.- Pope Benedict XVI told over a million young pilgrims to World Youth Day that the best way to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is through the Catholic Church.
“Following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church. We cannot follow Jesus on our own,” he said in his homily at the event's closing Mass at Cuarto Vientos airbase on the outskirts of Madrid.
“Anyone who would be tempted to do so ‘on his own,’ or to approach the life of faith with the kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.”
The Pope delivered his sermon in the searing heat of the morning, a contrast to the thunderstorm he’d endured during a prayer vigil at the same venue the night before.
“I hope you were able to sleep a bit,” said the Pope to the young people just before Mass. He encouraged them to leave Madrid “firm in the faith,” in keeping with the event's theme of becoming strongly rooted in Christ.
Remarkably, the young pilgrims seemed unfazed by both extremes of weather, greeting the Pope’s arrival with a sea of world flags and cheers of “El Papa! Viva!”
The Pope drew his message from the day's Gospel reading, in which St. Peter responds to Jesus’s question “Who do you say that I am?” with the answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ, in turn, proclaims: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”
“The Church, then, is not simply a human institution, like any other. Rather, she is closely joined to God,” said the Pope.
“Christ himself speaks of her as ‘his’ Church. Christ cannot be separated from the Church any more than the head can be separated from the body. The Church does not draw her life from herself, but from the Lord.”
In the presence of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain, the Pope said the Catholic Church is the answer to a question that often arises today.
“There are many people today who feel attracted by the figure of Christ and want to know him better,” realizing that “he is the answer to so many of our deepest concerns. But who is he really? How can someone who lived on this earth so long ago have anything in common with me today?”
The answer, said the Pope, was Christ’s presence continuing through history in the Catholic Church.
The universality of that Church showed throughout the Mass, with readings and prayers delivered in an array of languages including Spanish, Italian, Polish, Arabic, Chinese, and the Church's traditional Latin. In fact, like many World Youth Day events, the Papal liturgy combined traditional and more modern Catholic elements.
The Pope told young people that they, like Peter, “have been given the extraordinary task of being disciples and missionaries of Christ” – in their case, missionaries to their peers who “are looking for something greater and, because their heart tells them that more authentic values do exist, they do not let themselves be seduced by the empty promises of a lifestyle which has no room for God.”
“The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God,” said the Pope, “I think that the presence here of so many young people, coming from all over the world, is a wonderful proof of the fruitfulness of Christ’s command to the Church: 'Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.'”
The only disappointment for many pilgrims was that most were unable to receive Communion during Mass. This was due to the fact that many of the 17 Eucharistic chapels around the venue had blown down in last night’s storm while others had to be dismantled due to safety fears.
Pope Benedict ended by telling the young people that he prayed for them “with heartfelt affection,” that they would “grow in holiness of life” and “be effective witnesses to the truth that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the savior of all mankind and the living source of our hope. Amen.”