VATICAN CITY, March 1, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Papal watchers are wondering what message Pope Benedict XVI was giving when he selected retired Bologna archbishop Cardinal Giacomo Biffi to preach the annual Lenten retreat to the Pope and the top members of the Vatican.
Rocco Palmo, expert Vatican reporter for The Tablet, the international Catholic weekly published in London England has noted the significance of the selection of the Lenten retreat preacher. “Since time immemorial — or, at least, the retreat’s heightened profile over the 20th century — the selection of the preacher has become a closely-watched indicator of the prevailing winds in the papal apartment,” said Palmo on his blog. “(T)he choice often falling to a voice the Pope might like to tout… and not just for a higher prominence on the preaching circuit.”
Palmo added weight to his remarks noting that “Before their respective elections to the papacy, both Joseph Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyla were tapped to lead the annual exercises.”
This year’s selection when it became known created a stir since Cardinal Biffi, while he is known for orthodox faith and frank words, is most well known, at least in the secular media, for his preaching on the Antichrist. In fact, the Times of London reported in 2004 that the Cardinal described the Antichrist as “walking among us”.
The Lenten retreat did not disappoint. Cardinal Biffi picked up on his oft repeated theme of the Antichrist, basing his remarks on the works of Vladimir Soloviev, a Russian religious philosopher who has received praise from Pope Benedict prior to his elevation to the pontificate.
Quoting Soloviev, the Cardinal said “the Antichrist presents himself as pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist.”
“He will convoke an ecumenical council and will seek the consensus of all the Christian confessions, granting something to each one. The masses will follow him, with the exception of small groups of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants,” he said according to a Zenit translation of a Vatican Radio summary here: http://www.radiovaticana.org/it1/Articolo.asp?c=120479 .
In his “Tale of the Antichrist” Solovyov foresees that a small group of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants will resist and will say to the Antichrist: “You give us everything, except what interests us, Jesus Christ”. For Cardinal Biffi, this narrative is a warning: “Today, in fact, we run the risk of having a Christianity which puts aside Jesus with his cross and resurrection.”
The 78-year-old cardinal added that if Christians “limited themselves to speaking of shared values they would be more accepted on television programs and in social groups. But in this way, they will have renounced Jesus, the overwhelming reality of the resurrection.”
The cardinal said he believes that this is “the danger that Christians face in our days … the Son of God cannot be reduced to a series of good projects sanctioned by the prevailing worldly mentality.”
The preacher of the Spiritual Exercises added that “there are relative values, such as solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature. If these become absolute, uprooting or even opposing the proclamation of the event of salvation, then these values become an instigation to idolatry and obstacles on the way of salvation.”
Cardinal Biffi affirmed that “if Christianity — on opening itself to the world and dialoguing with all — dilutes the salvific event, it closes itself to a personal relationship with Jesus and places itself on the side of the Antichrist.”
Cardinal Biffi’s reflections, in fact, are very similar to remarks Pope Benedict made last Fall in a meeting with Swiss Bishops. While Pope Benedict did not speak of the Antichrist, he spoke of a new false or “substitute” religion, calling it also a “successor” of religion.
“Modern society is not simply without morality, but it has, so to speak, ‘discovered’ and professes a part of morality”, the Pope told the Swiss bishops. “These are the great themes of peace, non-violence, justice for all, concern for the poor, and respect for creation.”
However, the Pope warned that these “great moral themes” have “become an ethical complex that, precisely as a political force, has great power and constitutes for many the substitute for religion, or its successor.”
“It is only if human life is respected from conception to death that the ethics of peace is also possible and credible,” concluded the Pope. “It is only then that non-violence can express itself in every direction; only then that we truly welcome creation, and only then that we can arrive at true justice.”