POPE Benedict lamented the widespread abandonment of religion in Western countries at a Holy Thursday ceremony, saying the heartlands of Christianity were turning away from their faith.
The German-born pontiff said during the service at St. Peter’s Basilica it sometimes seemed as if the West had become bored by its own history and culture. “Have not we — the people of God — become to a large extent a people of unbelief and distance from God?” he said during the service in which he blessed oils to be used in Catholic rites.
“Is it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of their faith?” “For all the shame we feel over our failings, we must not forget that today too there are radiant examples of faith, people who give hope to the world,” Pope Benedict said.
The 84-year-old Pope has often warned against creeping secularism which he has said is as bad as religious fanaticism. One of the main themes of his papacy has been what the church calls the “re-evangelisation” of Europe, an attempt to urge people to return to their religious roots despite living in highly secularised societies.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics has had a difficult struggle to rebuild the image of the Church after a scandal over the sexual abuse of children by priests reported in several countries. Many in the church establishment hope the beatification, bestowing on John Paul the title “blessed”, will rejuvenate the institution and encourage people to return to the faith.
It is set to be the biggest event in Rome since the death of the charismatic and highly popular pope in 2005, when millions came to view his body or attend his funeral. Vatican officials expect at least 300,000 people — including tens of thousands from his native Poland — to come to the Italian capital for the three days of events celebrating his last step before sainthood. Pope Benedict presides over two services on Holy Thursday to mark Christ’s founding of the priesthood at the Last Supper on the night before he died.
He will later wash and dry the feet of 12 men at a service in St John’s in Lateran commemorating Christ’s gesture of humility to his apostles.