Monday 25th April, 2005

Leela Ramdeen
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Working in God’s vineyard

“I believe in the grace of the office. It isn’t just the man we talk about. It’s how God uses each one of his instruments.”

—US Cardinal Adam Maida about Pope Benedict XVI

It is with great joy and profound gratitude to God that CCSJ welcomes our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th successor to Peter.

For nearly 30 years he worked closely with the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who called him a “trustworthy friend.” He advised him on theological issues. Since 1981 he was the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. He was also the dean of the College of Cardinals.

At this time in our history God knew that among the many multi-talented cardinals who were all ready to serve, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) stood out. This gentle, soft-spoken diplomat is a committed churchman of deep personal faith/spirituality. As President Bush says, he is a man of great wisdom and knowledge who serves the Lord.

His Holiness’ faith is rooted in Bavaria, Germany, where he was born. Those who know him state that he is a kind, collegial, warm and spiritual man; a good listener, a reconciler and an approachable priest.

John Allen, in his 2002 biography of Cardinal Ratzinger, Conclave, says that someone with a religious or spiritual problem would find him a sympathetic and compassionate man with whom to talk.

He is a consistent supporter of the traditions of the Catholic faith. He is also a respected theologian with a keen intellect, sound academic background, a deep understanding of the workings of the Roman Curia—the administrative section of the church in Rome, and an eye for institutional detail. He speaks several languages and is an accomplished pianist.

As Kofi Annan said, he would bring a wealth of experience to his papacy and, according to Cardinal Roger Mahony, Los Angeles, he has a lot of zeal and energy.

In my article on April 11, I said that John Paul II had been “a rock in an age of moral relativism and cultural decadence; an unbending and fearless defender of the faith.” I was therefore pleased to read that even as the cardinals prayed before the conclave, Cardinal Ratzinger urged them in his homily to cling to church tradition and warned about the dangers of abandoning it.

He referred to the maturity of the faith of Catholics and said that they cannot remain “immature in the faith, in a state of inferiority, as they run the risk of being tossed about and carried here and there by any doctrinal wind.”

He said that “having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labelled today as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching,’ looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards. We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal and ultimate measure only the measure of one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

He emphasised that Christians have another measure, which is the Son of God true Man. Mature faith, he said, does not follow fashions and the latest novelty, but is profoundly rooted in “friendship with Christ.” During his homily at the late pope’s funeral on April 9, Cardinal Ratzinger described the Catholic Church as a “little boat of Christian thought” tossed around the waves of “extreme” ideologies, including liberalism and radical individualism.

I welcome his condemnation of the “dictatorship of relativism”—the modernist notion that there are no universal truths or universal standards of right and wrong. It is time for Catholics to stand proudly behind our vision of truth and morality. We must have the courage to speak our traditional truths boldly—particularly in the face of the culture of death that surrounds us.

Although it will be inevitable that the Holy Father will make his own mark on the life of the church and on the world, as he outlined his goals he made it clear that he would follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

I was particularly pleased to hear his pledge on Wednesday that his “primary task” would be to work to unify all Christians and to continue “an open and sincere dialogue” with other religions, doing everything in his power to improve the ecumenical cause. He rightly stated that sentiment alone is not enough. “Concrete acts that enter souls and move consciences are needed.”

He also expressed his commitment to continue implementing reforms from the Second Vatican Council. I know that young people around the world were pleased to hear him indicate that he would travel and continue to reach out to young people and that he plans to attend the church’s World Youth Day celebrations in Cologne, Germany, in August.

It is reported that Cardinal Ratzinger had repeatedly stated he would like to retire to a Bavarian village and dedicate himself to writing books, but more recently, he told friends he was ready to “accept any charge God placed on him.”

In his first words as pope delivered from the balcony of the cream-coloured marble facade overlooking St Peter’s Square, he set a tone that must resonate with all people of good will. Inter alia, he said: “I am a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”

I see this as a rallying call to each one of us to truly see ourselves as workers in the vineyard of the Lord. We can serve in so many ways. For example, I was talking to Yolanos Sookoor recently about the way in which the Lord is using his talent to raise funds for the children at Rainbow Rescue—a charitable organisation in Belmont that provides care and rehabilitation for socially displaced and “at risk” male youths between ten and 19 years old and seeks to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to be able to function effectively in society.

Yolanos is a renowned tenor who has had a long and successful career internationally. Other artistes who will appear with Yolanos at a concert on May 1 at Queen’s Hall include Anne Fridal, Nariman Hosein, Ronald Ramon-Fortune and retired Justice Zainol Hosein on harmonica. This is a good opportunity for you to support a worthy cause (call 665 7227).

Each one of us must find time to offer our time, talent and treasure for the common good. Our Government cannot meet the needs of our people alone. We must all “pull together”—including those in industry, commerce, communities etc.

I pray that God will open our eyes to the needs of those around us and give us the strength and courage to rise to the challenges that confront us. The first step is to say with meaning: “Here I am, Lord, send me to be a faithful worker in your vineyard.”

Leela Ramdeen is Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice

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