08/22/2005, 00.00

Benedict XVI's and the WYD's challenge: Being Christian is something true and beautiful

by Bernardo Cervellera

The millions of pilgrims who braved the fog and heat of Cologne are already back home. Before they left, the Pope urged them to follow in the footsteps of the Magi, the three wise men, and go back "by another way", not the trite one of a "do-it-yourself" religion or the freedom to "enjoy life", but via the road to "become men of truth, righteousness, goodness, forgiveness and mercy".

What Pope Ratzinger is proposing to young people is not a value-oriented Christianity that secular agnosticism likes so much but a faith that is based on adoration (i.e. ad-oratio, mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence ultimately love ), a relationship with the living and real Jesus Christ, whom we can meet in the Church.

In his first interview with Vatican Radio, the Pope said that in Cologne he wanted to tell young people that "it is beautiful to be Christian". I think he succeeded. Some excerpts of his speeches are remarkably beautiful and profound. The "defenceless power of love, which succumbs to death on the Cross, and dies ever anew throughout history", the power of Jesus to transform His death into "an act of total self-giving love" show the uniqueness of the character of Jesus Christ among today's religions.

Judaism and Islam

In the moving visit to Cologne's Jewish community, Benedict XVI highlighted again Christianity's Jewish legacy. In reading the Last Supper, he showed how much Jesus' action owed to Passover. The Pope did not however hide the "new" that Jesus brought with his sacrifice on the Cross and the value of his "Hour" to which he called His disciples.

During the visit to Cologne's synagogue, he also called on Jews and Christians to fight not only anti-Semitism but also the "various forms of a general hostility towards foreigners."

During the vigil at Marienfeld, the Pope warned young people against seeking in Christ the true face of God because "[t]here are many who speak of God; some even preach hatred and perpetrate violence in God."

The day before, a similar plea was made to our "Muslim friends", when he spoke of terrorism as something "perverse and cruel" that uses any means "to poison our relations", including "religion".

True revolution and reform

We dare hope that the true question in Benedict XVI's mind was not so much religion but the materialism of today's ideologies, which, having forgotten their original raison d'être, now seek only power.

He clearly contrasted the "defenceless power" of the Cross" to the "noisy and ostentatious power of this world". He juxtaposed revolutions that without God become totalitarian, to the Saints, true "revolutionary" and "reformers". "[O]nly from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world," he said.

In his view, consumerism is as much a problem as revolutionary Marxism, an individualism that seeks self-gratification and makes absolute what is relative and always asks "what is this for".

It is this practical atheism that informs a "do-it-yourself" religiosity and provides a "private God" that prevents people from making a commitment in the world.

While Benedict XVI strips today's ideologies of their "revolutionary" or "reformist" pretensions, he also urges atheists to discover the truth in their hearts. People have always been waiting for a change and a transformation of the world, and totalitarianism does not free man, but strips him of his dignity and enslaves him. Ideologies do not save the world; only the living God can. He is the only one who can guarantee what is truly good and true.

Diluted Christianity

Speaking to young people in Cologne, the Pope challenged them by proposing a form of Christianity that is not based on feelings and emotions, but on a relationship with Christ and intelligent choice, a Christianity that is both reason and heart.

The young people understood him and for this reason loved him. The constant applause his words received, the sympathy expressed to him, the silence and Eucharistic adoration during the vigil—a first for the WYD when revelling was more common—show how the Pope and young people are on the same wavelength.

The enthusiastic and thoughtful response young people showed are a challenge for us, their teachers. It is a challenge for those priests and lay people who prefer to offer a 'diluted' Christianity, with lots of shows ("to draw young people") and little prayer, a faith reduced to an ideology without Christ, "committed" perhaps but one that seeks only power and does not distinguish what is true from what is false.

From Cologne comes a message that underscores the close relationship between the Pope and the young people, a relationship that is also a challenge to world powers. To the extent that they believe they can build something without God playing too much of a role, they end up building political and cultural totalitarianism.

The Pope and the young people attending the WYD are challenging and making an appeal to the billions of Westerners who have strangely forgotten God and enjoy an apparent bourgeois tranquility without Him, but who, in reality, are suffering from a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction.

To a world that seeks immediate gratification and power, Cologne is proposing faith as the path to happiness via service to Christ and man, the poor, the suffering and the elderly.

The happiness visible on the faces of young people and the calm joy on that of the Pope are promising. Seeing is believing.

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See also
At least 400,000 registered for World Youth Day
Pope: Discover Christ to resolve forgetfulness of God and "do-it-yourself" religion
Benedict XVI: The 2008 WYD will be in Sydney
Card. Toppo: "Criticism against the pope swept away by the youths in Cologne"
Benedict XVI: WYD, where cultures and traditions meet, a blessing for Germany and the world