State of the Church, 2012 – or the media’s failure at reporting the truth

benedict christmasBold headlines in the news yesterday. A brief selection from the ones I came across: “Pope wants to unite religions against gay marriage“, “Pope: Homosexuals destroy human nature“, “Pope: Gay marriage bad for future of family” and “Pope considers gay marriage threat to world peace“.

What was the reason for this flood of headlines? Pope Benedict XVI’s annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, often considered to be the Holy Father’s ‘State of the Church’ address. In it, he looks back on the past year, summarising some of the high points and expounding on the general trends and topics that he considers significant. This year, the pope spoke about his visits to Cuba, Mexico and Lebanon, the International Meeting of Families in Milan, the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation and the Year of Faith. The bulk of the text, however, is a reflection of gender and the family, and how the understanding of both is interconnected and how they have changed in recent years. Rather than the male and female nature of humanity as a God-given reality, gender is now treated as something we can decide for our own. “Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will,” the Holy Father writes.

A second topic is that of the dialogue between religions and what form it should take, and a third issue is that of the proclamation of the Good News. Especially the latter passages can be considered good food for meditation and prayerful reflection.

Upon reading the text, something which I strongly suggest you do (be it in English via the link above, or in Dutch) you will find that not once does the pope raise the topic of homosexuality or marriage, or any combination of both. The headlines I mentioned above are therefore strongly deceptive, the product of willful ignorance, laziness or suggestive reporting.

This is a very serious issue. When the media so easily chooses pandering to what they perceive the masses should think about a topic, in this case the pope, over reporting what was actually said and done, they have become unreliable sources, little better than paparazzi and gossip magazines. The text of the address in question was available online on the very same day it was read out, in seven languages no less, and although it requires some concentration, it is not a difficult one to understand. There is really no excuse for reporting these untruths. Sadly, many readers will accept what these media write without question, assuming they write what is true.

It is up to as, as Catholics faithful to the Church and the magisterium, to correct these wrongs, because, quite simply, no one else will. That is why I worked hard to present a Dutch translation so soon, and publish it quite visible on Facebook on Twitter. The truth not only deserves, but also must be known. What the media failed to do yesterday not only hurts us and the Church, but also the truth.

More than two years ago, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, suggested in a different context that we should not rely on what the secular media tell us if we can read what the pope himself actually said. That is no less true in this case.

The real Benedict

Last Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI attended an evening of witness during his pastoral visit to Milan. There, several people had the opportunity to ask him a question. One of them was 7-year-old Cat Tien of Vietnam, who, greeting him with a simple “Ciao, Papa!”, asked the Holy Father about the memories of his childhood and family.

Here is the answer that Benedict gave:

“Thank you, dearest, and your parents: thank you from my heart. So then, you have asked what my memories of my family are like: there are so many! I would like to say just a few things. For us, the essential point for the family was always Sunday, but Sunday already began on Saturday evening. Our father would read us the readings, the readings for Sunday, from a book very widespread in Germany at the time, in which the texts were also explained. That is how Sunday began: we were already entering into the liturgy, in an atmosphere of joy.

The next day we would go to Mass. I come from a home close to Salzburg, so we had a lot of music – Mozart, Schubert, Haydn – and when the Kyrie started, it was like heaven was opened.

And then at home it was important, of course, to have a big lunch together. And then we sang a lot: my brother is a great musician, already as a boy he made compositions for all of us, so the whole family would sing. Dad would play the zither and sing; those are unforgettable moments.

Then, of course, we went on trips and walks together; we were close to a forest and so walking in the forest was a very beautiful thing: adventures, games, etcetera.

In a word, we were of one heart and one soul, with so many shared experiences, even in very difficult times, because there was wartime, before the dictatorship, and then poverty. But this mutual love among us, this joy even over simple things was strong, and this made it possible to overcome and bear even these things.

It seems to me that this was very important: that even little things gave joy, because in this way the heart of the other was expressed. And in this way we grew up in the certainty that it is good to be a man, because we saw that the goodness  of God was reflected in parents and siblings.

And to tell the truth, if I try to imagine a little of how it will be in heaven, it always seems to me like the time of my youth, of my childhood. Thus, in this context of trust, of joy, and of love, we were happy, and I think that in heaven it must be similar to what it was like in my youth. In this sense I hope to go “home,” in going to “the other part of the world.””

The pope may be, well, the pope, shepherd of more than a billion Catholics, professor, theologian,writer, spiritual father… he is also so very human, and in encounters with children that becomes touchingly apparent. We saw that in Spain, in Benin, and now in Milan. Meet the real Benedict…

Photo credit: Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo

An (inter)national visit – Pope Benedict in Milan

It may not be a big international journey (although, from Vatican City, almost any journey is an international one), the weekend trip that Pope Benedict XVI is taking to Milan is certainly one with an international flavour. Billed as a twofold pastoral visit, to the Archdiocese of Milan and the Seventh World Meeting of Families, it includes no less than thirteen events which the pope will speak at or attend.

First up today are the official welcome at the airport, a meeting with the people of Milan in front of the iconic Duomo and a concert at the La Scala theatre.

Tomorrow will be mainly pastoral, as the Holy Father will mark several moments of prayer, as well as meeting with Confirmation candidates and attending an ‘evening of witness’.

Sunday, then, will be relatively low-key, fitting for both the Lord’s day and the papal stamina. Pope Benedict will celebrate a big public Mass in Bresso Park, and he will speak to the organisers of the World Day of Families.

Family will no doubt be a major topic in the papal addresses, from which I will share choice passages here as they appear.

A return to the Vatican is expected for early Sunday evening.

The Archdiocese of Milan, dating back to the first century, is one of Europe’s largest dioceses. Home to almost 5 million Catholics, boasting 30 basilicas, it has nevertheless been visited by a pope only twice before. Blessed John Paul II visited in 1983 and 1984. The archbishop if Angelo Cardinal Scola, and he has four auxiliary bishops to assist him. It has given the Church three popes (Paul VI, Pius XI and Urban III) and one antipope (Alexander V).

Photo credit: AP Photo/Luca Bruno