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POPE-SCHULERKREIS Sep-4-2012 (810 words) With photo. xxxi
With former students, pope focuses on search for truth, unity
By Cindy Wooden
Pope Benedict XVI meets with his former doctoral students during a session of the annual "Ratzinger Schulerkreis" (Ratzinger Student Circle). (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The search for truth is the vocation of a theologian and the key to overcoming divisions within Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of his former doctoral students.
The pope celebrated Mass with his former students Sept. 2 at the Focolare Center in Castel Gandolfo as part of the annual meeting of the "Ratzinger Schulerkreis" (Ratzinger Student Circle), a group that has met since 1978 to discuss topics in theology and the life of the church.
The joy of faith comes from seeking the truth, not claiming to possess it, the pope said in his homily.
However, the pope said, even claiming to have received the gift of truth through faith is difficult today because, in the eyes of many, claiming to know the truth has is labeled intolerance.
Rather than claiming truth as a possession, he said, Christians must allow themselves to be led and guided by the truth so that others would see how beautiful and beneficial it is and begin seeking the truth themselves, the pope said in the homily.
Irish Divine Word Father Vincent Twomey, a moral theologian and founding member of the schulerkreis, spoke Sept. 3 to Catholic News Service about the homily and meeting.
He said the pope emphasized that "if theology doesn't reach out for the truth, then it just becomes an intellectual exercise; but if you are searching for the truth, then it is transformative. You're not the same when you discover something, when the truth hits you between the eyes."
In the homily, like in much of the pope's writings, Father Twomey said, he also spoke about joy, which is related to truth. "Once you know the truth about anything, you're liberated. With the lie, the untruth and darkness, they get you down, they also divide people, they cause suspicion and they don't cause unity."
The topic of this year's meeting was Catholic relations with the Anglicans and with the Lutherans, which also was connected to a discussion about truth, the Irish priest said.
"Don't forget, the dialogues in the context of the ecumenical movement aim at some form of unity in the truth. The truth will bring us there."
With many of the pope's former students coming from Germany and other countries with large Lutheran populations and with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation coming up in 2017, the group spent much of its time talking about Catholic-Lutheran relations.
Salvatorian Father Stephen Horn, who serves as president of group, told Vatican Radio the idea of a mutual "mea culpa" -- a recognition of faults on both sides -- was discussed during the meeting.
Father Twomey said, "The pope talked, liked his predecessor, about the purification of memory, which happens through contrition. We must be sorry for what has happened."
"The church is holy because of its divine nature, but those who make up the church -- as the pope himself acknowledges over and over again -- are sinful; we've done terrible things in the name of religion," he said. "The division between Christians, especially in Europe, has created havoc."
While acknowledging the faults of church members, he said, there is also the recognition that "despite everything, the truth of Jesus Christ is present to us in our midst, he touches our lives through the church no matter how sinful" any of its members may be.
Father Twomey said the annual weekend get-together is a chance to study, pray, renew friendships and encourage each other.
The pope "loves being with people," discussing weighty issues, but also sharing "stories and jokes and things like that," he said.
The pope's former students spent Sunday afternoon with what some call the "junior circle," a younger group of two dozen scholars who have focused their theological studies on the pope's work.
Both in the schulerkreis and with the young scholars, Father Twomey said, there is a wide variety of experiences and opinions. "It's very stimulating. Ratzinger's students were always known for their diversity of opinion. He never created a school of thought. That's what makes it so stimulating -- people from different backgrounds studying different things," but united with respect for the pope's theology.
"Many of us live in situations where there is a lot of hostility toward what the church teaches and what the pope stands for," he said. "Very often you're fighting a battle on your own in a rather grim situation, like in Ireland at the moment."
The weekend is an opportunity to engage in serious conversation with others who "realize theology is not simply an intellectual exercise -- exciting as that can be -- it does affect people's lives very deeply; after all, it's about salvation in the end," Father Twomey said.
"To get together in that atmosphere is really very wonderful; it's kind like of going to the gasoline station to fill up again," he said.
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