The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the Italian bishops gathered in a plenary meeting of their conference (CEI). This year the Italian bishops made their five year ad limina apostolorum visits prescribed by Canon Law.
At the very beginning of his address the Pope spoke about "our difficult period". "Where the faith appears to have been extinguished, a little flame remains; we can fan it into flame again (noi possiamo ravvivarla)."
"The Catholic faith and the presence of the Church remain… the great unifying factor of this beloved nation and a precise reserve of moral energy for its future."
The Pope then moves to the more sobering issues.
"Naturally these positive consoling realities don’t lead us to ignore or undervalue the difficulties already present and the hidden dangers that can grow with the passage of time and generations. On a daily basis we take notice in the images proposed in public debate and amplified by the communication system, but also, if in to different degree, in the life and behavior of people, the weight of a culture based on moral relativism, poor in regard to certainties but on the other hand rich in not entirely unjustified demands. We take stock also of the necessity of a strengthening of Christian formation through a more substantive catechesis…."
As an Italian friend and general expert on Church/State relations in Italy put it:
That’s a warning to bishops: "catechesi più sostanziosa". Stop feeding lions with sugar! Even my 8 yo daughter says that she’s tired of hearing how nice and forgiving Jesus is. She wants to know what He asks of her hinc et nunc. There’s a Christian flock thirsty for guidance and in need of being better instructed and educated to the faith AND morals (which includes Social Doctrine), so that they can counter the arguments of the world. Heritage alone is not enough. Faith and ideas live as long as they are properly handed down form one generation to another. Gut-feelings and memories are great to begin with, but now it’s time to get back to serious business and be prepared for the consequences.
Thus spake Signor Azzola! The "consequences" are an allusion to the possibility of violence in the streets. We must never forget that in the 1970’s and ’80’s people were killed during left v right clashes in Italian streets.
Benedict goes on in his speech to the CEI to tell the bishops of the need of a God centered society, prayer, more vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life and ongoing formation for the same.
He speaks for a while about the specific theme of the meeting, Jesus Christ, sole Savior of the world, the Church in mission, ad gentes and in our midst, and its connection with the last big meeting in Verona.
The Verona speech is important in this context. What the Pope told the Bishops last fall in Verona stirred great controversy. Benedict explicitly proposed Italy as a model for a return of the Church in full force to the public square by means of a cooperation of hierarchy and well-formed lay people operating in all fields. Most important he called to a well-understood "inculturation" and to the courage of standing up to the world.
"The esteem and respect for other religions and cultures. with seeds of truth and goodness present in them which represent a preparation for the Gospel, are especially necessary today in a world that is growing closer and closer together. But one cannot diminish the awareness of the originality, fullness and unicity of revelation of the true God who in Christ was given to us definitively, nor can we attenuate or weaken the missionary vocation of the Church. The relativistic cultural climate which surrounds us makes it all the more important and urgent to root and cause to mature in the whole ecclesial body the certainty that Christ, the God with the human face, is our true and sole Savior. The book Jesus of Nazareth – a very personal book, not of the Pope but of this man – is written with this intention: that we can with our heart and reason see anew that Christ is truly the One for whom the human heart is waiting."
A couple things. First, remember that the Pope went to S. America and made strong statements about indigenous peoples and religions. Some people in S. America are working their undies into a twist now in criticizing the Pope for having dissed them. The Pope’s point in those statements, and he is reinforcing it here, is that we see there is always something good in religions. However, we are not going to have any syncretism. Syncretism is a problem in S. America. That is not to say that the Pope is worried overly about syncretism with pagan religions in Italy. He is worried, however, about relativism creeping and pervading the one true saving Catholic Faith. In this context the Pope mentions Dominus Iesus, which document infuriated the Church’s modernist underbelly and some non-Catholics as well.
The Pope moves to poltical things. In Italy "Family Day" this month brought 1.5 million laypeople to the piazza before St. John Lateran in support of traditional family values. It was organized by lay people for lay people, mostly Catholic of course, but excluding no one. The left has seen this and is freaking out completely. Thus the drumbeat to drive the Church’s voice from the public square has massively increased in the last for weeks. The Church had huge success when it developed a strategy to keep Catholics away from the polls when a referendum on assisted fertilization was proposed: the idea was that if there wasn’t a quorum of voters, the referendum would be void. Since there wasn’t time to educate everyone properly about the issues, in the face of the dominant hostile Italian left-wing press, the only way to assure defeat of the referendum was to render it void. The strategy worked. The then president of the CEI, Card. Ruini, was the mastermind.
Now, in the face of the legislation about civil unions (read: same sex marriage, etc.) the new president of the CEI, Archbp. Bagnasco has been leading the charge. He is receiving death threats. Yesterday the caravan of buses transporting the bishops was under heavy escort of Carabinieri and police. The CEI’s president was in a car surrounded by so much security would have thought he was a head of state. I ask: in what other country could that happen? I digress.
The Church has shown that she has massive muscles in the public square and the left is terrified and furious. It used to be that there was a filter between the bishops and the people. It was the Christian Democrat party. Over decades from its origins the CD pretty much compromised on everything with the Communists and Socialists until they were so weak and the complicit bishops so enervated that they both lost their moral capital. The DC dissolved and the bishops were rendered ineffective against the left-wing tide. However, with the revivial of a strong papacy and the disappearance of a mediating filter between the bishops and the left-wing parties and people themselves, they sudden found that their collective and individual voices were strong and the people were listening. Thus, the defeat of the referendum and "Family Day" were of huge importance.
Now the left is on increasingly spittle-flecked attack on the Pope and the Church through the papers and state sponsored TV stations.
Let’s go one with the Pope’s address to the CEI:
"Dear brothers, as Italian bishops you have a precise responsibility not only to the Churches entrusted to you but also toward the whole nation. In full and cordial respect for the distinction between the Church and the political sphere, between that which pertains to Caesar and that which pertains to God (cf. Matthew 22.21), we cannot be other than concerned in fact about that which is of man, a creature and image of God: concretely, of the common good of Italy. You gave a clearly testimony to this attention to the common good with the Note approved by the Permanent Episcopal Council regarding the family founded on marriage and also about legislative initiatives in the matter of unioni di fatto ("partnerships irrespective of wedlock" … "de facto unions") working in full harmony with the constant teaching of the Apostolic See.
"In this context, the very recent demonstration in favor of the family, carried out on the initiative of Catholic laity and shared in also by many non-Catholics [NB: Just about everyone in Italy is baptized Catholic, though that is changing. "Catholics" refers more to people who are practicing: practical Catholics, as the phrase once put it.] was a great and extraordinary moment of joy for people, which confirmed how the family itself is profoundly rooted in the heart and life of Italians. This event certainly helped make visible to all that meaning and that role of the family in society which has special need to be grasped and recognized today, in the face of a culture that deludes itself into favoring the happiness of persons insisting unilaterally on the freedom of each individual. Consequently every initiative of the State in favor of the family as such cannot but be appreciated and encouraged."
That means that anything against the family must be scorned and combated.
The Pope then moves into issues of poverty and organizations like Caritas. He mentions the next meeting in Loreto and then upcoming World Youth Day.
Again, Sig. Azzola wrote saying: "even in its ‘ecclesialese’ Italian, seen in the context of these days’ attacks on the Church and its public role, this speech sounds like Admiral Farragut at Mobile Bay: ‘Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!’ His reference to Verona’s conference is to another speech the media considered ‘inflammatory’ and ‘interfering’ with politics. The mention of Dominus Iesus and the Church as the guardian of faith in the true God also irritated some commentators I heard on the radio."
Indeed, this speech by Benedict XVI was surely meant to strengthen the brethren in the Italian episcopate.
Keep something clearly in mind: What happens in the Church and State relations in Italy, what is going on the press about the Church in Italy, affects the Church in the entire world. For example, because of what is happening in Italy, it may be considered necessary, for the time being to shelve or delay some other initiatives that have global scope. What affects Italy right now, affects Europe and the world.
What you read here and what will happen in the meeting of the CEI is to be read through the backdrop of the European Union, the left in Italy and their projects and demands, and also the recent papal trip to Brazil.