In De-Christianized Europe, Ratzinger Focuses on the “Creative Minorities”
The complete transcript of the interview with Benedict XVI during the flight from Rome to Prague, the morning of September 26. Freedom, truth, dialogue. And a look ahead at the second volume of “Jesus of Nazareth”
Q: Your Holiness, as you said at the Angelus last Sunday, the Czech Republic is located not only geographically, but also historically in the heart of Europe. Could you explain better what you mean by “historically,” and tell us how and why you think that this visit can be significant for the continent as a whole, in its cultural, spiritual, and eventually also its political journey, in constructing the European Union?
A: Down through the centuries, the Czech Republic, the territory of the Czech Republic has been a place of cultural exchange. Let’s begin in the ninth century: on the one hand, in Moravia, we have the great mission of the brothers Cyril and Methodius, who brought Byzantine culture from Byzantium, but created a Slavic culture, with Cyrillic characters and a liturgy in the Slavic language; on the other hand, in Bohemia, there were the dioceses bordering on Regensburg and Passau, which brought the Gospel in the Latin language, and this connection with Roman-Latin culture led to an encounter of the two cultures. Every encounter is difficult, but also fruitful. This could easily be demonstrated with this example.
I will make a big leap: in the thirteenth century, it was Charles IV who created here, in Prague, the first university in Central Europe. The university in itself is a place of cultural encounter; in this case, it also became a place of encounter between Slavic and German-speaking culture. Just as in the century and at the time of the Reformation, it was precisely in this territory that the encounters and confrontations became decisive and powerful, as we all know.
I will now make a leap into the present: in the last century, the Czech Republic suffered under a particularly rigorous communist dictatorship, but it also had a very sophisticated resistance movement, both Catholic and secular. I am thinking about the writings of Václav Havel, of Cardinal Vlk, about personalities like Cardinal Tomášek, who truly sent Europe a message about what freedom is, and how we must live and work in freedom. And I think that from this encounter of cultures over the centuries, and precisely from this last phase of reflection, and not only that, but of suffering for a new concept of freedom and of a free society, there emerged many important messages for us, which can and should be fruitful for the construction of Europe. We must be very attentive to the message of this country.
Q: Twenty years have passed since the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe; John Paul II, visiting the various countries that had emerged from communism, encouraged them to use their regained freedom with responsibility. What is your message today for the peoples of Eastern Europe, in this new historical phase?
A: As I have said, these countries suffered in a particular way under dictatorship, but in suffering they also developed concepts of freedom that are relevant, and that now must be further elaborated and realized. I am thinking, for example, about something that Václav Havel wrote: “Dictatorship is based on lying, and if lying could be overcome, if no one would lie anymore and if the truth would come to light, there would also be freedom.” And in this way he elaborated this nexus between truth and freedom, where freedom is not libertinism, arbitrariness, but is connected to and influenced by the great values of truth, love, solidarity, and of the good in general.
So I think that these concepts, these ideas developed during the dictatorship, should not be lost: now is exactly when we must return to them! And in a freedom that is often a bit empty and lacking in values, again recognize that freedom and values, freedom and goodness, freedom and truth go together: otherwise freedom is destroyed as well. This seems to me to be the message that comes from these countries, and must be actualized at this time.
Q: Your Holiness, the Czech Republic is a very secularized country in which the Catholic Church is a minority. In this situation, how can the Church effectively contribute to the common good of the country?
A: I would say that normally it is the creative minorities that determine the future, and in this sense the Catholic Church must understand itself as a creative minority that has a heritage of values that are not things of the past, but a very living and relevant reality. The Church must actualize, be present in the public debate, in our struggle for a true concept of liberty and peace.
So it can contribute in various areas. I would say that the first is precisely the intellectual dialogue between agnostics and believers. Each needs the other: the agnostic cannot be content with not knowing whether God exists or not, but must be searching and sense the great heritage of the faith; the Catholic cannot be content with having the faith, but must be searching for God even more, and in dialogue with others relearn God in a more profound way. This is the first level: the great intellectual, ethical, and human dialogue.
Then, in the area of education, the Church has a great deal to do and to give, concerning formation. In Italy, we talk about the problem of the educational emergency. It is a problem common to all of the West: here the Church must again actualize, make concrete, open to the future its great heritage.
A third area is “Caritas.” This has always been one of the marks of the Church’s identity: that of coming to the aid of the poor, of being an instrument of charity. Caritas does a great deal in the Czech Republic, in the different communities, in situations of necessity, and it also offers much to suffering humanity on the different continents, thus giving an example of responsibility for others, of international solidarity, which is one of the conditions for peace.
Q: Your Holiness, your most recent encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” has received attention in much of the world. How do you assess this attention? Are you satisfied with it? Do you think that the recent global crisis is essentially an occasion on which humanity has become more willing to reflect on the importance of moral and spiritual values, in order to face the great problems of its future? And the Church, will it continue to offer guidelines in this direction?
A: I am very content that this serious discussion is taking place. This was the aim: to provide incentives and reasons for a discussion on these problems, not to leave things be as they are, but to find new models for a responsible economy, both in individual countries and for the totality of humanity as a whole. It seems to me that it has really become clear today that ethics is not something outside of the economy, which could work mechanically on its own, but is an inner principle of the economy, which does not work if it does not take into account the human values of solidarity, of reciprocal responsibilities, if it does not integrate ethics into the construction of the economy itself: this is the great challenge of this moment.
I hope, with the encyclical, to have contributed to this challenge. The debate underway seems encouraging to me. Of course, we want to continue to respond to the challenges of the moment, and to help make the sense of responsibility stronger than the desire for profit, responsibility toward others stronger than egoism; in this sense, we want to contribute to a humane economy in the future as well.
Q: And to conclude, a somewhat personal question: over the summer, you suffered a slight injury to your wrist. Do you think it has recovered completely? Have you been able to resume all of your activities, and have you also been able to work on the second part of your book on Jesus, as you wanted to?
A: I have not yet recovered completely, but you can see that the right hand works, and I can do the essential things: I can eat, and above all, I can write. My thought is developed mainly through writing; so for me it was really a burden, a school of patience, not to be able to write for six weeks. Nonetheless I was able to work, to read, to do other things, and I also made a little bit of progress with the book. But I still have much to do. I think that, with the bibliography and everything that is still to be done, “Deo adiuvante,” it could be finished next spring. But this is a hope!
All of the speeches from Benedict XVI’s trip to Prague, Brno, and Stará Boleslav:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.