The UK media has repeatedly stated that Pope Benedict’s visit to Spain has touched on familiar themes. Yet, as usual, it has been left to the Catholic press to identify the central point of his message: freedom. Whilst the secular reports quote the Pope as calling Europe to return to its Christian roots, they frequently omit the reason for such a challenge: freedom.
To a society that often fails to distinguish between freedom and licence, yet is deeply concerned for human rights and justice, on his arrival at Compostella airport the Holy Father declared:
“In his deepest being, man is always on a journey, ever in search of truth… I too wish to encourage Spain and Europe to build their present and to project their future on the basis of the authentic truth about man, on the basis of the freedom which respects this truth and never harms it, and on the basis of justice for all, beginning with the poorest and the most defenceless, a Spain and a Europe concerned not only with people’s material needs but also with their moral and social, spiritual and religious needs, since all these are genuine requirements of our common humanity and only in this way can work be done effectively, integrally and fruitfully for man’s good”.
If any statement can be said to summarise the content and significance of the Pope’s visit to Spain, this is it! Yet he goes one step further:
“The Church, which desires to serve unreservedly the human person and his dignity, stands at the service of both truth and freedom. She cannot renounce either, because what is at stake is man himself.”
Recalling the struggles and bloodshed of Spain’s Civil War, Pope Benedict thus shows that there is something deeper and more important than the fight for civil liberties, vital as they are. What is the absolute crux of the matter is the freedom of the human heart, “because without this aspiration for truth, justice and freedom, man would lose his very self”.
The Pope returned to this theme at Compostella, the burial place of the Apostle St James, who gave his life for the freedom to preach the Word of God.
“The Europe of civilization and culture must be open to the fraternity with other Continents…” to “the true and living God…” and abandon the “tragic belief that God is somehow man’s antagonist and an enemy of his freedom”.
The relationship between God and humanity is fundamental to any understanding and appreciation of the meaning of life. Freedom without God is false. Society cannot relegate religious belief to the private and the hidden, because it will never reach the enlightenment for which it searches:
“God is the origin of our being and the foundation and apex of our freedom, not its opponent. How can mortal man build a firm foundation and how can the sinner be reconciled with himself? How can it be that there is public silence with regard to the first and essential reality of human life? How can what is most decisive in life be confined to the purely private sphere or banished to the shadows? We cannot live in darkness, without seeing the light of the sun. How is it then that God, who is the light of every mind, the power of every will and the magnet of every heart, be denied the right to propose the light that dissipates all darkness?”
Again and again, Pope Benedict has, in the five years of his papacy, emphasised that if God is given priority, everything else falls into place:
“One cannot worship God without taking care of his sons and daughters…”
The Holy Father’s message, in imitation of that which St James bore to the people of Spain, goes beyond national borders: it embraces all aspects of life, culture and civilisation. Social progress is possible only as a result of openness to God. The Church is thus promoting freedom, not restricting it.
“The Europe of science and technology, the Europe of civilization and culture, must be at the same time a Europe open to transcendence and fraternity with other continents, and open to the living and true God, starting with the living and true man. This is what the Church wishes to contribute to Europe: to be watchful for God and for man, based on the understanding of both which is offered to us in Jesus Christ.”
Since his election to the See of Peter, Pope Benedict’s constant theme has been the importance of truth in the ongoing search for freedom. In stressing that: “One can not live without truth and freedom”, he is pointing to all that is fundamental to the culture of Europe… but Europe needs to open its eyes and rediscover God.
By Sister Janet Fearns, Missio