At five-year mark, pope's teaching mission hits some obstacles


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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the five-year mark, two key objectives of Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate have come into clear focus: creating space for religion in the public sphere and space for God in private lives.

In hundreds of speeches and homilies, in three encyclicals, on 13 foreign trips, during synods of bishops and even through new Web sites, the German pontiff has confronted what he calls a modern "crisis of faith," saying the root cause of moral and social ills is a reluctance to acknowledge the truth that comes from God.

To counter this crisis, he has proposed Christianity as a religion of love, not rules.

Its core mission, he has said repeatedly, is to help people accept God's love and share it, recognizing that true love involves a willingness to make sacrifices.

His emphasis on God as Creator has tapped into ecological awareness, for which he's been dubbed the "green pope."

He has presented the faith as a path not only to salvation, but also to social justice and true happiness.

Elected April 19, 2005, Pope Benedict has surprised those who expected a doctrinaire disciplinarian.

As universal pastor, he has led Catholics back to the basics of their faith, catechizing them on Christianity's foundational practices, writings and beliefs, ranging from the Confessions of St. Augustine to the sign of the cross.

But Pope Benedict's quiet teaching mission has been frequently overshadowed by problems and crises that have grabbed headlines, provoked criticism of the church and left the German pontiff with an uphill battle to get a hearing.