By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Pope Benedict XVI opened his three-day visit to Austria with a strong appeal to the people of this once ultra-Catholic land to defend its Christian roots.
“The culture of this country is deeply imbued with the message of Jesus Christ and the activity which the church has carried out in his name,” the pope during a welcome ceremony at the Vienna airport.
Benedict said that he had come to Austria as a pilgrim to Mariazell, a famed Marian sanctuary celebrating its 850th anniversary. The pope argued, however, that Mariazell testifies not merely to Austria’s past, but also its future.
Aboard the papal plane on his way to Vienna, Benedict XVI commented at more length on how he sees the significance of Mariazell.
“This sign of unity created by the faith seems important to me,” the pope said. “It’s unity among peoples, because this is a pilgrimage site for many peoples. It’s also unity across time. Therefore, it’s a symbol of the unifying power that comes with faith, the power of reconciliation. In this sense, it’s also a symbol of the universality of the community of the faith, of the church, a symbol also of humility, and above all a symbol that we have confidence in God, in the priority of God – that God exists, that we need God’s help.”
Benedict connected the witness of Mariazell to the question of Europe’s future, and especially the need to resist the inroads of relativism. Benedict has made the struggle against what he calls a “dictatorship of relativism” one of the hallmarks of his papacy.
“I would simply like to confirm the people in their faith, that even today we still need God, we need an orientation that can give direction to our lives,” he said.
“It’s clear that a life without orientation, a life without God, doesn’t work. It remains empty. Relativism makes everything relative, and in the end, good and evil can no longer be distinguished. Therefore, I’d like to confirm once more, amid these conditions which are becoming ever clearer, that we need God, we need Christ, and the great communion of the church, which unites us and reconciles us.”
The pope also said that he would deal with the Christian roots of Europe in his remarks to diplomats later today, pointing to that heritage as “a path to follow.”
In his remarks before the Mariensaule, a column to Mary in Vienna's "Am Hof" square, Benedict argued that a lively devotion to Mary leads to faith in Christ in the form of a "multiform unity," gathering in all peoples and languages.