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Editor's Choice » International

Resignation was all about growing old in a fast changing world

The writer says that "the Pope’s gesture was almost an act of surrender before the world which is changing at a rhythm which a man born in 1927 could never have imagined," and asks if it always has to be this way.

Resignation was all about growing old in a fast changing world
Mario Calabresi International

February 14, 2013

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Having had a couple of days to digest the shocking news of Benedict XVI’s resignation, the events surrounding the Pope’s decision are emblematic of the times we live in: they reflect the difficulty of reaching a certain age in a society that revolves around technology and information.

A society in which speed and the ability to adapt and react in real time are fundamental. Faced with this dominant scenario, the Pope admitted his weakness with a disarming awareness and clarity of expression: “In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary.” “Strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that…”.

The Pope’s gesture was almost an act of surrender before the world which is changing at a rhythm which a man born in 1927 could never have imagined. It is not just the means and timings of communication that are changing. Today’s world requires that every single detail be communicated and at once. Just as he was considering stepping down from the papacy, the 86-year-old Pope made an attempt to get in step with the bewildering pace of modern communication, launching a Twitter account. He bowed down to the need to the need to communicate in brief and syncopated 140-character messages.

He tried to stick to the global agenda and the deadlines dictated by the media which transmit information around the clock. This was by no means easy for him, particularly in light of people’s hurtful and agonising misunderstandings. An agenda which pushes the limits of ethics and social conventions on a daily basis. A nerve-wracking and unnatural race against time for a man who has been used to a life of study, reflection and silent meditation. In his words and decision to resign one is able to discern a kind of short circuit between his in-depth study of Jesus’ life and the need to constantly be on the ready to fight back, a vicious cycle that was difficult to get out of.

The spread of scandals, controversies and news leaks on a global scale suggest that only the younger generations are able to keep ahead of the game: “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

But it was not always like this. We need only cast our minds back to the pace at which Paul VI ran the Vatican during his papacy, or to Pius X’s month-long visit to the papal Legations in 1854, reaching the Italian region of Emilia Romagna without making one single speech, bust just giving out blessings. The world had to wait for the Sunday Angelus of the Wednesday General Audience to hear the Pope’s answer on a given issue. Then, when Wojtyla became Pope, papal visits skyrocketed and the pace of his ministry caused the number of events and speeches to multiply.

But is this a train that has no other choice but to accelerate? The Church exists in today’s world and cannot but adapt to this world if it wants to have an influence and make itself heard. And yet great strength is also to be found in holding back, keeping a low profile and avoiding always following the trends. There is also great strength in absence. Take today’s politicians who are forced to make dozens of statements a day, their credibility and length having been carefully examined and compare them to figures such as Alcide De Gasperi, Aldo Moro and Enrico Barlinguer, who were interviewed but a few times a year, not a day.

One could reply back saying that the time frames within which the thousand-year-old Church (and slow politics) operated were possible when information did not travel through walls, when cell phones had not yet become an extension of the human body, when butlers could not make photocopies or send faxes and e-mails and when the Vatican Walls were able to keep a secret.

But, by surrendering to one’s age, by recognising the central and almost determining importance of youth, energy and speed, what room is there for contemplated knowledge, wisdom and experience and what is their value? With his decision to go back to being Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI has already given us his answer to this key and as yet unresolved question. The answer will mould our society, it will decide whether we can accept living in the midst of fragmentation, our memories lightened and relieved of long-term projects.

Full Story: A society that leaves no room for ageing 

Source: Vatican Insider/La Stampa


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