Cardinal Schönborn on the Pope in Austria

Author: ZENIT


Cardinal Schönborn on the Pope in Austria

Part 1

Interview on Benedict XVI's Upcoming Trip

VIENNA, Austria, 6 SEPT. 2007 (ZENIT)

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn says Benedict XVI is the last of the great Second Vatican Council theologians, and that the Pope's words are always both important and fascinating.

In view of Benedict XVI's visit to Austria this Friday through Sunday, the archbishop of Vienna and president of the Austrian bishops' conference spoke to ZENIT about the Pope, the man and the successor of Peter.

Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.

Q: Everyone is talking about the Pope's upcoming visit. Who is the real Benedict XVI?

Cardinal Schönborn: He is very simple. He is the successor of the Apostle Peter and therefore for us, he is the Vicar of Christ, the Lord's representative here on earth in the visible Church.

This is at the same time incomprehensible and immense, but it is the secret of the Petrine ministry. Whoever meets with him, whatever country he is from, whatever language he speaks — all of that is important, but it is secondary. For us he is, above all, according to the faith of the Church, Peter among us, with all the depth, greatness and strength of what Jesus prophesied to Peter, of the ministry that he entrusted to him, a ministry that continues to exist beyond the historical figure of Peter.

Q: How are your meetings with the Holy Father?

Cardinal Schönborn: Very normal. He is a man I have known for 35 years, under whom I studied and with whom I have worked for many years, a man that throughout the years, I learned to know and deeply esteem and greatly admire. But April 19, 2005, in his life and in our lives, something greater happened — he was chosen as the successor of Peter. This naturally represents a new dimension, which is evident in meeting with him. He is the man, the teacher, the cardinal that I know well and have known for many years, and at the same time, he is Peter.

Q: You have known Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI for many years. What distinguishes him as a man?

Cardinal Schönborn: I could mention many things. In his memoirs he wrote in a very modest but wise way about his life. He is very restrained in manifesting personal matters. He does not talk much about his life, but its deep Christian roots are notable. You can tell that he comes from a family profoundly formed by faith, a family united in faith and love.

I had the opportunity to get to know his sister Maria well, who died unexpectedly on Nov. 2, 1991. The three siblings were very close and they must have had parents who profoundly shaped them.

Who is the Pope based on his personal history? He is a particularly gifted and intelligent theologian. I do not hesitate to say that he is the last of the great theologians of the Council generation — de Lubac, Congar, Rahner, von Balthasar. He was the youngest in a long line of theologians who influenced the Second Vatican Council and he is certainly one of the greatest because of his spiritual and theological abilities.

Q: During your meeting with Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo you discussed the details of his upcoming trip. What is the Holy Father expecting?

Cardinal Schönborn: He will let us know and I think this is good. When Benedict XVI speaks, it is necessary to pay close attention, because what he has to say is always very clear, important, incisive and very personal and fascinating. I don't know what he will say to us. It is good to be open.

What I can say with certainty is that we will receive enough material for further reflection.

Q: What kind of Church will the Pope find? What is, in your opinion, the situation of the Church in Austria?

Cardinal Schönborn: Only Our Lord can say what the situation of the Church is for sure, because faith has him for its aim. In that sense, hearts and their relationship with God is a mystery. No statistic is able to measure this. But naturally we live in a time when religious sociology, the psychology of religion, and statistics play an important role, and therefore one studies how to pose religion to the young, to adults and to the elderly.

Since the 1950s there has been enormous change, but not only in the Church, also in society. We live in a very different society.

Let me offer an example: In our diocese we have a rural area and an urban area, the great city of Vienna and neighboring areas that belong to the Archdiocese of Vienna. Fifty years ago, these areas were farmland; today they make up a large part of the outskirts of Vienna. This is a radical change, linked to the professional, social and family lives of many people. The number of farmers has diminished greatly, and this has impacted religious practice.

I think that today the challenge, in a highly secularized society, is living Christianity, the Christian faith almost as an alternative, as a countercultural society.

Part 2 Interview on Benedict XVI's Pilgrimage to Mariazell

VIENNA, Austria, 7 SEPT. 2007 (ZENIT)

The Virgin Mary teaches the faithful to look to Christ, which is also the message of the shrine of Mariazell in Austria, according to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

In view of Benedict XVI's visit to Austria today through Sunday, the archbishop of Vienna and president of the Austrian bishops' conference spoke to ZENIT about the Pope's pilgrimage and the situation of the Church in Austria.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.

Q: The Holy Father's visit to Austria is a pilgrimage to Mariazell. What importance does Mary have in the Christian life?

Cardinal Schönborn: The motto "Turn your gaze toward Christ" is deeply inspired by Mariazell. If you look at the "full of grace" statue in Mariazell, the 850-year-old small statue of Linden wood, without festal vestments, without the opulent robes it is usually clothed in, you can see a simple figure of this smiling and mysterious Mother of God, and on her lap a child with an apple in his hand, symbol of the reign of divine power. And Mary is clearly pointing to the baby. That means that she is saying to us what she said at Cana — "Do whatever he tells you" — and she teaches us to look to Christ.

She is looking at us but she is pointing to Christ. In a certain sense she is calling to us: "Look there, look at my son." And I think that this is the motto that Pope John Paul II chose for his entire life and especially for his pontificate. "Totus tuus" means to Christ through Mary. She shows us the way. Therefore let us begin Benedict XVI's pilgrimage, and with the Holy Father, to Mariazell, and to the Am Hof Plaza before the Mariensaeule.

On Dec. 8, 2006, feast of the Immaculate Conception, we began a novena that will last until Sept. 8, in preparation for the feast day of Mariazell and for the Holy Father's visit.

Q: You recently implied that the scarcity of children is a problem. How can society be more favorable to childhood?

Cardinal Schönborn: It is above all a big problem for a society that compromises its future by not having a sufficient number of children. We know well: Almost all of Europe must face the problem of falling demographics, which is being helped by strong immigration. It is a decision that involves all of society that is already facing the "No Future" problem.

Why are we in this situation today when the situation is Austria is so positive and there is support for families like never before? At no other time in history has there been a lack of norms like we have today. And despite that, families once had more children than they have today.

Certainly the drama of abortion plays an important role, but along with that I would add the fact of people not wanting children, saying no to children through contraception.

In the last 40 years Europe has said "no" three times to its future: the first time with the pill, the second time with abortion and the third time with homosexual marriage. Irrespective of the moral judgments of these phenomenon, it is simply a "de facto" no to the future.

The yes to the future can only mean a yes to children. I think that there is a growing awareness among Europeans that this is a necessary decision. The yes to the future is already a good thing, if you think the future has a chance.

Q: The Center for Families in the Archdiocese of Cologne has existed for some time. What are the specific initiatives of the Archdiocese of Vienna to support families?

Cardinal Schönborn: Naturally many initiatives exist in favor of the family, for example, associations of families or family workshops. Different religious movements have familial organizations, like the Schoenstatt movement. The religious movements of renewal are also strongly focused on families. But I believe that there is something more. It has to do with seeing.

Jesus said to his first disciples: "Come and see!" We need to see, we need to be able to touch — otherwise you don't live it.

I spent some of my vacation time with a young family who has just had their sixth child. Naturally it is a life with many sacrifices, but it is certainly more vital than what happens if we are afraid of every new life. I think of the experiences of families in similar situations who, with full knowledge, say yes, even if it is linked to enormous opposition from those around them. With our lives we witness that it is good, that having children is good.

Naturally it is tiring. But it is rewarding, gratifying. And I think that the life of families in similar situations encourages others to try it. And strangely, it is not a problem of economics.

Naturally it is difficult with six children. But thank God in Austria there is good support for families. Some things could be better, more constructive, but it is fundamental to live it and make it possible for others. "Come and see!"

I see it in many families that have three, four, five, six children or more. The impression one has is that the future is here, hope is here, life is here. This is the way in which society should live: solidarity, mutual respect, mutual assistance; the logical experience that we need to forgo certain things.

These are the values that we absolutely need, so that society will become a society worthy of life and love. It is there that we find them, where we learn them. Woe to the society in which these values are lost, because it will be an evil society, ruthless.

Q: What are you expecting from the Holy Father's visit?

Cardinal Schönborn: Strengthening of the faith, joy in the faith and encouragement in walking the way of faith, with the Church and in the Church, and not on a path we make for ourselves.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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