Cardinal Schönborn on the Pope in Austria (Part 1)
Interview on Benedict XVI’s Upcoming Trip
VIENNA, Austria, SEPT. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Christoph Schönborn says Benedict XVI is the last of the great Second Vatican Council theologians, and that the Pope’s words are always both important and fascinating.
In view of Benedict XVI’s visit to Austria this Friday through Sunday, the archbishop of Vienna and president of the Austrian bishops’ conference spoke to ZENIT about the Pope, the man and the successor of Peter.
Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.
Q: Everyone is talking about the Pope’s upcoming visit. Who is the real Benedict XVI?
Cardinal Schönborn: He is very simple. He is the successor of the Apostle Peter and therefore for us, he is the Vicar of Christ, the Lord’s representative here on earth in the visible Church.
This is at the same time incomprehensible and immense, but it is the secret of the Petrine ministry. Whoever meets with him, whatever country he is from, whatever language he speaks — all of that is important, but it is secondary. For us he is, above all, according to the faith of the Church, Peter among us, with all the depth, greatness and strength of what Jesus prophesied to Peter, of the ministry that he entrusted to him, a ministry that continues to exist beyond the historical figure of Peter.
Q: How are your meetings with the Holy Father?
Cardinal Schönborn: Very normal. He is a man I have known for 35 years, under whom I studied and with whom I have worked for many years, a man that throughout the years, I learned to know and deeply esteem and greatly admire. But April 19, 2005, in his life and in our lives, something greater happened — he was chosen as the successor of Peter. This naturally represents a new dimension, which is evident in meeting with him. He is the man, the teacher, the cardinal that I know well and have known for many years, and at the same time, he is Peter.
Q: You have known Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI for many years. What distinguishes him as a man?
Cardinal Schönborn: I could mention many things. In his memoirs he wrote in a very modest but wise way about his life. He is very restrained in manifesting personal matters. He does not talk much about his life, but its deep Christian roots are notable. You can tell that he comes from a family profoundly formed by faith, a family united in faith and love.
I had the opportunity to get to know his sister Maria well, who died unexpectedly on Nov. 2, 1991. The three siblings were very close and they must have had parents who profoundly shaped them.
Who is the Pope based on his personal history? He is a particularly gifted and intelligent theologian. I do not hesitate to say that he is the last of the great theologians of the Council generation — de Lubac, Congar, Rahner, von Balthasar. He was the youngest in a long line of theologians who influenced the Second Vatican Council and he is certainly one of the greatest because of his spiritual and theological abilities.
Q: During your meeting with Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo you discussed the details of his upcoming trip. What is the Holy Father expecting?
Cardinal Schönborn: He will let us know and I think this is good. When Benedict XVI speaks, it is necessary to pay close attention, because what he has to say is always very clear, important, incisive and very personal and fascinating. I don’t know what he will say to us. It is good to be open.
What I can say with certainty is that we will receive enough material for further reflection.
Q: What kind of Church will the Pope find? What is, in your opinion, the situation of the Church in Austria?
Cardinal Schönborn: Only Our Lord can say what the situation of the Church is for sure, because faith has him for its aim. In that sense, hearts and their relationship with God is a mystery. No statistic is able to measure this. But naturally we live in a time when religious sociology, the psychology of religion, and statistics play an important role, and therefore one studies how to pose religion to the young, to adults and to the elderly.
Since the 1950s there has been enormous change, but not only in the Church, also in society. We live in a very different society.
Let me offer an example: In our diocese we have a rural area and an urban area, the great city of Vienna and neighboring areas that belong to the Archdiocese of Vienna. Fifty years ago, these areas were farmland; today they make up a large part of the outskirts of Vienna. This is a radical change, linked to the professional, social and family lives of many people. The number of farmers has diminished greatly, and this has impacted religious practice.
I think that today the challenge, in a highly secularized society, is living Christianity, the Christian faith almost as an alternative, as a countercultural society.