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Pontiff Admonishes Catholics Not to Lose Their Souls to Science

During his homecoming in Germany, he scolds Western Europe for having a secular focus.

September 11, 2006|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

MUNICH, Germany — Under glorious skies in this Bavarian capital where he once lived, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday warned Roman Catholics against letting modern concerns drown out God's word, adding that technology alone could not solve the world's problems.

An overreliance on science has made too many Catholics deaf to the teachings of the church, the pope said in a homily that scolded Western European societies for an increasingly secular focus. Faith is needed to combat diseases such as AIDS, he said.

On the second day of a six-day homecoming, the pope spoke to about 250,000 followers at an outdoor Mass at a fairgrounds on the outskirts of Munich. Some of the faithful arrived before dawn to secure a good spot, and many waved posters in the Vatican's colors of yellow and white or signs with greetings.

The crowd included families with small children and scores of people in Alpine folk dress -- women in dirndls and men in wool stockings and feathers in their caps. They warmly cheered the hometown pope, who wore green vestments and a gold-trimmed miter and spoke from an austere, imposing stage. The audience was generally a less-boisterous bunch than often greeted the pontiff.

Benedict's native Bavaria is a prosperous and conservative state in southern Germany that was once a bastion of Catholicism in Central Europe. He will visit his birthplace, his parents' gravesites and the university where he taught theology.

Although he has described the trip as a personal one, the former Joseph Ratzinger is also determined to boost a faith that by most measures is flagging in Europe, where Catholics have wandered from the church and Muslims immigrants have diluted Christian demographics.

Catholics must make God "the force shaping our lives and actions," the pope said, adding that many people did not know how or did not like the image of God they had come to know.

He lamented cynics who considered "mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom."

"Put simply, we are no longer able to hear God -- there are too many different frequencies filling our ears," he said. "What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age."

Even Catholic charities that do good works in Africa and other parts of the developing world but that fail to teach Christianity are at fault, Benedict said, pointing a finger at the German Catholic Church. He said African bishops frequently thanked him for aid and development projects by German Catholic groups but longed for an evangelical component as well.

"Social issues and the Gospel are inseparable," the pope said. "When we bring people only knowledge, ability, technical competence and tools, we bring them too little.

"People in Africa and Asia admire our scientific and technical prowess, but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man's vision."

Similarly, Benedict said, "hearts must be converted" to fight the AIDS epidemic by "realistically facing its deeper causes."

He was alluding to the church's stance that fidelity and chastity, and not condoms, were the way to combat the disease.

The pope's more conservative views are not popular among liberals in Germany and other parts of Europe. He has been the focus of protests. Early Sunday, vandals splashed paint on the home where he was born.

As he seeks to convince his followers of God's appeal, Benedict is emphasizing a more benevolent deity.

"The world needs God. We need God. But what God?" the pope asked. One of "healing goodness," he said, one who is loving, merciful and whose "vengeance is ... a no to violence."

Later Sunday, at a ceremony in the Munich cathedral where Cardinal Ratzinger was archbishop in the late 1970s, the pope stressed the accessibility of God.

"He has pitched his tent among us," he said.

Benedict's portrait of God is emblematic of the manner in which he has sought to promote a return to Catholic values since he assumed the papacy 17 months ago.

Instead of the harangues that some expected from the dogmatic conservative, the pope has attempted to offer what he called in a recent television interview the "positive options" of Christianity.

It has taken some by surprise.

Father Notker Wolf, abbot primate of the Benedictine Confederation who ran the St. Ottilien monastery near Munich for 23 years, has known Ratzinger for years and was skeptical when he was elected pope. But Wolf said Benedict had become more pastoral and was promoting a more forgiving image of God.

"For us, God has always been the bookkeeper, writing down all of our sins," Wolf said Sunday, a short distance from where the pope presided over Mass.

"This is the surprise about the pope. He has taken away the fear. He speaks of a God who loves, liberates and does not create fear."

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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