In his first public meeting with young people for World Youth day at Barangaroo Dock, Benedict XVI offered them not only the event’s programme but also that of a lifetime, i.e. to bear witness to the novelty of faith which a thirsty humanity seeks.
“Dear friends, in your homes, schools and universities, in your places of work and recreation, remember that you are a new creation! Not only do you stand before the Creator in awe, rejoicing at his works, you also realize that the sure foundation of humanity’s solidarity lies in the common origin of every person, the high-point of God’s creative design for the world. As Christians you stand in this world knowing that God has a human face—Jesus Christ—the "way" who satisfies all human yearning, and the "life" to which we are called to bear witness, walking always in his light.”
The Pope arrived in Barangaroo on board a ship called the ‘Sydney 2000’, surrounded by a group of young people, each wearing his or her national dress, as smaller boats created a path through the sea with jets of water and the sound of sirens; others followed.
In greeting the Pope, Card George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, said that Australia had not seen a welcome like this since the times of the first Catholic bishop.
Before he boarded the ship Benedict XVI was welcomed by Aborigines performing tribal dances and Aboriginal elders.
In the official greeting to the authorities, the Pope thanked the Australian government for its courage to ask the Aborigines for their forgiveness for the abuses suffered by their culture and people.
The crowd of 150,000 young that had taken part in the catechesis in the morning waited for Benedict XVI amid songs, dances and multicolour flags, much enthusiasm and amazing friendships, given the many geographical and cultural horizons they hailed from.
In speaking to the crowd of young people the Pope artfully touched every cord: a poetic accent for nature, creation and the wonder for its “apex”, man who is its keeper; a sombre and pained accent for social and environmental problems in which the “exaltation of violence and sexual degradation [is] often presented through television and the internet as entertainment;” the condemnation of relativism for lacking in truth and goodness, for putting God on “the sidelines”, for violating nature and holding human dignity in contempt; a comforting accent for young people who may be rudderless, telling them their life is loved and blessed by God, that it has a purpose.
The ecology of creation and the poison of relativism
Benedict XVI talked about his flight, referring to 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 splendour of Australia’s natural beauty which I have been able to enjoy these last couple of days”. “At the heart of the marvel of creation,” he added, “are you and I, the human family [. . .], men and women, made in nothing less than God’s own image and likeness (cf Gen 1:26).)”.
But he also spoke about the “wounds” to the earth: “erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption;” nations threatened “by rising water levels (threatening some Polynesian islands); [. . .] nations suffering the effects of devastating drought.”
For the Pope there is “a poison which threatens to corrode what is good.” That “poison” is nurtured by relativism, the notion that there are no truths to guide our lives or that anything good exists, the exaltation of nihilism disguised as “freedom and tolerance”, the elimination of God from public life.
“When God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose, and the ‘good’ begins to wane,” Benedict XVI said. “What was ostensibly promoted as human ingenuity soon manifests itself as folly, greed and selfish exploitation.”
For the Pope relativism is guilty of marginalising the “poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless,” domestic violence against “so many mothers and children”, the evil of abortion whereby “the most wondrous and sacred human space—the womb—has become a place of unutterable violence.”
“Life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Your very existence has been willed by God [. . .]. Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth. Christ offers more! Indeed he offers everything! Only he who is the Truth can be the Way and hence also the Life.”
Be a missionary towards those who do not believe
In calling on young people to make the commitment of bearing witness and recreating the world, Benedict XVI offers them the example of the missionaries who evangelised Australia.
“Today, we think of those pioneering Priests, Sisters and Brothers who came to these shores, and to other parts of the Pacific, from Ireland, France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The great majority were young—some still in their late teens—and when they bade farewell to their parents, brothers and sisters, and friends, they knew they were unlikely ever to return home. Their whole lives were a selfless Christian witness. They became the humble but tenacious builders of so much of the social and spiritual heritage which still today brings goodness, compassion and purpose to these nations. And they went on to inspire another generation.”
In his Message for Sydney’s World Youth Day the pontiff had urged young people to invite at least a friend. This concern for those who have no faith and are waiting to find meaning in life was also in the Pope’s words today.
“This evening I wish also to include those who are not present among us. I am thinking especially of the sick or mentally ill, young people in prison, those struggling on the margins of our societies, and those who for whatever reason feel alienated from the Church. To them I say: Jesus is close to you! Feel his healing embrace, his compassion and mercy!”
Likewise “a good number of you are still seeking a spiritual homeland. Some of you, most welcome among us, are not Catholic or Christian. Others of you perhaps hover at the edge of parish and Church life.”
Indeed Catholics but also Anglicans, Evangelicals, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were in the human tide that swept over Barangaroo Dock.
“To you,” said the Pope, “I wish to offer encouragement: step forward into Christ’s loving embrace; recognize the Church as your home.”