This week I have had the opportunity to watch some of the rebroadcasts on Salt + Light
of the World Youth Day 2008 experience in Sydney, Australia. Often when we are "in the thick" of the adventure, it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude, depth and utter beauty of the event. This week I have had the privilege of watching again the spectacular scenes, hearing anew the profound messages of Pope Benedict XVI, admiring the diligent work of the Salt and Light crew that accompanied me "down under", and giving thanks to God to all those, especially the Knights of Columbus, who made our coverage of this splendid "ecclesial happening" possible!
Pope Benedict XVI taught some powerful summer school lessons at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia last month. The mega gathering of young people in Sydney afforded Pope Benedict the opportunity to articulate his concern for nature, ecology and the environment. By appealing to the ecological and environmental sensitivities of young people, the Pope taught them that they really believe God created all things and that God's plan for creation must be respected.
Public piety and devotion
The stunning presentation of the Stations of the Cross at Sydney’s most striking sites was a highly effective Gospel teaching instrument and method in a relatively new Christian land. The pageant was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people in the city, and by a television audience of about 500 million viewers. Condemned to death at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jesus was whipped and scourged at the majestic Sydney Opera House. Jesus and the cross were then taken by barge under the majestic Sydney Harbor Bridge to Darling Harbor, where the Lord was helped by Simon of Cyrene, played by an Aboriginal actor who caused Australians to reflect on the way that colonial powers captured and manacled indigenous people on the edges of the Australian frontier in the 19th century.
In the fading light of that Australian winter Friday night, Jesus was then dragged to centre stage, stripped of his robes and tied to a wooden and metal cross that was hydraulically raised up for the final torment overlooking Sydney’s Harbor. Echoing the historic WYD 2002 Stations of the Cross in Toronto, the Lord’s body was gently lowered by a long satin cloth, cradled by a sorrowful Mary, and carried on the shoulders of His disciples through the throngs of mourners along the harbor. The dramatic ending set the stage for Christ’s resurrection.
“Alive” in Darlinghurst
At the end of the Stations of the Cross, the Pope met young people with histories of drug addiction and other problems who are following the "Alive" rehabilitation programme. The Pope spoke openly with them about today’s false gods and the worship of three things: material possessions, possessive love, or power.
“Dear friends, I see you as ambassadors of hope to others in similar situations. You can convince them of the need to choose the path of life and shun the path of death, because you speak from experience. All through the Gospels, it was those who had taken wrong turns who were particularly loved by Jesus, because once they recognized their mistake, they were all the more open to his healing message.”
Moment of Renewal for the Australian Church
Pope Benedict used the occasion of the July 19th Saturday morning mass to personally identify with the pain of the victims of clerical sex abuse in Australia, going even further than the apology he issued in the United States several months earlier: "Here I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country. Indeed, I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured, and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering. These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation.”
Benedict’s new age proclaimed in Sydney
At the liturgy on Sunday July 20, culminating six days of public and private events of World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the spiritual desert that is spreading; interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, and a quiet sense of despair afflicting humanity. He also described a new generation of Christians “that is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished – not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. A new age 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.”
World Youth Day does not belong to one Pope
In remarks at the concluding Mass thanking Pope Benedict XVI, Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell said that World Youth Day acts as an antidote to images of Catholicism as in decline or wracked by controversy. "It shows the church as it really is, alive with evangelical energy." “Your Holiness, the World Youth Days were the invention of Pope John Paul the Great. …[yet] World Youth Days do not belong to one pope, or even one generation, but are now an ordinary part of the life of the Church.”
Benedict XVI provided Australia with a program for the spiritual and social renewal of an entire nation. Whereas the Olympic Games, brought much luster and glitz to the land down under in 2000, World Youth Day 2008 brought not gold, silver and bronze medals, but something even greater: it gave Australia and Sydney a soul and a future.
Today I thank God for the wisdom and genius of Pope John Paul II for inventing this powerful instrument of the New Evangelization that is now known as World Youth Day. And I give thanks to God for Pope Benedict XVI who continues the tradition. Thank God that such events are now an ordinary part of the life of the Church... to give hope to the world.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
Photos courtesy wyd2008.org/Getty Images