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July 24, 2008

World Youth Day in Australia: ideas and insights gleaned from the July 15-20 events in Sydney for youth ministers, others in pastoral ministry, pastoral planners, even for youth groups and other discussion groups.

In this edition:
-- Three false gods that people still worship.
-- Human beings are hard-wired for love.
-- The type of Christian witness that is needed.
-- The Spirit of God illuminates the dignity of every person.
-- A blessed, youthful model for the young.
-- Quotes to ponder: Voices of the World Youth Day.
-- Caring for the environment in all its dimensions.
-- The legacy of today's youth.

Three False Gods That People Still Worship

Do people still worship false gods? The fact is that people sometimes "worship 'other gods' without realizing it," Pope Benedict XVI said July 18 during his visit to Australia for the 2008 World Youth Day.

Contemporary false gods made an appearance in remarks by the pope to a group of young Australians recovering from drug and alcohol abuse at a rehabilitation center run by the Sydney Archdiocese. The pope praised these young people for their courage "in choosing to turn back onto the path of life."

The false gods that people still worship - "whatever name, shape or form we give them" - nearly always are associated with "material possessions, possessive love or power," Pope Benedict said. He explained, "The cult of material possessions, the cult of possessive love and the cult of power often lead people to attempt to 'play God' - to try to seize total control, with no regard for the wisdom of the commandments that God has made known to us."

Pope Benedict discussed each of the three false gods:

1. "Material possessions, in themselves, are good," the pope said. But when people become greedy, refusing to share what they have with those who are hungry and poor, they make their possessions into a false god, he commented. What facilitates belief in this false god is the fact that so many voices in society proclaim that "happiness is to be found by acquiring as many possessions and luxuries as we can!"

2. "Authentic love is obviously something good," Pope Benedict said. But love so easily is "made into a false god," he cautioned.

A concern about love that is possessive has been heard from this pope a number of times previously. In Sydney he said:

"People often think they are being loving when actually they are being possessive or manipulative. People sometimes treat others as objects to satisfy their own needs rather than as persons to be loved and cherished."

In this context, the pope expressed concern about a "permissive approach to sexuality," which adds up to "worship of a false god."

3. Power is the third false god discussed by the pope. "The power God has given us to shape the world around us is obviously something good. Used properly and responsibly, it enables us to transform people's lives," the pope said. He added:

"Every community needs good leaders. Yet, how tempting it can be to grasp at power for its own sake, to seek to dominate others or to exploit the natural environment for selfish purposes! This is to make power into a false god."

Hard-Wired for Love

Love, when wrongly understood, can become a false god, Pope Benedict XVI said during his July 18 visit to the Sydney Archdiocese's rehabilitation center for recovering drug and alcohol abusers. But in his remarks that day he also accented love's true value and centrality - a point he made over and over in a variety of ways during the events of World Youth Day.

"When we love, we become most fully ourselves, most fully human," said the pope. Furthermore, "loving is what we are programmed to do, what we were designed for by our Creator," the pope stated.

However, he made clear that he was "not talking about fleeting, shallow relationships," but about "real love." This, the pope said, is "the very heart of Jesus' moral teaching."

Love of God and love of neighbor "is the program that is hard-wired into every human person," Pope Benedict told the young people. This program, he said, calls upon people to live wisely and generously, to sacrifice their own preferences in order to serve others, to give their lives "for the good of others and above all for Jesus, who loved us and gave his life for us."

That, Pope Benedict said, "is what human beings are called to do" and "what it means to be truly alive."

World Youth Day Vigil Service: The Kind of Witness Needed

"Tonight we focus our attention on how to become witnesses," Pope Benedict XVI said in his address July 19 to the Saturday evening World Youth Day vigil at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney, Australia. "Our Christian witness is offered to a world which in many ways is fragile," the pope told the large crowd of World Youth Day pilgrims.

The Saturday vigil service typically is a highlight of a World Youth Day.

Pope Benedict spoke at the 2008 vigil about the Holy Spirit, who, he said, "has been in some ways the neglected person of the Blessed Trinity." Love, said the pope, "is the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit!" Furthermore, love by its very nature "is enduring."

The pope urged young people to recognize that "ideas or voices which lack love -- even if they seem sophisticated or knowledgeable -- cannot be 'of the Spirit.'" Moreover, the pope said, "love has a particular trait: Far from being indulgent or fickle, it has a task or purpose to fulfill: to abide."

In light of all this, the pope exhorted the young people with these words: "Let unifying love be your measure, abiding love your challenge, self-giving love your mission!"

The pope wanted young people to see that faith is lived and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are received in the context of everyday life. "God is with us in the reality of life, not the fantasy," said Pope Benedict. Our "sharing in God's nature occurs in the unfolding of the everyday moments of our lives where he is always present."

Pope Benedict frequently refers back in his presentations to St. Augustine. He did so in Sydney, as well. When St. Augustine was a young man, he followed the ways of Manichaeism, which was an attempt "to create a spiritual utopia by radically separating the things of the spirit from the things of the flesh," the pope said.

However, it isn't in a utopia that the faith of Christians is lived, the pope emphasized; it is "embrace, not escape, that we seek! So the Holy Spirit gently but surely steers us back to what is real, what is lasting, what is true."

The Spirit of God Illuminates Every Person's Dignity

"The unity of God's creation is weakened" by the deep wounds that result "when social relations break apart or when the human spirit is all but crushed through the exploitation and abuse of persons," Pope Benedict XVI told World Youth Day participants during the July 19 vigil service.

The pope made the above observation after presenting a rather in-depth, theological perspective on the Holy Spirit to his youthful audience - something he clearly did for a reason. He wanted young people to make a direct connection between the Holy Spirit and unity in the human family, the sort of unity based on recognition of every person's dignity.

The pope explained that for St. Augustine, "the distinguishing characteristic of the Holy Spirit is to be what is shared by the Father and the Son." Thus, "Augustine concluded that the Spirit's particular quality is unity." This understanding of "the Holy Spirit as unity" is "illuminating," the pope said, for "true unity could never be founded upon relationships which deny the equal dignity of other persons."

The pope exhorted young people to recognize that "from the forlorn child in a Darfur camp, or a troubled teenager, or an anxious parent in any suburb, or perhaps even now from the depth of your own heart, there emerges the same human cry for recognition, for belonging, for unity."

The pope asked the young people to "pray for the resolve to nurture unity," to be witnesses to the value of the church as a community, to be committed to unity in the church and the world. He said: "Only in the life of communion is unity sustained and human identity fulfilled; we recognize the common need for God, we respond to the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit, and we give ourselves to one another in service."

The gifts of the Holy Spirit "call us to active and joyful participation in the life of the church," a participation that occurs "in parishes and ecclesial movements, in religious education classes, in university chaplaincies and other Catholic organizations," said the pope.

A Blessed, Youthful Model for the Young

"If there was ever an age when young men and women needed authentic heroes, it is our age," Basilian Father Tom Rosica told some 900 young people in Australia during a prayer vigil July 14, the eve of the July 15-20 World Youth Day in Sydney. The hero Father Rosica spoke of was Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, whose actual body was venerated during the vigil. Father Rosica heads the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Toronto, Ontario.

Frassati was patron of the World Youth Day in Sydney. The Italian layman was beatified in 1990; his body was brought to Australia for World Youth Day, arriving there July 2. It was the first time his body had left its resting place in Turin, Italy. Frassati died in 1925 at the age of 24.

Who was this young man? Father Rosica had this to say of Frassati:

"Athletic, full of life, always surrounded by friends, whom he inspired with his life, Pier Giorgio chose not to become a priest or religious, preferring to give witness to the Gospel as a layperson. He never founded a religious order or started a new ecclesial movement. He led no armies, nor was he elected to public office. Death came even before he could complete his university degree. He never had a chance to begin a career; in fact, he hadn't even worked out for sure what his vocation in life would be. He was simply a young man who was in love with his family and friends, in love with the mountains and the sea, but especially in love with God."

In this young Italian layman it is possible to find "what Jesus' Sermon on a Galilean hillside really meant," said Father Rosica.

Polio took Frassati's life. Doctors speculated at the time that the young man contracted the disease from sick people he cared for, Father Rosica said. The death occurred just before Frassati was to receive a university degree as an engineer in mining.

During the young man's life, his commitment to the poor was well known, the priest noted. "The poor and the suffering were his masters, and he was literally their servant, which he considered a privilege," Father Rosica said.

Frassati "anticipated by at least 50 years the church's understanding and new direction on the role of the laity," Father Rosica said. This young man, he added, "testifies that holiness is possible for everyone, and that only the revolution of charity can enkindle the hope of a better future in the hearts of people."

Frassati's funeral "was a triumph," said Father Rosica. "The streets of Turin were lined with a multitude of mourners who were unknown to his family: clergy and students, and the poor and the needy whom he had served so unselfishly."

Father Rosica shared an event from Frassati's life to illustrate his commitment to the poor. The priest said:

"A German news reporter who observed Frassati at the Italian embassy wrote: "One night in Berlin, with the temperature at 12 degrees below zero, he gave his overcoat to a poor old man shivering in the cold. His father, the ambassador, scolded him, and he replied simply and matter-of-factly, 'But you see, Papa, it was cold.'"

Quotes to Ponder: Voices of the World Youth Day

What one U.S. youth took home from Australia: "All these young people really are the future of our church. We're believing in God in this world and taking that one idea home as inspiration. It's a feeling I hope I can keep with me forever." (Paul Warchuck, 22, a World Youth Day participant from the Archdiocese of Detroit interviewed by Catholic News Service; he said that seeing the commitment of other Catholic youths made him "feel better about the future.")

The cost of discipleship: "Following Christ is not cost free, not always easy because it requires struggling against what St. Paul calls 'the flesh,' our fat relentless egos, old-fashioned selfishness. It is always a battle, even for old people like me! Don't spend your life sitting on the fence, keeping your options open, because only commitments bring fulfillment." (From the homily given July 15 during the World Youth Day opening Mass by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia)

What World Youth Days are for: "This World Youth Day is in all likelihood my last. With the help of a good friend I realized that WYD is not meant to be never-ending. A pilgrim's goal should not be to attend as many WYDs as possible. The goal of WYD is instead to ignite a spark or to fan a flame so that you can return home and share that fire with family, friends, school or parish communities. WYD is meant to transform you so that you can then transform the world. It is in this way that the spirit of WYD will live on past the actual pilgrimages, it is in this way that we will, in a manner of speaking, continuously live WYD." (From an entry on the World Youth Day blog of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation by Marilena Berardinelli, a young Catholic teacher in Toronto, Ontario; she has participated in several World Youth Days; the World Youth Day in Rome changed her life, she said.)

Caring for the Environment in All Its Dimensions

As he flew from Rome to Australia, "the views afforded of our planet from the air were truly wondrous," Pope Benedict XVI said July 17 during a visit to Barangaroo, a Sydney suburb named for an indigenous woman. Addressing young people who gathered there to welcome him, the pope recalled the sense of awe evoked from the air by "the sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north African desert, the lushness of Asia's forestation, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the horizon upon which the sun rose and set, and the majestic splendor of Australia's natural beauty."

At the heart of the "marvel of creation," at the heart of the environment, one finds the human family and the human person "made in nothing less than God's own image and likeness," the pope said.

The pope asked his audience of youths if they recognized "that the innate dignity of every individual rests on his or her deepest identity -- as image of the Creator -- and therefore that human rights are universal, based on the natural law, and not something dependent upon negotiation or patronage, let alone compromise."

Because this is so, the pope continued, "we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies." He asked: "How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space -- the womb -- has become a place of unutterable violence?"

In the vision of the environment presented by Pope Benedict, "God's creation is one, and it is good." To care for creation, he suggested, is to care both for the world and its people.

"The concerns for nonviolence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity. They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death," the pope explained.

The scars marking the Earth's surface encompass "erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption," Pope Benedict said. He pointed out that some of those present at World Youth Day came from Pacific island nations "whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels," while others came "from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought."

Still other wounds are seen in the "social environment" of the world around us, said the pope. This indicates that something is "amiss." Pope Benedict said that "in our personal lives and in our communities, we can encounter a hostility, something dangerous; a poison which threatens to corrode what is good, reshape who we are and distort the purpose for which we have been created."

Pope Benedict cautioned young people "not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities." Life, he said, "is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are. It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices" and "exercise our freedom."

Then he said -- in what was virtually an overview of themes he would turn attention to during the remaining days of the world youth gathering - that "hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion."

The Legacy of Today's Youth

"What legacy will you leave to young people yet to come? What difference will you make?" Those two questions were asked of young people by Pope Benedict XVI during his homily July 20 for the World Youth Day's closing Mass in Sydney, Australia.

Both the world and the church need young people's gifts, the pope said. What gifts of the young does the church need? The church needs "your faith, your idealism and your generosity so that she can always be young in the Spirit," said the pope.

In many societies, "side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading," Pope Benedict said. He described this desert as a place of "interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair." In "a desperate search for meaning," many people in our times "have built broken and empty cisterns," said the pope.

But "a new generation of Christians is being called" to help build a new kind of world, Pope Benedict said -- "a world in which God's gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished, in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty." The pope offered a vision of "a new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships."

The Lord is asking young people today "to be prophets of this new age," said the pope. In an assessment of World Youth Day, the pope said that during the days of the Sydney gathering the participants' eyes were "opened to see the world around us as it truly is: 'charged,' as the poet says, 'with the grandeur of God,' filled with the glory of his creative love."