The VAMP experience is no holiday. Along with David Naglieri, I was accredited to the press corps for S+L’s coverage of the papal visit to the United States in 2008. The Vatican press corps enjoys access to embargoed texts before other media—provided we pick up our copies at the prescribed time, well before dawn. An intimidating official commands the press pool’s movements with military efficiency. Still, given that David and I were already in North America, we were not among those on the papal plane arriving from Rome, and so we missed out on one of the most thrilling opportunities for a Catholic journalist: the customary in-flight news conference with the Pope.
Though this question and answer session is not guaranteed, the Holy Father did not disappoint on his trip to Spain.
“Everyone is very excited,” says Glatz of the atmosphere on board Shepherd One.
She explains that that the pontiff always answers the questions off-the-cuff. Journalists send them in advance to the Holy See Press Office. It's director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, sometimes synthesizes similar queries, which was the case with one of Glatz’s submissions that was answered by the Pope.
“It's assumed that Fr. Lombardi tells the Pope ahead of time what the questions are about,” says Glatz. “Maybe he submits them to Msgr. Georg Gänswein [the Pope’s personal secretary], but that is speculation.”
Judging by the thoughtfulness of Pope Benedict's responses, it’s evident that, in any regard, these are topics he has been reflecting upon. Here is the full transcript of the Q&A, as published by the Vatican Information Service
. Read on for the Pope's clear indication about whether he expects to return to Spain next year for World Youth Day.
The first question concerned a congress on shrines held recently in Santiago de Compostela. "You have said you are living your own pontificate 'as a pilgrim' and your coat-of-arms contains the scallop shell. Please can you tell us something of your views on pilgrimage, also in your personal life and spirituality, and on the feelings with which you are going to Santiago as a pilgrim".
"I could say that the fact of being 'on the road' is already part of my own biography", said the Pope in his reply. "But that perhaps is an exterior aspect. Nonetheless it has made me think of the instability of this life, of the fact of being on a journey. Of course, against the idea of the pilgrimage it could be said that God is everywhere, that there is no need to go anywhere else. But it is also true that faith, by its very essence, is a pilgrim. ... Sometimes it is necessary to escape from daily routine, from the world of practicality and utility, to undertake a journey towards transcendence, transcending self, transcending daily life and so discovering a new freedom, a time for interior thought and for identifying oneself, for seeing others, seeing God. This is what pilgrimage has always meant. ... It is clear that the routes of Santiago are an element in the formation of the spiritual unity of the European continent. By making pilgrimages here, people have discovered themselves, they have discovered a shared European identity; and this movement is re-emerging today, this need for spiritual and physical movement, finding one another and thus discovering silence, freedom, renewal, God".
The second question was: "What significance can consecrating a church such as the Sagrada Familia have at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Is there some aspect of Gaudi's vision that has struck you in particular?"
"The truth is", said the Holy Father, "that this church is also an appropriate sign for our own times. In Gaudi's vision there are above all three elements that call my attention. The first is the blending of continuity and novelty, tradition and creativity. Gaudi had the courage to make himself part of the great tradition of the cathedrals. Using a completely new approach, he dared in his own time to make the cathedral a place for the solemn meeting between God and man. And this courage to remain within tradition, but with a creativity that renews tradition and shows the unity and progress of history, is a beautiful thing. Secondly, Gaudi chose the tripartite structure of the book of nature, the book of Scripture and the book of liturgy. This is of great importance. Scripture is made present in the liturgy, it becomes real today, it is no longer a Scripture of two thousand years ago but is celebrated, made real. In the celebration of Scripture creation speaks and finds its true response because, as St. Paul tells us, creation suffers and ... awaits the children of God; i.e., those who see it in the light of God. This fusion between meaning and creation, between Scripture and adoration, is a very important message for today. Finally, the third point is that this church was born of a typically nineteenth-century form of devotion: St. Joseph, the Holy Family of Nazareth, the mystery of Nazareth. But this devotion of the past could be said to have a great deal of importance today because the problem of the family, the renewal of the family as society's fundamental cell, is the great theme showing us the way to build society and to create a unity of faith and life, of religion and society. The main theme here is that of the family, for God Himself became a child in a family and He calls us to build and live in families".
"Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia are a very effective expression of the relationship between faith and art", said the third questioner. "How can faith today regain its place in the world of art and culture? I this an important theme for your pontificate?"
"It is indeed", said the Pope. "You know that I have given a lot of emphasis to the relationship between faith and reason; that faith, Christian faith, has its identity only in openness to reason, and that reason becomes authentic if it transcends itself towards faith. But the relationship between faith and art is equally important, because truth, which is the aim and goal of reason, finds expression and authenticity in beauty, where it reveals itself as truth. ... The relationship between truth and beauty is unbreakable, and this is why we need beauty. From earliest times the Church, even in the great modesty and poverty of the age of persecutions, used art and painting, expressions of God's salvation in the images of the world, singing, and later building. All this is and remains a constituent part of the Church. For this reason the Church has been mother to the arts for many centuries. The great treasures of Western art - music, architecture, painting - were born from the faith of the Church. Today there is some dissent, but this harms both art and faith. An art which loses its transcendent roots no longer tends towards God, it is a truncated art without a living root. A faith which only has the art of the past, is no longer faith in the present, and today it must again express itself as everlasting truth. And so the dialogue and meeting between art and faith is inscribed in the profound essence of the faith. We must do all we can so that today too faith is expressed in authentic art, as in the case of Gaudi, with continuity and novelty, so that art does not lose contact with faith".
The next question concerned the recent creation of a council for new evangelisation. "Many people have asked whether Spain, with the growth of secularisation and the fall in religious practice, is one of the countries you considered as the target of the new dicastery, even the principal target".
Benedict XVI replied: "In creating this new dicastery, my thoughts went per se to the whole world, because new schools of thought and difficulties in reflecting on the concepts of Scripture and theology are universal. Yet there is of course a centre, and that centre is the Western world with its secularism and the continuity of its faith, which must seek to renew itself in order to remain as faith today and to respond to the challenge of secularism. All the great countries of the West have their own experience of this problem. ... Spain has always been, on the one hand, a country of origin of the faith: we recall how the rebirth of Catholicism in the modern age came about above all thanks to Spain. St. Ignatius of Loyola, St, Teresa and St. John of the Cross were figures who truly renewed Catholicism and moulded its modern face. Yet it is equally true that Spain also saw the birth of laicism, of anticlericalism, a strong and aggressive secularism such as that of the 1930s. And this dispute, this clash between faith and modernity, both very lively, is coming about again in Spain today. Thus, the future of the faith and of the meeting (meeting not clash) between faith and secularism has its focal point in Spanish culture. In this sense I thought of all the great countries of the West but especially also of Spain".
The final question was: "With your trip next year for World Youth Day, you will have made three visits to Spain, more than to any other country. Why this privilege? Is it a sign of love or of particular concern?"
"Naturally it is a sign of love", the Holy Father explained. "It could be said that it is by chance that I will have made three trips to Spain. The first was for the great international gathering of families in Valencia. How could the Pope remain absent if the families of the world come together? Next year is World Youth Day, the meeting of young people from all over the world in Madrid. The Pope cannot be absent from such an occasion. Finally, we have the Compostela Holy Year and the consecration ... of the church of the Holy Family in Barcelona. How could the Pope not come? Of themselves, then, these occasions are challenges, almost a compulsion to attend. But precisely the fact that in Spain there are so many occasions shows how it truly is a country full of dynamism, full of the strength of faith. And the faith responds to challenges which are also present in Spain. Therefore, chance has brought me here, but this chance reveals a profound reality, the strength of the faith and the strength of the challenge to the faith".