National Catholic Reporter

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Day One: Transcript of News Conference aboard the Papal Plane

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Shortly after 11:00 am Rome time, roughly two hours into his flight to São Paulo, Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI came back to the press compartment of the papal plane for a brief news conference. The pope was flanked by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, who did not speak. The pope offered an opening statement, then took a total of 11 questions from reporters, including queries about the excommunication of pro-choice politicians, liberation theology, and the beatification of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The questions had not been submitted in advance, and the pope’s replies were extemporaneous. From start to finish, the exchange lasted about 26 minutes. The following is a rush transcript of the exchange. Most questions were posed in Italian, and Benedict gave all of his replies in Italian; the following is therefore an NCR translation.

Pope Benedict XVI, Opening Remarks
Good morning aboard this plane! We’re now above the Sahara, on our way to the Continent of Hope. I’m going with great joy, with great hope, to this meeting with Latin America.
We have various important moments, first in Sao Paulo, the meeting with the youth, and then this canonization in Sao Paulo. It’s the first saint born in Brazil, and it seems to me also an important expression of the content of this trip. It’s a Franciscan saint who made real in Brazil the Franciscan charism. He is known as a saint of reconciliation and of peace. This too seems to me an important sign, a personality who knew how to create peace, and therefore also human social coherence.
Then, the visit to the Farm of Hope is also important, a place where the forces of healing which are contained in the faith become clear, to open the horizons of life. All these problems of drugs and so on are born with an absence of hope in the future. A faith which opens to the future also knows how to heal, and this force seems to me important – the force to heal, to give hope, to provide a horizon of the future, is very important.
Finally, the primary aim of this trip is the meeting with the bishops of CELAM, which is the fifth continental conference of the bishops of Latin America, which in and of itself has a content that is predominantly religious – to give life in Christ, and to make ourselves disciples of Christ.
We know that everyone wants to have life, but life is not complete if it does not have content, if it lacks a sense or an orientation about where to go. In this sense, even if the meeting in the first place responds to the religious mission of the church, it also creates the conditions for necessary solutions to the great social and political problems of Latin America. As such, the church does not practice politics, we respect the secular nature of the state. But we offer conditions in which a healthy politics, and solutions to social problems, can mature.
Thus, we want to promote Christians who are conscious of the gift of the faith, the joy of the faith, who know God and who therefore also know the ‘why’ of our life. In this way, they’ll be capable of being witnesses of Christ, and they’ll learn both the necessary personal virtues as well as social virtues, the sense of legality that is essential for the formation of society. We know the problems of Latin America, and we want to mobilize the capacity of the church, its moral strength and its religious resources, to respond to the specific mission of the church and to our universal responsibility to the human person as such, and to society as such.

First Question (from O Globo in Brazil):
Holiness, what can the church do with regard to the problem of violence, which in Brazil today has massive proportions?

Pope Benedict XVI:
tWhoever has faith in Christ, whoever has faith in this God who is reconciliation and who, with the Cross, gave us the strongest possible sign against violence, is not violent and helps others to overcome violence. Thus, the best thing we can do is to educate people in faith in Christ, to learn the message of the person of Christ, to be people of faith who automatically resist violence, and who mobilize the force of the faith against violence.

Second Question (from Mexico):
Your Holiness, in Brazil there’s a proposal for a referendum on the subject of abortion. Two weeks, Mexico City decriminalized abortion. What can the church do about this tendency, to ensure that it does not extend to other Latin American countries? As you know, the church has been accused of interference in Mexico. Do you support the position of the Mexican bishops that legislators who approve these laws are excommunicated?

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Pope Benedict XVI:
Well, there’s a great struggle of the church on behalf of life. You know that Pope John Paul II made this struggle a fundamental point of his entire pontificate. He wrote a great encyclical on “The Gift of Life.” Naturally, we go forward with this message. Life is a gift, life is not a threat. This seems to me important.
The roots of this legislation lie, in the first place, in a certain egoism, and on the other hand, also in doubt about life as a gift, about the beauty of life, as well as doubt about the future. The church responds to these doubts, above all by saying, ‘Life is beautiful. It’s not something doubtful, but it’s a gift. Even in difficult circumstances, a human life is a gift. Therefore, we have to recreate this awareness of the beauty of the gift of life.’
Regarding doubt about the future, obviously there are many threats in the world, but faith gives us the certainty that God is always more powerful in the reality of history. Thus, we can give life to new human beings with trust, and with the knowledge that faith guarantees the beauty of life. In the future, we can resist this egoism and these fears which stand at the roots of this legislation.

Third Question (from Brazilian television):
Your Holiness, you have spoken often about relativism in Europe, about poverty in Africa, and also the problems of the Middle East. But what’s missing a little bit is a reference to Latin America. Is this because it’s not a real concern for you, or will you say something specific about it?

Pope Benedict XVI:
tNo, I love Latin America very much. I’ve visited Latin America many times, I have many friends there. I know that it has great problems, but on the other hand I also know the great human resources of this continent.
tOf course, recently the problems of the Middle East have been dominant, in the Holy land and Iraq and so on, which gives it a kind of immediate priority. Also, the suffering of Africa is enormous, as we know. But, I don’t think about Latin America any less. I love Latin America.
tThis is the largest Catholic continent, and therefore in a sense it’s the largest responsibility of the pope. For that reason, I’m happy that finally the moment has arrived when I can be in Latin America, to confirm the commitment of Paul VI and John Paul II and to continue in the same direction.
Naturally, I take to heart in a special way that the largest Catholic continent should also be an exemplary continent, where the great human problems can be resolved and where we work together with the bishops, with priests, religious and laity, so that this great Catholic continent will also be a continent of life and, really, of hope. For me, this is a primordial responsibility.

Fourth Question (from La Repubblica, Italy):
Thank you, your Holiness. In your speech upon arrival, you say that the church forms Christians, provides moral indications, so that people will make free decisions in conscience. Do you agree with the excommunication given to legislators in Mexico City on the question of abortion?

Pope Benedict XVI:
tYes, this excommunication is not something arbitrary, but it’s part of the Code [of Canon Law]. It’s based simply on the principle that the killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going in communion with the Body of Christ. Thus, [the bishops] didn’t do anything new, anything surprising or arbitrary. In that light, they simply announced publicly what is contained in the law of the church, and the law of the church is based upon the doctrine and the faith of the church, which expresses our appreciation for life, that human individuality, human personality, is present from the first moment [of life].

Fifth Question (from Alex Springer Verlag, Germany):
Do you feel adequately supported by the German people? (The question was asked in German)

Pope Benedict XVI:
I’ll respond in Italian. He asked if I feel sufficiently supported by the Germans, and if I feel any nostalgia for Germany. Yes, I feel sufficiently supported. Of course, it’s normal that in a country that’s mixed Protestant/Catholic, and where there are many non-baptized persons, not everyone is going to agree with the pope. This is totally normal. But I’ve also felt a great support even from non-Catholic people in Germany. This support is beautiful, and it helps me. I love my country, but I also love Rome, and now I’m a citizen of the world. Thus, I’m at home everywhere. My country is close to my heart, like all the others.

Sixth Question (from RAI Television, Italy):
In your book Jesus of Nazareth, you referred to a dramatic crisis of faith. In Latin America, maybe what we see is not so much a crisis of faith as a landslide. Liberation theology was substituted by the theology of the Protestant sects, which promise a paradise of faith at a good price. The Catholic Church is losing faithful. How can the church stem this tide, this hemorrhage of Catholic faithful?

Pope Benedict XVI:
tThis is our common concern precisely in this fifth General Conference of CELAM. We want to find convincing responses. This success of the sects shows, in the first place, that there’s a thirst for God, a thirst for religion. People want to be close to God, and they seek his closeness. Naturally, they also hope for and expect solutions to their daily problems of life. We from the Catholic Church have to accept the responsibility in this fifth general conference of making the church more missionary, more dynamic in offering responses to the thirst for God. We have to be aware that all people, and especially the poor, want to have God close to them. We also must be aware that together with this response to the thirst for God, we also have to help people find the conditions for a just life, both micro-economically, in very concrete situations as they sects do, as well as macro-economically, thinking about all the exigencies of justice.

Seventh Question (from the National Catholic Reporter, United States):
Your Holiness, good morning. There are still many exponents of liberation theology in Brazil. Will you be offering a message specifically for them?

Pope Benedict XVI:
tI would say that changes in the political situation have also profoundly changed the situation facing the theology of liberation. By now, it’s evident that these facile forms of millenarianism, which promised, on the basis of an imminent revolution, to produce the complete conditions for a just life, were mistaken. Today, everybody knows this.
tNow, the question is exactly how the church should be present in the struggle for the necessary reforms, in the struggle for just conditions of life. On this point, naturally, theologians are divided, like sociologists and political scientists.
We, with our instructions from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sought to help to give the pope the data for the work of discernment The idea was to liberate ourselves from false forms of millenarianism, also from a mistaken confusion between the church and the political process, between faith and politics.
We wanted to demonstrate the specific mission of the church, which is precisely to respond to the thirst for God, and thus, on the one hand, also to educate people in both personal and social virtues, which are conditions for a sense of legality, and on the other hand to indicate the guidelines for a just kind of politics – a politics which we don’t create ourselves, but for which we must indicate the great principles and determining values. We can also create the human, social and psychological conditions in which such a politics can grow.
Thus, there’s space for legitimate debate over how to do this, over what’s the best way to make the social doctrine of the church effective. In this sense, some liberation theologians are pursuing this avenue, others take other positions. For example, there’s the question of indigenous persons, but obviously we can’t enter into all these details.
In any case, the meaning of the intervention of the magisterium was not to destroy the commitment to justice, but to guide it down the right paths, including the proper distinction between political responsibility and ecclesial responsibility.

Eighth Question (from Colombia):
We know that you’ve been to Colombia twice as a cardinal, and we know that it remains close to your heart. We want to know what you think about how we can go forward, especially facing this situation of internal conflict.

Pope Benedict XVI:
tNaturally, I’m not an oracle that automatically has the right answer. I think the bishops are working hard to find responses. I can only confirm the fundamental line of the bishops, which is that of a strong education in the faith, which is the best guarantee against the growth of violence. Education in conscience is essential to exit from this situation.
Naturally, economic situations are also involved. Small farmers, for example, depend upon a market that can do great damage, and they live from one moment to the next. To resolve these various economic, political and ideological intersections, we can only go forward with great determination, based on a decision for the faith, which implies a sense of legality, and implies love and responsibility for others.
To me, it seems that education in the faith is the most secure illumination, also for slowly resolving these very concrete problems.

Ninth Question (from I. Media in France):
Your Holiness, we’re arriving in the continent of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Many people are talking about the process for his beatification. Can you tell us where we’re at? Is he ready for beatification? How do you see this figure?

Pope Benedict XVI:
tI don’t have the latest information from the competent congregation. I know there are many cases moving through the process. I know that the cause [of Romero] is going forward very well. Bishop Paglia of Terni has written a very important biography, which clarifies many points that had been in question. [Romero] was certainly a great witness to the faith. He was a man of great Christian virtue, who was committed to peace and against the dictatorship. He was killed during the moment of consecration, therefore it was a truly incredible death, a testimony to the faith.
tThe problem is that some political factions wanted to claim Romero for themselves, like a banner, unjustly. As [Paglia] spotlights very well, the figure [of Romero] himself liberates us from these unjust attempts.
tThat Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt. But we have to look at the context, and I’m waiting for what the congregation says to me.

Tenth Question (from Brazil):
What’s your understanding of cultural formation in Brazil and its relationship to politics? (The question was asked in Portugese)

Pope Benedict XVI:
tI’m not sufficiently well informed to answer in depth, and I don’t want to get into politics. As far as my personal approach to Brazil, it’s the largest country of Latin America, which stretches from the Amazon all the way to Argentina, it includes so many indigenous cultures. I heard that more than 80 languages are spoken, and so on. It also has a strong presence of African-Americans, African-Brazilians. It’s fascinating to see how this people was formed, also how the Catholic faith was formed here over the course of time, with many difficulties. We know that at the end of the 18th century, the church was persecuted by liberal forces. In my own outlook, it’s important to follow these Catholic-Christians peoples of Latin America. I’m not a specialist, but that it’s here where an important part, a fundamental part, of the future of the Catholic Church will be decided, seems evident to me. I want to deepen even more my awareness of this world.

Tenth Question (from Catholic radio in Portugal):
Your Holiness, good morning. I’m from Portugal. The Portuguese are following and praying for this trip, which coincides with May 13, the 90th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima. Do you want to offer us a word about this coincidence, also for the Portuguese people?

Pope Benedict XVI:
tYes, for me it’s really a sign of providence that my visit to Aparecida, the great Marian sanctuary of Brazil, coincides with the 90th anniversary of the apparitions of the Madonna of Fatima. In this way, we see that the same Mother, this Mother of God and Mother of the church, Our Mother, is present to the various continents, that she shows herself to be a mother to the various continents, always in the same way but with a closeness for every people. To me, this is quiet beautiful. It’s always the Mother of God, always Mary, and yet in a certain sense she’s ‘inculturated,’ with her specific face wherever she is – in Aparecida, in Fatima, in Lourdes, in all the countries of the earth. Thus, she reveals herself as a mother who is close to everyone, and everyone can come close to one another through her maternal love. This connection which the Madonna creates among the continents, among the cultures, because she’s close to every culture and yet she unites them all, seems important to me – this specificity of the cultures, all of which have their riches, yet leading to communion in the one family of God.

Eleventh Question (from Brazil):
Many Brazilians don’t necessarily want to hear the message of the church. What can you do about that? (The question was asked in Portuguese)

Pope Benedict XVI:
tThis is not a specific problem of Brazil. In every part of the world, there are lots of people who don’t want to listen. We hope that at least, they hear, so that if they hear, they will also be able to respond. We also seek to convince those who don’t necessarily want to hear us. Naturally, even Our Lord wasn’t able to succeed in getting everyone to listen. We don’t expect that in any given moment we’ll be able to persuade everyone. But, I’ll try, with the help of my collaborators, to speak to Brazil in this moment with the hope that many people want to listen, and that many can be convinced that this is the path to take. Of course, I’ll leave open, at the level of detail, the possibility for many different options and different opinions.

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