11/30/2007, 00.00
VATICAN
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Pope has also hopes for atheists

by Bernardo Cervellera
With his new encyclical, Benedict XVI calls on Christians to overcome individualistic views of salvation, urging them instead to be ministers of hope for the world. He calls on atheists to have the courage to do their own self-criticism in light of failed social projects and the ambiguities of scientific progress.

Rome (AsiaNews) – In his new magisterial encyclical “Spe Salvi,” Benedict XVI calls on every Christian to become “ministers of hope for others” (n. 34). In it he refers to the universal value of mission, something more than a plain exhortation. Christians, he says, are called to “produce” hope for the world in the fields of science, culture and politics.

The hopelessness in today’s society is for all to see. Social problems grip entire populations; hunger, disease and the lack of human rights are still seeking solutions as a result of the inanity of many government and international organisations and because many prefer not to put their power and wealth on the line and prefer to build up armies and plan wars rather than work for peace.

Faced with the same problems day in and day out, humankind has tired with its younger generations less and less interested in the common good. This is true for Asia, where young Chinese and Indians can only dream about their careers and making money, but even more so for an aging West.

“If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth (cf Eph, 3:16; 2 Cor, 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world” (n. 22).

Vietnam’s government now realises that. After years of materialist ideology it is coming to grip with the fact that it has created a corrupt political class and fashioned younger generations who are now desperately trying to drown their sorrows in sex and drugs, unconcerned about the fate of their elders. For this reason it is trying to save the country by calling on the Catholic Church to educate the young and instil society with values it had lost.

This turn of event seems to vindicate the late Cardinal Van Thuan (cited throughout the encyclical), who spent 13 years in prison and in isolation whilst the country was under the spell of the violently ideological intoxication of the Vietcong.

The Pope calls on Christians to think about hope in terms that are not merely personal but are socially broader in scope. For this reason he singles out as role models martyrs, (“people [who] resist[ed] the overbearing power of ideology and its political organs and, by their death, renew[ed] the world” (n.8)), and those who are consecrated, virgin, who “leave everything for love of Christ, so as to bring to men and women the faith and love of Christ, and to help those who are suffering in body and spirit” (n. 8).

In order to make Christian witness bear fruit, the Pontiff suggests praying, compassion and providing consolation to those who suffer but he also recommends accepting suffering for the truth. “Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie” (n. 38).”

Elsewhere in the encyclical, the Holy Father talks about hypostole, i.e. “shrinking back through lack of courage to speak openly and frankly a truth that may be dangerous,” adding that “[h]iding through a spirit of fear leads to ‘destruction’ (Heb, 10:39)” (cf n. 9).

Various scholars and theologians from the last century (J.B. Metz, E. Bloch) said that Christians must be a source of hope for the world, but they also believed that Christian had to support the Marxist hope in a better society in the future. However, for Benedict XVI Christians must base their hope on Jesus Christ, humankind’s “philosopher” and “shepherd,” whose presence in our life creates hope that “does not let you down.”

If anything Benedict XVI goes even further, telling the world that hope can truly be discovered in Jesus Christ, starting with a “self-critique of modernity” (n. 22), one that has the courage to look into the ambiguities of scientific progress and analyse the failure of 19th and 20th social projects.

Thus, whilst he urges Christians to get more radically involved in the world, he also wants scientific reason and atheism to open up to a reason that is “truly human” and open to faith. The “reason behind action and capacity for action is likewise urgently in need of integration through reason's openness to the saving forces of faith, to the differentiation between good and evil. Only thus does reason become truly human” (n. 23). This way the Pope can try to make the secular world understand the meaning of religious terms like Hell, which is the irremediable situation of those “people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves” (n. 45); Purgatory, i.e. the situation where our compromise with evil is purified and “our defilement” is “burned away through Christ's Passion” (n. 47); and the Last Judgment which asserts the existence of an ultimate form off justice: “faith in the Last Judgement,” he writes, “is first and foremost hope—the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries;” consequently, “I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life” (n. 43).

For the full text of the encyclical, click here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi_en.html

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