The voyage of Benedict XVI to Portugal (May 11 – 14)

Source: FSSPX News

On the morning of May 11, on board the plane that was taking him to Portugal, Benedict XVI was questioned by the journalists who accompanied him concerning the message of Fatima and the “sufferings” of the Church foretold by the Virgin Mary in May of 1917. 

He replied: “Beyond this great vision of the suffering of the Pope, which we can in the first place refer to Pope John Paul II [victim of an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, in Rome – editor’s note], an indication is given of realities involving the future of the Church, which are gradually taking shape and becoming evident. So it is true that, in addition to moment indicated in the vision, there is mention of, there is seen, the need for a passion of the Church, which naturally is reflected in the person of the Pope, yet the Pope stands for the Church and thus it is sufferings of the Church that are announced. The Lord told us that the Church would constantly be suffering, in different ways, until the end of the world.

“The important thing is that the message, the response of Fatima, in substance is not directed to particular devotions, but precisely to the fundamental response, that is, to ongoing conversion, penance, prayer, and the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. Thus we see here the true, fundamental response which the Church must give – which we, every one of us, must give in this situation.

“As for the new things which we can find in this message today, there is also the fact that attacks on the Pope and the Church come not only from without, but the sufferings of the Church come precisely from within the Church, from the sin existing within the Church. This too is something that we have always known, but today we are seeing it in a really terrifying way: that the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church, and that the Church thus has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on the one hand, but also the need for justice. Forgiveness does not replace justice.”  Traditionally a distinction is made between the Church, which is holy, and the people in the Church, who are sinners.

“In a word, we need to relearn precisely this essential: conversion, prayer, penance and the theological virtues. This is our response, we are realists in expecting that evil always attacks, attacks from within and without, yet that the forces of good are also ever present and that, in the end, the Lord is more powerful than evil, and Our Lady is for us the visible, motherly guarantee of God’s goodness, which is always the last word in history.”

In the late afternoon of May 11th, while celebrating mass in Lisbon before a congregation of 70,000 in the Terreiro do Paço, on the bank of the Tagus, Benedict XVI assured the faithful that “no adverse power will ever be able to destroy the Church.”  Amid a Portuguese society that is traditionally Catholic but menaced by secularization, the pope invited Catholics to witness to their faith. He asked the Church of Portugal to a proclaim anew “with vigour and joy the event of the death and resurrection of Christ, the heart of Christianity, the fulcrum and mainstay of our faith, the firm lever of our certainties, the strong wind that sweeps away all fear and indecision, all doubt and human calculation.”

The pope warned against placing excessive trust “in ecclesial structures and programmes, in the distribution of powers and functions [i.e. responsibilities and offices].” “But what will happen if salt loses its flavour?” he inquired. In response, he expressed a wish that “every Christian […] be transformed into a witness capable of rendering account to all and at all times of the hope that inspires him.” After recalling the “glorious” place that Portugal gained “among the nations for the service rendered to the spreading of the faith,” Benedict XVI also observed that the nation, by participating today in the construction of the European community, was contributing its cultural and religious identity. He also wished that Lisbon might “base [her] human hopes upon divine Hope.”

On the morning of May 12th, 2010, in Lisbon, while meeting representatives of the world of culture and of different religions, Benedict XVI called upon Portugal not to renounce the Church’s “healthy and lofty tradition” of truth. At the Cultural Center of Belém, on the outskirts of Lisbon, the pope denounced a society that “gives absolute value to the present,” without taking into account its cultural and religious traditions. These words were spoken in a traditionally Catholic country that has recently legalized abortion and divorce—and that authorized homosexual marriage on May 17th, three days after the pope’s visit.

Benedict XVI deplored the fact that today’s culture is “permeated by a ‘tension’ which at times takes the form of a ‘conflict’ between the present and tradition.” “The dynamic movement of society gives absolute value to the present, isolating it from the cultural legacy of the past, without attempting to trace a path for the future,” he noted, adding that this development of the “present” as a source of inspiration for the meaning of life conflicts with the strong cultural tradition of the Portuguese people, profoundly marked by the influence of more than a millennium of Christianity. From this tradition was born a “wisdom,” “an understanding of life and history which included a corpus of ethical values and an ‘ideal’ to be realized by Portugal.” While the Church appears as the champion of a sound and lofty tradition, society certainly continues to respect and appreciate this service to the common good, “but distances itself from that ‘wisdom’ which is part of her legacy.” “This ‘conflict’ between tradition and the present finds expression in the crisis of truth,” the pope also affirmed, maintaining that “a people no longer conscious of its own truth ends up by being lost in the maze of time and history.” Furthermore, he declared that for a society composed largely of Catholics with a culture profoundly marked by Christianity, “the search for truth apart from Christ proves [tragic].”

Nevertheless, the pope confirmed that the Church, in her “adherence to the eternal character of truth,” respects “other ‘truths.’” She is “in the process of learning” to dialogue with “the truth of others,” he declared. “Dialogue, without ambiguity and marked by respect for those taking part, is a priority in today’s world, and the Church does not intend to withdraw from it.” Benedict XVI then explained that this dialogue was clearly visible in the Holy See’s presence in various international organizations. As an example, he cited the Holy See’s presence in the North-South Center of the Council of Europe, founded 20 years ago in Lisbon, which promotes intercultural dialogue.

On May 12, in the late afternon, after the vespers celebrated with the Portugese clergy at the shrine of Fatima, Benedict XVI recited an act of consecration of the priests of the entire world to the Virgin Mary, in which he asked : “Mother of the Church, we priests want to be pastors who do not feed themselves, but rather give themselves to God for their brethren, finding their happiness in this. Not only with words, but with our lives, we want to repeat humbly, day after day, our ‘here I am.’”

On this occasion Benedict XVI addressed the Portugese clergy in these terms : “Let me open my heart and tell you that the greatest concern of every Christian, especially of every consecrated person or minister of the altar, must be fidelity, loyalty to one’s own vocation, as a disciple who wishes to follow the Lord.” “Faithfulness over time,” he added, “is the name of love.” The pope asked priests to “be especially attentive to those situations where there is a certain weakening of priestly ideals or dedication to activities not fully consonant with what is proper for a minister of Jesus Christ.”  He exhorted them to “take a firm stand, with an attitude of warm fraternal love, as brother assisting his brother to ‘remain on his feet,’” what the Church calls fraternal correction.  He invited them also to a reciprocal solidarity. “Carefully examine your intentions and your motivations,” he further declared to the seminarians, inviting them also to “be conscious of the great responsibility” which they will have to “assume.”

At Fatima, on May 12 in the evening, Benedict XVI presided over the blessing of candles and the recitation of the rosary.  In front of a crowd of 300,000 personnes, facing a veritable  “sea of light,” the Supreme Pontiff issued a plea: “Do not be afraid to talk of God and to manifest without fear the signs of faith, letting the light of Christ shine in the presence of the people of today.” “In our time,” he insisted, “in which the faith in many places seems like a light in danger of being snuffed out for ever, the highest priority is to make God visible in the world and to open to humanity a way to God.”  He specified : “And not to any god, but to the God who had spoken on Sinai; the God whose face we recognize in the love borne to the very end in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.” Afterwards, the pope knelt on a prie-dieu before the statue of the Virgin in the Chapel of Apparitions.  On his knees for a long time, then seated, he led the recitation of the rosary.  Around him, the faithful prayed with candle in hand.

On May 13, before celebrating Mass on the esplanade of the basilica of Fatima, Benedict XVI went again to the Chapel of Apparitions.  He later presided over the procession, during which soldiers carried the statue of the Virgin that had been set up in the middle of a carpet of white roses.  The Mass then began, under sunny skies, although it had been raining lightly for several hours beforehand.  Above the crowd the flags of all Europe flew. Some 500,000 faithful participated in this Mass, in intense contemplation and fervor.  According to the estimates of the shrine, they were more numerous than in May 2000, ten years earlier, when John Paul II beatified the two young shepherds Jacinta and Francisco. 

During the Mass, Benedict XVI affirmed, “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete,” since “mankind has succeeded in unleashing a cycle of death and terror, but failed in bringing it to an end.”  “At a time when the human family was ready to sacrifice all that was most sacred on the altar of the petty and selfish interests of nations, races, ideologies, groups and individuals, our Blessed Mother came from heaven, offering to implant in the hearts of all those who trust in her the Love of God burning in her own heart,” the pope declared, and his statement was greeted by the faithful with applause.  Then he exhorted them to have “an interior watchfulness of heart,” which is often lacking “on account of the powerful pressure exerted by outside realities and the images and concerns which fill our soul.”

During a meeting with the members of Portuguese social service organizations on May 13 in Fatima, the pope saluted “initiatives aimed at protecting the essential and primary values of life, beginning at conception, and of the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman.” They “help to respond to some of today’s most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”  The pope was pleased that these initiatives clearly make provisions for defending life and for the reconciliation and healing of persons who have been wounded by the tragedy of abortion.

The Pope received the Portuguese bishops in the conference hall of the Cassa Nossa Senhora do Carmo, where he resided during his stay at the Fatima shrine. Before the Ordinaries of the twenty-one dioceses of the country and the retired bishops, Benedict XVI particularly emphasized that the current age requires a new missionary vigor on the part of Christians, called upon to form a mature laity “above all in those human situations where the silence of the faith is most widely and deeply felt.” He took to task specifically “politicians, intellectuals, communications professionals who profess and who promote a monocultural ideal, with disdain for the religious and contemplative dimension of life.” If he regretted the presence in these circles of “some believers who are ashamed of their beliefs and who even give a helping hand to this type of secularism, which builds barriers before Christian inspiration,” the Pope rejoiced at the action of those many people who “defend the faith with courage, with a vigorous Catholic outlook.”

Benedict XVI confessed to the Portuguese prelates the pleasant surprise he had in making contact with the movements and the new ecclesial communities, manifestations of a “new springtime” during “a moment of weariness in the Church” after Vatican II. “Thanks to their charisms, the radicality of the Gospel, the objective contents of the faith, the living flow of her tradition, are all being communicated in a persuasive way,” he added. This statement takes on added meaning when it is known that the Pope may soon announce the creation of a new dicastery charged with the evangelization of the West in reaction to the increasing secularization in many countries. 

In the morning of May 14, while celebrating Mass on the Avenida dos Aliados, in the heart of the city of Porto, before a crowd of several tens of thousands, the Pope once again invited them to witness to their faith. “You need to become witnesses with me to the resurrection of Jesus. In effect, if you do not become his witnesses in your daily lives, who will do so in your place? Christians are, in the Church and with the Church, missionaries of Christ sent into the world.” “We must overcome the temptation to restrict ourselves to what we already have, or think we have, safely in our possession: it would be sure death in terms of the Church’s presence in the world.”

Benedict XVI also made reference to the changes that have occurred recently in the “anthropological, cultural, social and religious framework of humanity.” Consequently, “today the Church is called to face new challenges and is ready to dialogue with different cultures and religions, in the search for ways of building, along with all people of good will, the peaceful coexistence of peoples. The field of the mission ad gentes appears much broader today, and no longer to be defined on the basis of geographic considerations alone,” he explained; “in effect, not only non-Christian peoples and those who are far distant await us, but so do social and cultural milieux, and above all human hearts, which are the real goal of the missionary activity of the People of God.”