Europe, learning to love Christ afresh?
Pope Benedict said that his journey to the Czech Republic last week was both a pilgrimage and a sign “for all of Europe, for our continent, which needs to fall in love with Christ afresh and to draw hope for the true life” in his weekly general audience in Rome today.
During his stay in the Czech Republic, the Holy Father visited important holy sites and churches. He addressed the Czech Catholics, who make up 30 per cent of the population (though only a small fraction of that is practicising), spoke to ministers, diplomats, and engaged with the academics at the Charles University.
Although the general population was fairly indifferent to the Pope’s visit—in the Czech Republic the Communist regime was extremely effective promoting atheism in an already religiously ambiguous country—the Pope’s visit has been judged a success, both by commentators and by journalists. If the Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic countries in Europe, then perhaps the modest success of the Pope’s visit can be read as a good sign.
Dr Tomas Halik, a priest and academic, who was secretly ordained during the Communist regime, told the Prague Monitor :
“I was greatly impressed by his charisma. He is certainly not a man for the crowds as John Paul Pavel II used to be, but I think that unusual concentration, depth and kindness emanated from him.”
John Allen Jr at the National Catholic Reporter wrote in his final analysis of the trip:
“For a one-sentence summary of how things went, here it is: Affirmative orthodoxy is alive and well, and it had a great weekend in Prague.
“That one sentence is a bit of linguistic sleight of hand, of course, because it requires explaining what ‘affirmative orthodoxy’ means: No compromise on essential points of doctrine and discipline, but the most positive, upbeat presentation possible. Christianity is framed not as a dry book of rules, but as the answer to, as Benedict put it Monday morning, ‘the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every person.’”
Pope Benedict covered several themes during his trip. Keywords like “Faith and Reason”, “Creative Minority” and “Relativism” were heard. The trip in part served to mark the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution which brought an end to the Communist regime in the Czech Republic. With that in mind, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the question of freedom when he spoke to the political and civil authorities on Saturday.
“Today, especially among the young, the question again emerges as to the nature of the freedom gained. To what end is freedom exercised? What are its true hallmarks? Every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs, seeking to understand the proper use of human freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 25). And while the duty to strengthen “structures of freedom” is vital, it is never enough: human aspirations soar beyond the self, beyond what any political or economic authority can provide, towards a radiant hope (cf. ibid., 35) that has its origin beyond ourselves yet is encountered within, as truth and beauty and goodness.
“Freedom seeks purpose: it requires conviction. True freedom presupposes the search for truth – for the true good – and hence finds its fulfilment precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just.
“Truth, in other words, is the guiding norm for freedom, and goodness is freedom’s perfection. Aristotle defined the good as ‘that at which all things aim’, and went on to suggest that ‘though it is worthwhile to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for city-states’ (Nicomachean Ethics, 1; cf. Caritas in Veritate, 2). Indeed, the lofty responsibility to awaken receptivity to truth and goodness falls to all leaders – religious, political and cultural, each in his or her own way. Jointly we must engage in the struggle for freedom and the search for truth, which either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery (cf. Fides et Ratio, 90).
“For Christians, truth has a name: God. And goodness has a face: Jesus Christ.
The faith of Christians, from the time of Saints Cyril and Methodius and the early missionaries, has in fact played a decisive role in shaping the spiritual and cultural heritage of this country. It must do likewise in the present and into the future. The rich patrimony of spiritual and cultural values, each finding expression in the other, has not only given shape to the nation’s identity but has also furnished it with the vision necessary to exercise a role of cohesion at the heart of Europe. For centuries this territory has been a meeting point between various peoples, traditions, and cultures. As we are all aware, it has known painful chapters and carries the scars of tragic events born of misunderstanding, war and persecution.
“Yet it is also true, that its Christian roots have nourished a remarkable spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and cooperation which has enabled the people of these lands to find freedom and to usher in a new beginning, a new synthesis, a renewal of hope. Is it not precisely this spirit that contemporary Europe requires?
“Europe is more than a continent. It is a home! And freedom finds its deepest meaning in a spiritual homeland. With full respect for the distinction between the political realm and that of religion – which indeed preserves the freedom of citizens to express religious belief and live accordingly – I wish to underline the irreplaceable role of Christianity for the formation of the conscience of each generation and the promotion of a basic ethical consensus that serves every person who calls this continent, “home”! In this spirit, I acknowledge the voice of those who today, across this country and continent, seek to apply their faith respectfully yet decisively in the public arena, in the expectation that social norms and policies be informed by the desire to live by the truth that sets every man and woman free (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 9).