Benedict XVI's Exchange With Space Station Crew
"Humanity Is Experiencing a Period of Extremely Rapid Progress"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 22, 2011 - Here is the Vatican transcription of the 20-minute teleconference that took place Saturday between Benedict XVI and the crew aboard the International Space Station, on the occasion of the last mission of the shuttle Endeavour.

From the Foconi Room of the Vatican Library, the Holy Father could see the astronauts on a large screen television, while the crew aboard the space station could only hear the Pope.

Accompanying the Pontiff were Enrico Saggese, president of the Italian Space Agency, Thomas Reiter, Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations at the European Space Agency, and General Giuseppe Bernardis of the Italian Air Force

Benedict XVI addressed five questions to the astronauts, and concluded with a final farewell.

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Dear astronauts,

I am very happy to have this extraordinary opportunity to converse with you during your mission. I am especially grateful to be able to speak to so many of you, as both crews are present on the Space Station at this time.

Humanity is experiencing a period of extremely rapid progress in the fields of scientific knowledge and technical applications. In a sense, you are our representatives -- spear-heading humanity's exploration of new spaces and possibilities for our future, going beyond the limitations of our everyday existence.

We all admire your courage, as well as the discipline and commitment with which you prepared yourselves for this mission. We are convinced you are inspired by noble ideals and that you intend placing the results of your research and endeavors at the disposal of all humanity and for the common good.

This conversation gives me the chance to express my own admiration and appreciation to you and to all those who collaborate in making your mission possible, and to add my heartfelt encouragement to bring it to a safe and successful conclusion.

But this is a conversation, so I must not be the only one doing the talking. I am very curious to hear you tell me about your experiences and your reflections. If you don't mind, I would like to ask you a few questions.

First Question

From the Space Station you have a very different view of the Earth. You fly over different continents and nations several times a day. I think it must be obvious to you how we all live together on one Earth and how absurd it is that we fight and kill each other. I know that Mark Kelly's wife was a victim of a serious attack and I hope her health continues to improve. When you are contemplating the Earth from up there, do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here, or about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?

Mark Kelly, USA

Well, thank you for the kind words, Your Holiness, and thank you for mentioning my wife Gabby. It's a very good question: we fly over most of the world and you don't see borders, but at the same time we realize that people fight with each other and there is a lot of violence in this world and it's really an unfortunate thing.

Usually, people fight over many different things. As we've seen in the Middle East right now: it's somewhat for democracy in certain areas, but usually people fight for resources. And it's interesting in space … on Earth, people often fight for energy; in space we use solar power and we have fuel cells on the Space Station.

You know, the science and the technology that we put into the Space Station to develop a solar power capability, gives us pretty much an unlimited amount of energy. And if those technologies could be adapted more on Earth, we could possibly reduce some of that violence.

Second Question

One of the themes I often return to in my discourses concerns the responsibility we all have towards the future of our planet. I recall the serious risks facing the environment and the survival of future generations. Scientists tell us we have to be careful and from an ethical point of view we must develop our consciences as well. From your extraordinary observation point, how do you see the situation on Earth? Do you see signs or phenomena to which we need to be more attentive?

Ron Garan, USA

Well, Your Holiness, it's a great honor to speak with you and you're right: it really is an extraordinary vantage point we have up here. On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been given is; but on the other hand, we can really clearly see how fragile it is. Just the atmosphere, for instance: the atmosphere when viewed from space is paper-thin, and to think that this paper-thin layer is all that separates every living thing from the vacuum of space and is all that protects us, is really a sobering thought.

You know, it seems to us that it's just incredible to view the Earth hanging in the blackness of space and to think that we are all on this together, riding through this beautiful fragile oasis through the universe, it really fills us with a lot of hope to think that all of us on board this incredible orbiting Space Station that was built by the many nations of our international partnership, to accomplish this tremendous feat in orbit, I think … you know, that just shows that by working together and by cooperating we can overcome many of the problems that face our planet, we could solve many of the challenges that face the inhabitants of our planet … it really is a wonderful place to live and work, and it's a wonderful place to view our beautiful Earth.

Third Question

The experience you are having right now is both extraordinary and very important -- even if you must eventually come back down to Earth like all the rest of us. When you do return, you will be much admired and treated like heroes who speak and act with authority. You will be asked to talk about your experiences. What will be the most important messages you would like to convey -- to young people especially -- who will live in a world strongly influenced by your experiences and discoveries?

Mike Finchke, USA

Your Holiness, as my colleagues have indicated, we can look down and see our beautiful planet Earth that God has made, and it is the most beautiful planet in the whole Solar System. However, if we look up, we can see the rest of the universe, and the rest of the Universe is out there for us to go explore. And the International Space Station is just one symbol, one example of what human beings can do when we work together constructively. So our message, I think -- one of our many messages, but I think one of our most important messages -- is to let the children of the planet know, the young people know that there is a whole universe for us to go explore. And when we do it together, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.

Fourth Question

Space exploration is a fascinating scientific adventure. I know that you have been installing new equipment to further scientific research and the study of radiation coming from outer space. But I think it is also an adventure of the human spirit, a powerful stimulus to reflect on the origins and on the destiny of the universe and humanity. Believers often look up at the limitless heavens and, meditating on the Creator of it all, they are struck by the mystery of His greatness. That is why the medal I gave Robert (Vittori) as a sign of my own participation in your mission, represents the Creation of Man -- as painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. In the midst of your intense work and research, do you ever stop and reflect like this -- perhaps even to say a prayer to the Creator? Or will it be easier for you to think about these things once you have returned to Earth?

Roberto Vittori, Italia

Your Holiness, to live on board of the International Space Station, to work as an astronaut on the shuttle Soyuz of the Station, is extremely intense. But we all have an opportunity, when the nights come, to look down on Earth: our planet, the blue planet, is beautiful. Blue is the color of our planet, blue is the color of the sky, blue is also the color of the Italian Air Force, the organization that gave me the opportunity to then join the Italian Space Agency and the European Space Agency.

When we have a moment to look down, beauty which is the three-dimensional effect of the beauty of the planet is capturing our heart, is capturing my heart. And I do pray: I do pray for me, for our families, for our future. I took with me the coin and I allow this coin to float in front of me to demonstrate lack of gravity. I shall thank you very much for this opportunity and I'd like to allow this coin to float to my friend and colleague Paolo: he will make return to Earth on the Soyuz. I brought it with me to space and he will take it down to Earth to then give it back to you.

Fifth Question -- in Italian -- for Paolo Nespoli

My last question is for Paolo. Dear Paolo, I know that your Mother passed away recently and that when you get back home in a few days she will not be there to greet you. We are all close to you in your loss, and I personally have prayed for her. How did you cope with this sorrowful time? In your space station, do you feel alone, separated and cut off, or do you feel united among yourselves and part of a community that accompanies you with attention and affection?

Paolo Nespoli, Italia

Holy Father, I've felt your prayers, your prayers even now: it's true, we are away from this world, orbiting around the earth and having a vantage-point of looking upon the earth and feeling all that's happening on it. My colleagues here aboard the station -- Dimitri, Kelly, Ron, Alexander and Andrei -- have been close in this important, very intense, time for me, just as my siblings, my aunts, cousins and relatives were close to my mother in her last moments. I'm grateful for all this. I've felt myself far, but also very close, and surely the thought of feeling all you close to me, closely united in this moment, has been an extreme comfort. I also thank the European and American space agencies which made their resources available so I could talk to my mother in her last hours alive.

Final greeting

Dear astronauts,

I thank you warmly for this wonderful opportunity to meet and dialogue with you. You have helped me and many other people to reflect together on important issues that regards the future of humanity. I wish you the very best for your work and for the success of your great mission at the service of science, international collaboration, authentic progress, and for peace in the world. I will continue to follow you in my thoughts and prayers and I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

© Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Benedict XVI's Q and A With Catholic Action Youth

"The Strength of God's Love Can Accomplish Great Things in You"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 31, 2010 - Here is a translation of a question and answer session in which Benedict XVI responded to inquiries from a boy, an adolescent, and an educator of Italian Catholic Action. The Pope met Saturday with some 50,000 children, 30,000 youth and 10,000 educators of Catholic Action, who gathered in Rome under the theme: "There Is More. We Become Great Together."

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Boy's question: Your Holiness, what does it mean to grow up? What must I do to grow following Jesus? Who can help me?

Benedict XVI: Dear Friends of Italian Catholic Action! I am simply delighted to meet with you; you are here in great numbers in this beautiful piazza and I thank you from my heart for your affection! I offer my welcome to all of you! In particular I greet the president, Professor Franco Miano, and the general assistant, Monsignor Domenico Sigalini. I greet Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops' conference, the other bishops, priests, the educators and parents who wanted to come with you.

I heard the question of the young member of Children's Catholic Action. The best answer to the question about what it means to grow up is on your jerseys, your caps, your signs: "There is more." This motto of yours, which I did not know, makes me think. What does a child do to see if he has gotten bigger? He compares his height with his friends' and imagines becoming taller to feel more grown up. I, when I was a boy of your age, was one of the smallest in my class, and much more did I have the wish to one day to be very big; and not only big in terms of the measuring stick, but I wanted to do something big, something more in my life, even if I did not know this saying "There is more." Growing taller implies this "There is more." You are told this by your heart, which wants to have a lot of friends, which is happy when you behave well, when you know how to bring joy to dad and mom, but above all when it meets a friend who is incomparable, very good and unique, Jesus.

You know how Jesus loved children and young people! One day, many children like you came up to Jesus, because they were very drawn to him and in his eyes they saw God's love reflected. But there were also adults who were upset by these children. This also happens to you sometimes, when you play, have fun with your friends, the grown-ups tell you not to disturb them... Well, Jesus rebukes those adults and tells them: Leave all these children alone, because they have in their heart the secret of the Kingdom of God. So, Jesus taught the adults that you too are "great" and that the adults have to protect this greatness, which is having a heart that loves Jesus. Dear children, dear young people: being "big" means loving Jesus very much, listening to him and talking to him in prayer, meeting him in the sacraments, in Holy Mass, in confession; it means getting to know him more and more and also letting others know about him, it means standing with our friends, the poorest ones too, the sick ones, to grow together.

And Children's Catholic Action is part of that "more," because you are not alone in loving Jesus -- there are many of you, we see that this morning too! -- but help each other; because you don't want to let any friend be alone, but you want to tell everyone that it is great having Jesus as a friend and it is great being friends with Jesus; and it is great being together, helped by your parents, priests, leaders! In this way you will truly grow up, not only because your height increases, but because your heart opens to the joy and love that Jesus gives you. And thus you open up to truly being big, being in God's great love, which is always also loving our friends. Let us hope and pray that we grow in this way, to find the "more" and to be truly persons with a big heart, with a great Friend who gives his greatness to us too. Thank you.

Young woman's question: Your Holiness, our teachers in Catholic Action tell us that to grow up it is necessary to learn to love, but often we fail and we suffer in our relationships, in our friendships, in our first loves. But what does it mean to love totally? How can we learn to love truly?

Benedict XVI: A great question. It is very important, I would say fundamental, to learn to love, truly to love, to learn the art of real love! In adolescence we stop before the mirror and we notice that we are changing. But if you continue to look at yourself, you will never grow up! You grow up when you do no longer let the mirror be the only truth about you but when you let your friends tell you. You will grow up if you are able to make your life a gift to others, not to seek yourselves, but to give yourselves to others: this is the school of love. This love, however, must bring you into that "more" that today shout to everyone. "There is more!" As I have already said, I too, in my youth wanted something more than what the society and the mentality of the time presented to me. I wanted to breathe pure air, above all I desired a beautiful and good world, like our God, the Father of Jesus, wanted for everyone. And I understood more and more that the world becomes beautiful and good if one knows this will of God and if the world corresponds to this will of God, which is the true light, beauty, love that gives the world meaning.

It is quite true: You cannot and must not adapt yourselves to a love reduced to a commodity to be consumed without respect for oneself or for others, incapable of chastity and purity. This is not freedom. Much of the "love" that is proposed by the media, on the internet, is not love but egoism, closure, it gives you the illusion of a moment, but it does not make you happy, it does not make you grow up, it binds you like a chain that suffocates more beautiful thoughts and sentiments, the true desires of the heart, that irrepressible power that is love and that has its maximum expression in Jesus and strength and fire in the Holy Spirit, who enflames your lives, your thoughts, your affections. Of course it demands sacrifice to live love in the true way -- without renunciation one does not find this road -- but I am certain that you are not afraid of the toil of a challenging and authentic love. It is the only kind that, in the final analysis, gives true joy! There is a test that tells you whether your love is growing in a healthy way: If you do not exclude others from your life, above all your friends who are suffering and alone, people in difficulty, and if you open your heart to the great friend Jesus.

Catholic Action also teaches you the roads to take to learn authentic love: participation in the life of the Church, of your Christian community, loving your friends in the Children's Catholic Action group, in Catholic Action, availability to those of your age at school, in the parish or in other environments, the company of the Mother of Jesus, Mary, who knows how to guide your heart and lead you along the way of good. Moreover, in Catholic Action, you have many examples of genuine, beautiful, true love: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Alberto Marvelli; love that also leads to the sacrifice of one's life, like with Blessed Pierina Morosini and Blessed Antonia Mesina.

Young people of Catholic Action, aspire to big goals, because God gives you the strength. "More" is being young people and children who decide to love like Jesus does, to be the protagonists of our own lives, protagonists in the Church, witnesses of the faith to those who are your age. "More" is the human and Christian formation that you experience in Catholic Action, which unites spiritual life, fraternity, public witness to the faith, ecclesial communion, love for the Church, collaboration with the bishops and priests, spiritual friendship. "Growing up together" speaks of the importance of being part of a group and a community that helps you to grow, to discover your vocation and to learn true love. Thank you.

Teacher's question: Your Holiness, what does it mean to be an educator today? How should we face the difficulties that we face in our service? And how can we do it in a way that everyone concerns themselves with the present and the future of the new generations? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: A big question. We see the problem of education in this situation. I would say that being educators means having a joy in your heart and communicating it to all to make life beautiful and good; it means offering reasons and objectives for the journey of life, offering the beauty of the person of Jesus and making others fall in love with him, his way of life, his freedom, his great love full of confidence in God the Father. It means above all always keeping the goal of every existence high toward that "more" that comes from God. This demands a personal knowledge of Jesus, a personal, daily, loving contact with him in prayer, in meditation on God's Word, in fidelity to the sacraments, to the Eucharist, to confession; it demands communicating the joy of being in the Church, of having friends to share not only problems but also the beautiful things and surprises of the life of faith.

You know well that you are not the children's owners but servants of their joy in the name of Jesus, guides to him. You have received the mandate from the Church for this task. When you join Catholic Action you say to yourselves and to everyone that you love the Church, that you are disposed to share responsible with the pastors of for her life and her mission. You are good teachers if you know how to involve everyone for the benefit of the young people. You cannot be self-sufficient but you must make the urgency of the education of the young generations felt at all levels. Without the presence of the family, for example, you risk building on sand; without the cooperation of the school you cannot form a deep understanding of the faith; without the involvement of the various influences on the young people's free time and communication your patient work risks not being effective, of not impacting daily life. I am certain that Catholic Action is deeply rooted in the region and has the courage to be salt and light. Your presence here this morning tells not only me but everyone that it is possible to educate, that it is difficult but beautiful to give enthusiasm to young people and to the littlest ones. Have the courage, I would like to say, audacity, not to allow any place to be without Jesus, his tenderness that you make everyone experience, even the most needy and abandoned, with your mission as educators.

Dear Friends, in conclusion I thank you for having participated in this meeting. I would like to stay with you a little longer because when I am in the midst of such joy and enthusiasm, I too am full of joy, I feel rejuvenated! But unfortunately time passes quickly, others await me. But in my heart I am with you and remain with you! And I invite you, Dear Friends, to continue in your journey to be faithful to the identity and purpose of Catholic Action. The strength of God's love can accomplish great things in you. I assure you of remembrance in my prayer and I entrust you to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, so that like her you can bear witness that "there is more," the joy of a life full of the presence of the Lord. Thank all of you from my heart!


Pope's Q-and-A at End of Priestly Year
"The Priest Does Not Just Do a Job ... He Is a Man Impassioned for Christ"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 15, 2010 ( Here is a translation of the question-and-answer session with Benedict XVI and priests held Friday evening at the prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square on the occasion of the International Meeting of Priests promoted at the end of the Year for Priests.


Q: Most Blessed Father, I am Father Jose Eduardo Oliveira y Silva and I come from America, specifically from Brazil. The majority of us here present are involved in direct pastoral care in the parish, and not only with one community, but at times we are parish priests of more parishes, or of particularly extensive communities. With all good will we seek to meet the needs of a society that is very changed, no longer wholly Christian, but we are aware that our "doing" is not enough. How should we proceed, Holiness? In what direction?

R: Dear friends, first of all I would like to express my great joy because gathered here are priests from all parts of the world, in the joy of our vocation and our willingness to serve the Lord with all our strength in this, our time.

In regard to the question: I am well aware that today it is very difficult to be a parish priest, also and above all in countries of ancient Christianity; parishes become increasingly more extensive, pastoral unity ... it is impossible to know everyone, it is impossible to do all the works that are expected of a parish priest. And thus, we really ask ourselves how we should proceed, as you have said.

But I would like to say first of all: I know that there are so many parish priests in the world that give all their strength to evangelization, to have the presence of the Lord and of his sacraments, and to these I would like to say a big "thank you," at this time. I have said that it isn't possible to do all that one wishes to do, which perhaps should be done, because our strengths are limited and the situations are difficult in a society that is increasingly diversified, more complicated. Above all, I think it is important that the faithful can see that the priest does not just do a job, hours of work, and then is free and lives only for himself, but that he is a man impassioned for Christ, who bears in himself the fire of the love of Christ.

If the faithful see that he is full of the joy of the Lord, they also understand that he cannot do everything, they accept the limitations, and help the parish priest. This it seems to me is the most important point: that one be able to see and feel that the parish priest really feels himself called by the Lord; and is full of love of the Lord and of his own. If this is the case, one understands and can also see the impossibility of doing everything. Hence, the first condition is to be full of the joy of the Gospel with our whole being. Then choices must be made, priorities set, to see how much is possible and how much is impossible.

I would say that we know the three fundamental priorities: they are the three columns of our being priests. First, the Eucharist, the sacraments: to render the Eucharist possible and present, above all to offer Sunday Mass, in so far as possible, for all, and to celebrate it in a way that it really becomes the visible act of love of the Lord for us. Then, the proclamation of the Word in all the dimensions: from personal dialogue to the homily. The third point is "caritas," the love of Christ: to be present for the suffering, for the little ones, for children, for persons in difficulty, for the marginalized; to really render present the love of the Good Shepherd.

And then, a very important priority also is the personal relationship with Christ. In the Breviary, on Nov. 4, we read a beautiful text of St. Charles Borromeo, great pastor, who truly gave all of himself, and who says to us, to all priests: "Do not neglect your own soul: if your soul is neglected, you cannot even give to others what you should give them. Hence, also for yourself, for your soul, there must be time," or, in other words, the relationship with Christ, personal conversation with Christ is a fundamental pastoral priority, it is the condition of our work for others! And prayer is not something marginal: it is in fact the "profession" of the priest to pray, also as representative of the people who do not know how to pray and do not find the time to pray. Personal prayer, above all the Prayer of the Hours, is essential nourishment for our soul, for all our action.

And, finally, to recognize our limitations, to open ourselves also to this humility. Let us recall a scene of Mark, Chapter 6, where the disciples are "stressed," they want to do everything, and the Lord says: "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while" (cf. Mark 6:31). This also is work -- I would say -- pastoral work: to find and to have the humility, the courage to rest. Hence, I think that passion for the Lord, love of the Lord, shows us the priorities, the choices, helps us to find the way. The Lord will help us. Thank you all!

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Q: Holiness, I am Mathias Agnero and I come from Africa, specifically from the Ivory Coast. You are a theologian-Pope, while we, when we succeed, barely read some book of theology for formation. It seems to us, however, that a break has been created between theology and doctrine and, even more so, between theology and spirituality. One feels the need that study not be wholly academic, but that it nourish our spirituality. We feel the need of it in the pastoral ministry itself.

At times, theology does not seem to have God at the center and Jesus Christ in the first "theological place," but there are instead diffuse tastes and tendencies; and the consequence is the proliferation of suggestive opinions that allow the introduction in the Church of non-Catholic thought. How can we not be disoriented in our life and in our ministry, when it is the world that judges the faith and not vice versa? We feel ourselves disoriented!

Benedict XVI: Thank you. You touch upon a very difficult and painful problem. There really is a theology that above all seeks to be academic, to appear scientific and forgets the vital reality, the presence of God, his presence among us, his speaking today, not only in the past. St. Bonaventure already distinguished two forms of theology in his time; he said: "There is a theology that comes from the arrogance of reason, which seeks to dominate everything, makes God pass from subject to object that we study, while he should be subject that speaks to us and guides us."

It is really this abuse of theology, which is arrogance of reason and does not nourish faith, but obscures the presence of God in the world. Then, there is a theology that seeks to know more out of love for the beloved, it is stimulated by love and guided by love, it seeks to know the loved one more. And this is true theology, which comes from love of God, of Christ, and seeks to enter more profoundly in communion with Christ. In reality, the temptations are great today; imposed above all is the so-called "modern vision of the world" (Bultmann, "moderns Weltbild"), which becomes the criterion of all that is possible or impossible. And thus, it is precisely with this criterion that everything is as always, that all historical events are of the same sort, excluded in fact is the novelty of the Gospel, the eruption of God is excluded, the true novelty which is the joy of our faith.

What should be done? I would say first of all to theologians: Have courage! And I would like to say a big thank you also to so many theologians who do a good job. There are abuses, we know it, but in all parts of the world there are so many theologians who truly live by the Word of God, nourish themselves by meditation, live the faith of the Church and wish to help so that the faith is present in our day. To these theologians I would like to say a big "thank you."

And I would say to theologians in general: "do not be afraid of this specter of scientific nature!" I follow the theology of '46; I began to study theology in January of '46 and hence I have seen almost three generations of theologians, and I can say: the theories that at that time, and then in the '60s and '80s, were the newest, absolutely scientific, absolutely almost dogmatic, in the meantime have grown old and are not longer of any value! Many of them seem almost ridiculous. Hence, one must have the courage to resist what is apparently of a scientific nature, not subject oneself to all the theories of the moment, but to really think from the great faith of the Church, which is present in all times and opens to us access to truth.

Above all, also, we must not think that positivist reason, which excludes the transcendent -- which cannot be accessible -- is true reason! This weak reason, which presents only things that can be experienced, is really an insufficient reason. We theologians must use the great reason, which is open to the grandeur of God. We must have the courage to go beyond positivism to the question of the roots of being. This seems to me to be of great importance. Hence, one must have the courage of the great, ample reason, have the humility not to subject oneself to all the theories of the moment, to live from the great faith of the Church of all times. There is no majority against the majority of the saints: the true majority are the saints of the Church and we must be oriented to the saints!

Then, to seminarians and priests I say the same thing: think that sacred Scripture is not an isolated book: it is living in the living community of the Church, which is the same subject in all centuries and guarantees the presence of the Word of God. The Lord has given us the Church as living subject, with the structure of bishops in communion with the Pope, and this great reality of bishops of the world in communion with the Pope guarantees to us the testimony of the permanent truth. Let us have trust in this permanent magisterium of the communion of bishops with the Pope, which represents for us the presence of the Word. And then, let us also have trust in the life of the Church and, above all, we must be critical.

Certainly theological formation -- I would like to say this to seminarians -- is very important. In our time we must know sacred Scripture well, also, in fact, against the attacks of sects; we must be really friends of the Word. We must also know the currents of our time to be able to respond reasonably, to be able to give -- as St. Peter says -- "reason of our faith." Formation is very important. But we must also be critical: the criterion of the faith is also the criterion with which to see theologians and theologies. Pope John Paul II gave an absolutely sure criterion in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Here we see the synthesis of our faith, and this Catechism is truly the criterion to see where there is an acceptable or not acceptable theology. Hence, I recommend reading, the study of this text, and thus we can go forward with a critical theology in the positive sense, that is, criticism against the tendencies in vogue and open to the true novelties, with the inexhaustible profundity of the Word of God, which reveals itself new in all times, also in our time.

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Q: Holy Father, I am Karol Mikloski and I come from Europe, specifically from Slovakia, and I am a missionary in Russia. When I celebrate the Holy Mass, I find myself, and I understand that I find my identity there and the root and energy of my ministry. The sacrifice of the cross reveals to me the Good Shepherd who gives everything for the flock, for each sheep, and when I say: "This is by Body ... this is my Blood" given and shed in sacrifice for you, then I understand the beauty of celibacy and of obedience, which I freely promised at the moment of ordination.

Although with the natural difficulties, celibacy seems obvious to me, looking at Christ, but I find myself bewildered in reading so many worldly criticisms of this gift. I ask you humbly, Holy Father, to share with us your reflections on the profundity and authentic meaning of ecclesiastical celibacy.

Benedict XVI: Thank you for the two parts of your question: for the first, where you touch upon the permanent and vital foundation of our celibacy, and for the second, which demonstrates the difficulties in which we find ourselves in these times.

The first part is important as the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist should truly be at the center of our lives. Central here are the words of the consecration -- "This is my Body, this is my Blood" -- in that we speak "in persona Christi." Christ allows us to use his "I" -- we speak with the "I" of Christ -- Christ "draws us into himself" and allows us to unite ourselves, he unites us with his "I." And thus, through this action, this fact that he "draws" us into himself, so that our "I" becomes united to his, realizes the permanence, the oneness of his priesthood. Thus Christ is truly and always the only priest, and yet very present in the world, because he "draws" us into himself and thus renders present the priestly mission.

This means that we are "drawn" into the God of Christ: It is this union with his "I" that is realized in the words of consecration. Also in the "I absolve you" -- because none of us could absolve from sins -- it is the "I" of Christ, of God, which alone can absolve. This unification of his "I" with ours implies that we are "drawn" also into his reality of the Risen One, we go forward toward the full life of the resurrection, of which Jesus speaks to the Sadducees in Matthew 22: it is a "new" life, in which we are already beyond marriage (cf. Matthew 22:23-32).

It is important that we always allow ourselves to be penetrated again by this identification of the "I" of Christ with us, by this being "drawn outside" toward the world of the Resurrection. In this sense, celibacy is an anticipation. We transcend this time and go forward, and thus we "draw" ourselves and our time toward the world of the Resurrection, toward the novelty of Christ, toward the new and true life. Hence, celibacy is an anticipation made possible by the grace of the Lord who "draws" us to himself toward the world of the resurrection; he invites us always anew to transcend ourselves, this present, toward the true present of the future, which becomes present today.

And here we are at a very important point. A great problem of Christianity in today's world is that thought is no longer given to the future of God: the present of this world seems to be enough. We only want to have this world, to live only in this world. Thus we close the doors to the true grandeur of our existence. The meaning of celibacy as anticipation of the future is precisely to open these doors, to render the world greater, to show the reality of the future that is already lived by us as present. To live thus is a witness to the faith: We really believe that God is, that God enters my life, that I can base my life on Christ, on the future life.

And we now know the worldly criticisms of which you have spoken. It is true that for the agnostic world, the world in which God is not considered, celibacy is a great scandal, because it shows precisely that God is considered and lived as reality. With the eschatological life of celibacy, the future world of God enters in the reality of our time. And this should disappear! In a certain sense, this permanent criticism against celibacy can surprise, at a time when it is ever more fashionable not to marry. However, this not marrying is something totally, fundamentally different from celibacy, because not marrying is based on the will to live alone for oneself, not to accept a definitive bond, to have life at every moment in full autonomy, to decide at every moment what to do, what to take from life; and hence, a "no" to the bond, a "no" to definitiveness, a having life only for oneself. Whereas celibacy is precisely the opposite: it is a definitive "yes," it is letting oneself be taken by God by the hand, giving oneself into the hands of the Lord, into his "I," and hence it is an act of fidelity and trust, an act that implies also the fidelity of marriage; it is in fact the opposite of this "no," of this autonomy which does not wish to oblige itself, which does not want to enter a bond; it is in fact the definitive "yes" that implies, that confirms the definitive "yes" of marriage.

And this marriage is the biblical form, the natural form of being man and woman, foundation of the great Christian culture, of the great cultures of the world. And if this disappears, the root of our culture will be destroyed. That is why celibacy confirms the "yes" of marriage with its "yes" to the future world, and thus we wish to go forward and render present this scandal of a faith that places the whole of existence on God. We know that next to this great scandal, which the world does not wish to see, there are also the secondary scandals of our insufficiency, of our sins, which obscure the true and great scandal, and make one think: "But, they don't really live on the foundation of God!"

However, there is so much fidelity! Celibacy, the criticisms in fact show it, is a great sign of faith, of God's presence in the world. Let us pray to the Lord to help us to be free of the secondary scandals, to render present the great scandal of our faith: trust, the strength of our life, founded on God and on Christ Jesus!


Q: Holy Father, I am Atsushi Yamashita and I come from Asia, specifically from Japan. The priestly model Your Holiness proposed in this year, the Curé of Ars, sees at the center of existence and of the mystery of the Eucharist, a sacramental and personal penance and a love of worship worthily celebrated. I have before my eyes the signs of the austere poverty of St. John Vianney, together with his passion for the precious things of worship. How can we live these fundamental dimensions of our priestly existence, without falling into clericalism or into becoming extraneousness to reality, which the world today does not allow us?

R: Thank you. Hence, the question is how to live the centrality of the Eucharist without being lost in a purely devotional life, foreign to the everyday life of other persons. We know that clericalism has been a temptation of priests in all centuries, also today; hence, it is all the more important to find the true way of living the Eucharist, which is not a closing to the world, but in fact an opening to the needs of the world. We must have present the fact that in the Eucharist is realized this great drama of God who comes out of himself, he leaves -- as the Letter to the Philippians says -- his own glory, he comes out and comes down to be one of us and comes down to death on the Cross (cf. Philippians 2). The adventure of the love of God, who leaves, abandons himself to be with us -- this becomes present in the Eucharist; the great act, the great adventure of the love of God is the humility of God who gives himself to us.

In this sense, the Eucharist is to be considered as entering into this way of God. St. Augustine says, in De Civitate Dei, book X: "Hoc est sacrificium Christianorum: multi unum corpus in Christo," that is, the sacrifice of Christians is to be united by the love of Christ in the unity of the one body of Christ. Sacrifice consists precisely in coming out of ourselves, in allowing ourselves to be drawn into the communion of the one bread, of the one Body, and thus to enter into the great adventure of the love of God. Thus we should celebrate, live, meditate always on the Eucharist, as the school of liberation from my "I": to enter into the one bread, which is bread of all, which unites us in the one Body of Christ. Hence, the Eucharist is, in itself, an act of love, which obliges us to this reality of love for others: the sacrifice of Christ is the communion of all in his Body. Hence, we must learn the Eucharist in this way, which is, precisely, the opposite of clericalism, of being shut in on oneself.

Let us also think of Mother Teresa, truly the great example in this century, in this time, of a love which leaves itself, which leaves every type of clericalism, of extraneousness to the world, which goes to the most marginalized, to the poorest, to persons close to death and gives itself totally to love for the poor, for the marginalized. But Mother Teresa who has given us this example, the community that follows her footprints, always understood the presence of a tabernacle as the first condition of one of her foundations. Without the presence of the love of God who gives himself, it would not have been possible to realize that apostolate, it would not have been possible to live in that abandonment of oneself; only by inserting themselves in this abandonment of self in God, in this adventure of God, in this humility of God, were they able and are able to carry out today this great act of love, this openness to all. In this sense, I would say: to live the Eucharist in its original meaning, in its true profundity, is a school of life, it is the most sure protection against every temptation to clericalism.


Q: Most Holy Father, I am Anthony Denton and I come from Oceania, from Australia. Here, this evening, we are so many priests. We know, however, that our seminaries are not full and that, in the future, in several parts of the world, a drop is expected, even a sharp drop. What can be done that is truly effective for vocations? How can we propose our life, and that which is great and beautiful about it, to a youth of our time?

Benedict XVI: Thank you. Really you touch upon, again, a great and painful problem of our time: the lack of vocations, because of which local Churches are in danger of withering, as the Word of life is lacking, the presence of the sacrament of the Eucharist and of the other sacraments is lacking.

What to do? The temptation is great to take the matter into our own hands, to transform the priesthood -- the sacrament of Christ, being chosen by him -- into a normal profession, into a job that has its hours, and for the rest of the time one belongs to oneself, thus rendering it, as any other vocation, accessible and easy. But this is a temptation, which does not resolve the problem. It makes me think of the story of Saul, the king of Israel, who before the battle against the Philistines waits for Samuel for the necessary sacrifice to God. And when Samuel does not come at that very moment, he carries out the sacrifice himself, though he was not a priest (cf. 1 Samuel 13); he thus thinks of resolving the problem, which of course he does not resolve, because he takes into his own hands what he cannot do, he makes himself God, or almost so, and it cannot be expected that things will really go in God's way. Thus, we also, if we only carried out a profession like others, giving up the sacredness, the novelty, the difference of the sacrament that only God gives, which can only come from his vocation and not from our "doing," we won't resolve anything. So much more must we -- as the Lord invites us -- pray to God, knock at the door, at the heart of God, so that he will give us vocations; pray with great insistence, with great determination, with great conviction, also because God does not close himself to an insistent, permanent, trusting prayer, even if he lets one do, wait, like Saul, beyond the times that we had foreseen.

This, it seems to me, is the first point: to encourage the faithful to have this humility, this trust, this courage to pray with insistence for vocations, to knock at the heart of God so that he will give us priests. Beyond this, I would mention perhaps three points. The first: each one of us should do everything possible to live our priesthood in such a way that it is convincing, in such a way that young men can say: This is a true vocation, I can live like this, thus one can do an essential thing for the world. I think none of us would have become a priest if he did not know convincing priests in which the fire of the love of God burned. Hence, this is the first point: Let us seek to be convincing priests ourselves.

The second point is that we must invite, as I already said, others to the initiative of prayer, to have this humility, this trust of speaking with God with force, with determination. The third point: to have the courage to speak with young men if they think that God is calling them, because often a human word is necessary to open the hearing to the divine vocation; to speak with young men and above all to help them find a vital context in which they can live. Today's world is such that it almost seems to exclude the maturing of a priestly vocation; young people need environments in which the faith is lived, in which the beauty of the faith appears, in which it appears that this is a model of life, "the" model of life, and hence to help them find movements, or the parish -- the community in the parish -- or other contexts where they really are surrounded by faith, by the love of God, and can then be open so that the vocation of God will come and help them. On the other hand, we thank the Lord for all the seminarians of our time, for young priests, and we pray. The Lord will help us! Thank you all!


Pope's Conversation With Roman Youth
"Find the Beautiful and Joyful Life"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 26, 2010 - Here is a translation of a conversation between some young people and Benedict XVI during a meeting Thursday in St. Peter's Square in preparation for World Youth Day.

More than 70,000 young people were present for the event organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of World Youth Day, established by Pope John Paul II in 1985.

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Q: Holy Father, the young man of the Gospel asked Jesus: Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? I don't even know what eternal life is. I cannot even imagine it, but I know one thing: I don't want to throw my life away; I want to live it fully and not alone. I'm afraid this won't happen, I'm afraid of thinking only of myself, of mistaking everything and of finding myself without a goal to reach, living for the day. Is it possible to make something beautiful and great of my life?

Benedict XV: Dear young people, before answering the question I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to you all for your presence, for this marvelous witness of faith, of wishing to live in communion with Jesus, for your enthusiasm in following Jesus and living well. Thank you!

And now the question. You have said that you don't know what eternal life is and cannot imagine it. No one of us is able to imagine eternal life, because it is outside of our experience. However, we can begin to understand what eternal life is, and I think that you, with your question, have given us a description of the essential of eternal life, that is, of true life: not to throw life away, to live it in profundity, not to live for oneself, not to live for the day, but to really live life in its richness and its totality. And how can we do this? This is the big question, with which even the rich man of the Gospel came to the Lord (cf. Mark 10:17).

At first glance, the Lord's answer seems very dry. In sum, he says: observe the commandments (cf. Mark 10:19). But behind this, if we reflect well, if we listen to the Lord well, in the totality of the Gospel, we find the great wisdom of the Word of God, of Jesus. The commandments, according to another Word of Jesus, are summarized in this one alone: love God with your whole heart, with your whole reason, with your whole existence and love your neighbor as yourself.

To love God implies knowing God, recognizing God. And this is the first step we must take: to seek to know God. And thus we know that our life does not exist by accident, it is not an accident. My life is willed by God from eternity. I am loved, I am necessary. God has a plan for me in the totality of history; he has a plan specifically for me. My life is important and also necessary. Eternal love has created me in profundity and awaits me. Therefore, this is the first point: to know, to seek to know God and thus understand that life is a gift, that it is good to live.

Essential, then, is love. To love this God who has created me, who has created this world, who governs through all the difficulties of man and of history, and who accompanies me. And to love one's neighbor.

The Ten Commandments to which Jesus refers in his answer, are only an explicitness of the commandment to love. They are, so to speak, rules of love, indicating the way of love with these essential points: the family, as foundation of society; life, to be respected as gift of God; the order of sexuality, of the relationship between man and woman; the social order and, finally, truth. These essential elements specify the way of love, specifying how to really love and how to find the correct life. Hence it is a fundamental will of God for us all, which is identical for all of us.

But its application is different in every life, because God has a specific plan for each man. St. Francis de Sales once said: Perfection, that is, to be good, to live faith and love, is essentially one, but in very different forms. Very different is the holiness of a monk and that of a politician, of a scientist and a peasant, and so on. And thus for every man God has his plan and I must find, in my circumstances, my way of living this unique and common will of God the great rules of which are indicated in these explanations of love. And hence to seek also to fulfill that which is the essence of love, namely, not to take life for myself, but to give life; not to "have" life, but to make of life a gift, not to seek myself, but to give to others.

This is the essential, and it implies renunciations, that is, to come out of myself and not to seek myself. And precisely by not seeking myself, but giving myself to the great and true things, I find the true life. Thus everyone will find, in his life, the different possibilities: to commit oneself to charitable work, in a community of prayer, in a movement, in the action of one's parish, in one's profession. It is important and essential to find my vocation and to live it in every situation, whether I am a great scientist, or a peasant. Everything is important in God's eyes: It is beautiful if it is lived to the very bottom with that love that really redeems the world.

At the end I would like to recount a little story of St. Josephine Bakhita, this little African saint who found God and Christ in Italy, and who always makes a great impression on me. She was a sister in an Italian convent; one day, the bishop of the place paid a visit to the convent, saw this little black sister, of whom he did not seem to know anything and said: "Sister, what are you doing here?" And Bakhita answered: "The same thing that you do, Excellency." The bishop visibly irritated said: "But how, Sister, do you do the same thing that I do?" "Yes, said the Sister, we both wish to do the will of God, isn't that true?"

In sum, this is the essential point: to know, with the help of the Church, of the Word of God and of friends, the will of God, whether in its great lines, common for all, or in the concreteness of my personal life. Thus life becomes, perhaps, not too easy, but beautiful and joyful. Let us pray that the Lord will always help us to find his will and to follow it with joy.

Q: The Gospel has told us that Jesus looked at the young man and loved him. Holy Father, what does it mean to be looked at with love by Jesus; how can we also have this experience today? But is it really possible to live this experience also in this life of today?

Benedict XVI: Of course I will say yes, because the Lord is always present and looks at each one of us with love. Only we must find this love and meet with him. How do we do this?

I would say that the first point to meet with Jesus, to experience his love, is to know him. To know Jesus involves different ways. A first condition is to know the figure of Jesus as he appears to us in the Gospels, which give us a very rich portrait of the figure of Jesus, in the great parables, we think of the Prodigal Son, the Samaritan, Lazarus, etc.

In all the parables, in all his words, in the Sermon on the Mount, we really find the face of Jesus, the face of God unto the cross where, out of love for us, he gives himself totally unto death and can, in the end, say into your hands, Father, I give my life, my spirit (cf. Luke 23:46).

Hence: to know, to meditate Jesus together with friends, with the Church and to know Jesus not only in an academic, theoretical way, but with the heart, that is, to speak with Jesus in prayer. A person cannot be known in the same way as I can study mathematics. Reason is necessary and sufficient for mathematics, but to know a person, above all the great person of Jesus, God and man, we also need reason but, at the same time, also the heart. Only with the opening of the heart to him, only with knowledge of the whole of what he has said and done, with our love, with are going to him, can we little by little know him ever more and thus also have the experience of being loved. Hence, to listen to the Word of God, to listen to it in the communion of the Church, in her great experience and respond with our prayer, with our personal conversation with Jesus, where we tell him how much we cannot understand, our needs, our questions.

In a true conversation, we can always find increasingly this way of knowledge that becomes love. Of course, not only to think, not only to pray, but also to do is part of the way to Jesus: to do good things, to be committed to one's neighbor. There are different ways: every one know his own possibilities, in the parish and in the community in which he lives, to be committed also to Christ and to others, for the vitality of the Church, so that the faith is really a formative force of our environment, and thus of our time.

Therefore, I would say these elements: to listen, to answer, to enter the believing community, communion with Christ in the sacraments, where he gives himself to us, whether in the Eucharist or in Confession, etc., and, finally, to do, to carry out the words of the faith, so that they become the force of my life and the look of Jesus also truly appears to me and his love helps me and transforms me.

Q: Jesus invited the rich young man to leave everything, and to follow him, but he went away sad. Like him I also find it hard to follow him, because I am afraid of leaving my things and sometimes the Church asks me for difficult renunciations. Holy Father how can I find the strength for courageous choices, and who can help me?

Benedict XVI: Look, we began with this hard word for us: renunciation. Renunciations are possible and, in the end, become even beautiful if they have a reason and if this reason then justifies even the difficulty of the renunciation. In this context, St. Paul used the image of the Olympics and of athletes committed to the Olympics (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25). He says: They, to arrive finally at the medal -- at that time, the crown -- must live a very hard discipline, must give up so many things, must exercise themselves in the sport they practice and make great sacrifices and renunciations because they have a motivation, it's worthwhile. Even if at the end, perhaps, they are not among the winners, still it is a beautiful thing having disciplined oneself and having been capable of doing these things with a certain perfection.

The same thing that is true, with this image of St. Paul for the Olympics, for the whole of sport, is also true for all the other things of life. A good professional life cannot be achieved without renunciations, without an adequate preparation, which always calls for discipline, it calls for giving up something, and so on, also in art and in all the elements of life. We all understand that to attain an objective, whether professional, athletic, artistic, or cultural we must deny ourselves, learn to get ahead.

In fact, also the art of living, of being oneself, the art of being a person calls for renunciations, and true renunciations, which help us to find the way of life, the art of life, are indicated to us in the Word of God and they help us not to fall -- let us say -- into the abyss of drugs, of alcohol, the slavery to sexuality, the slavery of money, of laziness. All these things at first seem like actions of liberty. In reality, they are not actions of liberty, but the beginning of a slavery that becomes ever more insurmountable. Success is in giving up the temptation of the moment, to go forward toward the good, which creates true liberty and makes life beautiful.

In this connection, it seems to me, we must see that without a "no" to certain things, the great "yes" to true life does not grow, as we see it in the figures of the saints. We think of St. Francis, of the saints of our time, Mother Teresa, Father Gnocchi and so many others, who denied themselves and who conquered and became not only free themselves but also a richness for the world and they show us how one can live.

Thus to the question "who helps me," I would say that we are helped by the great figures of the history of the Church, by the Word of God, by the parish community, movements, charitable work, etc. And we are helped by the friendships of men who "go forward," who have already made progress on the way of life and who can convince me that to walk thus is the right way. Let us pray to the Lord that he will always give us friends, communities that help us to see the way of goodness and thus find the beautiful and joyful life.


Benedict XVI's Q-and-A With Children Missionaries
"Praying Is a Very Important Thing That Can Change the World"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 5, 2009 - Here is a Vatican translation of the question-and-answer session Benedict XVI gave during an audience May 30 with children of the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood.

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Q: My name is Anna Filippone, I am 12 years old, I am an altar girl and come from Calabria, Diocese of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi. Pope Benedict, my friend Giovanni has an Italian father and an Ecuadorian mother and is very happy. Do you think that one day the different cultures will be able to live together without quarrelling in Jesus' name?

Benedict XVI: I have gathered that you all would like to know how we, from the time we were children, have managed to help one another. I must say that I spent my elementary school years in a small town of 400 inhabitants, very far from the big city centres.

Therefore we were a bit ingenuous, and in this small town there were, on the one hand, very rich farmers and also others who were less rich but still well-off, and on the other, poor workers, artisans. Our family had moved from another town to this one just a little before I began going to elementary school, thus we were in a way foreigners to them, as even our dialect was different. So, there was a wide range of social situations present in this school, but a beautiful communion prevailed among us. They taught me their dialect, which was new to me. We worked well together. Although, naturally enough, we would argue sometimes, but afterwards we would make up and forget what had happened.

I think this is significant. Sometimes in life it seems inevitable to argue; but the art of reconciling with each other remains important forgiving, beginning anew and not letting bitterness linger in the soul. With gratitude I remember how everyone co-operated: each one helped the other and we moved ahead together on our path. We were all Catholic, and this was naturally a great help. In this way we learned together to understand the Bible, beginning with the Creation and continuing to the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross, and then also of the beginnings of the Church. We learned the Catechism together, we learned how to pray together, we prepared together for our First Reconciliation, for First Communion: that was a splendid day. We understood that Jesus himself came among us and that he is not a distant God: he enters into my own life, my own soul. And if the same Jesus enters into each one of us, then we are brothers, sisters and friends and therefore we must behave as such.

For us, both this preparation for First Reconciliation as the purification of our consciences, of our lives, as well as that for First Communion as a real meeting with Jesus who comes to me, who comes to each one of us, were factors that contributed to the formation of our community. They helped us to move ahead together, to learn together to forgive each other when necessary. We also put on little plays: it is important to collaborate, to pay attention to each other. Then when I was about eight or nine years old I became an altar boy. At that time there were not yet altar girls, but the girls read much better than we did. Therefore they read the readings during the liturgy while we filled the role of altar servers. During that period there were still many Latin texts to learn, and so each one had to make a special effort. As I said, we were not saints. We had our arguments, but there was still a beautiful communion, in which the distinctions between rich and poor, between the more and the less intelligent did not matter. It was communion with Jesus in the journey of common faith and common responsibility, in our games, in our shared work. We found the way to live together, to be friends, although I have not been in that town since 1937, that is, more than 70 years ago, we have remained friends. Thus we have learned to accept one another, to carry one another's burdens.

I find this significant: despite our weaknesses we accept each other and with Jesus Christ, with the Church, we find a path of peace together and learn to live in the best way.

Q: My name is Letizia and I wanted to ask you a question. Dear Pope Benedict XVI, what did the motto: "Children help children" mean for you when you were a boy? Did you ever imagine you would become Pope?

Benedict XVI: To tell the truth, I would never have thought of becoming Pope, because, as I have already said, I was a fairly ingenuous boy in a small town far from the city centres, in a forgotten province. We were glad to be in this area and we did not think of other things. Naturally we came to know, venerate and love the Pope -- Pius XI at the time -- but for us he was a very august figure, almost in another world: our spiritual Father, but nevertheless a reality much superior to all of us. And I must say that still today I have difficulty understanding how the Lord could have thought of me, destined me for this ministry. But I accept it from his hands, even if it is something surprising and that seems to me to be far beyond my strength. But the Lord helps me.

Q: Dear Pope Benedict, my name is Alessandro. I wanted to ask you: you are the principal missionary; how can we children help you to proclaim the Gospel?

Benedict XVI: I would say that the first way is this: to collaborate with the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood. That way you are part of a large family, which takes the Gospel to the world. That way you belong to a large network. In it we see how the family of diverse peoples is represented. You are all in this big family: each one has his part and together you are missionaries, bearers of the missionary work of the Church. You have a beautiful plan, laid out by your spokesperson: to listen, pray, understand, share, sympathize. These are the essential elements that combined are truly a way to be missionaries, to encourage the growth of the Church into the future and the presence of the Gospel in the world. I would like to emphasize some of these points.

First of all, pray. Prayer is a reality: God listens to us and, when we pray, God enters into our lives, he becomes present among us, works among us. Praying is a very important thing that can change the world, because it makes the power of God present. And it is important to help each other by praying: to pray together in the liturgy, to pray together in the family. And here I would say that it is important to begin the day with a small prayer and also to end the day with a small prayer: to remember our parents in prayer. Pray before lunch, before dinner and during Sunday's shared Celebration. A Sunday without Mass, the great communal prayer of the Church, is not truly a Sunday: it lacks the very heart of Sunday and so also the light for the week. And you can also help others especially those who do not pray at home or do not know about prayer by teaching others to pray: praying with them and in this way introducing others to communion with God.

Next, listen that is, learn what Jesus really says. In addition, get to know the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible. In the story of Jesus we learn as the Cardinal said the Face of God, we learn what God is like. It is important to know Jesus deeply, personally. That way he enters into our life and, through our life, enters into the world.

Also, share, do not want things only for yourselves, but rather for everyone; divide things with others. And if we see that another is perhaps in need, that he or she is less gifted, we must help that person and so make God's love present without too many words, in our own personal world, which is part of the bigger world. And in this way we become a family together, in which each one has respect for the other: tolerating the other's differences, accepting also those who are disagreeable, not allowing anyone to be marginalized, but instead helping others to integrate into the community. All of this simply means living in this big family of the Church, in this big missionary family. To live out essential points such as sharing, knowledge of Jesus, prayer, reciprocal listening and solidarity is missionary work, because it helps to make the Gospel a reality in our world.

[Translation by the Vatican]

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Q-and-A Session With Parish Priests of Rome
"Let Us Not Lose the Simplicity of the Truth"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 3, 2009 - Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met last Thursday with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome for a question-and-answer session. Here is a translation of the first question and the Holy Father's answer.

ZENIT will be publishing these transcriptions over the coming days.

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[Father Gianpiero Palmieri:]

Holy Father, I am Father Gianpiero Palmieri, pastor of St. Frumenzio ai Prati Fiscali parish. I would like to ask you a question on the evangelizing mission of the Christian community and, in particular, on the role and formation of priests within this evangelizing mission.

To explain myself, I will start with a personal experience. When I was a young priest, I began my pastoral service in a parish and school; I felt strong because of the weight of my studies and the formation received, well affirmed in the realm of my convictions of the systems of thought. A believing and wise woman, seeing me in action, shook her head smiling and said to me: "Father Gianpiero, when will you wear long pants, when will you be a man?" It was an incident that remained engraved in my heart.

That wise woman was trying to explain to me that life, the real world, God himself, are greater and more surprising than the concepts we elaborate. She was inviting me to listen to the human to try to understand, to comprehend, without being in a hurry to judge. She was asking me to learn how to enter into relationship with reality, without fears, because reality is inhabited by Christ himself who acts mysteriously in his Spirit.

In face of the evangelizing mission today, we priests feel unprepared and inadequate, always with short pants. Whether under the cultural aspect -- detailed knowledge of the great guidelines of contemporary thought escapes us, in its positivity and its limits -- or, especially, under the human aspect. We run the risk of being too schematic, incapable of knowing in a wise way the heart of the men of today. Is not the proclamation of salvation in Jesus also the proclamation of the new man Jesus, Son of God, in which our poor humanity is redeemed, made genuine, transformed by God?

Therefore, this is my question: do you share these thoughts? Many people wounded by life come to our Christian communities. What venues and ways can we invent to help others' humanity in the encounter with Jesus? And how can we priests construct a beautiful and fruitful humanity? Thank you, Your Holiness.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you! Dear brothers, first of all I would like to express my great joy at being with you, parish priests of Rome: my pastors, we are in family. The cardinal vicar has told me that it is a moment of spiritual rest. And in this sense I am also grateful to be able to begin Lent with a moment of spiritual rest, of spiritual breath, in contact with you.

And he also said: We are together so that you can tell me your experiences, your sufferings, also your successes and joys. Therefore, I wouldn't say that the oracle speaks here, to whom you ask questions. We are, rather, in a family exchange, in which it is very important for me to know, through you, life in the parishes, your experiences with the Word of God in the context of our world today. I also would like to learn, to come close to the reality, of which in the Apostolic Palace one is also a bit removed. And this is also the limit of my answers. You live in direct contact, day by day, with today's world; I live in diversified contacts, which are very useful.

For example, I have now had the ad limina visit of the bishops of Nigeria, and I have been able to see, through individuals the life of the Church in an important country of Africa, with 140 million inhabitants, a large number of Catholics, and touch the joys and also the sufferings of the Church.

But for me this is obviously a spiritual rest, because it is a Church as we see her in the Acts of the Apostles. A Church where there is a fresh joy of having found Christ, of having found God's Messiah. A Church that lives and grows each day. People are happy that they have found Christ. They have vocations, so they can give fidei donum priests to the different countries of the world. And to see, not a tired Church, as we often find in Europe, but a young Church, full of the joy of the Holy Spirit, is certainly a spiritual refreshment. However, with all these universal experiences, it is also important for me to see my diocese, the problems and all the realities you live in this diocese.

In this sense, I am essentially in agreement with you: It is not enough to preach or to do pastoral work with the precious cargo acquired in theology studies. This is important, it is essential, but it must be personalized: from academic knowledge, which we have learned and also reflected upon, in a personal vision of my life, in order to reach other people. In this sense, I would like to say that it is important, on one hand, to make the great word of the faith concrete with our personal experience of faith, in our meeting with our parishioners, but also to not lose its simplicity. Naturally, great words of the tradition -- such as sacrifice of expiation, redemption of Christ's sacrifice, original sin -- are incomprehensible as such today. We cannot simply work with great formulas, [although] truths, without putting them in the context of today's world. Through study and what the masters of theology and our personal experience with God tell us, we must translate these great words, so that they enter into the proclamation of God to the man of today.

And, on the other hand, I would say that we must not conceal the simplicity of the Word of God in valuations that are too heavy for human approaches. I remember a friend who, after hearing homilies with long anthropological reflections in order to bring others near the Gospel, said: But I am not interested in these approaches, I want to understand what the Gospel says! And it seems to me that often instead of long summaries of approaches, it would be better to say -- I did so when I was still in my normal life: I don't like this Gospel, we are the opposite of what the Lord says! But what does it mean? If I say sincerely that at first glance I am not in agreement, I already have their attention: It is understood that I would like, as a man of today, to understand what the Lord is saying. Thus we can, without circumlocution, enter fully into the Word.

And we must also keep in mind, free of false simplifications, that the Twelve Apostles were fishermen, artisans, of the province of Galilee, without special preparation, without knowledge of the great Greek and Latin worlds. And yet they went to all the places of the Empire, even outside of it, to India, and proclaimed Christ with simplicity, with the force of simplicity of what is true. And this also seems important to me: Let us not lose the simplicity of the truth. God exists and he is not a distant, hypothetical being, rather, he is close, he has spoken to us, he has spoken to me. And so we say simply what it is and how naturally it should be explained and developed. However, we must not lose the awareness that we do not propose reflections, we do not propose a philosophy, but rather the simple proclamation of the God who has acted, and who has also acted with me.

And then, in regard to the Roman cultural context, which is absolutely necessary, I would say that the first assistance is our personal experience. We don't live on the moon. I am a man of this time if I live my faith sincerely in today's culture, being one who lives with today's media, with dialogues, with the realities of the economy, with everything; if I myself take seriously my own experience and try to personalize these realities in myself. Thus we'll be on the way to making ourselves understood also by others. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said in his book of reflections to his disciple, Pope Eugene: "Try to drink from your own fount, that is, from your own humanity."

If you are sincere with yourself and you begin to see in yourself what faith is, with your human experience in this time, drinking from your own well, as St. Bernard says, you can also say to others what must be said. And in this sense it seems important to me to be really attentive to today's world, but also to be attentive to the Lord in oneself: to be a man of this time and at the same time a believer in Christ, who in himself transforms the eternal message into a current message.

And who knows the men of today better than the parish priest? The sacristy is not in the world, but in the parish. And there, to the pastor, men often come normally, without a mask, without other pretexts, but in situations of suffering, infirmity, death, family issues. They come to the confessional unmasked, with their own being. It seems to me that no other profession gives this possibility of knowing man as he is in his humanity, and not in the role he has in society. In this sense, we can really study man in his depth, far from his roles, and we ourselves also learn about the human being, to be a man in the school of Christ. In this sense, I would say that it is absolutely important to know man, the man of today, in ourselves and in others, but always in attentive listening to the Lord and accepting in myself the seed of the Word, because in me it is transformed into wheat and is able to be communicated to others.

* * *

[Father Fabio Rosini:]

I am Father Fabio Rosini, parish priest of St. Francesca Romana all'Ardeatino. In the face of the present process of secularization and of its evident social and existential consequences, [and] the exhortation to the urgency of the first proclamation -- which on many occasions we have opportunely received from your magisterium, in admirable continuity with your venerable predecessor -- [the exhortation] to pastoral zeal for evangelization or re-evangelization, to the assumption of a missionary mentality, we have understood the importance of the conversion of ordinary pastoral action, no longer presupposing the faith of the masses and contenting ourselves with taking care of that portion of believers that perseveres, thank God, in the Christian life, but becoming involved more decisively and organically with the many lost, or at least disoriented, sheep.

In many and with different points of view, we Roman priests have tried to respond to this objective urgency to reignite or even ignite the faith. The experiences of first proclamation are multiplying, and there is no lack of very encouraging experiences. Personally, I can confirm how the Gospel, proclaimed with joy and frankness, takes no time to win the hearts of the men and women of this city, precisely because it is the truth and corresponds to what the human person most profoundly needs. The beauty of the Gospel and of the faith, in fact, if presented with kind authenticity, are evident in themselves. But the numeric result, perhaps surprisingly high, does not in itself guarantee the goodness of an initiative. There is no lack of examples in the history of the Church, including recently. A pastoral success, paradoxically, might conceal an error, a defect in its approach, which perhaps is not seen immediately.

That is why I want to ask you: What must be the indispensable criteria of this urgent action of evangelization? In your view, what are the elements that guarantee that one does not run in vain in the pastoral effort of proclamation to this generation contemporary to us? I ask you humbly to point out to us, in your prudent discernment, the parameters, the elements that must be respected and valued to be able to carry out an evangelizing endeavor that is genuinely Catholic and that bears fruits for the Church. My heartfelt thanks for your illumined magisterium. Bless us.

[Benedict XVI:]

I am happy to hear that this first proclamation is being made, which goes beyond the limits of the faithful community, of the parish, in search of the so-called lost sheep, that an attempt is being made to go to the man of today who lives without Christ, who has forgotten Christ, to proclaim the Gospel to him. And I am happy to hear that not only is this being done, but that numerically comforting successes also are obtained from this. I see, therefore, that you are able to talk to those people in which the faith must be re-ignited or even ignited.

I can give no recipes for this concrete endeavor, because there are different paths to follow, according to the individuals, their professions, the distinct situations. The Catechism points out the essence of what must be proclaimed. But it is he who knows the situations who must apply the indications, find a method to open hearts and invite persons to walk on the path with the Lord and with the Church.

You speak of the criteria of discernment so as not to run in vain. I would like to say first of all that the two parts are important. The community of the faithful is something precious that we must not underestimate -- even looking at the many who are far away -- the beautiful and positive reality that these faithful constitute, who say yes to the Lord in the Church, trying to live the faith, trying to follow in the footsteps of the Lord. We must help these faithful, as we said a moment ago responding to the first question, to see the presence of the faith, to understand that it is not something of the past, but that it shows the way today, it teaches how to live as a man. It is very important that these faithful really find in their parish priest a pastor who loves them and helps them to listen today to the Word of God, to understand that it is a Word for them and not only for people of the past or the future, to help them even more, in the sacramental life, in the experience of prayer, in listening to the Word of God, and on the path of justice and charity, because Christians should be the leaven of our society with so many problems, with so many dangers and with as much corruption as there is.

In this way I believe that they can also play a missionary role "without words," given that they are people who really live a just life. And thus they offer a testimony of how it is possible to live well on the paths indicated by the Lord. Our society needs precisely these communities that are able to live justice today, not only for themselves but for others. Persons who are able to live, as we heard in the first reading, the life. At the beginning, this reading says: "Choose life;" it's easy to say yes. But then it continues: "Your life is God." Therefore, to choose life is to choose the option for life, because it is the option for God. If there are persons or communities that make this choice of life and make visible the fact that the life they have chosen is really life, they give witness of very great value.

And I come to a second reflection. We need two elements for the proclamation: the Word and witness. As we know from the Lord himself, the Word is necessary, which says what he has said to us, which makes the truth of God appear, the presence of God in Christ, the path that opens before us. Hence, it is about proclamation in the present, as you have said, which translates the words of the past into the world of our experience. It is something that is absolutely indispensable, fundamental, with witness to give credibility to this Word, so that it does not appear to be only a pretty philosophy, or a pretty utopia, but rather a reality. A reality with which one can live, but not only this: a reality that makes one live. In this sense, I think that the witness of the believing community of the proclamation, as background to the Word, is of the greatest importance. With the Word we must open venues of experience of the faith to those who are seeking God. This is what the primitive Church did with the catechumens, which was not simply a catechesis, something doctrinal, but a place of progressive experience of the life of faith, in which the Word also opens, which becomes comprehensible only if it is interpreted by life, carried out in life.

Therefore, it seems to me important, together with the Word, that there be a place of hospitality of the faith, a place where there is a progressive experience of the faith. And here I also see one of the tasks of the parish: hospitality toward those who do not know this life that is typical of the parish community. We must not be a circle enclosed in ourselves. We have our customs, but nevertheless we must open ourselves and try to create vestibules, that is, venues of closeness. One who comes from afar cannot enter immediately into the formed life of a parish, which already has its customs. For the former at present everything is very surprising, far from his life. Therefore, we must try to create, with the help of the Word, what the primitive Church created with the catechumens: venues in which to begin to live the Word, to follow the Word, to make it comprehensible and realistic, corresponding to real forms of experience. In this sense, what you have pointed out seems very important to me, namely, the need to unite the Word with the witness of a just life, of being for others, of being open to the poor, to the needy, but also to the rich, who need to be open in their hearts, to feel that their hearts are called. Hence, it's a question of different venues, according to the situation.

It seems to me that in theory little can be said, but the concrete experience will show the paths to be followed. And, naturally it is necessary to be always in great communion with the Church -- always an important criterion to follow -- although perhaps still in a somewhat distant interval: that is, in communion with the bishop, with the Pope, thus in communion with the great past and with the great future of the Church. In fact, to be in the Catholic Church does not only imply to be on the great path that precedes us, but it means to be in the prospect of a great opening to the future. A future that opens only in this way. We could perhaps continue talking about the contents, but we can find another occasion for this.

[Father Giuseppe Forlai:]

Holy Father, I am Father Giuseppe Forlai, parish vicar of San Giovanni Crisostomo parish, in the northern sector of our diocese. The educational emergency, of which Your Holiness has spoken authoritatively, is also, as we all know, an emergency of teachers, especially, I believe, under two aspects. First of all, it is necessary to have a broader view on the continuity of the presence of the teacher-priest. A young person does not establish a pact of growth with someone who leaves after two or three years, also because he is emotionally involved in managing his relations with parents who leave their home, the father's or mother's new relations, precarious teachers who change every year. One must be present in order to educate. Therefore, I feel that the primary need is that of a certain stability of position of the teacher-priest.

The second aspect [is this]: I believe that what is essentially at stake in youth pastoral care is related to culture. Culture understood as emotive-emotional competence and as possession of the words contained in the concepts. A youth without this culture might be the poor man of tomorrow, a person who runs the risk of failing in the affective [dimension] and of drowning in the world of work. A youth of this culture runs the risk of being a nonbeliever, or worse still, a practicing [Catholic] without faith, because incompetence in relationships deforms one's relationship with God, and the ignorance of words blocks the understanding of the excellence of the Word of the Gospel.

It is not enough that young people physically fill the spaces of our parishes to spend some free time. I would like the parish to be a place where they learn to develop relational competencies and where they are heard and given school support. A place that is not the constant refuge of those who do not want to study or make an effort, but a community of people that ask the right questions opening them to religious meaning and where the great work of charity that is helping one to think is practiced. And here a serious reflection should also be initiated on the collaboration between parishes and religion teachers.

Your Holiness, give us one more authoritative word on these two aspects of the educational emergency: the necessary stability of the agents and the urgency of having culturally capable teacher-priests. Thank you.

[Benedict XVI:]

Let us begin with the second point. We can say that it is broader and, in a certain sense, easier. Needless to say, a parish in which only games are played and drinks are shared would be absolutely superfluous. The meaning of a parish should really be the cultural, human and Christian formation of a personality, which must become a mature personality. On this we are in absolute agreement and, it seems to me, today there is a cultural poverty in which many things are known, but without the heart, without an inner unity because there is no common vision of the world. For this reason, a cultural solution inspired in the faith of the Church, in the knowledge that God has given us, is absolutely necessary. I would say that this is precisely the function of the parish: that one not only find possibilities for one's free time, but above all that one can find an integral human formation that completes his personality.

And for this reason, naturally, the priest as teacher must himself be well formed and be positioned in today's culture, rich in culture, to also help young people enter into a culture inspired by faith. I would add, of course, that in the end the point of orientation of all culture is God, the God present in Christ. Today we see people who have much knowledge, but no interior orientation. Thus science can also be dangerous for man, because without more profound ethical guidelines, it leaves man to his own free will and, consequently, without the necessary orientation to really become a man. In this sense, the heart of all cultural formation, which is so necessary, must be without a doubt the faith: to know the face of God which has been shown to us in Christ and thus to have the orientation point for the rest of culture, which otherwise is disoriented and becomes disorienting. A culture without personal knowledge of God, and without knowledge of the face of God in Christ, is a culture that could even be destructive, because it does not know the necessary ethical guidelines. In this sense, I believe, we really have a mission of profound cultural and human formation, which opens to all the riches of the culture of our time, but which gives the criterion, the discernment to test what is true culture and what could become anti-cultural.

The first question is much harder for me -- the question is also [addressed] to Your Eminence [the vicar, Cardinal Agostino Vallini] -- namely, the permanence of the young priest to give guidance to young people. Undoubtedly, a personal relationship with the teacher is important and must also have the possibility of a certain period to get to know each other. And, in this sense, I can agree that the priest, point of orientation for young people, cannot change every day, because in this way, in fact, he loses this orientation. On the other hand, the young priest must also have different experiences in different cultural contexts, precisely to obtain, in the end, the cultural equipment necessary to be, as pastor, the point of reference for a long time in the parish. And I would say that in the life of the young person, the dimensions of time are different from those of the life of the adult. The three years, from 16 to 19, are at least as long and as important as the years between 40 and 50. Precisely here is where the personality is formed: It is an interior journey of great importance, of great existential extent.

In this sense, I would say that three years for an assistant pastor is a good period of time to form a generation of young people; and in this way, moreover, he can also know other contexts, learn about other situations in other parishes, enrich his human knowledge. The time is not that brief in order to give a certain continuity, an educational path of the common experience, to learn to be a man. On the other hand, as I have said, for youth three years is a decisive and very long time, because the future personality is really being formed. It seems to me, therefore, that both needs can be reconciled: on one hand, that the young priest have the possibility of different experiences to enrich his store of human experience; and on the other, the need to stay for a determined period of time with the young people to really introduce them to life, to teach them to be human persons. In this sense, I think that both aspects can be reconciled: different experiences for a young priest, continuity in the accompaniment of the young people in order to guide them in life. However, I do not know if the cardinal vicar can say something to us in this regard.

[Cardinal Vicar for Rome, Agostino Vallini:]

Holy Father, of course I share these two needs, the combination between the two needs. It seems to me, from the little I have been able to learn, that in Rome somehow we still have a certain stability of young priests in the parishes, for at least a few years, with exceptions. There can always be exceptions. But the real problem stems, perhaps, from serious needs or concrete situations, above all in the relations between the pastor and the assistant pastor -- and here I touch a raw nerve -- and also in the lack of young priests. I was also able to mention this to you when you received me in audience, one of the grave problems of our diocese is, in fact, the number of vocations to the priesthood. Personally, I am convinced that the Lord calls, that he continues to call. Perhaps we should do more. Rome can give vocations, it will give them, I am certain. But in all this complex matter perhaps many aspects interfere. I surely think that a certain stability already exists and I also will follow, insofar as I can, the lines pointed out to us by the Holy Father.

[Father Giampiero Ialongo:]

Holiness, I am Father Giampiero Ialongo, one of the many parish priests that exercises his ministry on the outskirts of Rome, specifically in Torre Angela, together with Torbellamonaca, Borghesiana, Borgata Finocchio, Colle Prenestino, the latter being suburbs, as many others, which are often forgotten and ignored by public institutions. I am happy because the president of the municipality has called us to a meeting this afternoon: We will see what materializes from this meeting with the town council. Perhaps more than in other areas of our city, in our suburbs people are experiencing in a very intense way the unease caused by the international economic crisis, which is beginning to be felt in the concrete conditions of the life of many families.

As a parish Caritas, but above all as a diocesan Caritas, we promote many initiatives that are oriented, first of all, to listening, as well as to specific material aid for those who request it, regardless of race, culture or religion. Despite this, we realize increasingly that we are faced with a genuine emergency. I think that many, too many people, not only those who have retired but also those who have work, a contract for an indeterminate time, are experiencing serious difficulties in having their families reach the end of the month. The food and clothes packages that we offer, and on occasion concrete financial aid to pay light and water bills or the rent, can be a help, but is certainly not the solution.

I am convinced that, as the Church, we must ask ourselves what more we can do, but above all we should ask ourselves what are the reasons that have led to this generalized situation of crisis. We should have the courage to denounce an economic and financial system that is unjust at its roots. Given the injustice introduced in this system, I do not think a bit of optimism is enough.

What is needed is an authoritative word, a free word, which will help Christians, as you have already said in a certain sense, Holy Father, to administer the goods that God has given, and that he has given for all and not only for a few, with evangelical wisdom and responsibility. In this context, I would like to hear this word once again, as you have already expressed it on other occasions. Thank you, Your Holiness.

[Benedict XVI:]

First of all, I would like to thank the cardinal vicar for his words of confidence: Rome can give more candidates for the Lord's harvest. Above all we must pray to the Lord of the harvest, but also do our part to encourage young people to say yes to the Lord. And, of course, young priests are called to give an example to today's youth: that it is good to work for the Lord. In this sense, we are full of hope. Let us pray to the Lord and do what we should.

I now answer the question that touches the sensitive point of the problems of our time. I would make a distinction between two levels. The first is the level of macroeconomics, which is made a reality and reaches even the last citizen, who suffers the consequences of an erroneous construction. Naturally, to denounce this is a duty of the Church. As you know, for a long time we have been preparing an encyclical on these issues. And on this long path I see how difficult it is to speak competently, because if the economic reality is not addressed competently, one cannot be credible. And, on the other hand, we must speak with a great ethical consciousness, created and inspired by a conscience forged by the Gospel. Hence, these fundamental errors must be denounced, the underlying errors, which have now manifested themselves with the bankruptcy of the large American banks.

In the end, it is about human avarice as sin or, as the Letter to the Colossians says, of avarice as idolatry. We must denounce that idolatry that is opposed to the true God and that falsifies the image of God through another god, "mammon." We must do so with courage, but also by being specific. Because great morality is not helpful if it is not based on knowledge of the reality, which also helps to understand what can be done concretely to change the situation gradually. And, of course, to be able to do so, knowledge of that truth and the good will of all is necessary.

We are faced with the central point: Does original sin really exist? If it did not exist, we could appeal to lucid reason, with arguments that are irrefutable and accessible to all, and to the good will that is in everyone. With that alone we could adequately proceed and reform humanity. But it is not like this: reason -- ours also -- is confused; we see it every day. Because egoism, the root of avarice, consists in loving myself more than anything else and of loving the world in reference to myself. It happens in all of us.

It is the obscuring of reason, which can be very learned, with extremely beautiful scientific arguments but which, nevertheless, can be confused by false premises. So one goes forward with great intelligence and makes great strides on an erroneous path. As the Fathers [of the Church] say, the will is also "twisted:" it does not simply try to do good, but above all seeks itself or seeks the good of its own group. For this reason, it is not easy to really find the path of reason, of true reason; it is developed with difficulty through dialogue. Without the light of faith, which penetrates the darkness of original sin, reason cannot go forward. But it is faith, precisely, that then runs into the resistance of our will. It does not want to see the way, which would be a path of self-denial and of correction of one's own will in favor of the other, not of oneself.

That is why I would say that what is needed is the reasonable and reasoned denunciation of the errors, not with great moral statements, but rather with concrete reasons that prove to be understandable in today's economic world. The denunciation is important, it has always been a mandate for the Church. We know that in the new situation that was created by the industrial world, the social doctrine of the Church, beginning with Leo XIII, has attempted to make these denunciations -- and not only the denunciations, which are not sufficient -- but also to show the difficult paths in which, step by step, the assent of reason and of the will is called for, together with the correction of my conscience, to deny my own will, in a certain sense, to deny myself in order to be able to collaborate in the true objective of human life, of humanity.

Having said this, the Church always has the duty to remain vigilant; she must discover with her best efforts the reasons of the economic world, to enter its reasoning and to illumine this reasoning with the faith that frees us from the egoism of original sin. It is a task of the Church, to enter into this discernment, into this reasoning, to make itself heard, including at the various national and international levels, to help and to correct. And it is no easy task, given that so many personal interests and national groups are opposed to a radical correction.

Perhaps it is pessimism, but for me it seems to be realism: While there is original sin, we will never achieve a radical and total correction. Nevertheless, we must do everything possible to implement corrections that are at least provisional, sufficient to enable humanity to live and to put obstacles to the dominance of egoism, which presents itself under pretexts of science and of national and international economy.

This is the first level. The other consists in being realistic. To realize that these great objectives of macro-science are not realized in micro-science -- the macroeconomics in the microeconomics -- without the conversion of hearts. If there are no just men, there is no justice either. We have to accept this. For this reason, education in justice is a priority objective, we can even say it is the priority. Because St. Paul says that justification is the effect of the work of Christ, it is not an abstract concept related to sins that do not interest us today, but refers precisely to integral justice. Only God can give it to us, but he gives it to us with our cooperation at various levels, at all possible levels.

Justice cannot be created in the world only with good economic models, even if these are necessary. Justice is only brought about if there are just men. And there are no just men without the humble, daily endeavour of converting hearts, and of creating justice in hearts. Only in this way is corrective justice extended. That is why the work of the parish priest is so essential, not only for the parish, but for humanity. Because if there are no just men, as I have said, justice remains something abstract. And good structures are not put in place if they face the opposition of egoism, including that of competent people.

Our humble, daily work is essential to attain the great objectives of humanity. And we must work together at all levels. The universal Church must denounce, but she must also proclaim what can be done and how it can be done. The episcopal conferences and the bishops must act. But we must all educate in justice. I believe that even today Abraham's dialogue with God is genuine and realistic (Genesis 18:22-23), when he says: "Will you really destroy the city? Perhaps there are 50 just men, perhaps 10." And 10 just men are enough for the city to survive. That is why we must do what is necessary to educate and guarantee at least 10 just men, but if it is possible, many more. With our proclamation we make it possible to have many just men, for justice to really be present in the world.

Hence, the two levels are inseparable. If, on one hand, we do not proclaim macro-justice, micro-justice does not grow. But, on the other, if we do not carry out the humble endeavor of micro-justice, macro-justice will not grow either. And always, as I said in my first encyclical, with all the systems that can grow in the world, in addition to the justice we seek, charity continues to be necessary. To open hearts to justice and charity is to educate in the faith, to lead to God.

* * *

[Father Marco Valentini:]

Holy Father, I am Father Marco Valentini, vicar of St. Ambrose parish. When I was being formed, I was not aware, as I am now, of the importance of the liturgy. Of course there was no lack of celebrations, but I did not understand how this was "the highest point to which the action of the Church tends and the source from which her energy emanates" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). Instead, I regarded it as a technical matter for the success of a celebration, or a pious practice and not, rather, as a contact with the saving mystery, allowing oneself to be conformed to Christ to be the light of the world, a source of theology, a means to bring about the longed for integration between what is studied and the spiritual life. On the other hand, I did not believe that the liturgy was strictly necessary to be Christian and to be saved, and that it was enough to put the Beatitudes into practice. Now I wonder what charity would be without the liturgy, and if without it our faith would be reduced to morality, an idea, a doctrine, an event of the past, and we priests would not be so much teachers and advisers as mystagogues who introduce people in the mystery. The very Word of God is a proclamation that is realized in the liturgy and that has an amazing relationship with it. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 6; Praenotanda of the Lectionary 4 and 10). And let's also think of the passage of Emmaus or the Ethiopian minister (Acts 8).

Hence, this is my question: Given our specificity, and without lessening our human, philosophical and psychological formation, should not the universities and seminaries offer greater liturgical formation, or does the practice and structure of the studies at present already satisfy sufficiently the Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" 16, which states that the liturgy must be considered among the necessary and most important and principal subjects, and should be taught under the theological, historical, spiritual, pastoral and legal aspects, and that professors of other subjects must make the connection with the liturgy clear? I have asked this question because, taking note of the decree, "Optatam Totius," I think that the many actions of the Church in the world and our own pastoral efficacy depends a lot on our own consciousness of the inexhaustible mystery of our being baptized, anointed and priests.

[Benedict XVI:]

If I have understood correctly, the question is, what is the space and place of liturgical education and of the reality of the celebration of the mystery in the whole of our pastoral work, which is multiple and of so many dimensions. In this sense, it seems to me that it is also a question about the unity of our proclamation and of our pastoral work, which has so many dimensions. We must seek the unifying point, so that our many concerns are all together the work of a pastor. If I have understood well, you seem to think that the unifying point, which creates the synthesis of all the dimensions of our work and our faith, might be, precisely, the celebration of the mysteries; hence, mystagogy, which teaches us to celebrate.

What is really important for me is that the sacraments, the Eucharistic celebration of the sacraments, not be something foreign along with more contemporary endeavors such as moral education, economics, and all the things we have already mentioned. It can easily happen that the sacrament remains somewhat isolated in a more pragmatic context and becomes a reality that is not altogether inserted in the totality of our being. Thank you for the question, because we must really teach what it means to be men. We must teach this great art: how to be a man. As we have seen, this calls for many things: from the great denunciation of original sin in the roots of our economy and of so many aspects of our life, to concrete guidelines on justice, to the proclamation to non-believers. But the mysteries are not something exotic in the cosmos of the most practical realities.

The mystery is the heart from which comes our strength, and to which we return to find this center. And that is why I think that catechesis, let us say mystagogic [catechesis], is really important. Mystagogic also means realistic, referred to our life of men of today. If it is true that man in himself knows not his measure -- that he is just and that he is not just -- but that he finds his measure outside of himself, in God; it is important that this God not be distant but reconcilable, concrete, that he enter our lives and really be a friend with whom we can talk and who talks with us. We must learn to celebrate the Eucharist, learn to know Jesus Christ, the God with a human face, up close, really enter into contact with him, learn to listen to him and to allow him to enter into us. Because sacramental communion is precisely this interpenetration between two persons. I am not taking a piece of bread, or flesh, but I take or I open my heart so that the Risen One will enter the context of my being, so that he is within me and not just outside of me, and thus speaks with me and transforms my being. He gives me the sense of justice, the dynamism of justice, in zeal for the Gospel.

This celebration, in which God not only comes close to us, but enters into the fabric of our existence, is essential to really be able to live with God and for God and to take the light of God to this world. Let us not go into too many details now. But it is always important that the sacramental catechesis be an existential catechesis. Of course, even accepting and increasingly learning the mystic aspect -- where words and reasoning fail -- the latter is totally realistic, because it leads me to God, and God to me. It leads me to the other because the other receives the same Christ, as I do. Hence, if the same Christ is in him and me, we also are no longer separate individual beings. Herein lies the birth of the doctrine of the Body of Christ, because we have all been incorporated if we receive the Eucharist correctly in the same Christ. Hence, my neighbor is truly close: we are no longer two separate "I"s, but we are united in the same "I" of Christ.

In other words, Eucharistic and sacramental catechesis must really go to the depth of our existence, to be, in fact, education to open myself to the voice of God, to let myself be opened to break this original sin of egoism and to open my existence profoundly, so that I will really be just. In this sense, it seems to me that we must all learn the liturgy better, not as something exotic but as the heart of our being Christian, which does not open easily to a distant man, but which is, on the other hand, precisely openness to the other, to the world. We must all collaborate in celebrating the Eucharist ever more profoundly: not only as a rite but as an existential process that touches me profoundly, more than anything else, and changes me, transforms me and, by transforming me, sparks the transformation of the world that the Lord desires and of which He wishes to make me an instrument.

[Father Lucio Maria Zappatore:]

Most Blessed Father, I am Father Lucio Maria Zappatore, Carmelite, parish priest of Santa Maria Regina Mundi parish in Torrespaccata.

To justify my intervention, I refer to what you said last Sunday, during the recitation of the Angelus, in regard to the Petrine ministry. You spoke of the singular and specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome, who presides over the universal communion of charity. I ask you to continue this reflection, extending it to the universal Church: What singular charism does the Church of Rome have and what are the characteristics that make her, by a mysterious gift of Providence, unique in the world? To have as bishop the Pope of the universal Church -- what does this entail in your mission, today in particular? We do not want to know what privileges we have: once it was said "Parochus in urbe, episcopus in orbe"; but we want to know how to live this charism, this gift of living as priests in Rome, and what you expect from us, the Roman parish priests.

In a few days you will go to the Campidoglio to meet with the civil authorities of Rome, and you will speak about the material problems of our city. Today we ask you to speak to us about the spiritual problems of Rome and of its Church. And, in regard to your visit to the Campidoglio, I have taken the liberty to dedicate a sonnet to you in Roman dialect, requesting that you be pleased to hear it.

Er Papa che salisce al Campidojo / e un fatto che te lassa senza fiato / perche 'sta vortas sorte for dar sojo, / pe creanza che tie 'n bon vicinato. / Er sindaco e la giunta con orgojo / janno fatto 'n invito, er piu accorato, / perche Roma, se sa, vojo o nun vojo / nun po' fa' proprio a meno der papato. / Roma, tu ciai avuto drento ar petto / la forza pe porta la civirta. / Quanno Pietro t'ha messo lo zicchetto / eterna Dio t'ha fatto addiventa. / Accoji allora er Papa Benedetto / che sale a beneditte e a ringrazia!

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you. We have heard the Roman heart speak, which is a heart of poetry. It is lovely to hear a bit of Roman dialect spoken and to feel that poetry is profoundly rooted in the Roman heart. This is, perhaps, a natural privilege that the Lord has given Romans. It is a natural charism that precedes the ecclesial.

If I have understood correctly, your question is made up of two parts. First of all, what concrete responsibility does the Bishop of Rome have today? And then you correctly extend the Petrine privilege to the whole Church of Rome -- it was thus regarded also in the early Church -- and you ask what are the obligations of the Church of Rome to respond to this vocation of hers.

It is not necessary to develop the doctrine of the primacy here; you all know it very well. It is important to reflect on the fact that the Successor of Peter, Peter's ministry, really guarantees the universality of the Church, the transcendence of nationalism and other borders that exist in humanity today, to be truly one Church in diversity and in the wealth of so many cultures.

We also see how the other ecclesial communities, the other Churches see the need of a unifying point so as not to fall prey to nationalism, identification with a determined culture, to be really open, all for all and to be almost obliged to be always open to others. I think this is the essential ministry of the Successor of Peter: to guarantee this catholicity which implies multiplicity, diversity, cultural wealth, respect of differences and that, at the same time, excludes absolutism and unites all, obliges them to open themselves, to come out of their own absolutism to meet in the unity of the family of God that the Lord has desired and of which the Successor of Peter is the guarantee, as unity in diversity.

Of course, the Church of the Successor of Peter must bear, with her Bishop, this burden, this joy of the gift of her responsibility. In Revelation the bishop appears in fact as the angel of his Church, that is, somewhat like the incorporation of his Church, to which he must respond being of the same Church. Hence, the Church of Rome, together with the Successor of Peter and as his particular Church, must guarantee precisely this universality, this openness, this responsibility for the transcendence of love, this presiding in love which excludes particulars. It must also guarantee fidelity to the Word of the Lord, to the gift of faith, which we have not invented, but which is really a gift that could only come from God himself. This will always be the duty, but also the privilege, of the Church of Rome, against the fashion, against the particular, against absolutism in some aspects, against heresies which are always the absolutizing of an aspect. Also the duty to guarantee universality and fidelity to the integrity, to the richness of her faith, of her path in history that is always open to the future. And, together with this testimony of faith and universality, she must of course give example of charity.

So said St. Ignatius, identifying in this somewhat enigmatic word the sacrament of the Eucharist, the action of loving others. And, to return to the previous point, this is very important: namely, this identification with the Eucharist which is agape, charity, the presence of charity which was given to us in Christ. She must always be charity, sign and cause of charity in openness to others, in giving herself to others, in responsibility towards the needy, the poor, the forgotten. This is a great responsibility.

Presiding over the Eucharist must be followed by presiding in charity, which can be witnessed only by the community itself. I think this is the great duty, the great question posed to the Church of Rome: to really be an example and point of departure of charity. In this sense, she presides in charity.

In the presbytery of Rome we are from all the continents, all the races, all the philosophies and all the cultures. I am happy that the presbytery of Rome expresses precisely the universality; [it expresses], in the unity of the small local Church, the presence of the universal Church. More difficult and exacting is to be bearers also of the testimony of charity, of being with others with our Lord. We can only pray to the Lord to help us in each parish, in each community, so that all together we will be really faithful to this gift, to this command to preside in charity.

[Father William M. Cassone:]

Holy Father, I am Father William M. Cassone, of the Community of Schoenstatt Fathers in Rome, parish vicar in the parish of Italy's patron saints, St. Francis and St. Catherine, in Trastevere.

Following the synod on the Word of God, reflecting on Proposition 55, "Maria Mater Dei et Mater Fidei," I wonder how we could improve the relationship between the Word of God and Marian devotion, be it in the priestly spiritual life or in pastoral action. Two images are helpful to me: the Annunciation for listening and the Visitation for the proclamation. I would like to ask you, Your Holiness, to enlighten us with your teaching on this subject. Thank you for this gift.

[Benedict XVI:]

I think that you yourself have answered your question. Mary is really the woman who listens: We see it in the meeting with the angel, and we see it again in all the scenes of her life, from the wedding at Cana to the cross and to the day of Pentecost, when she was in the midst of the Apostles precisely to receive the Spirit. She is the symbol of openness, of the Church that awaits the coming of the Holy Spirit.

At the moment of the proclamation we can already have an attitude of listening -- a true listening, a listening that is internalized, which does not simply say yes, but which assimilates the Word, takes the Word, and then follows with true obedience, as if it were an internalized Word, that is, converted into a Word in me and for me, almost the form of my life. This seems very beautiful to me: to see this active listening, a listening that attracts the Word so that it enters and becomes Word in me, reflecting on it and accepting it in the depth of my heart. Thus the Word becomes incarnate.

We see the same in the Magnificat. We know that it is a fabric made up of words of the Old Testament. We see that Mary is really a woman who listens, who knew the Scriptures in her heart. She did not just know some texts, but was so identified with the Word that the words of the Old Testament became synthesized, a song in her heart and on her lips. We see that her life was really penetrated by the Word, she had entered the Word, had assimilated it and it had become life in her, transforming itself again in a Word of praise and proclamation of the greatness of God.

Referring to Mary, I think that St. Luke says at least three times, perhaps four times, that she assimilated and kept the Word in her heart. For the Fathers, she was the model of the Church, the model of the believer that keeps the Word, bears the Word in himself; who does not just read it or interpret it with his intelligence in order to know what happened at that time, what the philological problems are. All this is interesting and important, but it is more important to listen to the Word that is kept and that becomes Word in me, life and the Lord's presence in me. That is why I find the connection important between Mariology and theology of the Word, of which the synodal fathers spoke and of which we shall speak in the post-synodal document.

It is obvious: The Virgin is the word of listening, silent word, but also word of praise, of proclamation, because in listening, the Word again becomes flesh and thus becomes the presence of God's greatness.

[Father Pietro Riggi:]

Holy Father, I am Pietro Riggi and I am a Salesian. I work in the Borgo Ragazzi Don Bosco. I would like to ask you: The Second Vatican Council brought many very important novelties in the Church, but it did not abolish the things she already had. I think that many priests and theologians would like to make things happen as coming from the spirit of the Council, which have nothing to do with the Council itself. For example, indulgences. We have the Manual of Indulgences of the Apostolic Penitentiary. Through indulgences we have access to the treasure of the Church and help can be offered for the souls in Purgatory. There is a liturgical calendar that states when and how plenary indulgences can be obtained, but many priests no longer speak about them, preventing very important assistance from reaching the souls in Purgatory. [Also,] blessings. We have the Manual of Blessings which provides for the blessing of individuals, environments, objects and even foods. But many priests do not know these things; others consider them pre-Conciliar, and pay no attention to those faithful who request what they should have by right.

More known pious practices: The first Fridays of the month were not abolished by the Second Vatican Council, but many priests no longer speak about this, or even speak badly about it. Today there is a sense of aversion to all this, because they are regarded as old and harmful, as old things and pre-Conciliar, whereas I think that all these Christian prayers and practices are very timely and very important; they must be recovered and properly explained to the People of God, in a healthy balance and in truth in the integrity of Vatican II.

I would also like to ask you: speaking of Fatima, you once said that there is a link between Fatima and Akita, the lacrimation of the Virgin in Japan. Both Paul VI and John Paul II celebrated a solemn Mass in Fatima and used the same passage of sacred Scripture, Revelation 12, the woman clothed with the sun who struggles in a decisive battle against the ancient serpent, the devil, Satan. Is there an affinity between Fatima and Revelation 12?

I conclude: last year a priest gave you a picture. I cannot paint but I also wanted to give you a gift, so I thought I would give you three books which I wrote recently. I hope you will like them.

[Benedict XVI:]

There are realities of which the Council did not speak, but which are implied as realities in the Church. They live in the Church and develop. Now is not the time to go into the great subject of indulgences. Paul VI re-ordered this subject and showed us the way to understand it. I would say that it is simply about an exchange of gifts, that is, whatever is good in the Church is there for all. With this key [understanding] of the indulgence we can enter into this communion with the goods of the Church.

Protestants are opposed, saying that Christ is the only treasure. But for me, what is marvelous is that Christ -- who is more than sufficient in his infinite love, in his divinity and humanity -- wished to add our poverty also to all that he had made. He does not regard us only as objects of his mercy, but makes us subjects of his mercy and love together with him so that -- though not quantitatively, at least in the mystical sense -- he would like to add us to the great treasure of the Body of Christ. He wishes to be the head with his body, in which all the wealth of what he has done is fulfilled. As a result of this mystery there is, in fact, a "tesaurus ecclesiae," that the body, as well as the head, gives so much, which we can receive from one another and give to one another.

And so it is with other things. For example, the Friday of the Sacred Heart is something very beautiful in the Church. They are not necessary things, but have arisen in the richness of meditation on the mystery. So the Lord offers us these possibilities in the Church. I do not think that now is the time to enter into all the details. Each one can understand more or less what is most important and what is not; but no one should scorn this wealth, which has grown over the centuries as an offering and as the multiplication of lights in the Church. The only light is that of Christ. It appears in all its colors and offers knowledge of the richness of his gift, the interaction between the head and the body, the interaction between the members, so that we can really be together a living organism, in which one gives to all, and all give to the Lord, who has given himself completely to us.

[Translation by ZENIT]


Pope's Q-and-A With Diocesan Priests

"If We Live With Christ We Will Also Succeed in Human Things"

BRESSANONE, Italy, AUG. 18, 2008 - Here is the first part of a translation of the question-and-answer session Benedict XVI held with the priests, deacons and seminarians of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone. The Holy Father was on vacation in the Dolomites, where he stayed at the major seminary of Bressanone.

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Michael Horrer, Seminarian: Holy Father, my name is Michael Horrer and I am a seminarian. On the occasion of the XXIII World Youth Day of Sydney, in Australia, in which I took part with other young people of our diocese, you constantly reaffirmed to the 400,000 youth present the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit in us young people and in the Church. The theme of the Day was: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1: 8).

We young people have now returned -- strengthened by the Holy Spirit and by his words - to our homes, our dioceses and our daily lives.

Holy Father, how can we live the gifts of the Holy Spirit in practice, here in our country and in our daily lives, in such a way that our relatives, friends and acquaintances feel and experience his power, and how can we exercise our mission as Christ's witnesses? What can you advise us in order to ensure that our diocese stays young, despite the aging of the clergy, so that it also stays open to the Spirit of God who guides the Church?

Benedict XVI: Thank you for your question. I am glad to see a seminarian, a candidate for the priesthood of this diocese, in whose face, in a certain sense, I can rediscover the young face of the diocese. And I am glad to hear that, together with others, you were in Sydney where at a great celebration of faith we experienced together precisely that the Church is young.

For Australians too, it was an important experience. At first they looked at this World Youth Day with great skepticism because it would obviously cause a lot of bother and many inconveniences to daily life, such as traffic jams, etc.

However, in the end -- as we also saw in the media whose prejudices crumbled, bit by bit -- everyone felt involved in this atmosphere of joy and faith; they saw that young people come and do not create problems of security or of any other kind but can be together joyfully.

They saw that faith today is a force that is present, a force that can give people the right orientation. This is why there was a moment in which we truly felt the breath of the Holy Spirit who sweeps away prejudices, who makes people understand that yes, here we find what closely affects us, this is the direction in which we must go; and in this way we can live, in this way the future unfolds.

You rightly said this was a strong moment of which we would take home with us a little spark. In daily life however, it is far more difficult in practice to perceive the action of the Holy Spirit, or even to be personally a means to enable him to be present, to ensure the presence of that breath which sweeps away the prejudices of time, which creates light in the darkness and makes us feel not only that faith has a future but that it is the future.

How can we do this? We cannot of course do it on our own. In the end, it is the Lord who helps us but we must be available as instruments. I would say simply: no one can give what he does not personally possess; in other words we cannot pass on the Holy Spirit effectively or make him perceptible to others unless we ourselves are close to him.

This is why I think that the most important thing is that we ourselves remain, so to speak, within the radius of the Holy Spirit's breath, in contact with him. Only if we are continually touched within by the Holy Spirit, if he dwells in us, will it be possible for us to pass him on to others.

Then he gives us the imagination and creative ideas about how to act, ideas that cannot be planned but are born from the situation itself, because it is there that the Holy Spirit is at work. Thus, the first point: we ourselves must remain within the radius of the Holy Spirit's breath.

John's Gospel tell us that after the Resurrection the Lord went to his disciples, breathed upon them and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit." This is a parallel to Genesis, where God breathes on the mixture he made with the dust from the earth and it comes to life and becomes man.

Then man, who is inwardly darkened and half dead, receives Christ's breath anew and it is this breath of God that gives his life a new dimension, that gives him life with the Holy Spirit.

We can say, therefore, that the Holy Spirit is the breath of Jesus Christ and we, in a certain sense, must ask Christ to breathe on us always, so that his breath will become alive and strong and work upon the world. This means that we must keep close to Christ.

We do so by meditating on his Word. We know that the principal author of the sacred Scriptures is the Holy Spirit. When through his Word we speak with God, when we do not only seek the past in it but truly the Lord who is present and speaks to us, then -- as I said in Australia -- it is as if we were to find ourselves strolling in the garden of the Holy Spirit; we talk to him and he talks to us.

Here, learning to be at home in this environment, in the environment of the Word of God, is a very important thing which, in a certain sense, introduces us into the breath of God. And then, naturally, this listening, walking in the environment of the Word must be transformed into a response, a response in prayer, in contact with Christ.

And of course, first of all in the blessed sacrament of the Eucharist in which he comes to us and enters us and is, as it were, amalgamated with us. Then, however, also in the sacrament of penance, which always purifies us, which washes away the grime that daily life deposits in us.

In short, it is a life with Christ in the Holy Spirit, in the Word of God and in the communion of the Church, in her community. St Augustine said: "If you desire the Spirit of God, you must be in the Body of Christ." Christ's Spirit moves within the Mystical Body of Christ.

All this must determine the shape that our day takes in such a way that it becomes structured, a day in which God has access to us all the time, in which we are in continuous contact with Christ and in which, for this very reason, we are continuously receiving the breath of the Holy Spirit.

If we do this, if we are not too lazy, undisciplined or sluggish, then something happens to us: the day acquires a form and in it our life itself acquires a form and this light will shine from us without us having to give it much thought or having to adopt a "propagandist" -- so to speak -- way of acting: It comes automatically because it mirrors our soul. To this I would then add a second dimension that is logically linked with the first: If we live with Christ we will also succeed in human things.

Indeed, faith does not only involve a supernatural aspect, it rebuilds man, bringing him back to his humanity, as that parallel between Genesis and John 20 shows: It is based precisely on the natural virtues: honesty, joy, the willingness to listen to one's neighbor, the ability to forgive, generosity, goodness and cordiality among people.

These human virtues show that faith is truly present, that we are truly with Christ and I believe that we should pay great attention to this, also regarding ourselves: To develop an authentic humanity in ourselves because faith involves the complete fulfillment of the human being, of humanity.

We should pay attention to carrying out human tasks well and correctly, also in our profession, in respect for our neighbor, in being concerned about our neighbor, which is the best way to be concerned about ourselves: In fact, "existing" for our neighbor is the best way of "existing" for ourselves.

And the latter subsequently gives rise to those initiatives that cannot be programmed: communities of prayer, communities that read the Bible together or that even provide effective help for people in need, who require it, who are on the margins of life, for the sick, for the disabled and many other things. This is when our eyes are opened to see our personal skills, to assume the corresponding initiatives and to be able to imbue others with the courage to do the same. And precisely these human things can strengthen us, in a certain way putting us in touch anew with God's Spirit.

The head of the Order of the Knights of Malta in Rome told me that at Christmas he went to the station with several young people to take a bit of Christmas to the homeless. While he himself was turning back, he heard one young man telling another: "This is more powerful than the discothèque. It is really beautiful here because I can do something for others!" These are the initiatives that the Holy Spirit inspires in us. With few words they enable us to feel the Spirit's power and we are made attentive to Christ.

Well, perhaps I have not said very practical things just now, but I believe the most important thing is, first of all, that our life should be oriented to the Holy Spirit, because we live in the milieu of the Spirit, in the body of Christ, and from this we experience humanization, we nurture the simple human virtues and thus learn to be good in the broadest sense of the word. Thus, one acquires a sensitivity for good initiatives which later, of course, develop a missionary force and in a certain sense prepare the ground for the moment when it becomes reasonable and comprehensible to speak of Christ and of our faith.

  Father Willibald Hopfgartner, OFM: Holy Father, my name is Willibald Hopfgartner, I am a Franciscan and I work in a school and in various areas of guidance of my order. In your discourse at Regensburg you stressed the substantial link between the divine Spirit and human reason.

On the other hand, you also always underlined the importance of art and beauty, of aesthetics. Consequently, should not the aesthetic experience of faith in the context of the Church, for proclamation and for the liturgy be ceaselessly reaffirmed alongside the conceptual dialogue about God (in theology)?

Benecdict XVI: Thank you. Yes, I think these two things go hand in hand: reason, precision, honesty in the reflection on the truth -- and beauty. Reason that intended to strip itself of beauty would be halved, it would be a blinded reason. It is only when they are united that both these things form the whole, and precisely for faith this union is important. Faith must continuously face the challenges of thought in this epoch, so that it does not seem a sort of irrational legend that we keep alive but which really is a response to the great questions, and not merely a habit but the truth -- as Tertullian once said.

In his First Letter, St. Peter wrote the phrase that medieval theologians took as a legitimation, as it were, a responsibility for their theological task: "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" -- an apologetic for the logos of hope, that is, a transformation of the logos, the reason for hope in apologetics, in response to men.

He was obviously convinced of the fact that the faith was the logos, that it was a reason, a light that came from creative Reason rather than a wonderful concoction, a fruit of our thought. And this is why it is universal and for this reason can be communicated to all.

Yet, precisely this creative logos is not only a technical logos -- we shall return to this aspect with another answer -- it is broad, it is a logos that is love, hence such as to be expressed in beauty and in good.

Also, I did once say that to me art and the saints are the greatest apologetic for our faith. The arguments contributed by reason are unquestionably important and indispensable, but then there is always dissent somewhere.

On the other hand, if we look at the saints, this great luminous trail on which God passed through history, we see that there truly is a force of good which resists the millennia; there truly is the light of light. Likewise, if we contemplate the beauties created by faith, they are simply, I would say, the living proof of faith.

If I look at this beautiful cathedral -- it is a living proclamation! It speaks to us itself, and on the basis of the cathedral's beauty, we succeed in visibly proclaiming God, Christ and all his mysteries: Here they have acquired a form and look at us.

All the great works of art, cathedrals -- the Gothic cathedrals and the splendid Baroque churches -- they are all a luminous sign of God and therefore truly a manifestation, an epiphany of God. And in Christianity it is precisely a matter of this epiphany: that God became a veiled Epiphany -- he appears and is resplendent.

We have just heard the organ in its full splendor. I think the great music born in the Church makes the truth of our faith audible and perceivable: from Gregorian chant to the music of the cathedrals, to Palestrina and his epoch, to Bach and hence to Mozart and Bruckner and so forth. In listening to all these works -- the Passions of Bach, his Mass in B flat, and the great spiritual compositions of 16th-century polyphony, of the Viennese School, of all music, even that of minor composers -- we suddenly understand: It is true!

Wherever such things are born, the Truth is there. Without an intuition that discovers the true creative center of the world such beauty cannot be born.

For this reason I think we should always ensure that the two things are together; we should bring them together.

When, in our epoch, we discuss the reasonableness of faith, we discuss precisely the fact that reason does not end where experimental discoveries end -- it does not finish in positivism; the theory of evolution sees the truth but sees only half the truth: It does not see that behind it is the Spirit of the creation. We are fighting to expand reason, and hence for a reason, which, precisely, is also open to the beautiful and does not have to set it aside as something quite different and unreasonable.

Christian art is a rational art -- let us think of Gothic art or of the great music or even, precisely, of our own Baroque art -- but it is the artistic expression of a greatly expanded reason, in which heart and reason encounter each other. This is the point. I believe that in a certain way this is proof of the truth of Christianity: Heart and reason encounter one another, beauty and truth converge, and the more that we ourselves succeed in living in the beauty of truth, the more that faith will be able to return to being creative in our time too, and to express itself in a convincing form of art.

So, dear Father Hopfgartner, thank you for your question; let us seek to ensure that the two categories, the aesthetic and the noetic (intellectual), are united and that in this great breadth the entirety and depth of our faith may be made manifest.

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Father Willi Fusaro: Holy Father, I am Father Willi Fusaro, I am 42 years old and I have been ill since the year of my priestly ordination. I was ordained in June 1991; then in September of the same year I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I am a parish cooperator at Corpus Domini Parish, Bolzano. I was deeply impressed by John Paul II, especially in the last part of his pontificate, when he bore his human weakness with courage and humility before the whole world.

Given your closeness to your beloved predecessor and on the basis of your personal experience, what can you say to me and to all of us to truly help elderly or sick priests to live their priesthood well and fruitfully in the presbyterate and in the Christian community? Thank you!

Benedict XVI: Thank you, Reverend Father. I would say that, for me, both parts of the Pope John Paul II's pontificate were equally important. In the first part in which we saw him as a giant of faith: with incredible courage, extraordinary force, a true joy of faith and great lucidity, he took the Gospel message to the ends of the earth.

He spoke to everyone, he explored new paths with the movements, interreligious dialogue, ecumenical meetings, deepening the manner in which we listen to the divine word, with everything ... with his love for the sacred liturgy. He truly brought down -- we can say -- not the walls of Jericho but the walls between two worlds with the power of his own faith. His testimony lives on, unforgettable, and continues to be a light for this millennium.

However, I must say that because of the humble testimony of his "passion," to my mind the last years of his pontificate were no less important; just as he carried the Lord's cross before us and put into practice the words of the Lord: "Follow me, carry the cross with me and walk in my footsteps!"

With such humility, such patience with which he accepted what was practically the destruction of his body and the growing inability to speak, he who had been a master of words thus showed us visibly -- it seems to me -- the profound truth that the Lord redeemed us with his cross, with the passion, as an extreme act of his love. He showed us that suffering is not only a "no," something negative, the lack of something, but a positive reality. He showed us that suffering accepted for love of Christ, for love of God and of others is a redeeming force, a force of love and no less powerful than the great deeds he accomplished in the first part of his pontificate.

He taught us a new love for those who suffer and made us understand the meaning of "in the cross and through the cross we are saved."

We also have these two aspects in the life of the Lord. In the first part he teaches the joy of the Kingdom of God, brings his gifts to men and then, in the second part, he is immersed in the Passion until his last cry from the cross. In this very way he taught us who God is, that God is love and that, in identifying with our suffering as human beings, he takes us in his arms and immerses us in his love and this love alone bathes us in redemption, purification and rebirth.

Therefore, I think that we all -- and increasingly so in a world that thrives on activism, on youth, on being young, strong and beautiful, on succeeding in doing great things -- must learn the truth of love which becomes a "passion" and thereby redeems man and unites him with God who is love.

So I would like to thank all who accept suffering, who suffer with the Lord, and to encourage all of us to have an open heart for the suffering and for the elderly; to understand that their "passion" is itself a source of renewal for humanity, creating love in us and uniting us to the Lord. Yet, in the end, it is always difficult to suffer. I remember Cardinal Mayer's sister. She was seriously ill and when she became impatient he said to her: "You see, now you are with the Lord." And she answered him: "It is easy for you to say so because you are healthy, but I am suffering my 'passion.'" It is true, in a true "passion" it becomes ever more difficult to be truly united with the Lord and to maintain this disposition of union with the suffering Lord.

Let us therefore pray for all who are suffering and do our utmost to help them, to show our gratitude for their suffering and be present to them as much as we can, to the very end. This is a fundamental message of Christianity that stems from the theology of the Cross: The fact that suffering and passion are present in Christ's love is the challenge for us to unite ourselves with his passion.

We must love those who suffer not only with words but with all our actions and our commitment. I think that only in this way are we truly Christian. I wrote in my encyclical "Spe Salvi" that the ability to accept suffering and those who suffer is the measure of the humanity one possesses. When this ability is lacking, man is reduced and redefined. Therefore, let us pray the Lord to help us in our suffering and lead us to be close to all those who suffering in this world.

Father Karl Golser: Holy Father, my name is Karl Golser, I am a professor of moral theology here in Bressanone and also director of the Institute for Justice, Peace and the Preservation of the Creation; I am also a canon. I am pleased to recall the period in which I was able to work with you at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As you know, the Catholic Church has deeply forged the history and culture of our country. Today, however, we sometimes have the feeling that, as Church, we have somewhat retired to the sacristy. The declarations of the papal magisterium on the important social issues do not find the right response in parishes and ecclesial communities.

Here in Alto Adige, for example, the authorities and many associations forcefully call attention to environmental problems and in particular to climate change. The principal arguments are the melting of glaciers, landslides in the mountains, the problems of the cost of energy, traffic, and the pollution of the atmosphere. There are many initiatives for safeguarding the environment.

However, in the average awareness of our Christians, all this has very little to do with faith. What can we do to increase the sense of responsibility for creation in the life of our Christian communities? What can we do in order to view Creation and Redemption as more closely united? How can we live a Christian lifestyle in an exemplary way that will endure? And how can we combine this with a quality of life that is attractive for all the people of our earth?

Benedict XVI: Thank you very much, dear Professor Golser. You would certainly be far more able than I to answer these questions but I shall try just the same to say something. You have thus touched on the theme of Creation and Redemption and I think that this indissoluble bond should be given new prominence.

In recent decades the doctrine of Creation had almost disappeared from theology, it was almost imperceptible. We are now aware of the damage that this has caused. The Redeemer is the Creator and if we do not proclaim God in his full grandeur -- as Creator and as Redeemer -- we also diminish the value of the Redemption.

Indeed, if God has no role in Creation, if he is relegated merely to a historical context, how can he truly understand the whole of our life? How will he be able to bring salvation to man in his entirety and to the world in its totality?

This is why, for me, the renewal of the doctrine of Creation and a new understanding of the inseparability of Creation and Redemption are of supreme importance. We must recognize anew: He is the Creator Spiritus, the Reason that exists in the beginning, from which all things are born and of which our own reason is but a spark.

And it is he, the Creator himself, who did and can enter into history and operate in it precisely because he is the God of the whole and not only of a part. If we recognize this it will obviously follow that the Redemption, being Christian, and simply Christian faith, also means responsibility always and everywhere with regard to creation.

Twenty-three years ago Christians were accused -- I do not know if this accusation is still held -- of being the ones truly responsible for the destruction of creation because the words contained in Genesis -- "subdue the earth" -- were said to have led to that arrogance with regard to creation whose consequences we are reaping today.

I think we must learn again to understand this accusation in all its falsity: As long as the earth was seen as God's creation, the task of "subduing" it was never intended as an order to enslave it but rather as the task of being guardians of creation and developing its gifts; of actively collaborating in God's work ourselves, in the evolution that he ordered in the world so that the gifts of creation might be appreciated rather than trampled upon and destroyed.

If we observe what came into being around monasteries, how in those places small paradises, oases of creation were and continue to be born, it becomes evident that these were not only words. Rather, wherever the Creator's word was properly understood, wherever life was lived with the redeeming Creator, people strove to save creation and not to destroy it.

Chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans also fits into this context. It says that the whole of creation has been groaning in travail because of the bondage to which it has been subjected, awaiting the revelation of God's sons: It will feel liberated when creatures, men and women who are children of God, treat it according to God's perspective.

I believe that we can establish exactly this as a reality today. Creation is groaning -- we perceive it, we almost hear it -- and awaits human beings who will preserve it in accordance with God. The brutal consumption of creation begins where God is not, where matter is henceforth only material for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate demand, where the whole is merely our property and we consume it for ourselves alone.

And the wasting of creation begins when we no longer recognize any need superior to our own, but see only ourselves. It begins when there is no longer any concept of life beyond death, where in this life we must grab hold of everything and possess life as intensely as possible, where we must possess all that is possible to possess.

I think, therefore, that true and effective initiatives to prevent the waste and destruction of creation can be implemented and developed, understood and lived only where creation is considered as beginning with God; where life is considered as beginning with God and has greater dimensions -- in responsibility before God -- and one day will be given to us by God in fullness and never taken away from us: In giving life we receive it.

Thus, I believe we must strive with all the means we have to present faith in public, especially where a sensitivity for it already exists.

And I think that the sensation that the world may be slipping away -- because it is we ourselves who are chasing it away -- and feeling oppressed by the problems of creation, afford us a suitable opportunity in which our faith can speak publicly and make itself felt as a propositional initiative.

Indeed, it is not merely a question of discovering technologies that prevent the damage, even though it is important to find alternative sources of energy, among other things.

Yet, none of this will suffice unless we ourselves find a new way of living, a discipline of making sacrifices, a discipline of the recognition of others to whom creation belongs as much as it belongs to us who may more easily make use of it; a discipline of responsibility with regard to the future of others and to our own future, because it is a responsibility in the eyes of the One who is our Judge and as such is also Redeemer but, truly, also our Judge.

Consequently, I think in any case that the two dimensions -- Creation and Redemption, earthly life and eternal life, responsibility for creation and responsibility for others and for the future -- should be juxtaposed. I also think it is our task to intervene clearly and with determination on public opinion. To be heard, we must at the same time demonstrate by our own example, by our own way of life, that we are speaking of a message in which we ourselves believe and according to which it is possible to live.

And let us ask the Lord to help us all to live out the faith and the responsibility of faith in such a way that our lifestyle becomes a testimony; and then to speak in such a way that our works may credibly convey faith as an orientation in our time.

Father Franz Pixner, dean at Kastelruth: Holy Father, I am Franz Pixner and I am the pastor of two large parishes. I myself, together with many of my confreres and lay persons, are concerned about the increasing burden of pastoral care caused by, for example, the pastoral units that are being created: the intense pressure of work, the lack of recognition, difficulties concerning the magisterium, loneliness, the dwindling number of priests, but also of communities of the faithful. Many people wonder what God is asking of us in this situation and how the Holy Spirit wishes to encourage us.

In this context arise questions concerning, for example, the celibacy of priests, the ordination of "viri probati" to the priesthood, the involvement of charisms, particularly those of women, in pastoral care, making men and women collaborators trained in theology responsible for conferring baptism and preaching homilies.

The question is also asked how we priests, confronted by the new challenges, can help one another in a brotherly community, at the various levels of the diocese, diaconate and pastoral and parish unit.

We ask you, Holy Father, to give us some good advice for all these questions. Thank you.

Benedict XVI: Dear dean, you have opened a whole series of questions that occupy and concern pastors and all of us in this age, and you certainly know that I cannot answer all of them here. I imagine that you will have repeated opportunities to consider them with your bishop, and we in turn we will speak of them at the Synod of Bishops. All of us, I believe stand in need of this dialogue with one another, of the dialogue of faith and responsibility, in order to find the straight narrow path in this era, full of difficult perspectives on faith and challenges for priests. No one has an instant recipe, we are all searching together.

With this reservation, I find myself together with all of you in the midst of this process of toil and interior struggle, I shall try to say a few words, precisely as part of a broader dialogue.

In my answer I would like to examine two fundamental aspects: on the one hand, the irreplaceableness of the priest, the meaning and the manner of the priestly ministry today; and on the other -- and this is more obvious than it used to be -- the multiplicity of charisms and the fact that all together they are Church, they build the Church and for this reason we must strive to reawaken charisms. We must foster this lively whole, which in turn then also supports the priest. He supports others, others support him and only in this complex and variegated whole can the Church develop today and toward the future.

On the one hand, there will always be a need for the priest who is totally dedicated to the Lord and therefore totally dedicated to humanity. In the Old Testament there is the call to "sanctification" which more or less corresponds to what we mean today by "consecration," or even "priestly ordination": Something is delivered over to God and is therefore removed from the common sphere, it is given to him. Yet this means that it is now available for all.

Since it has been taken and given to God, for this very reason it is now not isolated by being raised from the "for," to the "for all." I think that this can also be said of the Church's priesthood. It means on the one hand that we are consigned to the Lord, separated from ordinary life, but on the other, we are consigned to him because in this way we can belong to him totally and totally belong to others.

I believe we must continuously seek to show this to young people -- to those who are idealists, who want to do something for the whole -- show them that precisely this "extraction from the common" means "consignment to the whole" and that this is an important way, the most important way, to serve our brethren.

Part of this, moreover, is truly making oneself available to the Lord in the fullness of one's being and consequently, finding oneself totally available to men and women. I think celibacy is a fundamental expression of this totality and already, for this reason, an important reference in this world because it only has meaning if we truly believe in eternal life and if we believe that God involves us and that we can be for him.

Therefore, the priesthood is indispensable because in the Eucharist itself, originating in God, the Church is built; in the sacrament of penance purification is conferred; in the sacrament, the priesthood is, precisely, an involvement in the "for" of Jesus Christ.

However, I know well how difficult it is today -- when a priest finds himself directing not only one easily managed parish but several parishes and pastoral units; when he must be available to give this or that advice, and so forth -- how difficult it is to live such a life. I believe that in this situation it is important to have the courage to limit oneself and to be clear about deciding on priorities.

A fundamental priority of priestly life is to be with the Lord and thus to have time for prayer. St. Charles Borromeo always used to say: "You will not be able to care for the souls of others if you let your own perish. In the end you will no longer do anything even for others. You must always have time for being with God."

I would therefore like to emphasize: Whatever the demands that arise, it is a real priority to find every day, I would say, an hour to be in silence for the Lord and with the Lord, as the Church suggests we do with the breviary, with daily prayers, so as to continually enrich ourselves inwardly, to return -- as I said in answering the first question -- to within the reach of the Holy Spirit's breath. And to order priorities on this basis: I must learn to see what is truly essential, where my presence as a priest is indispensable and where I cannot delegate anyone else. And at the same time, I must humbly accept when there are many things I should do and where my presence is requested that I cannot manage because I know my limits. I think people understand this humility.

And I now must link the other aspect to this: knowing how to delegate, to get people to collaborate. I have the impression that people understand and also appreciate it when a priest is with God, when he is concerned with his office of being the person who prays for others: "We," they say, "cannot pray so much, you must do it for us: Basically, it is your job, as it were, to be the one who prays for us."

They want a priest who honestly endeavors to live with the Lord and then is available to men and women -- the suffering, the dying, the sick, children, young people (I would say that they are the priorities) -- but also who can distinguish between things that others do better than him, thereby making room for those gifts.

I am thinking of movements and of many other forms of collaboration in the parish. May all these things also be reflected upon in the diocese itself, new forms of collaboration should be created and interchanges encouraged.

You rightly said that in this it is important to look beyond the parish to the diocesan community, indeed, to the community of the universal Church, which in her turn must direct her gaze to see what is happening in the parish and what the consequences are for the individual priest.

You then touched on another point, very important in my eyes: Priests, even if they live far apart, are a true community of brothers who should support and help one another. In order not to drift into isolation, into loneliness with its sorrows, it is important for us to meet one another regularly.

It will be the task of the diocese to establish how best to organize meetings for priests -- today we have cars which make traveling easier -- so that we can experience being together ever anew, learn from one another, mutually correct and help one another, cheer one another and comfort one another, so that in this communion of the presbyterate, together with the bishop we can carry out our service to the local Church. Precisely, no priest is a priest on his own; we are a presbyterate, and it is only in this communion with the bishop that each one can carry out his service.

Now, this beautiful communion recognized by all at the theological level, must also be expressed in practice in the ways identified by the local Church, and it must be extended because no bishop is a bishop on his own, but only a bishop in the College, in the great communion of bishops. This is the communion we should always strive for.

And I think that it is a particularly beautiful aspect of Catholicism: through the primacy, which is not an absolute monarchy but a service of communion, that we may have the certainty of this unity. Thus in a large community with many voices, all together we make the great music of faith ring out in this world.

Let us pray the Lord to comfort us when we think we cannot manage any longer: Let us support one another and then the Lord will help us to find the right paths together.

Father Paolo Rizzi, parish priest and lecturer in theology at the Higher Institute for Religious Sciences: Holy Father, I am parish priest and lecturer in theology at the Higher Institute for Religious Sciences. We would like to hear your pastoral opinion about the situation concerning the sacraments of first Communion and confirmation.

Always more often the children, boys and girls, who receive these sacraments prepare themselves with commitment to the catechetical meetings but do not take part in the Sunday Eucharist, and then one wonders: What is the point of all this? At times we might feel like saying: "Then just stay at home."

Instead, we continue as always to accept them, believing that in any case it is better not to extinguish the wick of the little flickering flame. We think, that is, that in any case, the gift of the Spirit can have an effect beyond what we can see, and that in an epoch of transition like this one it is more prudent not to make drastic decisions.

More generally, 35 years ago I thought that we were beginning to be a little flock, a minority community, more or less everywhere in Europe; that we should therefore administer the sacraments only to those who are truly committed to Christian life. Then, partly because of the style of John Paul II's pontificate, I thought things through again. If it is possible to make predictions for the future, what do you think? What pastoral approaches can you suggest to us? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: Well, I cannot give an infallible answer here, I can only seek to respond according to what I see. I must say that I took a similar route to yours.

When I was younger I was rather severe. I said: The sacraments are sacraments of faith, and where faith does not exist, where the practice of faith does not exist, the sacrament cannot be conferred either.

And then I always used to talk to my parish priest when I was archbishop of Munich: Here too there were two factions, one severe and one broad-minded. Then I too, with time, came to realize that we must follow, rather, the example of the Lord, who was very open even with people on the margins of Israel of that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open -- according to many official authorities -- with sinners, welcoming them or letting them invite him to their dinners, drawing them to him in his communion.

Therefore I would say substantially that the sacraments are naturally sacraments of faith: When there is no element of faith, when first Communion is no more than a great lunch with beautiful clothes and beautiful gifts, it can no longer be a sacrament of faith.

Yet, on the other hand, if we can still see a little flame of desire for communion in the faith, a desire even in these children who want to enter into communion with Jesus, it seems to me that it is right to be rather broad-minded.

Naturally, of course, one purpose of our catechesis must be to make children understand that Communion, first Communion, is not a "fixed" event, but requires a continuity of friendship with Jesus, a journey with Jesus. I know that children often have the intention and desire to go to Sunday Mass but their parents do not make this desire possible.

If we see that children want it, that they have the desire to go, this seems to me almost a sacrament of desire, the "will" to participate in Sunday Mass. In this sense, we naturally must do our best in the context of preparation for the sacraments to reach the parents as well, and thus to -- let us say -- awaken in them too a sensitivity to the process in which their child is involved.

They should help their children to follow their own desire to enter into friendship with Jesus, which is a form of life, of the future. If parents want their children to be able to make their first Communion, this somewhat social desire must be extended into a religious one, to make a journey with Jesus possible.

I would say, therefore, that in the context of the catechesis of children, that work with parents is very important. And this is precisely one of the opportunities to meet with parents, making the life of faith also present to the adults, because, it seems to me, they themselves can relearn the faith from the children and understand that this great solemnity is only meaningful, true and authentic if it is celebrated in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith.

Thus, one should endeavor to convince parents, through their children, of the need for a preparatory journey that is expressed in participation in the mysteries and that begins to make these mysteries loved.

I would say that this is definitely an inadequate answer, but the pedagogy of faith is always a journey and we must accept today's situations. Yet, we must also open them more to each person, so that the result is not only an external memory of things that endures but that their hearts that have truly been touched.

The moment when we are convinced the heart is touched -- it has felt a little of Jesus' love, it has felt a little the desire to move along these lines and in this direction -- that is the moment when, it seems to me, we can say that we have made a true catechesis. The proper meaning of catechesis, in fact, must be this: to bring the flame of Jesus' love, even if it is a small one, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thus reopening the places of faith of our time.


Pope's Q-and-A Session With Roman Clergy
On the Importance of the Permanent Diaconate

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2008- Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Thursday with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome. During the meeting, the participants asked the Pope questions.

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[Deacon Giuseppe Corona:]

Holy Father, I would like first of all to express my gratitude and that of my brother deacons for the ministry that the Church so providentially has taken up again with the [Second Vatican] Council, a ministry that allows us to fully express our vocation. We are committed in a great variety of works that we carry out in vastly different environments: family, work, parish, society, also the missions of Africa and Latin America -- areas that you indicated for us in the audience you granted us on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the diaconate of the Diocese of Rome.

Now our numbers have grown -- there are 108 of us. And we would like for you to indicate a pastoral initiative that could become a sign of a more incisive presence of the permanent diaconate in the city of Rome, as it happened in the first centuries of the Roman Church. In fact, sharing a significant, common objective, on one hand increases the cohesion of diaconal fraternity and on the other, would give greater visibility to our service in this city. We present you, Holy Father, the desire that you indicate to us an initiative that we can share in the way and the manner that you wish to specify. In the name of all the deacons, I greet you, Holy Father, with filial affection.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this testimony as one of the more than 100 deacons of Rome. I would like to also express my joy and my gratitude for the Council, because it revived this important ministry in the universal Church. I should say that when I was archbishop of Munich, I didn't find perhaps more than three or four deacons, and I very much favored this ministry because it seemed to me to belong to the richness of the sacramental ministry in the Church. At the same time, it can equally be the link between the lay world, the professional world, and the world of the priestly ministry -- given that many deacons continue carrying out their professions and maintain their positions -- important or those of a simple life -- while on Saturday and Sunday they work in the Church. In this way, you give witness in the world of today, as well as in the working world, of the presence of faith, of the sacramental ministry and the diaconal dimension of the sacrament of Orders. This seems very important to me: the visibility of the diaconal dimension.

Naturally as well, every priest continues being a deacon, and should always think of this dimension, because the Lord himself made himself our minister, our deacon. We can think of the gesture of the washing of the feet, with which he explicitly shows that the master, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow him to be deacons, that they fulfill this role for humanity, to the point that they also help to wash the dirtied feet of the men entrusted to us. This dimension seems very important to me.

On this occasion, I bring to mind -- though it is perhaps not immediately inherent to the theme -- a simple experience that Paul VI noted. Each day of the Council, the Gospel was enthroned. And the Pontiff told those in charge of the ceremony that he would like one time to be the one who enthrones the Gospel. They told him no, this is the job of the deacons, not of the Pope. He wrote in his diary: But I am also a deacon, I continue being a deacon, and I would like to also exercise this ministry of the diaconate placing the word of God on its throne. Thus, this concerns all of us. Priests continue being deacons, and the deacons make explicit in the Church and in the world this diaconal dimension of our ministry. This liturgical enthroning of the word of God each day during the Council was always for us a gesture of great importance: It told us who was the true Lord of that assembly; it told us that the word of God was on the throne and that we exercise our ministry to listen and to interpret, to offer to the others this word. It is broadly significant for all that we do: enthroning in the world the word of God, the living word, Christ. May it really be him who governs our personal life and our life in the parishes.

Now, you have asked me a question that, I must say, goes a bit beyond my strengths: What would be the tasks proper to the deacons of Rome. I know that the cardinal vicar knows much better than I the real situations of the city and the diocesan community of Rome. I think that one characteristic of the ministry of the deacons is precisely the multiplicity of the diaconate's applications. In the International Theological Commission, a few years ago, we studied at length the diaconate in the history and also the present of the Church. And we discovered just that: There is not just one profile. What they should do varies, depending on the preparation of the persons and the situations in which they find themselves. There can be applications and activities that are very different, always in communion with the bishop and with the parish, naturally. In the various situations, various possibilities arise, also depending on the professional preparation that these deacons could have. They could be committed in the cultural sector, which is so important today, or they could have a voice and an important post in the educational realm. We are thinking this year precisely of the problem of education as central to our future, and the future of humanity.

Certainly the sector of charity was in Rome the original sector, because those called presbyters and deacons were centers of Christian charity. This was from the beginning in the city of Rome a fundamental area. In my encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," I showed that not just preaching and the liturgy are essential for the Church and for the ministry of the Church, but rather equally important is the service of caritas -- in its multiple dimensions -- for the poor, the needy. Thus, I hope that all the time, in the whole diocese, even if in distinct situations, this continues being a fundamental dimension, and also a priority for the commitment of the deacons, even if not the only one, as is also shown in the early Church, where the seven deacons were chosen precisely to permit the apostles to dedicate themselves to prayer, liturgy and preaching. Also afterward, Stephen found himself in the situation of having to preach to the Greeks, to the Jews who spoke Greek, and thus the field of preaching was amplified. He is conditioned, we could say, by the cultural situation, where he has a voice to make present in that sector the word of God. In that way, he makes more possible the universality of the Christian testimony, opening the doors to St. Paul who witnessed his stoning, and later, in a certain sense, was his successor in the universalization of the word of God. I don't know if the cardinal vicar would like to add something; I'm not as close to the concrete situations.

[Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar for the Diocese of Rome:]

Holy Father, I can just confirm, as you said, that also concretely in Rome, the deacons work in many sectors, for the most part, in parishes, where they concern themselves with the ministry of charity; but, for example, many are also involved in ministry to the family. Since almost all of the deacons are married, they offer marriage preparation, give follow-up to young couples, and things like that. They also offer a significant contribution to the ministry of health care; they help also in the vicariate -- where some of them work -- and as you heard, in missions. There is a certain missionary presence of deacons. I think that, naturally, in the numerical plane, the greatest commitment is in the parishes, but there also exist other sectors that are also opening, and precisely because of this, we now have more than a hundred permanent deacons.

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[Father Graziano Bonfitto, from the parish of Ognissanti:]

Holy Father, I am originally from a town in the province of Foggia, San Marco in Lamis. I am a religious in the order of Don Orione [Sons of Divine Providence] and have been a priest for a year and a half, currently serving as the vice pastor in the parish of Ognissanti, in the Appio neighborhood. I won't hide my excitement from you, and also the incredible joy I have in this moment, which is such a great privilege for me. You are the bishop and the shepherd of our diocesan Church, but you are also the Pope and thus the pastor of the universal Church. Because of this, my excitement grows uncontrollably. I would first like to express my gratitude for all that, day after day, you do, not only for our Diocese of Rome, but for the entire Church. Your words and your gestures, your attention toward us, the people of God, are signs of the love and the closeness that you foster for all of us, and each one of us.

My priestly apostolate is carried out above all with youth. It is precisely in their name that I would like to thank you today. My holy founder, St. Luigi Orione, said that youth are the sun or the storm of the morning. I think that in this historical moment in which we find ourselves, youth are both the sun and the storm, not of the morning, but of now. As youth we now feel, more than ever, the strong need for certainties. We want sincerity, freedom, justice and peace. We want to count on people who walk with us, who listen to us, like Christ with the disciples of Emmaus. Youth desire people capable of marking the path to liberty, responsibility, love, truth. That is, the youth of today have an unquenchable thirst for Christ: a thirst for joyful witnesses who have found Jesus and have staked their whole existence on him. The youth want a Church always with feet on the ground and ever closer to their needs. They want her present in their life decisions, even though a certain sensation of indifference toward the Church persists in them. Youth seek a trustworthy hope -- as you wrote in your last letter directed to the faithful of Rome -- to avoid living without God.

Holy Father -- permit me to call you Papa -- how difficult it is to live in God, with God and for God. The youth feel attacked on so many fronts. There are so many false prophets, salesmen of illusions. There are too many proclaimers of false truths and ignoble ideals. With all of this, youth who believe today -- even feeling that they are trapped -- are convinced that God is the hope that resists every disillusion, that only his love cannot be destroyed by death, even if most of the time, it is not easy to find the space or the courage to give witness. What to do then? How to act? Is it truly worth it to continue staking one's life on Christ? Life, the family, love, joy, justice, respect of others' opinions, liberty, prayer, charity -- are they still values to defend? The life of the saints, measured by the beatitudes -- is this a life adequate for man, for the youth of the third millennium?

Thank you so much for your attention, your affection and your consideration for the youth. The youth are with you: They esteem you, they love you and they listen to you. Stay close, show us with ever greater strength the path that leads to Christ, the way, the truth and the life. Help us to fly high, ever higher. And pray for us always. Thank you.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this beautiful testimony of a young priest who is with the youth, who accompanies them, and as you have said, helps them to walk with Christ, with Jesus.

What to say? All of us know how difficult it is for youth today to live as Christians. The cultural context and the mass media offer everything contrary to the path that leads to Christ. It precisely seems that it makes it impossible to see Christ as the center of life and live a life as Jesus shows us. Nevertheless, it also seems to me that many feel more and more the inadequacy of these offers, of this style of life that in the end, leaves one empty.

In this sense, it seems to me that the readings precisely from today's liturgy, from Deuteronomy [30:15-20] and the Gospel passage from Luke [9:22-25] respond to what we should essentially say to youth and always to ourselves. As you have mentioned, sincerity is fundamental. Youth should perceive that we don't say words we don't ourselves live, but rather that we speak because we have found and look to find each day the truth as truth for my life. Only if we are on this path, if we ourselves try to assimilate this life and associate our lives with that of the Lord, then our words can also be credible and have a visible and convincing logic. I insist: Today this is the great and fundamental norm, not only for Lent but for all Christian life: Choose life. Before you, you have death and life: Choose life.

And it seems that the answer is natural. There are only a few people who nourish in their depths a will for destruction, for death, of no longer wanting existence and life, because everything is contrary for them. Unfortunately, on the other hand, this is a phenomenon that is growing. With all the contradictions, the false promises, in the end life seems contradictory. It is no longer a gift, but a condemnation and thus there are those who want death more than life. But normally, man responds: Yes, I want life.

The question continues being how to find life, what to choose, how to choose life. And we know the offers generally made: Go to the disco, obtain everything possible, consider liberty as doing everything you want, whatever occurs to you in any given moment. But we know on the other hand -- and we can show it -- that this is a false path, because in the end, life is not found there, but rather the abyss of nothingness.

Choose life. The reading says it: God is your life, you have chosen life and you have made the choice: God. This seems fundamental to me. Only in this way are our horizons broad enough and only in this way do we remain within the fount of life, which is stronger than death, stronger than all of the threats of death. Thus, the fundamental choice is this one that is indicated: Choose God. It is necessary to understand that one who begins a life without God in the end finds himself in darkness, even though there can be moments in which it seems he has discovered life.

Another step is how to find God, how to choose God. Here we arrive to the Gospel: God is not a stranger, a hypothesis of the first cause of the cosmos. God has flesh and bones. He is one of us. We know him with his face, with his name. It is Jesus Christ who speaks to us in the Gospel. He is man and he is God. And being God, he chose man to make it possible for us to choose God. Thus it is necessary to enter into knowledge of and afterward friendship with Jesus, to walk with him.

I consider this the fundamental point of our pastoral care for youth, for everyone, but above all for youth: Call their attention to the choice of God, who is life. To the fact that God exists. And he exists in a very concrete way. And teach them friendship with Jesus Christ.

There is also a third step. This friendship with Jesus is not a friendship with a person who isn't real, with someone who belongs to the past, or is far from man at the right hand of God. He is present in his body, which continues to be a body of flesh and bones: It is the Church, the communion of the Church. We should construct and make communities that are more accessible and reflect the great community of the living Church. It is everything: the living experience of the community, with all of its human weaknesses, but nevertheless real, with a clear path and a solid sacramental life in which we can also touch what can seem so far away -- the presence of the Lord. In this way, we can also learn the commandments -- to return to Deuteronomy, from where I began. Because the reading says: To choose God means to choose according to his Word, to live according to his Word. For a moment this seems almost positivist: They are imperatives. But first is the gift -- his friendship. Later we can understand that the indicators of the path are explanations of the reality of this friendship of ours.

We can say that this is a general overview, which flows out of contact with sacred Scripture and the life of the Church each day. Afterward it is translated step by step in the concrete encounters with youth: To guide them in their dialogue with Jesus in prayer, in the reading of sacred Scripture -- reading in common, above all, but also personal -- and sacramental life. These are all steps to make these experiences present in the professional life, even though this realm is frequently marked by the total absence of God and by the apparent impossibility of seeing him present. But precisely then, through our life and our experience of God, we should try to make the presence of Christ enter into this world far from God.

Thirst for God exists. A short time ago, I received the "ad limina" visit of bishops from a country in which more than 50% are declared atheists or agnostics. But they told me, in reality all of them are thirsting for God. This thirst exists, though hidden. Because of this, let's start beforehand, with the youth we can find. Let's form communities in which the Church is reflected; let's learn friendship with Jesus. And in this way, full of this joy and this experience, we can also today make God present in this world of ours.

[Father Paolo Tammi, pastor at St. Pius X Parish and religion professor:]

I would like to extend to you just one of the many expressions of gratitude for the effort and the passion with which you have written the book about Jesus of Nazareth, a text that, you yourself have said, is not an act of the magisterium, but the fruit of your personal search for the face of God. It has contributed to putting the person of Jesus Christ in the center of Christianity and certainly it is contributing -- and will continue to do so -- to a patient righting of the partial visions of the Christian event, such as the political vision, in which a great part of my adolescence and that of my contemporaries developed; or the moralist vision, too insistent -- in my opinion -- in Catholic preaching; or finally the vision that likes to define itself as demythologizing the figure of Jesus Christ, like that of certain teachers of secular thought who truly think it very normal to suddenly concern themselves now with the Founder of Christianity and his human adventure to deny his historicity or to attribute his divinity to a fantasy of the apostolic Church.

You, on the other hand, do not cease to teach us, Your Holiness, that Jesus is truly everything, that with him, man and God, it's only possible to fall in love; that it is not merely the same as belonging to a club, supposing that such a thing exists, or spouting off pretty phrases about him just to protect a cultural identity. I limit myself to add that in a secular environment like a school, where historical and philosophical motivations in favor or against religion obviously have their legitimate space, I see every day that the kids maintain a great emotional distance, whereas I have seem them be moved in Assisi -- where I took them a few days ago -- upon hearing a passionate testimony of a young friar minor. I ask you: How can the life of a priest become ever more passionate with the essential, which is the Spouse Jesus? And also, how can you see when a priest is in love with Jesus? I know that you have answered this several times, but it's certain that your answer can help or correct us, to renew our hope. I ask you to answer this again here with your priests.

[Benedict XVI:]

How can I correct the parish priests, who are working so well? We can only help each other. So, you are familiar with this secular environment not only from an intellectual distance, but above all from an emotional one, with faith. And we should, according to circumstances, find the way to build bridges. It seems to me that the situations are difficult, but you are right. We should always think: What is essential? Even if afterward the point varies in which it is possible to link in the kerygma, the context, the way of acting. But the question should always be: What is essential? What has to be discovered? What would I like to give? And here, I always repeat: The essential is God.

If we don't speak of God, if God is not discovered, we are always stuck in secondary things. Thus it seems fundamental to me that the question "Does God exist" is at least proposed. And that of, How could I live without God? Is God truly an important reality for me?

It continues to impress me that the First Vatican Council would have wanted precisely to bring this dialogue to the table, to understand God with reason -- even if in the historical situation in which we find ourselves we need God to help us and purify our reason. It seems that already there is a search to respond to this challenge posed by a secular environment regarding God as the fundamental question, and then regarding Christ as God's answer. Naturally, I would say that the "preambula fidei" exist, that perhaps they are the first step to open the heart and the mind to God: the natural virtues.

Recently I received a visit from a head of state who told me, I am not a religious person, the foundation of my life is Aristotelian ethics. This is already something very good, and it places us beside St. Thomas, on the path toward Thomas' synthesis. And therefore, this could be a point of contact: To learn and to make understandable the importance for human coexistence of this rational ethics, that afterward interiorly opens -- if its lived in its consequences -- to the question of God, to the responsibility before God.

So it seems to me that, on one hand, we should have clear before us what is the essential that we want to and should transmit to the others and what are the "preambula" in the situations in which we can take the first steps. In truth, today a first ethical education is a fundamental step. This is also what happened in ancient Christianity. Cyprian, for example, tells us that his life before was totally dissolute. Afterward, living in the catechumenal community, he learned a fundamental ethics and in that way, the path toward God opened. Also St. Ambrose in the Easter Vigil says: Until now we have spoken of morality, now we move on to mystery.

They had traveled the journey of the "preambula fidei" with a fundamental education in ethics, which created the possibility of understanding the mystery of God. Therefore, I would say that perhaps we should carry out an interaction with education in ethics -- so important today -- on one hand, also with its pragmatic evidence, and at the same time not omit the question of God. And in this intertwining of two paths, it seems to me that perhaps we manage to open ourselves a bit to this God who alone can give light.

Father Daniele Salera, parish vicar at Santa Mary, Mother of the Redeemer in Tor Bella Monaca and a religion professor:]

Your Holiness, I am Father Daniele Salera, a priest for six years now and the parish vicar in Tor Bella Monaca; there I give religion classes. In reading your letter about the urgent task of education, I have taken note of certain elements that struck me as significant and that I would like to talk about with you. […] I would like to transmit to you in these short moments the beauty of working in a school with colleagues who for various motives no longer have faith or no longer identify themselves with the Church. Nevertheless, they give me an example of passion for education and for the rescuing of adolescents whose lives are marked by crime and degradation.

I perceive in many of the people I work with in Tor Bella Monaca an authentic missionary drive. Through different but convergent paths we fight against this crisis of hope that is always lurking when one daily interacts with kids who seem dead on the inside, without a desire for the future, or so profoundly wrapped up in evil that they don't manage to perceive the goodness desired for them, or the occasions of freedom and redemption that in any case come along in their life. Before such a human emergency, there is no time for divisions. I often repeat to myself a saying of Pope Roncalli, who said, "I will always look for what unites, more than what divides."

Your Holiness, this experience allows me to live daily with youth and adults who would have never found me if I would have concentrated only on the activities of the parish. And I see that it's true: Many educators are giving up on ethics in favor of an affectivity that does not give certainties and creates dependence. Others fear defending the norms of civil coexistence because they think these norms don't take into account the needs, difficulties and identities of the youth. Using a slogan, I would say that at the level of education, we live in a culture of, "yes, always" and "no, never." But it is the "no" proclaimed with loving passion for man and for his future that often draws the line between good and evil, a limit that in the years of development is fundamental for building up a solid personal identity.

On one hand, I am convinced that, before the emergency, diversities are attenuated and therefore, in the realm of education, we can truly find common ground with those who freely do not declare themselves believers in the real sense. On the other hand, I ask myself, why do we, as a Church, who have written, thought and lived so much regarding education as formation in the correct use of liberty -- as you say -- fail to transmit this educational objective? Why do we seem, shall we say, so little free and freeing?

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this reflection of your experiences in the school of today with the youth of today, and also for these self-critiquing questions for us. In this moment, I can only confirm that it seems very important to me that the Church be present also in the school, because an education that is not at the same time an education with God and in the presence of God, an education that does not transmit the great ethical values that have appeared in the light of Christ, is not education. Professional formation is never sufficient without the formation of the heart. And the heart cannot be formed without, at least, the challenge of the presence of God. We know that many youth live in environments, in situations, that make the light and the Word of God inaccessible. They are in life situations that represent a true slavery, not just exterior, but that provoke an intellectual slavery that obscures the truth in the heart and in the mind.

We try with what is within the reach of the Church to offer also to them a chance to escape. But, in any case, we bring to this diverse environment of a school -- where you can find a range from believers to the saddest situations -- the Word of God. This is what we have said about St. Paul, who wanted to make the Gospel arrive to everyone. This imperative of the Lord -- the Gospel should be announced to everyone -- is not a diachronic imperative, not a continental imperative, that in all cultures it be announced in a big way, but rather an interior imperative, in the sense of entering into the various facets and dimensions of a society to make, at least a little, the light of the Gospel more accessible. That the Gospel really be announced to everyone.

And it seems an aspect of the cultural formation of today. To know what is the Christian faith that has formed this continent and that is a light for all continents. The ways in which this light can be made most present and accessible are various, and I realize I don't have a recipe for this. But the need to offer oneself to the service of this adventure -- beautiful and difficult -- is really an element of the imperative of the Gospel itself. Let's pray that the Lord helps us to respond to this imperative of making knowledge of him, knowledge of his face, arrive to all of the dimensions of our society.

Father Pietro Riggi, Salesian of Borgo Ragazzi Don Bosco:

Holy Father, I work in an oratory and in a center for minors who are at risk. I want to ask you: On March 25, 2007 you gave an informal speech, lamenting that today the “Last Things” are little spoken of. […] Without these essential parts of the Creed, does it not seem to you that the logical system that brings us to see Christ’s redemption crumbles? Without sin, not speaking of hell, Christ’s redemption is diminished too. Does it not seem to you that with the loss of the sense of sin the salvific, sacramental figure itself of the priest, who has the power to absolve and celebrate in the name of Christ, is also lost?

Today, unfortunately, we priests as well, when the Gospel speaks of hell, we avoid the Gospel itself. It is not spoken of. Or we do not know how to talk about paradise. We do not know how to talk about eternal life. We risk giving the faith a dimension that is only horizontal or rather detached, the horizontal from the vertical. And this is beginning to disappear unfortunately from the catechesis for the kids, but also from the parishes, in the foundational structures. […]

I also wanted to point out that the Virgin Mary was not afraid to speak to the children of Fatima, who, incidentally, were of catechism age: 7, 9 and 12. And we so many times instead leave this out. Can you tell us something more about this?

Benedict XVI:

You rightly spoke of fundamental themes of the faith, which unfortunately rarely appear in our preaching. In the encyclical “Spe Salvi” I wanted to speak indeed also of the last judgment, of judgment in general, and in this context of purgatory, hell and paradise as well. I think that we are all still struck by the Marxist objection, according to which the Christians spoke only about the beyond and neglected this world. So, we want to show that we are really working for this world and we are not people who talk about distant realities that do not help this world. Now, although it is right to show that Christians work for this world -- and we are all called to work to truly make this world a city for God and of God -- we must not forget the other dimension. If we do not take it into account, we do not work well for this world.

Showing this was one of the fundamental purposes for me writing the encyclical. When one does not know God’s judgment, one does not know the possibility of hell, of radical and definitive failure of life, one does not know the possibility and the necessity of purification. Then man does not work well for the world because in the end he loses the criteria, he no longer knows himself, not knowing God, and he destroys the world. All of the great ideologies promised: We will take things in hand, we will no longer neglect the world, we will create a new, just, correct, fraternal world. Instead they destroyed the world. We see it with Nazism, we it also with communism -- they promised to construct the world as it should have been, and instead, they destroyed the world.

In the "ad limina" visits of the bishops from ex-communist countries I always see how in those lands not only the planet, ecology, was destroyed, but above all, and worse, souls. Rediscovering the truly human conscience, illumined by the presence of God, is the first task in rebuilding the earth. This is the common experience of those countries. The rebuilding of the earth, respecting the cry of suffering of this planet, can only happen by rediscovering God in the soul, with eyes open to God.

So, you are right: We must speak of all this out of responsibility for the world, for the men who live today. We must also speak precisely of sin as the possibility of destroying ourselves and so also of other parts of the earth. In the encyclical I tried to show that indeed the last judgment of God guarantees justice. We all want a just world. But we cannot repair all of the destruction of the past, all the people who were unjustly tormented and killed. Only God himself can create justice, which must be justice for all, for the dead too. And as Adorno, a great Marxist, says, only the resurrection of the flesh -- which he holds to be an illusion -- could create justice. We believe in this resurrection of the flesh, in which not all will be equal.

Today we are used to thinking: What is sin? God is great, he knows us, so sin will not count, in the end God will be good to all. It is a beautiful hope. But there is justice and there is true guilt. Those who have destroyed man and the earth cannot immediately sit at table with God together with their victims. God creates justice. We must keep this in mind. For this reason it seemed important to me also to write this text on purgatory, which for me is such an obvious truth, so evident and also so necessary and consoling that it cannot be left out.

I tried to say: Perhaps there are not many who are destroyed in this way, who are forever incurable, who have no element on which God’s love can rest, who do not have a minimal capacity to love in them. This would be hell. On the other hand, there are certainly few -- or, in any case, not many -- who are so pure that they can immediately enter into communion with God. Many of us hope that there is something that can be healed in us, that there is a final will to serve God and serve men, to live according to God. But there are many, many wounds, much filth. We need to be prepared, to be purified. This is our hope: Even with such filth in our souls, in the end the Lord gives us the possibility, he finally cleanses us with his goodness that comes from his cross. In this way he makes us capable of living eternally for him.

Thus, paradise is hope, it is justice finally realized. And it also gives us the criteria for living, so that this time can be paradise in some way, a first light of paradise. Where men live according to these criteria, a little bit of paradise appears in this world, and this is visible. It also seems to me a demonstration of the truth of the faith, of the necessity of following the road of the commandments, which we must talk about more. These are truly road signs and they show us how to live well, how to choose life. For this reason we must also speak of sin and of the sacrament of forgiveness and reconciliation. A man who is sincere knows that he is guilty, that he must begin again, that he must be purified. And this is the marvelous reality that the Lord gives us: There is a possibility of renewal, of being new. The Lord begins with us again and in this way we also can begin again with the others in our life.

This aspect of renewal, of restitution of our being after so many mistakes, after so many sins, is the great promise, the great gift that the Church offers, and what, for example, psychotherapy cannot offer. Psychotherapy is so widespread today and it is also necessary in the face of so many destroyed and gravely wounded psyches. But psychotherapy’s possibilities are very limited: It can only try a little to re-establish balance in an unbalanced soul. But it cannot give a true renewal, an overcoming of these grave maladies of the soul. And for this reason it always remains provisional and never definitive.

The sacrament of penance gives us the occasion to renew ourselves completely with the power of God -- “Ego te absolvo” -- which is possible because Christ took these sins, these faults upon himself. It seems that today indeed this is a great necessity. We can be healed again. Souls that are wounded and sick -- as is the experience of all -- need not only advice but true renewal, which can come only from the power of God, the power of crucified love. It seems to me that this is the great nexus of mysteries that are truly inscribed in our life. We ourselves must meditate on them again and in this way bring them again to our people.

[Father Massimo Tellan, Pastor of the Parish of Sant'Enrico:]

My name is Massimo Tellan. I have been a priest for 15 years; for 6 years I have been a pastor at Casal Monastero, in the north. I believe that all of us realize that we live more and more immersed in a world of cultural word inflation -- words that are, in the end, often without meaning -- which disorient the human heart to such an extent that it becomes deaf to truth. That eternal Word that became flesh and assumed a face in Jesus of Nazareth becomes -- because of this inflation of words in our world -- evanescent, and above all for the new generations, inconsistent and distant.

Certainly [this Word gets] confused in the forest of ambiguous and ephemeral images that bombard one every day. So, what space should be given in education in the faith to this binomial of the word to be welcomed and the image to be contemplated? What happened to the art of narrating the faith and introducing people to the mystery [of the faith] as was done in the past with the "biblia pauperum"? In today's culture of the image how can we recover the incredible power of seeing that accompanies the mystery of the incarnation and the encounter with Jesus as happened on the banks of the Jordan for John and Andrew, who were invited to go and see where the master lived?

In other words, how do we educate [people] in the seeking and the contemplation of that true beauty that -- as Dostoyevsky wrote -- will save the world? Thank you, Your Holiness, for your attention, and if you will allow me, and with the consent of my confreres, as a priest of this presbyterium and a dilettante artist, along with what I have said I would like to give you an icon of Christ at the pillar [...] If it is true, as it is, that whoever sees the Son has seen the Father, so whoever sees us, his Church, can see Christ.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this beautiful gift. I am grateful that we have not only words but images too. We see that even today from Christian meditation new images are born, Christian culture is reborn, Christian iconography. Yes we live with an inflation of words, of images. So, it is difficult to create space for the word and the image. It seems to me that precisely in our world's situation, which we all know, which is also our suffering, the suffering of each one, the time of Lent takes on a new significance. Certainly bodily fasting -- which for a time was not considered to be in style -- is thought by everyone to be necessary today. It is not hard to understand that we must fast. Sometimes we find ourselves faced with exaggerations caused by a mistaken ideal of beauty. But in any case bodily fasting is something important because we are body and soul and the discipline of the body, even material discipline, is important for the spiritual life, which is always an incarnate life in a person who is body and soul.

This is one dimension. Today other dimensions are growing and manifesting themselves. It seems to me that the time of Lent can indeed also be a time of fasting from words and images. We need a little silence; we need a space that is free from the permanent bombardment of images. In this sense making the meaning of 40 days of exterior and interior discipline accessible and comprehensible today is very important for helping us to see that one dimension of our Lent, of this bodily and spiritual life, is to create for us spaces of silence that are also without images, to re-open our heart to the true image and the true word. It seems promising to me that today, too, one sees a rebirth of Christian art, meditative music -- like that of Taizé, for example -- or the renewing of the art of the icon, a Christian art that remains, let us say, within the great norms of the iconological art of the past, but broadening to the experiences and visions of today. There where there is a true and profound meditation on the Word, where we really enter into this visibility of God in the world, of this tangibility of God in the world, new images, new possibilities of making the events of salvation visible are also born. This is precisely the consequence of the event of the incarnation. The Old Testament prohibited every image and had to prohibit images in a world full of divinities. It lived in the great emptiness that was also represented by the interior of the temple, where, in contrast with the other temples, there was no image, but only the empty throne of the Word, the mysterious presence of the invisible God, not surrounded by our images.

But the new step is that this mysterious God liberates us from the inflation of images, even of a time full of images of divinity, and he gives us the freedom of the vision of the essential. He appears with a face, with a body, with a human history that, at the same time, is a divine history. A history that continues in the history of the saints, of the martyrs, of the saints of charity, of the word; [these saints] are always an explication, a continuation in the Body of Christ of his divine and human life, and give us the fundamental images in which -- beyond the superficial images that hide reality -- we can open our eyes toward the Truth itself. In this sense the iconoclastic period after the Council seems excessive to me -- but it had its meaning, because perhaps it was necessary to liberate ourselves from a superficiality of too many images.

Let us turn now to the knowledge of God who became man. As the Letter to the Ephesians says, he is the true image. And in this true image we see -- beyond the appearances that hide the truth -- the Truth itself: "He who sees me sees the Father." In this sense I would say that, with much respect and with much reverence, we can rediscover a Christian art and also rediscover the essential and great representations of the mystery of God in the iconographic tradition of the Church. And in this way we can rediscover the true image, covered up by the appearances. It is truly an important task of Christian education: the liberation for the Word behind the word, which always demands new spaces of silence, of mediation, of a deepening of knowledge, of abstinence, of discipline. It is equally the education in the true image, which is in the rediscovery of the great icons created in the history of Christianity: with the humility that liberates from superficial images. This type of iconoclasm is always necessary to rediscover the Image, that is, the fundamental images that express the presence of God in the flesh.

This is one dimension of the fundamental education in the faith, in true humanism, that we are attempting at this time in Rome. We have returned to rediscover the icon with its very severe rules, without the Renaissance beauties. And in this way we too can enter again onto the road to the rediscovery of the great images, toward an always new liberation from too many words, from too many images, to rediscover the essential images that are necessary for us. God himself has shown us his image and we can rediscover this image with a profound meditation on the Word that makes the images be reborn.

So, let us pray to the Lord that he help us along this road of true education, of re-education in the faith, which is always not only a listening but a seeing.

[Father Paul Chungat, Parochial Vicar at the Parish of San Giuseppe Cottolengo:]

My name is Father Chungat. I am from India and I am currently the parochial vicar at the Parish of San Giuseppe in Valle Aurelia. I would like to thank you for the opportunity that you have given me to serve for three years in the Diocese of Rome. This has been a great help for me, for my studies, as I believe that it has been for the priests who are studying in Rome.

The time has come to return to my diocese in India, where Catholics are only one percent of the population and the other 99%is non-Christian. The situation of evangelization in my homeland has been something I have been thinking a lot about in recent days. In the recent note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith there are some words that are difficult to understand in the field of interreligious dialogue. For example in section 10 of the document the words "fullness of salvation" are written, and in the introduction one reads of the necessity of "formal incorporation in the Church."

These are things that it will be difficult to explain when I bring them to India and I must speak to my Hindu friends and to the faithful of other religions. My question is: Is "fullness of salvation" to be understood in a qualitative or in a quantitative sense? If it is to be understood in a quantitative sense, there is a bit of a difficulty. The Second Vatican Council says that there is a glimmer of light in other faiths. If in a qualitative sense, other than the historicity and the fullness of the faith, what are the other things that show the unicity of our faith in regard to interreligious dialogue?

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this intervention. You know well that your questions are big ones and an entire semester of theology would be necessary! I will try to be brief. You know theology; there are great masters and many books. First of all, thank you for your testimony -- you say that you are happy to be able to work in Rome even if you are Indian. For me this is a marvelous phenomenon of catholicity.

At present it is not only the case that missionaries travel from the West to other continents, but there is an exchange of gifts: Indians, Africans, South Americans work among us and we travel to other continents. It is a giving and a receiving on all sides; this is precisely the vitality of catholicity, where we are all debtors of the gifts of the Lord, and then we can give to each other. It is in this reciprocity of gifts, of giving and receiving, that the Catholic Church lives. You can learn from these Western environments and experiences and we no less from you. I see that this spirit of religiosity that exists in Asia, as in Africa, surprises Europeans, who are often a little cold in faith. And thus this vivacity, at least of the religious spirit that exists on these continents, is a great gift for all of us, above all for us bishops of the Western world and in particular in those countries in which the phenomenon of immigration is most apparent, from the Philippines, from India, etc. Our cold Catholicism is revived by this fervor that comes from you. Catholicity, then, is a great gift.

Let us come to the questions that you posed to me. I do not have the exact words of the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before me at this moment; but in any case, I would like to say two things. On one hand, dialogue, getting to know each other, respecting each other and trying to cooperate in every possible way for the great purposes of humanity, or for its great needs, to overcome fanaticisms and to create a spirit of peace and of love -- all of this is absolutely necessary. And this is also in the spirit of the Gospel, whose meaning is precisely that the spirit of love that we have learned from Jesus, the peace of Jesus that he has given us through the cross, become universally present in the world. In this sense dialogue must be true dialogue, in respecting the other and in the acceptance of his alterity; but it must also be evangelical, in the sense that its fundamental purpose is to help men to live in love and to make it the case that this love expand throughout the world.

But this dimension of dialogue, which is so necessary, that is, the respect of the other, of tolerance, of cooperation, does not exclude the other dimension, that is that the Gospel is a great gift, the gift of great love, of great truth, that we cannot only keep for ourselves, but that we must offer to others, considering that God gives them the necessary freedom and light to find the truth. This is the truth. And this, then, is also my road. Mission is not imposition, but an offering of the gift of God, letting his goodness enlighten people so that the gift of concrete friendship with God be extended and acquire a human face. For this reason we want and we must always bear witness to this faith and the love that lives in our faith. We will have neglected a true human and divine duty if we have left others to their own devices and kept the faith we have only for ourselves. We would be unfaithful even to ourselves if we were not to offer this faith to the world, while always respecting the freedom of others. The presence of faith in the world is a positive element, even if no one is converted; it is a point of reference.

Exponents of non-Christian religions have told me: The presence of Christianity is a point of reference that helps us, even if we do not convert. Let us think of the great figure of Mahatma Gandhi: Despite being firmly committed to his religion, for him the Sermon on the Mount was a fundamental point of reference that formed his whole life. And thus the ferment of the faith, although it did not convert him to Christianity, entered into his life. And it seems to me that this ferment of Christian love that shows through the Gospel is -- beyond the missionary work that seeks to enlarge the spaces of faith -- a service that we render to humanity.

Let us think about St. Paul. A short time ago I reflected again on his missionary motivation. I also spoke about it to the Curia on the occasion of the end of the year meeting. He was moved by the word of the Lord in his eschatological sermon. Before every event, before the return of the Son of Man, the Gospel must be preached to all nations. The condition for the world reaching its perfection, the condition for its opening up to paradise, is that the Gospel be proclaimed to all. All of his missionary zeal is directed at bringing the Gospel to all, possibly in his own time, to respond to the Lord's command "that it be proclaimed to all nations." His desire was not so much to baptize all nations, as it was that the Gospel [be] present in the world and thus the completion of history as such [also be present in the world].

It seems to me that today, seeing how history has gone, one can better understand that this presence of the word of God, that this proclamation that comes to all as a ferment, is necessary for the world to truly arrive at its purpose. In this sense, indeed we desire the conversion of all, but let us allow the Lord to be the one who acts. It is important that those who wish to convert have the possibility of doing so and that there appear in the world for all this light of the Lord as a point of reference and as a light that helps, without which the world cannot find itself. I do not know if I have made myself clear: dialogue and mission not only do not exclude each other, but the one requires the other.

[Father Alberto Orlando, Parochial Vicar of Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza:]

My name is Father Alberto Orlando, assistant pastor of the Parish of Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza. I would like to present to you a difficulty that I experienced with the young people at Loreto last year. We had a beautiful day at Loreto, but among the many nice things we noted a certain distance between you and the young people. We arrived in the afternoon. We were not able to see or hear. […]

The second thing that caused us some difficulty was the liturgy the next day, a little heavy, above all in regard to the songs and music. […] Here are the two questions: Why this distance between you and them; and then how does one reconcile the treasure of the liturgy in all its solemnity with the sentiment, affection, emotiveness that nourishes young people and of which they have much need?

I would also like some advice: How do we regulate between solemnity and emotiveness. Also because we are ourselves priests and we often ask ourselves how much we priests are able to live emotion and sentiment with simplicity. And being ministers of the sacrament we would like to be able to orient sentiment and emotiveness toward this just equilibrium.

[Benedict XVI:]

The first point that was proposed to me is connected with the situation of the organization [of the meeting at Loreto]: I found it as it was, so I do not know whether it was possible perhaps to organize it in a different way. Considering the thousands of people who were there, it was impossible, I believe, to make it so everyone could be close in the same way. Indeed, because of this we used a car to get closer to individual people. But we will take this into account and see if in the future, in other meetings with thousands and thousands of people, it will ever be possible to do something different. Nevertheless, it seems important to me that the feeling of interior nearness grow, that the bridge that unites us even if we are physically distant be found. But liturgies in which masses of people participate are a great problem.

I remember in 1960, during the great Eucharistic Congress in Munich, there was an attempt to give a new physiognomy to Eucharistic congresses, which until that time were only acts of adoration. There was a desire to put at the center the celebration of the Eucharist as an act of the presence of the mystery that was celebrated. But immediately the question arose as to how it would be possible. Adoration, it was said, is possible even at a distance; but to celebrate, a limited community that interacts with the mystery is necessary; thus a community that must be an assembly around the celebration of the mystery. There were many who were against the celebration of the Eucharist in public with 100,000 people. They said that it was not possible precisely because of the structure itself of the Eucharist, which demands community for communion.

There were even great, very respectable personalities who were against this solution. Then Professor Jungmann, the great liturgist, one of the great architects of the liturgical reform, created the concept of “statio orbis,” that is, he returned to the “statio Romae,” where precisely in the time of Lent the faithful gathered at one point, the statio: There they are stationed like soldiers for Christ; they then go to the Eucharist together. If this, he said, was the statio of the city of Rome, where the city of Rome gathers, then this is the “statio orbis.” And from that moment on we had Eucharistic celebrations with the participation of the masses.

For me, I must say, it remains a problem, because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental and so I do not find that the definitive answer has been truly found. I also had this question brought up at the last synod, but it did not find an answer. I also had another question brought up, about concelebration “en masse”: Because if, for example, thousands of priests concelebrate, one does not know if this is still the structure desired by the Lord. But in any case they are questions. And so the problem of celebration in large numbers in which not all can be equally involved was presented to you. A certain style must therefore be chosen to conserve that dignity that is always necessary for the Eucharist and then the community is not uniform and the experience of participation in the event is diverse; for some it is certainly insufficient. But it did not depend on me, rather it depended on those who made the preparations.

One must reflect hard, therefore, about what to do in these situations, how to respond to the challenges of this situation. If I am not mistaken, it was an orchestra of handicapped persons who performed the music and perhaps the idea was precisely that of showing that the handicapped can be animators of the sacred celebration and indeed they must not be excluded as primary agents. And so everyone, loving them, did not want them to feel excluded but, on the contrary, involved. It seems to me to be a very respectable view and I share it. Naturally, however, the basic problem remains.

But it seems to me that here too, knowing what the Eucharist is, even if one is not able to participate externally as one would wish so as to feel involved, one enters into it with one’s heart, as the ancient imperative of the Church says -- perhaps created for those who are standing in back in the basilica -- “Lift up your hearts! Now let us all go out of ourselves, in this way we are all with the Lord and we are together.” As I said, I do not deny the problem, but if we really follow this word, “Lift up your hearts,” we will all find, even in difficult and sometimes questionable situations, the true active participation.

[Monsignor Renzo Martinelli, Delegate of the Pontificia Accademia dell'Immacolata:]

Holy Father, […] returning to the problem of the educational emergency, the question is this: Recently you said to the Slovenian bishops, “If, for example, man is understood in an individualistic way -- which is a widespread tendency today -- how can the effort to build a just and solidary society be justified?” How can one propose to young people that on which you have always insisted, namely, that the Christian “I”, once it puts on Christ, is no longer “I”? The Christian’s identity, you said at Verona very profoundly, is the “I” no longer “I” because there is the communal subject who is Christ. How does one propose, Your Holiness, this conversion, this new modality, this Christian originality of being a communion that effectively proposes the newness of the Christian experience?

[Benedict XVI:]

It is the great question that every priest who is responsible for others poses every day. Even for himself, naturally. It is true that in the 20th century there was the tendency toward an individualistic piety, to save one’s own soul above all and create merits that were even calculatable, that one could, on certain lists, also indicate with numbers. And certainly the whole movement of the Second Vatican Council aimed at overcoming this individualism.

I do not wish now to judge these previous generations, who in their way, nevertheless, sought thus to serve others. But there was a danger there that one wanted above all to save one’s own soul; from this followed an extrinsicism of piety that in the end found faith to be a burden and not a liberation. It is certainly the basic will of the new pastoral approach indicated by Vatican II to get away from this overly narrow Christianity and to discover that I save my soul by giving it, as the Lord told us today in the Gospel; only freeing myself from me, going out of myself; as God did in the Son, God going out of himself to save us. And we enter into this movement of the Son, we try to leave ourselves because we know where we are going. And we do not fall into a void, but we leave ourselves behind, abandoning ourselves to God, going out, putting ourselves at his service, as he wills and not as we will.

This is true Christian obedience, which is freedom: not as I wish, with my plan for life for myself, but putting myself in his service, that he may do with me as he pleases. And putting myself into his hands I am free. But it is a great leap that is never definitively accomplished. I think here of St. Augustine, who told us this so many times. Initially after his conversion he thought that he had arrived at the top and was living in the paradise of the novelty of being a Christian. But then he discovered that the difficult road of life continued -- although from that moment always in the light of God -- and that every day it was again necessary to make this leap out of oneself; to give this “I” so that it die and be renewed in the great “I” of Christ, an “I” that is in a certain way more true, the “I” that is common to us all, our “we.”

But I would say that we ourselves must precisely in the celebration of the Eucharist -- which is this great and profound meeting with the Lord where I let myself fall into his hands -- take this great step. The more we ourselves learn to do it the more we can also express it to others and make it comprehensible, accessible to others. Only going along with the Lord, abandoning ourselves in the communion of the Church to this openness, not living for myself -- neither for a worldly life nor for personal beatitude -- but making myself an instrument of his peace, I live well and I learn this courage in the face of daily challenges, always new and grave, often impossible. I leave myself behind because you wish it and I am certain that in this way I will move forward well. We can only implore the Lord that he help us to follow this road every day, to help, to enlighten others in this way, to move them so that they too can be thus liberated and redeemed.

[Father Umberto Fanfarillo, Pastor of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere:]

Holy Father, I am the pastor of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere, Father Umberto Fanfarillo, a Conventual Franciscan. Together with the Christian community of the area of the parish, I would like to indicate a conspicuous even if not a profound presence of other religious contexts, which we encounter every day with reciprocal esteem, in conscientious and also in a respectful coexistence.

In this substantial positivity of intentions I can also include the commitment of the Accademia dei Lincei and the nearby American university of John Cabot, with more than 800 students from about 60 countries and with religious affiliations that range from Catholic to Lutheran, from Jewish to Muslim. It was indeed these young people who gathered in prayer at our church when John Paul II died. Some of them, coming to our parish, express respect and serenity before our religious symbols, such as the crucifix and the images of Mary, of the saints and the Pope. In the confines of the parish the Peter Pan House welcomes children who are sick with tumors and is connected with the Bambino Gesù Hospital.

Even here there are exceptional moments of charity in interreligiosity and religious attention to the sick and needy brother. At Regina Coeli Prison, which is also in the confines of the parish, there are analogous realities and respectful encounter among expressions of religiosity. Recently, in the climate of respect and witness, two young Anglicans who became Catholic received the sacrament of Confirmation. I believe that these things are also continually met in the lodging places that characterize the Trastevere quarter of Rome.

Holy Father, we are all looking for new and more balanced attitudes of conscientiousness and respect. We have always appreciated your interventions marked by respect and dialogue in the search for truth. Help us once more with your word.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this testimony of a parish that is truly multidimensional and multicultural. It seems to me that you have somewhat concretized what we discussed earlier with our Indian confrere: this ensemble of a dialogue, of a respectful coexistence, respecting each other, accepting each other as they are in their alterity, in their communion. And at the same time there is the presence of Christianity, of Christian faith as a point of reference upon which focus their attention, as a ferment that in the respect for freedom is nevertheless a light for all and that brings us together precisely in respect for differences. Let us hope that the Lord will always help us in this sense to accept the other in his alterity, to respect him and to make Christ present in the gesture of love, which is the true expression of his presence and of his word. And may the Lord help us thus to truly be servants of Christ and of his salvation for the world. Thank you.


Benedict XVI's Q-and-A Session With Youth in Loreto
"The Pope Is Close to You, He Shares Your Joys and Your Pain"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 12, 2007 ( Here is a Vatican translation of the question-and-answer session Benedict XVI held with the youth gathered in Loreto, Italy, on Sept. 1.

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Plain of Montorso
Saturday, 1 September 2007


Question posed by Piero Tisti and Giovanna Di Mucci:

"Many of us young people in the suburbs do not have a centre, a place or people with whom we can identify. Often we are without a history, a perspective or even a future. It seems that what we really wait for never happens. From this come the experience of solitude and at times, an improper dependence on others. Your Holiness, is there someone or something by means of which we can become important? How is it possible to hope when reality negates every dream of happiness, every project of life?".

Response of the Holy Father:

Thank you for this question and for your very realistic presentation of the situation. It is not always easy to respond concerning the peripheries of this world with great problems and we do not want to live an easy optimism; but on the other hand, we must have the courage to go forward.

I will therefore anticipate the essence of my answer: Yes, there is hope today too; each one of you is important because each is known and desired by God and God has his plan for each one. It is our task to discover and respond to it, so that despite these precarious and marginalized situations, we will be able to put into practice God's plan for us.

However, to go into detail, you have realistically presented to us the situation of a society: in the outskirts it seems hard to move ahead, to change the world for the better. Everything seems concentrated in the great centres of economic and political power, the great bureaucracies dominate, and those in the outskirts truly seem excluded from this life.

Then, one aspect of this situation of marginalization that affects so many people is that the important cells of social life that can also build centres on the fringes are fragmented: the family, which should be the place where generations meet - from great grandfather to grandchild -, should not only be a place where generations meet but also where they learn to live, learn the essential virtues, and this is in danger.

Thus, all the more should we do our utmost to ensure that the family survives, that today too, it is the vital cell, the centre in the periphery.

Therefore, the parish, the living cell of the Church, must also really be a place of inspiration, life and solidarity which helps people build together centres in the periphery. And I must say here, there is often talk about the Church in the suburbs and in the centre, which would be Rome, but in fact in the Church there are no suburbs because where Christ is, the whole centre is there.

Wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, wherever the Tabernacle stands, there is Christ; hence, there is the centre and we must do all we can to ensure that these living centres are effective, present and truly a force that counters this marginalization.

The living Church, the Church of the little communities, the parish Church, the movements, must form as many centres in the outskirts and thus help to overcome the difficulties that the leading politics obviously cannot manage to resolve, and at the same time, we must also think that despite the great focuses of power, contemporary society itself is in need of solidarity, of a sense of lawfulness, of the initiative and creativity of all.

I know that this is easier said than done, but I see here people who are working to increase the number of centres in the peripheries, to increase hope, and thus it seems to me that we should take up the initiative. The Church must be present precisely in the suburbs; Christ must be present, the centre of the world must be present.

We have seen and we see today in the Gospel that for God there are no peripheries. In the vast context of the Roman Empire, the Holy Land was situated on the fringe; Nazareth was on the margins, an unknown town. Yet that very situation was, de facto, to become the centre that changed the world!

And thus, we must form centres of faith, hope, love and solidarity, centres of a sense of justice and lawfulness and of cooperation. Only in this way will modern society be able to survive. It needs this courage, it needs to create centres even if, obviously, hope does not seem to exist. We must counter this desperation, we must collaborate with great solidarity in doing our best to increase hope, so that men and women may collaborate and live.

The world -- we see it -- must be changed, but it is precisely the mission of young people to change it! We cannot change it with our own strength alone but in communion of faith and in journeying on together. In communion with Mary, with all the Saints, in communion with Christ, we can do something essential, and I encourage you and invite you to trust in Christ, to trust in God.

Being in the great company of the Saints and moving forward with them can change the world, creating centres in the outskirts, so that the company of Saints may truly become visible and thus the hope of all may become realistic, and every one may say: "I am important in the totality of history. The Lord will help us". Thank you.

Question posed by Sara Simonetta :

"I believe in the God who has touched my heart, but I have many insecurities, questions and fears that I carry within. It is not easy to speak about God with my friends; many of them see the Church as a reality that judges youth, that opposes their desire for happiness and love. Faced with this refusal, I feel all of my solitude as human and I want to feel near God. Your Holiness, in this silence, where is God?".

Response of the Holy Father:

Yes, even though we are believers, we all know God's silence. In the Psalm we have just recited, there is this almost despairing cry: "Make haste to answer me, O Lord... Do not hide your face!", and a little while ago a book of the spiritual experiences of Mother Teresa was published and what we already all knew was a little more clearly shown: with all her charity and the power of her faith, Mother Teresa suffered from God's silence.

On the one hand, we must also bear God's silence in order to understand our brothers who do not know God.

On the other, with the Psalm we can always cry to God once again: "Answer us, show your face!".

And without a doubt, in our life, if our hearts are open, we can find the important moments when God's presence really becomes tangible even for us.

I now remember a little story that John Paul II told at the Spiritual Exercises he preached in the Vatican when he was not yet Pope. He recounted that after the war he was visited by a Russian official who was a scientist and who said to him as a scientist: "I am certain that God does not exist. Yet, if I am in the mountains, surrounded by his majestic beauty, by his grandeur, I am equally sure that the Creator does exist and that God exists".

The beauty of creation is one of the sources where we can truly touch God's beauty, we can see that the Creator exists and is good, which is true as Sacred Scripture says in the Creation Narrative, that is, that God conceived of this world and made it with his heart, his will and his reason, and he found it good.

We too must be good in order to have an open heart and to perceive God's true presence.

Then, hearing the Word of God in the solemn liturgical celebrations, in celebrations of faith, in the great music of faith, we feel this presence. I remember at this moment another little story which a Bishop on his ad limina visit told me a little while ago.

There was a very intelligent woman who was not a Christian. She began to listen to the great music of Bach, Handel and Mozart. She was fascinated and said one day: "I must find the source of this beauty", and the woman converted to Christianity, to the Catholic faith, because she had discovered that this beauty has a source, and the source is the presence of Christ in hearts, it is the revelation of Christ in this world.

Hence, great feasts of faith, of liturgical celebration, but also personal dialogue with Christ: he does not always respond, but there are times when he really responds. Then there is the friendship, the company of faith.

Now, gathered here in Loreto, we see that faith unites, friendship creates a company of travelling companions. And we sense that all this does not derive from nothing but truly has a source, that the silent God is also a God who speaks, that he reveals himself and above all, that we ourselves can be witnesses of his presence, and from our faith a light truly shines also for others.

Thus, I would say on the one hand, we must accept that God is silent in this world, but we must not be deaf to his words or blind to his appearance on so many occasions. We see the Lord's presence, especially in creation, in the beautiful liturgy, in friendship within the Church, and full of his presence, we can also give light to others.

Thus, I come to the second part, or rather, the first part of your question: it is difficult to speak to friends today about God and perhaps even more difficult to talk about the Church, because they see in God only the limit of our freedom, a God of commandments, of prohibitions, and the Church as an institution that limits our freedom, that imposes prohibitions upon us.

Nonetheless, we must try to make the living Church visible to them, not this idea of a centre of power in the Church with these labels, but the community of companions where, in spite of all life's problems that exist for everyone, is born our joy of living.

Here, a third memory springs to mind. I was in Brazil, in Fazenda da Esperança, this great community where drug addicts are treated and rediscover hope, the joy of living in this world; and they witnessed what the actual discovery that God exists meant for their recovery from despair.

They thus understood that their life has meaning and they rediscovered the joy of being in this world, the joy of facing the problems of human life.

Therefore, in every human heart, despite all the problems that exist, is a thirst for God, and when God disappears, the sun that gives light and joy also disappears.

This thirst for the infinite that is in our hearts is also demonstrated even in the reality of drugs: the human being wants to extend the quality of life, to have more than life, to have the infinite, but drugs are a lie, they are a fraud, because they do not extend life but destroy it.

The great thirst that speaks to us of God and sets us on the path that leads to him is true, but we must help one another. Christ came to create a network of communion in the world, where all together we might carry one another, and thus help one another together to find the ways that lead to life and to understand that the Commandments of God are not limits to our freedom but the paths that guide us to the other, toward the fullness of life.

Let us pray to the Lord to help us understand his presence, to be full of his Revelation, his joy, to help one another to go forward in the company of faith and with Christ to increasingly find the true Face of God, and hence, true life.


Papal Q-and-A Session With Priests
On Conscience, Pastoral Organization and Immigrants

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 16, 2007 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's July 24 question-and-answer session with priests from the dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso, Italy, during the Pope's vacation.

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Church of St Justin Martyr, Auronzo di Cadore
Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Your Holiness, I am Fr Claudio. The question I wanted to ask you is about the formation of conscience, especially in young people, because today it seems more and more difficult to form a consistent conscience, an upright conscience. Good and evil are often confused with having good and bad feelings, the more emotive aspect. So I would like to hear your advice. Thank you.

Benedict XVI: Your Excellency, dear Brothers, I would like first of all to express my joy and gratitude for this beautiful meeting. I thank the two Pastors, Bishop Andrich and Bishop Mazzocato, for their invitation. I offer my heartfelt thanks to all of you who have come here in such large numbers during the holiday season. To see a church full of priests is encouraging because it shows us that there are priests. The Church is alive, despite the increasing problems in our day and especially in the Western hemisphere. The Church is still alive and has priests who truly desire to proclaim the Kingdom of God; she is growing and standing up to these complications that we perceive in our cultural situation today. Now, to a certain extent, this first question reflects a problem of Western culture, since in the last two centuries the concept of "conscience" has undergone a profound transformation. Today, the idea prevails that only what is quantifiable can be rational, which stems from reason. Other things, such as the subjects of religion and morals, should not enter into common reason because they cannot be proven or, rather, put to the "acid test", so to speak. In this situation, where morals and religion are as it were almost expelled from reason, the subject is the only ultimate criterion of morality and also of religion, the subjective conscience which knows no other authority. In the end, the subject alone decides, with his feelings and experience, on the possible criteria he has discovered. Yet, in this way the subject becomes an isolated reality and, as you said, the parameters change from one day to the next. In the Christian tradition, "conscience", "con-scientia", means "with knowledge": that is, ourselves, our being is open and can listen to the voice of being itself, the voice of God. Thus, the voice of the great values is engraved in our being and the greatness of the human being is precisely that he is not closed in on himself, he is not reduced to the material, something quantifiable, but possesses an inner openness to the essentials and has the possibility of listening. In the depths of our being, not only can we listen to the needs of the moment, to material needs, but we can also hear the voice of the Creator himself and thus discern what is good and what is bad. Of course, this capacity for listening must be taught and encouraged. The commitment to the preaching that we do in church consists of precisely this: developing this very lofty capacity with which God has endowed human beings for listening to the voice of truth and also the voice of values. I would say, therefore, that a first step would be to make people aware that our very nature carries in itself a moral message, a divine message that must be deciphered. We can become increasingly better acquainted with it and listen to it if our inner hearing is open and developed. The actual question now is how to carry out in practice this education in listening, how to make human beings capable of it despite all the forms of modern deafness, how to ensure that this listening, the Ephphatha of Baptism, the opening of the inner senses, truly takes place. In taking stock of the current situation, I would propose the combination of a secular approach and a religious approach, the approach of faith. Today, we all see that man can destroy the foundations of his existence, his earth, hence, that we can no longer simply do what we like or what seems useful and promising at the time with this earth of ours, with the reality entrusted to us. On the contrary, we must respect the inner laws of creation, of this earth, we must learn these laws and obey these laws if we wish to survive. Consequently, this obedience to the voice of the earth, of being, is more important for our future happiness than the voices of the moment, the desires of the moment. In short, this is a first criterion to learn: that being itself, our earth, speaks to us and we must listen if we want to survive and to decipher this message of the earth. And if we must be obedient to the voice of the earth, this is even truer for the voice of human life. Not only must we care for the earth, we must respect the other, others: both the other as an individual person, as my neighbour, and others as communities who live in the world and have to live together. And we see that it is only with full respect for this creature of God, this image of God which man is, and with respect for our coexistence on this earth, that we can develop. And here we reach the point when we need the great moral experiences of humanity. These experiences are born from the encounter with the other, with the community. We need the experience that human freedom is always a shared freedom and can only function if we share our freedom with respect for the values that are common to us all. It seems to me that with these steps it will be possible to make people see the need to obey the voice of being, to respect the dignity of the other, to accept the need to live our respective freedom together as one freedom, and through all this to recognize the intrinsic value that can make a dignified communion of life possible among human beings. Thus, as has been said, we come to the great experiences of humanity in which the voice of being is expressed. We especially come to the experiences of this great historical pilgrimage of the People of God that began with Abraham. In him, not only do we find the fundamental human experiences but also, we can hear through these experiences the voice of the Creator himself, who loves us and has spoken to us. Here, in this context, respecting the human experiences that point out the way to us today and in the future, I believe that the Ten Commandments always have a priority value in which we see the important signposts on our way. The Ten Commandments reinterpreted, relived in the light of Christ, in the light of the life of the Church and of her experiences, point to certain fundamental and essential values. Together, the Fourth and Sixth Commandments suggest the importance of our body, of respecting the laws of the body and of sexuality and love, the value of faithful love, of the family; the Fifth Commandment points to the value of life and also the value of community life; the Seventh Commandment regards the value of sharing the earth's goods and of a fair distribution of these goods and of the stewardship of God's creation; the Eighth Commandment points to the great value of truth. If, therefore, in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Commandments we have love of neighbour, in the Seventh we have the truth. None of this works without communion with God, without respect for God and God's presence in the world. In any case, a world without God becomes an arbitrary and egoistic world. There is light and hope only if God appears. Our life has a meaning which we must not produce ourselves but which precedes us and guides us. In this sense, therefore, I would say that together, we should take the obvious routes which today even the lay conscience can easily discern. We should therefore seek to guide people to the deepest voices, to the true voice of the conscience that is communicated through the great tradition of prayer, of the moral life of the Church. Thus, in a process of patient education, I think we can all learn to live and to find true life.

I am Fr Mauro. Your Holiness, in exercising our pastoral ministry we are increasingly burdened by many duties. Our tasks in the management and administration of parishes, pastoral organization and assistance to people in difficulty are piling up. I ask you, what are the priorities we should aim for in our ministry as priests and parish priests to avoid fragmentation on the one hand and on the other, dispersion? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: That is a very realistic question, is it not? I am also somewhat familiar with this problem, with all the daily procedures, with all the necessary audiences, with all that there is to do. Yet, it is necessary to determine the right priorities and not to forget the essential: the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. On hearing your question, I remembered the Gospel of two weeks ago on the mission of the 70 disciples. For this first important mission which Jesus had them undertake, the Lord gave them three orders which on the whole I think express the great priorities in the work of a disciple of Christ, a priest, in our day too. The three imperatives are: to pray, to provide care, to preach. I think we should find the balance between these three basic imperatives and keep them ever present as the heart of our work. Prayer: which is to say, without a personal relationship with God nothing else can function, for we cannot truly bring God, the divine reality or true human life to people unless we ourselves live them in a deep, true relationship of friendship with God in Jesus Christ. Hence, the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist is a fundamental encounter where the Lord speaks to me and I speak to the Lord who gives himself through my hands. Without the prayer of the Hours, in which we join in the great prayer of the entire People of God beginning with the Psalms of the ancient people who are renewed in the faith of the Church, and without personal prayer, we cannot be good priests for we would lose the essence of our ministry. The first imperative is to be a man of God, in the sense of a man in friendship with Christ and with his Saints. Then comes the second command. Jesus said: tend the sick, seek those who have strayed, those who are in need. This is the Church's love for the marginalized and the suffering. Rich people can also be inwardly marginalized and suffering. "To take care of" refers to all human needs, which are always profoundly oriented to God. Thus, as has been said, it is necessary for us to know our sheep, to be on good terms with the people entrusted to us, to have human contact and not to lose our humanity, because God was made man and consequently strengthened all dimensions of our being as humans. However, as I said, the human and the divine always go hand in hand. To my mind, the sacramental ministry is also part of this "tending" in its multiple forms. The ministry of Reconciliation is an act of extraordinary caring which the person needs in order to be perfectly healthy. Thus, this sacramental care begins with Baptism, which is the fundamental renewal of our life, and extends to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. Of course, all the other sacraments and also the Eucharist involve great care for souls. We have to care for people but above all -- this is our mandate -- for their souls. We must think of the many illnesses and moral and spiritual needs that exist today and that we must face, guiding people to the encounter with Christ in the sacrament, helping them to discover prayer and meditation, being silently recollected in church with this presence of God. And then, preaching. What do we preach? We proclaim the Kingdom of God. But the Kingdom of God is not a distant utopia in a better world which may be achieved in 50 years' time, or who knows when. The Kingdom of God is God himself, God close to us who became very close in Christ. This is the Kingdom of God: God himself is near to us and we must draw close to this God who is close for he was made man, remains man and is always with us in his Word, in the Most Holy Eucharist and in all believers. Therefore, proclaiming the Kingdom of God means speaking of God today, making present God's words, the Gospel which is God's presence and, of course, making present the God who made himself present in the Holy Eucharist. By interweaving these three priorities and, naturally, taking into account all the human aspects, including our own limitations that we must recognize, we can properly fulfil our priesthood. This humility that recognizes the limitations of our own strength is important as well. All that we cannot do, the Lord must do. And there is also the ability to delegate and to collaborate. All this must always go with the fundamental imperatives of praying, tending and preaching.

My name is Fr Daniele. Your Holiness, the Veneto is an area with a steady influx of immigrants where a sizable number of non-Christians are present. This situation confronts our dioceses with a new, internal task of evangelization. Moreover, this represents a certain difficulty since we have to reconcile the needs of Gospel proclamation with those of a respectful dialogue with other religions. What pastoral instructions can you suggest? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: You are naturally in close touch with this situation. And in this regard, I may be unable to give you much practical advice, but I can say that in all the ad limina visits, whether the Bishops come from Asia, Africa, Latin America or every part of Italy, I am always confronted with such situations. A uniform world no longer exists. All the other continents, the other religions, the other ways of living human life are present especially in the West. We are living a permanent encounter where we resemble the ancient Church because she experienced the same situation. Christians formed a tiny minority, a mustard seed that began to sprout, surrounded by very different religions and ways of life. We must learn once again, therefore, all that the first generations of Christians experienced. In his First Letter, St Peter said: "Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (3:15). Thus, he formulated for the ordinary person of that time, for the ordinary Christian, the need to combine proclamation and dialogue. He did not say formally: "Proclaim the Gospel to everyone". He said: "You must be able, ready, to account for the hope that is in you". I think that this is the necessary synthesis between dialogue and proclamation. The first point is that the reason for our hope must be ever present within us. We must be people who live faith and think faith, people with an inner knowledge of it. So it is that faith becomes reason within us, it becomes reasonable. Meditation on the Gospel and in this case, proclamation, the homily and catechesis to enable people to ponder faith, already constitute fundamental elements in this web of dialogue and proclamation. We ourselves must think faith, live faith and, as priests, find different ways to make faith present so that our Christian Catholics can find the conviction, readiness and ability to account for their faith. This proclamation which transmits the faith to today's conscience must have many forms. The homily and catechesis are indisputably two of its principal forms, but there are also many ways of meeting, such as seminars on faith, lay movements, etc., where people talk about faith and learn the faith. All this makes us capable, first of all, of truly living as the neighbours of non-Christians -- here, mainly Orthodox Christians, Protestants and also exponents of other religions, Muslims and others. ?The first aspect is to live beside them, recognizing with them their neighbour, our neighbour; thus, living love of neighbour on the front line as an expression of our faith. I think that this is already a very powerful witness and also a form of proclamation: truly living love of neighbour with these others, recognizing the latter, recognizing them as our neighbour so that they can see: this "love of neighbour" is for me. If this happens, we will be able to more easily present the source of our behaviour, in other words, that love of neighbour is an expression of our faith. Thus, our dialogue cannot move on suddenly to the great mysteries of faith, although Muslims have a certain knowledge of Christ that denies his divinity but at least recognizes him as a great Prophet. They love Our Lady. These are consequently elements that we have in common, even in faith, and are starting points for dialogue. A perception of fundamental understanding on the values we should live is practical, feasible and above all necessary. Here too, we have a treasure in common because Muslims come from the religion of Abraham, reinterpreted and relived in ways to be studied and to which we should finally respond. Yet, the great substantial experience of the Ten Commandments is present and this seems to me a point that requires further investigation. Moving on to the great mysteries seems to me to be moving to a level that is far from easy and impossible to attain at large meetings. Perhaps the seed should enter hearts, so that here and there the response of faith in a more specific dialogue may mature. But what we can and must do is to seek a consensus on the fundamental values expressed in the Ten Commandments, summed up in love of neighbour and love of God, and which can thus be interpreted in the various life contexts. We are at least on a common journey towards the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who is ultimately the God with the human face, the God present in Jesus Christ. But if the latter step is to be made in intimate, personal encounters or small groups, the journey towards this God, from which derives these values that make life in common possible, I think this is feasible also at larger meetings. As a result, in my opinion a humble, patient form of proclamation should be undertaken here, which awaits but already realizes our life in accordance with knowledge enlightened by God.

I am Fr Samuele. We have accepted your invitation to pray, care for people and preach. We are taking you seriously by caring for you yourself; so, to express our affection, we have brought you several bottles of wholesome wine from our region, which we will make sure that you receive through our Bishop. So now for my question. We are seeing an enormous increase in situations of divorced people who remarry, live together and ask priests to help them with their spiritual life. These people often come to us with a heartfelt plea for access to the sacraments. These realities need to be faced and the sufferings they cause must be shared. Holy Father, may I ask you what are the human, spiritual and pastoral approaches with which one can combine compassion and truth? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: Yes, this is indeed a painful problem and there is certainly no simple solution to resolve it. This problem makes us all suffer because we all have people close to us who are in this situation. We know it causes them sorrow and pain because they long to be in full communion with the Church. The previous bond of matrimony reduces their participation in the life of the Church. What can be done? I would say: as far as possible, we would naturally put prevention first. Hence, preparation for marriage becomes ever more fundamental and necessary. Canon Law presupposes that man as such, even without much education, intends to contract a marriage in harmony with human nature, as mentioned in the first chapters of Genesis. He is a human being, his nature is human and consequently he knows what marriage is. He intends to behave as human nature dictates to him. Canon Law starts from this presupposition. It is something compulsory: man is man, nature is what it is and tells him this. Today, however, this axiom, which holds that man prompted by his nature will make one faithful marriage, has been transformed into a somewhat different axiom. "Volunt contrahere matrimonium sicut ceteri homines". It is no longer nature alone that speaks, but the "ceteri homines": what everyone does. And what everyone does today is not simply to enter into natural marriage, in accordance with the Creator, in accordance with creation. What the "ceteri homines" do is to marry with the idea that one day their marriage might fail and that they will then be able to move on to another one, to a third or even a fourth marriage. This model of what "everyone does" thus becomes one that is contrary to what nature says. In this way, it becomes normal to marry, divorce and remarry, and no one thinks this is something contrary to human nature, or in any case those who do are few and far between. Therefore, to help people achieve a real marriage, not only in the sense of the Church but also of the Creator, we must revive their capacity for listening to nature. Let us return to the first query, the first question: rediscovering within what everyone does, what nature itself tells us, which is so different from what this modern custom dictates. Indeed, it invites us to marry for life, with lifelong fidelity including the suffering that comes from growing together in love. Thus, these preparatory courses for marriage must be a rectification of the voice of nature, of the Creator, within us, a rediscovery, beyond what all the "ceteri homines" do, of what our own being intimately tells us. In this situation, therefore, distinguishing between what everyone else does and what our being tells us, these preparatory courses for marriage must be a journey of rediscovery. They must help us learn anew what our being tells us. They must help couples reach the true decision of marriage in accordance with the Creator and the Redeemer. Hence, these preparatory courses are of great importance in order to "learn oneself", to learn the true intention for marriage. But preparation is not enough; the great crises come later. Consequently, ongoing guidance, at least in the first 10 years, is of the utmost importance. In the parish, therefore, it is not only necessary to provide preparatory courses but also communion in the journey that follows, guidance and mutual help. May priests, but not on their own, and families, which have already undergone such experiences and are familiar with such suffering and temptations, be available in moments of crisis. The presence of a network of families that help one another is important and different movements can make a considerable contribution. The first part of my answer provides for prevention, not only in the sense of preparation but also of guidance and for the presence of a network of families to assist in this contemporary situation where everything goes against faithfulness for life. It is necessary to help people find this faithfulness and learn it, even in the midst of suffering. However, in the case of failure, in other words, when the spouses are incapable of adhering to their original intention, there is always the question of whether it was a real decision in the sense of the sacrament. As a result, one possibility is the process for the declaration of nullity. If their marriage were authentic, which would prevent them from remarrying, the Church's permanent presence would help these people to bear the additional suffering. In the first case, we have the suffering that goes with overcoming this crisis and learning a hard-fought for and mature fidelity. In the second case, we have the suffering of being in a new bond which is not sacramental, hence, does not permit full communion in the sacraments of the Church. Here it would be necessary to teach and to learn how to live with this suffering. We return to this point, to the first question of the other diocese. In our generation, in our culture, we have to rediscover the value of suffering in general, and we have to learn that suffering can be a very positive reality which helps us to mature, to become more ourselves, and to be closer to the Lord who suffered for us and suffers with us. Even in the latter situation, therefore, the presence of the priest, families, movements, personal and communitarian communion in these situations, the helpful love of one's neighbour, a very specific love, is of the greatest importance. And I think that only this love, felt by the Church and expressed in the solidarity of many, can help these people recognize that they are loved by Christ and are members of the Church despite their difficult situation. Thus, it can help them to live the faith.

My name is Fr Saverio, so of course my question concerns the missions. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical "Fidei Donum." Many priests in our Diocese, myself included, have accepted the Pope's invitation; they, we, have lived and are living the experience of the mission ad gentes. There can be no doubt that this is an extraordinary experience which in my modest opinion could be shared by a great number of priests with a view to exchanges between Sister Churches. Since the instruction in the Encyclical is still timely today, given the dwindling number of priests in our countries, how and with what attitude should it be accepted and lived both by the priests who are sent out and by the whole diocese? Thank you.

Pope Benedict XVI: Thank you. I would first like to thank all these fidei donum priests and the dioceses. As I have already mentioned, I have received a great number of ad limina visits from Bishops of Asia, Africa and Latin America and they all tell me: "We are badly in need of fidei donum priests and we are deeply grateful for the work they do. They make present, often in extremely difficult situations, the catholicity of the Church and they make visible the great universal communion which we form, as well as the love for our distant neighbour who becomes close in the situation of the fidei donum priest". In the past 50 years I have almost tangibly felt and seen this great gift, truly given, in my conversations with priests who say to us: "Do not think that we Africans are now quite self-sufficient; we are still in need of the visibility of the great communion of the universal Church". I would say that we all need to be visible as Catholics and we need to love the neighbour who comes from afar and thus finds his neighbour. Today, the situation has changed in the sense that we in Europe also receive priests from Africa, Latin America and even from other parts of Europe. This enables us to perceive the beauty of this exchange of gifts, this gift of one to the other, because we all need one another: it is precisely in this way that the Body of Christ grows. To sum up, I would like to say that this gift was and is a great gift, perceived in the Church as such: in so many situations that I cannot describe here, which involve social problems, problems of development, problems of the proclamation of the faith, problems of loneliness, the need for the presence of others, these priests are a gift in which the dioceses and particular Churches recognize the presence of Christ who gives himself for us. At the same time, they recognize that Eucharistic Communion is not only a supranatural communion but becomes concrete communion in this gift of self of diocesan priests who make themselves available to other dioceses, and that the network of particular Churches thus truly becomes a network of love. Thanks to all those who have made this gift. I can only encourage Bishops and priests to continue making this gift. I know that today, with the shortage of vocations, it is becoming more and more difficult in Europe to make this gift; but we already have the experience that other continents in turn, such as especially India and Africa, also give us priests. Reciprocity continues to be of paramount importance. Precisely the experience that we are the Church sent out into the world which everyone knows and loves, is very necessary and also constitutes the power of proclamation. Thus, people can see that the mustard seed bears fruit and ceaselessly, time and again, becomes a great tree in which the birds of the air find repose. Thank you and be strong.

Fr Alberto: Holy Father, young people are our future and our hope: but they sometimes see life as a difficulty rather than an opportunity; not as a gift for themselves and for others but as something to be consumed on the spot; not as a future to be built but as aimless wandering. The contemporary mindset demands that young people be happy and perfect all of the time. The result is that every tiny failure and the least difficulty are no longer seen as causes for growth but as a defeat. All this often leads to irreversible acts such as suicide, which wound the hearts of those who love them and of society as a whole. What can you tell us educators who feel all too often that our hands are tied and that we have no answers? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: I think you have just given us a precise description of a life in which God does not figure. At first sight, it seems as if we do not need God or indeed, that without God we would be freer and the world would be grander. But after a certain time, we see in our young people what happens when God disappears. As Nietzsche said: "The great light has been extinguished, the sun has been put out". Life is then a chance event. It becomes a thing that I must seek to do the best I can with and use life as though it were a thing that serves my own immediate, tangible and achievable happiness. But the big problem is that were God not to exist and were he not also the Creator of my life, life would actually be a mere cog in evolution, nothing more; it would have no meaning in itself. Instead, I must seek to give meaning to this component of being. Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called "creationism" and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance. This is what I wanted to say in my lecture at Regensburg: that reason should be more open, that it should indeed perceive these facts but also realize that they are not enough to explain all of reality. They are insufficient. Our reason is broader and can also see that our reason is not basically something irrational, a product of irrationality, but that reason, creative reason, precedes everything and we are truly the reflection of creative reason. We were thought of and desired; thus, there is an idea that preceded me, a feeling that preceded me, that I must discover, that I must follow, because it will at last give meaning to my life. This seems to me to be the first point: to discover that my being is truly reasonable, it was thought of, it has meaning. And my important mission is to discover this meaning, to live it and thereby contribute a new element to the great cosmic harmony conceived of by the Creator. If this is true, then difficulties also become moments of growth, of the process and progress of my very being, which has meaning from conception until the very last moment of life. We can get to know this reality of meaning that precedes all of us, we can also rediscover the meaning of pain and suffering; there is of course one form of suffering that we must avoid and must distance from the world: all the pointless suffering caused by dictatorships and erroneous systems, by hatred and by violence. However, in suffering there is also a profound meaning, and only if we can give meaning to pain and suffering can our life mature. I would say, above all, that there can be no love without suffering, because love always implies renouncement of myself, letting myself go and accepting the other in his otherness; it implies a gift of myself and therefore, emerging from myself. All this is pain and suffering, but precisely in this suffering caused by the losing of myself for the sake of the other, for the loved one and hence, for God, I become great and my life finds love, and in love finds its meaning. The inseparability of love and suffering, of love and God, are elements that must enter into the modern conscience to help us live. In this regard, I would say that it is important to help the young discover God, to help them discover the true love that precisely in renunciation becomes great and so also enables them to discover the inner benefit of suffering, which makes me freer and greater. Of course, to help young people find these elements, companionship and guidance are always essential, whether through the parish, Catholic Action or a Movement. It is only in the company of others that we can also reveal this great dimension of our being to the new generations.

I am Fr Francesco. Holy Father, one sentence you wrote in your book made a deep impression on me: "[But] what did Jesus actually bring if not world peace, universal prosperity and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: "God. He has brought God'" (Jesus of Nazareth, English edition, p. 44); I find the clarity and truth of this citation disarming. This is my question: there is talk about the new evangelization, the new proclamation of the Gospel -- this was also the main theme of the Synod of our Diocese, Belluno-Feltre -- but what should we do so that this God, the one treasure brought by Jesus and who all too often appears hazy to many, shines forth anew in our homes and becomes the water that quenches even the thirst of the many who seem no longer to be thirsting? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: Thank you. Yours is a fundamental question. The fundamental question of our pastoral work is how to bring God to the world, to our contemporaries. Of course, bringing God is a multi-dimensional task: already in Jesus' preaching, in his life and his death we see how this One develops in so many dimensions. I think that we should always be mindful of two things: on the one hand, the Christian proclamation. Christianity is not a highly complicated collection of so many dogmas that it is impossible for anyone to know them all; it is not something exclusively for academicians who can study these things, but it is something simple: God exists and God is close in Jesus Christ. Thus, to sum up, Jesus Christ himself said that the Kingdom of God had arrived. Basically, what we preach is one, simple thing. All the dimensions subsequently revealed are dimensions of this one thing and all people do not have to know everything but must certainly enter into the depths and into the essential. In this way, the different dimensions also unfold with ever increasing joy. But in practice what should be done? I think, speaking of pastoral work today, that we have already touched on the essential points. But to continue in this direction, bringing God implies above all, on the one hand, love, and on the other, hope and faith. Thus, the dimension of life lived, bearing the best witness for Christ, the best proclamation, is always the life of true Christians. If we see that families nourished by faith live in joy, that they also experience suffering in profound and fundamental joy, that they help others, loving God and their neighbour, in my opinion this is the most beautiful proclamation today. For me too, the most comforting proclamation is always that of seeing Catholic families or personalities who are penetrated by faith: the presence of God truly shines out in them and they bring the "living water" that you mentioned. The fundamental proclamation is, therefore, precisely that of the actual life of Christians. Of course, there is also the proclamation of the Word. We must spare no effort to ensure that the Word is listened to and known. Today, there are numerous schools of the Word and of the conversation with God in Sacred Scripture, a conversation which necessarily also becomes prayer, because the purely theoretical study of Sacred Scripture is a form of listening that is merely intellectual and would not be a real or satisfactory encounter with the Word of God. If it is true that in Scripture and in the Word of God it is the Living Lord God who speaks to us, who elicits our response and our prayers, then schools of Scripture must also be schools of prayer, of dialogue with God, of drawing intimately close to God: consequently, the whole proclamation. Then, of course, I would say the sacraments. All the Saints also always come with God. It is important -- Sacred Scripture tell us from the very outset -- that God never comes by himself but comes accompanied and surrounded by the Angels and Saints. In the great stained glass window in St Peter's which portrays the Holy Spirit, what I like so much is the fact that God is surrounded by a throng of Angels and living beings who are an expression, an emanation, so to speak, of God's love. And with God, with Christ, with the man who is God and with God who is man, Our Lady arrives. This is very important. God, the Lord, has a Mother and in his Mother we truly recognize God's motherly goodness. Our Lady, Mother of God, is the Help of Christians, she is our permanent comfort, our great help. I see this too in the dialogue with the Bishops of the world, of Africa and lately also of Latin America; I see that love for Our Lady is the driving force of catholicity. In Our Lady we recognize all God's tenderness, so, fostering and living out Our Lady's, Mary's, joyful love is a very great gift of catholicity. Then there are the Saints. Every place has its own Saint. This is good because in this way we see the range of colours of God's one light and of his love which comes close to us. It means discovering the Saints in their beauty, in their drawing close to me in the Word, so that in a specific Saint I may find expressed precisely for me the inexhaustible Word of God, and then all the aspects of parochial life, even the human ones. We must not always be in the clouds, in the loftiest clouds of Mystery. We must have our feet firmly planted on the ground and together live the joy of being a great family: the great little family of the parish; the great family of the diocese, the great family of the universal Church. In Rome I can see all this, I can see how people from every part of the world who do not know one another are actually acquainted because they all belong to the family of God. They are close to one another because they all possess the love of the Lord, the love of Our Lady, the love of the Saints, Apostolic Succession and the Successor of Peter and the Bishops. I would say that this joy of catholicity with its many different hues is also the joy of beauty. We have here the beauty of a beautiful organ; the beauty of a very beautiful church, the beauty that has developed in the Church. I think this is a marvellous testimony of God's presence and of the truth of God. Truth is expressed in beauty, and we must be grateful for this beauty and seek to do our utmost to ensure that it is ever present, that it develops and continues to grow. In this way, I believe that God will be very concretely in our midst.

I am Fr Lorenzo, a parish priest. Holy Father, the faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be experts in encouraging the encounter of human beings with God. These are not my own words but something Your Holiness said in an Address to the clergy. My spiritual director at the seminary, in those trying sessions of spiritual direction, said to me: "Lorenzino, humanly we've made it, but...", and when he said "but", what he meant was that I preferred playing football to Eucharistic Adoration. And he meant that this did my vocation no good and that it was not right to dispute lessons of morals and law, because the teachers knew more about them that I did. And with that "but", who knows what else he meant. I now think of him in Heaven, and in any case I say some requiems for him. In spite of everything, I have been a priest for 34 years and I am happy about that, too. I have worked no miracles nor have I known any disasters or perhaps I did not recognize them. I feel that "humanly we've made it" is a great compliment. However, does not bringing man close to God and God to man pass above all through what we call humanity, which is indispensable even for us priests?

Benedict XVI: Thank you. I would simply say "yes" to what you said at the end. Catholicism, somewhat simplistically, has always been considered the religion of the great "et et": not of great forms of exclusivism but of synthesis. The exact meaning of "Catholic" is "synthesis". I would therefore be against having to choose between either playing football or studying Sacred Scripture or Canon Law. Let us do both these things. It is great to do sports. I am not a great sportsman, yet I used to like going to the mountains when I was younger; now I only go on some very easy excursions, but I always find it very beautiful to walk here in this wonderful earth that the Lord has given to us. Therefore, we cannot always live in exalted meditation; perhaps a Saint on the last step of his earthly pilgrimage could reach this point, but we normally live with our feet on the ground and our eyes turned to Heaven. Both these things are given to us by the Lord and therefore loving human things, loving the beauties of this earth, is not only very human but also very Christian and truly Catholic. I would say - and it seems to me that I have already mentioned this earlier - that this aspect is also part of a good and truly Catholic pastoral care: living in the "et et"; living the humanity and humanism of the human being, all the gifts which the Lord has lavished upon us and which we have developed; and at the same time, not forgetting God, because ultimately, the great light comes from God and then it is only from him that comes the light which gives joy to all these aspects of the things that exist. Therefore, I would simply like to commit myself to the great Catholic synthesis, to this "et et"; to be truly human. And each person, in accordance with his or her own gifts and charism, should not only love the earth and the beautiful things the Lord has given us, but also be grateful because God's light shines on earth and bathes everything in splendour and beauty. In this regard, let us live catholicity joyfully. This would be my answer. (Applause)

I am Fr Arnaldo. Holy Father, pastoral and ministerial requirements in addition to the reduced number of priests impel our Bishops to review the distribution of clergy, resulting in an accumulation of tasks for one priest as well as responsibility for more than one parish. This closely affects many communities of the baptized and requires that we priests -- priests and lay people -- live and exercise the pastoral ministry together. How is it possible to live this change in pastoral organization, giving priority to the spirituality of the Good Shepherd? Thank you, Your Holiness.

Benedict XVI: Yes, let us return to this question of pastoral priorities and how to be a parish priest today. A little while ago, a French Bishop who was a Religious and so had never been a parish priest, said to me: "Your Holiness, I would like you to explain to me what a parish priest is. In France we have these large pastoral units covering five, six or seven parishes and the parish priest becomes a coordinator of bodies, of different initiatives". But it seemed to him, since he was so busy coordinating the different bodies he was obliged to deal with, that he no longer had the possibility of a personal encounter with his sheep. Since he was a Bishop, hence, the Pastor of a large parish, he wondered if this system were right or whether we ought to rediscover a possibility for the parish priest to be truly a parish priest, hence, pastor of his flock. I could not, of course, come up with the recipe for an instant solution to the situation in France, but the problem in general is: to ensure that, despite the new situations and new forms of responsibility, the parish priest does not forfeit his closeness to the people, his truly being in person the shepherd of this flock entrusted to him by the Lord. Situations are not the same: I am thinking of the Bishops in their dioceses with widely differing situations; they must see clearly how to ensure that the parish priest continues to be a pastor and does not become a holy bureaucrat. In any case, I think that a first opportunity in which we can be present for the people entrusted to us is precisely the sacramental life. In the Eucharist we are together and can and must meet one another; the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is a very personal encounter; Baptism is a personal encounter and not only the moment of the conferral of the Sacrament. I would say that all these sacraments have a context of their own: baptizing entails offering the young family a little catechesis, speaking to them so that Baptism may also become a personal encounter and an opportunity for a very concrete catechesis. Preparation for First Communion, Confirmation and Marriage is likewise always an opportunity for the parish priest, the priest, to meet people personally; he is the preacher and administrator of the sacraments in a way that always involves the human dimension. A sacrament is never merely a ritual act, but the ritual and sacramental act strengthens the human context in which the priest or parish priest acts. Furthermore, I think it very important to find the right ways to delegate. It is not right that the parish priest should only coordinate other bodies. Rather, he should delegate in various ways, and obviously at Synods -- and here in this Diocese you have had the Synod -- a way is found to free the parish priest sufficiently. This should be done in such a way that on the one hand he retains responsibility for the totality of pastoral units entrusted to him. He should not be reduced to being mainly and above all a coordinating bureaucrat. On the contrary, he should be the one who holds the essential reins himself but can also rely on collaborators. I believe that this is one of the important and positive results of the Council: the co-responsibility of the entire parish, for the parish priest is no longer the only one to animate everything. Since we all form a parish together, we must all collaborate and help so that the parish priest is not left on his own, mainly as a coordinator, but truly discovers that he is a pastor who is backed up in these common tasks in which, together, the parish lives and is fulfilled. Thus, I would say that, on the one hand, this coordination and vital responsibility for the whole parish, and on the other, the sacramental life and preaching as a centre of parish life, could also today, in circumstances which are of course more difficult, make it possible to be a parish priest who may not know each person by name, as the Lord says of the Good Shepherd, but one who really knows his sheep and is really their pastor who calls and guides them.

I am asking the last question and I am very tempted to keep quiet for it is a small question, Your Holiness, and after you have nine times found the way to speak to us of God and so exalt us, I feel that what I am about to ask you is trivial and poor, as it were; yet I shall do so! Just a word for those of my generation who trained during the years of the Council and set out with enthusiasm and perhaps also the ambition to change the world. We worked very hard and today we are in a somewhat tricky position because we are worn out, many of our dreams failed to come true and we feel somewhat lonely. The oldest say to us, "You see, we were right to have been more prudent"; and the younger ones sometimes taunt us for being "nostalgic for the Council". This is our question: Can we still bring a gift to our Church, especially with that attachment to people which we feel has marked us? Please help us to recover our hope and serenity.

Benedict XVI: Thank you. This is an important question with which I am well acquainted. I also lived at the time of the Council. I was in St Peter's Basilica with great enthusiasm and saw new doors opening. It really seemed to be the new Pentecost in which the Church could once again convince humanity, after the world had distanced itself from the Church in the 18th and 19th centuries; it seemed that the Church and the world were meeting again and that a Christian world and a Church of the world, truly open to the world, were being born anew. We had so many hopes but in fact things turned out to be more difficult. However, the great legacy of the Council which opened up a new road endures; it is still a magna carta of the Church's journey, very essential and fundamental. Why did this happen? Perhaps I would like to begin with a historical observation. A post-conciliar period is almost always very difficult. The important Council of Nicea -- which for us really is the foundation of our faith, in fact, we confess the faith formulated at Nicea -- did not lead to a situation of reconciliation and unity as Constantine, who organized this great Council, had hoped. It was followed instead by a truly chaotic situation of in-fighting. In his book on the Holy Spirit, St Basil compares the situation of the Church subsequent to the Council of Nicea to a naval battle at night in which no one recognizes the other but everyone fights everyone else. It really was a situation of total chaos: thus, St Basil painted in strong colours the drama of the post-conciliar period, the aftermath of Nicea. Fifty years later, for the First Council of Constantinople, the Emperor invited St Gregory of Nazianzus to take part in the Council. St Gregory answered: "No. I will not come because I know these things, I know that all Councils produce nothing but confusion and fighting so I shall not be coming". And he did not go. Thus, in retrospect, today is not as great a surprise as it would have been at the outset for us all to digest the Council, its important message. To integrate it in the Church's life, to accept it so that it may become the life of the Church, to assimilate it in the various milieus of the Church, means suffering. And it is only in suffering that growth is achieved. Growing always brings suffering because it means emerging from one stage and moving on to the next; and we must note that in the concrete post-conciliar period there are two great historical caesurae. In the post-conciliar period, we had the pause in 1968, the beginning or "explosion" -- I would dare to call it -- of the great cultural crisis of the West. The post-war generation had come to an end. This was the generation that, after all the destruction and seeing the horrors of war and fighting and noting the tragedy of the great ideologies which truly led people to the brink of war, rediscovered the Christian roots of Europe. And we had begun to rebuild Europe with these lofty inspirations. However, once this generation had disappeared, all the failures, the shortcomings in this reconstruction and the widespread poverty in the world became visible. Thus, the crisis in Western culture, I would call it a cultural revolution that wanted radical change, burst out. It was saying: in 2,000 years of Christianity, we have not created a better world. We must start again from zero in an entirely new way. Marxism seems to be the scientific recipe for creating a new world at last. And in this -- we said -- serious clash between the new and healthy modernity desired by the Council and the crisis of modernity, everything becomes difficult, just as it was after the First Council of Nicea. Some were of the opinion that this cultural revolution was what the Council desired. They identified this new Marxist cultural revolution with the Council's intentions. This faction said: "This is the Council. Literally, the texts are still somewhat antiquated but this is the spirit behind the written words, this is the will of the Council, this is what we have to do". On the other hand, however, was a reaction that said: "This is the way to destroy the Church". This reaction -- let us say -- was utterly opposed to the Council, the anti-conciliar approach and -- let us say -- the timid, humble effort to achieve the true spirit of the Council. And as a proverb says: "If a tree falls it makes a great crash, but if a forest grows nothing can be heard for a silent process is happening". Thus, in the din of an anti-Council sentiment and erroneous progressivism, the journey of the Church silently gathered momentum, with great suffering and great losses, as she built up a new cultural process. Then came the second phase in 1989 -- the collapse of the Communist regimes; but the response was not a return to the faith as one might have expected. It was not the rediscovery that the Church herself, with the authentic Council, had come up with the answer. The response instead was the total scepticism of so-called "post-modernity". It held that nothing is true, that everyone must live as best he can. Materialism gained ground, a pseudo-rationalist, blind scepticism that led to drugs and ended in all the problems we know. Once again, it closed the ways to faith because it was something so simple and so obvious. No, there was nothing true about it. The truth is intolerant, we cannot take this route. Here, in the contexts of these two cultural ruptures: the first, the cultural revolution of 1968 and the second, the collapse, we might call it, into nihilism after 1989, the Church humbly set out among the afflictions of the world and the glory of the Lord. On this path we must grow, patiently, and must now learn in a new way what it means to give up triumphalism. The Council had said that triumphalism should be given up -- and was thinking of the baroque, of all these great cultures of the Church. People said: Let us begin in a new and modern way. But another triumphalism had developed, that of thought: we now do things, we have found our way, and on this path we will find the new world. Yet, the humility of the Cross, of the Crucified One, excludes this same triumphalism. We must renounce the triumphalism which holds that the great Church of the future is now truly being born. Christ's Church is always humble and in this very way is great and joyful. It seems to me very important that our eyes are now open and can see all that is positive which developed in the period subsequent to the Council: in the renewal of the liturgy, in the Synods, the Roman Synods, the universal Synods, the diocesan synods, the parish structures, in collaboration, in the new responsibility of lay people, in the great intercultural and intercontinental co-responsibility, in a new experience of the Church's catholicity, of the unanimity that grows in humility and yet is the true hope of the world. Thus, I think we have to rediscover the Council's great legacy. It is not a spirit reconstructed from texts but consists of the great Council texts themselves, reinterpreted today with the experiences we have had which have borne fruit in so many movements and so many new religious communities. I went to Brazil knowing that the sects were spreading and that the Catholic Church there seemed somewhat fossilized; but once I arrived there, I saw that a new religious community is born in Brazil almost every day, a new movement is born. Not only are the sects growing, the Church is growing with new situations full of vitality, not in order to complete the statistics -- this is a false hope, statistics are not our god -- but these situations are growing in souls and create the joy of faith, the presence of the Gospel; consequently, they are also creating a true development of the world and of society. It seems to me, therefore, that we must combine the great humility of the Crucified One, of a Church which is always humble and always opposed by the great economic and military powers, etc., but with this humility we must also learn the true triumphalism of catholicity that develops in all the centuries. Today too, the presence of the Crucified and Risen One, who has preserved his wounds, is increasing. He is wounded but it is in this way that he renews the world and gives his breath which also renews the Church, despite all our poverty. And I would say that it is in this combination of the humility of the Cross and the joy of the Risen Lord, who in the Council gave us a great signpost for our journey, that we can go ahead joyously and full of hope.


Pope Benedict's Lenten Meeting With Roman Clergy
"Contemplation Is Expressed in Works of Charity"

Hall of Blessings
Thursday, 22 February 2007

The first question was addressed to the Holy Father by Mons. Pasquale Silla, Rector at the Shrine of Santa Maria del Divino Amore at Castel di Leva, not far from Rome. Mons. Silla recalled Benedict XVI's Visit to the Shrine on 1 May 2006 and his request to the parish community for powerful prayer for the Bishop of Rome and his collaborators, as well as for the priests and faithful of the Diocese. In response to this request, the community of Our Lady of Divine Love attempted to give the best possible quality to prayer in all its forms, especially liturgical prayer: one of the results of this commitment is the Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist that will begin at the Shrine on 25 March. In the field of charity, the Shrine is concentrating on broadening its outreach, especially in the area of welfare for minors, families and the elderly. In this perspective, Mons. Silla asked Pope Benedict XVI for practical instructions to enable the Shrine to play an increasingly effective role in the Diocese.

Pope Benedict XVI: I would like first of all to say that I am glad and happy to feel here that I am truly the Bishop of a large Diocese. The Cardinal Vicar said that you are expecting light and comfort. And I must say that to see so many priests of all generations is light and comfort to me. Above all, I have already learned something from the first question, and to my mind this is another essential element of our Meeting. Here I can hear the actual living voices of parish priests and their pastoral experiences; thus, above all I can learn about your concrete situation, your queries, your experiences and your difficulties, and live them not only in the abstract but in authentic dialogue with real parish life.

I now come to the first question. It seems to me, basically, that you have also supplied the answer as to what this Shrine can do. ... I know that this Marian Shrine is the one best loved by the people of Rome. During the several Visits I paid to the ancient Shrine, I also felt the age-old devotion. One senses the presence of the prayer of generations and one can almost tangibly feel Our Lady's motherly presence.

In the encounter with Mary, it is truly possible to experience an encounter with the centuries-old Marian devotion as well as with the desires, needs, sufferings and joys of the generations. Thus, this Shrine, visited by people with their hopes, questions, requests and sufferings, is an essential factor for the Diocese of Rome.

We are seeing more and more that Shrines are a source of life and faith in the universal Church, hence, also in the Church of Rome. In my Country, I had the experience of making pilgrimages on foot to our national Shrine of Altötting. It is an important popular mission.

Young people in particular go there. As pilgrims walking for three days, they experience the atmosphere of prayer and an examination of conscience and rediscover, as it were, their Christian awareness of the faith. These three days of pilgrimage on foot are days of confession and prayer, they are a true journey towards Our Lady, towards the family of God and also towards the Eucharist.

Pilgrims go on foot to Our Lady, and with Our Lady they go to the Lord, to the Eucharistic encounter, preparing themselves for interior renewal with confession. They live anew the Eucharistic reality of the Lord who gives himself, just as Our Lady gave her own flesh to the Lord, thereby opening the door to the Incarnation.

Our Lady gave her flesh for the Incarnation and thereby made possible the Eucharist, where we receive the Flesh that is Bread for the world. In going to the encounter with Our Lady, young people themselves learn to offer their own flesh, their daily life, so that it may be given over to the Lord. And they learn to believe and little by little to say "yes" to the Lord.

I would therefore say, to return to the question, that the Shrine as such, as a place of prayer, confession and the celebration of the Eucharist, provides a great service in the Church today for the Diocese of Rome. I therefore think that the essential service, of which, moreover, you have spoken in practical terms, is precisely that of providing a place of prayer, of sacramental life and of a life of practised charity.

If I have understood correctly, you spoke of four dimensions of prayer. The first is personal. And here Mary shows us the way. St Luke says twice that the Virgin Mary "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (2:19; cf. 2:51). She was a person in conversation with God, with the Word of God and also with the events through which God spoke to her.

The Magnificat is a "fabric" woven of words from Sacred Scripture. It shows us how Mary lived in a permanent conversation with the Word of God, and thus, with God himself. Then of course, in life with the Lord, she was also always in conversation with Christ, with the Son of God and with the Trinitarian God. Therefore, let us learn from Mary and speak personally with the Lord, pondering and preserving God's words in our lives and hearts so that they may become true food for each one of us. Thus, Mary guides us at a school of prayer in personal and profound contact with God.

The second dimension you mentioned is liturgical prayer. In the Liturgy, the Lord teaches us to pray, first of all giving us his Word, then introducing us through the Eucharistic Prayer to communion with the mystery of his life, the Cross and the Resurrection.

St Paul once said we do not even know what to ask for: "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26); we do not know how to pray or what to say to God. God, therefore, has given us words of prayer in the Psalter, in the important prayers of the Sacred Liturgy, and precisely in the Eucharistic liturgy itself. Here, he teaches us how to pray.

We enter into the prayer that was formed down the centuries under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and we join in Christ's conversation with the Father. Thus, the Liturgy, above all, is prayer: first listening and then a response, in the Responsorial Psalm, in the prayer of the Church and in the great Eucharistic Prayer. We celebrate it well if we celebrate it with a "prayerful" attitude, uniting ourselves with the Mystery of Christ and his exchange as Son with the Father.

If we celebrate the Eucharist in this way, first as listening and then as a response, hence, as prayer, using the words pointed out to us by the Holy Spirit, then we are celebrating it well. And through our prayer in common, people are attracted to joining the ranks of God's children.

The third dimension is that of popular piety. An important Document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments speaks of this popular piety and tells us how to "guide it". Popular piety is one of our strengths because it consists of prayers deeply rooted in people's hearts. These prayers even move the hearts of people who are somewhat cut off from the life of the Church and who have no special understanding of faith.

All that is required is to "illuminate" these actions and "purify" this tradition so that it may become part of the life of the Church today.

Then comes Eucharistic Adoration. I am very grateful because Eucharistic Adoration is being increasingly renewed. During the Synod on the Eucharist, the Bishops talked a great deal about their experiences, of how new life is being restored to communities with this adoration, and also with nocturnal adoration, and how, precisely in this way, new vocations are also born.

I can say that I will shortly be signing the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, which will then be available to the Church. It is a Document offered precisely for meditation. It will be a help in the liturgical celebration as well as in personal reflection, in the preparation of homilies and in the celebration of the Eucharist. And it will also serve to guide, enlighten and revitalize popular piety.

Lastly, you spoke to us of the Shrine as a place of caritas. I think this is very logical and necessary. A little while ago I read what St Augustine said in Book X of his Confessions: "I was tempted and I now understand that it was a temptation to enclose myself in contemplative life, to seek solitude with you, O Lord; but you prevented me, you plucked me from it and made me listen to St Paul's words: "Christ died for us all. Consequently, we must die with Christ and live for all'. I understood that I cannot shut myself up in contemplation; you died for us all. Therefore, with you, I must live for all and thus practise works of charity. True contemplation is expressed in works of charity. Therefore, the sign for which we have truly prayed, that we have experienced in the encounter with Christ, is that we exist "for others'".

This is what a parish priest must be like. And St Augustine was a great parish priest. He said: "In my life I also always longed to spend my life listening to the Word in meditation, but now -- day after day, hour after hour -- I must stand at the door where the bell is always ringing, I must comfort the afflicted, help the poor, reprimand those who are quarrelsome, create peace and so forth".

St Augustine lists all the tasks of a parish priest, for at that time the Bishop was also what the Kadi in Islamic countries is today. With regard to problems of civil law, let us say, he was the judge of peace: he had to encourage peace between the litigants. He therefore lived a life that for him, a contemplative, was very difficult. But he understood this truth: thus, I am with Christ; in existing "for others", I am in the Crucified and Risen Lord.

I think this is a great consolation for parish priests and Bishops. Even if little time is left for contemplation, in being "for others", we are with the Lord.

You spoke of other concrete elements of charity that are very important. They are also a sign for our society, in particular for children, for the elderly, for the suffering. I therefore believe that with these four dimensions of life he has given us the answer to your question: What should we do at our Shrine?

Fr Maurizio Secondo Mirilli, Parochial Vicar of Santa Bernadette Soubirous Parish and head of the Diocesan Youth Programme, emphasized the demanding task incumbent on priests in their mission to instil faith in the new generations. Fr Mirilli asked the Pope for a word of guidance on how to transmit the joy of the Christian faith to youth, especially in the face of today's cultural challenges, and also asked him to point out the priority topics on which to focus in order to help young men and women to encounter Christ in practice.

Pope Benedict XVI: Thank you for your work for teenagers. We know that the young really must be a priority of our pastoral work because they dwell in a world far from God. And in our cultural context it is not easy to encounter Christ, the Christian life and the faith life.

Young people require so much guidance if they are truly to find this path. I would say -- even if I unfortunately live rather far away from them and so cannot provide very practical instructions -- that the first element is, precisely and above all, guidance. They must realize that living the faith in our time is possible, that it is not a question of something obsolete but rather, that it is possible to live as Christians today and so to find true goodness.

I remember an autobiographical detail in St Cyprian's writings. "I lived in this world of ours", he says, "totally cut off from God because the divinities were dead and God was not visible. And in seeing Christians I thought: it is an impossible life, this cannot be done in our world! Then, however, meeting some of them, joining their company and letting myself be guided in the catechumenate, in this process of conversion to God, I gradually understood: it is possible! And now I am happy at having found life. I have realized that the other was not life, and to tell the truth", he confesses, "even beforehand, I knew that that was not true life".

It seems to me to be very important that the young find people -- both of their own age and older -- in whom they can see that Christian life today is possible, and also reasonable and feasible. I believe there are doubts about both these elements: about its feasibility, because the other paths are very distant from the Christian way of life, and about its reasonableness, because at first glance it seems that science is telling us quite different things and that it is therefore impossible to mark out a reasonable route towards faith in order to show that it is something attuned to our time and our reason.

Thus, the first point is experience, which also opens the door to knowledge. In this regard, the "catechumenate" lived in a new way -- that is, as a common journey through life, a common experience of the possibility of living in this way -- is of paramount importance.

Only if there is a certain experience can one also understand. I remember a piece of advice that Pascal gave to a non-believer friend. He told him: "Try to do what a believer does, then you will see from this experience that it is all logical and true".

I would say that one important aspect is being shown to us at this very moment by Lent. We cannot conceive of immediately living a life that is 100 percent Christian without doubts and without sins. We have to recognize that we are journeying on, that we must and can learn, and also, gradually, that we must convert. Of course, fundamental conversion is a definitive act. But true conversion is an act of life that is achieved through the patience of a lifetime. It is an act in which we must not lose trust and courage on the way.

We must recognize exactly this: we cannot make ourselves perfect Christians from one moment to the next. Yet, it is worth going ahead, being true to the fundamental option, so to speak, then firmly persevering in a process of conversion that sometimes becomes difficult.

Indeed, it can happen that I feel discouraged so that I am in a state of crisis and want to give up everything instantly. We should not allow ourselves to give up immediately, but should take heart and start again. The Lord guides me, the Lord is generous and with his forgiveness I make headway, also becoming generous to others. Thus, we truly learn love for our neighbour and Christian life, which implies this perseverance in forging ahead.

As for the important topics, I would say that it is important to know God. The subject "God" is essential. St Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians: "Remember that you were at that time... having no hope and without God.... But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near" (Eph 2: 12-13). Thus, life has a meaning that guides me even through difficulties.

It is therefore necessary to return to God the Creator, to the God who is creative reason, and then to find Christ, who is the living Face of God. Let us say that here there is a reciprocity. On the one hand, we have the encounter with Jesus, with this human, historical and real figure; little by little, he helps me to become acquainted with God; and on the other, knowing God helps me understand the grandeur of Christ's Mystery which is the Face of God.

Only if we manage to grasp that Jesus is not a great prophet or a world religious figure but that he is the Face of God, that he is God, have we discovered Christ's greatness and found out who God is. God is not only a distant shadow, the "primary Cause", but he has a Face. His is the Face of mercy, the Face of pardon and love, the Face of the encounter with us. As a result, these two topics penetrate each other and must always go together.

Then of course, we have to realize that the Church is our vital travelling companion on our journey. In her, the Word of God lives on and Christ is not only a figure of the past but is present. We must therefore rediscover sacramental life, sacramental forgiveness, the Eucharist and Baptism as a new birth.

On the Easter Vigil, in his last mystagogical Catechesis, St Ambrose said: "Until now we have spoken of moral topics; it is now time to speak of the Mystery". He offered guidance in moral experience, in the light of God of course, but which then opens to the Mystery. I believe that today these two things must penetrate each other: a journey with Jesus who increasingly unfolds the depths of his Mystery. Thus, one learns to live as a Christian, one learns the importance of forgiveness and the greatness of the Lord who gives himself to us in the Eucharist.

On this journey, we are naturally accompanied by the saints. Despite their many problems, they lived and were true and living "interpretations" of Sacred Scripture. Each person has his saint from whom he can best learn what living as a Christian means. There are the saints of our time in particular, and of course there is always Mary, who remains the Mother of the Word. Rediscovering Mary helps us to make progress as Christians and to come to know the Son.

Fr Franco Incampo, Rector of the Church of Santa Lucia del Gonfalone, presented his experience of the integral interpretation of the Bible, on which his Community has embarked together with the Waldensian Church. "We have set ourselves to listen to the Word", he said. "It is an extensive project. What is the value of the Word in the Ecclesial Community? Why are we so unfamiliar with the Bible? How can we further knowledge of the Bible so that the Word will also train the community to have an ecumenical approach?".

Pope Benedict XVI: You certainly have a more practical experience of how to do this. I can say in the first place that we will soon be celebrating the Synod on the Word of God. I have already been able to look at the Lineamenta worked out by the Synod Council and I think that the various dimensions of the Word's presence in the Church appear clearly in it.

The Bible as a whole is of course enormous; it must be discovered little by little, for if we take the individual parts on their own, it is often hard to understand that this is the Word of God: I am thinking of certain sections of the Book of Kings with the Chronicles, with the extermination of the peoples who lived in the Holy Land. Many other things are difficult.

Even Qoheleth can be taken out of context and prove extremely difficult: it seems to theorize desperation, because nothing is lasting and even the Preacher dies in the end, together with the foolish. We had the Reading from it in the Breviary just now.

To my mind, a preliminary point would be to read Sacred Scripture in its unity and integrity. Its individual parts are stages on a journey and only by seeing them as a whole, as a single journey where each section explains the other, can we understand this.

Let us stay, for example, with Qoheleth. First, there was the word of wisdom according to which the good also live well: that is, God rewards those who are good. And then comes Job and one sees that it is not like this and that it is precisely those who are righteous who suffer the most. Job seems truly to have been forgotten by God.

Then come the Psalms of that period where it is said: But what does God do? Atheists and the proud have a good life, they are fat and well-nourished, they laugh at us and say: But where is God? They are not concerned with us and we have been sold like sheep for slaughter. What do you have to do with us, why is it like that?

The time comes when Qoheleth asks: But what does all this wisdom amount to? It is almost an existentialist book, in which it is said: "all is vanity". This first journey does not lose its value but opens onto a new perspective that leads in the end to the Cross of Christ, "the Holy One of God", as St Peter said in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John. It ends with the Crucifixion. And in this very way is revealed God's wisdom, which St Paul was later to explain to us.

Therefore, it is only if we take all things as a journey, step by step, and learn to interpret Scripture in its unity, that we can truly have access to the beauty and richness of Sacred Scripture.

Consequently, one should read everything, but always mindful of the totality of Sacred Scripture, where one part explains the other, one passage on the journey explains the other. On this point, modern exegesis can also be of great help to us.

Let us take, for example, the Book of Isaiah. When the exegetes discovered that from chapter 40 on the author was someone else -- Deutero-Isaiah, as he was then called -- there was a moment of great panic for Catholic theologians.

Some thought that in this way Isaiah would be destroyed and that at the end, in chapter 53, the vision of the Servant of God was no longer that of Isaiah who lived almost 800 years before Christ. "What shall we do?", people wondered.

We now realize that the whole Book is a process of constantly new interpretations where one enters ever more deeply into the mystery proposed at the beginning, and that what was initially present but still closed, unfolds increasingly. In one Book, we can understand the whole journey of Sacred Scripture, which is an ongoing reinterpretation, or rather, a new and better understanding of all that had been said previously.

Step by step, light dawns and the Christian can grasp what the Lord said to the disciples at Emmaus, explaining to them that it was of him that all the Prophets had spoken. The Lord unfolds to us the last re-reading; Christ is the key to all things and only by joining the disciples on the road to Emmaus, only by walking with Christ, by reinterpreting all things in his light, with him, Crucified and Risen, do we enter into the riches and beauty of Sacred Scripture.

Therefore, I would say that the important point is not to fragment Sacred Scripture. The modern critic himself, as we now see, has enabled us to understand that it is an ongoing journey. And we can also see that it is a journey with a direction and that Christ really is its destination. By starting from Christ, we start the entire journey again and enter into the depths of the Word.

To sum up, I would say that Sacred Scripture must always be read in the light of Christ. Only in this way can we also read and understand Sacred Scripture in our own context today and be truly enlightened by it. We must understand this: Sacred Scripture is a journey with a direction. Those who know the destination can also take all those steps once again now, and can thus acquire a deeper knowledge of the Mystery of Christ.

In understanding this, we have also understood the ecclesiality of Sacred Scripture, for these journeys, these steps on the journey, are the steps of a people. It is the People of God who are moving onwards. The true owner of the Word is always the People of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, and inspiration is a complex process: the Holy Spirit leads the people on, the people receive it.

Thus, it is the journey of a people, the People of God. Sacred Scripture should always be interpreted well. But this can happen only if we journey on within this subject, that is, the People of God which lives, is renewed and re-constituted by Christ, but continues to dwell in its own identity. I would therefore say that there are three interrelated dimensions. The historical dimension, the Christological dimension and the ecclesiological dimension -- of the People on their way -- converge. A complete reading is one where all three dimensions are present. Therefore, the liturgy -- the common liturgy prayed by the People of God -- remains the privileged place for understanding the Word; this is partly because it is here that the interpretation becomes prayer and is united with Christ's prayer in the Eucharistic Prayer.

I would like to add here one point that has been stressed by all the Fathers of the Church. I am thinking in particular of a very beautiful text by St Ephraim and of another by St Augustine in which he says: "If you have understood little, admit it and do not presume that you have understood it all. The Word is always far greater than what you have been able to understand".

And this should be said now, critically, with regard to a certain part of modern exegesis that thinks it has understood everything and that, therefore, after the interpretation it has worked out, there is nothing left to say about it. This is not true. The Word is always greater than the exegesis of the Fathers and critical exegesis because even this comprehends only a part, indeed, a minimal part. The Word is always greater, this is our immense consolation. And on the one hand it is lovely to know that one has only understood a little. It is lovely to know that there is still an inexhaustible treasure and that every new generation will rediscover new treasures and journey on with the greatness of the Word of God that is always before us, guides us and is ever greater. One should read the Scriptures with an awareness of this.

St Augustine said: the hare and the donkey drink from the fountain. The donkey drinks more but each one drinks his fill. Whether we are hares or donkeys, let us be grateful that the Lord enables us to drink from his water.

Fr Gerardo Raul Carcar, a Schönstatt Father who arrived in Rome from Argentina six months ago and today is Vicar Cooperator of the Parish of San Girolamo at Corviale, said that Ecclesial Movements and new communities are a providential gift for our time. These are entities with a creative impetus, they live the faith and seek new forms of life to find the right place in the Church's mission. Fr Carcar asked the Pope for advice on how he should fit into them to develop a real ministry of unity in the universal Church.

Pope Benedict XVI: So I see that I must be briefer. Thank you for your question. I think you mentioned the essential sources of all that we can say about Movements. In this sense, your question is also an answer.

I would like to explain immediately that in recent months I have been receiving the Italian Bishops on their ad limina visits and so have been able to find out a little more about the geography of the faith in Italy. I see many very beautiful things together with the problems that we all know. I see above all that the faith is still deeply rooted in the Italian heart even if, of course, it is threatened in many ways by today's situations.

The Movements also welcome my fatherly role as Pastor. Others are more critical and say that Movements are out of place. I think, in fact, that situations differ and everything depends on the people in question.

It seems to me that we have two fundamental rules of which you spoke. The first was given to us by St Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians: do not extinguish charisms. If the Lord gives us new gifts we must be grateful, even if at times they may be inconvenient. And it is beautiful that without an initiative of the hierarchy but with an initiative from below, as people say, but which also truly comes from on High, that is, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, new forms of life are being born in the Church just as, moreover, they were born down the ages.

At first, they were always inconvenient. Even St Francis was very inconvenient, and it was very hard for the Pope to give a final canonical form to a reality that by far exceeded legal norms. For St Francis, it was a very great sacrifice to let himself be lodged in this juridical framework, but in the end this gave rise to a reality that is still alive today and will live on in the future: it gives strength, as well as new elements, to the Church's life.

I wish to say only this: Movements have been born in all the centuries. Even St Benedict at the outset was a Movement. They do not become part of the Church's life without suffering and difficulty. St Benedict himself had to correct the initial direction that monasticism was taking. Thus, in our century too, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, has given us new initiatives with new aspects of Christian life. Since they are lived by human people with their limitations, they also create difficulties. So the first rule is: do not extinguish Christian charisms; be grateful even if they are inconvenient.

The second rule is: the Church is one; if Movements are truly gifts of the Holy Spirit, they belong to and serve the Church and in patient dialogue between Pastors and Movements, a fruitful form is born where these elements become edifying for the Church today and in the future.

This dialogue is at all levels. Starting with the parish priest, the Bishops and the Successor of Peter, the search for appropriate structures is underway: in many cases it has already borne fruit. In others, we are still studying.

For example, we ask ourselves whether, after five years of experience, it is possible to confirm definitively the Statutes for the Neocatechumenal Way, whether a trial period is necessary or whether, perhaps, certain elements of this structure need perfecting.

In any case, I knew the Neocatechumens from the very outset. It was a long Way, with many complications that still exist today, but we have found an ecclesial form that has already vastly improved the relationship between the Pastor and the Way. We are going ahead like this! The same can be said for other Movements.

Now, as a synthesis of the two fundamental rules, I would say: gratitude, patience and also acceptance of the inevitable sufferings. In marriage too, there is always suffering and tension. Yet, the couple goes forward and thus true love matures. The same thing happens in the Church's communities: let us be patient together.

The different levels of the hierarchy too -- from the parish priest to the Bishop, to the Supreme Pontiff -- must continually exchange ideas with one another, they must foster dialogue to find together the best road. The experiences of parish priests are fundamental and so are the experiences of the Bishop, and let us say, the universal perspectives of the Pope have a theological and pastoral place of their own in the Church.

On the one hand, these different levels of the hierarchy as a whole and on the other, all life as it is lived in the parish context with patience and openness in obedience to the Lord, really create new vitality in the Church.

Let us be grateful to the Holy Spirit for the gifts he has given to us. Let us be obedient to the voice of the Spirit, but also clear in integrating these elements into our life; lastly, this criterion serves the concrete Church and thus patiently, courageously and generously, the Lord will certainly guide and help us.

Fr Angelo Mangano, Parish Priest of San Gelasio, a parish that since 2003 has been entrusted to the pastoral care of the World Church Mission Community, spoke on pastoral work on the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. He pointed out the importance of developing unity between spiritual life and pastoral life, which is not an organizational technique but coincides with the life of the Church itself. Fr Mangano asked the Holy Father how to spread the concept of pastoral service among God's People as the true life of the Church, and how to ensure that pastoral work is always nourished by conciliar ecclesiology.

Pope Benedict XVI: I think there are several questions here. One question is: how can we inspire parishes with conciliar ecclesiology and make the faithful live this ecclesiology? Another is how should we behave and make pastoral work spiritual within us?

Let us start with the latter question. There is always a certain tension between what I absolutely have to do and what spiritual reserves I must have. I always see it in St Augustine, who complains about this in his preaching. I have already cited him: "I long to live with the Word of God from morning to night but I have to be with you". Augustine nonetheless finds this balance by being always available but also by keeping for himself moments of prayer and meditation on the Sacred Word, because otherwise he would no longer be able to say anything.

Here in particular, I would like to underline what you said about the fact that pastoral work must never be mere strategy or administrative work but must always be a spiritual task. Nor, of course, can the latter be totally lacking either, because we are on this earth and such problems exist: the efficient management of money, etc. This too is a sector that cannot be totally ignored.

Nonetheless, the fundamental emphasis must be on the very fact that being a pastor is in itself a spiritual act. You rightly referred to John's Gospel, chapter 10, in which the Lord describes himself as the "Good Shepherd". And as a first definitive moment, Jesus says that the Pastor goes first. In other words, it is he who shows the way, he is the first to be an example to others, the first to take the road that is the road for others. The Pastor leads the way.

This means that he himself lives first of all on the Word of God; he is a man of prayer, a man of forgiveness, a man who receives and celebrates the sacraments as acts of prayer and encounter with the Lord. He is a man of charity, lived and practised, thus all the simple acts, conversation, encounter, everything that needs to be done, become spiritual acts in communion with Christ. His "pro omnibus" becomes our "pro meis".

Then, he goes before us and I think that in having mentioned this "leading the way", the essential has already been said. Chapter 10 of John continues, saying that Jesus goes before us, giving himself on the Cross. And this is also inevitable for the priest. The offering of himself is also participation in the Cross of Christ, and thanks to this we too can credibly comfort the suffering and be close to the poor, the marginalized, etc.

Therefore, in this programme that you have developed, it is fundamental to spiritualize daily pastoral work. It is easier to say this than to do it, but we must try.

Moreover, to be able to spiritualize our work, we must again follow the Lord. The Gospels tell us that by day he worked and by night he was on the mountain with his Father, praying. Here, I must confess my weakness. At night I cannot pray, at night I want to sleep. However, a little free time for the Lord is really necessary: either the celebration of Mass or the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours and even a brief daily meditation following the Liturgy, the Rosary. But this personal conversation with the Word of God is important; it is only in this way that we can find the reserves to respond to the demands of pastoral life.

The second point: you rightly underlined the ecclesiology of the Council. It seems to me that we must interiorize this ecclesiology far more, that of Lumen Gentium and of Ad Gentes, which is also an ecclesiological Document, as well as the ecclesiology of the minor Documents and of Dei Verbum.

By interiorizing this vision we can also attract our people to this vision, which understands that the Church is not merely a large structure, one of these supranational bodies that exist. Although she is a body, the Church is the Body of Christ, hence, she is a spiritual body, as St Paul said. She is a spiritual reality. I think this is very important: that people see that the Church is not a supranational organization nor an administrative body or power, that she is not a social agency, but indeed that although she does social and supranational work, she is a spiritual body.

I consider that in our prayers with the people, listening with the people to the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments with the People of God, acting with Christ in charity, etc., and especially in our homilies, we should disseminate this vision. It seems to me, in this regard, that the homily affords a marvellous opportunity to be close to the people and to communicate the spirituality taught by the Council. And it thus seems to me that if the homily is developed from prayer, from listening to the Word of God; it is a communication of the content of the Word of God.

The Council truly reaches out to our people, not those fragments in the press that presented an erroneous image of the Council but the true spirituality of the Council. Thus, we must always learn the Word of God anew, with the Council and in the spirit of the Council, interiorizing its vision. By so doing, we can also communicate with our people and thus truly carry out a task that is both pastoral and spiritual.

Fr Alberto Pacini, Rector of the Basilica of Sant'Anastasia, spoke of perpetual Eucharistic Adoration -- especially of the possibility of organizing night vigils -- and asked the Pope to explain the meaning and value of Eucharistic reparation with reference to sacrilegious thefts and satanic sects.

Pope Benedict XVI: In general we do not speak much about Eucharistic Adoration, which has truly penetrated our hearts and penetrates the hearts of the people. You have asked this specific question about Eucharistic reparation. This has become a difficult topic.

I remember, when I was young, that on the Feast of the Sacred Heart we prayed using a beautiful prayer by Leo XIII and then one by Pius XI in which reparation had a special place, precisely in reference, already at that time, to sacrilegious acts for which reparation had to be made.

I think we should get to the bottom of it, going back to the Lord himself who offered reparation for the sins of the world, and try to atone for them: let us say, try to balance the plus of evil and the plus of goodness. We must not, therefore, leave this great negative plus on the scales of the world but must give at least an equal weight to goodness.

This fundamental idea is based on what Christ did. As far as we can understand it, this is the sense of the Eucharistic sacrifice. To counter the great weight of evil that exists in the world and pulls the world downwards, the Lord places another, greater weight, that of the infinite love that enters this world. This is the most important point: God is always the absolute good, but this absolute good actually entered history: Christ makes himself present here and suffers evil to the very end, thereby creating a counterweight of absolute value. Even if we see only empirically the proportions of the plus of evil, they are exceeded by the immense plus of good, of the suffering of the Son of God. In this sense there is reparation which is necessary. I think that today it is a little difficult to understand these things. If we see the weight of evil in the world which is constantly increasing, which seems indisputably to have the upper hand in history, one might -- as St Augustine said in a meditation -- truly despair.

But we see that there is an even greater plus in the fact that God himself entered history, he made himself share in history and suffered to the very end. This is the meaning of reparation. This plus of the Lord is an appeal to us to be on his side, to enter into this great plus of love and make it present, even with our weakness. We know that this plus was needed for us too, because there is evil in our lives as well. We all survive thanks to the plus of the Lord. However, he gives us this gift so that, as the Letter to the Colossians says, we can associate in his abundance and, let us say, effectively increase this abundance during our time in history.

I think that theology ought to do more to enable people to understand this reality of reparation better. In history, there were also some erroneous ideas. In the past few days I have been reading the theological discourses of St Gregory Nazianzus, who at a certain moment speaks of this aspect and asks: For whom did the Lord offer his Blood? He states, the Father did not desire the Blood of the Son, the Father is not cruel, it is not necessary to attribute this to the Father's will, but history wanted it, the needs and imbalances of history desired it; it was necessary to enter into these imbalances and recreate true balance here. This is very enlightening.

But it seems to me that we have not sufficiently mastered the language to make this fact understood to ourselves, and subsequently, also to others. We should not offer to a cruel God the blood of God. But God himself, with his love, must enter into the suffering of history, not only to create a balance, but also a plus of love which is stronger than the abundance of the existing evil. This is what the Lord invites us to do.

It seems to me a typically Catholic reality. Luther said: we cannot add anything. And this is true. And then he said: our acts thus do not count for anything. And this is not true, because the Lord's generosity is revealed precisely in his invitation to us to enter and also gives value to our being with him.

We must learn all this better and also be aware of the greatness and generosity of the Lord and the greatness of our vocation. The Lord wants to associate us with his great plus. If we begin to understand it, we will be glad that the Lord invites us to do this. It will be a great joy to be taken seriously by the Lord's love.

Fr Francesco Tedeschi, a lecturer at the Pontifical Urban University who also serves at the Basilica of San Bartolomeo on the Tiber Island in Rome, a site that is the memorial of nine 20th century martyrs, reflected on the exemplarity and capacity for attraction among young people of the figures of the martyrs. The martyrs reveal the beauty of the Christian faith and witness to the world that it is possible to respond to evil with good by basing one's life on the strength of hope. The Pope did not choose to add any further words on this reflection.

Pope Benedict XVI: The applause we have heard shows that you yourself have given ample answers.... Therefore, I can only reply to your question: yes, it is as you have said. And let us meditate upon your words.

Fr Krzystzof Wendlik, Parochial Vicar of Santi Urbano e Lorenzo Parish at Prima Porta, spoke of the problem of relativism in our contemporary culture, and asked the Pope for an enlightening word on the relationship between unity of faith and pluralism in theology.

Pope Benedict XVI: What an important question! When I was still a member of the International Theological Commission, we took a year to address this problem. I was the speaker and I therefore remember it quite well. Yet, I recognize that I am unable to explain the matter in just a few words. I only wish to say that theology has always been multiple. Let us think of the Fathers in the Middle Ages, the Franciscan School, the Dominican School, then the Late Middle Ages and so on. As we have said, the Word of God is always larger than us. Therefore, we can never come to the end of the outreach of his Word, and various approaches, various types of reflection are necessary.

I would simply like to say: it is important that the theologian, on the one hand, in his responsibility and professional capacity, should seek openings that correspond with the needs and challenges of our time.

On the other hand, he needs to be ever aware that all this is based on the faith of the Church and so he must always refer to the Church's faith. I think, if a theologian is personally and profoundly rooted in faith and understands that this work is a reflection on the faith, that he will be able to reconcile unity and plurality.

The last question was asked by Fr Luigi Veturi, Parish Priest of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini. He focused on the theme of sacred art and asked the Pope whether this should be better evaluated as a means for communicating faith.

Pope Benedict XVI: The answer could be very simple: yes! I arrived here a little late because I first paid a visit to the Pauline Chapel where restoration work has been underway for several years. I was told that the work will take another two years. I could glimpse between the scaffolding part of this miraculous artwork. And it is worth restoring it well so that it will once again shine out and be a living catechesis.

In saying this, I wanted to recall that Italy is particularly rich in art, and art is a treasure of inexhaustible and incredible catecheses. It is also our duty to know and understand it properly, not in the way that it is sometimes done by art historians, who interpret it only formally in terms of artistic technique.

Rather, we must enter into the content and make the content that inspired this great art live anew. It truly seems to me to be a duty -- also in the formation of future priests -- to know these treasures and be able to transform all that is present in them and that speaks to us today into a living catechesis.

Thus, the Church also appears as an organism -- neither of oppression nor of power, as some people would like to demonstrate -- with a unique, spiritually fertile history, one which I would dare to say is not to be found outside the Catholic Church. This is also a sign of the Catholic Church's vitality, which, despite all her weaknesses as well as her sins, has always remained a great spiritual reality, an inspirer which has given us all these riches.

It is therefore our duty to enter into this wealth and to be capable of making ourselves interpreters of this art. May this also be true for pictorial and sculptural art, as well as for sacred music, which is a branch of art that deserves to be revived. I would say that the Gospel variously lived is still today an inspiring force that gives and will give us art.

Above all, the most beautiful sculptures also exist today, which show that the fertility of faith and of the Gospel are not extinguished, that there are still musical compositions today.... I believe that it is possible to emphasize a situation which is, let us say, contradictory to art, an even somewhat desperate situation of art.

The Church also inspires today, because faith and the Word of God are inexhaustible. And this gives all of us courage. It gives us the hope that the future world will also have new visions of faith and at the same time, the certainty that the 2,000 years of Christian art that have already passed are still valid and still a "today" of the faith.

Well, thank you for your patience and your attention. My good wishes for your Lent!


Pope Answers Seminarians
"We Must Accept Our Frailty But Keep On Going"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 1, 2007 ( Here is the Vatican translation of the answers Benedict XVI gave to questions posed by seminarians of the Roman Major Seminary, during the Pope's visit there February 17.

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Saturday, 17 February 2007

Gregorpaolo Stano, Diocese of Oria (First-Year Philosophy): Your Holiness, ours is the first of two years dedicated to discernment, during which we are taught to make a profound personal examination. It is a tiring exercise for us, because the language of God is special, and only those who are attentive are able discern it among the thousands of voices clamoring inside us. We are asking you, therefore, to help us to understand how God talks in practice and what clues he gives you in his private pronouncements?

Pope Benedict XVI: As a first word, a "thank you" to Monsignor Rector for his address. I am already curious to read that text you will be writing and also to learn from it. I am not sure whether I can clarify the essential points of life in the seminary, but I shall give it a try.

Now, for the first question: how can we distinguish God's voice from among the thousands of voices we hear each day in our world. I would say: God speaks with us in many different ways. He speaks through others, through friends, parents, pastors, priests. Here, the priests to whom you are entrusted, who are guiding you.

He speaks by means of the events in our life, in which we are able to discern God's touch; he speaks also through nature, creation, and he speaks, naturally and above all, through his Word, in Sacred Scripture, read in the communion of the Church and read personally in conversation with God.

It is important to read Sacred Scripture in a very personal way, and really, as St Paul says, not as a human word or a document from the past as we read Homer or Virgil, but as God's Word which is ever timely and speaks to me. It is important to learn to understand in a historical text, a text from the past, the living Word of God, that is, to enter into prayer and thus read Sacred Scripture as a conversation with God.

St Augustine often says in his homilies: I knocked on various occasions at the door of this Word until I could perceive what God himself was saying to me. It is of paramount importance to combine this very personal reading, this personal talk with God in which I search for what the Lord is saying to me, and in addition to this personal reading, reading it in the community is very important because the living subject of Sacred Scripture is the People of God, it is the Church.

This Scripture was not simply restricted to great writers -- even if the Lord always needs the person and his personal response --, but it developed with people who were traveling together on the journey of the People of God and thus, their words are expressions of this journey, of this reciprocity of God's call and the human response.

Thus, the subject lives today as it lived at that time so that Scripture does not belong to the past, because its subject, the People of God inspired by this same God, is always the same, and therefore the Word is always alive in the living subject.

It is consequently important to read Sacred Scripture and experience Sacred Scripture in the communion of the Church, that is, with all the great witnesses of this Word, beginning with the first Fathers and ending with today's Saints, with today's Magisterium.

Above all, it is a Word that becomes vital and alive in the Liturgy. I would say, therefore, that the Liturgy is the privileged place where every one of us can enter into the "we" of the sons of God, in conversation with God. This is important. The Our Father begins with the words: "Our Father"; only if I am integrated into the "we" of this "Our" can I find the Father; only within this "we", which is the subject of the prayer of the Our Father, do we hear the Word of God clearly.

Thus, this seems to me most important: the Liturgy is the privileged place where the Word is alive, is present, indeed, where the Word, the Logos, the Lord, speaks to us and gives himself into our hands; if we are ready to listen to the Lord in this great communion of the Church of all times, we find him. He opens the door to us little by little.

I would say, therefore, that this is the focus for all the other points: we are personally directed on our journey by the Lord, and at the same time we live in the great "we" of the Church, where the Word of God is alive.

Moreover, other points are associated with it: listening to friends, listening to the priests who guide us, listening to the voice of today's Church; hence, listening to the voice of the events of this time and of creation which become decipherable in this profound context.

To sum up, therefore, I would say that God speaks to us in many ways. It is important to be in the "we" of the Church, in the "we" of the life of the Liturgy. It is important that I personalize this "we" in myself; it is important to be attentive to the other voices of the Lord, also letting ourselves be guided by the people who have experience of God, so to speak, and help us on this journey, so that this "we" becomes my "we", and I become one who truly belongs to this "we".

Thus, discernment grows, and personal friendship with God grows, the capacity to distinguish God's voice among the thousands of voices of today, which is always present and always speaks with us.

Claudio Fabbri, Diocese of Rome (Second-Year Philosophy): Holy Father, how was the period of your formation to the priesthood organized? What interests did you cultivate? Considering the experience you have had, what are the cardinal points of priestly formation? In particular, what place does Mary occupy in it?

Pope Benedict XVI: I think that our life at our seminary in Freising was organized in a very similar way to yours, even if I do not know your exact daily schedule. I think the day began at 6: 30 or 7 a.m. with a half hour's meditation, when each one spoke silently with the Lord, trying to prepare his soul for the Sacred Liturgy. Holy Mass followed, breakfast, and then the morning lessons.

In the afternoon, seminars, study time, and then again common prayer. In the evening, the so-called "puncta", which is when the spiritual director or rector of the seminary spoke to us on various evenings to help us discover the path of meditation; they did not give us a meditation composed in advance, but elements that might help each one of us personalize the Word of the Lord that was to be the object of our meditation.

This was the daily itinerary; then naturally, there were the great feast days with a beautiful liturgy, music.... But it seems to me, and perhaps I will return to this at the end, that it is very important to have a discipline that precedes me and not to have to decide again, every day, what to do and how to live. There is a rule, a set discipline that waits for me and helps me live this in an orderly way.

Now, as to my preferences, naturally I followed the lessons with attention, as best I could. Initially, in the first two years of philosophy, it was above all the figure of St Augustine who fascinated me from the very start, then also the Augustinian current in the Middle Ages: St Bonaventure, the great Franciscans, the figure of St Francis of Assisi.

Above all, I found St Augustine's great humanity fascinating, because from the outset as a catechumen he was simply unable to identify with the Church, but instead had to have a spiritual struggle to find, little by little, access to the Word of God, to life with God, until he said his great "yes" to his Church.

This journey is so human. In it, we can also today see how one begins to enter into contact with God, how all the forms of our natural resistance must be taken seriously and then channeled to arrive at the great "yes" to the Lord. Thus, his theology conquered me in a very personal way, developed above all by preaching.

This is important because at the outset Augustine wanted to live a purely contemplative life, to write more books on philosophy... but the Lord did not want him to, he made Augustine a priest and Bishop and so for the rest of his life, his work developed essentially in dialogue with a very simple people.

Moreover, he must have always personally discovered the meaning of the Scriptures, and likewise, must have taken this people's ability, their life context, into account to arrive at a realistic and at the same time very profound Christianity.

Then, naturally, for me exegesis was very important: we had two somewhat liberal but nevertheless great exegetes, also true believers, who fascinated us. I can say that Sacred Scripture really was the soul of our theological studies: we truly lived with Sacred Scripture and learned to love it, to converse with it.

I have already spoken of Patristics, of the encounter with the Fathers. Our dogmatics professor was also a very famous person and had nourished his dogmatics with the Fathers and with the Liturgy.

In his opinion, our liturgical formation was a very central point: there were still no liturgical faculties at that time, but our professor of pastoral studies gave us great courses in liturgy, and at the time he was also Rector of the seminary, so the liturgy was lived and celebrated, and thus liturgy taught and thought went together. These, together with Sacred Scripture, were the crucial points of our theological formation. I am always thankful to the Lord for this, because together they truly are the centre of a priestly life.

Another interest was literature: it was obligatory to read Dostoevsky, it was fashionable at that time; then there were also the great French writers: Claudel, Mauriac, Bernanos and also German literature. Furthermore, there was a German edition of Manzoni: at that time I did not speak Italian. So it was that in this sense we gave some sort of form to our human horizon.

Another great love was music, as well as the natural beauty of our land. With these preferences, these realities, I forged ahead on a journey that was not always easy. The Lord helped me to arrive as far as the "yes" of the priesthood, a "yes" that has accompanied me every day of my life.

Gianpiero Savino, Diocese of Taranto (First-Year Theology): In the eyes of most people we might appear as young men who say their "yes" firmly and courageously and leave everything to follow the Lord; but we know that we are far from being truly consistent with that "yes". Trusting as sons, we confess to you the partiality of our response to Jesus' call and the daily effort of living a vocation that we feel is propelling us along the path of the definitive and the total. How can we respond to such a demanding vocation as that of shepherds of God's holy People while being constantly aware of our weakness and inconsistencies?

Benedict XVI: It is good to recognize one's weakness because in this way we know that we stand in need of the Lord's grace. The Lord comforts us. In the Apostolic College there was not only Judas but also the good Apostles; yet, Peter fell and many times the Lord reprimanded the Apostles for their slowness, the closure of their hearts and their scant faith. He therefore simply shows us that none of us is equal to this great yes, equal to celebrating "in persona Christi", to living coherently in this context, to being united to Christ in his priestly mission.

To console us, the Lord has also given us these parables of the net with the good fish and the bad fish, of the field where wheat but also tares grow. He makes us realize that he came precisely to help us in our weakness, and that he did not come, as he says, to call the just, those who claim they are righteous through and through and are not in need of grace, those who pray praising themselves; but he came to call those who know they are lacking, to provoke those who know they need the Lord's forgiveness every day, that they need his grace in order to progress.

I think this is very important: to recognize that we need an ongoing conversion, that we are simply not there yet. St Augustine, at the moment of his conversion, thought he had reached the heights of life with God, of the beauty of the sun that is his Word. He then had to understand that the journey after conversion is still a journey of conversion, that it remains a journey where the broad perspectives, joys and lights of the Lord are not absent; but nor are dark valleys absent through which we must wend our way with trust, relying on the goodness of the Lord.

Therefore, also the Sacrament of Reconciliation is important. It is not correct to think we must live like this, so that we are never in need of pardon. We must accept our frailty but keep on going, not giving up but moving forward and becoming converted ever anew through the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a new start, and thus grow and mature in the Lord by our communion with him.

It is also important of course not to isolate oneself, not to believe one is capable of going ahead alone. We truly need the company of priest friends and also lay friends who accompany and help us. It is very important for a priest, in the parish itself, to see how people trust in him and to experience in addition to their trust also their generosity in pardoning his weaknesses. True friends challenge us and help us to be faithful on our journey. It seems to me that this attitude of patience and humility can help us to be kind to others, to understand the weaknesses of others and also help them to forgive as we forgive.

I think I am not being indiscrete if I say that today I received a beautiful letter from Cardinal Martini: I had congratulated him on his 80th birthday -- we are the same age; in thanking me he wrote: "I thank the Lord above all for the gift of perseverance. Today", he writes, "good is done rather ad tempus, ad experimentum. Good, in accordance with its essence, can only be done definitively; but to do it definitively we need the grace of perseverance. I pray each day", he concluded, "that the Lord will grant me this grace".

I return to St Augustine: at first he was content with the grace of conversion; then he discovered the need for another grace, the grace of perseverance, one which we must ask the Lord for each day; but since -- I return to what Cardinal Martini said -- "the Lord has given me the grace of perseverance until now, I hope he will also give it to me in the last stage of my journey on this earth".

It seems to me that we must have trust in this gift of perseverance, but we must also pray to the Lord with tenacity, humility and patience to help and sustain us with the gift of true "definitiveness", and to accompany us day after day to the very end, even if our way must pass through dark valleys. The gift of perseverance gives us joy, it gives us the certainty that we are loved by the Lord, and this love sustains us, helps us and does not abandon us in our weakness.

Koicio Dimov, Diocese of Nicopolis, Bulgaria (Second-Year Theology): Most Blessed Father, commenting on the Way of the Cross in 2005, you spoke of the dirt in the Church; and in the Homily for the ordination of the Roman priests last year, you warned us of the risk "of careerism, the attempt to get to the top, to obtain a position through the Church". How do we face these problems as serenely and responsibly as possible?

Benedict XVI: It is not an easy question, but it seems to me that I have already said, and it is an important point, that the Lord knows, knew from the beginning, that there is also sin in the Church, and for our humility it is important to recognize this and to see sin not only in others, in structures, in lofty hierarchical duties, but also in ourselves, to be in this way more humble and to learn that what counts before the Lord is not an ecclesial position, but what counts is to be in his love and to make his love shine forth.

Personally I consider St Ignatius' prayer on this point to be very important. It says: "Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem; accipe memoriam, intellectum atque voluntatem omnem; quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es; id tibi totum restito? ac tuae prorsus voluntati traoi gubernandum; amorem tuum cum gratia tua mihi dones ed dives sum satis, nec aliud quidquam ultra posco".

Precisely this last part seems to me to be very important: to understand that the true treasure of our life is living in the Lord's love and never losing this love. Then we are really rich. A man who has discovered a great love feels really rich and knows that this is the true pearl, that this is the treasure of his life and not all the other things he may possess.

We have found, indeed, we have been found by the love of the Lord, and the more we let ourselves be moved by his love in sacramental life, in prayer life, in the life of work, in our free time, the better we will understand that indeed, I have found the true pearl, all the rest is worthless, all the rest is important only to the extent that the Lord's love attributes these things to me. I am rich, I am truly rich and borne aloft if I am in this love. Here I find the centre of life, its riches. Then let us allow ourselves to be guided, let us allow Providence to decide what to do with us.

Here a little story springs to my mind about St Bakhita, the beautiful African Saint who was a slave in Sudan and then discovered the faith in Italy, who became a Sister. When she was old, the Bishop who was paying a visit to her religious house had not met her. He spotted this small, bent African Sister and said to Bakhita: "But what do you do, Sister?"; and Sr Bakhita replied: "I do the same as you, Your Excellency". Astonished, the Bishop asked her: "But what?", and Bakhita answered, "But Your Excellency, we both want to do the same thing: God's will".

This seems to me to be a most beautiful answer, the Bishop and the tiny Sister who was almost no longer capable of working, who were both doing the same thing in their different offices; they were seeking to do God's will and so were in the right place.

I also remember something St Augustine said: All of us are always only disciples of Christ, and his throne is loftier, for his throne is the Cross and only this height is the true height, communion with the Lord, also in his Passion. It seems to me, if we begin to understand this by a life of daily prayer, by a life of dedicated service to the Lord, we can free ourselves of these very human temptations.

Francesco Annesi, Diocese of Rome (Third-Year Theology): Your Holiness, John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris makes it clear that suffering is a source of spiritual wealth for all who accept it in union with the sufferings of Christ. How can the priest today witness to the Christian meaning of suffering in a world that resorts to every legal or illegal means to eliminate any form of pain, and how should he behave towards those who are suffering without running the risk of being rhetorical or pathetic?

Benedict XVI: Yes, what is he to do? Well, I think we should recognize that it is right to do our utmost to overcome the suffering of humanity and to help those suffering -- there are so many of them in the world -- to find a good life and to be relieved from the evils that we ourselves often cause: hunger, epidemics, etc.

However, at the same time, recognizing this duty to alleviate the suffering we ourselves have caused, we must also recognize and understand that suffering is an essential part of our human development.

I am thinking of the Lord's parable of the grain of wheat that fell to the ground and only in this way, by dying, could it bear fruit; and this falling to the ground and dying is not a momentary event but precisely a life process: to fall like a seed into the earth and thus to die, being transformed, being instruments of God so as to bear fruit.

It was not by chance that the Lord told his disciples: the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem to suffer; therefore, anyone who wants to be a disciple of mine must shoulder his cross so he can follow me. In fact, we are always somewhat similar to Peter, who said to the Lord: "No, Lord, this cannot happen to you, you must not suffer". We do not want to carry the Cross, we want to create a kingdom that is more human, more beautiful, on this earth.

This is totally mistaken: the Lord teaches it. However, Peter needed a lot of time, perhaps his entire life, in order to understand it; why is there this legend of the Quo Vadis? There is something true in it: learning that it is precisely in walking with the Lord's Cross that the journey will bear fruit. Thus, I would say that before talking to others, we ourselves must understand the mystery of the Cross.

Of course, Christianity gives us joy, for love gives joy. But love is also always a process of losing oneself, hence, a process of coming out of oneself; in this regard, it is also a painful process. Only in this way is it beautiful and helps us to mature and to attain true joy.

Anyone who seeks to affirm or to promise a life that is only happy and easy is a liar, because this is not the truth about man; the result is that one then has to flee to false paradises. And in this way one does not attain joy but self-destruction.

Christianity proclaims joy to us, indeed; this joy, however, only develops on the path of love, and this path of love has to do with the Cross, with communion with the Crucified Christ. And it is presented through the grain of wheat that fell to the ground. When we begin to understand and accept this -- every day, because every day brings some disappointment or other, some burden that may also cause pain --, when we accept this lesson of following Christ, just as the Apostles had to learn at this school, so we too will become capable of helping the suffering.

It is true that it is always difficult, if one who is more or less healthy and in good condition is obliged to comfort someone afflicted by a great evil, whether illness or the loss of love. In the face of these evils with which we are all familiar, everything appears almost inevitably rhetorical and pathetic.

Yet, I would say, if these people feel that we are "com-passionate", that we want to share in carrying the Cross with them in communion with Christ, above all by praying with them, helping them with a silence full of sympathy, love, helping them as best we can, then can we become credible.

We must accept this, as perhaps at first our words appear purely words. However, if we really live in this spirit of truly following Jesus, we also find the way to be close with our sympathy. Etymologically, sympathy means "com-passion" for the human being, helping him, praying, and thereby creating trust in the Lord's goodness that also exists in the darkest valley. Thus, we can open our hearts to the Gospel of Christ himself, who is the true Consoler; opening our hearts to the Holy Spirit, who is called the other Consoler, the other Paraclete, who is there, who is present.

We can open our hearts not because of our words, but because of the important teaching of Christ, his being with us, and thereby help make suffering and pain truly a grace of maturation, of communion with the Crucified and Risen Christ.

Marco Ceccarelli: Diocese of Rome, (Deacon): Your Holiness, in the coming months my companions and I will be ordained priests. We will move from a well-regulated seminary life to the broader context of parish life. What advice can you give us to enable us to adjust as well as possible at the beginning of our priestly ministry?

Benedict XVI: Well, here at the seminary you do have a very good routine. I would say as the first point that it is also important in the life of pastors of the Church, in the daily life of the priest, to preserve as far as possible a certain order. You should never skip Mass -- a day without the Eucharist is incomplete -- and thus already at the seminary we grow up with this daily liturgy. It seems to me very important that we feel the need to be with the Lord in the Eucharist, not as a professional obligation but truly as an interiorly-felt duty, so that the Eucharist should never be missed.

Another important point is to make time for the Liturgy of the Hours and therefore, for this inner freedom: with all the burdens that exist, it frees us and helps us to be more open, to be deeply in touch with the Lord.

Of course, we must do all that is required by pastoral life, by the life of a parochial vicar or of a parish priest or by another priestly office. However, I would say, never forget these fixed points, the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, so that you have a certain order in the daily routine. As I said at the outset, we learned not to have to plan the timetable ever anew; "Serva ordinem et ordo servabit te". These are true words.

Next, it is important not to neglect communion with other priests, with one's companions on the way, and not to lose one's personal contact with the Word of God, meditation. How should this be done? I have a fairly simple recipe for it: combine the preparation of the Sunday homily with personal meditation to ensure that these words are not only spoken to others but are really words said by the Lord to me myself, and developed in a personal conversation with the Lord.

For this to be possible, my advice is to begin early on Monday, for if one begins on Saturday it is too late, the preparation is hurried and perhaps inspiration is lacking, for one has other things on one's mind. Therefore, I would say, already on Monday, simply read the Readings for the coming Sunday which perhaps seem very difficult: a little like those rocks at Massah and Meribah, where Moses said: "But how can water come from these rocks?".

Then stop thinking about these Readings and allow the heart to digest them. Words are processed in the unconscious, and return a little more every day. Obviously, books should also be consulted, as far as possible. And with this interior process, day by day, one sees that a response gradually develops. These words gradually unfold, they become words for me. And since I am a contemporary, they also become words for others. I can then begin to express what I perhaps see in my own theological language in the language of others; the fundamental thought, however, remains the same for others and for myself.

Thus, it is possible to have a lasting and silent encounter with the Word that does not demand a lot of time, which perhaps we do not have. But save a little time: only in this way does a Sunday homily mature for others, but my own heart is also touched by the Lord's Word. I am also in touch with a situation when perhaps I have little time available.

I would not dare now to offer too much advice, because life in the large city of Rome is a little different to what I experienced 55 years ago in our Bavaria. But I think these things are essential: the Eucharist, the Office of Readings, prayer and a conversation every day, even a brief one, with the Lord on his words which I must proclaim. And never lose either your friendship with priests, listening to the voice of the living Church, or naturally, availability to the people entrusted to me, because from these very people, with their suffering, their faith experiences, their doubts and difficulties, we too can learn, seek and find God, find our Lord Jesus Christ.


Benedict XVI on Problems of Priestly Life
"We Have to Leave Most Things to the Lord" (Thursday, August 31, 2006)

Benedict XVI answered a number of questions posed by priests of the Diocese of Albano, during a meeting Aug. 31. The diocese is where the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo is located.

Swiss Hall at the Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo.

Some problems for priests

Father Giuseppe Zane, vicar "ad omnia," 83 years old:

Our bishop, if briefly, has described to you the situation of our Diocese of Albano. We priests are fully integrated into this Church and experience all the relative problems and complexities. Young and old, we all feel inadequate. This is firstly because we are so few in comparison with the many needs and we come from different backgrounds; we also suffer from a shortage of priestly vocations. That is why we sometimes feel discouraged.

We try to patch things up here and there and are often forced to attend only to emergencies, without any precise projects. Seeing how much there is to do, we are tempted to give priority to "doing" and to neglect "being"; this is inevitably reflected in our spiritual life, our conversation with God, our prayer and our charity (love) for our brethren, especially those who are far away.

Holy Father, what can you tell us about this? I am a certain age ... but is it possible for these young confreres of mine to hope?

Benedict XVI:

Dear brothers, I would like first of all to offer you a word of welcome and thanks: thanks to Cardinal Sodano for his presence, with which he expresses his love and care for this suburbicarian Church; thanks to you, Your Excellency, for your words.

In a few sentences, you have presented to me the situation of this diocese with which I was not so well acquainted. I knew that it was the largest of the suburbicarian dioceses, but I did not know that its population had increased to 500,000. Thus, I see a diocese full of challenges and difficulties but certainly also full of joy in the faith. And I see that all the issues of our time are present: emigration, tourism, marginalization, agnosticism, but also a firm faith.

I have no claim to be, as it were, an "oracle" that could respond adequately to every question. St. Gregory the Great's words, which you quoted, Your Excellency, which everyone knows, "infirmitatem suam," also apply to the Pope. Day after day, the Pope too must know and recognize "infirmitatem suam," his shortcomings.

He must recognize that only in collaboration with everyone, in dialogue, in common cooperation, in faith as "cooperatores veritatis" -- of the Truth that is a Person, Jesus -- can we carry out our service together, each one doing his share. This means that my answers will not be exhaustive but piecemeal. Yet, let us agree that actually it is only in unison that we can piece together the "mosaic" of a pastoral work that responds to the immense challenges.

Cardinal Sodano, you said that our dear confrere, Father Zane, seems somewhat pessimistic. However, I have to say that each one of us has moments of discouragement in the face of all that needs to be done, and the limits of what, instead, can realistically be done. Once again, this also concerns the Pope. What must I do at this time for the Church, with so many problems, so many joys, so many challenges that concern the universal Church?

So many things happen, day after day, and I am unable to respond to them all. I do my part, I do all I can. I try to identify the priorities. And I am glad that I have so many good collaborators to help me. I can already say, here at this moment: I see every day the great amount of work that the Secretariat of State does under your wise guidance. And only with this network of collaboration, fitting myself and my own limited capacities into a broader reality, can I and dare I move ahead.

Therefore, naturally, a parish priest who is on his own sees even better that so many things still need to be done in this situation which you, Father Zane, have briefly described. And he can only do something to "patch things up," as you said, a kind of "first-aid" operation, knowing that far more ought to be done.

I would say, then, that firstly, what is necessary for all of us is to recognize our own limitations, to humbly recognize that we have to leave most things to the Lord. Today, we heard in the Gospel the parable of the faithful servant (Matthew 24:42-51). This servant, the Lord tells us, gives food to the others at the proper time. He does not do everything at once but is a wise and prudent servant who knows what needs to be done in a specific situation. He does so humbly, and is also sure of his master's trust.

So it is that we must likewise do our utmost to be wise and prudent and to trust in the goodness of our "Master," the Lord, for in the end it is he himself who must take the helm of his Church. We fit into her with our small gift and do the best we can, especially those things that are always necessary: celebrating the sacraments, preaching the Word, giving signs of our charity and our love.

As for the inner life you mentioned, I would say that it is essential to our service as priests. The time we set aside for prayer is not time taken from our pastoral responsibility but is precisely pastoral "work"; it is also praying for others. In the "Common of Pastors," one reads as a typical feature of the good pastor that "multum oravit pro fratribus." This is proper to the pastor, that he should be a man of prayer, that he should come before the Lord praying for others, even replacing others who perhaps do not know how to pray, do not want to pray or do not make the time to pray. Thus, it is obvious that this dialogue with God is pastoral work!

I would say further that the Church gives us, imposes upon us -- but always like a good Mother -- the obligation to make free time for God with the two practices that constitute a part of our duties: the celebration of holy Mass and the recitation of the breviary. However, rather than reciting it, this means putting it into practice by listening to the word which the Lord offers us in the Liturgy of the Hours.

It is essential to interiorize this word, to be attentive to what the Lord is saying to me with this word, to listen, then, to the comments of the Fathers of the Church or also of the Council in the Second Reading of the Office of Readings, and to pray with this great invocation, the Psalms, by which we are inserted into the prayer of all the ages. The people of the Old Covenant pray with us, and we pray with them. We pray with the Lord, who is the true subject of the Psalms. We pray with the Church of all times. I would say that this time dedicated to the Liturgy of the Hours is precious time. The Church offers to us this freedom, this free space of life with God, which is also life for others.

Thus, it seems important to me to see that these two realities -- holy Mass truly celebrated in conversation with God and the Liturgy of the Hours -- are areas of freedom, of inner life, an enrichment which the Church bestows upon us. In them, as I said, we do not only find the Church of all the ages but also the Lord himself, who speaks to us and awaits our answer. We thus learn to pray by immersing ourselves in the prayer of all times, and we also encounter the people. Let us think of the Psalms, of the words of the prophets, of the words of the Lord and of the apostles, let us think of the Fathers' comments.

Today, we have had St. Columban's marvelous comment on Christ, the source of "living water" from which we drink. In praying, we also encounter the suffering of the People of God today. These prayers remind us of daily life and guide us in the encounter with today's people. They enlighten us in this encounter, because we do not only bring to it our own small intelligence, our love of God, but we learn through this Word of God also to bring God to them.

They expect this of us: that we bring them the "living water" of which St. Columban speaks today. The people are thirsty and try to satisfy this thirst with various palliatives. But they understand well that these diversions are not the "living water" that they need. The Lord is the source of "living water." But he says in Chapter 7 of John that he who believes becomes a "river" because he has drunk from Christ. And this "living water" (cf. John 7:38) becomes a fountain of water in us, a source for others.

In this way we seek to drink it in prayer, in the celebration of Holy Mass, in reading: We seek to drink from this source so that it may become a source within us. And we can respond better to the thirst of people today if we have within us the "living water," the divine reality, the reality of the Lord Jesus made flesh. Thus, we can respond better to the needs of our people.

This deals with the first question. What can we do? We always do all we can for the people -- in the other questions, we will be able to return to this point -- and we live with the Lord in order to respond to people's true thirst.

Your second question was: Is there any hope for this diocese, for this portion of the People of God that makes up this Diocese of Albano, and for the Church? I respond without hesitation: yes! Of course we have hope: The Church is alive! We have 2,000 years of the Church's history with so much suffering and even so many failures: Let us think of the Church in Asia Minor and the great and flourishing Church in North Africa which disappeared with the Muslim invasion.

Thus, parts of the Church can truly disappear, as St. John -- or the Lord through John -- said in the Book of Revelation: "I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent" (2:5). But, on the other hand, we perceive how the Church has re-emerged from so many crises with new youth, with a new freshness.

Actually, in the century of the Reformation, the Catholic Church seemed almost to have come to her end. This new current which declared: "Now the Church of Rome is finished," seemed to triumph. And we see that with the great saints, such as Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Charles Borromeo and others, that the Church was resurrected. In the Council of Trent, she found a new actualization and the revitalization of her doctrine. And she lived again with great vitality. Let us look at the age of the Enlightenment, when Voltaire said: "At last this ancient Church is dead, humanity is alive!" And instead, what happens? The Church is renewed.

The 19th century became the century of the great saints, of new vitality for a multitude of religious congregations, and faith is stronger than all the currents that come and go. And this also happened in the past century. Hitler once said: "Providence called me, a Catholic, to have done with Catholicism. Only a Catholic can destroy Catholicism." He was sure that he had all the means to be able at last to destroy Catholicism. Likewise, the great Marxist trend was convinced that it would achieve the scientific revision of the world and open doors to the future: The Church is nearing her end, she is done for! The Church, however, is stronger, as Christ said. It is Christ's life that wins through in his Church.

Even in difficult times when there is a shortage of vocations, the Word of the Lord lives for ever. And he who, as the Lord himself said, builds his life on this "rock" of the Word of Christ, builds it well. Therefore, we can be confident. We also see new initiatives of faith in our day. We see that in Africa, despite all her problems, the Church has fresh new vocations, which is encouraging.

Thus, with all the differences of the historical prospect of today, we see -- and not only see but believe -- that the words of the Lord are spirit and life, they are words of eternal life. St. Peter said, as we heard last Sunday in the Gospel: "You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69). And in looking at the Church today, together with all the suffering we see the Church's vitality, and we ourselves can also say: We have believed and have come to know that you offer us the words of eternal life, hence, a never-failing hope.

* * *

Monsignor Gianni Macella, parish priest in Albano:

In recent years, in harmony with the project of the Italian bishops' conference for the decade 2000-2010, we have been striving to implement a project for "integrated pastoral care." There are many difficulties. It is worth remembering at least the fact that many of us priests are still bound to a certain not particularly mission-oriented pastoral practice which seemed to have been consolidated; it was so closely bound to a context, as people call it, "of Christianity."

On the other hand, many of the requests of a large number of the faithful themselves presume the parish to be a "supermarket" of sacred services. So this is what I would like to ask you, Your Holiness: Is integrated pastoral care only a question of strategy, or is there a deeper reason why we must continue to work along these lines?

Benedict XVI:

I must confess that I had to learn the term "integrated pastoral care" from your question. However, I have understood its content: that we must strive to integrate in a single pastoral process both the different pastoral workers who exist today and the different dimensions of pastoral work. I would therefore distinguish the dimensions of the subjects of pastoral work and then attempt to integrate the whole into a single pastoral process.

In your question, you have explained that there is, shall we say, the "classic" level of work in the parish for the faithful who have stayed on -- and who perhaps are also increasing -- and give life to our parish. This is "classic" pastoral care and it is always important. I usually make a distinction between continuous evangelization -- because faith continues, the parish survives -- and the new evangelization that seeks to be missionary, to supersede the limits of those who are already "faithful" and live in the parish or who, perhaps with a "reduced" faith, make use of parish services.

In the parish, it seems to me that we have three fundamental commitments that stem from the essence of the Church and the priestly ministry.

The first is sacramental service. I would say that baptism, its preparation and the commitment to giving continuity to the baptismal promises, already puts us in contact with those who are not convinced believers. It is not, let us say, a task of preserving Christianity, but rather an encounter with people who may seldom go to church. The task of preparing for baptism, of opening the hearts of parents, relatives and godparents to the reality of baptism already can and should be a missionary commitment that goes beyond the boundaries of people who are already "faithful."

In preparation for baptism, let us seek to make people understand that this sacrament is insertion into God's family, that God is alive, that he cares for us. He cares for us to the point that he took on our flesh and instituted the Church, which is his Body, in which he can, so to speak, put on new flesh in our society.

Baptism is a newness of life in the sense that, as well as the gift of biological life, we need the gift of a meaning for life that is stronger than death and that will endure even when, one day, the parents are no longer alive. The gift of biological life is justified only if we can add the promise of a stable meaning, of a future which, also in future crises -- which we cannot know -- will give value to life so that it is worth living, worth being creatures.

I think that in the preparation for this sacrament or in conversation with parents who view baptism with suspicion, we have a missionary situation. It is a Christian message. We must make ourselves interpreters of the reality that begins with baptism.

I am not sufficiently familiar with the Italian rite. In the classic rite, inherited from the ancient Church, baptism begins with the question: "What do you ask of God's Church?" Today, at least in the German rite, the response is simply "Baptism." This does not adequately explain what it is that should be desired. In the ancient rite the answer was "faith": that is, a relationship with God, acquaintanceship with God. And, "Why do you ask for faith," the rite continues. "Because we wish for eternal life": We also want a safe life in future crises, a life that has meaning, that justifies being human. In any case, it seems to me that this dialogue should take place with the parents prior to baptism. This is only to say that the gift of the sacrament is not merely a "thing," it is not merely "reifying" it, as the French say; it is missionary work.

Then there is confirmation to prepare for at the age when people also begin to make decisions with regard to faith. Of course, we must not turn confirmation into a form of "Pelagianism," almost as if in it one became Catholic by oneself, but rather into a blending of gift and response.

Finally, the Eucharist is Christ's permanent presence in the daily celebration of holy Mass. It is very important, as I have said, for the priest, for his priestly life, as the real presence of the gift of the Lord.

We can now also mention marriage: Marriage too presents itself as a great missionary opportunity because today -- thanks be to God -- many people, even those who do not go to church often, still want to marry in church. It is an opportunity to make these young people face the reality of Christian marriage, sacramental marriage.

This also seems to me a great responsibility. We see it in causes of the nullity of marriage, and we see it above all in the great problem of divorced and remarried people who want to receive Communion and do not understand why this is impossible. It is more than likely that when they said their "yes" before the Lord, they did not understand what this "yes" means. It is an identification with the "yes" of Christ, it means entering into the fidelity of Christ, hence, into the sacrament that is the Church and thus, into the sacrament of marriage.

I therefore think that preparation for marriage is a very important missionary opportunity for proclaiming the sacrament of Christ once again in the sacrament of marriage, to understand this fidelity and thereby help people to understand the problem of those who are divorced and remarried.

This is the first and "classic" section of the sacraments which gives us the opportunity to meet people who do not go to church every Sunday: hence, an opportunity for a truly missionary proclamation, for "integrated pastoral care."

The second section is the proclamation of the Word with the two essential elements: homily and catechesis.

In the Synod of Bishops last year, the Fathers spoke a lot about the homily, emphasizing how difficult it is today to find a "bridge" between the Word of the New Testament, written 2,000 years ago, and our present day. I must say that historical and critical exegesis often does not give us sufficient help in drafting the homily. I notice it myself as I try to prepare homilies that actualize the Word of God: or rather, given that the Word has an actuality in itself, that make people perceive, understand, this actuality.

Historical-critical exegesis has much to tell us about the past, about the moment when the Word was born, about the meaning it had at the time of Jesus' apostles; but it does not always give us enough help in understanding that the words of Jesus, of the apostles and also of the Old Testament, are spirit and life: The Lord of the Old Testament also speaks today.

I think we have "to challenge" theologians -- the synod did so -- to move ahead, to give parish priests greater help in preparing their homilies and in making the presence of the Word visible: The Lord speaks to me today and not only in the past.

In the last few days I have been reading the draft of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation. I was pleased to see that this "challenge" of preparing sample homilies has returned. In the end, the homily is prepared by the parish priest in his own context, for he speaks to "his" parish. But he needs help in understanding and in making understood this "present" of the Word that is never a Word of the past but of the "present."

Lastly, the third section: "caritas," "diakonia." We are always responsible for the suffering, the sick, the marginalized, the poor. From the portrait of your diocese, I see that many are in need of our "diakonia," and this is also always a missionary opportunity. Thus, it seems to me that the "classic" parish pastoral ministry transcends itself in all three sectors and is becoming missionary pastoral care.

I now move on to the second aspect of pastoral care, concerning both the agents and the work that is to be done. The parish priest cannot do it all! It is impossible! He cannot be a "soloist"; he cannot do everything but needs other pastoral workers. It seems to me that today, both in the movements and in Catholic Action, in the new communities that exist, we have agents who must be collaborators in the parish if we are to have "integrated" pastoral care.

I would like to say that for this "integrated" pastoral ministry it is important today that the other agents present are not only activated but are integrated in the work of the parish. The parish priest must not only "do," but also "delegate." The others must learn to be really integrated in their joint work for the parish and, of course, also in the self-transcendence of the parish in a double sense: self-transcendence in the sense that parishes collaborate within the diocese because the bishop is their common pastor and helps coordinate their commitments; and self-transcendence in the sense that they work for all the people of this time and seek to reach out with the message to agnostics and to people who are searching. This is the third level, of which we have previously spoken at length.

It seems to me that the opportunities mentioned give us the chance to meet and to say a missionary word to those who do not come to the parish, have no faith or have little faith. It is especially these new subjects of pastoral care and lay people who exercise the professions of our time, who must also take God's Word to areas often inaccessible to the parish priest.

Coordinated by the bishop, let us seek together to organize these different sectors of pastoral care, to activate the various agents and recipients of pastoral care in the common commitment: on the one hand, to encourage the faith of believers, which is a great treasure, and on the other, to reach out with the proclamation of the faith to all who are sincerely seeking a satisfying response to their existential questions.

The Liturgy

Father Vittorio Petruzzi, parochial vicar in Aprilia:

Your Holiness, for the pastoral year that is about to begin, our diocese was asked by the bishop to pay special attention to the liturgy, in the theological dimension and in celebrative practices. The central theme for reflection at the residential weeks in which we shall be taking part in September is "The Planning and Implementation of the Proclamation in the Liturgical Year, in Sacraments and in Sacramentals."

As priests, we are called to celebrate a "serious, simple and beautiful liturgy," to use a beautiful formula contained in the document "Communicating the Gospel in a Changing World" by the Italian bishops. Holy Father, can you help us to understand how all this can be expressed in the "ars celebrandi"?

Benedict XVI:

"Ars celebrandi": here too I would say that there are different dimensions. The first dimension is that the "celebration" is prayer and a conversation with God: God with us and us with God. Thus, the first requirement for a good celebration is that the priest truly enter this colloquy.

In proclaiming the Word, he feels himself in conversation with God. He is a listener to the Word and a preacher of the Word, in the sense that he makes himself an instrument of the Lord and seeks to understand this Word of God which he must then transmit to the people. He is in a conversation with God because the texts of holy Mass are not theatrical scripts or anything like them, but prayers, thanks to which, together with the assembly, I speak to God.

It is important, therefore, to enter into this conversation. St. Benedict in his Rule tells the monks, speaking of the recitation of the Psalms, "Mens concordet voci." The "vox," words, precede our mind. This is not usually the case: One has to think first, then one's thought becomes words. But here, the words come first. The sacred Liturgy gives us the words; we must enter into these words, find a harmony with this reality that precedes us.

In addition, we must also learn to understand the structure of the liturgy and why it is laid out as it is. The liturgy developed in the course of two millenniums and even after the Reformation was not something worked out by simply a few liturgists. It has always remained a continuation of this ongoing growth of worship and proclamation.

Thus, to be well in tune, it is very important to understand this structure that developed over time and to enter with our "mens" into the "vox" of the Church. To the extent that we have interiorized this structure, comprehended this structure, assimilated the words of the liturgy, we can enter into this inner consonance and thus not only speak to God as individuals, but enter into the "we" of the Church, which is praying. And we thus transform our "I" in this way, by entering into the "we" of the Church, enriching and enlarging this "I," praying with the Church, with the words of the Church, truly being in conversation with God.

This is the first condition: We ourselves must interiorize the structure, the words of the liturgy, the Word of God. Thus, our celebration truly becomes a celebration "with" the Church: Our hearts are enlarged and we are not doing just anything but are "with" the Church, in conversation with God. It seems to me that people truly feel that we converse with God, with them, and that in this common prayer we attract others, in communion with the children of God we attract others; or if not, we are only doing something superficial.

Thus, the fundamental element of the true "ars celebrandi" is this consonance, this harmony between what we say with our lips and what we think with our heart. The "Sursum corda," which is a very ancient word of the liturgy, should come before the Preface, before the liturgy, as the "path" for our speaking and thinking. We must raise our heart to the Lord, not only as a ritual response but as an _expression of what is happening in this heart that is uplifted, and also lifts up others.

In other words, the "ars celebrandi" is not intended as an invitation to some sort of theater or show, but to an interiority that makes itself felt and becomes acceptable and evident to the people taking part. Only if they see that this is not an exterior or spectacular "ars" -- we are not actors! -- but the _expression of the journey of our heart that attracts their hearts too, will the liturgy become beautiful, will it become the communion with the Lord of all who are present.

Of course, external things must also be associated with this fundamental condition, expressed in St. Benedict's words: "Mens concordet voci" -- the heart is truly raised, uplifted to the Lord. We must learn to say the words properly.

Sometimes, when I was still a teacher in my country, young people had read the sacred Scriptures. And they read them as one reads the text of a poem one has not understood. Naturally, to learn to say words correctly one must first understand the text with its drama, with its immediacy. It is the same for the Preface and for the Eucharistic Prayer.

It is difficult for the faithful to follow a text as long as our Eucharistic Prayer. For this reason these new "inventions" are constantly cropping up. However, with constantly new Eucharistic Prayers one does not solve the problem. The problem is that this is a moment that also invites others to silence with God and to pray with God. Therefore, things can only go better if the Eucharistic Prayer is said well and with the correct pauses for silence, if it is said with interiority but also with the art of speaking.

It follows that the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer requires a moment of special attention if it is to be spoken in such a way that it involves others. I believe we should also find opportunities in catechesis, in homilies and in other circumstances to explain this Eucharistic Prayer well to the People of God so that they can follow the important moments -- the account and the words of the Institution, the prayer for the living and the dead, the thanksgiving to the Lord and the epiclesis -- if the community is truly to be involved in this prayer.

Thus, the words must be pronounced properly. There must then be an adequate preparation. Altar servers must know what to do; lectors must be truly experienced speakers. Then the choir, the singing, should be rehearsed: And let the altar be properly decorated. All this, even if it is a matter of many practical things, is part of the "ars celebrandi."

But to conclude, the fundamental element is this art of entering into communion with the Lord, which we prepare for as priests throughout our lives.

Father Angelo Pennazza, parish priest in Pavona:

Your Holiness, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that "Holy Orders and Matrimony are directed toward the salvation of others. ... They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God" (No. 1534). This seems to us truly fundamental, not only for our pastoral action but also for our way of being priests.

What can we priests do to express this proposal in pastoral praxis and, according to what you yourself have just reaffirmed, to communicate positively the beauty of marriage which can still make the men and women of our time fall in love? What can the sacramental grace of spouses contribute to our lives as priests?

Benedict XVI:

Two tremendous questions! The first one is: How is it possible to communicate the beauty of marriage to the people of today? We see how many young people are reluctant to marry in Church because they are afraid of finality; indeed, they are even reluctant to have a civil wedding.

Today, to many young people and even to some who are not so young, definitiveness appears as a constriction, a limitation of freedom. And what they want first of all is freedom. They are afraid that in the end they might not succeed. They see so many failed marriages. They fear that this juridical form, as they understand it, will be an external weight that will extinguish love.

It is essential to understand that it is not a question of a juridical bond, a burden imposed with marriage. On the contrary, depth and beauty lie precisely in finality. Only in this way can love mature to its full beauty. But how is it possible to communicate this? I think this problem is common to us all.

For me, in Valencia -- and Your Eminence, you can confirm this -- it was an important moment not only when I talked about this, but when various families presented themselves to me with one or more children; one family was virtually a "parish," it had so many children! The presence and witness of these families really was far stronger than any words.

They presented first of all the riches of their family experience: how such a large family truly becomes a cultural treasure, an opportunity for the education of one and all, a possibility for making the various cultural expressions of today coexist, the gift of self, mutual help also in suffering, etc.

But their testimony of the crises they had suffered was also significant. One of these couples had almost reached the point of divorcing. They explained that they then learned to live through this crisis, this suffering of the otherness of the other, and to accept each other anew. Precisely in overcoming the moment of crisis, the desire to separate, a new dimension of love developed and opened the door to a new dimension of life, which nothing but tolerating the suffering of the crisis could reopen.

This seems to me very important. Today, a crisis point is reached the moment the diversity of temperament is perceived, the difficulty of putting up with each other every day for an entire life. In the end, then, they decided: Let us separate. From these testimonies we understood precisely that in crises, in bearing the moment in which it seems that no more can be borne, new doors and a new beauty of love truly open.

A beauty consisting of harmony alone is not true beauty. Something is missing, it becomes insufficient. True beauty also needs contrast. Darkness and light complement each other. Even a grape, in order to ripen, does not only need the sun but also the rain, not only the day but also the night.

We priests ourselves, both young and old, must learn the need for suffering and for crises. We must put up with and transcend this suffering. Only in this way is life enriched. I believe that the fact the Lord bears the stigmata for eternity has a symbolic value. As an _expression of the atrocity of suffering and death, today the stigmata are seals of Christ's victory, of the full beauty of his victory and his love for us. We must accept, both as priests and as married persons, the need to put up with the crises of otherness, of the other, the crisis in which it seems that it is no longer possible to stay together.

Husbands and wives must learn to move ahead together, also for love of the children, and thus be newly acquainted with one another, love one another anew with a love far deeper and far truer. So it is that on a long journey, with its suffering, love truly matures.

It seems to me that we priests can also learn from married people precisely because of their suffering and sacrifices. We often think that celibacy on its own is a sacrifice. However, knowing the sacrifices married people make -- let us think of their children, of the problems that arise, of the fears, suffering, illnesses, rebellion, and also of the problems of the early years when nights are almost always spent sleeplessly because of the crying of small children -- we must learn our sacrifice from them, from their sacrifices. And at the same time we must learn that it is beautiful to mature through sacrifices and thus to work for the salvation of others.

Father Pennazza, you correctly mentioned the Council which says that marriage is a sacrament for the salvation of others: first of all for the salvation of the other, of the husband and of the wife, but also of the children, the sons and daughters, and lastly of the entire community. And thus, priesthood too matures in the encounter.

I then think that we ought to involve families. Family celebrations seem to me to be very important. On the occasion of celebrations it is right that the family, the beauty of families, appear. Even testimonies -- although they are perhaps somewhat too fashionable -- can in some instances truly be a proclamation, a help for us all.

To conclude, I consider it very significant that in St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, God's marriage with humanity through the incarnation of the Lord is achieved on the cross, on which is born the new humanity: the Church.

Precisely from these divine nuptials Christian marriage is born. As St. Paul says, it is the sacramental concretization of what happens in this great mystery. Thus, we must learn ever anew this bond between the cross and the Resurrection, between the cross and the beauty of the Redemption, and insert ourselves into this sacrament. Let us pray to the Lord to help us proclaim this mystery well, to live this mystery, to learn from married couples how they live it in order to help us live the cross, so that we may also attain moments of joy and of the Resurrection.


Father Gualtiero Isacchi, director of diocesan office for pastoral care of youth:

Young people are the focus of a more decisive attention on the part of our dioceses and of the entire Church in Italy. The World Days have led them to this discovery: There are a great many young people and they are enthusiastic.

Yet, our parishes in general are not adequately equipped to welcome them; parish communities and pastoral workers are not sufficiently trained to talk to them; the priests involved in the various tasks do not have the time required to listen to them. They are remembered when they become a problem or when we need them to enliven some celebration or festivity.

How can a priest today express a preferential option for young people in view of his busy pastoral agenda? How can we serve young people based on their own scale of values instead of involving them in "our own things"?

Benedict XVI:

I would like first of all to stress what you have said. On the occasion of the World Youth Days and at other events -- as recently, on the eve of Pentecost -- it appears that young people are also in search of God. The young want to see if God exists and what God tells us.

Consequently, there is a certain willingness, in spite of all the difficulties of our time. An enthusiasm also exists. Therefore, we must do all we can to try to keep alive this flame that shows itself on occasions such as the World Youth Days.

What shall we do? This is our common question. I think that precisely here, an "integrated pastoral care" should be put into practice, for in fact not every parish priest can cope adequately with youth. He therefore needs a pastoral apostolate that transcends the limits of the parish and that also transcends the limits of the priest's work; a pastoral apostolate that involves numerous pastoral workers.

It seems to me that under the bishop's coordination, a way should be found, on the one hand, to integrate young people into the parish so that they may be the leaven of parish life; and on the other, also to obtain for these youth the help of extra-parochial personnel.

These two things must go hand-in-hand. It is necessary to suggest to young people that not only in the parish but also in various contexts they must integrate themselves into the life of the dioceses so as to meet subsequently in the parish; so it is necessary to encourage all initiatives along these lines.

I think that volunteer experience is very important nowadays. It is vital not to leave young people to the mercy of discos but to have useful tasks for them to do in which they see that they are necessary, realize that they can do something good. By feeling this impulse to do something useful for humanity, for someone, for a group, young people also become aware of this incentive to strive to find the "track" of a positive commitment, of a Christian ethic.

It seems to me very important that young people truly find tasks that demonstrate that they are needed, that guide them on the way of a positive service of assistance inspired by Christ's love for men and women, so that they themselves seek the sources from which to draw strength and commitment.

Another experience is offered by the prayer groups where, in their own youthful context, the young learn to listen to the word of God, to learn the word of God and to enter into contact with God. This also means learning the common form of prayer, the liturgy, which at first sight might perhaps seem rather inaccessible to them.

They learn that the word of God exists and seeks us out, despite all the distance of the times, and speaks to us today. We offer to the Lord the fruit of the earth and of the work of our hands and we find it transformed into a gift of God.

We speak as children to the Father and we then receive the gift of the Lord himself. We receive the mission to go out into the world with the gift of his presence.

It would also be useful to have liturgy schools that young people could attend. Moreover, opportunities for young people to present and introduce themselves are vital. I heard that here in Albano a play on the life of St. Francis was performed.

Committing oneself in this sense means desiring to penetrate the personality of St. Francis, of his time, and thereby widening one's own personality. It is only an example, something apparently fairly unusual. It can be a lesson to broaden the personality, to enter into a context of Christian tradition, to reawaken the thirst for a better knowledge of the sources from which this saint drew. He was not only an environmentalist or a pacifist. He was above all a convert.

I read with great pleasure that Bishop Sorrentino of Assisi, precisely to obviate this "abuse" of the figure of St. Francis, on the occasion of the eighth centenary of his conversion wished to establish a "Year of Conversion" to see what the true "challenge" is.

Perhaps we can all animate youth a little to make the meaning of conversion understood by also finding a link with the figure of St. Francis and seeking a route that broadens life. Francis was first a kind of "playboy." He then felt that this was not enough. He heard the Lord's voice: "Rebuild my house." Little by little, he came to understand what "building the house of the Lord" means.

I do not, therefore, have very practical answers, because I find myself facing a mission where I already find young people gathered, thanks be to God. But it seems to me that one ought to make use of all the possibilities offered today by the movements, associations and volunteer groups and in other activities for youth. It is also necessary to present young people to the parish so that it sees who the young people are.

Vocation promotion is necessary. The whole thing must be coordinated by the bishop. It seems to me that pastoral workers are found through the same authentic cooperation of young people who are training. And thus, it is possible to open the way to conversion, to the joy that God exists and is concerned about us, that we have access to God and can help others "rebuild his house."

It seems to me that this, finally, is our mission, sometimes difficult, but in the end very beautiful: to "build God's house" in the contemporary world.

Thank you for your attention and I ask you to forgive me for my disconnected answers. Let us collaborate so that "God's house" in our time will grow and many young people will find the path of service to the Lord.


Benedict XVI: “So that We Can See that Believing Is Beautiful”

The complete English transcript of pope Joseph Ratzinger's interview with German televisions ARD-Bayerischer Rundfunk, ZDF, Deutsche Welle, and Vatican Radio, broadcasted in the night of August 13

ROMA, August 14, 2006 – In an exclusive interview broadcasted yesterday in Germany, pope Benedict XVI addressed issues of marriage and family, world peace and intercultural dialogue as well as the future of the Catholic Church.

Pope Joseph Ratzinger's interview with broadcasters ARD-Bayerischer Rundfunk, Deutsche Welle, ZDF and Vatican Radio was held at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo on August 5, 2006. The interview was conducted in German and translated by the Vatican.

Here the complete English transcript:

Question: Holy Father, your next trip will be to Bavaria. During preparations for the trip your collaborators said you are nostalgic for your homeland. What are the issues you'll be speaking about during the visit and is the concept of "homeland" one of the values you intend touching on, in particular?

Pope Benedict XVI: Of course. The purpose of the visit is precisely because I want to see again the places where I grew up, the people who touched and shaped my life. I want to thank these people. Naturally I also want to express a message that goes beyond my country, just as my ministry calls me to do. I simply let the liturgical recurrences suggest the themes to me. The basic theme is that we have to rediscover God, not just any God, but the God that has a human face, because when we see Jesus Christ we see God. Starting from this point we must find the way to meet each other in the family, among generations, and then among cultures and peoples as well. We must find the way to reconciliation and to peaceful coexistence in this world, the ways that lead to the future. We won't find these ways leading to the future if we don't receive light from above. So I didn't choose very specific themes, but rather, it is the liturgy that leads me to express the basic message of faith which naturally finds its place in everyday reality where we want to search, above all, for cooperation among peoples and possible ways that can lead us to reconciliation and peace.

Question: As Pope you are responsible for the Church throughout the world. But., clearly, your visit focuses attention on the situation of Catholics in Germany as well. All observers say there's a positive atmosphere, partly thanks to your election as Pope. But, obviously, the old problems are still around. Just to quote a few examples: fewer churchgoers, fewer baptisms, and especially less Church influence on the life of society. How do you see the present situation of the Catholic Church in Germany?

Pope Benedict XVI: I'd say, first of all, that Germany is part of the West, with its own characteristic colouring obviously, and that in the western world today we are experiencing a wave of new and drastic enlightenment or secularization, whatever you like to call it. It's become more difficult to believe because the world in which we find ourselves is completely made up of ourselves and God, so to speak, doesn't appear directly anymore. We don't drink from the source anymore, but from the vessel which is offered to us already full, and so on. Humanity has rebuilt the world by itself and finding God inside this world has become more difficult. This is not specific to Germany: it's something that's valid throughout the world, especially in the west. Then again, today the West is being strongly influenced by other cultures in which the original religious element is very powerful. These cultures are horrified when they experience the West's coldness towards God. This "presence of the sacred" in other cultures, even if often veiled, touches the western world again, it touches us at the crossroads of so many cultures. The quest for "something bigger" wells up again from the depths of western people and in Germany. We see how in young people there's the search for something "more", we see how the religious phenomenon is returning, as they say. Even if it's a search that's rather indefinite. But with all this the Church is present once more and faith is offered as the answer. I think that this visit, like the visit to Cologne, is an opportunity so that we can see that believing is beautiful, that the joy of a huge universal community possesses a transcendental strength, that behind this belief lies something important and that together with the new searching movements there are also new outlets for the faith that lead us from one to the other and that are also positive for society as a whole.

Question: Holy Father. You were in Cologne with the young people exactly a year ago. You experienced how amazingly willing youth are to welcome others and you personally were very warmly welcomed. Will you be brining a special message for young people on this next trip?

Pope Benedict XVI: First of all, I'd say that I am very happy there are young people who want to be together, you want to be together in faith and who want to do something good. The tendency to do good is very strong in young people, just think of the many kinds of volunteer work they do. The commitment of offering your own personal contribution to help the needy of this world is a great thing. One idea might be to encourage them in this sphere: Go ahead! Look for opportunities to do good! The world needs this desire to do good, it needs this commitment! Then another message might be this: the courage to make definitive decisions! Young people are very generous but when they face the risk of a life-long commitment, be it marriage or a priestly vocation, they are afraid. The world is moving dramatically: nowadays I can continually do whatever I want with my life with all its unpredictable future events. By making a definitive decision am I myself not tying up my personal freedom and depriving myself of freedom of movement? Reawaken the courage to make definitive decisions: they are really the only ones that allow us to grow, to move ahead and to reach something great in life. They are the only decisions that do not destroy our freedom but offer to point us in the right direction. Risk making this leap, so to speak, towards the definitive and so embrace life fully: this is something I'd be happy to communicate to them.

Question: Holy Father, a question about the situation regarding foreign politics. Hopes for peace in the Middle East have been dwindling over the past weeks: What do you see as the Holy See's role in relationship to the present situation? What positive influences can you have on the situation, on developments in the Middle East?

Pope Benedict XVI: Of course we have no political influence and we don't want any political power. But we do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars. Everyone needs peace. There's a strong Christian community in Lebanon, there are Christians among the Arabs, there are Christians in Israel. Christians throughout the world are committed to helping these countries that are dear to all of us. There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together. These are the forces we want to mobilize: it's up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.

Question: As Bishop of Rome you are the successor of St Peter. How can the ministry of Peter manifest itself fittingly in today's world? And how do you see the tensions and equilibrium between the primacy of the Pope, on one hand, and the collegiality of the Bishops, on the other?

Pope Benedict XVI: Of course there is a relationship of tension and equilibrium and, we say, that's the way it has to be. Multiplicity and unity must always find their reciprocal rapport and this relationship must insert itself in ever new ways into the changing situations in the world. We have a new polyphony of cultures nowadays in which Europe is no longer the determining factor. Christians on the various continents are starting to have their own importance, their own charateristics. We must keep learning about this fusion of the different components. We've developed various instruments to help us: the so-called "ad limina visits" of the Bishops, which have always taken place. Now they are used much more in order to speak sincerely with all the offices of the Holy See and with me. I speak personally to each Bishop. I've already spoken to nearly all the Bishops of Africa and with many of the Bishops from Asia. Now it's the turn of Central Europe, Germany, Switzerland. In these encounters in which the Centre and the Periphery come together in an open exchange of views, I think that the correct reciprocal exchange in this balanced tension grows. We also have other instruments like the Synod, the Consistory, which I shall be holding regularly and which I would like to develop. Without having a long agenda we can discuss current problems together and look for solutions. Everyone knows that the Pope is not an absolute monarch but that he has to personify, you might say, the totality that comes together to listen to Christ. There's a strong awareness that we need a unifying figure that can guarantee independence from political powers and that Christians don't identify too much with nationalism. There's an awareness of the need for a higher and broader figure that can create unity in the dynamic integration of all parties and that can embrace and promote multiplicity. So I believe there's a close bond between the petrine ministry which is expressed in the desire to develop it further so that it responds both to the Lord's will and to the needs of the times.

Question: As the land of the Reformation, Germany is especially marked by the relationships between the different religious confessions. Ecumenical relations is a sensitive area that constantly encounters new problems. What chances do you see of improving relations with the Evangelical Church or what difficulties do you foresee in this relationship?

Pope Benedict XVI: Maybe it's important to say, first of all, that there are marked differences within the Evangelical Church. If I'm not mistaken, in Germany we have three important communities: Lutherans, Reformed, and Prussian Union. There are also several free Churches (Freikirchen) and within the traditional Churches there are movements like the "confessional Church", and so on. It's a collection of many voices, therefore, with which we have to enter in dialogue searching for unity while respecting the multiplicity of the voices with which we want to collaborate. I believe that the first thing we need to do is to concern ourselves with clarifying, establishing and putting into practice important ethical directives in society, thus guaranteeing a social ethical consistency without which society cannot fulfil its political ends, namely, justice for all, living together in a positive way, and peace. In this sense, I think a lot is already achieved, that we already agree on the common Christian basics before the great moral challenges. Of course, then we have to witness to God in a world that has problems finding Him, as we said, and to make God visible in the human face of Jesus Christ, to offer people access to the source without which our morale becomes sterile and loses its point of reference, to give joy as well because we are not alone in this world. Only in this way joy is born before the greatness of humanity: humanity is not an evolutionary product that turned out badly. We are the image of God. We have to move on these two levels, so to speak: the level of important ethical points of reference and the level that manifests the presence of God, a concrete God, starting from within and working towards them. If we do this and, especially, if in all our single communities we try not to live the faith in a specific fashion but always start from its deepest basics, then maybe we still won't reach external manifestations of unity quickly, but we will mature towards an interior unity that, God willing, one day will bring with it an exterior form of unity too.

Question: The issue of the family. A month ago you were in Valencia for the World Meeting of Families. Anyone who was listening carefully, as we tried to do at Vatican Radio, noticed how you never mentioned the words "homosexual marriage", you never spoke about abortion, or about contraception. Careful observers thought that was very interesting. Clearly your idea is to go around the world preaching the faith rather than as an "apostle of morality". What are your comments?

Pope Benedict XVI: Obviously, yes. Actually I should say I had only two opportunities to speak for twenty minutes. And when you have so little time you can't say everything you want to say about "no". Firstly you have to know what we really want, right? Christianity, Catholicism, isn't a collection of prohibitions: it's a positive option. It's very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We've heard so much about what is not allowed that now it's time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it's in this way that marriage develops, first of all, as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then the family, that guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet. So, firstly it's important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we don't want something. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it's not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other, so that humanity can go on living: all cultures know this. As far as abortion is concerned, it's part of the fifth, not the sixth, commandment: "You shall not kill!". We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother's womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.

Question: Holy Father, my question is linked to that of Fr Von Gemmingen. Throughout the world believers are waiting for the Catholic Church to answer the most urgent global problems, like AIDS and overpopulation. Why does the Catholic Church pay so much attention to moral issues rather than suggesting concrete solutions to these problems that are so crucial to humanity, in Africa, for example?

Pope Benedict XVI: So that's the problem: do we really pay so much attention to moral issues? I think ' I am more and more convinced after my conversations with the African Bishops ' that the basic question, if we want to move ahead in this field, is about education, formation. Progress becomes true progress only if it serves the human person and if the human person grows: not only in terms of his or her technical power, but also in his or her moral awareness. I believe that the real problem of our historical moment lies in the imbalance between the incredibly fast growth of our technical power and that of our moral capacity, which has not grown in proportion. That's why the formation of the human person is the true recipe, the key to it all, I would say, and this is what the Church proposes. Briefly speaking, this formation has a dual dimension: of course we have to learn, acquire knowledge, ability, know-how, as they say. In this sense Europe, and in the last decades America, have done a lot, and that's important But if we only teach know-how, if we only teach how to build and to use machines, and how to use contraceptives, then we shouldn't be surprised when we find ourselves facing wars and AIDS epidemics. Because we need two dimensions: simultaneously we need the formation of the heart, if I can express myself in this way, with which the human person acquires points of reference and learns how to use the techniques correctly. And that's what we try to do. Throughout Africa and in many countries on Asia, we have a vast network of every level of school where people can learn, form a true conscience and acquire professional ability which gives them autonomy and freedom. But in these schools we try to communicate more than know-how, rather to form human beings capable of reconciliation, who know that we must build and not destroy and who have the necessary references to be able to live together. In much of Africa, relations between Christians and Muslims are exemplary. The Bishops have formed common commissions together with the Muslims to try and create peace in situations of conflict. This schools network, dedicated to human learning and formation, is very important. It's completed by a network of hospitals and assistance centres that reach even the most remote villages. In many areas, following the destruction of war, the Church is the only structure that remains intact. This is a fact! We offer treatment, treatment to AIDS victims too, and we offer education, helping to establish good relationships with others. So I think we should correct that image that sees the Church as spreading severe "no's". We work a lot in Africa so that the various dimensions of formation can be integrated and so that it become possible to overcome violence and epidemics, that include malaria and tuberculosis as well.

Question: Holy Father, Christianity has spread around the world starting from Europe. Now many people think that the future of the Church is to be found in other continents. Is that true? Or, in other words, what is the future of Christianity in Europe, where it looks like it's being reduced to the private affair of a minority?

Pope Benedict XVI: I'd like to introduce a few subtleties. It's true, as we know, that Christianity began in the Near East. And for as long time its main development continued there. Then it spread in Asia, much more than what we think today after the changes brought about by Islam. Precisely for this reason its axis moved noticeably towards the West and Europe. Europe ' we're proud and pleased to say so ' further developed Christianity in its broader intellectual and cultural dimensions. But I think it's important to remind ourselves about the Eastern Christians because there's the present danger of them emigrating, these Christians who have always been an important minority living in a fruitful relationship with the surrounding reality. There's a great danger that these places where Christianity had its origins will be left without Christians. I think we need to help them a lot so that they can stay. But getting back to your question: Europe definitely became the centre of Christianity and its missionary movement. Today, other continents and other cultures play with equal importance in the concert of world history. In this way the number of voices in the Church grows, and this is a good thing. It's good that different temperaments can express themselves, the special gifts of Africa, Asia and America, Latin America in particular. Of course, they are all touched not only by the word of Christianity, but by the secular message of this world that carries to other continents the disruptive forces we have already experienced. All the Bishops from different parts of the world say: we still need Europe, even if Europe is only a part of a greater whole. We still carry the responsibility that come from our experiences, from the science and technology that was developed here, from our liturgical experience, to our traditions, the ecumenical experiences we have accumulated: all this is very important for the other continents too. So it's important that today we don't give up, feeling sorry for ourselves and saying: "Look at us, we just a minority, let's at least try and preserve our small number!". We have to keep our dynamism alive, open relationships of exchange, so that new strength for us comes from there. Today there are Indian and African priests in Europe, even in Canada, where many African priests work in a very interesting way. There's this reciprocal give and take. But if we receive more in future we also need to continue giving with courage and with growing dynamism.

Question: This is a subject that's already been touched partially, Holy Father. When it comes to important political or scientific decisions, modern society doesn't base itself on Christian values and the Church, according to research, is considered as simply a warning voice or a controlling voice. Shouldn't the Church come out of this defensive position and assume a more positive attitude with regard to the building of the future?

Pope Benedict XVI: I'd say that, in any case, we have to stress better what we want that is positive. And we need to do this, above all, in dialogue with cultures and religions because, as I think I've already said, the African continent, the African spirit and the Asian spirit too, are horrified by the coldness of our rationality. It's important for them to see that's not all we are. On the other hand, it's important that our secular world comes to understand that the Christian faith is not an impediment but a bridge for dialogue with other worlds. It's not right to think that a purely rational culture has an easier approach to other religions just because it's tolerant. To a large extent what's missing is a "religious centre-piece" which can act as point of departure and arrival for those who want to enter into a relationship. That's why we must, and we can, show that, precisely because of the new intercultural environment in which we live, pure rationality separated from God is insufficient. We need a wider rationality that sees God in harmony with reason and is aware that the Christian faith that developed in Europe is also a means to bring together reason and culture and to integrate them with action in a single and comprehensive vision. In this sense I believe we have an important task, namely to show that this Word which we possess, isn't part of the trash of history, so to speak, but it's necessary today.

Question: Holy Father, let's talk about your travels. You live in the Vatican and maybe it hurts you to be far from people and separated from the world, even in the beautiful surroundings of Castelgandolfo. You'll be turning 80 soon. Do you think that, with God's grace, you'll be able to make many more trips? Do you have any idea of where you'd like to go? To the Holy Land, or Brazil? Do you know already?

Pope Benedict XVI: To tell the truth I'm not that lonely. Of course there are, you may say, the walls that make it more difficult to get in, but there's also a "pontifical family", lots of visitors every day, especially when I'm in Rome. The Bishops come and other people, there are State visits. There are also personalities who want to talk to me personally, and not just about political issues. In this sense there are all kinds of encounters that, thank God, I have continually. And it's also important that the seat of the Successor of Peter be a place of encounter, don't you think? From the time of John XXIII onwards the pendulum began to swing in the other direction too: the popes started going out to visit others. I have to say that I've never felt strong enough to plan many long trips. But where such a trip allows me to communicate a message or where, shall I say, it's in response to a sincere request, I'd like to go ' in the "measure" that's possible for me. Some are already planned: next year there's the meeting of CELAM, the Latin American Episcopal Council, in Brazil, and I think that being there is an important step in the context of what Latin America is living so intensely , to strengthen the hope that's so alive in that part of the world. Then I'd like to visit the Holy Land, and I hope to visit it in a time of peace. For the rest, we'll see what Providence has in store for me.

Question: Allow me to insist. Austrians also speak German and they are waiting for you at Mariazell...

Pope Benedict XVI: Yes, it's been agreed. Quite simply I promised them, a little imprudently. I really liked that place and I said: Yes, I'll come back to the Magna Mater Austriae. Of course, this became a promise that I will keep, that I will keep happily.

Question: I insist further. I admire you every Wednesday when you hold your General Audience. 50,000 people come. It must be very tiring. How do you manage to hold out?

Pope Benedict XVI: Yes, the Good Lord gives me the necessary strength. When you see the warm welcome, you're obviously encouraged.

Question: Holy Father, you've just said you made a rather imprudent promise. Does that mean that, despite your ministry, despite the many protocols and limitations, you haven't lost your spontaneity?

Pope Benedict XVI: I try, in any case. As much as things are fixed, I'd like to keep doing some things that are purely personal.

Question: Holy Father, women are very active in many different areas of the Catholic Church. Shouldn't their contribution become more clearly visible, even in positions of higher responsibility in the Church?

Pope Benedict XVI: We reflect a lot about this subject, of course. As you know, we believe that our faith and the constitution of the college of the Apostles, obliges us and doesn't allow us to confer priestly ordination on women. But we shouldn't think either that the only role one can have in the Church is that of being a priest. There are lots of tasks and functions in the history of the Church. Starting with the sisters of the Fathers of the Church , up to the middle ages when great women played fundamental roles, up until modern times. Think about Hildegard of Bingen who protested strongly before the Bishops and the Pope, of Catherine of Siena and Brigit of Sweden. In our own time too women, and we with them, must look for their right place, so to speak. Today they are very present in the departments of the Holy See. But there's a juridical problem: according to Canon Law the power to take legally binding decisions is limited to Sacred Orders. So there are limitations from this point of view but I believe that women themselves, with their energy and strength, with their superiority, with what I'd call their "spiritual power", will know how to make their own space. And we will have to try and listen to God so as not to stand in their way but, on the contrary, to rejoice when the female element achieves the fully effective place in the Church best suited to her, starting with the Mother of God and with Mary Magdalen.

Question: Holy Father, recently there's been talk of a new fascination with Catholicism. What is the attraction and the future of this ancient institution?

Pope Benedict XVI: I'd say that the entire pontificate of John Paul II drew people's attention and brought them together. What happened at the time of his death remains something historically very special: how hundreds of thousands of people flowed towards St Peter's Square in an orderly fashion, stood for hours, and while they should have collapsed, they resisted as if moved by an inner strength. Then we relived the experience on the occasion of the inauguration of my pontificate and again in Cologne. It's very beautiful when the experience of community becomes an experience of faith at the same time. When the experience of community doesn't happen just anywhere but that this experience becomes more alive and gives to Catholicism its luminous intensity right there in the places of the faith. Of course, this has to continue in everyday life. The two must go together. On one hand, the great moments during which one feels how good it is to be there, that the Lord is present and that we form a great community reconciled beyond all boundaries. From here we get the impetus to resist during the tiring pilgrimage of everyday existence, to live starting from these bright points and turning towards them, knowing how to invite others to join our pilgrim community. I'd like to take this opportunity to say: I blush when I think of all the preparations that are made for my visit, for everything that people do. My house was freshly painted, a professional school redid the fence. The evangelical professor helped to do the fence. And these are just small details but they're a sign of the many things that are done. I find all of this extraordinary, and I don't think it's for me, but rather a sign of wanting to be part of this faith community and to serve one another. Demonstrating this solidarity means letting ourselves be inspired by the Lord. It's something that touches me and I'd like to express my gratitude with all my heart.

Question: Holy Father, You spoke about the experience of community. You'll be coming to Germany for the second time following your election. After the World Youth Day and, for different reasons, after the World Football Championships, the atmosphere seems to have changed. The impression is that Germans have become more open to the world, more tolerant and more joyful. What would you still like from us Germans?

Pope Benedict XVI: I'd say that from the end of the Second World War German society began an inner transformation. The German way of thinking too, which was further reinforced after reunification. We have become more deeply part of world society and, naturally, we have been changed by its mentality. Aspects of the German character which others weren't aware of before, have come to light Perhaps we were always depicted too much as always very disciplined and reserved, which has some basis in truth. But if we now see better that which everyone is seeing, I think it's lovely: Germans aren't just reserved, punctual and disciplined, they are also spontaneous, happy and hospitable. This is very lovely. This is my hope: that these virtues may continue to grow and that they may last and may receive added impetus from the Christian faith.

Question: Holy Father, your predecessor beatified and canonized a huge number of Christians. Some people say even too many. This is my question: beatifications and canonizations only bring something new to the Church when these people are seen as true models. Germany produces relatively few saints and blessed in comparison with other countries. Can anything be done to develop this pastoral sphere so that beatifications and canonizations can give real pastoral fruit?

Pope Benedict XVI: In the beginning I also thought that the large number of beatifications was almost overwhelming and that perhaps we needed to be more selective; choosing figures that entered our consciousness more clearly. Meanwhile, I decentralized the beatifications in order to make these figures more visible in the specific places they came from. Perhaps a saint from Guatemala doesn't interest us in Germany and vice versa, someone from Altotting is of no interest in Los Angeles, and so on, right? I also think that this decentralization is more in keeping with the collegiality of the episcopate, with its collegial structures, and that it's suitable for stressing how different countries have their own personalities and these are especially effective in these countries. I've also seen how these beatifications in different places touch vast numbers of people and that people say: "At last, this one is one of us!". They pray to him and are inspired. The blessed soul belongs to them and we're happy there are lots of them. And if, gradually, with the development of a global society, we too get to know them, that's wonderful. But it's especially important that multiplicity exists in this field also because it's important that we too in Germany get to know our own figures and are happy for them. Besides this issue there's that of the canonization of greater figures who are examples for the whole Church. I'd say that the individual Episcopal Conferences ought to choose, ought to decide what's best for them, what this person is saying to us, and they should give visibility to people who leave a profound impression, but not too many of them. They can do it through catechesis, preaching, or through the presentation of a film, perhaps. I can imagine some wonderful films. Of course, I only know well the Church Fathers: a film about Augustine, or one on Gregory Nazianzen who was very special, how he continually fled the ever greater responsibilities he was given, and so on. We need to study: there are not only the awful situations we depict in many of our films, there are also wonderful historical figures who are not at all boring and who are very contemporary. We must try not to overload people too much but to give visibility to many figures who are topical and inspirational.

Question: Stories with humour in them too? In 1989 in Munich you were given the Karl Valentin Orden Award. What role does humour play in the life of a Pope?

Pope Benedict XVI: I'm not a man who constantly thinks up jokes. But I think it's very important to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension and not to take everything too tragically. I'd also say it's necessary for my ministry. A writer once said that angels can fly because they don't take themselves too seriously. Maybe we could also fly a bit if we didn't think we were so important.

Question: When you have an important job like yours, Holy Father, you are much observed. Other people talk about you. I was reading and I was struck by what many observers say: that Pope Benedict is different from Cardinal Ratzinger. How do you see yourself, if I may be so bold as to ask?

Pope Benedict XVI: I've been taken apart various times: in my first phase as professor and in the intermediate phase, during my first phase as Cardinal and in the successive phase. Now comes a new division. Of course circumstances and situations and even people influence you because you take on different responsibilities. Let's say that my basic personality and even my basic vision have grown, but in everything that is essential I have remained identical. I'm happy that certain aspects that weren't noticed at first are now coming into the open.

Question: Would you say that you like what you do, that it isn't a burden for you?

Pope Benedict XVI: That would be saying a bit too much, because it really is tiring. But in any case, I try to find joy here too.

Conclusion: In the name of my colleagues, I'd like to thank you sincerely for this conversation, for this "world first". We're looking forward to your upcoming visit to Germany, Bavaria. Goodbye.


The original German transcript of the interview, on Vatican website:

 “Frage: Heiliger Vater, in September besuchen...”


Benedict XVI, One Year Later: What’s New
One of the innovations introduced by pope Joseph Ratzinger is special: listening to questions in public and replying to all of them, off the cuff. He has done this with young people, priests, children

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, April 18, 2006 – Among the novelties he has introduced during his first year as pope – which comes to completion this Easter week – there is one that Joseph Ratzinger has a special fondness for. So much so that has repeated it several times.

It is the practice of public discussions in question and answer format. Benedict XVI arrives and greets those present, but doesn’t speak from a prepared text. He simply fields questions. And he responds to each of them, spontaneously.

He did so with the priests of the little diocese of Aosta where he was vacationing, on July 25, 2005.

He did so with the children who had received their first communion that year, in St. Peter’s Square on October 15.

He did so with the priests of the diocese of Rome, on March 3, 2006.

He did so with the young people preparing for World Youth Day, three days before Palm Sunday, on April 6 in St. Peter’s Square.

In all these cases, his words had a strong effect on those present. Even the children listened to him attentively.

And the pope did the same thing behind closed doors on March 23, with the cardinals gathered for the consistory. Cardinal Camillo Ruini remarked upon this in an interview with the weekly “Famiglia Cristiana:”

“Benedict XVI succeeds in facing difficult problems with immediacy, using simple words to reply to deep questions. We cardinals experienced this during the consistory, during that day of reflection on the problems of the Church.”

But little or nothing of these dialogues between the pope and his interlocutors reaches the general public. Benedict XVI replies to each question at length and in depth, and so makes it almost impossible to extract short, flashy phrases fit for the newspaper articles.

And the Vatican press office is of little help. In order to be distributed to the journalists, the pope’s remarks must first be replayed and transcribed, and this usually takes a day to complete. And then they are distributed only in the language in which they were delivered, Italian. The translations in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German arrive many days later and in deranged order. For example, twelve days after it took place, Benedict XVI’s April 6 conversation with young people was available on the Vatican website only in its Italian version.

And yet these are texts of very noteworthy importance. Because of their spontaneity, they better permit one to enter into the pope’s mind and understand the things that are closest to his heart.

For example, replying to the young people he met on April 6, Benedict XVI explained how to read the Bible and why marriage is not the product of a culture, but a primordial reality inscribed in the creation of man and woman; he reasoned on why a life that eliminates God is “unlivable”; he recounted how his vocation to the priesthood was born; he exalted the “divine beauty” of the liturgy; he had wonderful things to say about the “intelligent” structure of the universe...


The Pope Opens Up to the Priests of a Small Mountain Diocese

Benedict XVI's surprising question and answer session with the priests of Aosta. On the West‘s weariness of God, Christianity in Africa, parishes without priests, communion for divorced and remarried persons...

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, July 29, 2005 – Of the addresses delivered until now by Benedict XVI, one stands out as entirely special. The pope did not write it, but improvised it, speaking off the cuff. He made his remarks behind closed doors during his vacation in the Alps, at the little church of Introd, in the presence of the bishop and priests of the diocese of Aosta. It was not released by the Vatican press office, but appeared two days later, on July 27, in "L'Osservatore Romano" and on the website of the Holy See, exclusively in Italian, in a transcript from the tape recording.

It is an address of great interest, because it permits getting a live reading on some of the questions closest to the heart of Joseph Ratzinger. They are the questions on which his reflections emerge spontaneously, on which his vision is clear, with startling features. And there are questions for which he admits to not having definitive answers.

Here are some selections.

On the many vocations to the priesthood in Africa, not all of which are good:

"During the past weeks I had the 'ad limina' visits of the bishops of Sri Lanka and of the southern part of Africa. Here vocations are on the rise, and are even so abundant that they cannot build enough seminaries to receive these young men who want to become priests.

"Naturally, this joy brings with it a certain bitterness, because at least some of them are coming out of hope for social advancement. By becoming priests they practically become the chief of the tribe, they naturally receive special treatment, they live a different kind of life, etcetera. So the weeds and the wheat go together in this marvelous growth in vocations, and the bishops must be very attentive to discernment and not simply be content to have many future priests. They must look for which are really the true vocations, discerning between the weeds and the wheat."

Again on Africa, on the expansion of Christianity but also of Islam and the sects:

"There is a certain enthusiastic response of faith, because they are at a particular moment in their history, a time when the traditional religions are being revealed as obviously insufficient. And it can be seen and understood that these traditional religions carry a promise within themselves, but that they are waiting for something. They are awaiting a new response capable of purifying them, of integrating everything that is good within them and eliminating their insufficient and negative aspects. In this moment of transition in which their culture really is reaching out toward a new hour in their history, Christianity and Islam are the two viable responses.

"So in these countries there is in a certain sense a springtime of the faith, but this is of course within the context of the competition between these two responses, and above all in the context of the difficulty posed by the sects, which present themselves as the best, the simplest, and the most accommodating form of Christianity. So even at this promising moment in history, a moment of springtime, there remains the difficult task of those who must sow the Word together with Christ and build up the Church."

On the "dying" Churches of the Western world:

"The mainline Churches appear to be dying. This is true above all in Australia and also in Europe, but not so much in the United States. What are growing, on the other hand, are the sects which offer the certainty of a rock-bottom faith, and man is looking for certitude. And thus the mainline Churches, especially the traditional mainline Protestant Churches, really are facing an extremely serious crisis. The sects have the upper hand because they appear with a few simple certainties and say: this is enough. The Catholic Church is not in such bad shape as the historical mainline Protestant Churches, but it also faces the problems of this moment in history."

On how to react to the blurring of the Christian faith in the West:

"The first response is patience, in the certainty that the world cannot live without God. I do not mean any God – we know how dangerous a cruel or false God can be – but the God of revelation, the God who has shown us his face in Jesus Christ. It is a face that has suffered for us, a face of love that transforms the world in the manner of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground."

On how to revive vocations to the priesthood in the West:

"The certainty that Christ really is the face of God […] requires the personalization of our faith and our friendship with the Lord, and this is also how new vocations emerge. We see this in the new generation that came after the great crisis of the cultural struggle unleashed in 1968, where it really seemed that the historical era of Christianity had been surpassed. But we see that '68 did not keep its promises, and there is a rebirth of the awareness that there is another way, one that is more complex because it demands these transformations of our heart, but one that is also more genuine. And this is also how new vocations come about. We ourselves must exert our imaginations to help young people find this way for the future. This matter was also evident in my dialogue with the African bishops. In spite of the number of priests, many of them are condemned to a terrible solitude, and many do not survive psychologically.

"It is therefore important to have around oneself the reality of the presbyterate, the community of priests who help one another, who stand together on a common journey, in solidarity in their common faith. This also seems very important to me, because if young men see priests who are extremely isolated, sad, and tired, they think: if this is my future, I'll never make it. There really needs to be the creation of this communion of life that shows young people: yes, this could be a future for me, I could live this way."

On the many people who distance themselves from the Church:

"It is true: to the people, especially those who have responsibility in the world, the Church seems to be outdated, our proposals unnecessary. They behave as though they could, as if they wished to live without our message, and they always think that they do not need us. They do not seek out our message. This is true and it brings us suffering, but it is also part of this historical situation, of a certain anthropological vision, according to which man should act as Karl Marx said: the Church has had 1800 years to show that it could change the world and has done nothing, so now we'll do it ourselves."

On how to bring those who are far away back to the Church, like the birds on the mustard tree:

"Only moral values and strong convictions, together with sacrifice, offer the possibility to live and build up the world. […] It is only love that permits us to live, and love is also suffering. […] Here too, naturally, we need to have patience, but this is also an active patience in the sense that it shows people: you need this. And even if they do not convert immediately, at least they draw near to the circle of those in the Church who have this interior strength. The Church has always recognized this group of persons who are strong inside, who really carry the strength of the faith, and the persons who almost latch onto these others and let themselves be carried along and participate in that way. I think of the Lord's parable about the tiny mustard seed, which then becomes a tree large enough for the birds of the sky to nest in it. And I would say that these birds could be interpreted as the persons who have not yet converted, but have at least perched upon the tree that is the Church.”

On the proposal that nonbelievers should live "as if God exists":

"I made this reflection: during the period of the Enlightenment, when the faith was divided between Catholics and Protestants, it was thought that common moral values must be preserved by providing a sufficient foundation for them. The idea was: we must make moral values independent of the religious confessions, so that they would endure 'etsi Deus non daretur' [even if there were no God].

"Now we are in the opposite situation, things have been turned the other way around. There is no longer any proof for moral values. They become evident only if God exists. So I suggested that the secularists, the so-called secularists, should reflect upon whether the opposite is not true today: we must live 'quasi Deus daretur' [as if God exists]. Even if we do not have the strength to believe, we must live by this hypothesis, because otherwise the world does not work. And it seems to me that this would be a first step toward the faith. And through many forms of contact I see that, thanks to God, there is a growth of dialogue with at least a part of secularism."

On the parishes without priests in Germany and France, and on the risks of "Protestantization":

"When I was the archbishop of Munich, they had created a model for celebrating the Liturgy of the Word when there was no priest available, in order to keep the presence of the community at its own church. They said: each community will remain, and where there is no priest we will have this Liturgy of the Word.

"For these Sunday gatherings, the French used the phrase 'en absence du prêtre' [in the absence of the priest], but after a while they realized that this could have negative consequences. One loses the sense of the sacrament, a sort of Protestantization takes place, and in the end, if it's just the Word I can celebrate it myself at home. I recall that when I was a professor at Tübingen, there was the great exegete Kelemann – you may have heard of him; he was the student of Bultman, who was a great theologian. Although he was a fully committed Protestant, he had never gone to church. He said: I can meditate on the Sacred Scriptures myself at home.

"The French made a slight change to their formula for Sunday assemblies 'en absence du prêtre,' calling them instead Sunday gatherings 'en attente du prêtre' [awaiting the priest]. That is, there must be this expectation for the priest, and I would say: under normal circumstances the Liturgy of the Word should be an exception on Sundays, because the Lord wants to come bodily. So this must not be the solution."

On the importance of going to Sunday Mass, even if it is many miles away:

"Sunday was created because the Lord rose from the dead and came amid the community of the apostles to be with them. And so they understood that Saturday was no longer the liturgical day, but Sunday was, the day on which the Lord always wants to be physically present among us again to nourish us with his body, that we ourselves may become his body in the world.

"Finding a way to offer this possibility to many persons of good will: I do not dare to give prescriptions right now. I'm sure the situation is a bit different here, and I'm not familiar with it, but in Munich I always noted how incredibly mobile and flexible the population was. The young people would travel thirty miles or more to go to a dance club, so why couldn't they go three miles to attend a shared church? But this is a very concrete and practical matter, and I don't intend to give prescriptions. But we must seek to impart to the people this sentiment: I need to be together with the Church, to be together with the living Church and with the Lord!"

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After finishing his address, Benedict XVI responded to the questions of the priests who were there. Here are some of the passages from his replies:

On Catholic schooling and the catechism:

"What seems important to me is the totality of intellectual formation, which should make it clear that even today Christianity is not separated from reality. In the wake of the Enlightenment and the 'second Enlightenment' of '68, many thought that the historical time of the Church and the faith had ended, and that we had entered into a new era, in which these things could be studied like classical mythology. On the contrary, it must be made clear that the faith is always relevant and that it is supremely reasonable. What is needed, therefore, is an intellectual affirmation by which one understands the beauty and the organic structure of the faith.

"This is one of the fundamental intentions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has now been condensed into the Compendium. We must not think of this as a bundle of rules that we load onto our shoulders like a heavy knapsack on the journey of life. […] It must be made clear that, in reality, Christianity is very simple and therefore very rich. […] It must be understood that the faith essentially creates an assembly, it unites.

"It is precisely this essence of the faith that liberates us from the isolation of the ego and unites us within a great community, a community that is very complete – in the parish, in the Sunday assembly – and universal, in which I am related to everyone else in the world. We must understand this catholic dimension of the community that gathers in the parish each Sunday. So if one of our goals is an understanding of the faith, another must be socialization within the Church, or 'ecclesialization,' which means becoming a part of the great community of the Church as a place to live in, where I know that even in the greatest moments of my life – especially in suffering and death – I am not alone."

On communion for members of the faithful who have divorced and remarried:

"None of us has a ready-made prescription, in part because the situations are always different. I would say that a particularly painful situation is that of persons who had a Church wedding for the sake of tradition, even though they did not truly believe, and then having entered a new and invalid marriage they convert, find the faith, and feel excluded from the sacrament. This really is a great suffering, and when I was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith I invited various episcopal conferences and specialists to study this problem: a sacrament celebrated without faith. I dare not say whether it is really possible to find here an instance of invalidity because a fundamental dimension was lacking in the sacrament. This was how I thought personally, but I understood from the discussions I had that the problem is very difficult and must be studied in greater detail. But given the situation of suffering for these persons, it needs to be studied more deeply."

On permission to divorce in the Orthodox Churches:

"We are aware of the problem […] of the Orthodox Churches, which are frequently presented as a model in which remarriage is possible. But only the first marriage is sacramental: they also recognize that the others are not a sacrament, they are a reduced or lesser form of marriage, and they take place in a penitential context. In a certain sense they may go to communion, but it is with the knowledge that this is granted to them 'in economia' – as they say – by an act of mercy which nevertheless does not change the fact that their marriage is not a sacrament. The other point in the Eastern Churches is that for these marriages the possibility of divorce is granted with great ease, and thus the principle of the indissolubility and real sacramental nature of marriage is seriously harmed."

And again on the Compendium of the Catechism:

"The Holy Father John Paul II charged a commission with creating this Compendium, a synthesis of the main Catechism to which this refers, extracting from it the essentials. At first when we were creating the Compendium we wanted to make it even shorter, but in the end we understood that in order to really communicate the essentials in our time, the necessary material that all catechists would need was what we decided upon. We also added some prayers. And I think that it really is a very useful book, in which one has the 'summa' of what is contained in the main Catechism, and in this sense seems to me that it can be compared to the Catechism of Pius X."


Benedict XVI Speaks Informally to His Priests

"We Christians Must Be Ready to Explain Our Faith"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 20, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the spontaneous speech given by Benedict XVI to the clergy of Rome on May 13, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, after hearing the priests' testimonies and questions.

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At the end, I can only say "thank you" for the richness and depth of these contributions, where a Presbytery full of enthusiasm, of love for Christ and for the flock entrusted to us and of love for the poor is evident. And not only of the city of Rome, but truly of the universal Church, of all our brothers and sisters. Thank you also for the affection you have expressed for me; it helps me greatly.

Presently, I do not feel in a position to enter into details regarding what has been said. It would be good to continue a true discussion, and I hope that it will be possible to have a concrete question-and-answer discussion.

Now, I simply express my gratitude for everything. I truly perceive your pastoral dedication, I perceive your desire to build the Church of Christ here in Rome, I perceive your reflections on how to do better, I perceive how all springs forth from a great love for the Lord and the Church.

I would only like to touch on three or four points that have remained in my mind. You have spoken of this "Roman" and "universal" interlacement. For me, this seems to be a very important point.

On the one hand, this is an authentic local Church that must live as such. There are some people who suffer, who live, who want to believe or are unable to believe. It is here, in the parishes, that the Church of Rome must grow with her great responsibility for the world as she carries within herself this mandate, in a certain way, of "exemplarity"; in this way, there appears in the Church of Rome the face of the Church as such, and it is a model for other local Churches. To be a model, we ourselves must be a local Church that is busy each day in the humble work demanded by this "being Church," in a determined place at a determined time.

You have spoken of the parish as a fundamental structure, assisted and enriched by movements. And it seems to me that precisely during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, a fruitful combination between the constant elements of the parochial structure and, let us say, the "charismatic" element, was created, which offers new initiatives, new inspirations, new life. Under the wise guidance of the Cardinal Vicar and the Auxiliary Bishops, all parish priests can together be truly responsible for the growth of the parish, taking in all of the factors that can come from the movements and the living reality of the Church in varied dimensions.

But I wanted to speak once more about this Roman and universal interlacement. One of our brothers spoke of our responsibility towards Africa. We have seen how, in Rome, Africa is present, India is present, the universe is present. And this presence of our brothers and sisters obliges us to think not only of ourselves, but to feel precisely in this moment of history, in all of these circumstances with which we are familiar, the presence of the other Continents.

It seems to me that at this time we have a particular responsibility towards Africa, towards Latin America and towards Asia, where Christianity -- with the exception of the Philippines -- is still a very large minority, even if in India it is growing and shows itself a strength for the future. And so, we also think of this responsibility.

Africa is a continent that has enormous potential and the enormous generosity of the people, with an impressive, living faith. But we must confess that Europe exported not only faith in Christ, but also all of the vices of the Old Continent.

It exported the sense of corruption, it exported the violence that is currently devastating Africa. And we must acknowledge our responsibility so that the exportation of the faith, an answer to the intimate hope of every human being, is stronger than the exportation of the vices of Europe. This seems to me a great responsibility.

The weapons trade is still alive, with the exploitation of the earth's goods. We Christians must do much more in these regards so that faith is made present, and with faith, the strength to resist these vices and to rebuild a Christian Africa, destined to be a happy Africa, a great Continent of new humanism.

Something was then said about the need, on one hand, to proclaim, to speak, but on the other, also to listen. To me, this seems important in two ways.

The priest, deacon, catechist and Religious must, on the one hand, proclaim, be witnesses. But naturally, for this they must listen, in a two-fold sense: on the one hand, with their soul open to Christ, interiorly listening to his Word so that it is assimilated and transformed and forms my being; and on the other, listening to today's humanity, our neighbors, those of my parish, those for whom I have been given a certain responsibility.

Naturally, listening to the world of today that exists also in us, we listen to all the problems, all the difficulties that are contrary to faith. And we must be able to seriously take upon ourselves these problems.

In his First Letter, St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, says that we Christians must be ready to explain our faith. This presupposes that we ourselves have understood the reason of faith, that we have truly "digested," even rationally, with the heart, with the wisdom of heart, this word that can truly be an answer for others.

In the First Letter of St Peter, in the Greek text, with a fine play on words, it is written: "apologia," the answer to the "logos," of the reason for our faith. And so, the "logos," the reason for the faith, the word of faith, must become the answer of faith. And we know well that the language of faith is often very far from today's men and women; it can bring them close only if it becomes in us our modern-day language. We are contemporary, we live in this world, with these thoughts, these emotions. If it is transformed in us, one can find the answer.

Naturally, I am aware and we all know that many are not immediately able to identify themselves with, to understand, to assimilate all that the Church teaches. It seems to me important firstly to awaken this intention to believe with the Church, even if personally someone may not yet have assimilated many particulars. It is necessary to have this will to believe with the Church, to have trust that this Church -- the community not only of 2,000 years of pilgrimage of the people of God, but the community that embraces heaven and earth, the community where all the righteous of all times are therefore present -- that this Church enlivened by the Holy Spirit truly carries within the "compass" of the Spirit and therefore is the true subject of faith.

The individual, then, is inserted into this subject, adheres to it, and so, even if he or she is still not completely penetrated by this, the person has trust and participates in the faith of the Church, wants to believe with the Church. To me, this seems like our lifelong pilgrimage: to arrive with our thought, our affections, with our entire life at the communion of faith. We can offer this to everyone, so that little by little one can identify and especially take this step over and over again to trust in the faith of the Church, to insert themselves in this pilgrimage of faith, so as to receive the light of faith.

To conclude, I would like once more to say "thank you" for the contribution expressed here regarding Christocentrism, the requirement for our faith to be ever nourished by personal encounter with Christ, a personal friendship with Jesus.

Romano Guardini correctly said 70 years ago that the essence of Christianity is not an idea but a Person. Great theologians have tried to describe the essential ideas that make up Christianity. But in the end, the Christianity that they constructed was not convincing, because Christianity is in the first place an Event, a Person. And thus in the Person we discover the richness of what is contained. This is important.

And here I think we also find an answer to a difficulty often voiced today regarding the missionary nature of the Church. From many comes the temptation to think this way regarding others: "But why do we not leave them in peace? They have their authenticity, their truth. We have ours. And so, let us live together in harmony, leaving all persons as they are, so that they search out their authenticity in the best way."

But how can one's personal authenticity be discovered if in reality, in the depth of our hearts, there is the expectation of Jesus, and the genuine authenticity of each person is found exactly in communion with Christ and not without Christ? Said in another way: If we have found the Lord and if he is the light and joy of our lives, are we sure that for someone else who has not found Christ he is not lacking something essential and that it is our duty to offer him this essential reality?

We then leave what will transpire to the direction of the Holy Spirit and the freedom of each person. But if we are convinced and we have experienced the fact that without Christ life is incomplete, is missing a reality, the fundamental reality, we must also be convinced that we do harm to no one if we show them Christ and we offer them in this way too the possibility to discover their true authenticity, the joy of having discovered life.

In closing, I would like to say "thank you" to all who make up the Presbytery and the Ecclesial Community of Rome, to the parish and vice-parish priests, to all who collaborate in the various offices, to deacons, catechists and above all to the men and women religious who are somewhat the "heart" of the ecclesial life of a Diocese. Thank you for this witness that you give.

Let us all go forward together, moved by the love of Christ. And in this way, we will succeed!


Benedict XVI's Interview on Polish Television
John Paul II "Is Always Close to Me"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 16, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the interview Benedict XVI gave to the public television station in Poland. It was broadcast today, Pope John Paul II Day.

Last July the Polish Parliament established the day honoring the late Pontiff to be observed every Oct. 16, the day Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow was elected Pope. He was elected 27 years ago today.

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Q: Thank you, Holy Father, for granting us this brief interview on the occasion of the Pope\'s Day, which is being celebrated in Poland.

On October 16, 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope, and from that day Pope John Paul II, for more than 26 years, as the Successor of St. Peter, as you are now, led the Church together with the bishops and cardinals. Among the cardinals, your Holiness was also present, enjoying the appreciation and esteem of your predecessor: a person about whom Pope John Paul wrote in his book \"Arise, and Let\'s Be on Our Way\": \"I thank God for the presence and help of Cardinal Ratzinger. He is a proven friend,\" John Paul II wrote.

Holy Father, how did this friendship begin and when did your Holiness meet Cardinal Karol Wojtyla?

Benedict XVI: I met him personally during the two pre-conclaves and conclaves of 1978. Naturally I had heard about Cardinal Wojtyla, especially in the context of correspondence between the Polish and German bishops in 1965. The German cardinals told me about the great merits and contribution of the cardinal of Krakow and how he was the soul of this historic correspondence. I had also heard from university friends about his stature as a philosopher and thinker. But as I said, the first personal encounter took place during the conclave of 1978. I liked him from the beginning and, thanks to God, without any merit on my part, the then cardinal immediately made friends with me.

I am grateful for this trust that he showed me. Above all, when I watched him pray, I saw and understood, that he was a man of God. This was my first impression: a man who lives with God and in God. I was also impressed by the unprejudiced cordiality with which he made my acquaintance. On various occasions he addressed these pre-conclave meetings of the cardinals, and it was here I had the opportunity to experience his stature as a thinker. Without using big words, he created a heartfelt relationship and immediately after his election as Pope he called me to Rome several times for talks and in the end he appointed me prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Q: So this appointment and convocation to Rome didn\'t come as a surprise?

Benedict XVI: It was hard for me, because when I was made bishop of Munich, with a solemn consecration in Munich cathedral, I felt I had an obligation towards this diocese, almost like a marriage. So I felt bound to this diocese. There were several difficult unresolved problems and I didn't want to leave the diocese that way. I discussed all of this with the Holy Father, with great frankness and he was very paternal towards me. He gave me time to reflect and said he also wanted to reflect. Finally he convinced me that this was the will of God. Thus I could accept this calling and this great responsibility, which wasn\'t easy and which was beyond my capacity. But trusting in the paternal benevolence of the Pope and in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I could say yes.

Q: This experience lasted for more than 20 years……

Benedict XVI: Yes, I arrived in February 1982, and it lasted until the death of the Pope in 2005.

Q: In your opinion, Holy Father, what are the most significant moments of the Pontificate of John Paul II?

Benedict XVI: We can see it (the Pontificate) from two perspectives: one "ad extra" -- toward the world -- and the other "ad intra" -- toward the Church. With regard to the world, it seems to me that through his speeches, his person, his presence, his capacity to convince, the Holy Father created a new sensitivity for moral values, for the importance of religion in the world. This has created a new opening, a new sensitivity towards religion and the need for a religious dimension in man. Above all, the importance of the Bishop of Rome has increased immensely.

Despite the differences and despite their non-recognition of the Successor of Peter, all Christians have recognized that he is the spokesman of Christianity. No one else in the world, on an international level can speak in the name of Christianity like this and give voice and strength to the Christian reality in the world today. He was the spokesman of the great values of humanity for non Christians and other religions too. He managed to create a climate of dialogue among the great religions and a sense of common responsibility that we all have for the world. He also stressed that violence and religion are incompatible and that we must search for the path to peace together, taking common responsibility for humanity.

Regarding the situation of the Church, I would say that, first of all, he knew how to infuse enthusiasm for Christ in young people. This is something new, if we think of the youth of late '60s and '70s. That youth has become enthusiastic for Christ and for the Church and for difficult values. It was his personality and charisma that helped mobilize the youth of the world for the cause of God and for the love of Christ. In the Church, he created a new love for the Eucharist.

We are still in the Year of the Eucharist, called by him with so much love. He created a new awareness of the greatness of divine mercy; and he deepened devotion to Our Lady. In this way he guided us toward an internalizing of the faith and, at the same time, toward a greater efficiency. Of course we have to mention his essential contribution to the great changes in the world in 1989, contributing to the collapse of socialism.

Q: During the course of your personal encounters and your talks with John Paul II, what made the most impression on Your Holiness? Could you tell us about your last meetings, perhaps of this year, with John Paul II?

Benedict XVI: Yes. I had two encounters with him at the end: one was at the Gemelli hospital, around Feb. 5 or 6; and the second was the day before his death, in his room. During the first encounter, the Pope was visibly suffering, but was perfectly lucid and very aware. I had gone to see him about work because I needed him to make certain decisions. Though visibly suffering the Holy Father followed what I was saying with great attention. He communicated his decisions in a few words, and gave me his blessing. He greeted me in German and confirmed his trust and friendship.

I was very moved to see how he suffered in union with the suffering Lord, and how he bore his suffering with the Lord and for the Lord. I also saw his inner serenity and how totally aware he was. The second encounter was the day before his death: He was visibly in great pain, and was surrounded by doctors and friends. He was still very lucid and he gave me his blessing. He could not talk much. The patience he showed at this time of suffering was a great lesson for me -- to see how he believed he was in the hands of God and how he abandoned himself to the will of God. Despite his visible pain, he was serene, because he was in the hands of divine love.

Q: Holy Father, often in your speeches you evoke the figure of John Paul II and of John Paul II you say he was a great Pope, a venerated late predecessor. We always remember the words you pronounced at the Mass last April 20, words dedicated precisely to John Paul II. It was you, Holy Father, who said -- and here I quote -- "it seems as though he is tightly holding my hand, I see his laughing eyes and I hear his words, which at that moment he is directing to me in particular: 'do not be afraid!'" Holy Father, finally a very personal question: Do you continue to feel the presence of John Paul II, and if you do, in what way?

Benedict XVI: Certainly. I'll begin by answering the first part of your question. Initially, in speaking of the Pope\'s legacy, I forgot to mention the many documents that he left us -- 14 encyclicals, many pastoral letters, and others. All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church.

My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure, they are the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. We know that the Pope was a man of the Council, that he internalized the spirit and the word of the Council. Through these writings he helps us understand what the Council wanted and what it didn't. This helps us to be the Church of our times and of the future.

Now for the second part of your question. The Pope is always close to me through his writings: I hear him and I see him speaking, so I can keep up a continuous dialogue with him. He is always speaking to me through his writings. I even know the origin of some of the texts. I can remember the discussions we had about some of them. So I can continue my conversations with the Holy Father.

This nearness to him isn't limited to words and texts, because behind the texts I hear the Pope himself. A man who goes to the Lord doesn't disappear: I believe that someone who goes to the Lord comes even closer to us and I feel he is close to me and that I am close to the Lord.

I am near the Pope and now he helps me to be near the Lord and I try to enter this atmosphere of prayer, of love for our Lord, for Our Lady and I entrust myself to his prayers. So there is a permanent dialogue and we\'re close to each other in a new way, in a very deep way.

Q: Holy Father, now we are waiting for you in Poland. Many are asking when is the Pope coming to Poland?

Benedict XVI: Yes, if God wills it, and if my schedule allows for it, I have every intention of coming to Poland. I have spoken to Archbishop Dziwisz about the date and I am told June would be the best time. Naturally everything still has to be organized with the various institutions. It's early yet, but perhaps next June, God-willing, I could come to Poland.

Holy Father, in the name of all of our television viewers, thank you for this interview.


Benedict XVI's Catechetical Dialogue With Children
"What Are Your Memories of Your First Communion Day?"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 20, 2005 ( Here is the catechesis that Benedict XVI addressed last Saturday afternoon to children who were receiving their First Communion this year.

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1. Andrea [asked the first question]: "Dear Pope, what are your memories of your First Communion day?"

Benedict XVI: I would first like to say thank you for this celebration of faith that you are offering to me, for your presence and for your joy. I greet you and thank you for the hug I have received from some of you, a hug that, of course, symbolically stands for you all.

As for the question, of course I remember my First Communion day very well. It was a lovely Sunday in March 1936, 69 years ago. It was a sunny day, the church looked very beautiful, there was music. ... There were so many beautiful things that I remember. There were about 30 of us, boys and girls from my little village of no more than 500 inhabitants.

But at the heart of my joyful and beautiful memories is this one -- and your spokesperson said the same thing: I understood that Jesus had entered my heart, he had actually visited me. And with Jesus, God himself was with me. And I realized that this is a gift of love that is truly worth more than all the other things that life can give.

So on that day I was really filled with great joy, because Jesus came to me and I realized that a new stage in my life was beginning, I was 9 years old, and that it was henceforth important to stay faithful to that encounter, to that communion. I promised the Lord as best I could: "I always want to stay with you," and I prayed to him, "but above all, stay with me." So I went on living my life like that; thanks be to God, the Lord has always taken me by the hand and guided me, even in difficult situations.

Thus, that day of my First Communion was the beginning of a journey made together. I hope that for all of you too, the First Communion you have received in this Year of the Eucharist will be the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Jesus, the beginning of a journey together, because in walking with Jesus we do well and life becomes good.

2. Livia: "Holy Father, before the day of my First Communion I went to confession. I have also been to confession on other occasions. I wanted to ask you: Do I have to go to confession every time I receive Communion, even when I have committed the same sins? Because I realize that they are always the same."

Benedict XVI: I will tell you two things. The first, of course, is that you do not always have to go to confession before you receive Communion unless you have committed such serious sins that they need to be confessed. Therefore, it is not necessary to make one's confession before every Eucharistic Communion. This is the first point. It is only necessary when you have committed a really serious sin, when you have deeply offended Jesus, so that your friendship is destroyed and you have to start again. Only in that case, when you are in a state of "mortal" sin, in other words, grave [sin], is it necessary to go to confession before Communion. This is my first point.

My second point: Even if, as I said, it is not necessary to go to confession before each Communion, it is very helpful to confess with a certain regularity. It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen but it builds up.

Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons. Therefore, two things: Confession is only necessary in the case of a serious sin, but it is very helpful to confess regularly in order to foster the cleanliness and beauty of the soul and to mature day by day in life.
3. Andrea: "In preparing me for my First Communion day, my catechist told me that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. But how? I can't see him!"

Benedict XVI: No, we cannot see him, but there are many things that we do not see but they exist and are essential. For example: we do not see our reason, yet we have reason. We do not see our intelligence and we have it. In a word: we do not see our soul and yet it exists and we see its effects, because we can speak, think and make decisions, etc. Nor do we see an electric current, for example, yet we see that it exists; we see this microphone, that it is working, and we see lights. Therefore, we do not see the very deepest things, those that really sustain life and the world, but we can see and feel their effects. This is also true for electricity; we do not see the electric current but we see the light.

So it is with the Risen Lord: We do not see him with our eyes but we see that wherever Jesus is, people change, they improve. A greater capacity for peace, for reconciliation, etc., is created. Therefore, we do not see the Lord himself but we see the effects of the Lord: So we can understand that Jesus is present. And as I said, it is precisely the invisible things that are the most profound, the most important. So let us go to meet this invisible but powerful Lord who helps us to live well.

4. Giulia: "Your Holiness, everyone tells us that it is important to go to Mass on Sunday. We would gladly go to it, but often our parents do not take us because on Sundays they sleep. The parents of a friend of mine work in a shop, and we often go to the country to visit our grandparents. Could you say something to them, to make them understand that it is important to go to Mass together on Sundays?"

Benedict XVI: I would think so, of course, with great love and great respect for your parents, because they certainly have a lot to do. However, with a daughter's respect and love, you could say to them: "Dear Mommy, dear Daddy, it is so important for us all, even for you, to meet Jesus. This encounter enriches us. It is an important element in our lives. Let's find a little time together, we can find an opportunity. Perhaps there is also a possibility where Grandma lives."

In brief, I would say, with great love and respect for your parents, I would tell them: "Please understand that this is not only important for me, it is not only catechists who say it, it is important for us all. And it will be the light of Sunday for all our family."

5. Alessandro: "What good does it do for our everyday life to go to holy Mass and receive Communion?"

Benedict XVI: It centers life. We live amid so many things. And the people who do not go to church, do not know that it is precisely Jesus they lack. But they feel that something is missing in their lives. If God is absent from my life, if Jesus is absent from my life, a guide, an essential friend is missing, even an important joy for life, the strength to grow as a man, to overcome my vices and mature as a human being.

Therefore, we cannot immediately see the effects of being with Jesus and of going to Communion. But with the passing of the weeks and years, we feel more and more keenly the absence of God, the absence of Jesus. It is a fundamental and destructive incompleteness. I could easily speak of countries where atheism has prevailed for years: how souls are destroyed, but also the earth. In this way we can see that it is important, and I would say fundamental, to be nourished by Jesus in Communion. It is he who gives us enlightenment, offers us guidance for our lives, a guidance that we need.

6. Anna: "Dear Pope, can you explain to us what Jesus meant when he said to the people who were following him: 'I am the bread of life?'"

Benedict XVI: First of all, perhaps we should explain clearly what bread is. Today, we have a refined cuisine, rich in very different foods, but in simpler situations bread is the basic source of nourishment; and when Jesus called himself the bread of life, the bread is, shall we say, the initial, an abbreviation that stands for all nourishment.

And as we need to nourish our bodies in order to live, so we also need to nourish our spirits, our souls and our wills. As human persons, we do not only have bodies but also souls; we are thinking beings with minds and wills. We must also nourish our spirits and our souls, so that they can develop and truly attain their fulfillment.

And therefore, if Jesus says: "I am the bread of life," it means that Jesus himself is the nourishment we need for our soul, for our inner self, because the soul also needs food. And technical things do not suffice, although they are so important. We really need God's friendship, which helps us to make the right decisions. We need to mature as human beings. In other words: Jesus nourishes us so that we can truly become mature people and our lives become good.

7. Adriano: "Holy Father, they've told us that today we will have Eucharistic adoration. What is it? How is it done? Can you explain it to us? Thank you."

Benedict XVI: We will see straightaway what adoration is and how it is done, because everything has been properly prepared for it: We will say prayers, we will sing, kneel, and in this way we will be in Jesus' presence.

But of course, your question requires a deeper answer: not only how you do adoration but what adoration is. I would say: Adoration is recognizing that Jesus is my Lord, that Jesus shows me the way to take, and that I will live well only if I know the road that Jesus points out and follow the path he shows me.

Therefore, adoration means saying: "Jesus, I am yours. I will follow you in my life, I never want to lose this friendship, this communion with you." I could also say that adoration is essentially an embrace with Jesus in which I say to him: "I am yours, and I ask you, please stay with me always."

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Address of the Holy Father at the Conclusion of Meeting

Dear boys and girls, brothers and sisters, at the end of this very beautiful meeting I can find one word only: thank you.

Thank you for this feast of faith.

Thank you for this meeting with each other and with Jesus.

And thank you, it goes without saying, to all those who made this celebration possible: to the catechists, the priests, the Sisters; to you all.

I repeat at the end the words of the beginning of every liturgy and I say to you: "Peace be with you"; that is, may the Lord be with you, may joy be with you, and thus, may life be good.

Have a good Sunday, good night and goodbye all together with the Lord. Thank you very much!


Pope's Q&A Session With Members of Roman Clergy
"Our Priestly Vocation: to Choose Life Ourselves"  (March 25, 2006)

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2006 ( Benedict XVI addressed members of the Roman clergy on March 2, in the Hall of Blessings.

After a greeting by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar of Rome, the Pope responded to questions and statements by 10 priests, and later responded to the interventions of five additional priests. The following is a synopsis of the 15 questions and a translation of the Holy Father's responses.

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I am going to speak straightaway, for otherwise, if I wait until the end of all the interventions, my monologue will become too long.

I would first like to express my joy at being here with you, dear priests of Rome. It is a true joy to see so many good pastors at the service of the "Good Shepherd" here, in the first See of Christianity, in the Church which "presides in charity" and must be a model for other local Churches. Thank you for your service!

We have the shining example of Father Andrea, who shows us what it means to "be" a priest to the very end: dying for Christ during a moment of prayer, thereby witnessing on the one hand to the interiority of his own life with Christ, and on the other, to his own witness for people at a truly "panpherical" point in the world, surrounded by hatred and the fanaticism of others. It is a witness that inspires everyone to follow Christ, to give one's life for others and thus to find Life.

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1. Holy Father, we are meeting you at this Lenten gathering for the first time. I want to remember the beloved Servant of God John Paul II. In the words you spoke at his funeral I saw a sign of continuity between you and your beloved Predecessor: "We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father's House, that he sees us and blesses us." This thought inspires a sonnet written in Roman dialect that I have dedicated to you: "A window on high in Heaven."

Benedict XVI: With regard to the first intervention, I first of all say a big "thank you" for this marvelous poem! There are also poets and artists in the Church of Rome, in the presbyterate of Rome, and I will have the possibility of further meditating upon and interiorizing these beautiful words, mindful that this "window" is always "open." Perhaps this is an opportunity to recall the fundamental legacy of the great Pope John Paul II in order to continue to increasingly assimilate this legacy.

Yesterday, we began Lent. Today's liturgy gives us a profound idea of the essential significance of Lent: It is a guide for our life.

It therefore seems to me -- I speak with reference to Pope John Paul II -- that we should insist a little on today's First Reading. Moses' great discourse, on the threshold of the Holy Land after the 40-year pilgrimage in the desert, sums up the whole of the Torah, the whole of the Law. Here we find the essential, not only for the Jewish people but also for us. This essential is the Word of God: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19).

These fundamental words of Lent are also the fundamental words of the legacy of our great Pope John Paul II: "choose life." This is our priestly vocation: to choose life ourselves and to help others to choose life. It is a matter of renewing in Lent our own, so to speak, "fundamental option," the option for life.

But the question immediately arises: How can we choose life, how should we do this? Reflecting upon this, I remembered that the great defection from Christianity which has occurred in the West in the past 100 years was precisely in the name of the option for life. It was said -- I am thinking of Nietzsche but also of so many others -- that Christianity is an option opposed to life. With the Cross, with all the Commandments, with all the "nos" that it proposes to us, some have said that it closes the door to life.

But we, we want to have life and we choose, we opt, ultimately, for life, freeing ourselves by the Cross, freeing ourselves by all these Commandments, by all these "nos." We want to have life in abundance, nothing but life.

Here, the words of today's Gospel immediately come to mind: "Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it" (Luke 9:24). This is the paradox we must first be aware of in opting for life. It is not by arrogating life to ourselves but only by giving life, not by having life and holding on to it but by giving it, that we can find it. This is the ultimate meaning of the Cross: not to seek life for oneself, but to give one's own life.

Thus, the New and Old Testaments go together. In the First Reading from Deuteronomy God's response is: "I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live" (Deuteronomy 30:16). At first sight we may not like this, but it is the way: the option for life and the option for God are identical. The Lord says so in St. John's Gospel: "This is eternal life, that they know you" (John 17:3).

Human life is a relationship. It is only in a relationship, and not closed in on ourselves, that we can have life. And the fundamental relationship is the relationship with the Creator, or else other relations are fragile. Hence, it is essential to choose God. A world empty of God, a world that has forgotten God, loses life and relapses into a culture of death.

Choosing life, taking the option for life, therefore, means first and foremost choosing the option of a relationship with God. However, the question immediately arises: with which God? Here, once again, the Gospel helps us: with the God who showed us his face in Christ, the God who overcame hatred on the Cross, that is, in love to the very end. Thus, by choosing this God, we choose life.

Pope John Paul II gave us the great encyclical "Evangelium Vitae." In it we can clearly see -- it is, as it were, a portrait of the problems of today's culture, hopes and dangers -- that a society which forgets God, excludes God, precisely in order to have life, falls into a culture of death.

Precisely in order to have life, a "no" is said to the child, because it takes some part of my life away from me; a "no" is said to the future, in order to have the whole of the present; a "no" is said to unborn life as well as to suffering life that is approaching death. What seems to be a culture of life becomes the anti-culture of death, where God is absent, where that God who does not ordain hatred but overcomes hatred is absent. Here we truly opt for life.

Consequently, everything is connected: the deepest option for the Crucified Christ with the most complete option for life, from the very first moment until the very last.

To me this also seems in some way the nucleus of our pastoral care: to help people make the true choice for life, to renew their relationship with God as the relationship which gives us life and shows us the way to life. And thus, to love Christ anew, who from being the most unknown Being whom we did not reach and who remained enigmatic, became a known God, a God with a human face, a God who is love.

Let us keep this fundamental point for life before us and consider that this program contains the whole Gospel, the Old and the New Testaments, that center on Christ. Lent should be for us a time to renew our knowledge of God, our friendship with Jesus, to be able to guide others in a convincing way to opt for life, which is above all the option for God. It must be clear to us that in choosing Christ, we have not chosen to deny life, but have really chosen life in abundance.

The Christian option is basically very simple: It is the option to say "yes" to life. But this "yes" only takes place with a God who is known, with a God with a human face. It takes place by following this God in the communion of love. What I have said so far is intended as a way of renewing our remembrance of the great Pope John Paul II.

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2. As a parish priest, I ask you for a few words of joyful encouragement for mothers. In memory of our mothers, Your Holiness, for their faith and spiritual strength that can be seen in the human and Christian upbringing that they gave to us, help us talk to the mothers of all the boys and girls who attend catechism classes and are often distracted. Say a few words that we can pass on to them, saying: "This is what the Pope says to you."

Benedict XVI: We come to the second intervention, which was so nice, about mothers. I would say that I cannot communicate important programs just now, words that you could say to mothers. Simply tell them: The Pope thanks you! He thanks you because you have given life, because you want to help this life that is developing and thereby to build a human world, contributing to a human future.

And it is not only by giving biological life that you do so, but by communicating the heart of life, making Jesus known, introducing your children to knowledge of Jesus and friendship with Jesus. This is the foundation of every catechesis.

Therefore, one must thank mothers above all because they have had the courage to give life. And we must ask mothers to complete their gift by giving friendship with Jesus.

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3. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration 24 hours a day in St. Anastasia [Parish] on the Palatine. The faithful take turns in making perpetual adoration. My suggestion is that there should be perpetual adoration of the Eucharist in each one of the five sectors of the Diocese of Rome.

Benedict XVI: The third intervention was by the rector of St. Anastasia's Church. Here, perhaps I can say in parentheses that the Church of St. Anastasia was already dear to me even before I saw it because it was the titular church of our Cardinal de Faulhaber. He always let us know that he had a church in Rome, St. Anastasia's. We always met with this community for the second Mass of Christmas, dedicated to the "statio" of St. Anastasia.

Historians say that it was at St. Anastasia's that the Pope had to visit the Byzantine governor and that it was there that he had his seat. The church also reminds us of the saint, and hence, of the "Anastasis," At Christmas we also think of the Resurrection.

I did not know and I am glad to have been told about it, that the church is now a place of "perpetual adoration"; thus, it is a focal point in Rome of the life of faith. I confidently place in the hands of the cardinal vicar this proposal to create five places of perpetual adoration in the five sectors of the Diocese of Rome.

I only want to say: Thanks be to God that after the Council, after a period in which the sense of Eucharistic adoration was somewhat lacking, the joy of this adoration was reborn everywhere in the Church, as we saw and heard at the Synod on the Eucharist. Of course, the conciliar constitution on the liturgy enabled us to discover to the full the riches of the Eucharist in which the Lord's testament is accomplished: He gives himself to us and we respond by giving ourselves to him.

We have now rediscovered, however, that without adoration as an act consequent to Communion received, this center which the Lord gave to us, that is, the possibility of celebrating his sacrifice and thus of entering into a sacramental, almost corporeal, communion with him, loses its depth as well as its human richness.

Adoration means entering the depths of our hearts in communion with the Lord, who makes himself bodily present in the Eucharist. In the monstrance, he always entrusts himself to us and asks us to be united with his Presence, with his risen Body.

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4. You are a "teacher" who guides thought in a "fully human" faith. We never fail to be moved by your words, by the harmony in which each point finds its mark, in lively synthesis, especially in a time as fragmented as ours. How can we help lay people grasp this synthesis of harmony, this catholicity of faith?

Benedict XVI: We now come to the fourth question. If I have understood it correctly, but I am not sure if I have, it was: "How do we acquire a living faith, a truly Catholic faith, a faith that is practical, lively and effective?"

Faith, ultimately, is a gift. Consequently, the first condition is to let ourselves be given something, not to be self-sufficient or do everything by ourselves -- because we cannot -- but to open ourselves in the awareness that the Lord truly gives.

It seems to me that this gesture of openness is also the first gesture of prayer: being open to the Lord's presence and to his gift. This is also the first step in receiving something that we do not have, that we cannot have with the intention of acquiring it all on our own.

We must make this gesture of openness, of prayer -- give me faith, Lord! -- with our whole being. We must enter into this willingness to accept the gift and let ourselves, our thoughts, our affections and our will, be completely immersed in this gift.

Here, I think it is very important to stress one essential point: No one believes purely on his own. We always believe in and with the Church. The Creed is always a shared act, it means letting ourselves be incorporated into a communion of progress, life, words and thought.

We do not "have" faith, in the sense that it is primarily God who gives it to us. Nor do we "have" it either, in the sense that it must not be invented by us. We must let ourselves fall, so to speak, into the communion of faith, of the Church. Believing is in itself a Catholic act. It is participation in this great certainty, which is present in the Church as a living subject.

Only in this way can we also understand sacred Scripture in the diversity of an interpretation that develops for thousands of years. It is a Scripture because it is an element, an _expression of the unique subject -- the People of God -- which on its pilgrimage is always the same subject. Of course, it is a subject that does not speak of itself, but is created by God -- the classical _expression is "inspired" -- a subject that receives, then translates and communicates this word. This synergy is very important.

We know that the Koran, according to the Islamic faith, is a word given verbally by God without human mediation. The Prophet is not involved. He only wrote it down and passed it on. It is the pure Word of God.

Whereas for us, God enters into communion with us, he allows us to cooperate, he creates this subject and in this subject his word grows and develops. This human part is essential and also gives us the possibility of seeing how the individual words really become God's Word only in the unity of Scripture as a whole in the living subject of the People of God.

Therefore, the first element is the gift of God; the second is the sharing in faith of the pilgrim people, the communication in the holy Church, which for her part receives the Word of God which is the Body of Christ, brought to life by the living Word, the divine Logos.

Day after day, we must deepen our communion with the holy Church and thus, with the Word of God. They are not two opposite things, so that I can say: I am pro-Church or I am pro-God's Word. Only when we are united in the Church, do we belong to the Church, do we become members of the Church, do we live by the Word of God which is the life-giving force of the Church. And those who live by the Word of God can only live it because it is alive and vital in the living Church.

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5. Eugenio Pacelli was born in Rome on March 2, 1876, and on March 2, 1939, was elected Pope and took the name of Pius XII. This great Pope is shrouded in silence, and we are deeply indebted to this Pontiff, who also had great love for Germany. We all truly hope he will soon be raised to the honor of the altars.

Benedict XVI: The fifth intervention was on Pius XII. Thank you for your intervention. He was the Pope of my youth. We all venerated him. As was rightly said, he deeply loved the German people; he also defended them in the great catastrophe after the war. And I must add that before he was nuncio in Berlin he was nuncio in Munich, because at the outset there was no papal representation in Berlin. He was also really close to us.

This seems to me the opportunity to express gratitude to all the great Popes of the last century. The century began with St. Pius X, then Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II.

I believe that this is a special gift in such a difficult century with two World Wars and two destructive ideologies: fascism-Nazism and Communism. It was in this very century, which was opposed to the faith of the Church, that the Lord gave us a series of great Popes, hence, a spiritual inheritance that I would say historically strengthened the truth of the primacy of the Successor of Peter.

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6. The Diocese of Rome is seeking the best way and a new approach to respond to the needs of today's families. Families must be given fresh vitality, they must be made the subject rather than the object of pastoral care. In our time, the family is threatened by relativism and indifference. Parents, engaged couples and children must be assisted with catechesis and continuous guidance; they need priests expert in humanity who understand peoples' needs. Married couples must be encouraged to revive the grace of the sacraments.

Benedict XVI: The next intervention dedicated to the family was made by the parish priest of St. Sylvia. Here, I cannot but fully agree. Furthermore, during the "ad limina" visits I always speak to bishops about the family, threatened throughout the world in various ways.
The family is threatened in Africa because it is difficult to find the way from "traditional marriage" to "religious marriage," because there is a fear of finality.

Whereas in the West the fear of the child is caused by the fear of losing some part of life, in Africa it is the opposite. Until it is certain that the wife will also bear children, no one dares to enter marriage definitively. Therefore, the number of religious marriages remains relatively small, and even many "good" Christians with an excellent desire to be Christians do not take this final step.

Marriage is also threatened in Latin America, for other reasons, and is badly threatened, as we know, in the West. So it is all the more necessary for us as Church to help families, which are the fundamental cell of every healthy society.

Only in families, therefore, is it possible to create a communion of generations in which the memory of the past lives on in the present and is open to the future. Thus, life truly continues and progresses. Real progress is impossible without this continuity of life, and once again, it is impossible without the religious element. Without trust in God, without trust in Christ who in addition gives us the ability to believe and to live, the family cannot survive.

We see this today. Only faith in Christ and only sharing the faith of the Church saves the family; and on the other hand, only if the family is saved can the Church also survive. For the time being, I do not have an effective recipe for this, but it seems to me that we should always bear it in mind.

We must therefore do all that favors the family: family circles, family catechesis, and we must teach prayer in the family. This seems to me to be very important: Wherever people pray together, the Lord makes himself present with that power which can also dissolve "sclerosis" of the heart, that hardness of heart which, according to the Lord, is the real reason for divorce.

Nothing else, only the Lord's presence, helps us to truly relive what the Creator wanted at the outset and which the Redeemer renewed. Teach family prayer and thus invite people to pray with the Church and then seek all the other ways.

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7. Hearing of a mother and some women religious who have helped priests through a crisis prompts me to ask: Why should not women also have a hand in governing the Church? Women often function charismatically, with prayer, or on a practical level, like St. Catherine of Siena, who obtained the popes' return to Rome. It would be right to promote the role of women in institutions too, since their viewpoint, which is different from that of men, could help priests in decision-making.

Benedict XVI: I now reply to the parochial vicar of St. Jerome's -- I see that he is still very young -- who tells us how much women do in the Church and for priests themselves.

I can stress that in the First Canon, the Roman Canon, the special prayer for priests: "Nobis quoque peccatoribus," always makes a deep impression on me. Here, in this realistic humility of priests, precisely as sinners, we pray to the Lord to help us to be his servants. In this prayer for the priest, precisely only in this prayer, seven women appear who surround the priest. They show themselves to be the believing women who help us on our way. Each one of us has certainly had this experience.

Thus, the Church has a great debt of gratitude to women. And you have correctly emphasized that at a charismatic level, women do so much, I would dare to say, for the government of the Church, starting with women religious, with the sisters of the great Fathers of the Church such as St. Ambrose, to the great women of the Middle Ages -- St. Hildegard, St. Catherine of Siena, then St. Teresa of Avila -- and lastly, Mother Teresa. I would say that this charismatic sector is undoubtedly distinguished by the ministerial sector in the strict sense of the term, but it is a true and deep participation in the government of the Church.

How could we imagine the government of the Church without this contribution, which sometimes becomes very visible, such as when St. Hildegard criticized the bishops or when St. Bridget offered recommendations and St. Catherine of Siena obtained the return of the popes to Rome? It has always been a crucial factor without which the Church cannot survive.

However, you rightly say: We also want to see women more visibly in the government of the Church. We can say that the issue is this: The priestly ministry of the Lord, as we know, is reserved to men, since the priestly ministry is government in the deep sense, which, in short, means it is the sacrament [of orders] that governs the Church.

This is the crucial point. It is not the man who does something, but the priest governs, faithful to his mission, in the sense that it is the sacrament, that is, through the sacrament it is Christ himself who governs, both through the Eucharist and in the other sacraments, and thus Christ always presides.

However, it is right to ask whether in ministerial service -- despite the fact that here sacrament and charism are the two ways in which the Church fulfils herself -- it might be possible to make more room, to give more offices of responsibility to women.

* * *

8. I am responsible for the rehabilitation of the victims of religious sects. I am grateful to you, Your Holiness, for your frequent denunciation of the harm they cause. Many simple people are unable to discover their tricks without help, like unfortunate travelers on the infamous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Your Holiness, do you not think it is urgently necessary today to train Good Samaritans? Would not such preparation be good in the seminaries and in specific courses held at the university level and in the permanent formation of the clergy responsible for the care of souls?

Benedict XVI: I did not quite understand the words of the eighth intervention. I more or less understood that today, "humanity" on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho falls among robbers. The Good Samaritan offers assistance with the Lord's mercy.

We can only emphasize that in the end, it is man who fell and who falls again and again into the hands of robbers, and it is Christ who heals us. We must and can help him, both in the service of love and in the service of faith, which is also a ministry of love.

9. The feast of the holy patrons of my parish, the Holy Martyrs of Uganda, is celebrated on June 3. I praise God for this pastoral experience. May more people join in prayer in and for Africa.

Benedict XVI: Then, the Martyrs of Uganda. Thank you for your contribution. You remind us of the African continent, which is the great hope of the Church.

In recent months I have received the majority of the African bishops on their "ad limina" visits. I found it very edifying and comforting to see bishops of a high theological and cultural standard. They are zealous bishops, truly enlivened by the joy of faith. We know that this Church is in good hands, but that she still suffers because the nations are not yet formed.

In Europe it was precisely through Christianity that, in addition to the ethnic groups that existed, the great bodies of nations, the great languages were formed, and thus communion of cultures and places of peace, although later, these great areas of peace, in opposition to one another, created a new sort of war that had previously not existed.

However, in many parts of Africa we still have this situation where there are above all dominant ethnic groups. The colonial power then imposed boundaries within which nations now have to develop.

But there is still the difficulty of finding oneself in a great mass and of discovering, in addition to the ethnic groups, the unity of democratic government as well as the possibility of opposing forms of colonial abuse that continue. Africa still continues to be the object of abuse by the great powers, and many conflicts would not have taken this form if the interests of these great powers had not been behind them.

Thus, I have also seen how, in all this confusion, the Church with her Catholic unity is the great factor that unites in dispersion. In many situations, especially now, after the great war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Church has remained the one reality which functions and makes life continue, which provides the necessary assistance, guarantees coexistence and helps to find the possibility of creating one great solution.

In this sense, in these situations, the Church also carries out a service that replaces the political level, giving the possibility of living together and of rebuilding communion after destruction and of rebuilding, after the outburst of hatred, the spirit of reconciliation. Many people have told me that precisely in these situations, the sacrament of penance is of great importance as a force of reconciliation and must also be administered with this in view.

In a word, I wanted to say that Africa is a continent of great hope, of great faith, of moving ecclesial realities, of zealous priests and bishops. But it has always been a continent which, after the destruction we brought to it from Europe, needs our brotherly help. And this cannot but be born from faith that also creates universal love, over and above human divisions.

This is our great responsibility in this epoch. Europe has exported its ideologies, its interests, but has also exported, with the mission, the factor of healing.

Today, we are especially responsible for having a zealous faith that is communicated, that wants to help others, that is aware that giving faith does not mean introducing an alienating power but means giving the true gift that human beings need precisely in order to be creatures of love.

* * *

10. I see with concern the situation in Rome, especially the plight of young people and adolescents "on the fringe of humanity," many of whom do not go to church. I believe that priests, lay people and religious should be closer to our faithful, especially youth, and we should put our charisms at the service of catechesis.

Benedict XVI: A last point was touched on by the Carmelite parochial vicar of St. Teresa of Avila who has rightly revealed his worries to us.

A simple and superficial optimism which does not discern the great threats to youth, children and families today would certainly be erroneous. We must perceive with great realism these threats that come into being wherever God is absent.

We must be more and more aware of our responsibility so that God will be present and thus, the hope and the ability to walk confidently towards the future.

* * *

11. Adolescents are victims of today's "desert of love" and suffer appallingly from lack of love. They suffer from the fear of being lonely and misunderstood. Some priests also feel "inwardly dislocated." How can we be experts in "agape," in the fullness of love, in order to be able to make the total gift of ourselves to help them?

Benedict XVI: I will now continue, starting with the Pontifical Academy. We can tangibly feel today all that you said about the problem of adolescents, their loneliness and their being misunderstood by adults.

It is interesting that these young people who seek closeness in discothèèques are actually suffering from great loneliness and, of course, also from misunderstanding.

This seems to me, in a certain sense, an _expression of the fact that parents, as has been said, are largely absent from the formation of the family. And mothers too are obliged to work outside the home. Communion between them is very fragile.

Each family member lives in a world of his or her own: They are isolated in their thoughts and feelings, which are not united. The great problem of this time -- in which each person, desiring to have life for himself, loses it because he is isolated and isolates the other from him -- is to rediscover the deep communion which in the end can only stem from a foundation that is common to all souls, from the divine presence that unites all of us.

I think that the condition for this is to overcome loneliness and misunderstanding, because the latter also results from the fact that thought today is fragmented. Each one seeks his own way of thinking and living and there is no communication in a profound vision of life.

Young people feel exposed to new horizons which previous generations do not share; therefore, continuity in the vision of the world is absent, caught up as it is in an ever more rapid succession of new inventions.
In 10 years changes have taken place which previously never occurred in 100 years. In this way worlds are really separated. I am thinking of my youth and of the "ingenuousness," if you will, in which we lived, in a society that was totally agricultural in comparison with contemporary society.

We see that the world is changing at an ever faster pace, so that also with these changes it is fragmented. Therefore, at a moment of renewal and change, the element of stability becomes even more important.

I remember when the conciliar constitution "Gaudium et Spes" was discussed. On the one hand, there was a recognition of the new, of newness, the "yes" of the Church to the new epoch with its innovations, its "no" to the romanticism of the past, a proper and necessary "no."

However, the Fathers -- proof of this is also in the text -- also said that in spite of this, in spite of the necessary willingness to move forward and even leave behind other things that were dear to us, there is something that does not change, because it is the human being himself, his being as a creature.

Man is not completely historical. The absolutizing of historicism, in the sense that man is only and always a creature, the product of a certain period, is not true. His nature as a creature exists, and it is precisely this that gives us the possibility to live through change and to retain our identity.

This is not an instant response to what we should do, but it seems to me that the first step should be to obtain the diagnosis. Moreover, why should this loneliness exist in a society that appears to be a society of the masses? Why should there be this lack of understanding in a society where everyone is seeking to understand one another, where communication is everything and where the transparency of all things to all people is the supreme law?

The answer lies in the fact that we see the change in our own world and do not sufficiently live that element which binds us all together, the element of our nature as creatures which becomes accessible and becomes reality in a certain history: the history of Christ, who is not against our nature as creatures but restores all that the Creator desired, as the Lord says about marriage.

Christianity precisely emphasizes history and religion as a historical event, an event in history starting with Abraham. Then, as a historical faith, after opening the door to modernity with its sense of progress and by constantly moving ahead, Christianity is at the same time a faith based on the Creator who reveals himself and makes himself present in a history to which he gives continuity, hence, communicability between souls.

Here too, therefore, I think that a faith lived in depth which is fully open to today but also fully open to God, combines the two things: respect for otherness and newness and the continuity of our being, communicability between people and between times.

The other point was: How can we live life as a gift? This is a question that we ask now, especially in Lent. We want to renew the option for life, which is, as I have said, an option not to possess ourselves but to give ourselves.

It seems to me that we can only do so by means of an ongoing conversation with the Lord and a conversation with one another. Also with "correctio fraternal," it is necessary to develop the gift of one's self more and more in the face of an ever insufficient capacity to live.

But, it seems to me that we must also unite both things. On the one hand, we must accept our inadequacy with humility, accept this "I" that is never perfect but always reaches for the Lord in order to arrive at communion with the Lord and with all people. This humility in accepting our own limitations is also very important.

Only in this way, on the other hand, can we also grow, develop and pray to the Lord that he will help us not to tire along the way, also accepting humbly that we will never be perfect and accepting imperfections, especially in others. By accepting our own imperfections we can more easily accept those of others, allowing ourselves to be formed and reformed ever anew by the Lord.

* * *

12. Holy Father, I bring you the greetings of my confreres who work in secular hospitals, of the sick and of health-care workers. We ask you for a word of encouragement to help everyone be salt, light and leaven in the health-care sector.

Benedict XVI: Now for hospitals. Thank you for the greeting from the hospitals. I did not know of the mind-set that sees a priest carrying out his ministry in a hospital because he did something wrong. ... I always thought that service to the sick and the suffering was a primary service of the priest, because the Lord came above all to be with the sick. He came to share our suffering and to heal us.

On the occasion of the "ad limina" visits of the African bishops I always say that the two pillars of our work are education -- that is, the formation of the human being which involves so many dimensions, such as education, learning, professionalism, the in-depth education of the person -- and healing.

The fundamental, essential service of the Church is therefore that of healing. All this is done precisely in the African countries: The Church offers healing. She presents people who help the sick, help them to recover in body and soul.

It seems to me, therefore, that we should see the Lord himself as our model of the priesthood in order to heal, help, assist and accompany people on their way toward recovery. This is fundamental to the Church's commitment; it is a fundamental form of love and consequently, a fundamental _expression of faith. Thus, it is also the central point in the priesthood.

* * *

13. Last September I had the joy of taking part in an ecumenical meeting hosted by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Athens. It was a deeply enriching dialogue. I believe the clergy should avoid a conflictual attitude and establish a frank and serene dialogue with everyone.

Benedict XVI: Then, I respond to the parochial vicar of Holy Patrons of Italy Parish who has spoken to us of the dialogue with the Orthodox and of ecumenical dialogue in general.

In today's world situation, we see that dialogue at all levels is fundamental. It is even more important for Christians not to be closed in on themselves but open.
Precisely in relations with the Orthodox I see that personal relationships are fundamental. In doctrine, we are largely united on all the fundamental matters, but it is in doctrine that it seems very difficult to make any headway. But drawing close to one another in communion, in our common experience of the life of faith, is the way to recognize one another as children of God and disciples of Christ.

And this is my experience of at least 40 or almost 50 years. This is an experience of common discipleship, that we actually live in the same faith, in the same Apostolic Succession, with the same sacraments and therefore also with the great tradition of prayer; this diversity and multiplicity of religious cultures, of the culture of faith, is beautiful.

To have this experience is fundamental, and it perhaps seems to me that the convinced opposition to ecumenism of some, of a part of the monks of Mount Athos, stems also from the lack of a visible, tangible experience that the other also belongs to the same Christ, to the same communion with Christ in the Eucharist.

So this is very important: We must tolerate the separation that exists. St. Paul says that divisions are necessary for a certain time and that the Lord knows why: to test us, to train us, to develop us, to make us more humble. But at the same time, we are obliged to move toward unity, and moving toward unity is already a form of unity.

* * *

14. Your encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," has deeply enlightened me, especially Part 2 on pastoral charity, since it invites us to practice charity directly, not to wait for the poor to come to us but to reach out to them and do something concrete for them. However, priests find it very difficult to pass on the faith to the younger generations. Sometimes we feel somewhat let down by a young parochial vicar, yet we went to the same seminary and are only a few years older. Are we expecting too much, or is there something lacking in our formation?

Benedict XVI: Let us now turn to the spiritual director of the seminary. The first problem was the difficulty of pastoral charity. We live it on the one hand, but on the other, I would also like to say: Courage. The Church gives many thanks to God, in Africa but also in Rome and in Europe!

She does so much and so many people are grateful to her, both in the area of the pastoral care of the sick and in the pastoral care of the poor and abandoned. Let us continue courageously to seek to find the best paths together.

The other point was focused on the fact that priestly formation even between close generations seems to be a little different for many people, and this complicates the common commitment to the transmission of faith. I noted this when I was archbishop of Munich.

When we entered the seminary, we all had a common Catholic spirituality that was more or less mature. Let us say that we had a spiritual foundation in common. Seminarians now come from very different spiritual experiences. I observed at my seminary that they live on different "islands" of spirituality that had difficulties communicating.

Let us thank the Lord especially because he has given so many new impulses to the Church and also so many new forms of spiritual life, of the discovery of the riches of the faith. It is necessary above all not to neglect the common Catholic spirituality which is expressed in the liturgy and in the great tradition of faith. This seems to me to be very important. This point is also important with regard to the Council.

We need not, as I said to the Roman Curia before Christmas, live the hermeneutic of discontinuity, but rather the hermeneutic of renewal, which is the spirituality of continuity, of going ahead in continuity. This seems to me to be very important also as regards the liturgy. Let me take a concrete example that came to me this very day with today's brief meditation.

The "Statio" of today, the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, is St. George. Corresponding to this soldier-saint, there were once two readings on two holy soldiers.

The first spoke of King Hezekiah, who was ill and condemned to death and who prayed to the Lord, weeping: "Give me a little more life!" And the Lord was good and granted him another 17 years of life. Hence, a beautiful healing and a soldier who could once again conduct his activities.

The second is the Gospel that tells us of the official of Capernaum with his sick servant. We thus have two motives: that of the healing and that of the "militia" of Christ, of the great fight.

Now, in today's liturgy, we have two totally different readings. We have the one from Deuteronomy: "Choose life," and the Gospel: "Take up your cross and follow Christ," which means it is not necessary to seek your own life but to give life, and this is one interpretation of what "choosing life" means.

I must say that I have always loved the liturgy. I was truly in love with the Church's Lenten journey, with these "stational churches" and the readings linked to these churches: a geography of faith that becomes a spiritual geography of the pilgrimage with the Lord. And I was somewhat unhappy at the fact that they had taken from us this connection between the "station" and the readings.

Today, I see that these very readings are most beautiful and express the Lenten program: choosing life, that is, renewing the "yes" of baptism, which is precisely, a choice of life. In this regard there is an intimate continuity, and it seems to me that we must learn from this that it is only a fraction between discontinuity and continuity.

We must accept newness but also love continuity, and we must see the Council in this perspective of continuity. This will also help us in mediating between the generations in their way of communicating the faith.

* * *

15. There is a great lack of hope in the world today and widespread secularism. Believing in the Church and with the Church means responding to it, seeking the only thing necessary [love], as you pointed out in the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est." Contemplation is the only way to understand and love others, a simple way to being more Christian.

Benedict XVI: Lastly, the priest of the Vicariate of Rome ended with a word that I perfectly make my own so that with it we can conclude: becoming simpler. This seems to me to be a very beautiful program. Let us seek to put it into practice and thus we will be more open to the Lord and to people.

Thank you!


Pope's questions and Answers with young people
"We Must Make God Present Again in Our Society" (April 6, 2006)

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 23, 2006 ( Here is the question-and-answer session Benedict XVI had with young people of the Latium region April 6 in St. Peter's Square, in preparation for the diocesan-level World Youth Day.

1. Your Holiness, my name is Simone and I am from St. Bartholomew's Parish. I am 21 years old and am studying chemical engineering at La Sapienza University of Rome.

First of all, thank you for addressing to us the message for the 21st World Youth Day on the topic of the word of God that illuminates the human being's steps through life.

In the face of anxieties and uncertainties about the future, and even simply when I find myself grappling with the daily routine, I also feel the need to be nourished by God's word and to know Christ better in order to find answers to my questions.

I often wonder what Jesus would have done in my place in a specific situation, but I don't always manage to understand what the Bible tells me. Moreover, I know that the books of the Bible were written by different people in different ages, in any case, very distant from me. How can I understand that what I read is nevertheless the word of God which calls my life into question? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: To begin, I shall answer by stressing a first point: It must first of all be said that one must not read sacred Scripture as one reads any kind of historical book, such as, for example, Homer, Ovid or Horace; it is necessary truly to read it as the word of God, that is, entering into a conversation with God.

One must start by praying and talking to the Lord: "Open the door to me." And what St. Augustine often says in his homilies: "I knocked at the door of the word to find out at last what the Lord wants to say to me," seems to me to be a very important point. One should not read Scripture in an academic way, but with prayer, saying to the Lord: "Help me to understand your word, what it is that you want to tell me in this passage."

A second point is: Sacred Scripture introduces one into communion with the family of God. Thus, one should not read sacred Scripture on one's own. Of course, it is always important to read the Bible in a very personal way, in a personal conversation with God; but at the same time, it is important to read it in the company of people with whom one can advance, letting oneself be helped by the great masters of "lectio divina."

For example, we have many beautiful books by Cardinal Martini, a true master of "lectio divina," who helps us to enter into the life of sacred Scripture. Nevertheless, one who is thoroughly familiar with all the historical circumstances, all the characteristic elements of the past, always seeks to open the door to show that the words which appear to belong to the past are also words of the present.

These teachers help us to understand better and also to learn how to interpret sacred Scripture properly. Moreover, it is also appropriate in general to read it in the company of friends who are journeying with me, who are seeking, together with me, how to live with Christ, to find what life the word of God brings us.

A third point: If it is important to read sacred Scripture with the help of teachers and in the company of friends, traveling companions, it is particularly important to read it in the great company of the pilgrim people of God, that is, in the Church.

Sacred Scripture has two subjects. First and foremost, the divine subject: It is God who is speaking. However, God wanted to involve man in his word. Whereas Muslims are convinced that the Koran was verbally inspired by God, we believe that for sacred Scripture it is "synergy" -- as the theologians say -- that is characteristic, the collaboration of God with man.

God involves his people with his word, hence, the second subject -- the first subject, as I said, is God -- is human. There are individual writers, but there is the continuity of a permanent subject -- the people of God that journeys on with the word of God and is in conversation with God. By listening to God, one learns to listen to the word of God and then also to interpret it.

Thus, the word of God becomes present, because individual persons die but the vital subject, the people of God, is always alive and is identical in the course of the millenniums: It is always the same living subject in which the word lives.

This also explains many structures of sacred Scripture, especially the so-called rereading. An ancient text is reread in another book, let us say 100 years later, and what had been impossible to perceive in that earlier moment, although it was already contained in the previous text, is understood in-depth.

And it is read again, ages later, and once again other aspects, other dimensions of the word are grasped. So it was that sacred Scripture developed, in this permanent rereading and rewriting in the context of profound continuity, in a continuous succession of the times of waiting.

At last, with the coming of Christ and the experience of the apostles, the word became definitive. Thus, there can be no further rewriting, but a further deepening of our understanding continues to be necessary. The Lord said: "The Holy Spirit will guide you into depths that you cannot fathom now."

Consequently, the communion of the Church is the living subject of Scripture. However, here too the principal subject is the Lord himself, who continues to speak through the Scriptures that we have in our hands.

I think that we should learn to do three things: To read it in a personal colloquium with the Lord; to read it with the guidance of teachers who have the experience of faith, who have penetrated sacred Scripture, and to read it in the great company of the Church, in whose liturgy these events never cease to become present anew and in which the Lord speaks with us today.

Thus, we may gradually penetrate ever more deeply into sacred Scripture, in which God truly speaks to us today.

2. Holy Father, my name is Anna. I am 19 years old, I am studying literature, and I belong to the Parish of St. Mary of Carmel.

One of the problems we are constantly facing is how to approach emotional issues. We frequently find it difficult to love. Yes, difficult: Because it is easy to confuse love with selfishness, especially today when most of the media almost imposes on us an individualistic, secularized vision of sexuality in which everything seems licit and everything is permitted in the name of freedom and individual conscience.

The family based on marriage now seems little more than a Church invention, not to speak of premarital relations, whose prohibition appears, even to many of us believers, difficult to understand or anachronistic.

Knowing well that so many of us are striving to live our emotional life responsibly, could you explain to us what the Word of God has to tell us about this? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: This is a vast question and it would certainly be impossible to answer it in a few minutes, but I will try to say something.

Anna herself has already given us some of the answers. She said that today love is often wrongly interpreted because it is presented as a selfish experience, whereas it is actually an abandonment of self, and thus becomes a self-discovery.

She also said that a consumer culture falsifies our life with a relativism that seems to grant us everything, but in fact completely drains us.

So let us listen to the word of God in this regard. Anna rightly wanted to know what the word of God says. For me it is a beautiful thing to observe that already in the first pages of sacred Scripture, subsequent to the story of man's creation, we immediately find the definition of love and marriage.

The sacred author tells us: "A man will leave his father and mother and will cleave to his wife, and they will become one flesh," one life (cf. Genesis 2:24-25). We are at the beginning and we are already given a prophecy of what marriage is; and this definition also remains identical in the New Testament.

Marriage is this following of the other in love, thus becoming one existence, one flesh, therefore inseparable; a new life that is born from this communion of love that unites and thus also creates the future.

Medieval theologians, interpreting this affirmation which is found at the beginning of sacred Scripture, said that marriage is the first of the seven sacraments to have been instituted by God already at the moment of creation, in paradise, at the beginning of history and before any human history.

It is a sacrament of the Creator of the universe; hence, it is engraved in the human being himself, who is oriented to this journey on which man leaves his parents and is united to a woman in order to form only one flesh, so that the two may be a single existence.

Thus, the sacrament of marriage is not an invention of the Church; it is really "con-created" with man as such, as a fruit of the dynamism of love in which the man and the woman find themselves and thus also find the Creator who called them to love.

It is true that man fell and was expelled from paradise, or, in other words, more modern words, it is true that all cultures are polluted by the sin, the errors of human beings in their history, and that the initial plan engraved in our nature is thereby clouded. Indeed, in human cultures we find this clouding of God's original plan.

At the same time, however, if we look at cultures, the whole cultural history of humanity, we note that man was never able to forget completely this plan that exists in the depths of his being. He has always known, in a certain sense, that other forms of relationships between a man and a woman do not truly correspond with the original design for his being.

And thus, in cultures, especially in the great cultures, we see again and again how they are oriented to this reality: monogamy, the man and the woman becoming one flesh.

This is how a new generation can grow in fidelity, how a cultural tradition can endure, renew itself in continuity and make authentic progress.

The Lord, who spoke of this in the language of the prophets of Israel, said referring to Moses, who tolerated divorce: Moses permitted you to divorce "because of the hardness of your hearts." After sin, the heart became "hard," but this was not what the Creator had intended, and the prophets, with increasing clarity, insisted on this original plan.

To renew man, the Lord -- alluding to these prophetic voices which always guided Israel towards the clarity of monogamy -- recognized with Ezekiel that, to live this vocation, we need a new heart; instead of a heart of stone -- as Ezekiel said -- we need a heart of flesh, a heart that is truly human.

And the Lord "implants" this new heart in us at baptism, through faith. It is not a physical transplant, but perhaps we can make this comparison. After a transplant, the organism needs treatment, requires the necessary medicines to be able to live with the new heart, so that it becomes "one's own heart" and not the "heart of another."

This is especially so in this "spiritual transplant" when the Lord implants within us a new heart, a heart open to the Creator, to God's call. To be able to live with this new heart, adequate treatment is necessary; one must have recourse to the appropriate medicines so that it can really become "our heart."

Thus, by living in communion with Christ, with his Church, the new heart truly becomes "our own heart" and makes marriage possible. The exclusive love between a man and a woman, their life as a couple planned by the Creator, becomes possible, even if the atmosphere of our world makes it difficult to the point that it appears impossible.

The Lord gives us a new heart and we must live with this new heart, using the appropriate therapies to ensure that it is really "our own." In this way we live with all that the Creator has given us and this creates a truly happy life.

Indeed, we can also see it in this world, despite the numerous other models of life: There are so many Christian families who live with faithfulness and joy the life and love pointed out to us by the Creator, so that a new humanity develops.

And lastly, I would add: We all know that to reach a goal in a sport or in one's profession, discipline and sacrifices are required; but then, by reaching a desired goal, it is all crowned with success.

Life itself is like this. In other words, becoming men and women according to Jesus' plan demands sacrifices, but these are by no means negative; on the contrary, they are a help in living as people with new hearts, in living a truly human and happy life.

Since a consumer culture exists that wants to prevent us from living in accordance with the Creator's plan, we must have the courage to create islands, oases, and then great stretches of land of Catholic culture where the Creator's design is lived out.

--- --- ---

3. Most Holy Father, my name is Inelida. I am 17 years old, an assistant to the Scout Cub master in the parish of St. Gregory Barberigo, and I am studying at the Mario Mafai senior secondary art school.

In your message for the 21st World Youth Day you said: "There is an urgent need for the emergence of a new generation of apostles anchored firmly in the Word of Christ" [L'Osservatore Romano English edition, March 1, 2006, p. 3]. These are such forceful and demanding words that they are almost frightening.

Of course, we also want to be new apostles, but could you explain to us in greater detail what in your opinion are the greatest challenges to be faced in our times, and how you imagine these new apostles should be? In other words, what does the Lord expect of us?

Benedict XVI: We all ask ourselves what the Lord expects of us. It seems to me that the great challenge of our time -- this is what the bishops on their five-yearly visits tell me, those from Africa, for example -- is secularization: that is, a way of living and presenting the world as "si Deus non daretur," in other words, as if God did not exist.

There is a desire to reduce God to the private sphere, to a sentiment, as if he were not an objective reality. As a result, everyone makes his or her own plan of life. But this vision, presented as though it were scientific, accepts as valid only what can be proven.

With a God who is not available for immediate experimentation, this vision ends by also injuring society. The result is in fact that each one makes his own plan and in the end finds himself opposed to the other. As can be seen, this is definitely an unlivable situation.

We must make God present again in our society. This seems to me to be the first essential element: That God be once again present in our lives, that we do not live as though we were autonomous, authorized to invent what freedom and life are. We must realize that we are creatures, aware that there is a God who has created us and that living in accordance with his will is not dependence, but a gift of love that makes us alive.

Therefore, the first point is to know God, to know him better and better, to recognize that God is in my life, and that God has a place.

The second point -- if we recognize that there is a God, that our freedom is a freedom shared with others and that there must consequently be a common parameter for building a common reality -- the second point, I was saying, presents the question: What God? Indeed, there are so many false images of God, a violent God, etc.

The second point, therefore, is recognizing God who has shown us his face in Jesus, who suffered for us, who loved us to the point of dying, and thus overcame violence. It is necessary to make the living God present in our "own" lives first of all, the God who is not a stranger, a fictitious God, a God only thought of, but a God who has shown himself, who has shown his being and his face.

Only in this way do our lives become true, authentically human; hence, the criteria of true humanism emerge in society.

Here too, as I said in my first answer, it is true that we cannot be alone in building this just and righteous life but must journey on in the company of good and upright friends, companions with whom we can experience that God exists and that it is beautiful to walk with God; and to walk in the great company of the Church, which presents to us down the centuries God who speaks, who acts, who accompanies us.

Therefore, I would say: To find God, to find God revealed in Jesus Christ, to walk in company with his great family, with our brothers and sisters who are God's family, this seems to me to be the essential content of this apostolate of which I spoke.

4. Your Holiness, My name is Vittorio, I am from the Parish of St. John Bosco in Cinecittà. I am 20 years old and am studying educational sciences at the University of Tor Vergata.

Once again, in your message you invite us not to be afraid to respond to the Lord with generosity, especially when he suggests following him in the consecrated or priestly life. You tell us that if we are not afraid, if we trust in him, then we will not be deceived.

I am convinced that many of us, here or among those at home who are watching us this evening on television, are thinking of following Jesus in a life of special consecration, but it is not always easy to understand if this is the right path.

Can you tell us how you yourself came to understand your vocation? Can you give us some advice so that we can really understand whether the Lord is calling us to follow him in the consecrated or priestly life? Thank you.

Benedict XVI: As for me, I grew up in a world very different from the world today, but in the end situations are similar.

On the one hand, the situation of "Christianity" still existed, where it was normal to go to church and to accept the faith as the revelation of God, and to try to live in accordance with his revelation; on the other, there was the Nazi regime which loudly stated: "In the new Germany there will be no more priests, there will be no more consecrated life, we do not need these people; look for another career."

However, it was precisely in hearing these "loud" voices, in facing the brutality of that system with an inhuman face, that I realized that there was instead a great need for priests.

This contrast, the sight of that anti-human culture, confirmed my conviction that the Lord, the Gospel and the faith were pointing out the right path, and that we were bound to commit ourselves to ensuring that this path survives. In this situation, my vocation to the priesthood grew with me, almost naturally, without any dramatic events of conversion.

Two other things also helped me on this journey: Already as a boy, helped by my parents and by the parish priest, I had discovered the beauty of the liturgy, and I came to love it more and more because I felt that divine beauty appears in it and that heaven unfolds before us.

The second element was the discovery of the beauty of knowledge, of knowing God and sacred Scripture, thanks to which it is possible to enter into that great adventure of dialogue with God which is theology. Thus, it was a joy to enter into this 1,000-year-old work of theology, this celebration of the liturgy in which God is with us and celebrates with us.

Of course, problems were not lacking. I wondered if I would really be able to live celibacy all my life. Being a man of theoretical and not practical training, I also knew that it was not enough to love theology in order to be a good priest, but that it was also necessary to be always available to young people, the elderly, the sick and the poor: the need to be simple with the simple.

Theology is beautiful, but the simplicity of words and Christian life is indispensable. And so I asked myself: Will I be able to live all this and not be one-sided, merely a theologian, etc.?

However, the Lord helped me and the company of friends, of good priests and teachers especially helped me.

To return to the question, I think it is important to be attentive to the Lord's gestures on our journey. He speaks to us through events, through people, through encounters: It is necessary to be attentive to all of this.

Then, a second point, it is necessary to enter into real friendship with Jesus in a personal relationship with him and not to know who Jesus is only from others or from books, but to live an ever deeper personal relationship with Jesus, where we can begin to understand what he is asking of us.

And then, the awareness of what I am, of my possibilities: On the one hand, courage, and on the other, humility, trust and openness, with the help also of friends, of Church authority and also of priests, of families: What does the Lord want of me?

Of course, this is always a great adventure, but life can be successful only if we have the courage to be adventurous, trusting that the Lord will never leave me alone, that the Lord will go with me and help me.

--- --- ---

5. Holy Father, I am Giovanni, I am 17 years old, I am studying at Giovanni Giorgi technological and scientific secondary school in Rome, and I belong to Holy Mary Mother of Mercy Parish.

I ask you to help us to understand better how biblical revelation and scientific theory can converge in the search for truth.

We are often led to believe that knowledge and faith are each other's enemies; that knowledge and technology are the same thing; that it was through mathematical logic that everything was discovered; that the world is the result of an accident, and that if mathematics did not discover the theorem-God, it is because God simply does not exist.

In short, especially when we are studying, it is not always easy to trace everything back to a divine plan inherent in the nature and history of human beings. Thus, faith at times vacillates or is reduced to a simple sentimental act.

Holy Father, like all young people, I too am thirsting for the truth: But what can I do to harmonize knowledge and faith?

Benedict XVI: The great Galileo said that God wrote the book of nature in the form of the language of mathematics. He was convinced that God has given us two books: the book of sacred Scripture and the book of nature. And the language of nature -- this was his conviction -- is mathematics, so it is a language of God, a language of the Creator.

Let us now reflect on what mathematics is: In itself, it is an abstract system, an invention of the human spirit which as such in its purity does not exist. It is always approximated, but as such is an intellectual system, a great, ingenious invention of the human spirit.

The surprising thing is that this invention of our human intellect is truly the key to understanding nature, that nature is truly structured in a mathematical way, and that our mathematics, invented by our human mind, is truly the instrument for working with nature, to put it at our service, to use it through technology.

It seems to me almost incredible that an invention of the human mind and the structure of the universe coincide. Mathematics, which we invented, really gives us access to the nature of the universe and makes it possible for us to use it.

Therefore, the intellectual structure of the human subject and the objective structure of reality coincide: The subjective reason and the objective reason of nature are identical. I think that this coincidence between what we thought up and how nature is fulfilled and behaves is a great enigma and a great challenge, for we see that, in the end, it is "one" reason that links them both.

Our reason could not discover this other reason were there not an identical antecedent reason for both.

In this sense it really seems to me that mathematics -- in which as such God cannot appear -- shows us the intelligent structure of the universe. Now, there are also theories of chaos, but they are limited because if chaos had the upper hand, all technology would become impossible. Only because our mathematics is reliable, is technology reliable.

Our knowledge, which is at last making it possible to work with the energies of nature, supposes the reliable and intelligent structure of matter. Thus, we see that there is a subjective rationality and an objectified rationality in matter which coincide.

Of course, no one can now prove -- as is proven in an experiment, in technical laws -- that they both really originated in a single intelligence, but it seems to me that this unity of intelligence, behind the two intelligences, really appears in our world. And the more we can delve into the world with our intelligence, the more clearly the plan of Creation appears.

In the end, to reach the definitive question I would say: God exists or he does not exist. There are only two options. Either one recognizes the priority of reason, of creative reason that is at the beginning of all things and is the principle of all things -- the priority of reason is also the priority of freedom -- or one holds the priority of the irrational, inasmuch as everything that functions on our earth and in our lives would be only accidental, marginal, an irrational result -- reason would be a product of irrationality.

One cannot ultimately "prove" either project, but the great option of Christianity is the option for rationality and for the priority of reason. This seems to me to be an excellent option, which shows us that behind everything is a great Intelligence to which we can entrust ourselves.

However, the true problem challenging faith today seems to me to be the evil in the world: We ask ourselves how it can be compatible with the Creator's rationality. And here we truly need God, who was made flesh and shows us that he is not only a mathematical reason but that this original reason is also love. If we look at the great options, the Christian option today is the one that is the most rational and the most human.

Therefore, we can confidently work out a philosophy, a vision of the world based on this priority of reason, on this trust that the creating reason is love and that this love is God.


Transcript of Pope's Appearance on Italian TV
"We Cannot Be Christians Alone, Following a Christianity Based on Our Own Ideas"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 22, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of the transcript from Benedict XVI's appearance today on a television program titled "A Sua Immagine" [In His Image] of the Italian channel RAI. The Pontiff answered questions posed by seven individuals, including a Muslim woman from the Ivory Coast and Christians from Italy seeking deeper understanding of Christ's resurrection and Mary's role in our lives.

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Q. Holy Father, I want to thank you for your presence here, which fills us with joy and helps us remember that today is the day in which Jesus showed His love in the most radical way, that is, by dying on the cross as an innocent. It is precisely on this theme of innocent sorrow that is the first question that comes from a seven-year-old Japanese child who says: "My name is Elena. I am Japanese and I am seven years old. I am very frightened because the house where I felt safe really shook a lot and many children my age have died. I cannot go to play at the park. I want to know: why do I have to be so afraid? Why do children have to be so sad? I'm asking the Pope, who speaks with God, to explain it to me".

A. Dear Elena, I send you my heartfelt greetings. I also have the same questions: why is it this way? Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease? And we do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side. This seems very important to me, even if we do not have answers, even if we are still sad; God is by your side and you can be certain that this will help you. One day we will even understand why it was so. At this moment it seems important to me that you know "God loves me" even if it seems like He doesn't know me. No, He loves me, He is by my side, and you can be sure that in the world, in the universe, there are many who are with you, thinking of you, doing what they can for you, to help you. And be aware that, one day, I will understand that this suffering was not empty, it wasn't in vain, but behind it was a good plan, a plan of love. It is not chance. Be assured, we are with you, with all the Japanese children who are suffering. We want to help you with our prayers, with our actions, and you can be sure that God will help you. In this sense we pray together so that light may come to you as soon as possible.

Q. The second question presents us with a Calvary because we have a mother under her son’s cross. This mother is an Italian named Maria Teresa and she asks you: "Your Holiness, has the soul of my son Francesco, who has been in a vegetative coma since Easter Sunday 2009, left his body, seeing that he is no longer conscious, or is it still near him?"

A. Certainly his soul is still present in his body. The situation, perhaps, is like that of a guitar whose strings have been broken and therefore can no longer play. The instrument of the body is fragile like that, it is vulnerable, and the soul cannot play, so to speak, but remains present. I am also sure that this hidden soul feels your love deep down, even if unable to understand the details, your words, etc. He feels the presence of love. Your presence, therefore, dear parents, dear mother, next to him for hours and hours every day, is the true act of a love of great value because this presence enters into the depth of that hidden soul. Your act is thus also a witness of faith in God, of faith in man, of faith, let us say, of commitment, to life, of respect for human life, even in the saddest of situations. I encourage you, therefore to carry on, to know that you are giving a great service to humanity with this sign of faith, with this sign of respect for life, with this love for a wounded body and a suffering soul.

Q. The third question takes us to Iraq, to the youth of Baghdad, persecuted Christians who send you this question; "Greetings from Iraq, Holy Father", they say. "We Christians in Baghdad are persecuted like Jesus. Holy Father, in your opinion, in what way can we help our Christian community to reconsider their desire to emigrate to other countries, convincing them that leaving is not the only solution?"

A. First of all I want to cordially greet all the Christians of Iraq, our brothers and sisters, and I have to say that I pray every day for the Christians in Iraq. They are our suffering brothers and sisters, as those who are suffering in other lands are too, and therefore they are particularly dear to our hearts and we must do whatever we can so that they might be able to stay, so that they might be able to resist the temptation to emigrate, which is very understandable in the conditions they are living in. I would say that it is important that we are near to you, dear brothers and sisters in Iraq and we also want to help you, when you come, to truly receive you as brothers and sisters. Naturally, all the institutions that truly have the possibility to do something in Iraq for you should do it. The Holy See is in permanent contact with the diverse communities, not only the Catholic community and the other Christian communities, but also with our Muslim brothers and sister, Shi?ites and Sunni. We want to create reconciliation and understanding, with the government as well, to help in this difficult journey of rebuilding a torn society. Because this is the problem, that the society is profoundly divided, torn, there is no longer the awareness that "In our diversity we are one people with a common history, where each has its place". This awareness needs to be rebuilt: that in diversity, they have a common history, a common determination. In dialogue, precisely with the various groups, we want to assist the process of reconstruction and encourage you, dear brothers and sisters in Iraq, to have faith, to be patient and have faith in God, to collaborate in this difficult process. Be assured of our prayers.

Q. The next question comes to you from a Muslim woman from the Ivory Coast, a country that has been at war for years. This lady's name is Bintu and she greets you in Arabic, saying "May God be in all the words that we say to one another and may God be with You". It is an expression that they use when beginning an address. She then continues in French: "Dear Holy Father, here in the Ivory Coast we have always lived in harmony between Christians and Muslims. Families are often formed by members of both religions. There also exists a diversity of ethnicities but we have never had problems. Now everything has changed: the crisis we are living under, caused by politics, has sown division. How many innocents have lost their lives! How many persons have been displaced, how many mothers and how many children traumatized! The messengers have exhorted peace, the prophets have exhorted peace. As an ambassador of Jesus, what do you advise for our country?

A. I would like to respond to your greeting: May God also be with you and help you forever. I have to say that I have received heartbreaking letters from the Ivory Coast in which I see the sorrow, the depth of suffering, and I am saddened that I can do so little. We can do one thing always: remain in prayer with you and, as much as possible, we can offer works of charity. Above all we want to help, as much as is in our power, the political and human contacts. I have entrusted Cardinal Turkson, who is the president of our Council for Justice and Peace, to go to the Ivory Coast to try to mediate, to speak with the various groups and various persons to encourage a new beginning. Above all we want to make the voice of Jesus, whom you also believe in as a prophet, heard. He was always a man of peace. It could be expected that, when God came to earth, He would be a man of great power, destroying the opposing forces. That He would be a man of powerful violence as an instrument of peace. Not at all. He came in weakness. He came with only the strength of love, totally without violence, even to going to the cross. This is what shows us the true face of God, that violence never comes from God, never helps bring anything good, but is a destructive means and not the path to escape difficulties. He is thus a strong voice against every type of violence. He strongly invites all sides to renounce violence, even if they feel they are right. The only path is to renounce violence, to begin anew with dialogue, with the attempt to find peace together, with a new concern for one another, a new willingness to be open to one another. This, dear lady, is Jesus' true message: seek peace with the means of peace and leave violence aside. We pray for you, that all sections of your society might hear Jesus' voice and thus that peace and communion will return.

Q. Holy Father, the next question is on the theme of Jesus' death and resurrection and comes from Italy. I will read it to you: "Your Holiness, what is Jesus doing in the time between His death and resurrection? Seeing that in reciting the Creed it says that Jesus, after His death, descended into Hell, should we think that that will also happen to us, after death, before going to heaven?"

A. First of all, this descent of Jesus' soul should not be imagined as a geographical or a spatial trip, from one continent to another. It is the soul's journey. We have to remember that Jesus' soul always touches the Father, it is always in contact with the Father but, at the same time, this human soul extends to the very borders of the human being. In this sense it goes into the depths, into the lost places, to where all who do not arrive at their life's goal go, thus transcending the continents of the past.

This word about the Lord's descent into Hell mainly means that Jesus reaches even the past, that the effectiveness of the Redemption does not begin in the year 0 or 30, but also goes to the past, embraces the past, all men and women of all time. The Church Fathers say, with a very beautiful image, that Jesus takes Adam and Eve, that is, humanity, by the hand and guides them forward, guides them on high. He thus creates access to God because humanity, on its own cannot arrive at God's level. He himself, being man, can take humanity by the hand and open the access. To what? To the reality we call Heaven. So this descent into Hell, that is, into the depth of the human being, into humanity's past, is an essential part of Jesus' mission, of His mission as Redeemer, and does not apply to us. Our lives are different. We are already redeemed by the Lord and we arrive before the Judge, after our death, under Jesus' gaze. On one had, this gaze will be purifying: I think that all of us, in greater or lesser measure, are in need of purification. Jesus’ gaze purifies us, thus making us capable of living with God, of living with the Saints, and above all of living in communion with those dear to us who have preceded us.

Q. The next question is also on the theme of Resurrection and comes from Italy. "Your Holiness, when the women reach the tomb on the Sunday after Jesus' death, they do not recognize their Master but confuse him with another. It also happens to the apostles: Jesus shows them his wounds, breaks bread, in order to be recognized, precisely by his actions. He has a true body, made of flesh, but it is also glorified. What does it mean that His risen body didn't have the same characteristics as before? What, exactly, does a glorified body mean? Will the Resurrection also be like that for us?"

A. Naturally, we cannot define the glorified body because it is beyond our experience. We can only note the signs that Jesus has given us to understand, at least a little, in which direction we should seek this reality. The first sign: the tomb is empty. That is, Jesus dead not leave his body behind to corruption. This shows us that even matter is destined for eternity, that it is truly resurrected, that it does not remain something lost. But he then assumed this matter in a new condition of life. This is the second point: Jesus no longer dies, that is, He is beyond the laws of biology and physics because He endured this one death. Therefore there is a new condition, a different one, that we do not know but which is shown in the fact of Jesus and which is a great promise for all of us: that there is a new world, a new life, toward which we are on a journey. Being in this condition, Jesus had the possibility of letting himself be felt, of offering his hand to his followers, of eating with them, but still of being beyond the conditions of biological life as we live it. We know that, on the one hand, He is a real man, not a ghost, that he lives a real life, but a new life that is no longer submitted to the death that is our great promise.

It is important to understand this, at least as much as we can, for the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the Lord gives us His glorified body, not flesh to eat in a biological sense. He gives us Himself, this newness that He is in our humanity, in our being as person, and it touches us within with His being so that we might let ourselves be penetrated by His presence, transformed in His presence. It is an important point because we are thus already in contact with this new life, this new type of life, since He has entered into me and I have gone out of myself and am extended toward a new dimension of life. I think that this aspect of the promise, of the reality that He gives Himself to me and pulls me out of myself, toward on high, is the most important point. It is not about noting things that we cannot understand but of being on a journey to the newness that always begins again anew in the Eucharist.

Q. Holy Father, the last question is about Mary. At the cross we witness a poignant dialogue between Jesus and his mother in which Jesus says to Mary: “Behold your son”, and to John, “Behold your mother”. In your latest book, Jesus of Nazareth, you define it as “Jesus’ final provision”. How are we to understand these words? What meaning did they have at that moment and what do they mean today? And, on the subject of entrusting, do you intend to renew a consecration to the Virgin at the beginning of this new millennium?

A. These words of Jesus are, above all, a very human act. We see Jesus as a true man who makes a human act, an act of love for His mother, entrusting the mother to the young John so that she might be safe. A woman living alone in the East at that time was an impossible situation. He entrusts his mother to this young man and to this young man he gives his mother, therefore Jesus actually acts as a human with a deeply human sentiment. This seems very beautiful to me, very important, that before any theology we see in this act the true humanity of Jesus, his true humanism. Naturally, however, this has several dimensions, not just about this moment but regarding all of history.

In John, Jesus entrusts all of us, the whole Church, all future disciples, to His mother and His mother to us. In this the course of history is fulfilled. More and more, humanity and Christians have understood that the mother of Jesus is their mother and more and more they have entrusted themselves to the Mother. Think of the great sanctuaries, think of this devotion for Mary in which more and more people feel “This is your mother”. And even some who have difficulty reaching Jesus in his greatness, the Son of God, entrust themselves without difficulty to the Mother. Someone said, “But this doesn’t have any Biblical foundation!” To this I reply, with St. Gregory the Great: “In reading”, he says, “grow the words of Scripture.” That is, they develop in lived reality. They grow and more and more in history this Word develops. We see how we can all be grateful because there is truly a Mother; we have all been given a mother. We can also go to this Mother with great confidence because she is also the Mother of every Christian. However, it is also true that this Mother expresses the Church. We cannot be Christians alone, following a Christianity based on our own ideas. The Mother is the image of the Church, the Mother Church, and entrusting ourselves to Mary means we must also entrust ourselves to the Church, live the Church, be the Church with Mary.

And so we arrive at the meaning of entrusting ourselves: the Popes—whether it was Pius XII, or Paul VI, or John Paul II—have made a great act of entrusting the world to the Madonna and it seems to me, as a gesture before humankind, before Mary herself, that it was a very important gesture. I believe that now it is important to internalize this act, to let ourselves be penetrated, and to bear it out in ourselves. In this sense I have gone to some of the great Marian sanctuaries of the world: Lourdes, Fatima, Czestochowa, Altötting…, always with this sense of making real, of interiorizing this act of entrustment, so that it might truly become our act. I think that the great, public act has been made. Perhaps one day it will be necessary to repeat it again, but at the moment it seems more important to me to live it, to make it real, to enter into this entrusting so that it might truly be our own.

For example, at Fatima I saw how the thousands of persons present truly entered into this entrustment. In themselves, for themselves they entrusted themselves to her; they made this made this trust real within them. It thus becomes a reality in the living Church and thus also the Church grows. The common entrustment to Mary, letting ourselves be penetrated by this presence, creating and entering into communion with Mary makes the Church, make us together with Mary, truly the Bride of Christ. Thus, at the moment, I do not intend to make a new act of public entrustment, but I would rather invite you to enter into this entrustment that has already been made, so that we might truly live it every day, and thus that a truly Marian Church might grow, a Church that is Mother, Bride, and Daughter of Jesus.