In Austria, Pope Emphasizes Protection of the Environment

Vienna, Austria - Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday praised the selflessness of monks, nuns and volunteers and briefly expanded on the Vatican’s rising focus on the environment before leaving Austria after a three-day visit.

At the towering St. Stephen’s Cathedral here, Benedict suggested that Sunday, as the symbolic first day of creation, was a moment when people should ponder creation more broadly.

“At a time when creation seems to be endangered in so many ways through human activity, we should consciously advert to this dimension of Sunday, too,” the pope told worshipers in his native German, according to the official Vatican translation.

Recently, Vatican officials have been speaking out more on protecting the environment.

As Benedict returned home to Rome, some of the skepticism about his visit seemed to wane, in this nation where the church has been under criticism and decline following two serious sex scandals and other problems.

Hans Peter Hurka, a leader in We Are Church, a Catholic reformist group, said he was pleased with what the pope said even if he remained dissatisfied that the pope would not meet with the group about issues like its contention that the hierarchy did not respond to parishioners and a shortage of priests.

“I am divided,” Mr. Hurka said in a telephone interview. “It is true that he came in a very kind way, a very friendly way with a quiet manner. Basically I am happy about what he did here. What’s missing is the dialogue.”

At the cathedral on Sunday, detractors in the thick crowd expressed themselves in a decidedly low-key way: “Listen to the people of the church,” read a plain banner from We Are Church. Vatican pennants and handkerchiefs waved by supporters greeted the pope as he stepped outside after Mass. In and around the plaza, the mood seemed one of either deep devotion or mild indifference.

After the Mass, the pope traveled to the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz outside Vienna, praising the monks’ commitment to a life of prayer. His last stop was at the Vienna Concert House, where, after an ensemble played Mozart, he praised the volunteers.

Volunteering “shatters the rules of a market economy,” he said. “The value of human beings cannot be judged by purely economic criteria. Without volunteers, then, no state can be built up. A society’s progress and worth constantly depend on people who do more than what is strictly their duty.”