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from issue no. 11 - 2010

A shepherd of souls who knows how to reach people’s hearts

The attraction roused by Christianity in the world and on young people is not linked only to form, that can sometimes have its importance, but to substance: to manage to convey the certainty which is said to correspond to a reality

Giulio Andreotti

Andreotti in audience with Benedict XVI in June 2009 <BR>[© Osservatore Romano]

Andreotti in audience with Benedict XVI in June 2009
[© Osservatore Romano]

A Pope who grants an interview is still today seen as rare and going against protocol. But it is a sign of the times: it’s true that until some years ago it was unthinkable that the pope should review the situation of the Church and the world with a journalist, because the pope spoke only through encyclicals and the Angelus, and always with a certain solemnity, but the world marches on and the more we go forward the more the Church can and must use all available means to spread its message, conscious that the attraction roused by Christianity in the world and on young people is not linked only to form, that can sometimes have its importance, but to substance: to manage to convey the certainty which is said to correspond to a reality.
Benedict XVI does not seem uncomfortable with these means: in the book-interview Light of the World he appears primarily as a shepherd of souls who knows how to reach people’s hearts and especially the hearts of young people. And reaching people’s hearts is the primary necessity, not least given the current situation.
The interview has gone round the world and so we’ve asked Cardinal Cottier to comment on it for us. We have also selected some of the questions and answers that we offer to our readers below.
Some of the Pope’s responses stirred debate, to which we add nothing except to say that a pope has the right and duty to keep his eyes always open, and what he prospects is partly a choice, partly an objective condition which he can’t escape.
Various friends have asked me what differences I see between Benedict XVI who speaks of himself in the interview-book and other popes whom I’ve known: in part the difference in situations demands different stances from a pope, and furthermore every pope has his own sensibility, his own style, is in fact a unique creature and this can’t help but transpire both in the most solemn papal messages and in the teachings given during the Wednesday public audiences. But having said that, there is a constant that links the Pope to his predecessors and that makes for not much change in the message given to the world.

But only the Lord himself has the power to keep people in the faith as well

Never before has the Catholic Church had more believers, never before such extension, literally to the ends of the earth.
Naturally these statistics are important. They indicate how widespread the Church is and how large this communion is, which encompasses races and peoples, continents, cultures, and people of every kind. But the Pope does not have power because of these numbers.
Why not?
Communion with the Pope is something of a different sort, as is membership in the Church, of course. Among those 1.2 billion Catholics are many who inwardly are not there. Saint Augustine said even in his day: There are many outside who seem to be inside, and there are many inside who seem to be outside. In a matter like faithlike membership in the Catholic Church inside and outside are mysteriously intertwined with each other. Stalin was right in saying that the Pope has no divisions and cannot issue commands. Nor does he have a big business in which all the faithful of the Church are his employees or his subordinates.
In that respect the Pope is, on the one hand, a completely powerless man. On the other hand, he bears a great responsibility. He is to a certain extent the leader, the representative, and at the same time the one responsible for making sure that the faith that keeps people together is believed, that it remains alive, and that its identity is inviolate. But only the Lord himself has the power to keep people in the faith as well.
(pp. 6-7)

Benedict XVI [© Paolo Galosi]

Benedict XVI [© Paolo Galosi]

I was really supported by that joy

Christian willingness to be a sign of contradiction runs through your own biography like a continuous woven pattern... Do these base lines now also influence the way in which you are shaping your pontificate?
Naturally the experience of so many years means also a formation of character; it leaves its mark on thought and action. I was, naturally, not always simply against things, exclusively and as a matter of principle. There were many wonderful situations of agreement. When I think of my time as an assistant pastor, even though the intrusion of the secular world was already perceptible in families, nevertheless there was so much joy in our common faith, in the school, with the children, with the youth, that I was really supported by that joy. And it was also like that at the time when I was a professor.
That Christianity gives joy and breadth is also a thread that runs through my whole life. Ultimately someone who is always only in opposition could probably not endure life at all.
But at the same time the fact was ever-present, albeit in varying doses, that the Gospel stands in opposition to powerful constellations. In my childhood and youth until the end of the war, of course, this was so in an especially drastic way. In the years after 1968, the Christian faith then came into conflict with a new concept of society, so that it repeatedly had to stand against powerful, triumphal opinions. Enduring hostility and offering resistance are therefore part of it – a resistance, however, that serves to bring to light what is positive.
(pp. 10-11)

simply by old acquaintance, so to speak. But I also invoke the saints. I am friends with Augustine, with Bonaventure, with Thomas Aquinas. Then one says to such saints also: Help me! And the Mother of God is, in any case, always a major point of reference. In this sense I commend myself to the communion of saints. With them, strengthened by them, I then talk with the dear Lord also, begging, for the most part, but also in thanksgiving or quite simply being joyful.
(p. 17)

Good and evil became interchangeable

The great majority of abuse cases go back to the 1970s and 1980s...
Of course the intellectual climate of the 1970s, for which the 1950s had already paved the way, contributed to this. A theory was even finally developed at that time that pedophilia should be viewed as something positive. Above all, however, the thesis was advocated – and this even infiltrated Catholic moral theology – that there was no such thing as something that is bad in itself. There were only things that were “relatively” bad. What was good or bad depended on the consequences.
In such a context, where everything is relative and nothing intrinsically evil exists, but only relative good and relative evil, people who have an inclination to such behavior are left with no solid footing. Of course pedophilia is first rather a sickness of individuals, but the fact that it could become so active and so widespread was linked also to an intellectual climate through which the foundations of moral theology, good and evil, became open to question in the Church. Good and evil became interchangeable; they were no longer absolutely clear opposites.
(pp. 37-38)

They are initiatives that are not ordered by a structure or a bureaucracy

Couldn’t we also assume that after two thousand years Christianity has simply played itself out, just as other major cultures in the history of civilization played themselves out?
If we look superficially and have only the Western world in view, then we might think that. But if we look more closely, as it is possible for me to do precisely because of the visits of bishops from all over the world and many other encounters, we see that at this hour Christianity is developing a new creativity at the same time...
Less clearly but nevertheless unmistakably, we find here in the West, too, a revival of new Catholic initiatives that are not ordered by a structure or a bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is spent and tired. These initiatives come from within, from the joy of young people. Christianity is perhaps acquiring another face and, also, another cultural form. It does not hold the command post in world opinion; others rule there. But it is the vital force without which even the other things would not continue. In this regard, thanks to what I myself am able to see and experience, I am quite optimistic that Christianity is on the verge of a new dynamic.
(pp. 58-59)

Benedict XVI [© Osservatore Romano/Associated Press/LaPresse]

Benedict XVI [© Osservatore Romano/Associated Press/LaPresse]

The key thing is to see what is simple

The German philosopher Robert Spaemann was once asked whether an internationally renowned scholar such as himself could actually believe that Jesus was born of a Virgin and worked miracles, that he rose from the dead and bestows eternal life on believers. That’s just the sort of thing children believe in, isn’t it? Here is how Spaemann, now eighty-three years old, answered the question: “If you want to put it like that, yes, of course. I believe roughly the same thing I believed as a child – the point is just that since then I have had more opportunity to think about my faith. In the end, thinking about my faith has always strengthened it”.
What about the Pope? Does he still believe what he believed as a child?
I would answer in similar terms. I would say: Simplicity is truth – and truth is simple. Our problem is that we no longer see the forest for the trees; that for all our knowledge, we have lost the path to wisdom. This is also the idea behind Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which shows how the cleverness of our age causes us, ironically, to overlook the essential, while the Little Prince, who hasn’t the faintest idea about all this cleverness, ultimately sees more and better.
What really counts? What is authentic? What keeps us going? The key thing is to see what is simple.
(p. 167)

The really crucial thing is that the Church offers Him...

Isn’t it the case, especially when as an author you take a fresh look at these topics, that you inevitably start reeling when you realize how far the Church has repeatedly strayed from the path that the Son of God showed her?
Well, right now, in the midst of the scandals, we have experienced what it means to be very stunned by how wretched the Church is, by how much her members fail to follow Christ. That is the one side, which we are forced to experience for our humiliation, for our real humility. The other side is that, in spite of everything, he does not release his grip on the Church. In spite of the weakness of the people in whom she shows herself, he keeps the Church in his grasp, he raises up saints in her, and makes himself present through them. I believe that these two feelings belong together: the deep shock over the wretchedness, the sinfulness of the Church – and the deep shock over the fact that he doesn’t drop this instrument, but that he works with it; that he never ceases to show himself through and in the Church.

... Jesus, at any rate, made his disciples strong enough, not just to preach, but also to expel demons and to heal.
Yes, that’s key. The Church is not here to place burdens on the shoulders of mankind, and she does not offer some sort of moral system. The really crucial thing is that the Church offers Him. That she opens wide the doors to God and so gives people what they are most waiting for and what can most help them and what they most need. The Church does this mainly through the great miracle of love, which never stops happening afresh. When people – without earning any profit, without having to do it because it is their job – motivated by Christ, stand by others and help them. You are right that this therapeutic character of Christianity... ought to be much more clearly in evidence than it is.

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