.- On Saturday evening, Pope Benedict XVI met with some 7,000 European and African University students, whom he urged toward greater fraternity, as well as the building of a “culture of love,” to counter what John Paul II had coined “the culture of death.”
The students had gathered in Rome for the forth European Day for Universities, during which, they explored the theme; "Christian humanism, the path of a new cooperation between Europe and Africa."
The Holy Father presided at an evening prayer vigil for the gathering where he was connected by satellite linkup to students in Bonn, Dublin, Freiburg, Madrid, Munich, Salamanca, St. Petersburg and Sofia, as well as the African cities of Abidjan, Antananarivo, Owerri and Nairobi.
The historic meeting was sponsored by the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) and the vicariate of Rome's office for pastoral care in universities.
The Pope’s time with the students began when he arrived in the Pope Paul VI Hall at 6p.m. to lead the recitation of the rosary. He then addressed the young people who were present in the Hall as well as those following the event via the satellite linkups.
He began by saying that "This Marian vigil so dear to Pope John Paul II,creates bridges of fraternity between the young university students of Europe, and this evening it extends those bridges to within the great continent of Africa, so that communion may grow among the new generations and the civilization of love may spread.”
“For this reason,” he said, “to our friends following us from Africa I wish to send a particularly affectionate embrace, which I would like to extend to all the dear African people."
The Holy Father then greeted students in Spanish, English, German, French, Russian and Bulgarian, before referring to his recent Encyclical "Deus caritas est," which he distributed copies of to ten student representatives.
"In this way," he said, "I intend to give it symbolically to all university students of Europe and Africa, in the hope that the fundamental truth of Christian faith - God is love - may illuminate the journey of each of you and, through your witness, may come to irradiate the lives of those who study with you."
The Pope continued, saying that "This truth concerning the love of God -origin, meaning and goal of the universe and of history - was revealed by Jesus Christ with His Word and His Life, most of all in His Paschal death and resurrection.”
“It lies”, he stressed, “at the base of Christian knowledge which, like leavening, has the capacity to ferment all human cultures, bringing them to express the best of themselves and cooperate in developing a more just and peaceful world."
In preparation for the upcoming 21st World Youth Day, which will be celebrated on Palm Sunday of this year in various dioceses, the Pope encouraged the students to read his recently released Message for the occasion.
Likewise, he urged those who could, to participate in the traditional meeting in St.Peter's Square, due to take place on April 6th.
There, he said,"We will welcome the pilgrim Cross which has come from Cologne, Germany and, a year after his death, recall with grateful hearts my great predecessor John Paul II."
Following Pope Benedict’s address, the group concluded the Day with a pilgrimage of the university students' cross from the Paul VI Hall to the Church of St. Agnes in Rome's Piazza Navona.