VATICAN CITY (AP) — Sounding a battle cry for his 20th anniversary as pope, John Paul II rallied his church Thursday against assaults on its fundamental beliefs, saying such attacks have sowed confusion and even despair among Roman Catholics.
He spoke out in an encyclical, one of the most important documents a pope can issue, warning his bishops against the temptations posed by some modern schools of philosophy and theology. It did not go into specifics of church teaching for which John Paul has repeatedly demanded fidelity.
Some theologians, however, have questioned the power and infallibility of the pope, whether only priests can celebrate Mass and whether baptism, the sacrament that marks a Catholic’s official entry into the church, is necessary.
The encyclical summed up one of the central themes of John Paul’s long papacy — that there are unshakable truths and that positions which “question the certitudes of faith” must be rejected.
The 154-page document, the 13th encyclical of his papacy, was timed for the 20th anniversary of his election as pope. Thousands of pilgrims from Poland, his homeland, were converging in Rome for celebrations Friday, when John Paul becomes one of only a dozen popes to have served at least two decades.
The encyclical is titled “Fides et Ratio,” Latin for “Faith and Reason,” and grapples with the issue of religion in the modern world, when expectations have been raised by scientific and technological progress. It stresses that faith and reason are not incompatible.
He said mankind has always asked questions such as, “Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?”
But today some Catholics risk “losing their way in the shifting sands of widespread skepticism” while “many people stumble through life to the very edge of the abyss without knowing where they are going,” John Paul said.
“At times, this happens because those whose vocation is to give cultural expression to their thinking no longer look to the truth, preferring quick success to the toil of patient inquiry into what makes life worth living.”
The encyclical, addressed to the pope’s bishops, was in effect a call to action for the proper education of Catholics.
John Paul said he encouraged scientific progress, but it “should be wedded to the philosophical and ethical values which are the distinctive and indelible mark of the human being.”
At a Vatican news conference, Polish Archbishop Jozef Miroslaw Zycinski was asked about New Age philosophy and interest in UFOs and astrology. Although the pope didn’t mention those issues, the archbishop dismissed them as representing “the intellectual paucity of our era.”
John Paul did cite agnosticism and relativism, saying they were among the doctrines that “tend to devalue even the truths which had been judged certain.”
Although 78 and ailing, John Paul has shown every intent of pushing ahead with his papacy, the longest this century.
The leader of the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics is preparing his church for the start of Christianity’s third millennium in 2000 as well as keeping up his global travel.
He is scheduled to visit Mexico and the United States — St. Louis — in January and has repeatedly expressed his hope of visiting Christianity’s holy sites in the Middle East.
A recent crackdown on theologians underlined that John Paul saw no room for debate over issues such as the ban on women becoming priests.
During a September visit to the birthplace of Pope Paul VI, John Paul praised his predecessor for going against the tide of the times and retaining the church’s ban on contraception in a 1963 encyclical.