Faith and Unity article in La Gaceta de los Negocios, Madrid (May 7, 2005)
Faith and unity
On the evening of April 19, when the fumata bianca announced the election of the new Pope, the people who had crowded into St. Peter’s Square burst into uncontainable applause. And this scene was repeated in many other cities and countries all over the world. No one knew yet who had been elected. The cries of joy were not for a particular person. They were for St. Peter’s Successor and the Vicar of Christ on earth. Thus what St. Ambrose wrote so many centuries ago was once again seen to be true: Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. Where Peter is, there the Church is present. The Church and all her children were rejoicing at the new Roman Pontiff. A little less than an hour later we met Pope Benedict XVI and received his apostolic blessing. And we were moved to see once again that the Successor of Peter is with the Church and the Church rejoices with his presence.
After some time had passed, we began to reflect on what we had experienced with so much joy. The conclave’s brevity—scarcely 24 hours—gave rise to quite a few commentaries. In our mother the Church there are legitimate differences of language, mentality and experience. But the Holy Spirit brings all of these together when the search is made for the one who can best guide the Church in confronting the challenges that our era presents, continuing in a dynamic and creative way the work of our beloved and unforgettable John Paul II.
His last homily before being elected to the chair of Peter, and Pope Benedict XVI’s first message on the morning of April 20, present us with the broad outlines of the challenges that need to be confronted and that the Pope will not fail to respond to. Faith in Christ our Lord and Redeemer is the center on which all these converge and from which an adequate response must also come. This realization leads to the petition that our Lord “give us a new shepherd according to his heart, a shepherd who will lead us to the knowledge of Christ, to his love, to true joy,” a petition from the Liturgy that heaven has heard.
Striving to attain “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13), is the task that confronts each new Christian generation. Today anyone who decides to follow the path of faith is buffeted by strong ideological currents and intellectual fashions. Through faith we open our hearts to the saving mercy of God. God’s mercy is a joyous affirmation, a positive reality that wounds no one and fills all men and women with peace and hope. But divine mercy puts a limit to evil, as John Paul II said. And the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44) continually searches out new means of resistance, seeking to separate us with subtle deceptions from faith in the Church’s Creed. He tries to convince us that, in order to be up to date, one has to let oneself be led by any gust of human doctrine (cf. Eph 4:14). Only someone with a superficial view of certain aspects of contemporary culture could fail to see this reality.
Fortunately there are also many positive signs today. Benedict XVI reminds us of what was evident to everyone: “John Paul II’s funeral was a truly extraordinary experience in which we glimpsed the power of God, who, through his Church, wants to make a great family of all peoples by means of the unifying power of Truth and Love.” All those who spontaneously poured into Rome, including non-Catholics and non-believers, putting up with long waits and much discomfort to bid a final farewell to the one who for nearly three decades guided us on the path of faith, were the fruit of John Paul II’s generous self-giving, giving himself in the sight of all right to his last breath. We couldn’t have a clearer example of holiness, calling us to give our life with generosity in order to bring Christ to every corner of the world. “We must be enlivened by a holy restlessness,” we heard from then Cardinal Ratzinger in his homily on April 18, “a restlessness to bring to everyone the gift of faith, of friendship with Christ. Truly, the love and friendship of God was given to us so that it might also be shared with others. We have received the faith to give it to others.” And with the faith we should also offer our availability to cooperate, with a readiness to dialogue, in the construction of a truly just society, built on freedom and peace.
Benedict XVI has sketched out the broad outlines of his pontificate. The Church, during this third millennium, needs to continue illuminating human life with the light of the Gospel, which has been applied to our times, with the Holy Spirit’s help, by the Second Vatican Council, whose teachings need to continue to be carried out. Especially during this year, the Eucharist, the heart of the Church’s life and the source of her evangelizing mission, will be the permanent center of the Petrine ministry to which the new Roman Pontiff has been called. With the power of the Eucharist we have to seek diligently, within the one truth, for full unity with all those who believe in Christ, pressing on in theological dialogue and taking the specific steps needed to move people’s hearts towards union. Above all there is a need for interior conversion—a necessary prerequisite for true progress on the path of ecumenism. No effort will be spared in fostering peace and dialogue among cultures, so that mutual understanding will lead to the seeds of a better future for all. Benedict XVI will continue to foster the solicitous attention to youth shown by John Paul II, because they are the future and hope of the Church and of humanity. The Holy Father declared that his primary task consists in making Christ’s light shine forth before the men and women of today, including those of other religions and those seeking an answer to the most pressing problems of human existence.
Benedict XVI is preparing to undertake these tasks, trusting in the help of God and in our prayers and our own fidelity to Christ. He is placing the many gifts God has granted him entirely at the service of his demanding mission. These include his deep theological knowledge and strong piety, the experience acquired during so many years working closely beside John Paul II in the service to the Church, and his clear vision of the dramas of secularism and relativism. All those who know him well recognize his refinement and ability to listen to and appreciate others’ views (so far removed from the caricature spread by a few thoughtless people) and his broad intellectual outlook, which has led some of the most important European intellectuals of our time to seek to dialogue publicly with him.
In these first days of his pontificate, he has more than once referred to the fragility of the inadequate instruments that God deigns to employ. We who are sons and daughters of God and of the Church know that this is a time for unity, of which Peter’s successor is the visible source and foundation. He has a right to the gratitude and affectionate loyalty of all Catholics for his efforts in the exercise of his universal ministry, which is now beginning. Personally I am frequently saying, and asking others to do so, a short prayer that I so often heard from the lips of St. Josemaría Escrivá: Omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam. All with Peter, to Jesus, through Mary.