Pope calls for faith in absolute truth
Pope Benedict XVI made a pilgrimage Saturday to a famous shrine to the Virgin Mary, where he celebrated an open-air Mass in the rain for...
The Associated Press
MARIAZELL, Austria — Pope Benedict XVI made a pilgrimage Saturday to a famous shrine to the Virgin Mary, where he celebrated an open-air Mass in the rain for more than 30,000 believers and called on Europeans to embrace faith.
The pope was taken by car to Mariazell, about 90 miles southwest of Vienna, after more poor weather on the second day of his Austria visit prompted organizers to cancel plans to bring him there by army helicopter.
The Archdiocese of Vienna said 33,000 believers had tickets for the event, and that scores from Eastern Europe — including 70 bishops — were among the crowd, which packed grandstands and a rain-slicked, fog-shrouded square.
In his homily, Benedict called the notion that there is no absolute truth "the crisis of Europe."
"If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil," the pope said.
"Yet admittedly, in the light of our history, we are fearful that faith in the truth might entail intolerance," he said. "If we are gripped by this fear, which is historically well-grounded, then it is time to look toward Jesus as we see him in the shrine at Mariazell."
Austrian media reported that two elderly pilgrims, men aged 83 and 80, died of heart attacks Saturday. "I include them in my prayers," Benedict said.
Security was heavy for the 80-year-old pope's visit to the country of 8.3 million. More than 3,500 police officers and soldiers were deployed to protect him.
Pilgrims in disposable plastic raincoats waved umbrellas and cheered as the popemobile made its way through Mariazell's cobblestone streets and Benedict emerged, wading through the crowd to take his place before an outdoor altar.
During his three-day pilgrimage, the pope is reaching out to disillusioned believers in this central European land, once the center of a Catholic-influenced empire and now a wealthy but small nation that has seen considerable dissent against the church.
Thousands of Austrian Catholics have formally renounced their church affiliation, citing disgust with two clergy sex scandals. Some also have resented the status of the church in governmental affairs: Austria is one of the last European countries that make citizens pay a hefty tax to the Catholic Church and that forbids many stores to open on Sunday.
The backlash gave rise to an influential church-reform organization, We Are Church, born in Austria in the 1990s and today claiming millions of adherents in Europe and elsewhere. The group advocates relaxing celibacy rules for priests, allowing the ordination of women and offering communion for divorced Catholics, among other issues the Vatican considers verboten.
Benedict began his trip by condemning abortion, and he repeated that theme Saturday, telling pilgrims: "Europe has become child-poor: We want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future."
"Where God is, there is the future," he said.
The pope, who honored Jewish victims of the Holocaust on Friday, echoed that as well, saying: "God writes straight even on the crooked lines of our human history."
Benedict's visit concludes today with a Mass at Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral and a visit to the Heiligenkreuz abbey outside the capital.
Information from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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