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Cardinal Pell on Islam and on translations

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Popes only rarely lead by decree. Far more often, their example is decisive, pointing a new direction by what they do and say.

Such has been the case under Benedict XVI on Islam. There's been no Vatican edict, but everyone recognizes something has changed. It's not that Benedict created a more hawkish climate on Islam; those currents were always present, and gathered steam in the post-9/11 period. It's rather that Benedict has unleashed them.

The pope's freedom and his Achille's heel

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One thing about Benedict XVI which, by now, ought to be abundantly clear is that he is very much his own man. As I have written before, this is not a "PC" pope. He does not feel constrained by other people's expectations.

It's not that Benedict is an innovator. In fact, his exercise of the papal office is in many ways far more traditional than that of his predecessor, John Paul II, who made a career out of shattering antique norms. (Being pope, for example, used to mean never having to say you're sorry, while John Paul apologized repeatedly for all manner of past failings of the church).

Jerzy Kluger, Wojtyla's boyhood friend

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I had the honor on Wednesday of having lunch with Jerzy and Irene Kluger. I met Jerzy Kluger at Auschwitz on Sunday during the visit of Benedict XVI. Now 84, Kluger is famous as the Jewish boyhood friend of Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, and the two renewed their friendship when "Lolek," as friends called Wojtyla, became archbishop of Krakow and later Pope John Paul II.

On the subject of Benedict XVI's speech at Auschwitz, Kluger expressed the view that the pope had said virtually everything he could, and that it's important to understand the Polish context of the visit. Poles, he said, are sensitive that the undeniable decimation of Jews under the Nazis not obscure their own suffering. At Auschwitz, for example, 150,000 Poles perished along with one million Jews.

The congress for new movements

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Tomorrow, the first massive gathering in St. Peter's Square since Benedict XVI's inaugural Mass one year ago will bring together an estimated 300,000 members of the "new movements," groups of Catholic laity such as the Focolare, the Neocatechumenate, L'Arche, Sant'Egidio, Communion and Liberation, Schönstatt, the Charismatic Renewal and Regnum Christi, which have largely developed in the 20th century. Some 300 representatives of more than 100 movements and new communities are taking part in a congress outside Rome May 31-June 2, leading to the June 3 encounter in the square with the pope.

The event is an echo of the gathering of the new movements with John Paul II in 1998, also held on the Feast of Pentecost.

Some interesting nuggets around the edges

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Czestochowa, Poland

Editor's Note: Read NCRonline.org daily for John Allen's reports on Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Poland May 25-28.

Sometimes on papal trips, individual events offer more subtext than text. That is, the event may not present a single towering story, but it does occasion some interesting nuggets around the edges.

Benedict XVI's stop in Czestochowa, home of the shrine of Jasna Góra and the famed icon of the Black Madonna, was in some ways a classic example.

In his prepared remarks, the pope issued a strong but undramatic message. He called priests back to the fundamentals of priestly life, including prayer and the sacraments; asked religious to rekindle the fervor of the first moment of their vocations; and offered generous support to the "new movements" in the church.

Faith is a gift but also a task, pope tells Poles

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Christians cannot yield to selective interpretations of the gospel, he said
Warsaw/Czestochowa, Poland

Editor's Note: Read NCRonline.org daily for John Allen's reports on Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Poland May 25-28.

When John Paul II celebrated Mass in Warsaw's Victory Square during his first trip to Poland in 1979, he called Poles to struggle against the Soviet dictatorship by praying that the Holy Spirit would "renew the face of the land," then pointedly adding, "this land."

On Friday, standing in the same place, Benedict XVI called Poles to arms once again, this time against a much more nebulous foe -- what he termed last year a "dictatorship of relativism," meaning a collapse of confidence in objective truths such as those presented by the Catholic church.

Despite reputation as staunch Catholics, Poles show independence

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The faith on which Poles stand firm is not always consistent with Vatican precepts
Warsaw, Poland
Editor's Note: Read NCRonline.org daily for John Allen's reports on Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Poland May 25-28.

The motto of Benedict XVI's May 25-28 visit to Poland is "Stand firm in your faith," and the good news, according to Warsaw sociologist Bogdan Cichomski, is that Poles are indeed firm. National surveys from 1992 to 2005, he said, have found little significant change in attitudes on faith and morals from the collapse of Communism to the present.

The bad news for Benedict, however, is that the faith on which Poles stand firm is not always consistent with Vatican precepts.

Yet there is also something of a silver lining for the pope -- on one issue, abortion, the percentage of Poles who agree with church teaching has been going up, even if it is not a majority under all circumstances.


Benedict sets about reawakening Europe's Christian roots

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Poland trip motto is 'Stand firm in your faith!'

Warsaw, Poland

Editor's Note: Read NCRonline.org daily for John Allen's reports on Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Poland May 25-28.

Pope Benedict XVI launched what might be dubbed his "Take Back Europe" 2006 summer tour today, opening a four-day swing through a traditional Catholic stronghold that he hopes will build momentum for reawakening the Christian roots of the Old Continent.

The motto of the visit to Poland is a pointed reminder of the message: "Stand firm in your faith!"

"I have come to Poland, the beloved homeland of my great predecessor Pope John Paul II, in order to inhale, as he used to do, this atmosphere of faith in which you live," Benedict said in a meeting with Polish clergy in the Warsaw cathedral.

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November 21-December 5, 2014

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