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THE POPE IN AUSTRIA
from issue no. 09 - 2007

AUSTRIA. Benedict XVI in Vienna, Mariazell and Heiligenkreuz 7-9 September

“A pilgrimage against the coldness of our time”


The account and testimony of the Archbishop of Vienna: «Pope Benedict, in the days spent in Austria, never tired of giving witness to Christianity as “the gift of a friendship” that “endures in life and in death”»


by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn


Pope Benedict XVI in Austria

Pope Benedict XVI in Austria

Pope Benedict XVI in Austria. If I had to sum up in a few words what struck me about those three September days I would say that they were “a pilgrimage against the coldness of our time”.
Under the rain and in the grip of the cold that tested us harshly in Vienna, in Mariazell and in Heiligenkreuz, this Pope surprized our country – and also, I believe, many of his critics – with a cordiality and a humble warmth by that very fact convincing; a warmth that his person expressed, no less than his words, and that ever more noticeably enveloped those who listened to him.
It very soon became evident that this was not an exterior form, a mere way of presenting himself, or only one trait of his character. This loving style that naturally predisposes people to listening and thinking has, in effect, characterized for decades the thought and the teaching activity of the Holy Father.
So the Pope, I believe, has offered a synthesis of what is at the heart of his thinking.
His theology lives of a «“yes” to God, to a God who loves us and guides us, who leads us and, nevertheless, leaves us our freedom, indeed, makes it real freedom» (homily at the sanctuary of Mariazell, 8 September 2007). I believe that, in his sermon at Mariazell, the Pope wanted to express just what is at the heart of his thinking. From that wellspring emerges an image of Christianity that is much more and much different from a moral system, a series of impositions and precepts. In the days spent in Austria Pope Benedict did not tire of giving witness to Christianity as «the gift of a friendship» that «endures in life and in death» (homily at the sanctuary of Mariazell, 8 September 2007).
It was precisely this approach that already fascinated us when we were students of Professor Ratzinger. Already then this quid, this something that invites you lovingly, characterized both the style of his lectures and the way in which the professor related with us, his students. And so in these days I was able to see with joy and gratitude how, with the ascent to Peter’s chair, that precise way of living and testifying to the faith has acquired new vitality and luminosity.
This basic attitude really pervades all his homilies and speeches, and in the days spent in Austria revealed itself in every situation. I think for example of his words on the model of European life, that he showed in positive light in its particularities, including the capacity to engage in self-criticism. We need to call on that capacity precisely now, when Europe is in danger of throwing itself away: for example in terms of its values, in ever increasing relativism; and then in the loss of space for the sacred, and in particular of Sunday, that without an authentic center «ends up as an empty time that doesn’t strengthen and re-create us» (homily in the Cathedral of Saint Stephen in Vienna, 9 September). This attitude also came out when he launched a heartfelt appeal for the life of the unborn, expressing not «a specifically ecclesial interest», but rather «a deeply human demand» (speech to the authorities and the diplomatic corps, Vienna, 7 September). In doing this, he never even for an instant gave the impression of closing his eyes «to the problems and inner conflict of many women», as if he were unaware that, to put it in his own words, «the credibility of what we say» depends «also on what the Church itself does to help women in difficulty» (ibid).
Benedict XVI during Eucharistic adoration in the Church of the Nine Choirs of the Angels in Vienna, Friday 7 September 2007

Benedict XVI during Eucharistic adoration in the Church of the Nine Choirs of the Angels in Vienna, Friday 7 September 2007

If I go back over the thoughts, the impulses and the appeals that he made to us in those days, I believe that on all of them shone the three stars of faith, truth and reason, which I understand and have always perceived as the great dominant motif of his thinking. Faith and reason: for so many men of our time there is an apparently irresolvable contradiction between the two terms. Instead for this Pope faith and reason are indissolubly linked one to the other. A faith that doesn’t always demand the assent of reason also would be for him a deminutio of man. God doesn’t want only people who love, but also people who think, together with Him.
Thinking nevertheless presupposes freedom. After the long disputes over the question, the Church has finally reached great clarity, and this Pope has an enormous respect for the freedom of man. Hence only by starting from this attitude is the Church credible in its action at global level for religious freedom. And in that it nevertheless goes into the big question of the relation between freedom and truth. For Benedict XVI it is altogether clear that we have need of the truth. As soon as the Pope speaks of truth the fear arises that behind this aspiration to truth intolerance also hides. In this man, always willing to listen and at the same time always ready to discuss, I have always admired just this: he trusts only the “inward power” of truth, and not constraint and indoctrination. In this profound faith in the persuasive force of truth and in the capacity of the human spirit to welcome truth his gaze toward Christ is born. Thus truth is humble, it is not a product of ours, it is not one of our possessions. It demonstrates itself, it wins over by its own strength, just as «one cannot produce love, but only receive it and hand it on as gift» (homily at the sanctuary of Mariazell, 8 September 2007).
What then remains of this visit? First of all deep gratitude to the Holy Father, who obviously loves this country, and has expressed his love in many ways. Perhaps we ourselves have not been so conscious, but Pope Benedict has effectively made Austria his first pastoral visit, since up till now all the other journeys of his pontificate have arisen out of particular occasions and celebrations. Thus, the words he said here were primarily addressed to this country and to its inhabitants, always keeping in mind that they will have been heard by a much vaster, effectively universal public.
The crowd of faithful gathered in front of the sanctuary of Mariazell for the solemn eucharistic concelebration led by Benedict XVI, on the occasion of the 850th anniversary of the founding of the sanctuary, Saturday 8 September, 
Feastday of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

The crowd of faithful gathered in front of the sanctuary of Mariazell for the solemn eucharistic concelebration led by Benedict XVI, on the occasion of the 850th anniversary of the founding of the sanctuary, Saturday 8 September, Feastday of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

I am grateful to all those who by their action and love for the Church made possible this festival of faith. In effect there were thousands who lavished their efforts for the success of these unforgettable days. I owe much gratitude also to all those who did not let themselves be frightened either by the weather or reservations of a social sort and even less by infra-ecclesiastic bias. All those who set out on the “path of the pilgrimage of the faith”, I’m sure they did not return home without inner enrichment. I am grateful also to the media that enabled hundreds of thousands of people to accomplish this “pilgrimage of the faith” from home also. The media have been able to see that in meeting a strong public demand a new task has come into being for them also.
Let us also remember the admonition of Mariazell: «We need a restless and open heart». Open for God who through Jesus Christ has shown us His face and opened His heart. Open for one’s neighbor who is in difficulty, who has need of us, of whom however we also have need, so as not to lose the parameters of what is human. Open also to new thinking. Many of the problems and questions that have touched us in the past will also accompany us in the future, after the Pope’s visit. It would be naive to think otherwise. And yet with this visit the Pope has left us a certainty that gives us strength: «The earth will be without future only when the strength of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart fade out – when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where there is God, there is future» (homily at the sanctuary of Mariazell, 8 September 2007).


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