Over half a million people gathered at Sydney Harbor on Thursday to welcome Pope Benedict to World Youth Day and listen to his message. The Pontiff challenged the youth to not separate freedom and tolerance from the truth.
Analyzing today’s secular culture, Pope Benedict said, “There is also something sinister which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth. This is fuelled by the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives.”
The consequence of believing in relativism, the Holy Father observed, is that “practically everything” is indiscriminately given value, which makes "experience" all-important.
“Yet, experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead, not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair,” the Pontiff told the youth.
In contrast with this loss of values and despair about life, Benedict XVI offered hope.
“Dear friends, life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Your very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose!” he proclaimed.
“Life is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are. It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy.”
Pope Benedict also tackled the dangers of materialism, exhorting the youth, “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,” Benedict encouraged.
In answer to the question of how people can receive what Christ offers them, the Holy Father turned to reflect on Baptism. He reminded the pilgrims that in Baptism, “You were adopted as a son or daughter of the Father. You were incorporated into Christ. You were made a dwelling place of his Spirit.” Indeed, in Baptism, "you have become a new creation," the Pope said echoing the prayers of Baptism.
“Dear friends,” Benedict XVI said, “in your homes, schools and universities, in your places of work and recreation, remember that you are a new creation! ... 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 admitted that bearing witness to Jesus is not easy in modern society. He brought to mind how, “There are many today who claim that God should be left on the sidelines, and that religion and faith, while fine for individuals, should either be excluded from the public forum altogether or included only in the pursuit of limited pragmatic goals.”
Although this worldview “presents itself as neutral, impartial and inclusive of everyone,” Pope Benedict explained that, “in reality, like every ideology, secularism imposes a world-view.”
The consequences of this type of living without God are that, “society will be shaped in a godless image, and debate and policy concerning the public good will be driven more by consequences than by principles grounded in truth,” Benedict warned.
He closed his address by noting that the “world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises.”
The answer to this brokenness is “a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion,” the Pope said.
Pointing back the theme of World Youth Day— 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses’—Pope Benedict exclaimed, “This is the work of the Holy Spirit! This is the hope held out by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to bear witness to this reality that you were created anew at Baptism and strengthened through the gifts of the Spirit at Confirmation. Let this be the message that you bring from Sydney to the world!”