Benedict XVI’s visit to Austria (September 7-9, 2007)

Source: FSSPX News

September 7, to politicians and diplomats: Austria and Europe must not deny their Christian roots

In a long address to the political and diplomatic authorities, in the reception hall of Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, the seat of the Austrian presidency, Benedict XVI invited Austria and Europe at large “not to deny their Christian roots.” Thus the pope underlined that “Austria is a country which is greatly blessed,” “But Austria is certainly not an "enchanted island" nor does it consider itself such.” “Much of what Austria is and possesses, it owes to the Christian faith and its beneficial effects on individual men and women. The faith has profoundly shaped the character of this country and its people. Consequently it should be everyone’s concern to ensure that the day will never come when only its stones speak of Christianity! An Austria without a vibrant Christian faith would no longer be Austria.”  

Benedict XVI also placed Europe in front of its responsibilities. “The ‘European home’ (…) will be a good place to live for everyone only if it is built on a solid cultural and moral foundation of common values drawn from our history and our traditions,” he declared. “Europe cannot and must no deny her Christian roots.” If this continent has “experienced and suffered from terribly misguided courses of action,” he added. And he quoted “ideological restrictions imposed on philosophy, science and also faith, the abuse of religion and reason for imperialistic purposes, the degradation of man resulting from theoretical and practical materialism, and finally the degeneration of tolerance into an indifference with no reference to permanent values. But Europe has also been marked by a capacity for self-criticism which gives it a distinctive place within the vast panorama of the world’s cultures.”

Benedict XVI also invited Europe to “assume a role of leadership in the fight against global poverty and in efforts to promote peace. With gratitude we can observe that the countries of Europe and the European Union are among those making the greatest contribution to international development, but they also need to make their political importance felt, for example, with regard to the urgent challenges presented in Africa, given the immense tragedies afflicting that continent, such as the scourge of AIDS, the situation in Darfur, the unjust exploitation of natural resources and the disturbing traffic in arms.”

Lastly, the pope invited European countries, where the rights of men were first formulated, to respect “life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right -- it is the very opposite.” He said that he was “acting as advocate, speaking out on behalf of those unborn children who have no voice.” “I appeal, then, to political leaders not to allow children to be considered as a form of illness, nor to abolish in practice your legal system’s acknowledgment that abortion is wrong,” he added. “If humane accompaniment on the journey towards death is to prevail, urgent structural reforms are needed in every area of the social and healthcare system, as well as organized structures of palliative care,” wished Benedict XVI as he stated his “concern” about euthanasia.

Before this meeting, Benedict XVI had stopped for some brief moments in the Judenplatz in Vienna, to pray in silence before the monument erected to the memory of the victims of the Shoah. He bowed before this vast rectangular monument on which are inscribed the names of the town in which Jews lost their lives between 1938 and 1945. On the plane to Vienna, in the morning of September 7, the pope had mentioned these moments during which he would “express his sadness, repentance, and friendship with (his) Jewish brethren.”

September 8, to the pilgrims at Mariazell: the crisis in the West comes from the refusal of Christ

Before 40,000 pilgrims present at the Mariazell shrine under a pouring rain, Benedict XVI said that the Christian “faith is decisively opposed to the attitude of resignation that considers man incapable of truth – as if this were more than he could cope with. This attitude of resignation with regard to truth, I am convinced, lies at the heart of the crisis of the West, the crisis of Europe. If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. And then the great and wonderful discoveries of science become double-edged: they can open up significant possibilities for good, for the benefit of mankind, but also, as we see only too clearly, they can pose a terrible threat, involving the destruction of man and the world.”

The pope, who had come to Mariazell to celebrate the 850th anniversary of the foundation of the shrine, called upon the faithful to gaze upon Christ: “If we do this, we realize that Christianity is more than and different from a moral code, from a series of requirements and laws. It is the gift of a friendship that lasts through life and death. (…)Yet precisely because Christianity is more than a moral system, because it is the gift of friendship, for this reason it also contains within itself great moral strength, which is so urgently needed today on account of the challenges of our time.” Benedict XVI also recalled that Christ is called the “one universal Mediator of salvation, valid for everyone and, ultimately, needed by everyone,” yet he did add a nuance: “this does not mean that we despise other religions, nor are we arrogantly absolutizing our own ideas.”

Speaking about the Madonna with Child of Mariazell, whose statue had been carried in procession to the altar at the beginning of the ceremony, Benedict XVI emphasized that the Child Jesus naturally reminds us or all the children in the world. And he went on to speak of children who live in poverty, sick and suffering children, but also those who are joyful and healthy. “Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future,” the pope deplored. He strongly invited the faithful to say “‘yes’ to the family, to life, to responsible love, to solidarity, to social responsibility and to justice, to truth, and to respect for other people.”

 “Being a follower of Christ is full of risks,” acknowledged Benedict XVI before priests, religious brothers and sisters, during the Vespers he presided at Mariazell on Saturday evening. He invited religious “to be on the side of all who have never known love, and who are no longer able to believe in life.” “Let your light shine in our society, in political and economic life, in culture and research,” he exclaimed.

The pope also wished to reflect on the “distinctive elements of a life committed to the radical following of Christ: poverty, chastity and obedience.” “Anyone who wants to follow Christ in a radical way must renounce material goods,” he affirmed. And he underlined that “the issue of poverty and the poor must be the object of a constant and serious examination of conscience.”

Concerning chastity, the pope recalled that “priests and religious are not aloof from interpersonal relationships.” “By the vow of celibate chastity we do not consecrate ourselves to individualism or a life of isolation; instead, we solemnly promise to put completely and unreservedly at the service of God’s Kingdom – and thus at the service of others - the deep relationships of which we are capable and which we receive as a gift.” These words of the pope were understood as a reminder in a country where priestly celibacy is often under discussion.

Benedict XVI invited priests and religious to live “amid so much greed, possessiveness, consumerism and the cult of the individual,” striving “to show selfless love for men and women.” “Precisely today, the world needs our witness,” he concluded.

September 9, to the faithful in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna: Without the Lord and without the day that belongs to him, life does not flourish

During the Mass celebrated in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and for which the Missa cellensis, composed by Haydn in 1782 in honor of the Virgin of Mariazell, was sung, Benedict XVI defended the religious dimension of the Sunday rest in Western societies threatened by superficiality. He emphasized the essential and vital character of a leisure time focused on Christ, i.e. Sunday.

The pope wished that in “the bustle of everyday life”, Sunday leisure time be not emptied of its meaning. When receiving the Pope into the cathedral, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, had rejoiced over the establishment in Austria of a broad Alliance for free Sunday which gathered Catholic organizations, and other civil institutions among which Austrian trade-unions.

“Without the Lord and without the day that belongs to him, life does not flourish,” said the sovereign pontiff. Making his own the cry of Christians from the first North African communities who were forbidden to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist, he recalled that: “without the Lord’s day, we cannot live.” For the pope, “to do without or to betray this focus would deprive life of its very foundation, would take away its inner dignity and beauty.” “The restless craving for life, so widespread among people today, leads to the barrenness of a lost life,” he added.

In front of the representatives of the organizations and associations of the Alliance for free Sunday, Benedict XVI expressed his regret that “Sunday has been transformed in our Western societies into the week-end, into leisure time.” “Leisure time is something good and necessary, especially amid the mad rush of the modern world; each of us knows this. Yet if leisure time lacks an inner focus, an overall sense of direction, then ultimately it becomes wasted time that neither strengthens nor builds us up.” And he added that we all  “need this encounter which brings us together, which gives us space for freedom, which lets us see beyond the bustle of everyday life to God’s creative love, from which we come and towards which we are traveling.”

Following the Angelus in Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Square, Benedict XVI presented a Letter he had written to children who participate in the initiatives of the Pontifical Work of the Holy Childhood. “In you I see young collaborators in the service that the Pope renders to the Church and to the world,” the Holy Father wrote in his letter signed on September 3, in Castel Gandolfo. “You support me with your prayers and with your commitment to spread the Gospel.”

In his letter, Benedict XVI mentioned the many children who do not yet know Jesus: “And unfortunately there are as many others who do not have the necessities to live: food, medical care, education; many do not have peace and serenity. The Church gives them particular attention, especially through missionaries.” Benedict XVI then affirmed that “Friendship with Jesus is such a beautiful gift that you cannot keep it to yourselves! Those who receive this gift feel the need to give it to others; and in this way the shared gift does not diminish but multiplies!”

September 9 to the monks of Heiligenkreuz Abbey: what matters most is not that the liturgy be attractive, interesting, and beautiful

When visiting the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, only a short distance from Vienna, Benedict XVI explained to the monks: “In all our efforts on behalf of the liturgy, the determining factor must always be our looking to God.” And  he specified: “Whenever in our thinking we are only concerned about making the liturgy attractive, interesting and beautiful, the battle is already lost.” The liturgy must “be an expression of the sublime beauty of the God.” The pope invited the monks not to consider their abbeys and monasteries as “mere strongholds of culture and tradition, or even simple business enterprises.” “Structure, organization and finances are necessary in the Church too, but they are not what is essential. A monastery is above all this: a place of spiritual power.”

Since 1802, the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz has been sheltering a Pontifical Academy of theology which is now named after the reigning pope. Benedict XVI took advantage of his visit to underline how important it is that “the discipline of theology be part of the universitas of knowledge through the presence of Catholic theological faculties in state universities, and how equally important it is that there should be academic institutions like that this Abbey’s where there can be a deeper interplay between scientific theology and lived spirituality.” “In its desire to be recognized as a rigorously scientific discipline in the modern sense, theology can lose the life-breath given by faith,” said the pope and he warned against “a theology which no longer draws its life-breath from faith” Benedict XVI put forward the practice of a “theology practiced ‘on bent knee’, as Hans Urs von Balthasar urged” and emphasized that it would “prove fruitful for the Church of Austria and beyond.”

“Today, if such a vocation [to the priesthood or the religious life] is to be sustained faithfully over a lifetime, there is a need for a formation capable of integrating faith and reason, heart and mind, life and thought,” declared Benedict XVI. Hence, “neglect of the spiritual dimension, in turn, can create a rarified rationalism which, in its coldness and detachment, can never bring about an enthusiastic self-surrender to God.” “Each vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood is a treasure so precious that those responsible for it should do everything possible to ensure a formation which promotes both fides et ratio – faith and reason, heart and mind,” concluded Benedict XVI.