Transcript of Remarks by Pope Benedict XVI aboard the Papal Plane
September 7, 2007
Prior to takeoff at roughly 9:30 am Rome time, Pope Benedict XVI spoke with reporters aboard the papal plane to respond to four questions which had been collected in advance by Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson. The following are the questions read by Lombardi and the pope’s responses, provided in a rush translation from Italian.
This trip takes you back to a country you’ve known since childhood. What importance do you attach to this return to Austria?
My trip above all is a pilgrimage. I want to take my place in the long line of pilgrims over the course of 850 years [to Mariazell], a pilgrim among the pilgrims, one who prays among all the others who pray. This sign of unity created by the faith seems important to me. 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. Naturally, of course, it’s also an expression of love for the Madonna. Thus, I simply want to confirm these essential elements of the faith in this moment of its history.
The Austrian Church during the 1990s passed through a difficult and fractious period, with many pastoral divisions. Do you believe that these difficulties have been overcome? Will you be able during this visit to heal the wounds and promote the unity of the church, even for those who feel on the margins of the church?
First of all, I’d like to say thank you to all those who suffered in these recent years. I know that the church in Austria has lived through difficult times, and I’m grateful to everyone – laity, religious, priests – who, during all these difficulties, remained faithful to the church, to its witness to Jesus, and who in this church of sinners nevertheless recognized the face of Jesus. I would not say that all the difficulties have been solved. Life in this century, in all centuries, remains difficult, and the faith too always lives in difficult contexts. I hope that I can be of some help in healing these wounds. I also see today that there’s a new joy in the faith, a new momentum in the church. As much as I can, I want to encourage this willingness to go forward with the Lord, to have faith that the Lord remains present in his church, and thus, that with the faith of the church, we too can arrive at the goal of our lives and contribute to a better world.
Austria is a country with a profoundly Catholic tradition, but there are also strong signs of secularization. What message of spiritual encouragement will you offer to Austrian society?
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. 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.
Vienna is the headquarters of many international organizations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency. It’s also a traditional meeting place between East and West. Do you intend to offer a message on international politics, on peace, or also on the relationship with the Orthodox and Islam, to overcome differences and polemics?
Mine is not a political visit, but a pilgrimage, as I said. I’ve really only got two days, and at first the only thing on the schedule was the pilgrimage to Mariazell. As we all know, it was rightly felt that I needed more time in Vienna to be with diverse components of Austrian society. In this very limited time, right now there’s no plan for a meeting with the leaders of the other confessions and religions, just a moment before the monument to the Shoah in order to demonstrate our sadness, our repentance, and also our friendship with our Jewish brothers, in order to move forward with this great union that God has created among his people. There’s no plan for an immediately political appeal among the messages. In my session at the beginning with the political world, I want to reflect a bit on Europe, on the Christian roots of Europe, as a path to follow. But it’s obvious in everything we do that dialogue, both with other Christians and with Muslims and other religions, is always present as a dimension of our action, even if it’s not always made explicit because of the specific character of this pilgrimage.