VATICAN CITY (EWTN News/CNA)—Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims in Rome Nov. 6 that a loss of faith in Jesus Christ has led many people to despair in the face of death.
“If we remove God, if we take away Christ, the world will fall back into the void and darkness,” he said in his Sunday Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square.
“And this is also reflected in the expressions of contemporary nihilism, an often subconscious nihilism that unfortunately plagues many young people.”
The Pope charted the impact that the Christian message had upon the ancient world, where “the religion of the Greeks, the cults and pagan myths were not able to shed light on the mystery of death.” He noted that ancient inscriptions read “In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus,” meaning “How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing.”
Thus, St. Paul reminded the Christians of Ephesus that they were “without hope and without God in the world” before their conversion to Christianity, whereas, afterwards, they no longer grieved “like the rest, who have no hope.”
“Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” said the Pope, is “a decisive watershed.” It is the “definite” difference between “believers and nonbelievers” or “those who hope and who do not hope.”
The attainment of this eternal life with Christ, the Pope said, is depicted in the Gospel reading where Christ recounts the parable of the ten maidens invited to a wedding: five wise ones who were readied with oil in their lamps upon the groom’s arrival and five foolish ones who were not.
He explained how St. Augustine, the great theologian of the fourth and fifth centuries, along with many other ancient authors, saw the maiden’s oil as “a symbol of love, which you cannot buy, but is received as a gift, conserved within ourselves, and practiced in our deeds.”
Our Last Judgment, therefore, will be “based on the love we practiced in our earthly life.” That is why it is “true wisdom” to take advantage of mortal life to carry out works of mercy, because “after our death, it will no longer be possible.”
Our model and guide along the way, he concluded, was the Virgin Mary, the Seat of Wisdom. For this reason, he said, the Church speaks to the Mother of God with the words “vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra (life, sweetness and our hope).”
“May we learn from her how to live and die in the hope that never disappoints.”
After the Angelus, Pope Benedict appealed for an end to violence in Nigeria following a series of attacks by an Islamist terror group that has left more than 100 dead in the northeast part of the country in recent days.
“I follow with apprehension the tragic events reported in recent days in Nigeria,” said the Pope.
An Islamist sect known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attacks that have included suicide bombings and shootings in the cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu.
“While I pray for the victims, I ask for an end to all violence, which does not resolve problems, but increases them, sowing hatred and divisions, even among the faithful.”
In other Vatican news, an international forum on child-abuse prevention in Rome drew strong remarks from a Vatican official who insisted Church leaders take responsibility in protecting the vulnerable.
“No strategy for the prevention of child abuse will ever work without commitment and accountability,” said Msgr. Charles Scicluna, promoter of justice for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“Any institution, global or local, seeking to develop a strategy for the protection of children and the prevention of child abuse,” he added, “must enshrine pre-eminently the principle that the well-being of the child should be the paramount concern of all.”
Msgr. Scicluna was one of three Vatican officials invited to address the issue at the Nov. 3 summit, “The World’s Children and the Abuse of Their Rights,” at the Italian senate. The meeting was sponsored by the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., the Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital in Rome and the Italian child-abuse reporting hotline SOS Telefono Azzurro.
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, and Cardinal Renato Martino, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, also gave remarks.
In his speech — which cited Pope Benedict’s 2010 “Letter to the Catholics of Ireland” and a 2011 letter from the doctrinal congregation on abuse guidelines — Msgr. Scicluna spoke of the “tragic wound” that clerical sex abuse inflicts on the community.
The wound goes especially deep, he added, given that the Catholic Church, “in its responsibility as depository and custodian of its founder’s will, remembers that Jesus of Nazareth extolled the dignity of the child and raised the child to the level of a model for discipleship.”
Msgr. Scicluna gave several practical steps for abuse prevention, calling “empowerment” of children and families a main factor.
“The child needs to be made aware of his or her proper dignity. Children need to be taught, according to their age and mental prowess, to protect themselves from the unjust intrusions of others,” he said.
“Families and local communities need to be educated in the care of the young among them,” Msgr. Scicluna added. “It is so sad and indeed so tragic that much of the abuse of children is family-based. Parents need to be able to detect signs of abuse at an early stage.”
He also noted the importance of children being able to confidently verbalize and disclose abuse and also called on religious communities to effectively screen and form pastors.
Msgr. Scicluna emphasized the need for the Church to cooperate with state agencies and said that all institutions — not just religious groups — need to adopt clear norms that outline consequences of misconduct.
“Sexual abuse of minors is not just a canonical delict,” he said. “It is also a crime prosecuted by civil law. Although relations with civil authority will differ in various countries, nevertheless, it is important to cooperate with such authority within their responsibilities.”
The monsignor said that all institutions, including churches, should demonstrate an “openness to research and development in the field of prevention of child abuse.”
“We all have a great deal to learn from psychology, sociology and the forensic sciences,” he said.
Ultimately, he said, it “is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes.”