Secularization, economic crisis and its consequences on Europe: these, together with a reflection on the harm caused to the Church by the sex abuse scandal, are some of the questions touched on by Benedict XVI, in his meeting with the press on board the Alitalia Airbus 320 that took him to Portugal on 11 May, for the 15th of his international journeys (until 14 May). The programme of the Pope’s visit to Portugal includes visits to Lisbon, Fatima and Oporto (info: www.vatican.va, www.bentoxviportugal.pt).A courageous faith. Speaking of the reality of secularization in Portugal, once a profoundly Catholic country, Benedict XVI, according to Vatican Radio, has in the first place recognized the existence through the centuries of a “courageous, intelligent and creative faith”, testified by the Portuguese nation also in many parts of the world, such as in Brazil. Though pointing out that “the dialectic between faith and secularism in Portugal” has “a long history”, there has been no shortage of people, said the Pope, eager to “build bridges”, and “foster dialogue” between the two positions. That’s a task that still holds good in our time: “the mission of Europe – explained the Pope – in this situation is to find this dialogue, integrate faith and modern rationality in a single vision of man that completes the human being and in this way also makes human cultures communicable. The presence of secularism is something normal, but the separation, the opposition between secularism and culture of faith is anomalous and must be overcome”. “The great challenge of our time is to ensure that the two should meet, so that they may both find their true identity. It’s a mission of Europe and a human need in our history”. Benedict XVI then touched on the economic crisis that risks undermining the very stability of the European Community. Taking his cue from the social doctrine of the Church, which invites economic positivism to enter into dialogue with an ethical vision of the economy, the Pope also confessed that the Catholic faith has “often”, in the past, left economic questions to the world and thought exclusively “of individual salvation”. “Yet the whole tradition of the social doctrine of the Church – explained the Pontiff – has been aimed at widening the ethical aspect and faith beyond the individual, and extending it to responsibility for the world, to a rationality ‘performed’ by ethics. On the other hand, recent events on the market, over these last two to three years, have demonstrated that the ethical dimension is internal and must enter into the very heart of economic action. Only thus shall Europe fulfil its mission”.The example of the Portuguese saints. European themes were also touched on by the Pope in his homily during the first of the masses he celebrated during his visit, in Lisbon’s Terreiro do Paco on 11 May. Here, before over 160,000 people he recalled the example of the Portuguese Saints Verissimus, Maxima and Julia, St. Vincent, St. Anthony, St. John de Brito and St. Nuno di Santa Maria. Despite the fact that there has been no shortage of “quarrelsome and even rebellious sons”, recalled the Pope, it is in the Saints that “the Church recognizes her own characteristic traits, and it is in them in particular that she experiences her deepest joy. What they all have in common is their will to incarnate the Gospel in their own existence”. The Portuguese saints remind us that “those who believe in Jesus will not be disappointed: it is the Word of God that does not deceive and that cannot deceive us”. “Fixing her gaze on her own Saints – added the Holy Father – this local Church has rightly concluded that today the pastoral priority is to turn each Christian man and woman into a radiant presence of the Gospel in the midst of the world, in the family, in culture, in the economy and in politics”. Nonetheless, he warned, “we often concern ourselves frenetically with the social, cultural and political consequences of faith, taking for granted that this faith is there in the first place, something that is unfortunately ever less realistic. We have perhaps placed excessive trust in ecclesial structures and programmes, in the distribution of powers and functions; but what happens if the salt has lost its taste?”. To prevent that from happening, “we need to proclaim anew with vigour and joy the event of the death and resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ gives us the assurance that no power can ever destroy the Church. So there’s a huge grassroots effort that needs to be made to transform each Christian into a witness able to give account to everyone of the hope that is in him”. The Pope recalled the “glorious place that Portugal has won for herself in the family of nations for the service she has given to the spread of the faith: in all five continents of the world there are local Churches that derive their origin from Portuguese missionary action”. As in the past – urged the Pontiff – “today too, bring the contribution of your cultural and religious identity by participating in the building up of the European Community”. At the end of the mass Benedict XVI recalled the monument of Christ the King, erected in Lisbon by the Portuguese bishops following a vow made at Fatima on 20 April 1940, on the country’s non-entry into the second world war.
Europe in the words of Benedict XVI