The third pastoral journey of Benedict XVI to Germany (September 22-25, 2011)

Source: FSSPX News

The third trip of Benedict XVI to Germany unfolded in three stages, each of which had a specific objective:  in Berlin, on Tuesday, September 22, it was the official state visit in which the pope met with German civil authorities and gave a speech at the parliament;  the next day, in Erfurt, the city of Luther, an ecumenical ceremony took place with representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Confession;  on the 24th and 25th, in Freiburg im Breisgau, one of the most important Catholic dioceses in Germany, Benedict XVI had an audience with a lay Catholic organization before presiding at a prayer vigil with the young people and then celebrating the next day the concluding Mass of this stay in his native country. 


I. Berlin:  the speech at the Bundestag (September 22)

Addressing several hundred German elected representatives, in the absence of the leftist members who intended to protest against his appearance in the Bundestag, the pope gave a long speech about “the foundations of a free state of law”.  Politics, Benedict XVI declared, “must be a striving for justice” and must “establish the fundamental preconditions for peace”.  “Naturally,” he conceded, “a politician will seek success, without which he would have no opportunity for effective political action at all,” but “success can also be seductive and thus can open up the path towards the falsification of what is right, towards the destruction of justice.”

The pope then recalled that Germany had “seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it”.  At that time “the State became … a highly organized band of robbers,” he added, citing an expression borrowed from St. Augustine.  “At a moment in history when man has acquired previously inconceivable power” and can destroy the world, it is urgent, according to Benedict XVI, for politicians “to serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong”.

Although for most matters that are to be regulated by law, a majority decision can suffice, the principle of majority rule is not enough “for the fundamental issues of law”, the pope warned.  “The question of how to recognize what is truly right and thus to serve justice when framing laws has never been simple,” he said, “and today in view of the vast extent of our knowledge and our capacity, it has become still harder.”

“How can reason rediscover its true greatness, without being sidetracked into irrationality?” the pope also asked during his speech to the members of parliament.  “I would say that the emergence of the ecological movement in German politics since the 1970s, while it has not exactly flung open the windows, nevertheless was and continues to be a cry for fresh air,” he answered.  This cry “must not be ignored or pushed aside, just because too much of it is seen to be irrational.”  At the birth of the ecological movement, Benedict XVI explained, “Young people had come to realize that something is wrong in our relationship with nature.”  He added, “The importance of ecology is no longer disputed.”

After assuring his listeners that he was “clearly not promoting any particular political party”, Benedict XVI invited them to “listen to the language of nature” and to answer accordingly.  He also mentioned the existence of “an ecology of man” that is often neglected, immediately noting that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will.” This would be a clever way—and perhaps too subtle a hint to be effective with those directly involved—of demonstrating that the notion of “natural law” used by the Church is not just “Christian” but also “rational”, since the Greens perceived this without reference to any religious thought.  [Editor’s note: Sixty-eight representatives from the Green Party (Die Grünen) are seated in the German Parliament.  The party was founded in 1980 and claims 45,000 members;  it developed out of the ecological and pacifist movement in the late 1970s.]

That same day, on September 22, in a room in the Bundestag building, speaking to around fifteen representatives of the German Jewish community, Benedict XVI said, “With the Declaration Nostra aetate of the Second Vatican Council, an ‘irrevocable commitment to pursue the path of dialogue, fraternity and friendship’ was made.” Here the pope repeated an expression from the speech that he gave in the synagogue in Rome on January 17, 2010.  “This is true of the Catholic Church as a whole, in which Blessed John Paul II committed himself to this new path with particular zeal,” he explained. “It seems to me that we Christians must also become increasingly aware of our own inner affinity with Judaism…. For Christians, there can be no rupture in salvation history. Salvation comes from the Jews” (cf. John 4:22).  Earlier Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of German Jews, had expressed the wish that Christians would consider the Jews on “a footing of equality” and had congratulated the pope for “unambiguously rejecting the old accusation of deicide”.  However, in the name of “friendship” and “candor” he had also listed several matters that still “offend” the Jewish community, among them “the Society of Saint Pius X” and “plans for the beatification of Pius XII”.

II. Erfurt, the city of Luther (September 23)

In Erfurt, the second stage of his visit to Germany, in the cathedral where Martin Luther was ordained a Catholic priest in 1507, addressing representatives of German Protestantism, Benedict XVI offered a paradoxical tribute to the man who started the Protestant Reformation.  “Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric,” he said, acknowledging that he himself was again deeply impressed by the “question” which was “the driving force” of Luther’s whole career. 

A question which “struck the heart” of this reformer, which was “the deep passion” and “the driving force of his whole life’s journey” and “lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle”. The Catholic pope himself repeated this question in that fiefdom of German Protestantism:  “How do I receive the grace of God?”  In other words, Benedict XVI explained, it comes down to asking “the question of God… in our lives”.  After incidentally expressing regret that few today, “even Christians” are concerned about it, he then attempted a reflection on a subject that has been almost completely abandoned by our contemporaries, both Catholic and Protestant:  the idea of evil.  “Most people today, even Christians,” he said, “set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues….  And insofar as people believe in an afterlife and a divine judgment at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings.”

Rebelling against this quietist vision, the pope then asked, “But are they really so small, our failings?”  Especially when the world is filled with “corruption”, self-seeking, “the power of drugs”, an addiction to pleasure, a “growing readiness to use violence”, and with “hunger and poverty”.   “No,” he concluded axiomatically, “evil is no small matter.”  To his mind, evil “could not be so powerful… (if we were) truly to place God at the center of our lives.”

After this new reflection from the lips of a pope revisiting a theme of Luther, Benedict XVI listed the three challenges that ecumenism between Catholics and Protestants should pose today.  As he sees it, it is a matter of bearing “common witness” in a world where “ethics are being replaced by a calculation of consequences.”  He called for a “joint commitment to the Christian ethos” ranging “from issues of pre-implantation diagnosis to the question of euthanasia”.  Then we must make common cause against a “new form of Christianity”—without mentioning them, he was describing the evangelical groups or sects that propose a “Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability”. 

Finally, in view of the fact that “God is increasingly being driven out of our society,” Benedict XVI asked Protestants and Catholics not to “become modern by watering down the faith”. As for the issues that currently trouble the German Protestant community and pose very concrete problems in “mixed marriages” with one Catholic spouse and the other a Protestant—for example, the Church’s refusal of the Protestants’ Eucharistic hospitality whereas the latter accept it—Benedict XVI explicitly avoided these points of disagreement, whereas the Protestant representative of the region, Katrin Göring Eckardt, and the president of the German Protestants, Nikolaus Schneider, had requested a concrete step in this direction. According to Benedict XVI, one “misreading” of ecumenism consists precisely in negotiating so as to arrive at a “compromise”.  Now “faith is not something we work out intellectually and negotiate between us. It is the foundation for our lives.”  Unity would not come about by “weighing … benefits and drawbacks but … by entering ever more deeply into the faith”.

That same day, on September 23, before leaving Berlin, Benedict XVI granted an audience at the apostolic nunciature to a dozen Muslim leaders. “Believers, setting out from their respective convictions, can offer an important witness in many key areas of life in society… for example, the protection of the family based on marriage, respect for life in every phase of its natural course or the promotion of greater social justice,” Benedict XVI declared.  [Editor’s note: Is the concept of marriage the same in Islam and Catholicism?]

“This is another reason why I think it important to hold a day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world,” the pope added, referring to the interreligious meeting scheduled for October 27.   “Through this gathering [in Assisi], we wish to express, with simplicity, that we believers have a special contribution to make towards building a better world.”

Benedict XVI also emphasized during this talk the importance of the German Constitution of May 1949, as a basis for civil coexistence that is still valid today.  He recalled that its authors had tried to find solid ground with which all citizens would be able to identify, by establishing several inalienable rights that are proper to human nature.  Moreover, in the spirit of the Vatican II Declaration Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom, the pope reaffirmed the Church’s firm commitment to a fair recognition of religious affiliation in society and to the upholding at all times of mutual respect.

III. Freiburg-im-Breisgau, the prayer vigil and the concluding Mass (September 24-25)

On September 24 in the seminary in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, in the presence of German Orthodox leaders, Benedict XVI did not conceal his desire for unity soon between Catholics and Orthodox Christians.  He also hoped that a major council of the Orthodox Church would be held.

After recalling that, of all the Christian communities, Orthodoxy was “theologically” the closest to Rome, Benedict XVI declared that it is possible for Catholics and Orthodox “to hope … that the day may be not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together”.  The pope then rejoiced in the intensification of pan-Orthodox collaboration, noting that it has made substantial progress in recent years.  He saluted the creation of Orthodox bishops’ conferences, in countries like Germany.  He hoped that these conferences could strengthen the union among the Orthodox Churches and make progress in efforts for a pan-Orthodox council.  Preparations for this major council have been under way since 1966, at the initiative of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras.  According to some commentators, it could take place in 2012 and would assemble all the [ecclesial] families that resulted from the great Eastern Schism in 1054, in other words, representatives of 220 million Orthodox Christians.

On the same day, September 24, Benedict XVI addressed Council Members of the powerful Central Committee for German Catholics (ZdK), an organization entirely made up of lay people that vies with the Conference of Bishops in much the same way as a labor union, by representing the interests of the laity.  In this meeting the pope declared that if observers “from a far country arrived to spend a week with an average German family, they would find much to admire here, for example the prosperity, the order and the efficiency. But looking on with unprejudiced eyes, they would also see plenty of poverty: poverty in human relations and poverty in the religious sphere.”  According to Benedict XVI, this poverty is the consequence of “subliminal relativism” that permeates all departments of life.  This relativism has a growing influence on human relations and on society, especially those who are no longer in a position to unite themselves unreservedly to a single partner.

The pope also devoted part of his speech to the excess of structural rigidity of the Church in Germany, which coexists with a lack of faith.  A Church that is “superbly organized, but … [there is] more than enough by way of structure but not enough by way of Spirit.”  He concluded, “The real crisis facing the Church in the Western world is a crisis of faith. If we do not find a way of genuinely renewing our faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.”

During the prayer vigil attended by 15,000 young people on the evening of September 24, Benedict XVI called each young German Catholic to be “a light” in the present “darkness”.  The pope emphasized that prejudice against the Church does not come from her adversaries, but rather from lukewarm Christians.  “It is not our human efforts or the technical progress of our era that brings light into this world,” he also explained.  “Dare to be glowing saints, in whose eyes and hearts the love of Christ beams and who thus bring light to the world,” Benedict XVI challenged the young Germans. He said that he was confident that many of them would be “lamps of hope that do not remain hidden”.

“Often it is thought that a saint has to be someone with great ascetic and moral achievements,” he explained to the young people, a “discouraging” model that “could never be imitated”.   Actually, “Christ is not so much interested in how often in our lives we stumble and fall, as in how often with his help we pick ourselves up again. He does not demand glittering achievements, but he wants his light to shine in you. He does not call you because you are good and perfect, but because he is good and he wants to make you his friends…. [and so that] his grace [can] work in us.”  Hence this demanding call:  “Allow Christ to burn in you, even at the cost of sacrifice and renunciation.”

On the final day of his journey, September 25, Benedict XVI concelebrated Mass with the bishops of 27 dioceses in Germany at the airport of Freiburg-im-Breisgau, with more than 100,000 in attendance, according to the organizers of the event.  In his homily the pope warned German Catholics about the dangers of “piety becom[ing] routine” and called them to remain united.  “Agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of their sins, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is ‘routine’ and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without… letting the faith touch their hearts,” Benedict XVI declared.

The pope commended the social and charitable work of the Church in Germany and asked her to provide “more than a technical service”, to give “Christ” to others.  “The renewal of the Church will only come about through openness to conversion and through renewed faith,” he insisted. “The Church in Germany will overcome the great challenges of the present and future, and it will remain a leaven in society, if the priests, consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful, in fidelity to their respective vocations, work together in unity, if the parishes, communities, and movements support and enrich each other, if the baptized and confirmed, in union with their bishop, lift high the torch of untarnished faith and allow it to enlighten their abundant knowledge and skills,” the pope continued.

He concluded:  “The Church in Germany will continue to be a blessing for the entire Catholic world, if she remains faithfully united with the Successors of Saint Peter and the Apostles, if she fosters cooperation in various ways with mission countries and allows herself to be ‘infected’ by the joy that marks the faith of these young Churches.” This appeal was aimed, without mentioning them, at 150 dissident German-speaking theologians and many Catholics, such as the members of Wir sind Kirche (the “We are Church” movement) or the Catholics of the ecumenical network Die Kirche von unten (“The Church from below”), who are tempted to separate themselves from the Church’s structures, demanding the ordination of married men and of women as well as communion for Protestants and remarried divorcés.

That same day, in the concert hall of the Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra, addressing German Catholics who are engaged in the Church and in society, the pope spoke in favor of a Church that can cease worrying about the standards of the world.  “In order to accomplish her true task adequately, the Church must constantly renew the effort to detach herself from her tendency towards worldliness and once again to become open towards God….  She must always open up afresh to the cares of the world, to which she herself belongs, and give herself over to them, in order to make present and continue the holy exchange that began with the Incarnation,” Benedict XVI declared.  “In the concrete history of the Church, however,” he noted, “a contrary tendency is also manifested, namely that the Church becomes self-satisfied, settles down in this world, becomes self-sufficient and adapts herself to the standards of the world. Not infrequently, she gives greater weight to organization and institutionalization than to her vocation to openness towards God.”

The pope speculated that history comes to the aid of the Church through various periods of secularization, which have contributed substantially to her purification and internal reform.  The missionary witness of a “less worldly” Church shines forth more clearly, because she is “liberated from material and political burdens” and can thus dedicate herself in a more truly Christian way to the whole world;  she can be truly open to the world.  “It is time once again to discover the right form of detachment from the world, to move resolutely away from the Church’s worldliness. This does not, of course, mean withdrawing from the world….  A Church relieved of the burden of worldliness is in a position, not least through her charitable activities, to mediate the life-giving strength of the Christian faith to those in need, to sufferers and to their caregivers.”

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