VATICAN CITY — “There is much talk about the Church of Rome; many things are said,” Pope Benedict XVI told a large gathering of seminarians in a spacious and brightly lit chapel at Rome’s largest seminary the evening of Feb. 15. “Let us hope that people also talk about our faith.”
At a time when much of the world’s media coverage of the Catholic Church has been focused on leaked documents coming from the Holy See (what has been labeled as the Vatican’s own “Wikileaks” crisis), the Pope himself has been following his own advice and focusing on delivering a series of poignant addresses on the faith.
He began the week by reassuring the faithful during his Feb. 12 Angelus address that the love of God “is stronger than all evil, even the most contagious and terrible.” The Holy Father then spent the rest of the week addressing issues of real substance, including the safeguarding of religious freedom, the importance of fostering vocations, promoting the family — notably large families — and criticizing the abuse of finance and the media. Despite each issue being highly relevant to the current times, most of them went unreported in the mainstream media.
Continuing his frank, off-the-cuff remarks at Rome’s Major Seminary Feb. 15, the Pope alluded to a “force of evil” in today’s world which he singled out as the “two great powers” of finance and the media. These can be both “good and useful in themselves but easily open to abuse” and so liable to “go against their true goals,” the Pope said.
Today, he continued, “we see how the world of finance can dominate mankind. Possession and appearance dominate and enslave the world. ... Finance is no longer a tool to promote well-being and to support the life of man, but a force that oppresses him, one which almost has to be worshipped.” He called on his audience not to conform to this power, stressing that what counts “is not possession but existence.”
Turning to the media, the Pope recognized “a great need of information, knowledge about the truth of the world,” but warned against “a power of appearance which in the end counts even more than reality itself.” Man should confirm to truth and the Gospel rather than image, the Pope said, as “this will give us true freedom.”
The crisis of leaks at the Vatican also threatened to muffle comment on the Obama administration’s contraception mandate and its assault on religious freedom in the United States. But the Pope’s views were unmistakeable after his Feb. 15 meeting with a delegation of British government ministers. In a Vatican statement, the Holy See stressed “the need to ensure that institutions connected with the Catholic Church can act in accordance with their own principles and convictions.” He underlined the “necessity of safeguarding the family based on marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience.”
In his message for the World Day of Prayers for Vocations released Feb. 13, the Pope delved into the deepest, most fundamental truths of the faith: that “we are loved by God even ‘before’ we come into existence” and that “every creature, and in particular every human person, is the fruit of God’s thought and an act of his love, a love that is boundless, faithful and everlasting.” The discovery of this reality, the Pope added, “is what truly and profoundly changes our lives.”
The Holy Father went on to stress that “every specific vocation is in fact born of the initiative of God.” It is a “gift of the love of God. He is the One who takes the ‘first step,’” the Pope wrote, adding that the “high standard of the Christian life consists in loving ‘as’ God loves; with a love that is shown in the total, faithful and fruitful gift of self.” He then explained the task of fostering vocations, which must depend on growing familiarity with sacred Scripture, attentive and unceasing prayer and, above all, the Eucharist. He also emphasized the importance of Christian families, where young people “can have a wonderful experience of this self-giving love.”
Families are not only the privileged place for human and Christian formation, he wrote, but also “the primary and most excellent seed bed of vocations to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God” because they help members see “precisely within the family the beauty and the importance of the priesthood and the consecrated life.”
In another poignant address during the week, this time to bishops attending a Rome conference on Africa and evangelization, the Pope drew attention to key concerns of contemporary society: religious indifference, a secularized environment often hostile to Christian faith, hedonism and pornography and prostitution which, he said, are symptoms of “serious social malaise.” He reminded the participants that “culture nourished by faith leads to authentic humanization, while false cultures end up by leading to dehumanization.”
Again, he reiterated the importance the family plays in pastoral care and fostering vocations and encouraged the visiting bishops with the hope that arises from the awareness “that the risen Christ is always with us.” He also singled out the importance of large families in an address to an Italian association for parents with many children. Such families, the Pope said, are a “witnesses of faith, courage and optimism because without children there is no future.”
He expressed his wish that social and legislative measures “will continue to be promoted to support and protect larger families, who are a source of wealth and hope.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.