Edward Pentin’s Vatican Notebook
As Angelus addresses go this was a perfect model of clarity and reason. Terrorism, suggested Pope Benedict XVI, will succeed if its targets are spiritually weak. The “old continent” of Europe, which has been steadily losing its Christian identity, is thus vulnerable and unable to give a robust and effective response to such attacks.
His address, delivered in the mountains of north-west Italy, sought to contrast the intense fury of the terrorist murderers with the weakness of the “old continent” without roots, a people who are victims of a blind relativism and a profound crisis of identity. Such a continent, closed in on itself and ignoring the Gospel of Christ, is, he inferred, one opting for decline; its impotence making it unable to contribute effec tively in dialogue to bring about authentic and lasting peace between peoples.
Although Pope Benedict called on God to “stop the murderous hand” of the terrorists and to convert their hearts towards “thoughts of reconciliation and peace”, it was Europe’s vulnerability to these atrocities that most concerned him. He reminded the faithful of the exemplary lives of St Benedict of Nursia and St Bridget of Sweden, patrons of Europe. He also mentioned that the following day was the feast day of St James the Apostle whose relics are venerated at the sanctuary of Compostela in Spain.
This sacred place was, the Holy Father recalled, where his predecessor made the first of many heartfelt appeals to Europe. “Return to and be yourself!” he recalled John Paul II addressing young people at Santiago de Compostela in 1982. “Discover your origins. Revive your roots. Relive those authentic values which made your history glorious and your presence in other continents blessed”.
John Paul, Benedict continued, “hoped for a Europe without borders” that did not deny the Christian roots nor renounce the “authentic humanism” of the Gospel of Christ. “How current this appeal remains in the light of recent events in the European continent,” Pope Benedict exclaimed. And those who can do most to help recapture Europe for Christ, he stressed, are the continent’s young people.
“Let us pray,” Pope Benedict concluded, “so new generations, drawing on their vital lifeblood of Christ, will be able to ferment a renewed humanism in which faith and reason cooperate in fertile dialogue for the promotion of man and the edification of authentic peace.” According to papal spokesman Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls, this struggle for Christianity in Europe will be at the centre of a new book the Pope has been trying to complete while holidaying in the Italian Alps, and may also perhaps be incorporated in a future encyclical. In both, St Benedict’s legacy is expected to figure highly. The model for the Church in the new millennium should, the Pope believes, be one that draws heavily on the monastic tradition.
During the Benedictine Age, as Cardinal John Henry Newman called it, monasteries of the eighth to 11th centuries were, as they are today, havens of stability and immutability in a world of flux.
But their monks were seen by almost all European society as a disciplined elite, fighting supernatural battles quite as real, and more important, than the battles of the natural world. “Monastic warfare,” wrote Church historian RW Southern, “penetrated every corner of the secular world.” Pope Benedict does not foresee a return to a monopoly of monasticism over religious life, but he would like to see their zeal and discipline, also reminiscent of the early Church, replicated among small Church communities – in particular, the new lay “movements”.
For the Holy Father, therefore, these terrorist attacks might shock Europe out of its spiritual torpor. He has a model for the “old continent” which could be its only hope.
You wouldn’t expect to have women swooning over the Pope’s private secretary, but that is what is happening to poor Fr Georg Gaenswein. With his moviestar looks and his action-man persona (he is a keen skier and tennis player), he has been drawing admiration from young Roman girls to presidents’ wives.
“He is young, incredibly young,” gushed Franca Ciampi, wife of the Italian president, on meeting the 48-yearold German last month. “Who is he? What is his name?” “Gorgeous Georg”, as some Rome women like to call him, is the son of a blacksmith from the Black Forest and a Curial official since 1995.
A wine connoisseur and canon lawyer, he has been Benedict’s secretary for nearly 10 years and is always at the Pope’s side at official functions.
But for many Rome ladies, that’s not enough. “We’d like to see more of him,” pined one young Roman admirer. “A 2006 ‘Don Giorgio’ calendar would be wonderful.” There’s a name given for inordinate desire, isn’t there?