The importance of the truth, and man’s search for it, were arguably the most significant themes of Pope Benedict XVI’s three-day visit to the Czech Republic that just ended.
The visit was aimed at bringing hope and encouragement to the Czech people who now form one of the most secularized countries in the world and are struggling to handle hard-won freedoms that came after the fall of Soviet communism in 1989.
The search for the truth, and defense of the truth, has been a long-held passion of Benedict XVI. He sees it as vital to knowing “the true good”, and to building a just and truly free society. But he sees this now in jeopardy through today’s radical secularism and moral relativism , similar to how truth was less subtly denied under atheist Marxist rule.
Like many modern societies, the Czech Republic has been “seduced by the modern mentality of hedonistic consumerism amid a dangerous crisis of human and religious values and a growing drift towards ethical and cultural relativism,” the Pope noted.
But he reminded an audience of diplomats on Saturday that “true freedom presupposes the search for truth — for the true good.” Liberty finds its fulfilment, he stressed, precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just. “Truth, in other words, is the guiding norm for freedom, and goodness is freedom’s perfection,” he said, and called on all political, religious and cultural leaders to awaken receptivity to truth and goodness. For Christians, “truth has a name: God. And goodness has a face: Jesus Christ,” the Pope said. Furthermore, politicians should have nothing to fear from the truth, nor should truth be eclipsed by particular interests, no matter how important they may be, he said.
Illustrating the point earlier while on the papal place, he quoted Vaclav Havel, the former Czech leader, who said: “Dictatorships are based on lies and if the lie is overcome, if no one lies any more and if the truth comes to light, there will also be freedom.”
“Far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, the pursuit of truth makes consensus possible, keeps public debate logical, honest and accountable, and ensures the unity which vague notions of integration simply cannot achieve,” the Pope explained. “In the end, truth does conquer, not by force, but by persuasion, by the heroic witness of men and women of firm principle, by sincere dialogue which looks beyond self-interest to the demands of the common good . . .The thirst for truth, beauty and goodness, implanted in all men and women by the creator, is meant to draw people together in the quest for justice, freedom and peace.”
Implicitly referring to the Czech Republic’s communist past, he said that history has “amply shown that truth can be betrayed and manipulated in the service of false ideologies, oppression and injustice.” He added: “In the end what is more inhuman, and destructive, than the cynicism which would deny the grandeur of our quest for truth, and the relativism that corrodes the very values which inspire the building of a united and fraternal world?”
Instead, the Pope argued, it is important to “re-appropriate a confidence in the nobility and breadth of the human spirit in its capacity to grasp the truth, and let that confidence guide us in the patient work of politics and diplomacy.”
Frequently during his visit, the Pope returned to the importance of Europe not forgetting its Christian roots and heritage — part of his consistent concern that modern society be mindful of God’s presence, and that reason be nourished by faith in order to uphold human dignity and avoid falling into evil policies and practices.
“An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine, and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs,” the Pope reminded an audience of academics. And he recalled that confidence in the human ability “to seek truth, to find truth and to live by the truth” led to the foundation of the great European universities.
A long-time university professor himself, the Pope also stressed that the Church should always be open to dialogue, even with agnostics. Both agnostics and Christians “need each other” he said on the papal plane to Prague. “The agnostic cannot be content not to know if God exists or not, but must seek and sense the great legacy of the faith,” he said. “The Catholic cannot be content to have faith, but must seek out God further, and in dialogue with others re-learn God in a deeper way.” To do so, he said, enables a “great intellectual, ethical, and human dialogue.”
The Pope is not scheduled to make any more overseas visits this year, but he will be travelling to Malta, Portugal, and Britain in 2010. An official announcement on an historic state visit to Britain is expected toward the end of the year, Vatican sources tell Newsmax, but contrary to speculation he most probably won’t be travelling to Northern Ireland on that visit. That is more likely to take place in 2012.
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