euters / Philip Pullella & Crispian Balmer, Sept 13 2008
Pope Benedict on Saturday said many in the modern world had turned money, possessions and power into idols that are as false as those worshipped by the pagans of antiquity.
On his second day in Paris, the pope celebrated a mass for some 200,000 people thousands of people around Paris’ Invalides, a complex of military buildings begun by Louis XIV in the 17th century and which houses the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte. The exuberant crowd, many young people who spent the night outdoors and marched from Notre Dame during the night, waved yellow and white Vatican flags as Benedict arrived in a bullet-proof popemobile to say mass from a tall platform.
In his homily, Benedict, who arrived on Friday for a four-day trip, continued a theme dear to him: the need to inject lasting spiritual and religious values into a modern society that often seemed enamoured of things material and fleeting.
“Has not our modern world created its own idols?” he said, recalling ancient pagans who worshipped gold and silver statues. “Has it not imitated, perhaps inadvertently, the pagans of antiquity, by diverting man from his true end, from the joy of living eternally with God,” he said. “Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even for knowledge, diverted man from his true destiny?” he said, wearing gold, white and red vestments and speaking fluent French.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a Catholic, attended the mass, Benedict’s last event in the French capital before he moves on to the shrine city of Lourdes for the rest of the trip.
Since he arrived on Friday the pope has been banging the drum about what some see as a resurgence of Catholic identity in France where “laicite”, the separation of church and state, is part of the national psyche.
Traditionally Catholic, France maintains a strict tradition of secularism. The French church struggles with a shortage of priests and Sunday mass attendance is below 10%. But religion has re-emerged as a factor in public life, especially because of the growth of Islam, and French Catholics have increasingly spoken out on social issues.
“It’s a very good thing that lots of young people are here because it gives a more dynamic image of the church,” said Beatrice de la Bellier, who attended the mass with all four of her children.
euters / Philip Pullella & Crispian Balmer