The Priority of Making God Present
Cardinal Tarciso Bertone
Secretary of State
Excerpts from an interview with the Secretary of State on the eve of the 'Celestine Pardon'
On Friday, 28 August , Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, went to L'Aquila in the Abruzzi Region of Central Italy to preside at Mass and open the Holy Door at the traditional ceremony for the Celestine Pardon. It was the first time that a Secretary of State has taken part in the historic celebration. His participation was a sign of the Pope's closeness to the people of Abruzzi, struck by a severe earthquake in April this year.
This year is also the eighth centenary of the birth of Pope Celestine V, who introduced the "Pardon". Peter of Morrone, a hermit elected Pope, was crowned on 29 August 1294 in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio where he is also buried. He took the name of Celestine V and later issued a Papal Bull granting the Great Pardon, a universal Indulgence for sins. To gain the Indulgence the faithful had to pass through the Basilica's Holy Door after making their confession and repenting of their sins.
Today, to commemorate the event, people in costume parade through the town from the Piazza Palazzo, where the Bull of the Indulgence is kept, to the Basilica. This year the relics of Pope St Celestine, recovered unharmed from the debris of the earthquake, were displayed to the faithful outside the Basilica. Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari of L'Aquila and the Committee for the Celestine Pardon, in inviting Cardinal Bertone, originally intended to organize a dinner for the occasion but instead gave the equivalent sum to people in difficulty after the earthquake. In the morning, the Secretary of State visited the local fire brigade to express his gratitude and his appreciation for all they have done.
The following are excerpts from an exclusive interview that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone granted L'Osservatore Romano prior to his visit to L'Aquila, translated from Italian.
Why did the Secretary of State decide to take part this year in the celebrations for the Celestine Pardon?
The Secretary of State is a Bishop and as the Pope's first collaborator shares in his pastoral mission for the good of the People of God. After celebrating the funeral of the earthquake victims, I was invited to preside at the inauguration of the Celestine Year. I gladly accepted, in continuity with the Pope's closeness to the peoples hit by the earthquake. Since his visit to L'Aquila, the Pope has kept up to date with the Church's action. Like all of us, he hopes that nothing will stand in the way of the efforts to help people resume their normal family life.
Celestine V's Pardon was an important project for liberally extending spiritual indulgences, thus making them available even to the humblest of Christians. What attention does the Church of Benedict pay to the poor?
Celestine V's act impelled Boniface VIII to promulgate the Jubilee with an indulgence that was to be extended to the whole world.
As for Benedict XVI's attitude to the poor, I would first like to stress his special attention to the lowly. In spite of being a great theologian, Pope Ratzinger enables everyone to understand that he is close to the people, so that everyone can perceive the truth in what he says and grasp the meaning of his faith and fatherly human wisdom.
Benedict XVI reaches out to many in different situations of poverty across the world, through the Secretariat of State, the Office of Papal Charities, the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" and other institutions. Through them he distributes not only the donations he receives but also the royalties from his books. Lastly, he intervenes, recalls, admonishes and invites governments and international organizations to remedy the most blatant inequalities and forms of discrimination.
You are aware of the solidarity that surrounds Benedict XVI but also of certain reservations, especially regarding his fidelity to the Second Vatican Council and his reform of the Church. Are there grounds for these fears?
To understand the intentions and action of Benedict XVI's government, one must refer to his history... and to the Discourse inaugurating his Pontificate, his Address to the Roman Curia on 22 December 2005, and precise acts. Rumours about documents presumed to be turning the clock back are pure invention, a standardized and obstinately re-hashed cliché.
I would just like to mention some Second Vatican Council requirements that he has constantly presented with intelligence and depth: more comprehensive relations with the Orthodox and Eastern Churches and dialogue with the Jews and with the Muslims. These have led to answers and to deeper knowledge as was never previously the case and to his direct, brotherly and fatherly relationship with all the Bishops. Nor should we forget his introduction of free interventions during the Synod Assemblies, his precise answers and reflections and the direct contact he set up with the Heads of the Dicasteries, receiving them at regular Audiences.
As for Church reform, Benedict has called us to return to the source of the Word of God, to the law of the Gospel and to the heart of the Church's life. Let us not forget what he wrote in the Letter to Catholic Bishops on 10 March about the remission of the excommunication of the Bishops ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre, on the overriding priority of making God present in this world.
What have been the key interventions in the Roman Curia and what can be expected?
Benedict has a profound knowledge of the Roman Curia in which he held a pre-eminent role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This has enabled him to continue the appointment process started by John Paul II, free from manipulation and gossip. Benedict has appointed more than 70 superiors to the Dicasteries of the Curia, and many new Apostolic Nuncios and Bishops.
His criteria are: competence, a true pastoral spirit and an international outlook. New appointments are forthcoming and surprises, especially in the new Churches, can be expected. Africa has offered and will offer excellent candidates.
Is it right to claim that the Pope is responsible for all that happens in the Church or would it be more accurate to apply the principle of personal responsibility?
The habit of blaming the Pope — or the Vatican — for all that happens in the Church is widespread. This is wrong. Benedict is a model of love for Christ and for the Church and guides her on the path of truth and holiness. It is right to attribute responsibility to each individual (unicuique suum)for his words and conduct.... Unfortunately, the way things are reported and judged depends on the good intentions and love for the truth of journalists and the media. It is still important and necessary to teach the truth and make it loved.
Canyou explain how in the Church of Benedict freedom of thought and seeking go hand in hand with responsibility for faith?
One must look at the example of Joseph Ratzinger, thinker, theologian and teacher. In his long intellectual journey — during which he has been active as a university professor and in the media — he was appointed to offices of formidable responsibility: Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then Supreme Pastor of the Catholic Church. These roles have marked his teaching and action as Cardinal and Pope, orienting toward the interaction between the fundamental freedom of thinking and seeking and the responsibility for the act of faith and adherence of faith to God who reveals himself.... He asks theologians not to be uprooted from the faith of the Church.
Do you think it is easy or difficult to speak of the Pope's action and thought in the fifth year of his Pontificate?
It should be easy for journalists to recount Benedict XVI's action and thought. Leafing through his texts in L'Osservatore Romano, for example, it would not be hard to reconstruct his projects for the Church and society, ever inspired by the Gospel and the most authentic Christian tradition. The Pontiff has a clear vision; he wishes to urge the faithful to a divinely and humanly harmonious life.... It would suffice to be equally clear and faithful and to report without distortion his true works and actions as father of the People of God.
One last question: what led to the idea of the Year for Priests?
After the Synod on the word of God, a previously presented proposal for a year of prayer lay on the Pope's table. However, the 150th anniversary of the death of the Cure d'Ars and the problems involving so many priests prompted Benedict to announce the Year for Priests. They are indisputably the backbone of the local Churches and the principal cooperators of the Bishop.
The Pope has always shown affability to priests, drawing on his experience, especially in his extemporaneous dialogues, full of concrete instructions for their lives and ready answers to their questions.
The Year for Priests is inspiring great enthusiasm in all the local Churches and an extraordinary movement of prayer and of the promotion of vocations ministry.
The fabric of dialogue is also being reinforced between Bishops and priests, and special attention is being paid to priests reduced to a marginal condition in their pastoral action.
Many projects aim to strengthen knowledge of the priest's identity and mission, essentially an exemplary and educational mission in the Church and in society. The holy priests who have populated the Church's history will not fail to protect and sustain the process of renewal proposed by Benedict XVI.
Weekly Edition in English
2 September 2009, page 3
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