Pope: social issues and gospel are inseparable, but God must "be in centre"

Benedict XVI issued a warning to the first world that is "deaf" to God. At times, churches of the West prefer social projects over evangelization. On the second day of his Germany trip, the pope talked about proclaiming Christianity, which does not impose itself and rejects proselytism: the peoples of Asia and Africa do not fear the gospel but "scorn" of God, cynicism that considers contempt for what is sacred to be a right and freedom, that elevates usefulness to the supreme moral criterion for future successes in research.

Munich (AsiaNews) – Announcing the gospel and a commitment to upholding justice and aid for the poor are inseparable: this is the path that the West, rich in technology and means but "deaf" to God, must take up once again. The Churches of the first world that are only too ready to support social projects proposed by Catholics of Asia and Africa, are less available when the same ask for support for evangelization programs. If love for one's neighbour is the "touchstone of faith and love of God", one should not forget that God must "be at the centre". Before the Angelus, the pope said it was "necessary for individuals, as well as for serene and peaceful coexistence among men, to consider God as the centre of reality and as the focus of our personal life".

The first Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI during his trip to Germany was an urgent invitation to rediscover the primacy of evangelization, which refuses proselytism, but it was also a strong warning to the West, which has "forgotten" God.

The pope is attracting enthusiasm and participation: at least 200,000 people turned up today for the Eucharistic celebration in the "Neue Messe" (New Fair) of Munich. Benedict XVI himself seems to be very happy: in a spontaneous greeting, he described himself as a "Bavarian pope", drawing a roar from the crowd that started to gather from the early hours of morning until it filled the large esplanade, flooded by the sun.

"I am happy to be able to revisit places familiar to me, which had a determining influence on my life, forming my thought and my feelings: places where I learned to believe and to live. It is a time to thank all those – alive and dead – who led and accompanied me. I thank God for this beautiful Homeland and for the people who made it and who still now make it my Homeland."

Amid the festive atmosphere, the pope turned to the readings: "The theme 'God' is linked to social issues: our mutual responsibility, our responsibility for the supremacy of justice and love in the world. Love of our neighbours, which in the first place is concern for justice, is the touchstone of faith and for love of God. James called it 'royal law', using the word preferred by Jesus: the royalty of God, the kingdom of God". Taking his queue from the gospel passage about the healing of the deaf-mute, Benedict XVI said: "This invites us to realize that we have deficit regarding our abilities of perception – a shortage that we are not initially aware of, because everything else appears more urgent and reasonable, because apparently everything is proceeding as it should, normally, even if we no longer have ears and eyes for God and we live without Him."

The pope used as an example "his meetings with bishops from around the world. The Catholic Church in Germany is great in its social activities: during their 'ad Limina' visits, bishops – largely from Africa – tell me with gratitude about the generosity of German Catholics."

He continued: "Every so often, however, an African bishop tells me: 'If I present social projects in Germany, doors are quickly opened to me. But I come with an evangelization project, I meet rather with reservation'. Obviously there is the idea that social projects should be promoted with the utmost urgency, while initiatives regarding God or even the Catholic faith are rather particular and of minor importance. All the same, the experience of these bishops is that evangelization should take precedence, that the God of Jesus Christ must be made known, believed and loved, he must convert hearts, so that social initiatives will be able to proceed, so that reconciliation will come, so that, for example, AIDS can be fought by truly tackling its root causes and treating sick people with proper attention and love. Social issues and the Gospel are inseparable one from the other. Where we take only knowledge, abilities and technical capacity and tools to others, we take too little. Then mechanisms of violence will soon emerge and the capacity to destruct and to kill become the prevalent means to reach power – a power that at some time or other will bring law, but which will never be capable. In this way, we are ever further from reconciliation, from a shared commitment to justice and love. The criterion according to which technology should be at the service of the law and love is washed away: but it is this criterion upon which everything depends: a criterion that is not merely theory, but that illuminates the heart, leading to reason and conduct on the straight path. The peoples of Africa and Asia admire our technical services and our science, but at the same time, they become afraid when faced with the kind of reasoning that totally excludes God from the vision of mankind, which maintains that this is the most sublime form of reason, to be imposed even on their cultures. For them, the real threat does not come from the Christian faith; rather it comes from scorn of God and from cynicism that considers contempt for what is sacred to be a right and freedom, that elevates usefulness to the supreme moral criterion for future successes in research. Dear friends, such cynicism is not the type of tolerance and cultural openness that peoples expect and that we all desire! The tolerance we urgently need includes fear of God – respect of that which others consider sacred. This respect for what others hold as sacred presupposes that we ourselves should learn the fear of God once again. This sense of respect can be regenerated in the western world only if faith in God grows again, if God will once again be present for us and in us. We do not impose this faith on anyone. Such proselytism would be contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only through freedom. However let us appeal to the freedom of mankind to open up to God, to seek him and to listen to him."

The pope added: "The world needs God, We need God." As for the God that Jesus revealed to us: "We will not be lacking in respect for other religions and for others, and in deep respect for their faith, if we proclaim, in a loud voice and without half measures, this God who opposes violence with his suffering and who offers his mercy in the face of evil and its power, both limiting and overcoming it."