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CURRENT ISSUE:  December 17, 2007
VOL. 45, NO. 21    •   Oakland, CA
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Bishops call for immigration reform
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Pope addresses ‘crisis of hope’
in new encyclical
The story of St. Josephine Bakhita, a 19th-century African slave, figures prominently in Pope Benedict’s new encyclical on Christian hope.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In an encyclical on Christian hope, Pope Benedict XVI said that, without faith in God, humanity lies at the mercy of ideologies that can lead to “the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice.”

The pope warned that the modern age has replaced belief in eternal salvation with faith in progress and technology, which offer opportunities for good but also open up “appalling possibilities for evil.”
“Let us put it very simply: Man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope,” he said in the encyclical, “Spe Salvi” (on Christian hope), released Nov. 30.

The 76-page text explored the essential connection between faith and hope in early Christianity and addressed what it called a “crisis of Christian hope” in modern times.

It critiqued philosophical rationalism and Marxism and offered brief but powerful profiles of Christian saints — ancient and modern — who embodied hope, even in the face of suffering.

The encyclical also included a criticism of contemporary Christianity, saying it has largely limited its attention to individual salvation instead of the wider world, and thus reduced the “horizon of its hope.”

“As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: How can I save myself? We should also ask: What can I do in order that others may be saved?” it said. The pope began and ended his encyclical with profiles of two women who exemplified Christian hope. The closing pages praised Mary for never losing hope, even in the darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion.

The encyclical opened by describing a similar sense of hope in a 19th-century African slave, St. Josephine Bakhita, who after being flogged, sold and resold, came to discover Christ.

With her conversion, St. Bakhita found the “great hope” that liberated and redeemed her, the pope said.
The pope emphasized that this was different from political liberation as a slave. Christianity “did not bring a message of social revolution,” he said, but something totally different: an encounter with “a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within.”

It was the pope’s second encyclical and followed his 2006 meditation on Christian love. He said the essential aspect of Christian hope is trust in eternal salvation brought by Christ. In contrast with followers of mythology and pagan gods, early Christians had a future and could trust that their lives would not end in emptiness, he said.

Yet today the idea of “eternal life” frightens many people and strikes them as a monotonous or even unbearable existence, the pope said. It is important, he said, to understand that eternity is “not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction.”

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