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A future pope’s prophecy and the dawn of a vision


HONG KONG (SE): As the turbulent pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, which has been dogged by a series of crises beginning with his address on Islam at Regensburg in 2006, to the current surmising on an in-house Vatican scandal of a magnitude reminiscent of bygone days, comes to a close, it is fair to ponder whether Pope Benedict ever dreamed he would leave the Chair of Peter in this way.

No doubt he expected he would have to tread the rocky road of the sex abuse scandal and much more, but he was certainly under no illusions, knowing that he was taking on the papacy at a time when a huge paradigm shift was about to bring the walls of Jericho tumbling down.

Just 44 years ago, in 1969, he said in a series of radio broadcasts, “We are at the turning point in the evolution of mankind. This moment makes the move from mediaeval to modern times seem insignificant.”

However, he was not discouraged, as he went on to say, “From this crisis will emerge a Church that has lost a great deal. It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again… 

“It will be a more spiritual Church and will not claim a political mandate, flirting with the right (wing) one minute and the left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”

What he expected almost four decades later is maybe best reflected in his address to workers in Freiburg im Breisgau, during his visit to Germany in 2011.

“For decades now we have been experiencing a decline in religious practice and we have been seeing substantial numbers of the baptised drifting away from Church life,” he noted.

Admitting that this calls for change, he then addressed the question of what kind of change.

Pope Benedict then called for a Church set apart from her surroundings, in a certain sense unworldly. He spoke of a relationship with the world that would keep the Church up to date, so men and woman could see a vision beyond themselves into the eternal.

He explained that Christ stepped into this world not just to confirm the way things are, then leaving it to carry on in its own bumbling manner, but to change it.

His often used image for the Church is as a sacred economy and he quotes the Church fathers as saying, “We have nothing to give to God. We only have our sin to place before him...  a truly unequal exchange.”

He calls the mission of the Church a process of opening up to the world to which it belongs, but at the same time remaining unworldly, in the sense of never becoming self-satisfied, settling down, thinking itself self-sufficient and adapting to the standards of the world.

The pope also chides, “Not infrequently, she gives greater weight to organisation and institutionalisation than to her vocation to openness towards God.”

While secularisation has often been cited as the bogey man during his pontificate, he gave thanks for it rather than condemning it, saying, “One could almost say that history comes to the aid of the Church through the various periods of secularisation, which have contributed significantly to her purification and her inner reform.”

Then, drawing on St. Paul, he notes that to the world, the Christian faith in itself is a scandal, but sadly, a scandal that has recently been overtaken by other scandals of a different nature.

However, he pointed out that a new strategy to counteract these scandals is not what the Church needs, but “a stripping away from it anything that only seems to belong to faith, but in truth is only convention or habit.”

He added, “It is a question of setting aside mere strategy and seeking total transparency.”

While the exact reasons Pope Benedict has for stepping down are known to him alone, maybe he sees the life of a prayerful recluse as what he can contribute best to the ongoing development of the Church at this stage of his life.


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