Pope Benedict will boost the European majority among the men due to elect his successor when he creates 24 new cardinals at the Vatican on Saturday. The nominations are part of a wider strategy by the German-born pope to strengthen Roman Catholicism in Europe. The following is a guest contribution and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Jean-Marie Guénois is deputy editor-in-chief of the Paris daily Le Figaro and a specialist on religion. The article first appeared in French on his Religioblog.*
By Jean-Marie Guénois
We always knew that Benedict XVI is a European pope, but lately he’s been proving this more and more clearly. In this phase of his five-year papacy, the the old continent is clearly his priority. For the past two years, the European destinations have taken precedence over all his travel (France, Czech Republic, Malta, Cyprus, Portugal, United Kingdom). Twelve of his 18 international trips have also been devoted to Europe. As for the visits due next year, they will all be in Europe: Croatia, Spain and Germany (his third visit there as pope). (Photo: Pope Benedict with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as King Juan Carlos looks on in Barcelona November 7, 2010/Albert Gea)
The choice of these medium-haul flights could be explained, of course, by his age. At 83-1/2, Benedict takes it slow and easy. Must we recall the health of John Paul II at the same age, six months before his death in 2005? But the real explanation for these short-distance, time-saving trips is surely elsewhere. How can we best explain this? It can be done explicitly, through the speeches the pope delivered in those countries. But also implicitly, through the diagnosis bishops bring to Rome on the state of the European churches.
The diagnosis has led to a strategy that can be seen more and more clearly. After his visit to Spain, this seems confirmed by the clear priority given to the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, Spain, Italy and Poland are emerging emerge as the three pillars which underpin this implicit strategy by the Holy See.
This strategy does not aim to reconquer old ground, because the past will not return. It’s not exclusive either, because the world is wide and complex. The aim is to survive and face up to the decline of European Christianity now seen in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands. The former bastions of Catholicism there may still be very much alive but they are in the minority.