05/13/2007, 00.00
BRAZIL – VATICAN
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If society does not recognise God, it cannot do what is good for mankind

In the address with which he inaugurated the 5th General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Benedict XVI drew an outline of the path today’s Church must follow. Evangelising every culture and bearing witness to Jesus is a mission for all Christians.

Aparecida (AsiaNews) – A missionary Church committed to announcing God’s love to a globalised world at risk of turning gain into its supreme value wants to bear witness but without getting itself involved in politics. In so doing the Church will continue defending the family whilst at the same time proclaim that a society that does not recognise God cannot build just structures as Marxism and capitalism have bitterly shown. This is, in a nutshell, how Benedict XVI described the mission and task the Church faces in today’s world. He did so in a speech that was practically a prolusion, one that he delivered in Aparecida at the inaugural session of the 5th General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, which was his main reason for coming to Brazil.

Benedict XVI divided his address, which was also the last event in his trip before his flight home tonight, in various chapters, starting with the arrival of Christianity in the continent. For the Pope, at this beginning “the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.”

Benedict XVI noted that the 5th Conference follows the previous one but is taking place in a globalised world, one which whilst “from certain points of view [. . .] benefits the great family of humanity, and [is] a sign of its profound aspiration towards unity, nevertheless [. . .] also undoubtedly brings with it the risk of vast monopolies [. . .] treating profit as the supreme value. As in all areas of human activity, globalisation too must be led by ethics, placing everything at the service of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God.”

As the Conference’s theme suggests, the Church is made up of  “Disciples and Missionaries of Jesus Christ”. This “implies following him, living in intimacy with him, imitating his example and bearing witness” because “every baptised person receives from Christ, like the Apostles, the missionary mandate: ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’.”

If  there is a “priority of faith in Christ and of life ‘in him, [. . .] could this priority not perhaps be a flight towards emotionalism, towards religious individualism, an abandonment of the urgent reality of the great economic, social and political problems of Latin America and the world, and a flight from reality towards a spiritual world?

“As a first step, we can respond to this question with another: what is this ‘reality’? What is real? Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems ‘reality’? This was precisely the great error of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems. They falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God. Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of ‘reality’ and, in consequence, can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction.”

What must therefore be asserted is that “only those who recognise God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of all the systems that marginalise God.”

Only a society that recognises God can aim to achieve true development for mankind.  This is what Paul VI had in mind 40 years ago, Benedict XVI said, when he proclaimed the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, namely “that authentic development must be integral, that is, directed to the promotion of the whole person and of all people (cf no. 14), [. . .] invite[ing] all to overcome grave social inequalities and the enormous differences in access to goods.

This raises the question as to what the Church can do to “contribute to the solution of urgent social and political problems, and respond to the great challenge of poverty and destitution”.

Benedict XVI answered by reflecting at length about “just structures”. “[H]how do they arise? How do they function?” Both capitalism and Marxism promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures, and they declared that these, once established, would function by themselves; they declared that not only would they have no need of any prior individual morality, but that they would promote a communal morality. And this ideological promise has been proved false. The facts have clearly demonstrated it. The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit. And we can also see the same thing happening in the West, where the distance between rich and poor is growing constantly, and giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness.”

If just structures are indispensable for a just society, they can “neither arise nor function without a moral consensus in society on fundamental values, and on the need to live these values with the necessary sacrifices, even if this goes against personal interest.”

“Where God is absent, God with the human face of Jesus Christ, these values fail to show themselves with their full force, nor does a consensus arise concerning them. I do not mean that non-believers cannot live a lofty and exemplary morality; I am only saying that a society in which God is absent will not find the necessary consensus on moral values or the strength to live according to the model of these values, even when they are in conflict with private interests.”

All this requires political action that does not fall under the immediate scope “of the Church. Respect for a healthy secularity—including the pluralism of political opinions—is essential in the authentic Christian tradition. If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions. The Church is the advocate of justice and of the poor, precisely because she does not identify with politicians nor with partisan interests. Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere. To form consciences, to be the advocate of justice and truth, to educate in individual and political virtues: that is the fundamental vocation of the Church in this area. And lay Catholics must be aware of their responsibilities in public life; they must be present in the formation of the necessary consensus and in opposition to injustice.”

In his reflection Benedict XVI could not but also talk about the family, something which he has done every day. Today he referred to it as the “patrimony of humanity,” a “school of faith, the training-ground for human and civil values, the hearth in which human life is born and is generously and responsibly welcomed. Undoubtedly, it is currently suffering a degree of adversity caused by secularism and by ethical relativism, by movements of population internally and externally, by poverty, by social instability and by civil legislation opposed to marriage which, by supporting contraception and abortion, is threatening the future of peoples.”

For this reason he said, it was “indispensable to promote authentic family policies corresponding to the rights of the family as an essential subject in society. The family constitutes part of the good of peoples and of the whole of humanity.”

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