Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Hopeful View from Mario Vargas Llosa

My friend Santiago Ramos posted this article about World Youth Day on Facebook today, and I think it bears reading. Published in the Spanish newspaper El País on August 28, it was translated and republished in L’Osservatore Romano yesterday.

Mario Vargas Llosa is a Nobel Prize–winning and self-described agnostic who once endorsed the Communist revolution of Fidel Castro. Gradually abandoning leftist positions during his career, he ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 as the candidate of a center-right coalition.

At a time when the imminent demise of the Catholic Church is being predicted in some circles—perhaps most of all among cradle Catholics who have left the Church and want to feel that they are in the mainstream of opinion—it is bracing to see a certified intellectual, once a leftist, raising a glass to Pope Benedict and the millions of youth who are flocking around him.

Vargas Llosa writes:

There are two possible ways of interpreting [World Youth Day 2011] which El País described as “the largest gathering of Catholics in the history of Spain.” The first sees it as a festival, superficial rather than of religious significance, where young people from half the world seized the opportunity to travel, to be tourists, to meet new people, to have some fun and a few adventures: the intense but fleeting experience of a summer holiday.

The second views it not only as an outright rejection of the predictions that Catholicism is shrinking in today’s world, but as a proof that the Church of Christ retains her strength and vitality, and that the Barque of Peter is braving the dangers and storms that were threatening it with shipwreck.

The Peruvian writer notes that while absolute numbers of Catholics may be diminishing in some parts of the world, notably western Europe,

this gradual erosion of the number of faithful in the Catholic Church, instead of being a symptom of her inevitable collapse and extinction, is a leaven stirring the vitality and energy that all those—tens of millions of people—who remain in her have demonstrated, particularly during the Pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

There follows a perceptive and remarkably positive assessment of Benedict XVI:

The present Pope is a man of ideas, an intellectual, whose natural setting is in the library, the university lecture hall and the conference room. His shyness in the face of the multitudes is apparent in the way he addresses the masses, as though he were justifying himself, almost as if he were ashamed of himself. 

But this frailty is misleading since he is probably the most cultured and intelligent Pope the Church has had for a long time, one of the rare pontiffs whose encyclicals and books can be read without yawning even by agnostics like me (his brief autobiography is enchanting and his two books on Jesus are more than fascinating). 

Vargas Llosa (left) finishes by arguing that our secular society needs the Church now more than ever:

A democratic society cannot effectively fight its enemies—beginning with corruption—unless its institutions are firmly based on ethical values, unless there is within it a blossoming of rich spiritual life as a permanent antidote to the destructive, disruptive and anarchic forces that tend to govern individual behaviour when human beings feel free from all responsibility.

[Our] culture has ceased to be a serious and deep response to the great human questions about life, death, destiny and history as it sought to be in the past. On the one hand it has become an inconsequential light entertainment and on the other, a cabal of incomprehensible and arrogant experts, who have taken refuge in unintelligible jargon, light years from common mortals.

Religion, as long as it does not assume political power and, in this regard, as long as those in power can respect its independence and neutrality, is not only licit but even indispensable in a democratic society.

1 comment:

  1. Mario Vargas Llosa will be appearing at Atlas's Freedom Dinner in New York City on November 9 for anyone interested! Should be a great program, reflecting on the anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fwHMqBN2o0&feature=relmfu

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