National Catholic Register


In God’s Outback

Cardinal George Pell On Translating the Mass, Climate Change And World Youth Day

BY Edward Pentin

April 1-7, 2007 Issue | Posted 3/27/07 at 10:00 AM


Fall is just beginning for Cardinal George Pell, who will welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Australia in 2008. That’s when World Youth Day will take place Down Under, where Cardinal Pell is Archbishop of Sydney.

The cardinal, who was in Rome for meetings of Vox Clara, the panel of 12 English-speaking bishops he chairs that is overseeing the new English translation of the Mass, spoke to Register correspondent Edward Pentin March 16.

You’re here because of a meeting of the Vox Clara committee. Can you tell us what stage we’re at in the new English translation of the Mass?

We’re dangerously close to the bishops of ICEL (the International Committee for English in the Liturgy) approving the complete first draft of the Roman Missal into English. But this is a crucial time when we consolidate the good work or perhaps where it slips away from us just a little bit farther.

The quality of the work being done is very good; I’m sure it will prove to be generally acceptable. The worst fears of a few will not be realized in any way at all and it will be rich and nourishing for the religious life of people.

As you know, criticism of the previous translation was that it was rushed.

Well look, we’ve been working for five years already. Whatever accusations might be leveled against us, you couldn’t successfully argue that we’ve rushed.

You cannot give precise dates, but would you estimate roughly when it might be complete?

We’ve been going five years, and since we’ve started I’ve said it was just two years away. That must be coming closer to the truth.

The papal document Sacramentum Caritatis was published recently, raising hopes there will be more reverence in the liturgy. But a lot of people worry that it’s just another document. What do you think needs to be done to increase reverence in church and for the Eucharist in particular?

You’ve got to get people into church first of all. Undoubtedly, a richer and more accurate translation of the Latin will help people. Now this document was never designed as a disciplinary document, it’s a fruit of the reflections of the bishops: the Pope reflecting on our bishops, our discussion. It’s only been out a few days and I must confess that I haven’t read it thoroughly. I’ve dipped into it. I think it’s solid, acceptable, and the English translation is good and it contributes to a better understanding of what we are about when we worship.

You have criticized Muslims for not showing reciprocity for the religious freedoms they enjoy in Australia. How hopeful are you there will be changes in this regard?

These big issues provide big challenges. But after the Pope’s Regensburg address, 38 senior Islamic scholars replied to that address. One element of that reply was to set out to establish that there’s no invincible link between Islam and violence. Now that reply of the 38 scholars, I’d suggest there’s been nothing quite like it, I don’t know whether it’s for centuries or a long time. Now that’s the sort of dialogue we need.

In Australia just recently, we had a gathering of 250 Muslim Australians. We came together to discuss the place of Islam in Australian society. Obviously, such a process had its critics, but in Australia all those there were overwhelmingly committed to the Australian way of life and to talking about our differences peacefully. Now the issue is to try to spread the conviction and the rights that Islam rightly enjoys in Western countries, that these rights be offered to non- Islamic minorities in Islamic countries, but for all sorts of reasons that’ll be a dialogue that will go on for a very, very long time.

Some say that to insist too strongly on reciprocity goes against Christ’s teaching to turn the other cheek. What do you say to this argument?

We believe in the truth, in human rights. We’re committed to working for social justice. Everybody, Muslims included but certainly Christians, would agree that we have every right to oppose religiously inspired violence. We’ve got every right to object to Christians or non-Muslims being sold into slavery. It’s not that we don’t forgive. We are ready to forgive, but the dialogue has to be realistic. It cannot systematically ignore crucial points of difference. We have to talk about those in clarity and charity.

How hopeful are you that moderate Muslims and Catholics can come together on common values?

This is happening in Australia, where I happen to know a little bit about what is happening. It’s not that it can happen, it is happening and I know in different ways that it’s certainly happening throughout the world, in different places. We’ve got to continue with that despite the continuing pressures of outside events, wars and violence and terrorism. We’ve got to try to keep the dialogue going.

Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, in his recent Vatican Lenten meditations, said the Antichrist presents himself as a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist. How much do you agree with this?

(Laughs.) There is a very worthy Christian pacifism. But there is a pacifism where people don’t support anything sufficiently to struggle for, perhaps to fight for. There’s no doubt, too, there can be an ecological enthusiasm that is not religious; it’s a very, very low form of religion. It’s a form of superstition, it’s a religious substitute. And the other one, what is ecumenism? Well a genuine ecumenism recognizes the importance of differences and ecumenism among Christians is the central figure of Christ. Any ecumenism must be not to avoid or escape from the teachings of Christ but to move more deeply into the secret heart of Christianity. Well, the heart of Christianity is not secret.

So all of these good things can be abused and the elusive figure or figures of the Antichrist is something in Christian literature and probably something in history. It’s a danger to try to identify it with any particular individual or movement, but I’ve been much taken by a marvelous contemporary novel by Canadian Catholic writer Michael O’Brien called Father Elijah. It’s an apocalyptic novel; it’s not meant to be an accurate, everyday sort of a book. It speaks about the possibility, the reality of the Antichrist within the Church and within Christianity. Now, he uses the paintings by [Luca] Signorelli in one of the side chapels of the beautiful cathedral of Orvieto. They’re paintings of the Last Judgment. They’re actually the ones Michelangelo went to study before he went to do the painting in the Sistine Chapel. The figure of the Antichrist there is standing behind Christ and puts out his hand from behind Christ and offers it to people as though it is the hand of Christ himself. So the figure of the Antichrist will have many elements that are attractive to humans as well as being deeply, deeply evil.

What are your more general views of the ecology movement that, rightly or wrongly, has been termed a new religion, but whose science is sometimes regarded as poor?

Like Christians and Muslims, there are ecologists, ecologists and ecologists. There are some forms of deep-green ecology that are deeply pagan and deeply hostile to the special and central place of human beings and especially to Christianity. But as Christians, we must have a reference for nature.

As a generation, we have no right to gobble up the resources of nature disproportionately so there are none left for future generations. There are wonderful Christian ecologists with a genuine respect for God’s creation and also a deep Christian faith, but there are some who are sympathetic to every form of life except human life. They will be very enthusiastic to protect whales and endangered species and be stridently in favor of the abortion of human babies. I mean it’s grotesque.

But on the whole, do you agree with the science behind climate change?

Once again, I think there’s an enormous mixture there, and there’s no unanimity amongst scientists about what is happening. A classic example I give is the Antarctic, whatever one says about the Arctic. Large chunks of ice have broken away, but about 70% of the Antarctic has been surveyed systematically, and it’s getting colder. The ice there is increasing rather than decreasing, and many of what is described in the press sometimes as unprecedented, never seen before, sometimes they’ll say “unprecedented in the last 10 years.” So before we jump to the conclusion that something is radically new, we need to have a good look at the historical record to see just what happened.

You see, people without religion are often looking for something to fear. I can remember high school students 20 years ago being frightened of being destroyed by atomic warfare. And the press, over the last 100 years, you can document their programs, activities, and it’s alternated. They’ve been warning us of global warming, and that’s alternated with warnings of a coming ice-age. There have been gigantic climatic changes in the past and I think almost entirely they’re beyond human control. I don’t think there’s anything like the evidence necessary to say that human pollution is provoking a catastrophic climate change. It’s quite different to say that in different areas we’re influencing the climate for ill. That’s certainly true. One of the best guarantees against too much pollution is a free press, so that the free press can point out just what is happening.

You recently launched the official countdown to World Youth Day 2008. Can you tell us how the preparations are going and your hopes for the event?

So far, so good. The preparation is going well. The most important part of the preparation for Australia, and young Australians, is the spiritual, religious preparation which has three phases: the run-up to World Youth Day, World Youth Day itself, and then the aftermath, pastorally and religiously. So we have a couple of schools running in Sydney. One is a residential school run for youngsters from around Australia for three months, and another one is a school that is run for one evening a week for quite a few weeks to train leaders.

Now comes the immense job of actually preparing the logistics and sites and accommodation and travel and finding sponsors. That is continuing. We’re getting good help and also good help from the state government.

How different will this World Youth Day be to others. What will make it unique?

For many people, it will be much farther to travel. Unfortunately, that means higher travel costs, and so it’s important for people to get organized early so that they can get the money together.

One difference also is that Australia has only a limited number of public religious shrines so that rather than going from shrine to shrine, which is often the case in Europe, even in Canada to some extent, in Australia the emphasis will be on days in the dioceses. Dioceses around Australia and New Zealand will welcome pilgrims for a program in the week for World Youth Day.

How many young people are you expecting to attend the event?

At the moment, we’re expecting something like 120,000 from overseas. We have differential pricing so there’s just a nominal price registration of $50 for all pilgrims from Oceania, the Pacific islands, and from Papua New Guinea. For countries that fall into the United Nations’ category for poorer countries, there’s a lower registration price, and for First World countries there’s a somewhat higher price. This, I believe, is somewhat new and it’s been widely appreciated.

Many remember Manila in 1995 when an estimated 5 million people attended the World Youth Day. Do you think that a similar number of people might make their way to Sydney from the Philippines and surrounding Asian countries, perhaps increasing the numbers to more than you expect?

There might be. Like every organizer of World Youth Day, we hope they’re large but we hope they’re not too much bigger than we expect. We expect 500,000 or 600,000 at the final Mass with the Holy Father. If we got anything like the 4 million or 5 million they had in Manila I’m not sure what we’d do. Obviously it’s much closer for people from Asia, but in some parts of Asia there isn’t the wealth that would allow massive numbers of pilgrims to come.

It has been said in the past that although many young people go to these World Youth Days, it’s not clear how much they listen to what is preached, that they will continue to use contraception, for instance. How effective do you think these events are in communicating the Church’s teaching?

Well, young people are imperfect. They’re like their parents and their grandparents, like my generation who has gone before them. But I know from my own personal experience how deeply moved and changed young people have been by the World Youth Day experience. Like many, sometimes in their later life they don’t live up to the high ideals that they embrace. But there’ve been many good marriages, many lives that have been changed so that people devote themselves consistently to supporting the work of Christ and the Church, and there have been significant vocations.

World Youth Days change things in many ways. They make the discussion and the living of Christianity and Catholicism publicly acceptable, and they cause people far outside the Church to come and see. First of all, it’s aimed at Catholics, but especially to young Catholics who don’t have any clear sense of religion or purpose and so this is what we have to offer — come along and see.

It acts as an effective counter to secularism because of the great witness it displays?

It does. Christianity spread not only because it is true but because it works in people’s lives. Christ says come to me all you who labor and are heavy burdened. Now, with many aspects of modern life, drugs, promiscuity, alcoholism, family breakdown, abortion, young people get their fingers burned. They’re looking for healing and they’re looking for a set of principles that will bring them peace of heart and enable them to set up good marriages and a family. And that’s why Christianity spread: because it works, it brings peace to people.

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.