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from issue no. 06/07 - 2008

Australia. The analysis of the editor of L’Osservatore Romano

To the ends of the earth, in the continuity of a vital tradition

At the heart of the longest trip of his pontificate was the transmission of faith. Again Benedict XVI gave of himself without reserve to show the ever new continuity and vitality of the Christian tradition

by Giovanni Maria Vian

Benedict XVI greets the pilgrims arriving in Sydney for World Youth Day, 17 July 2008

Benedict XVI greets the pilgrims arriving in Sydney for World Youth Day, 17 July 2008

The trip to Australia, as already that to the United States, has helped to reveal the true face of Benedict XVI. It is not that of the cold and reactionary mask of the great inquisitor constantly imposed on him by the media, but the gentle face, and capable of surprising as if that of a child, of the caring and attentive pastor theologian. That is of an intellectual who always wanted and knew how to explain, as true Shepherd, the foundations of the Christian faith: already when he was a university professor, then as bishop, then as guardian of Catholic doctrine, in his role as head in charge of the Roman Department and principal theological adviser of John Paul II, and finally now as successor to the Polish Pope, with whom he is also contrasted by the same media, in an unashamedly manipulative manner. Addressing himself primarily to the faithful, but also then to those who are distant, in clear and consistent language and thought; thanks to speeches that are only fractionally transmitted by television, radio and the press, but that instead merit reading for their richness. And this time also the balance of the journey is positive.
The success of the trips of Benedict XVI – as already those of Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with an unprecedented range of choice that led him and the Secretary of the Department, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, now his Secretary of State, to different continents – can be explained primarily by their careful preparation. This time it involved not only Australian Catholics but mobilised the Church on a planetary scale for the celebration of World Youth Day. An undertaking that was obviously not easy, but it too successful, thanks also to the usual generous commitment of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and the participation of many hundreds of bishops, priests and religious who met myriads of girls and boys arrived from every part of the world, indeed “even to the ends of the earth”, according to the biblical expression frequently repeated in the days of Sydney. Crucial to the success of the trip were also the support of the Archbishop of the metropolis, Cardinal George Pell, and the wide support of the Australian Government led by Kevin Rudd, who participated twice with a warmth that went beyond protocol, to welcome the Pope and the young pilgrims, and who wanted to seal the conclusion of the papal visit with the appointment of the first resident ambassador to the Holy See, Tim Fischer, leading exponent of the opposition, with a truly impeccable example of bipartisan choice.
In this framework, organized beforehand as has been said thanks to excellent planning, Benedict XVI addressed – from the first meeting in the plane with the journalists, as he had already done when flying to the United States – the most urgent issues of the Australian agenda: the question of the environment, the presence of the indigenous peoples, the scandal of the sexual abuses in the Catholic Church, but especially spiritual desertification. As can be seen, themes that extensively cross the borders of the “brand new” continent, in a truly global appointment, and presented an opportunity for the Pope to repeat with mild and clear determination that the contemporary world thirsts for God and that therefore the response offered to every human being from Christ and his Church is true. The long and challenging Australian journey – an event described as “historic” by Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence – and the World Youth Day proved themselves important, therefore, and certainly not isolated and spectacular events.
And Benedict XVI in the corpus of the Australian speeches constantly wanted to go to the heart of issues, from the very first day. And if immediately on the first day he related the significance of his visit to an Australia engaged in an effort to purify its own history – the premier Rudd had several times in recent months acknowledged the faults against the indigenous peoples – the second day of his visit he returned to directing his look toward the one Lord, meeting representatives of other Christian confessions, those of other religions and a community of recovery. Not by chance on the day when a moving Via Crucis, a successful modern sacred representation, traversed the centre of Sydney. At the center the Pope had placed Christ and His significance. For the relations between the different churches and Christian confessions, first of all. Referring to the frankness of Australians, Benedict XVI stressed the importance of advancing the ecumenical movement: recognizing the foundation of baptism, but aiming higher, at the common Eucharistic celebration. Aware that ecumenism has, however, reached a “critical point” and that doctrine cannot be considered an obstacle in ecumenical progress. The centrality of Christ was openly evoked by the Pope also in the very cordial meeting with representatives of different religions in the framework of religious freedom and in a “harmonious relationship between religion and public life”, all the more important the more the tendency is to present – aggressively, as is the case in many Western societies – religion as a cause of division. Religions can in fact proceed together, especially in the field of education, teaching sobriety and attention to the spiritual dimension. Finally Jesus returned again in the sermon to the young people in a community of Sydney: it is indeed Christ – the origin of all reality, created by Him and therefore good – who wishes life. That cannot be obtained adoring “other gods”, identified by Benedict XVI in material goods, possessive love and in power: all good realities, but which should not be worshipped as idols.
The consecration of the new altar of Sydney Cathedral, 19 July 2008

The consecration of the new altar of Sydney Cathedral, 19 July 2008

Attentive to signs, in the mass for the consecration of Sydney Cathedral’s new altar concelebrated with the bishops, the Pope called for the beginning of a new building up of the Australian Church, and in the vigil with young people he asked that they open their hearts to the Holy Spirit, the center of World Youth Day. Like the new altar, from which an original bas relief inspired by the Shroud stands out, Christians also are consecrated: that is made part of God’s Kingdom – the Bishop of Rome emphasized – in a world that would rather put God aside. But the consecration of Christians is demanding, and for this reason Benedict XVI once again expressed shame and regret for the cases of sexual abuse of minors, with a pain and a forcefulness that leave no room for doubts about his attitude, and by following his words, as in the United States, with a meeting with some victims held with understandable discretion. And with regard to the Holy Spirit, “in various ways the forgotten Person of the Most Holy Trinity”, the Pope dedicated to Him, partly in the path of St. Augustine, the long meditation conducted during the vigil with the young people. Stressing to them – but talking to the whole Church – that the Spirit of God is in the life of every human being and attracts toward what is real, what is sustainable, what is true. Beyond the limits of all that is transitory, well beyond consumerist madness.
Therefore the transmission of faith was at the heart of the longest trip of his pontificate. Again Benedict XVI gave of himself without reserve to show the ever new continuity and vitality of the Christian tradition, in the panorama of a “spiritual desert” that is extending. To the hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in Sydney – and through them to the whole Church – the Pope posed radical questions: “Are you living your lives in such a way as to make room for the Spirit in the midst of a world that wants to forget God, or indeed to reject Him in the name of a false concept of freedom?”. Confident that many will respond positively, to build “a world in which life is accepted, respected and cared for”. Among Christians, but also among a great many believers and non-believers.

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