On Sunday evening, Pope Benedict addressed young people in the Italian city of Cagliari encouraging them to seek family, spiritual and intellectual formation and profound faith in response to the individualism and consumerism that characterize the world today.
The Pope began his address to those on the island of Sardinia by noting the particular problems that the youth face in today’s culture: unemployment and uncertainty, emigration and the resulting displacement from their environment.
"And what can we say," he added, "of the fact that in modern consumer society earnings and success have become the new idols before which so many prostrate themselves? The consequence of this is that people are led to give value only to those who ... 'have found fortune' or who are 'notorious,' and not to those who must struggle with life every day."
According to the Pontiff, "There is a risk of becoming superficial, of taking dangerous shortcuts in search of success, thus giving life up to experiences that bring immediate satisfaction but that are in themselves precarious and deceptive. There is a growing tendency to individualism, and when we concentrate only on ourselves we inevitably become fragile; we lose the patience to listen which is an indispensable part of understanding others and working together."
Rather than valuing these successes, the Pope recalled three values emphasized by John Paul II during his visit to Sardinia 23 years ago: family, intellectual and moral formation, and profound faith.
The Pope went on to describe the three values.
He first warned that the family must be safeguarded as an ancient tradition. “In the past, traditional society was more helpful in forming and protecting a family” while today, “other forms of cohabitation are admitted, and sometimes the term 'family' is used for unions that are not, in fact, families at all.”
"Dear young people," exhorted the Holy Father, "re-appropriate the value of the family! Love it not just for the sake of tradition, but as a mature and conscious choice." The Second Vatican Council, he recalled, described the family as a "small Church" because "marriage is a Sacrament, in other words a holy and effective sign of the love God gives us in Christ through the Church."
The Holy Father next turned his attention to “intellectual and moral formation.”
The crisis of a society begins when it no longer knows how to transmit its cultural heritage and its fundamental values to the new generations, the Pope observed. “I am not only referring to the system of education. The question is a broader one. ... Jesus said: 'The truth will make you free', yet modern nihilism preaches the opposite: that freedom will make you true. There are, indeed, those who maintain that there is no truth, thus opening the way to rendering the concepts of good and evil meaningless, even making them interchangeable."
The Pope then moved on to the third value, a “sincere and profound faith.”
"When a sense of the presence and reality of God is lost, everything becomes 'flat' and is reduced to a single dimension. Everything is 'squashed' into the material plane. The mystery of existence also disappears: things and people interest me not for themselves but in the degree to which they satisfy my needs,” he explained.
“Faith, in this sense, before being a religious belief, is a way of experiencing reality, a way of thinking, an interior sensibility which enriches human beings,” he continued. “Being with Jesus, frequenting Him as a friend in the Gospel and in the Sacraments, you may learn ... that which society is often no longer capable of giving you: a religious sense.”
Faced with these challenges, the Pope urged youth people to discover God and thus, “you will no longer be afraid to lose your freedom, because you will experience it fully by giving it for love. You will no longer be attached to material goods, because in yourselves you will feel the joy of sharing them. You will no longer be sad at the sadness of the world, but will experience pain for evil and joy for good, especially for mercy and forgiveness. ... If you really discover God in the face of Christ, you will no longer think of the Church as an institution external to yourselves, but as your spiritual family".
After his meeting with the young people, the Pope left Cagliari and returned to Rome by plane.