Home Page Home Page
Front Page News Digest Cardinal George Observations The Interview MarketPlace
Learn more about our publication and our policies
Send us your comments and requests
Subscribe to our print edition
Advertise in our print edition or on this site
Search past online issues
Site Map
New World Publications
Periódieo oficial en Español de la Arquidióesis de Chicago
Archdiocesan Directory
Order Directory Online
Link to the Archdiocese of Chicago's official Web site.
The Catholic New World
Pope Benedict: The world needs its Savior

By John Thavis

Vatican City - Celebrating Christmas at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said the world still needs a savior, despite technological advances that make humanity consider itself the "self-sufficient master of its own destiny."

At Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope said the birth of Christ should focus attention on all the suffering and abused children in contemporary society.

Later, in a Christmas Day blessing "urbi et orbi"-to the city of Rome and the world-he said recent developments like space travel, genetic engineering and the Internet only accentuate man's need for spiritual salvation.

"In this postmodern age, perhaps he needs a savior all the more, since the society in which he lives has become more complex and the threats to his personal and moral integrity have become more insidious," the pope said.

The Mass and blessing, broadcast around the world, were the public highlights of the pope's Christmas, but the 79-year-old pontiff also marked the festivities in quieter gatherings with friends and colleagues.

An old friend drove down from Germany with three small Christmas trees-which were decorated and placed in the papal apartment-and several batches of Bavarian cookies. A separate gift of venison meat arrived from Germany in time for Christmas dinner.

On Christmas Eve, as a crowd gathered for the unveiling of the Vatican's own larger-than-life Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square, the pope made his way to the packed basilica for midnight Mass.

Young children from five continents brought flowers to a statue of the baby Jesus in front of the altar, a moment that highlighted the liturgy's international atmosphere.

In a sermon, the pope said the meaning of Christmas was quite simple: God "makes himself small for us."

"This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby-defenseless and in need of our help," he said.

"In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children," he said.

The pope said Christmas should draw people's attention to all children who suffer and are abused in the world, "the born and the unborn," particularly those who are hungry, unloved, forced to beg or "placed as soldiers in a violent world."

He emphasized that the sign of Christmas-a newborn baby lying in a manger-corresponds with the essentially straightforward message brought by Jesus: to love God and love one's neighbor.

"This is everything-the whole faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity," he said.

He said this core message has sometimes been turned into something long and complex, especially by Scripture experts who "became entangled in details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall perspective."

In the season of giving at Christmas, the pope encouraged people to reflect the spirit of Jesus' selfless love.

"When you give gifts for Christmas, do not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back," he said.

At noon the next day, in an event broadcast to some 60 countries, the pope offered his blessing and pronounced Christmas greetings in 62 languages, including Chinese, Arabic and Latin.

"May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies; and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Savior has been born for us," he said in English.

Speaking from the central outside balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the pope asked whether the idea of a savior still has meaning "for a humanity that has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature's secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvelous codes of the human genome?"

"Is a savior needed by a humanity which has invented interactive communication, which navigates in the virtual ocean of the Internet and, thanks to the most advanced modern communications technologies, has now made the earth, our great common home, a global village?" he asked.

Yet despite these advances, he said, the need for Christianity's saving message is also evident: many people continue to die of hunger, disease and poverty, even in an age of unbridled consumerism; some are enslaved and exploited; and some are victims of racial or religious hatred and discrimination.

"Others see their own bodies and those of their dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence, at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress, solidarity and peace for all," he said.

The pope said the catalogue of suffering includes those misled by "facile prophets of happiness," who struggle with relationships, loneliness, alcohol and drugs, and who "choose death in the belief that they are celebrating life."

All this adds up to a "heart-rending cry for help," he said. It illustrates that despite humanity's material progress it always needs a savior to help choose between good and evil.

The pope then turned his attention to areas of conflict throughout the world:

  • He made an "appeal to all those who hold in their hands the fate of Iraq, that there will be an end to the brutal violence that has brought so much bloodshed to the country, and that every one of its inhabitants will be safe to lead a normal life."
  • He said he was deeply apprehensive about the continuing crisis in the Middle East, but expressed hope at recent signs of a resumption of dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. In a separate Christmas message to Middle East Catholics, he also said he wanted to visit the Holy Land as soon as circumstances permitted such a pilgrimage.
  • He lamented the destruction and uncertainty in Lebanon, where a war last summer left many victims, but said he was confident that a democratic Lebanon would survive.
  • He urged an end to civil strife in Sri Lanka, and prayed that fratricidal conflicts in Darfur and other African areas would cease.

The pope then explained why Christmas should stimulate the church in its evangelizing mission. The belief that "our Savior is born for all" must be proclaimed in word and deed by Christians everywhere, he said.

The church evangelizes with passionate enthusiasm, with joy and with full respect for all cultural and religious traditions, he said.

He ended his talk with a direct appeal to the millions watching and listening around the world to "open your hearts" to Christ as the savior of the world.

On Dec. 26, the pope recalled the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, and prayed for Catholics who are persecuted today because they show fidelity to the Vatican "without accepting compromises, sometimes at the price of serious consequences."

The pope appeared to be referring to China, where a government-approved Catholic association rejects Vatican ties, and where underground Catholics loyal to Rome have been the targets of discrimination.

"The entire church admires this example and prays so that they have the strength to persevere," the pope said.

> Front Page