Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Responses of Pope Benedict to Questions from the Press

Interview of the Holy Father During the Flight to Cameroon
March 17, 2009

Lucio Brunelli, of Italian television: For some time, and particularly, after your recent letter to the bishops of the world, the newspapers have been speaking about "the solitude of the Pope." What do you think? Do you feel alone? And what are your feelings, after these recent weeks, about going to Africa?

Pope Benedict: Truthfully, I should laugh a bit about this myth of my solitude. In no way do I feel alone. Every day, I receive my closest co-workers, from the Secretary of State to Propaganda Fide. I see all the heads of dicasteries regularly. Every day I receive bishops on their "ad limina" visit -- recently all the bishops, one after the other, of Nigeria, then the bishops of Argentina. We had two plenaries in recent days, one of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, and the other of the Congregation for Clergy, and then some friendly talks; a network of friendship, including my companions at Mass from Germany who came recently for a day to chat with me. So, then, loneliness is not a problem, I am really surrounded by friends in a wonderful collaboration with bishops, with collaborators, with laymen and I am grateful for this.

I am going to Africa with great joy: I love Africa, I have so many African friends from the time I was a professor up to today; I love the joy of the faith, the joyful faith that is found in Africa. You know that the Lord's mandate for the Successor of Peter is "to confirm brothers in the faith": I try to do this. But I am sure that I myself will return confirmed by my brothers, infected -- so to speak -- by their joyful faith.

John Thavis, Rome bureau chief for the Catholic News Service: Holiness, you are travelling to Africa during a world economic crisis which has its effects on the poor nations. Africa in particular must face an even worse food crisis. Does this situation find an echo in your trip? Will you address the international community so that they may take responsibility for Africa's most pressing problems? Will you be dealing with these problems in the encyclical that you are preparing?

Pope Benedict: Thank you for the question. Of course, I am not going to Africa with a political/economic program, for which I lack the competence. I am going with a religious program, of faith, of morality, but this is precisely also an essential contribution to the problem of the economic crisis that we are living at this moment.

We all know that an essential element of the crisis is, in fact, a lack of ethics in economic structures. It has been understood that ethics is not something outside economics but within it. Economics does not function if it does not carry in itself an ethical element. Because of this, speaking of God and speaking of the great spiritual values that constitute the Christian life, I will also seek to make an appropriate contribution to overcome this crisis, to renew the economic system from within, where the point of the real crisis is to be found.

And, of course, I will appeal to international solidarity: the Church is catholic, that is, universal, open to all cultures, to all continents. It is present in all political systems and so solidarity is a fundamentally internal principle for Catholicism. Naturally, I would like to appeal first of all to Catholic solidarity itself, extending it however also to the solidarity of all those who see their responsibility in the human society of today..

Obviously, I will also speak of this in the encyclical: This is a reason for the delay. We were about to publish it, when this crisis was unleashed and we took the text up again to respond more adequately, in the ambit of our competence, in the ambit of the social doctrine of the Church, but with reference to the real elements of the present crisis. Hence I hope that the encyclical will also be an element, a force to overcome the present difficult situation.

Isabelle de Gaulmyn, of La Croix: Very Holy Father, good day. I ask the question in Italian, but could you kindly answer it in French. The special assembly for Africa of the Bishops' Synod has most likely asked that the great quantitative growth of the Church in Africa becomes also a qualitative growth. Sometimes, Church authorities are considered a group of rich and privileged persons whose behavior is not consistent with the Gospel they announce. Will you be asking the Church in Africa to commit to an examination of conscience and to a purification of their structures?

Pope Benedict: I will try, if possible, to speak in French. I have a more positive view of the Church in Africa: It is a Church that is very close to the poor, a Church with those who suffer, with people who are in need of aid and so it seems to me that the Church is really an institution that still functions, when other structures no longer function, and with her system of education, hospitals, aid, in all these situations, she is present in the world of the poor and of the suffering.

Of course, original sin is also present in the Church; there is no perfect society and so there are also sinners and deficiencies in the Church in Africa, and in this sense an examination of conscience, an interior purification is always necessary and I recall also in this sense the Eucharistic liturgy: One always begins with a purification of the conscience, and a new beginning before the Lord's presence.

I would say that more than the purification of structures, which is always also necessary, a purification of hearts is necessary, because structures are the reflection of hearts, and we do what is possible to give a new force to spirituality, to God's presence in our heart, whether to purify the structures of the Church, or also to aid the purification of structures of society.

Christa Kramer, of Sankt Ulrich Verlag: Heiliger Vater, gute Reise! Father Lombardi asked me to speak in Italian, so I ask the question in Italian. When you address Europe, you often refer to a horizon from which God seems to have disappeared. That is not how it is in Africa, but there is an aggressive presence of sects, and there are the traditional African religions. What is the specific Catholic message that you wish to present in this context?

Pope Benedict: Now, we all acknowledge that in Africa the problem of atheism is almost not an issue, because the reality of God is so present, so real in Africans' hearts that not to believe in God, to live without God doesn't seem to be a temptation. It is true that there is the problem of sects: We don't proclaim, as some of them do, a Gospel of prosperity, but a Christian realism; we don't proclaim miracles, as some do, but the sobriety of Christian life. We are convinced that all this sobriety, this realism which proclaims a God who became man, hence a profoundly human God, a God who suffers, also with us, gives meaning to our suffering with a proclamation that has a more vast horizon, that has more future.

And we know that these sects are not very stable in their consistency: At the moment, the proclamation of prosperity, of healings, of miracles, etc. might do good, but after a while one sees that life is difficult, and that a human God, a God who suffers with us is more convincing, more true, and offers greater help for life. Also important is that we have the structure of the Catholic Church. We proclaim not a small group that after a certain time is isolated or lost, but we enter into this great universal network of catholicity, not only trans-temporal, but present above all as a great network of friendship that unites us and helps us also to overcome individualism to attain this unity in diversity, which is the true promise.

Philippe Visseyrias of France 2: Among the many ills that afflict Africa there is, in particular, the widespread prevalence of AIDS. The Church's position on how to fight the disease is often considered unrealistic and ineffectual. Will you confront this issue during this trip?

Pope Benedict: I would say the contrary. I think that the most efficient reality, the most present at the front of the struggle against AIDS, is precisely the Catholic Church, with her movements, with her various organizations. I am thinking of the Sant'Egidio Community that does so much, visibly and also invisibly, for the struggle against AIDS, of the Camilliani, of all the sisters who are at the disposition of the sick.

I would say that this problem of AIDS can't be overcome only with publicity slogans. If there is not the soul, if the Africans are not helped. The scourge can't be resolved with the distribution of condoms: on the contrary, there is a risk of increasing the problem. The solution can only be found in a double commitment: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual and human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; and second, a true friendship, also and above all for those who suffer, the willingness -- even with sacrifice and self-denial -- to be with the suffering. And these are the factors that help and that lead to visible progress.

Because of this, I would say that this, our double effort to renew man interiorly, to give spiritual and human strength for correct behavior with regard to one's body and that of another, and this capacity to suffer with those who suffer, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the correct answer, and the Church does this and thus offers a very great and important contribution. We thank all those who do this.

Maria Burgos, of Chilean Catholic television : What signs of hope does the Church see in the African continent? Do you think you can address a message of hope to Africa?

Pope Benedict: Our faith is hope by definition: sacred Scripture says it. And because of this, one who has faith is convinced of also having hope. It seems to me, despite all the problems we well know, that there are great signs of hope: New governments, a new willingness to collaborate, to fight against corruption -- a great evil that must be overcome! -- and also the opening of traditional African religions to the Christian faith.

In the traditional religions all know God, the only God, but He seems a bit distant. They hope He will come closer. And in the proclamation of the God who became man they will recognize that God has really come closer. Then, the Catholic Church has so much in common: lets say, the worship of ancestors finds its answer in the communion of saints, in Purgatory. The canonized are not the only saints, all our dead are saints. And so, realized in the Body of Christ is, in fact, also all that the worship of ancestors intuited. And so on. Thus there is a profound encounter that really gives hope.

And interreligious dialogue also grows -- I have now spoken with more than half of the African bishops, and relations with Muslims, despite the problems that can be verified, are very promising, they have told me; dialogue grows in mutual respect and collaboration in the common ethical responsibilities.

And as regards the rest, this sense also grows of the catholicity that helps to overcome tribalism, one of the great problems, and the joy arises of being Christians. A problem of traditional religions is the fear of spirits. An African bishop told me: One is really converted to Christianity, has become fully Christian when one knows that Christ is really stronger. There is no longer fear. And even this is a phenomenon that is growing.

Hence, I would say, with so many elements and problems that are not lacking, spiritual, economic and human forces are growing that give us hope, and, in fact, I would like to highlight the elements of hope.

No comments: