Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 29, 2005
Look to the Church, says pope
By JOHN THAVIS
Catholic News Service
In back-to-back encounters with more than a million young people from around the world, Pope Benedict XVI urged them to discover the transforming power of the faith and join the "true revolution" of personal holiness.
At a World Youth Day vigil Aug. 20 and a closing Mass the next day, the pope preached about the inspiration of the saints and the mystery of the Eucharist, encouraging the youths to change themselves if they want to change the world.
God and the saints
"Only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come," he told a vast candlelit crowd spread across a field outside Cologne.
The pope was presiding for the first time over World Youth Day, and he did so in a solemn and dignified style. At the vigil, he sat quietly as he watched slow liturgical dancing and listened to Scripture readings.
Unlike similar megameetings with Pope John Paul II, there was no papal bantering with the crowd or light-hearted silliness. At the end of the long evening, dressed in a golden cope, Pope Benedict led the crowd in adoration of the Eucharist.
In his talk, he retold the simple story of the Wise Men who found Jesus in a manger, thus discovering an unworldly kind of power.
The pope's emphasis on the saints -- old ones like St. Francis of Assisi and more recent figures of holiness like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta -- resonated with many in his young audience.
"What he said was just so beautiful. The saints were normal people just like us," said 16-year-old Mackenzie Gilpin, who recently began attending an "all saints club" at her parish in Milford, Pa.
Her friend, 15-year-old Meg Palermo, said the pope had impressed her with his traditional approach. "I like that a lot. A lot of things in the world are corrupted, and it's nice to have a strong pope who will stay (true) to the Church's traditions. I think he's going to be a great pope," she said.
The young people at Marienfeld – Mary’s Field -- had spent a week visiting German parishes, listening to catechetical talks, attending musical and theatrical performances and joining in prayers and processions through the streets of Cologne.
They all came together for the first time at the evening vigil.
The pope’s first act was to bless a huge bronze bell dedicated to the memory of Pope John Paul, who founded World Youth Day. As the bell tolled deeply, many in the crowd broke into chants of "Giovanni Paolo" -- John Paul's name in Italian.
The vigil was heavier on prayer and lighter on entertainment than previous such events. Spiritual dances by young women from India and Ghana alternated with brief testimonials and the singing of hymns.
As a clarinet played a haunting melody, the pope accepted a candle lit from fire that came from Bethlehem, West Bank, and thousands of smaller candles lit the darkness as far as the eye could see.
The pope said the saints represent "the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history." They are the world's true reformers and have taught Christians that love, not ideologies, will save the world, he said.
The pope also cautioned young people to avoid constructing a "private God" or a "private Jesus," but to trust the Church as the place where believers come together in a real communion.
Family of God
"There is much that could be criticized in the Church," but it remains the "great family of God" that unites all peoples and cultures, he said.
As the pope left the area for the evening, young people joined in singing a hymn of the ecumenical Taize community, Stay With Me. The official program ended at that point, but youths talked, prayed and sang in small groups through much of the night.
At a closing Mass the next morning, the pope, dressed in gold vestments, was joined by more than 900 bishops, 9,000 priests and a much smaller number of male and female altar servers.
The sleep-deprived crowd of young people came to life as the popemobile appeared through a light fog, escorted by a heavy security contingent. Youths in feathered headdresses played congas in welcome.
In a sermon delivered alternately in five languages, the pope explained two essential concepts of the faith: the Eucharist and mission.
At the Last Supper, he said, Christ transformed the bread and wine into his body and blood, anticipating his own death and transforming it into an action of love. It was destined to set in motion a series of changes that will ultimately transform the world, he said.
To bring it home to his young audience, he compared this series of transformations to nuclear fission, calling it an "intimate explosion of good conquering evil."
The pope said that with so much at stake, attending Sunday Mass becomes very important for young people -- even if it may seem inconvenient.
"Let us pledge ourselves to do this -- it is worth the effort," he said.
His words may have carried special significance in his native Germany, where only about 15 per cent of Catholics are estimated to attend Mass regularly.
The pope then spoke about the duty of Christians to evangelize, spreading the joy of their own encounter with Jesus. In contemporary society, he said, this missionary impetus has led to a "new explosion of religion" but also brought a tendency to market Christianity.
"If it is pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it. But religion constructed on a do-it-yourself basis cannot ultimately help us," he said.
The pope said true Christians demonstrate their faith in their daily lives. The Eucharist, for example, should inspire people to share, to look after the elderly and not to pass by people who are suffering, he said.
Neither of the pope's talks, however, explored specific forms of contemporary injustice, poverty or oppression. The young people, many of whom listened on radios to running translations of the papal talks, said they were more interested in his words about the faith.
Hungry for faith
"It was more religious than political. I think that's fine because that's what we really came for. He made a very good impression," said Gabriela Delgado, a 24-year-old California Catholic.
The pope also announced that, as expected, the next World Youth Day will take place in Sydney, Australia, in 2008. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney told Catholic News Service he was delighted with the news and said the pope has told him he would like to come to Australia for the event "if providence permits."