, 14-15
10 Do you work wonders for the dead, can shadows rise up to praise ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:57-62
57 As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, 'I ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 28th, 2016 Image

St. Lorenzo Ruiz
September 28: Saint Lorenzo Ruiz was born around the year 1600 ... Read More