Friday, September 14, 2007

Pope Benedict in Austria

On September 7th, the Holy Father left Rome on his seventh apostolic journey outside of Italy -- this time to Austria, to to celebrate the 850th anniversary of the Marian shrine at Mariazell. As the Pope himself put it, in his remarks on board the plane en route to Austria:
My trip above all is a pilgrimage. I want to take my place in the long line of pilgrims over the course of 850 years [to Mariazell], a pilgrim among the pilgrims, one who prays among all the others who pray. This sign of unity created by the faith seems important to me. It’s unity among peoples, because this is a pilgrimage site for many peoples. It’s also unity across time. Therefore, it’s a symbol of the unifying power that comes with faith, the power of reconciliation. In this sense, it’s also a symbol of the universality of the community of the faith, of the church, a symbol also of humility, and above all a symbol that we have confidence in God, in the priority of God – that God exists, that we need God’s help. Naturally, of course, it’s also an expression of love for the Madonna. Thus, I simply want to confirm these essential elements of the faith in this moment of its history.


Background to the Marian Shrine at Mariazell:

Mariazell dates back to 1157 when a monk named Magnus from the Benedictine Abbey of St. Lambrecht sought the solitude of the forests and the mountains. He carried with him a carved wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, twenty-two inches high. When he could go no further, he placed the figure on a branch of a linden tree and built a cell for himself and the holy statue there. This was in the Valley of Cell or the Zellertal.

Magnus soon attracted people, shepherds and hunters, to whom he ministered as their priest. A small village grew around his simple chapel. The carved wooden figure of the Virgin Mary became to be known as a miraculous object of great veneration, with a growing reputation for the signs and wonders which were worked through it.

Around 1200 a Romanesque church replaced the monk’s humble chapel and cell, and the fame of “Our Beloved Lady of Cell” (Mariazell) began to spread far and wide. Pilgrims from lands all around began to come to seek the aid and blessings of the Holy Virgin and Child. Venerated by Emperors and Kings, Mariazell attracted not only the nobility of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, Bavaria and Slovenia, but simple pilgrims from all classes of society. The church became “Magna Mater Austriae” (the Great Mother of Austria), with similar titles in neighbouring lands.

About 1340 King Louis the Great of Hungary replaced the Romanesque church with a larger edifice in gratitude for the Virgin’s help in defeating the Turkish and Bulgarian invaders. The present Baroque church was built in the late 17th century; the interior and high altar being the work of the great Baroque architect, Fischer von Erlach. Von Erlach was born in Austria and spent his first 16 years of training in the workshop of Bernini in Rome. When he returned to Austria, his was a sought after architect that had great influence on the major building works of the day. So great and so appreciated that the Emperor, Joseph I raised him to nobility.

A magnificent silver gate frames the sanctuary in front of the holy statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle of the church and was donated by the Emperor Leopold I (1658-1705). The statue itself, which shows no signs of decay despite its great age, is normally clothed in rich robes reflecting the liturgical colours of the Catholic Church. It continues to attract pilgrims from the lands of Central Europe in their thousands all year round.

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  • Big business Benedict: pope visit prompts tourist boom EUX.TV Mariazell, Austria:
    Rosaries, pictures, candles, figurines, keyrings and mugs bearing the image of Pope Benedict XVI: The selection at stalls selling souvenirs and devotional objects in front of Mariazell's baroque basilica seems endless.

    Dealers in devotional objects at Austria's most important pilgrimage site and main destination of the Holy Father's September 7-9 visit are expecting "significant sales increases".

    Jealously guarding their territory, Mariazell's old-established traders banned all hawkers, infamous for their unholy kitsch, from the village.

    A papal visit is always connected with big business, be it investments ahead of his arrival, sales during the visit or long term effects generated by his presence, however short, at any given location. . . .

    Not content to leave the field to tourism managers and hawkers, Austria's church threw itself into the pope business, cutting sponsoring deals with mobile phone providers and setting up an online shop selling t-shirts, bags, local delicacies or replicas of the Marizaell Madonna for the charitable sum of 1,050 euros.

    At Heiligenkreuz abbey, where the pope will spend less than an hour of his busy schedule, the business-minded brethren hope that he will find the time to take a sip of their local wine.

    Labelled "as drunk by Pope Benedict XVI", the blessed grape juice should help boost sales of the highly unprofitable abbey vineyards.

    "The pope's visit is mainly a spiritual and not a business event. We do not want to make business with the Holy Father or reach economic goals," Heiligenkreuz abbot Gregor Henkel Donnersmarck stressed.

  • Mariazell lacks dazzle, but its simplicity helps its fame in Austria, by John Thavis. Catholic News Agency. August 30, 2007:
    "Mariazell is not a 'spectacular' sanctuary. There are no apparitions or miracles that fill the pages of newspapers," said Benedictine Father Karl Schauer, superior of the sanctuary.

    "There is no particular form of religiosity here, and no particular group has taken over this place for itself," he told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

    Then-Cardinal Ratzinger visited Mariazell in 2004, a few months before his election as Pope Benedict XVI. From Rcesq of the Benedict Forum, a translation of the homily preached by then-Cardinal Ratzinger during his October 2004 visit to Mariazell.

  • Cardinal Schonborn on the Pope in Austria: Part I | Part II - Interview on Benedict XVI's Upcoming Trip. Zenit News. Sept. 6, 2007:
    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.

  • Criticism and little enthusiasm ahead of Pope visit Sept. 5, 2007:
    what should be a home game for the German-born pope is being met with increasing indifference by Austria's Catholics, according to several polls published in the run-up to Benedict XVI arrival. According to one survey, 82 per cent said the pope's visit was of "little importance" to them. . . .

    Progressive forces in the church are disappointed that a discussion of topics like celibacy or the role of women in the church is unlikely.

    In the traditionally strongly catholic country, the church, is losing members fast. A string of scandals over the past ten years drastically reduced the number of church members, 500,000 left the church between 1991 and 2006.

    A cardinal being accused of abusing children, a sex scandal involving child porn at a seminary and the appointment of several controversial churchmen to high positions eroded faith and sped up the exodus from the church.

September 7, 2007

  • Benedict expresses sadness, repentance for Holocaust, by John Allen Jr.:
    The Holocaust memorial is located near Vienna’s Judenplatz, the location of the city’s main synagogue. In a driving rain, Benedict stood alongside Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg, as well as the head of the local Jewish community, for several moments of silent prayer. The monument contains the names of 65,000 Austrian Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis between 1938 and 1945.

    It’s an act with deep local resonance, since Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of Vienna supported Austria’s union with Nazi Germany in 1938, symbolizing for critics the Catholic Church’s insufficient resistance to Nazi ideology. . . .

    Benedict said aboard the papal plane that he wanted to visit the memorial to the Shoah “in order to demonstrate our sadness, our repentance, and also our friendship with our Jewish brothers, in order to move forward with this great union that God has created among his people.”

    As Benedict pulled away in his popemobile, a member of the Jewish community flashed the pope a peace sign. Benedict responded with a broad smile and a wave.

    During the visit, Two prominent Austrian Jewish leaders urged Pope Benedict XVI to use his moral authority to stop Iran from developing the ability to produce nuclear weapons and prevent a "catastrophe for all of humanity", according to the Associated Press. "The letter . . . was written in consultation with other Jewish communities in Europe, said Ariel Muzicant, the head of Vienna's Jewish Community. He co-signed the letter with Vienna's chief rabbi, Paul Chaim Eisenberg."

  • An untold chapter of Benedict's history with the Austrian Church, by John Allen Jr. National Catholic Reporter Sept. 7, 2007:
    Prior to becoming pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger apparently played a key role in arguably preventing a bad situation [the sex abuse scandals in Austria] from becoming worse.

    When the widely popular Cardinal Franz König stepped down as the Archbishop of Vienna in 1985, it was rumored that Pope John Paul II’s personal secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, told the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops that the pope had then-Fr. Kurt Krenn in mind as König’s successor. Krenn, at the time a priest of the Linz diocese, was a personal friend of Dziwisz.

    A strong theological and philosophical conservative, Krenn had served on the faculty of the University of Regensburg in Germany. He was seen in Austria as a combative, divisive figure. For example, Krenn once compared dissident Catholics to Nazi sympathizers who had welcomed Hitler in 1938. Many local figures felt that his appointment could split the church following the nearly thirty-year tenure of the moderate, pastoral König.

    Though it was not revealed at the time, it has since become conventional wisdom that the decisive voice against Krenn’s appointment came from Ratzinger.

  • Benedict's correction of Paul VI - John Allen Jr. interprets Benedict's statement that Austria is “certainly not an enchanted island" as a corrective to Paul VI, who first referred to Austria as an “island of the blessed” in 1967, providing the background behind the phrase.

  • Pope Vigorously Defends Catholicism in Austria and Raises Concerns on Europe’s Future, by Ian Fisher. New York Times September 7, 2007:
    VIENNA, Sept. 7 — Pope Benedict XVI confronted Friday the shadows of Europe’s past, praying at a Holocaust memorial here, as he spoke with worry about its future. Europe, he said, may extinguish itself, in numbers and spirit, if it embraces abortion and rejects Christianity, which he said “profoundly shaped the continent.”

    “It should be everyone’s concern to ensure that the day will never come when only its stones speak of Christianity,” the pope said, at the start of a three-day visit here. “An Austria without a vibrant Christian faith would no longer be Austria.”

    But the 80-year-old pope’s vigorous defense of Catholicism — delivered in a slightly hoarse voice because of what the Vatican said was a sore throat — may not be, at the moment, a popular stand in Austria.

  • Looking for signs of a 'great awakening' in Austria, by John Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter Sept. 7, 2007:
    Pope Benedict XVI grew up in Bavaria, just across the Salzach River from Austria. In his 1997 memoirs Milestones, Joseph Ratzinger wistfully describes joining his family for Sunday walks across a local bridge into Salzburg, falling under the spell of Austrian culture and music. Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the pope's brother, recently confessed that "both of us are Austria-lovers."

    Given that history, Benedict XVI's Sept. 7-9 trip to Austria, his first as pope, ought to be a warm homecoming for a pontiff who is virtually a native son. Yet in some ways, enthusiasm here does not exactly seem infectious. In a recent poll asking Austrians to name their most trusted international figure, Benedict XVI actually trailed both the Dali Lama and the Austrian-born governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Another survey found that only 3 percent of Austrians had any interest in seeing the pope live, and 40 percent planned to "completely ignore" his presence.

    The ignominy of finishing behind the Terminator in terms of public trust offers one window onto the challenges awaiting Benedict. The church in Austria today may no longer be seething with anger, as it was for much of the last decade, but neither is it the homogenous Catholic culture of the pope's childhood memory.

Papal Mass in Mariazell. Sept. 8, 2007. Photo courtesy of Gerald Augustinus Closed Cafeteria

Sept. 8, 2007:

  • Thousands join Pope Benedict XVI on Austrian pilgrimage :
    VIENNA (AFP) — Tens of thousands of devout Catholics Saturday braved pelting rain and chilly temperatures to join Pope Benedict XVI in a pilgrimage at Austria's historic Mariazell basilica.

    Pilgrims waving Polish, Czech or Bavarian flags and others of all ages and races attended the morning mass by the pope in front of the pink and white baroque church. . . .

    Many had traveled by bus. Others came by train, but a few walked with rucksacks on their backs, up the mountain to Mariazell, observing their pilgrimage in the traditional way.

    American Mary Jo Szekeres, 22, said she had traveled nine hours Friday from Piestany in Slovakia where she works as an English teacher, to attend the mass.

    The trip was well worth it, she said. "I feel a more personal connection to the pope now. I've seen him, I've heard him speak." . . .

    American theology student Erika Olson, 20, marveled that the pope was visiting Austria just as she was here for a semester.

    "When I go back and read his writings, I'll hear his voice from now on," she said.

    "I can't feel my feet," she added however with a laugh after standing for hours in the cold.

  • Europe future bleak without God, more children - Pope Reuters. Sept. 8, 2007:
    Benedict, who appeared to be struggling with a hoarse voice, wove his sermon around the theme of revitalising Christian identity in a modern Europe marked by diminishing Church participation, low birthrates and rampant consumerism.

    "Europe has become child-poor," he said. "We want everything for ourselves and place little trust in the future."

    It was the second time in as many days that the Pope decried Europe's declining birth rates. On Friday he condemned abortion, rejecting the concept that it could be considered a human right, and urged politicians enact legislation to help new families.

    The average birth rate in the European Union is down to about 1.5 children per woman, raising fears that an ageing population will not be able to finance pensions systems.

    From Benedict's homily:
    The child Jesus naturally reminds us also of all the children in the world, in whom he wishes to come to us. Children who live in poverty; who are exploited as soldiers; who have never been able to experience the love of parents; sick and suffering children, but also those who are joyful and healthy. Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished – when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where God is, there is the future.
  • Pope defends celibacy and obedience, offers gesture to China, by John Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter Sept. 8, 2007:
    . . . Earlier in the day, Benedict XVI signaled that his universal interests haven’t faded despite being on a virtual homecoming. He laid hands on a replica of the statue of the Madonna of Mariazell that will be presented to the Bishop of Shanghai in China by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna. According to Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi, the pope expressed satisfaction that the Catholic Church in China was remembered as part of his Austrian pilgrimage.

    The estimated 13 million Catholics in China face a series of restrictions on their religious freedom, and the Chinese government has recently announced plans to ordain new bishops without Vatican approval.

    During the vespers service, the pope styled his remarks as reflections upon the three “evangelical counsels” of poverty, chastity and obedience. . . . [Read More]

Papal Mass at St. Stephens. Sept. 9, 2007. Photo courtesy of Gerald Augustinus Closed Cafeteria

Sept. 9, 2007:

  • Bad weather, muted turnout beset pope as 3-day Austria pilgrimage ends International Herald Tribune Sept. 9, 2007:
    Despite a chilly rainfall, about 15,000 people packed the square outside Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral for Sunday's papal Mass, according to official estimates. Another 12,000 cheering pilgrims flocked to an abbey on the outskirts of the capital to see the pope.

    But the turnout was low, considering 200,000 Viennese identify themselves as Catholics.

    It underscored Benedict's challenge not just in Austria but across an increasingly multicultural Europe, where many believers have become disillusioned and drifted away from the church. . . .

    But the atmosphere was festive at Benedict's brief stop at the medieval Heiligenkreuz Abbey just south of Vienna, where pilgrims waved giant foam hands and young former drug addicts sang and danced on an outdoor stage.

    "At first I didn't feel like coming, but it was definitely worth it — he has an incredibly positive charisma," said Helga Bertoni, among the faithful who packed the abbey's courtyard. . . .

    A few weak rays of sunshine poked through as Benedict delivered his weekly Angelus prayer on the plaza, but a gust of wind blew his white skullcap off his head, sending aides scrambling to retrieve it.

    "The wind has spoken for itself," the pope joked as more gusts tugged at the crimson mantel around his shoulders and repeatedly flipped it up over his face.

    There is of course some dispute as to the 'low turnout' and the media's apparent need to emphasize such. See also Gerald Augustinus' photography, Tales of the Cape, on Benedict's Battle with the Wind. =)

  • Pope calls Catholics to charity work; Concluding his Austrian visit, he also tells a Vienna crowd that Sundays should be reserved for God, by Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times Sept. 10, 2007:
    Pope Benedict XVI ended a three-day pilgrimage to Austria on Sunday, telling Catholics to keep Sundays holy and to dedicate themselves to volunteer work to spread "the Christian image of God."

    With those themes, Benedict homed in on two aspects of Christian life that Austrians are particularly adept at. Despite disaffection with the once-powerful church here, Austria remains one of Europe's last countries to ban most commercial activity on Sundays, and it is a leading force in social charity work.

    After two rain-drenched days, the sun came out Sunday as the pope finished holy Mass at Vienna's landmark St. Stephen's Cathedral, a Gothic and Baroque church that survived heavy damage in World War II bombing. Its distinctive roof in blue, green and gold geometric-patterned tiles dominates the skyline of Old Vienna.

    The Mass was filled with the music of Haydn performed by orchestra and chorus and echoing out of doors in the plaza and cobblestone streets, where thousands of faithful gathered and chanted the pope's name.

    "Without the Lord and without the day that belongs to him, life does not flourish," the pope said in his homily, seated under the cathedral's gilded 17th century high altar.

    Western societies, he complained, have turned Sundays into part of a weekend of leisure. Leisure is necessary, he said, "especially amid the mad rush of the modern world."

    But without an "encounter" with God, he said, Sunday "becomes wasted time that neither strengthens nor builds us up."

  • Pope Tells Children They Are His "Co-Workers" Zenit News Service. Sept. 9, 2007:
    Benedict XVI took up pen and paper to assure the children of Austria's Pontifical Mission Societies that he sees them as true co-workers.

    After reciting the Angelus today in Vienna's St. Stephen's Square, the Pope paused to greet a group of children from "Missio," who gave him letters and drawings to welcome him to Austria.

    Benedict XVI wrote a letter of gratitude to the children, delivered to the institute's national director, Father Leo Maasburg.

    The Pope said: "I see in you little co-workers in the service that the Pope gives to the Church and he world: You support me with your prayer and with your commitment to spread the Gospel.

    "There are in fact many children who still do not know Jesus. And unfortunately there are as many others who do not have the necessities to live: food, medical care, education; many do not have peace and serenity.

    "The Church gives them particular attention, especially through missionaries; and you too feel called to offer your contribution, whether personally or as a group."

    The Pontiff added: "Friendship with Jesus is such a beautiful gift that you cannot keep it to yourselves! Those who receive this gift feel the need to give it to others; and in this way the shared gift does not diminish but multiplies! Keep to this path!"

  • On Sept. 9th, Benedict visited the Cistertian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz. According to the Abbey's website, Cardinal Ratzinger has visited the abbey "often," both privately and in official capacity. Following is a translation (credit: Rcesq / Benodette of the Benedict Forum) of one of Ratzinger's visits:
    For one of [Cardinal Ratzinger's] visits our students prepared a musical welcome to the university for him. The photograph is from May 4, 1989.

    Then the Dean Professor Fr. Dr. Augustinus Fenz greeted the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith with a two-page Latin address. Cardinal Ratzinger answered off-the-cuff – likewise in Latin. He said, among other things: "... vitam present magna consolatio est hic invenisse insulam culturae latinae... audivisse scholares et non solum frequenter cursus venire, set etiam into hac valle nemorosa non solum pulchritudine naturali sed etiam pulchritudine vitae spiritualis ornata studiis incumbere. Omnia fausta tibi et huic illustri facultati ex corde exoptamus." Translation: “Your way of life here is for me a great comfort, and I am happy to find here an island of the culture of the Latin language. I am happy to hear that the students also attend lectures daily, and that in these Vienna woods not only the beauty of nature is to be admired, but also the beauty of your spiritual life. From my heart I wish you and your illustrious university a thriving prosperity.”

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 1985 in Eisenstadt at a lecture for priests. On the right one sees Fr. Gregor Henckel Donnersmarck, now Lord Abbott; on the left is Fr. Karl Wallner, now the Rector of the Papal University Benedict XVI, Heiligenkreuz.
    One of the reasons why the Holy Father wanted to come to Heiligenkreuz, is probably also the elevation to “papal university,” which took place on January 28, 2007, of the university that was established in 1802. The university has already existed for 205 years, but it has never flourished before as it does now: at present 160 are studying here; more than 100 are on the way to the priesthood. The elevation means the independence of the university. In the future the degree of Master of theology can be achieved in Heiligenkreuz directly and not, like before, by the detour of the University of Vienna. . . .

    It was the personal wish of Abbot Gregor, who always admired the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, that for the future the papal university would bear the name: “Papal Philosophical-Theological University Benedict XVI, Heiligenkreuz.” The Holy Father is indeed truly – irrespective of his office – one of the greatest intellectuals of the present day. . . .

    We Cistercians of the Heiligenkreuz Abbey are a little astonished at the “horn of plenty” that was poured out over us in 2007: a boom of young, good vocations, then the elevation from university to papal university, and then the Oscar [Academy Award] for Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who wrote the script [The Lives of Others] here – and now as high point the Holy Father’s visit in 2007.

  • Finally, photos of "One Happy Swiss Guard", bidding the Holy Father goodbye as he departs from Heiligenkreuz. A special congratulations and note of appreciation to Gerald Augustinus, whose photographs from this event rival anything produced by the "mainstream media."


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