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Pope: Church Must Seek New Paths of Evangelization

09/24/2011 Comments (2)

The Holy Father waves to the crowd from the popemobile as he arrives to visit the Freiburg Cathedral, September 24, 2011. (Reuters)

The Pope arrived in Freiburg this afternoon where, on this intensive trip, he had four meetings: with Orthodox Church leaders, seminarians, Church lay representatives, and the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

In his message to the Orthodox (full text below), the Holy Father encouraged a “common engagement” of Christians to “oppose vigorously every manipulative and selective intervention in the area of human life”. He called on both churches to build a society “equipped for the future”, and singled out defense of marriage and the family as a main concern.

To the Central Committee for German Catholics (ZdK), a lay body comprising representatives of various Catholic organizations in Germany, Benedict XVI addressed the scourge of relativism present in German society and how it impoverishes relationships. He noted how the German Church is superbly organized, yet the strength of its structures are not matched by a spiritual strength. The answer, he said, is to seek new paths of evangelization.  “The real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith,” he said. “If we don’t find a way of genuinely renewing our faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.” (See below for full text).

This afternoon the Pope met 60 seminarians from the Archdiocese of Freiburg, however no copy of his address has yet been released.

As the Pope arrived in Freiburg, the Bishop of Erfurt, Joachim Wanke, and Thuringia’s Minister President Christine Lieberknecht, said they were “very satisfied” with the Pope’s visit to the diocese.

At a press conference this afternoon, Erfurt’s bishop said he was sure the pilgrims who travelled to Erfurt and Etzelsbach would draw “continued strength and joy” from the Pope’s visit. He thanked all who had helped make the event a success – they were “emotional days, rich in content,” he said.

On the confidential meetings between the Pope and five abuse victims yesterday in Erfurt’s seminary, Bishop Wanke said this was not to be understood as drawing a line under the scandals of past years. “The idea is to develop a sense about it, how to get to grips with it, in order to prevent new cases.”

The Minister President spoke of a “great event” with unforgettable impressions and historical encounters. As a Protestant theologian, she was not disappointed that the Pope had made no concrete concessions to their church (headlines in newspapers today said the Pope “disappointed hopes” for ecumenism in his speech to Protestant leaders yesterday). 

“I am patient about the ecumenical movement,” she said. Both Frau Lieberknecht and Bishop Wanke said they share Benedict XVI’s conviction that ecumenism grows out of the faith.


THE POPE’S ADDRESS TO GERMAN ORTHODOX CHURCH LEADERS
Freiburg Seminary

Dear Cardinals, Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Representatives of Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches!

It is a great joy for me that we have come together here today. From my heart I thank all of you for coming and for the possibility of this friendly exchange. I offer a particular word of thanks to Metropolitan Augoustinos for his words, so full of confidence. Gladly I repeat in this setting what I have already said elsewhere: among Christian Churches and communities, the Orthodox are theologically closest to us; Catholics and Orthodox both have the same basic structure inherited from the ancient Church. So we may hope that the day is not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together (cf.Light of the World. A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 86).

With interest and sympathy the Catholic Church follows the development of Orthodox communities in Western Europe, which in recent decades have grown remarkably. In Germany today there are approximately 1.6 million Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians. They have become a constitutive part of society that helps bring alive the treasury of the Christian cultures and the Christian faith of Europe. I welcome the increase of pan-Orthodox cooperation, which has made significant progress in recent years. The founding of Orthodox Episcopal Conferences in places where the Orthodox Churches exist in the Diaspora is an expression of the consolidation of intra-Orthodox relations. I am pleased that this step has also been taken in Germany in the past year. May the work of these Episcopal Conferences strengthen the bond between the Orthodox Churches and hasten the progress of efforts to establish a pan-Orthodox council.

Since the time when I was a professor in Bonn and especially while I was Archbishop of Munich and Freising, I have come to know and love Orthodoxy more and more through my personal friendships with representatives of the Orthodox Churches. At that time the Joint Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference and the Orthodox Church also began its work. Since then, through its texts on pastoral and practical questions, it has furthered mutual understanding and contributed to the consolidation and further development of Catholic-Orthodox relations in Germany.

Equally important is the ongoing work to clarify theological differences, because the resolution of these questions is indispensable for restoration of the full unity that we hope and pray for. Above all it is on the question of primacy that our continuing efforts towards a correct understanding must be focused. Here the ideas put forward by Pope John Paul II in the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (no. 95) on the distinction between the nature and form of the exercise of primacy can yield further fruitful discussion points.

I also express my appreciation of the work of the Mixed International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. I am glad, distinguished Eminences and Delegates of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, that you are here representing the Churches that are taking part in this dialogue. The results so far obtained allow us to grow in mutual understanding and to draw closer to one another.

In the present climate, in which many would like, as it were, to “liberate” public life from God, the Christian Churches in Germany – including Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians – are walking side by side along the path of peaceful witness for understanding and solidarity among peoples, on the basis of their faith in the one God and Father of all. At the same time they continue to place the miracle of God’s incarnation at the centre of their proclamation. Realizing that on this mystery all human dignity depends, they speak up jointly for the protection of human life from conception to natural death. Faith in God, the Creator of life, and unconditional adherence to the dignity of every human being strengthen faithful Christians to oppose vigorously every manipulative and selective intervention in the area of human life. Knowing too the value of marriage and the family, we as Christians attach great importance to defending the integrity and the uniqueness of marriage between one man and one woman from any kind of misinterpretation. Here the common engagement of Christians, including many Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians, makes a valuable contribution to building up a society equipped for the future, in which the human person is given the respect which is his due.

Let us direct our gaze, finally, to Mary, the Hodegetria, the “Guide along the Way”, who is also venerated in the West under the title “Our Lady of the Way”. The Most Holy Trinity has given the Virgin Mother Mary to mankind, that she might guide us through history with her intercession and point out to us the way towards fulfilment. To her we entrust ourselves and our prayer that we may become a community ever more intimately united in Christ, to the praise and glory of his name. May God bless you all!

********

POPE BENEDICT XVI’S ADDRESS TO ZdK
Freiburg Seminary

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am grateful for this opportunity to come together, here in Freiburg, with you, the Council Members of the Central Committee for German Catholics (ZdK). I gladly express to you my appreciation for your work in publicly representing the concerns of Catholics and in giving impetus to the apostolate of the Church and of Catholics in society. I also thank the President of the ZdK, Herr Alois Glück, for his kind greeting.

Dear friends, for some years now, development aid has included what are known as “exposure programmes”. Leaders from the fields of politics, economics and religion live among the poor in Africa, Asia, or Latin America for a certain period and share the day-to-day reality of their lives. They are exposed to the circumstances in which these people live, in order to see the world through their eyes and hence to learn how to practise solidarity.

Let us imagine that an exposure programme of this kind were to take place here in Germany. Experts from a far country would arrive to spend a week with an average German family. They would find much to admire here, for example the prosperity, the order and the efficiency. But looking on with unprejudiced eyes, they would also see plenty of poverty: poverty in human relations and poverty in the religious sphere.

We live at a time that is broadly characterized by a subliminal relativism that penetrates every area of life. Sometimes this relativism becomes aggressive, when it opposes those who claim to know where the truth or meaning of life is to be found.

And we observe that this relativism exerts more and more influence on human relationships and on society. This is reflected, among other things, in the inconstancy and fragmentation of many people’s lives and in an exaggerated individualism. Many no longer seem capable of any form of self-denial or of making a sacrifice for others. Even the altruistic commitment to the common good, in the social and cultural sphere or on behalf of the needy, is in decline. Others are now quite incapable of committing themselves unreservedly to a single partner. People can hardly find the courage now to promise to be faithful for a whole lifetime; the courage to make a decision and say: now I belong entirely to you, or to take a firm stand for fidelity and truthfulness and sincerely to seek a solution to their problems.

Dear friends, in the exposure programme, analysis is followed by common reflection. This evaluation must take into account the whole of the human person, and this includes – not just implicitly but quite clearly – the person’s relationship to the Creator.

We see that in our affluent western world much is lacking. Many people lack experience of God’s goodness. They no longer find any point of contact with the mainstream churches and their traditional structures. But why is this? I think this is a question on which we must reflect very seriously. Addressing it is the principal task of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. But naturally it is something that concerns us all. Allow me to refer here to an aspect of Germany’s particular situation. The Church in Germany is superbly organized. But behind the structures, is there also a corresponding spiritual strength, the strength of faith in a living God? We must honestly admit that we have more than enough by way of structure but not enough by way of Spirit. I would add: the real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith. If we do not find a way of genuinely renewing our faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.

Let us return to the people who lack experience of God’s goodness. They need places where they can give voice to their inner longing. Here we are called to seek new paths of evangelization. Small communities could be one such path, where friendships are lived and deepened in regular communal adoration before God. There we find people who speak of these small faith experiences at their workplace and within their circle of family and friends, and in so doing bear witness to a new closeness between Church and society. They come to see more and more clearly that everyone stands in need of this nourishment of love, this concrete friendship with others and with the Lord. Of continuing importance is the link with the vital life-source that is the Eucharist, since cut off from Christ we can do nothing (cf. Jn15:5).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord always point out to us how together we can be lights in the world and can show our fellow men the path to the source at which they can quench their profound thirst for life.

Filed under benedict xvi, evangelization, germany, orthodox, relativism

About Edward Pentin

Edward Pentin
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Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Follow on Twitter @edwardpentin