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From Sept 7-9, Pope Benedict XVI visited his second home, Austria.
BY John Lilly
VIENNA, Austria — For Pope Benedict XVI, his most recent
papal journey was the next best thing to a trip home: a visit to a beloved
From Sept. 7-9, the Pope was hosted by the famously
hospitable Austrians, just across the border from his native Bavaria.
Austria can be called the Holy Father’s second home; some of
his family roots can be traced back there and in his childhood he lived
alongside the German-Austrian border, and he has visited there throughout his
He delivered a firm message in his two major addresses in
Austria: that the truth of Christ is key to the intellectual revitalization of
the West, and to the physical rejuvenation of an aging European continent. In
addition to the moral issue of the taking of innocent life, the Pope raised a
wider question: whether Europe, with its low birth rate and rapidly aging
population, is “giving up on itself.”
He hammered home the same theme the next day, telling 30,000
people at the Marian shrine of Mariazell, “Europe has become child-poor: We
want everything for ourselves and place little trust in the future.”
During his homily at the open-air Mass he presided over
Sept. 8 at Mariazell, the Holy Father said the Christian faith “is decisively
opposed to the attitude of resignation that considers man incapable of truth as
if this were more than he could cope with.”
This “attitude of resignation with regard to truth” is “at
the heart of the crisis of the West, the crisis of Europe,” he said.
After arriving Sept. 7 at Vienna International Airport,
where he was met by Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Austrian Chancellor
Alfred Gusenbauer and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Benedict was
greeted by 7,000 mostly young people at the Marian pillar in Vienna’s Am Hof
Square. A bigger turnout was inhibited by the cold and rainy weather that
prevailed for most of his visit.
In the evening, the Pope delivered a speech on one of his
favorite topics: Europe and its identity. Speaking in Vienna’s Hofburg Imperial
Palace to members of the Austrian government and the Austrian diplomatic corps,
the Holy Father reminded his audience of the continent’s Christian roots and
stressed Austria’s role as a bridge between the East and West.
“Europe cannot and must not deny its Christian roots,” he
said. “These represent a dynamic component of our civilization as we move
forward into the third millennium.”
Benedict said Europe has experienced a wide range of
mistakes over the centuries, including the “abuse of religion and reason for
imperialistic purposes,” the degradation caused by theoretical and practical
materialism, and “the degeneration of tolerance into an indifference with no
reference to permanent values.”
But Europe has also been marked by a capacity for
self-criticism, he said, and by a tradition of thought that sees a
correspondence between faith, truth and reason. At the root of this outlook is
the Christian conviction that “at the origin of everything is the creative
reason of God,” he said.
The Pope also stressed the sanctity of human life, urging
the politicians in attendance “not to abolish in practice your legal systems’
acknowledgment that abortion is wrong.”
In Austria, abortion is available upon request during the
first three months of pregnancy, and later in pregnancy under more restricted
He also underlined the Church’s rejection of euthanasia.
“The proper response to end-of-life suffering is loving care
and accompaniment on the journey towards death — especially with the help of
palliative care — and not actively assisted death,” he said.
The Holy Father closed by telling Austrian officials, “An
Austria without a vibrant Christian faith would no longer be Austria.”
The focus of the second day of the trip was his visit to
In 2004, while still serving as prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had promised to
make a pilgrimage there. A copy of Mariazell’s Madonna with Child stands in the
Pope’s private chapel in the Vatican, where it was brought by his predecessor,
John Paul II.
In his homily at Mariazell focusing on the importance of
truth, Benedict said that in contemplating Jesus people can see that “truth
prevails not through external force, but it is humble and it yields itself to
man only via the inner force of its veracity. Truth proves itself in love.”
Said the Pope, “We need this inner force of truth. As
Christians, we trust this force of truth. We are its witnesses.”
The Holy Father said that by looking at the child Jesus in
Mariazell, humanity is reminded of “all the children in the world in whom he
wishes to come to us: Children who live in poverty; who are exploited by
soldiers; who have never been able to experience the love of parents; sick and
suffering children, but also those who are joyful and healthy.”
Benedict compared Europe to a poor child: “We want
everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future.”
This selfishness and lack of confidence underlies Europe’s
demographic problems, the Pope said. “Yet the earth will be deprived of a
future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the
heart are extinguished — when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth,”
he said. “Where God is, there is the future.”
Food for Thought
On the final day of his brief trip, Benedict celebrated Mass
in Vienna’s St. Stephen‘s Cathedral. In his homily, the Pope reminded the
faithful of the importance of Christian Sunday; in Austria’s increasingly
secularized Catholic culture, the legal restrictions on working on Sundays is
questioned by a growing number.
The Holy Father also encouraged young people to form
Christian marriages or to discover their vocation as priest and nun, naming
Mother Teresa and Padre Pio as two examples of the vivid face of God in the
Later in the day, Benedict briefly visited Heiligenkreuz, a
Cistercian abbey near Vienna that has a papal theological faculty named in his
honor, and held a final meeting with volunteers at Vienna’s Concert Hall before
flying back to Rome.
At the conclusion of the trip, Cardinal Schönborn thanked
the Pope for having granted Austria “so much time, valuable thoughts, attention
and regard,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency reported Sept. 9.
The cardinal said the Holy Father’s comments indicated the
path toward renewal of the Church.
Said Cardinal Schönborn, “Pope Benedict gave us much to
(Zenit, CNS and Register correspondent Robert Rauhut contributed to