Collages by Gloria on Beatrice's site www.benoit-et-moi.fr
2008: The year in the Church
Interview with Father Lombardi
the Italian service of
December 29, 2008
The year that is about to end saw Benedict XVI engaged on many fronts: from pastoral visits in Italy and abroad, to ecumenical and inter-religious dialog; from the defense of persecuted Christians, to calling attention to basic values against the excesses that have led to the grave economic crisis that has hit the entire planet.
The director of the Vatican Press Office, and Vatican Radio's own director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, draws up an 'accounting' of these past 12 months, with a look ahead to what the Church expects in 2009:
FR. LOMBARDI: I would say that the Pontificate has perfectly found its fit in proclaiming the Christian message, with a Magisterium of extraordinary level which is also an affirmation of essential values for the good of mankind today and tomorrow. It is a positive message that is presented to the world today without any timidity, and I think that the Pope's international trips, particularly this year, have been a great manifestation of this.
OR special commemorative issues on the Holy Father's trips abroad in 2008.
What 'ideograms' could we take away from the trips to the United States, the visit to the United Nations, World Youth Day in Sydney, and the visit to Paris and Lourdes?
What stands out, certainly, is Benedict XVI's address to the UN General Assembly, and his prayer at Ground Zero, which is perhaps what most Americans found most touching.
As for World Youth Day, there were all those great moments uniting the Holy Father with that splendid joyous gathering of young people.
And in France, the Pope was able to present his Magisterium in a positive way that gained the attention not only of the Church but also of the French world of culture, achieving the desired purpose of dialog between the Church and the contemporary world.
In the field of ecumenism and dialog with Islam, 2008 represents some important steps...
Yes. In ecumenism, perhaps the most enduring image is Bartholomew I's speech to the Bishops' Synod, when the Ecumenical Patriarch expressed in such intense images the love for the Word of God in the Orthodox tradition. What can unite us better than looking together into the common roots of our faith?
As for inter-religious dialog, probably the most significant event in the relationship with Islam was the recent seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, whose Final Declaration showed that human rights and religious freedom were confronted with honesty and clarity, the very points which are crucial in relations with Islam.
2008 also marked the beginning of the Pauline Year, and for several months now, Benedict XVI has been dedicating his Wednesday catecheses to the Apostle of the Gentiles. What does the Holy Father expect from this yearlong celebration which will continue to June of the coming year?
While the Pauline Year has not been highlighted enough by the international secular media, it is obviously very important in the life of the Church. And for this, the Pope's catecheses are a very important aspect of his service, in which he is truly putting to work the great profundity of his theological culture and his great spirituality.
It is a way to help Christians rediscover - in the impassioned figure of the Apostle Paul - the attitude of mission, the desire to announce to everyone the gift of faith that we have received.
The Pauline Year is also very important in the ecumenical sense. It is very interesting, for instance, how the Orthodox Christians, in particular, have espoused it as one of the keys to their pastoral ministry this year.
The Church event that was most significant this year was the general assembly of the Bishops' Synod on the Word of God last October. Was it a sign of the relevance that Pope Benedict attributes to this subject as fundamental for the life of the Church and of the individual Christian?
It was a particularly happy experience. The atmosphere was extremely serene, and that was very important because there are many disputable issues on this subject - on exegesis, on the historico-critical method, etc.
But what was experienced and brought to light was how the Church community is sufficiently mature to consider the Word of God as nourishment and foundation for Christian life, even taking into account all the critical and cultural dimensions possible in reading Scriptures.
I would say that the Pope had contributed beforehand to this with his book on Jesus, which is exemplary as a spiritual and theological reading of Scriptures and how to communicate such a reading to others.
Benedict XVI also showed, on several occasions, a great attention and concern for the world economic crisis. Anticipating his social encyclical, the Pope has re-emphasized the necessary centrality of man even in economic relationships....
Of course. One thing I thought significant was that everyone, believers and non-believers alike, understand quite easily that there are ethical components behind the kind of economic crisis that we are experiencing. There has been a drive for profit through financial operations that have been uncoupled from economic production, from actual productivity - and this is the reckoning.
The fact that the Pope has made this point repeatedly indicates not only his participation in the sufferings and difficulties undergone by so many persons as a consequence of the crisis, but also his appeal that in order to get out of the crisis - to reconstruct a world economy that is more worthy of man and more fraternal, more responsive to the needs of the human being and his dignity - a new world economy must be based on fundamental values that can assure equitable, fraternal and just development for everyone.
Another subject that characterized 2008 for the Church was the persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, particularly in the Indian state of Orissa. In this, Benedict XVI has never failed to give voice to those who have no voice...
Yes, In particular, the situation in India, and even, in some aspects, that in the Middle East, are connected to the fact that, unfortunately, in today's world, religious fundamentalism is on the rise, and this leads to a denial of respect for the beliefs of others, to marginalize and use violence against those who profess a different faith. It is a very serious problem.
And what's happening in India also takes place in the Middle East. The fact that so many Christians have been forced to emigrate, that those who are left behind have to live in very difficult conditions - is a sign that the civilized balance, the living side by side, that has been possible for centuries, even with some notable exceptions, has become questionable.
And for us, as religious persons, one of the most tragic facts of life today is that the name of God and religion itself have become an occasion for tension and violence, instead of bringing harmony, love for one's neighbor, and peace. We can only be always vigilant about this and not let our guard down.
2009 is at hand, and we now know some of the trips the Pope will be making, including a possible visit to the Holy Land. But 2009 will also see a special Bishops' Synod on Africa which will be preceded by Benedict XVI's trip to Cameroon and Angola in March. Then, there is his expected third encyclical. What other plans are there for 2009?
Evidently, there are some expectations about which some aspects are still problematic. We must be prudent about our expectations.
However, one clear thing is the attention to Africa, where some nations are undergoing grave sufferings - horrific massacres of helpless civilians, widespread hunger, such as that in Zimbabwe these days....
The question is what can the Church do so that these tragic situations can be not only overcome and ultimately averted, but also that a continent of such immense potential - with its material resources and more importantly, its human resources - may realize this potential for its own people and as a contribution to mankind, and to the Church today and tomorrow.
The Pope's commitment to Africa sets an example, but we should all pay greater attention to that continent.
Here is a more conventional but surprisingly incomplete media year-ender from CNS.
For Benedict and the Vatican,
2008 was an important interfaith year
By John Thavis
VATICAN CITY, Dec. 29 (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI will look back on 2008 as an important year for inte-rreligious dialogue, with the inauguration of a major Catholic-Muslim forum, notable meetings with Jews in the United States, and the opening of ecology as a new terrain for interfaith cooperation.
At the same time, discrimination and violence against minority Christian communities in Asia and the Middle East clouded the interfaith horizon and pushed human rights to the top of the Vatican's dialogue agenda.
The initial meeting at the Vatican of the Catholic-Muslim Forum in November was a milestone in relations between the two faiths, and represented a remarkable turnaround after a low point in dialogue two years earlier.
The theme of the encounter was love of God and neighbor, and the Vatican representatives made sure to highlight respect for human rights -- including the rights of minority faith communities -- as an essential area of cooperation.
Pope Benedict addressed the 56 forum participants and emphasized the need for believers to show each other mutual respect and guarantee the right to freely profess and practice their faith.
In December, another major Catholic-Muslim session took place at the Vatican, this one involving representatives of the World Islamic Call Society. The discussion theme of the three-day meeting was the responsibility of religious leaders in times of crisis.
In April, an Iranian Muslim delegation arrived for talks at the Vatican, and participants said in a final statement that "faith and reason are intrinsically nonviolent."
That was a key point raised by Pope Benedict in a 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, which prompted Muslim protests because it appeared to challenge Islam on the issue of violence.
The Pope was at the center of another interfaith episode when, at a Holy Saturday liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica, he baptized a Muslim-born journalist, Magdi Allam. The Vatican downplayed its significance, but Allam did not; he issued an open letter that described Islam as inherently linked to terrorism and critiqued the Vatican's own policy of dialogue with Muslims.
Worsening violence and intimidation against Iraqi Christians by Muslim extremists prompted a number of papal appeals during the year, and the Pope also condemned the violence against minority Christians by Hindu gangs in India. The Vatican's annual message to Hindus emphasized the Hindu tradition of nonviolence and warned that religion today is sometimes manipulated in support of violent acts.
Visiting the United States in April, the Pope met with about 200 representatives of Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington. Five young people presented the Pontiff with symbols representing peace from various faiths.
The Pope told the gathering that, in their attempt to discover common ground, religious leaders perhaps "have shied away from the responsibility to discuss our differences with calmness and clarity." Interfaith dialogue, he said, should not stop at identifying a common set of values, but go on to probe their "ultimate foundation," the truth.
Catholic-Jewish relations came under strain early in 2008 when the Vatican published Pope Benedict's revised prayer for the Jews for use in Tridentine-rite Good Friday liturgies. The new prayer removed old language referring to the "blindness" of the Jews, but it prays that Jews will recognize Jesus, the savior, and that "all Israel may be saved."
The Vatican sought to reassure Jews that the prayer, used in very limited circumstances, did not represent a step back from the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Church officials said the new wording referred to salvation at the end of time and was not a call for a missionary effort among the Jews.
While in the United States, the Pope added two significant events with Jewish audiences. In Washington, he met separately with Jewish representatives and told them Catholics and Jews share a special bond, and he reaffirmed the church's 40-year commitment to dialogue. In New York, he attended a prayer service at a synagogue and encouraged the building of "bridges of friendship" between religions; it was only the third time a modern Pope had visited a Jewish place of worship. [And the last two were by Benedict XVI.]
Later in the year, the long-standing controversy over the sainthood cause of Pope Pius XII surfaced once again. Celebrating a memorial Mass Oct. 9 to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius's death, Pope Benedict defended the late Pope's actions during World War II, saying he had acted "secretly and silently" to help save the greatest possible number of Jews.
At the same time, the Vatican said Pope Benedict had decided to delay his decision on Pope Pius's sainthood cause during a "period of reflection." A Vatican spokesman later asked both supporters and opponents of the cause to stop pressuring the Pope on the issue.
On a more personal note, Pope Benedict said in November that he still felt sorrow when he recalled the night in 1938 when Nazi mobs rampaged against Jews in his native Germany. The event became known as Kristallnacht, German for 'Night of Broken Glass'.
"I still feel pain for what happened in that tragic circumstance, whose memory must serve to ensure that similar horrors are never repeated again and that we commit ourselves, at every level, to fighting anti-Semitism and discrimination, especially by educating the younger generations in respect and mutual acceptance," the Pope said.
Throughout the year, Pope Benedict and other Vatican officials spoke about protecting the environment as a cause where members of various faiths could find common ground. In its annual message to the world's Buddhists in April, the Vatican said Christians and Buddhists should work together to promote respect for the earth and a safe, clean environment.
It said people need to understand that environmental protection will succeed when people understand the relationship between "the divine Creator" and the created world.
I don't know if Thavis intends to limit his year-end review only to the narrow prism of interfaith relations, because he is thereby ignoring the three major trips abroad by the Pope (mentioning the US trip only for the interfaith meetings) the Bishops' Synod and the Pauline Year! [Or he could insert a statement to the effect that in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict himself has summarized what was important to the Church in 2008.]
I also think that a major element in any year-end review about the Pope and the Church should include the major - and for the most part, manufactured - controversies that MSM itself creates on these subjects.