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Pope Benedict stresses Christian basic
BY EDWARD PENTINRegister Correspondent
VATICAN CITY — One prominent hallmark of
Pope Benedict XVI’s year-old pontificate: a “back-to-basics”
style of addressing key issues.
In his homilies and addresses, the
Pope frequently refers back to the early Church fathers, and calls on their
example to help us live faithfully to the Gospel today.
Recent examples include his first
encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), his cycle of catechesis during his
Wednesday audiences on the relationship between the early Church and the Twelve
Apostles, and his pilgrimage to Poland
where he urged Polish Catholics to be faithful to their Christian tradition.
In each of these cases, and
numerous other homilies and addresses, the Holy Father presents a simple yet
effective catechesis, made even more effective because of his communication
skills — something that came as a surprise to many who thought of Benedict as a
professor of theology.
Commented one Vatican
official, “That’s a forte of his — making simple expressions with great
According to Vatican
watchers and experts, the main reason for Benedict’s emphasis on the apostolic
Tradition of the faith is to foster an authentic interpretation of the Second
Vatican Council after 40 years of too-frequent misinterpretations. To counter
such misreading, the Pope is highlighting the council’s actual objective of
anchoring renewal of the Church upon the continuous Tradition that links the
Church to its apostolic origins.
In recent weeks, this approach —
which targets the secularist thinking that has spread into some areas of the
Church — has been particularly clear. In his message for World Mission Sunday,
the Holy Father reminded missionaries that their work is not only philanthropic
and social, but “to communicate God who is love.”
To the new ecclesial movements at
Pentecost, Benedict pointed out that it is the Holy Spirit, not human efforts,
who will rebuild the bridge of communication between earth and heaven. In an
address to Italian Catholic journalists last month, he called on Catholics in
the media to have a “clearer awareness of their ecclesial roots.”
And, in a much-lauded homily in Poland, he
reminded priests they should not primarily be scholars of politics or
economics, but instead serve as experts in the spiritual life.
“Pope Benedict is very wise; he’s not
proposing the infallibility of his opinions, but advancing some fundamental
themes,” said one retired senior Vatican
official speaking on condition of anonymity. “And part of his aim in this
regard is to provide greater impetus to the ecumenical movement by exercising
the Petrine ministry in the way Christ himself
The retired official pointed out
that this approach is not new, as Pope John Paul II
and Benedict’s other recent predecessors were equally aware of the necessity of
relying on Catholic essentials. John Paul, for example, demonstrated this in a
series of encyclicals such in 1998 Fides
et Ratio (Faith and Reason), Veritatis Splendor
(The Splendor of Truth) in 1993, Evangelium Vitae (The
Gospel of Life) in 1995 and his final encyclical on the Eucharist, 2003’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia
(The Eucharist in Its Relation to the Church).
And in his 2001 apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium), John Paul announced the Church’s priorities for the third
millennium, calling on Catholics to attend Sunday Mass, to regularly receive
the sacraments, to pray and to serve the needy.
Still, Benedict’s approach is
clearly different in terms of style and governance. Many Vatican
watchers already regard it as “classical pontificate” in which there will be a
strengthening of central government, though not of centralization.
According to Eamonn
Duffy, professor of ecclesiastical history at the University of Cambridge,
the Pope evokes papal tradition more frequently than other recent popes. In
doing so, Duffy said, the Holy Father is returning to a “style of papacy that’s
quite different in character from some of his predecessors,” he said. “It’s a
return to normalcy.”
At the same time, as a German,
Pope Benedict is acutely conscious of the negative, caricatured image of the
Church in many Western nations. His public comments often are addressed towards
those who may have been overwhelmed by such secular prejudices. In early June,
for example, he reminded young people that Christianity is not primarily
prohibitions but instead is a “big Yes to love and to life!”
In an interview in 1996, then
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said he believed the Church
was on the threshold of a new epoch, one in which a “Pentecost hour” was
approaching. Although skeptical of the term “a new Christian era,” he believed
that Christianity was about to enter another time of renewal.
What this insight will translate
into, in terms of concrete initiatives in the months ahead, remains to be seen.
For his part, the retired Vatican official
predicted Benedict will make some careful and prudent changes to Church
“He’ll go about things very
quietly, but the decisions he’ll make will be ones that everyone will admire,”
said the official. “He’s very wise, has self-control and patience, and will
make changes in such a way that there will no loss of
face for those concerned.”
writes from Rome.