Monday, September 11, 2006

MUNICH — Western societies are losing their souls to scientific rationality and frightening believers in the developing world who still fear God, Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday during an open-air Mass in Germany.

Benedict, on the second day of a visit to his native Bavaria, said that spreading the good news of Jesus Christ is more important than all the emergency and development aid that rich churches such as those in Germany give to poor countries.

“People in Africa and Asia admire our scientific and technical prowess, but at the same time, they are frightened by a form of rationality that totally excludes God from man’s vision, as if this were the highest form of reason,” he said.

The pope also stressed the role of faith in fighting AIDS “by realistically facing its deeper causes,” indirectly confirming the Roman Catholic Church’s view that premarital abstinence and marital fidelity are the way to combat sexually transmitted diseases.

About 250,000 faithful, many of them families with children, gathered at a fairground for the Mass.

“I’ve been here since 5 o’clock in the morning,” said Kerstin Gessert, 32, from Karlsruhe. “I think it’s important that he has come.”

Wearing green and white vestments, the pope addressed the crowd from a platform covered by a white canopy.

Some listeners wore traditional Bavarian clothes and sat down to picnics of sausages and bread after the service.

“Social issues and the Gospel are inseparable,” Benedict said. “When we bring people only knowledge, ability, technical competence and tools, we bring them too little,” he added, underlining his central concern that secularization and materialism have replaced faith in Western thinking.

Benedict, 79, who has hinted that the visit to his home region could be his last, later led vespers at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Munich, where he served as archbishop from 1977 to 1982. Twin green onion domes make the cathedral one of the city’s best-known landmarks.

Inside, the pope, clad in glittering vestments of green, silver and gold, smiled broadly as he was greeted by young girls in First Communion dresses with flowers in their hair.

At Mass, Benedict said Western societies had become “hard of hearing” about God. “There are too many other frequencies in our ears. What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited for our age.”

He contrasted this to faith that Jesus Christ came to save sinners from God’s wrath that he finds in developing countries, where 70 percent of the world’s Catholics now live.

They sense a “contempt for God” in Western societies, he said, and “a cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom and holds up utility as the supreme moral criterion for the future of scientific research.”

The pope singled out the German Catholic Church as one that generously gives aid but plays down the spreading of the Gospel.

“Evangelization itself should be foremost,” he declared.

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