Pope warns of falling belief in West

Thu Apr 21, 2011 2:22pm EDT
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By Catherine Hornby

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict lamented the widespread abandonment of faith in the West on Holy Thursday before he washed and dried the feet of 12 men to mark Christ's gesture of humility to his apostles on the night before he died.

The German-born pontiff said it sometimes seemed as if people in Western countries had grown bored of their own history and culture and the heartlands of Christianity were rejecting religion.

But he hailed strong examples of the faithful, such as his predecessor John Paul, whose beatification on May 1 is expected to attract hundreds of thousands to Rome and is seen by many in the Church as a chance to rejuvenate the institution.

"Have not we -- the people of God -- become to a large extent a people of unbelief and distance from God?" Pope Benedict said during a service in St. Peter's Basilica in which he blessed oils to be used in Catholic rites.

"Is it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of their faith?"

He later poured water over the right feet of 12 men sitting on raised platforms and dried them. That ritual was held in the Basilica of St John's in Lateran, the Pope's cathedral in his capacity as bishop of Rome, while donations were collected for victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Both services were to mark Christ's founding of the priesthood at the Last Supper on the night before he died.

Celebrating the sixth Easter season of his pontificate, the pope said the beatification of his Polish predecessor, John Paul II, would be a chance to remember a man of great faith.   Continued...

<p>Pope Benedict XVI holds the book of the gospels as he leads the Chrismal mass in Saint Peter's basilica at the Vatican April 21, 2011. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>