Benedict XVI answered questions posed by Christians and non-Christians about global conflicts, inter-religious relations and human suffering in an unprecedented television appearance today.
One of the most moving questions came from a seven-year-old Japanese girl who lost friends in the recent earthquake and tsunami, who asked: “Why do I have to be so afraid? Why do children have to be so sad? I’m asking the Pope, who speaks with God, to explain it to me.”
In his response, pre-recorded and broadcast on Italian state television on Good Friday, the Pope assured the girl that one day she would understand better that “this suffering was not empty, it wasn’t in vain, but behind it was a good plan, a plan of love. It is not chance.”
He said he had the same questions about why some people suffer so much while others live in ease.
“And we do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side,” he said.
“Be assured, we are with you, with all the Japanese children who are suffering. We want to help you with our prayers, with our actions, and you can be sure that God will help you,” he said.
The Pope, seated at his desk in the Vatican, spoke in Italian as he responded one by one to the questions, which were posed onscreen by the people who submitted them.
An Italian mother appeared holding her comatose son, who has been in a vegetative state for two years, and asked whether his soul was still there. The Pope responded: “Certainly his soul is still present in his body.” He compared it to the situation of a guitar with broken strings that can no longer play.
“I am also sure that this hidden soul feels your love deep down, even if unable to understand the details, or your words. He feels the presence of love,” he said. Those who pass hours with a loved one in such circumstances engage in a true act of love, he said.
“I encourage you, therefore, to carry on, to know that you are giving a great service to humanity with this sign of faith, with this sign of respect for life, with this love for a wounded body and a suffering soul,” he said.
A Muslim woman in Ivory Coast, after blessing the Pope in Arabic, lamented that the generally good relations between Christians and Muslims in the African country had been aggravated by the recent fighting there.
The pope responded that he had sent an emissary, Cardinal Peter Turkson, to try to mediate the conflict. He added that the Christian message was one of nonviolence, as exemplified by Jesus’s words and deeds.
“This is what shows us the true face of God, that violence never comes from God, never helps bring anything good, but is a destructive means and not the path to escape difficulties,” he said. Christ invites all sides to renounce violence “even if they feel they are right,” the Pope said.
A question from Iraq asked what the Church can do to help Christians remain in the country, in the face of violence and discrimination. The Pope said their desire to leave was understandable, and that the solution lay in dialogue and the rebuilding of Iraq’s internal harmony.
“This is the problem, that the society is profoundly divided, torn, there is no longer the awareness that ‘In our diversity we are one people with a common history, where each has his place.’ This awareness needs to be rebuilt,” he said.
Asked to explain the Creed’s statement that Jesus descended into hell after his death and before his resurrection, Pope Benedict said this should be understood as a “soul’s journey” into humanity’s past, and not as “a geographical or spatial trip”.
Another questioner asked what kind of life the resurrected Jesus experienced. The pope said it was impossible for us to define the “glorified body” of the resurrected Christ, but that it was clear that he was “beyond the laws of biology and physics”.
“He is a real man, not a ghost, and he lives a real life, but a new life that is no longer submitted to the death,” he said.
A final question asked whether the Pope was prepared to renew the consecration of the world to Mary. He answered that such a consecration has already been performed, and that now is the time to “internalise this act” in the lives of each Christian.
“I think that the great public act has been made. Perhaps one day it will be necessary to repeat it again, but at the moment it seems more important to me to live it, to make it real,” he said.
The television programme, In His Image, is a Catholic perspectives show that normally airs on Sundays. Its 80-minute special on Good Friday was originally supposed to include three questions for the Pope, but the number was increased to seven because of the great number of questions submitted by viewers.