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The memory of humanity

Benedict XVI's Addres to the Roman Curia at the end of a year marked by shadow — but also by light — will be remembered without a doubt as one of the most important of a pontificate that never ceases to surprise. It is also one that increasingly shows a capacity to attract attention and interest not only among believers but also among those who do not identify themselves as religious.

This is, in fact, a discourse, framed by the main events of the year (the travels of the Bishop of Rome to Mexico and Cuba, Milan, Lebanon, then the Synod and the opening of the Year of Faith), that is focused above all on two topics: the family and dialogue among religions, in the manner befitting a Pope who wants to address everyone. He goes to the heart of the great questions, questions that concern the human being.

In the background to all this is the Second Vatican Council, 50 years after its start, “seeking to understand it and appropriate it” anew in a completely changed historical context. And this means continuing the Council’s effort to understand and approach the world today in order to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

Benedict XVI's reflection for this reason hinges upon the family, “still strong and vibrant” despite the crisis that, especially in the West, “threatens it to its foundations”. The risk is serious because the human capacity to make a commitment is denied and, by gender being turned into a philosophy, “the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child”. It is, in short, a radical change: one which the Pope contests with calm but determined clarity, citing an important study by Gilles Bernheim, the Chief Rabbi of France.

Even in his recourse to the most authoritative exponent of French Judaism one recognizes a personal trait of Benedict xvi: his interest in and friendship for a religious tradition without which Christianity would be unintelligible. And from our shared scriptural roots derives the Pope’s insistence on the real nature of the human being, today manipulated in favour of an “abstract human being”, a concept that ends up dissolving the family and reduces the child to “an object to which people have a right”. To sum it up succinctly: “Whoever defends God is defending man”.

If, therefore, the Pontiff’s reasoning on the family is moved by his concern for the reality of human nature and supported by passages from the Bible, an analogous and two-fold inspiration is at the root of the Church in dialogue. She “speaks on the basis of the light” that she must proclaim and testify to. She represents, at the same time, “the memory of mankind”: the memory of “what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria”.

Without, obviously, forgetting the specific nature and the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel, the Pope turns his gaze — just as Paul VI did when he first spoke to the United Nations — to “those who are unable to share the faith of the Church”. The Church does not have ready answers for individual questions but she must do everything possible to create a conviction that “can then stimulate political action”. Lastly, Benedict xvi repeated again, “the dialogue of religions is a necessary condition for peace in the world”: that is, in the awareness that what we are dealing with is a common journey toward the one truth.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 20, 2019

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