When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, much successor speculation focused on the global South, where the Roman Catholic Church continues to grow. By elevating a cardinal from Africa or South America, Rome could have highlighted a success story. Instead, the church reached into the heart of secular Europe for Pope Benedict XVI from Germany. His selection sent a clear message: Rome will not give up on Europe without a fight.
The magnitude of the challenge can be found in the Czech Republic. During the 1990s, church affiliation in the country of 10 million dropped from 4.5 million to 3.3 million. Following decades of communist indoctrination, only half of Czech citizens even believe in God. So Pope Benedict XVI faced a skeptical audience when he visited the Czech Republic in late September. Yet that may have been just the audience he was looking for to deliver his message of Christian hope: Nothing and no one but Jesus Christ can fulfill the deepest human longings.
According to church organizers, 120,000 people heard the pope's homily on September 27, which Benedict delivered in an open field near the Brno airport. Like his other addresses on the challenges of modernity and secularization, Benedict spoke on behalf of the broad Christian tradition, indicating that the dire situation demands a unified Christian apologetic. He referenced Isaiah 61:1-3a, when the prophet explains his Spirit-anointed mission to proclaim liberty to captives and console the afflicted and poor. Jesus, of course, fulfilled this promise (Luke 4:16-21). Indeed, Jesus accomplished this mission counter-intuitively, through his death and resurrection. Those who believe in him are freed from slavery to selfishness and evil, sin and death.
This message never changes, ...