The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Pope Benedict: Church will Make New Push for Converts

Mon Apr 25, 2005 01:16 PM ET
By Robin Pomeroy
ROME (Reuters)
(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan from Vatican City)

Pope Benedict pledged the Roman Catholic Church to a new push for converts on Monday on his first papal visit outside the Vatican to the shrine of Christianity's first missionary.

Fresh from a jubilant audience with German pilgrims that shed the stress of his election and inauguration, the Pope, 78, journeyed to the southern suburbs of Rome to pray at the 4th century Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

The church, the largest in Rome after St. Peter's Basilica, has associations with the theme of Christian unity.

The Pope, however, used his visit to the reputed burial place of St. Paul, the co-founder of the Church with St. Peter and its first evangelizer, to make clear he saw a pressing need to revitalize the quest to spread the Catholic message.

"This is a pilgrimage I very much desired to make ... a pilgrimage, so to speak, to the roots of the mission," the Pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said in his homily.

"The Church is by its very nature missionary, its first task is evangelization," he said. "At the start of the third millennium, the Church feels with renewed vigor that the missionary mandate from Christ is more current than ever."

Earlier in the day, Benedict seemed almost overcome by joy and a touch of stage fright as he strode down the aisle of the Paul VI audience hall through a crowd of several thousand German pilgrims who had made the trip to Rome for his inauguration.

FIRST PAPAL JOKE

A shy Bavarian thrust into the limelight by his election last Tuesday, he smiled amid the flashing camera lights and touched grasping hands, then drew laughter and applause when he apologized for arriving late from an inter-religious meeting.

"Germans are known for being punctual -- it seems I've become a bit of an Italian," he joked.

He also recounted that he had begged God not to make him Pope as successive ballots by his fellow cardinals showed it was likely that "the guillotine would fall" on him.

"God clearly didn't listen to me," he remarked with a sigh.

Benedict was elected Pope in a secret conclave after 23 years as the chief guardian of Church orthodoxy. A doctrinal conservative, he takes over the Church at a time of aging, falling congregations in its European homeland.

Vatican analysts say his choice of the name Benedict -- after the 6th century patron saint of Europe -- signals that his focus will be on a continent where Church concerns about secularization, atheism and materialism have been uppermost.

He appeared to indicate that at St. Paul's, with a seeming reference to former communist countries where his Polish predecessor John Paul canonized or beatified a large number of Catholics who died for their faith in the past 100 or so years.

"The 20th century was a time of martyrdom," Benedict said.

"If the blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians, at the start of the third millennium it is proper to expect a renewed flowering of the Church, especially where it has suffered the most for its faith and the witness of the Gospel."

MORE ADULATION

Christian lore says St. Paul converted from Judaism on the road to Damascus after a vision of Jesus while on his way there to persecute Christians and changed his name from Saul.

He is said to have been beheaded in Rome in the year 67 after spreading the Gospel thought the ancient world.

At least 10,000 people packed the area around the basilica and lined the approach road for a glimpse of the Pontiff as he arrived in a motorcade escorted by armed Italian police.

Inside the basilica, the Pope had his second close-up encounter of the day with adoring faithful and kissed a baby held out to him as he walked smiling through the crowd, stopping at times to shake hands or make the Christian sign of the cross.

Benedict is expected to travel less than John Paul, whose years of globetrotting took him on 104 foreign trips.

The new Pope confirmed at Monday's audience that he planned to visit Cologne, Germany, in August for a Catholic World Youth Day gathering, but he said in his homily that John Paul's travels had been "truly inimitable."

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