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Faith fading in rich world, alive in poor-Pope

Written by: Staff
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MUNICH, Germany, Sep 10 (Reuters) Western societies are losing their souls to scientific rationality and frightening believers in the developing world who still fear God, Pope Benedict told an open-air mass in Germany today.

Benedict, on the second day of a visit to his native Bavaria, said that spreading the word of Jesus Christ was more important than all the emergency and development aid that rich churches like that in Germany gave to poor countries.

He also stressed the role of faith in fighting AIDS ''by realistically facing its deeper causes,'' indirectly confirming the Church view that pre-marital abstinence and fidelity in marriage are the way to combat sexually transmitted diseases.

About 250,000 faithful, many of them families with children, gathered at the fairground for the mass. ''I've been here since five o'clock in the morning,'' said Kerstin Gessert, 32, from Karlsruhe. ''I think it's important that he has come.'' Wearing resplendent green and white vestments, the Pope addressed the crowd from a huge platform covered by a white canopy. Some in the crowd wore traditional Bavarian folk dress.

''Social issues and the Gospel are inseparable,'' the Pope, 79, who has hinted the visit to his home region could be his last, said at a fairground outside the Bavarian state capital where he served as archbishop from 1977 to 1982.

''When we bring people only knowledge, ability, technical competence and tools, we bring them too little,'' he said, hammering away at his central concern that secularisation and materialism have replaced faith in western thinking.

During his six-day trip, Benedict will also visit his birthplace at Marktl am Inn, the shrine to the Virgin Mary at Altoetting and Regensburg, where he taught theology from 1969 to 1977.

Police said the bright yellow house where the Pope was born in Marktl am Inn and which he was due to visit tomorrow, was splashed overnight with two bags of blue paint by vandals.

''CONTEMPT FOR GOD'' Benedict said Western societies had become ''hard of hearing'' about God, saying: ''There are too many other frequencies in our ears. What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited for our age.'' He contrasted this to a faith he still found in developing countries, where 70 per cent of the world's Catholics now live.

''People in Africa and Asia admire our scientific and technical prowess, but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man's vision, as if this were the highest form of reason,'' he said.

They sensed a ''contempt for God'' in western societies and ''a cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom and hold up utility as the supreme moral criterion for the future of scientific research,'' he said.

He singled out the German Catholic church, one of the world's richest, as one that generously gives emergency and development aid but plays down the spreading of the Gospel.

''Evangelisation itself should be foremost,'' he declared.

REUTERS SY BST1609

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