- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LISBON (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI recalled Portugal’s glorious past as a country of adventurers and missionaries who spread Catholicism around the globe in urging a rediscovery of its Christian heritage Wednesday, a key theme of his message to an increasingly secularized Europe.

Benedict met with members of Portugal’s cultural elite on the second day of his visit, a day after making his most explicit admission of the church’s own guilt in the clerical abuse scandal. Later Wednesday, he goes in Fatima, the heart of the trip, to pray at the famous shrine beloved by Pope John Paul II.

Like many countries in Western Europe, Portugal has strayed far from its Catholic roots, passing laws in recent years allowing abortion on demand and divorce, even when one of the spouses is opposed. Earlier this year, Parliament passed a bill seeking to make the country the sixth in Europe to allow same-sex couples to marry. The country’s president now must decide whether to approve or veto the legislation.

The German-born Benedict has made clear his dissatisfaction with such trends in Europe and has made it a priority of his papacy to remind Europeans that Christianity forms a basis of much of their culture and identity, and that they shouldn’t try to do without God in their lives. Over a five-year-papacy, nine of Benedict’s 15 foreign trips have been in Europe.

In a speech to Portuguese artists, scientists and intellectuals, Benedict warned that if Christians ignore their faith, “they end up lost in the labyrinth of time and history, deprived of clearly defined values and grand ambitions.”

“For a society largely created by Catholics and whose culture was profoundly marked by Christianity, the attempt to find truth without Jesus Christ is dramatic,” he said.

He recalled the sense of adventure that marked Portugal’s colonial past, when its explorers and missionaries brought Catholicism to Africa, Asia and South America, saying they did so with a “sense of global responsibility.” He lamented that today there is increasingly a sense of tension and conflict between current trends in culture and the traditions of the past, and urged Portugal’s cultural elite in particular to use their influence to promote a renewed appreciation of Christianity.

Benedict met later with Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates, who in recent years has been a driving force behind the efforts to introduce abortion on demand and same-sex marriage.

Mr. Socrates said he told the pontiff that church institutions played an important role in Portugal, especially in welfare programs for the needy.

“The link between the state and the church has been very important in efforts to address social concerns,” Mr. Socrates told reporters.

Later Wednesday, Benedict heads to Fatima, where three Portuguese shepherd children reported having visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917. The shrine draws millions of pilgrims a year and was a favorite of John Paul, who made his third and final visit in 2000 when he beatified two of the three shepherds.

During that visit, the Vatican revealed the so-called third secret of Fatima, the third part of the message the Virgin allegedly told the children on May 13, 1917: a description of the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt on John Paul.

Struck by the coincidence of the dates, John Paul believed the Virgin intervened to spare his life after a Turkish gunman fired on him in St. Peter’s Square. In gratitude, he gave the bullet extracted from his wound to the Fatima shrine, and it now adorns the crown of a statue of the Virgin, where Benedict will pray Wednesday evening.

En route to Portugal on Tuesday, Benedict was asked if the suffering of the pope contained in the third secret could be extended to encompass the suffering of the church today concerning the clerical abuse scandal.

Benedict affirmed it could, arguing that the Fatima message doesn’t respond to a particular situation or time but offers a “fundamental response” to the constant need for penance and prayer.

“In terms of what we today can discover in this message, attacks against the pope or the church doesn’t come just from outside the church,” he told reporters on board the papal airplane. “The suffering of the church also comes from within the church, because sin exists in the church. This, too, has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way.”

Associated Press writer Barry Hatton contributed to this report.

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