World Youth Day Coverage
Posted Sunday, August 21, 2005 at 12:23 p.m. CDT

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Coverage of World Youth Day exclusively by NCR

Report #4:
Do-it-yourself religion 'cannot ultimately help us,' pope tells youth
'Preserve communion with the pope and the bishops,' Benedict says

NCR Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr. is in Cologne, Germany. will post daily reports from World Youth Day through Aug. 21. Bookmark this page or check back with to read more coverage of this international Catholic event.

John L. Allen Jr.


Cologne, Germany

One day before he was elected pope on April 19, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger defined the core challenge facing the Catholic church as a "dictatorship of relativism" in the West, against which the church must reassert objective truth, which finds its focal point in the person of Jesus Christ.

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The struggle against the "dictatorship of relativism" is expected by many to be the cornerstone of Benedict's pontificate.

Pope Benedict XVI arrives for the World Youth Day Mass at Marienfeld outside Cologne, Germany, Aug. 21. The service attended by more than 1 million people concluded the international Catholic youth gathering.
Oddly enough, however, Benedict XVI did not touch much on this theme over the first three days of his debut on the international stage. On Sunday, however, it took center stage.

In his homily at the Mass concluding World Youth Day, Benedict challenged the crowd of one million gathered on the Marienfeld plain outside Cologne to submit to God, not as a denial of their freedom, but as an embrace of a truth that saves.

"Freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good," he said.

He took square aim at what is sometimes called "cafeteria Catholicism" -- the tendency of believers to pick and choose among church teachings, constructing their own system.

Read more NCR coverage of World Youth Day
  • Report #4: Do-it-yourself religion 'cannot ultimately help us,' pope tells youth. Posted Aug. 21, 12:23 p.m.
  • Correspondent's Notebook #4: WYD 'rehabilitates' Joseph Ratzinger; Pope and teacher; Meeting with seminarians; Diversity among youth; WYD liturgical styles; Some ripples of dissent. Posted Aug. 21, 12:23 p.m.
  • Report #3: Benedict uses meeting with Muslims to condemn terrorism. Posted Aug. 20, 12:54 p.m. Updated at 4:56 p.m.
  • Correspondent's Notebook #3: Cardinal Pell sums up youth day message; Aussies prepare for 2008; Sant'Egidio community in Cologne; Contemplating WYD without a pope; Synagogue visit reaction. Posted Aug. 20, 12:54 p.m.
  • Report #2: Benedict acknowledges progress, challenges in Catholic-Jewish relations; Also meets with Catholic seminarians, German Protestants. Posted Aug. 19, 12:19 p.m.
  • Correspondent's Notebook #2: The pope at the synagogue; Assessing Benedict so far; The Magi pilgrims; On the papal plane; Some snags in logistics. Posted Aug. 19, 12:19 p.m.
  • Report #1: Picking up where John Paul II left off. Posted Aug. 18, 2:35 p.m.
  • Correspondent's Notebook #1: Who attends World Youth Day?; Benedict arrives; Condolences to Taizé; WYD trivia and Americans in Cologne; Visa problems; Security issues; Comic relief. Posted Aug. 18, 2:35 p.m.
  • "Religion constructed on a 'do-it-yourself' basis cannot ultimately help us," he said.

    Yet the pope did not cite specific instances of dissent, such as the church's teachings on birth control or homosexuality, leaving his listeners to draw their own conclusions.

    Benedict came at the theme of coherence again in an afternoon meeting with the German bishops.

    "Young people … are not looking for a church which panders to youth but one which is truly young in spirit; a church completely open to Christ, the new Man," he said.

    "There can be no false compromise, no watering down of the Gospel."

    The large crowd at Marienfeld responded enthusiastically to Benedict, repeatedly breaking into applause and chanting Bene-detto!

    Yet there was no attempt during this trip to ape the populist charisma of John Paul II. Benedict only departed once from his prepared scripts over the four days, explaining to the crowd on Sunday morning that he would have liked to take an extensive swing through the crowd in the Popemobile, but logistical difficulties made that impossible.

    Many in the vast crowd had spent Saturday night sleeping outside in unseasonably chilly weather. Organizers said that 600 young pilgrims turned up at the crack of dawn on Saturday in order to get choice places, and Marienfeld had to be opened three hours ahead of schedule to accommodate them.

    His Sunday homily turned on a core principle in Benedict's thought -- that following the laws of God and of the church is not a restriction on one's freedom, but the gateway to true liberation.

    "Recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow," the pope said, is the true significance of submission.

    "This gesture is necessary, even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it."

    Opening one's self to Christ, the pope said, means also opening to the church.

    "This is why love for sacred scripture is so important," he said, "and in consequence, it is important to know the faith of the church which opens up for us the meaning of scripture."

    Noting that there is a growing religious hunger in many parts of the world, Benedict said he has "no wish to discredit all the manifestations of this phenomenon."

    At the same time, however, the endorsement came with a warning.

    "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," he said.

    Returning to a theme he unfolded at length Saturday night, Benedict told the youth that while their desire to change the world is fully legitimate, any attempt to do so that forgets God will ultimately end in frustration.

    One finds in the Eucharist, the pope said, "the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world: Violence is transformed into love and death into life."

    In an eloquent turn of phrase, he spoke of the Eucharist as triggering a chain reaction of transformations.

    "This is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being -- the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death," he said. "Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world."

    Pope Benedict urged the young pilgrims "to preserve communion with the pope and the bishops."

    In an almost paternal tone, the pope urged the gathered youth to make time for Mass on Sunday.

    "Sometimes, our initial impression is that having to include time for Mass on a Sunday is rather inconvenient," he said. "But if you make the effort, you will realize that this is what gives a proper focus to your free time."

    On the whole, organizers seemed to feel that the German pope's four-day return to his homeland was triumphant.

    "It was marvelous," Matthias Kopp, the spokesperson for World Youth Day in Cologne, told NCR Aug. 21 after the pope's concluding Mass. Kopp said that plans for the Mass at Marienfeld had been based on projections of 800,000 people, and in the event around 1 million came.

    "It shows that the church in Germany, which can sometimes seem a bit old, also has a young face."

    Speaking on background to NCR Aug. 20, a senior official on the planning team said part of what they hoped to accomplish in Cologne was to "rehabilitate" Joseph Ratzinger in the court of German public opinion, where he has sometimes been seen as a foreboding figure. Images of the pope smiling and waving during his Thursday boat ride on the Rhine, reaching out to Jews and Muslims, and basking in the enthusiasm of up to a million young people Sunday morning, drew wide play in the German media.

    A German bishop has already said that Benedict intends to make another trip to Germany in 2006, to visit his home in the Bavarian city of Regensburg, where his older brother Georg resides. Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg made the announcement Aug. 9.

    As expected, Benedict XVI announced on Sunday that the next World Youth Day will take place in Sydney, Australia, in 2008. Though he did not give the dates, they are now set for July 15-20, following the normal Tuesday through Sunday format of previous World Youth Day celebrations.

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    Pope Benedict did not give a clear indication today of whether he intends to be present for the Sydney event. Though he seemed energetic and refreshed this week, in 2008 he will be 81 years old, raising questions about whether his health will permit the trip. Further, it's not yet clear whether as a matter of policy he believes the physical presence of the pope is required.

    Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, however, in an interview with NCR on Aug. 20, called the pope's participation "almost essential" to the success of the event.

    Given the distance and costs involved with travel to Australia, local turnout looms as especially critical for the Sydney event. On that score, Cologne may not be the best model; of the 415,178 young people registered for the events during the week, only 83,929 were German.

    Organizers announced on Sunday that as a sign of solidarity with the poor, the Mass collection would be distributed to youth in the Holy Land and victims of the Asian tsunami.

    Editor's Note: Also read Allen's Correspondent's Notebook for today.

    August 21, 2005, National Catholic Reporter

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