By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Pope Benedict XVI’s effort to paint a distinctively Catholic shade of green continued today in Vienna, as the pope urged Christians to see in their weekly Sunday celebrations, understood as a feast of creation, an invitation to environmental concern.
“At a time when creation seems to be endangered in so many ways through human activity, we should consciously advert to this dimension of Sunday too,” the pope said.
The comment, which came during a homily delivered inside Vienna’s Cathedral of Saint Stephen, was part of a broader reflection on the spiritual importance of Sunday.
tBenedict quoted a former Cardinal of Munich-Freising in Germany, a post the pope himself once held: “Give the soul its Sunday, give Sunday its soul.”
Benedict’s reference to human threats to creation was the latest in a long line of efforts by the pope to raise environmental awareness in the Catholic Church and the broader society. Last week during a youth rally in the Italian city of Loreto, Benedict XVI called on the international community to make “courageous decisions” to save the planet “before it’s too late.”
“We need a decisive ‘yes’ to care for creation and a strong commitment to reverse those trends that risk making the situation of decay irreversible,” the pope said on that occasion.
Sept. 1 has been designed by the Italian Catholic Church as “Save Creation Day,” and to bring the point home, the youth who attended Benedict’s Mass in Loreto were given biodegradable plates, recycling bags for their trash and a hand-cranked cell-phone recharger.
During his General Audience on Sept. 5, the pope came at the subject again. Speaking in English in support of an international conference in Greenland on protection of the Arctic, Benedict said that “the protection of water resources and attention to climate change are matters of utmost importance for the entire human family.”
Benedict has even been putting his money where his mouth is at the Vatican. Solar panels are to be installed over on the roof of the Vatican hall where the pope holds his general audiences, and the Holy See has accepted an offer from a Hungarian company to plant a 15-hectare forest which will offset all the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the Vatican in 2007. The forest, to be planted on an island by the Tizsa River, will be named the “Vatican Climate Forest.”
In his reflections on the spiritual importance of Sunday this morning in Vienna, Benedict said that God calls people to “create oases of selfless love in a world where so often only power and wealth seem to count for anything.”
“Anyone who looks just to himself, who wants the other only for himself, will lose both himself and the other,” the pope said. “The restless craving for life, so widespread among people today, leads to the barrenness of a lost life.”
The pope observed that in secular Western society, Sunday has been transformed from a religious feast “into the week-end, into leisure time.” By itself, he argued, that’s not enough.
“If leisure time lacks an inner focus, an overall sense of direction, then ultimately it becomes wasted time that neither strengthens nor builds us up.”
Sunday reminds people, Benedict said, that they are children of God.
“To be someone’s child means, as the early church knew, to be a free person, not as a slave but as a member of the family … If we belong to God, who is the power above all powers, then we are fearless and free.”
The rain that has dogged Benedict XVI throughout this three-day Austrian trip was less of a problem Sunday morning, since the Mass was celebrated inside the Cathedral of St. Stephen. Yesterday, the pope was forced to abandon plans to arrive at the Marian sanctuary of Mariazell by helicopter because of stormy skies, taking a motorcade instead.
In addition to inclement weather, fractures in the Austrian church related to sexual abuse scandals and debates over both doctrine and authority also continued to hang over the pope’s trip. On Sunday prior to the Mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Austrian state television service featured extensive commentary from Martha Heizer, a co-founder of the “We Are Church” protest movement.
Heizer objected to what she called Benedict’s attitude of “I am the church.”
On the other hand, the television service also spoke to an Iranian tourist outside St. Stephen’s who had come to see the pope, who offered the view that “the Holy Father prays for peace … he is a good man.”