.- Throngs of young people from around the Diocese of Rome gathered in St. Peter’s Square yesterday evening to meet with Pope Benedict XVI and prepare for the 21st World Youth Day, which will be celebrated in Rome and throughout the world on Palm Sunday.
The theme of World Youth Day, which is celebrated alternately on local and international levels every other year, is: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
At 6 p.m., the Holy Father arrived into the midst of an evening of prayer, music and dancing and greeted the young people. Shortly afterward, the World Youth Day pilgrim was carried into the square by a group of youth from the German city of Cologne, the site of last year's WYD.
During his time with them, the Pope answered questions from five young people chosen for the occasion. They concerned themes of Holy Scripture, love, apostolate, vocation, and the relationship between science and faith.
Responding to the first question, from an engineering student who asked whether Holy Scripture is always the Word of God, the Holy Father said that "The Bible cannot be read as if it were a history book. ... The Word cannot be read as an academic exercise, but by praying and saying to God: 'Help me to understand Your Word'."
The Pope also stressed the importance of reading Scripture while closely following "the masters of 'Lectio Divina,' ... in the company of the People of God, and in communion with the Church which transmits the Word down through the centuries."
Secondly, Benedict responded to a question on the nature of love, recalling from scripture that a "man will abandon his father and his mother; he will follow a woman and they will become one flesh, one life. From the beginning, then, we are given a prophecy of what marriage is, a vision that will remain the same in the New Testament.”
“It is a Sacrament of the Creator of the Universe inscribed in human beings themselves,” he said, “Thus, it is not an invention of the Church."
The Pope also treated the crowd with some insight into his own life as he recalled his own decision to become a priest.
Responding to a young man who has asked him about vocations, Benedict said, "I grew up in a world very different from ours…on the one hand there was a 'situation of Christianity' and it was normal to go to church, on the other we lived under the Nazi regime which sought a world without priests. Faced with this brutal and inhuman culture, I understood that the Gospel and the faith show us the right path to follow."
He also noted other factors which helped him discover his vocation, such as theology and the "beauty of the liturgy.”
“Obviously”, he said, “there was no lack of difficulties and I asked myself if I would manage to live my entire life in celibacy, aware that theology was not enough to be a good priest. ... Courage and humility are also necessary, as are the trust and openness to ask oneself what the Lord wants.”
“It is a great adventure,” he said, “but life can only be lived if we have the courage to dare and the faith that the Lord will not abandon us."
Finally, speaking about faith and science, Benedict said that "There is an intelligence that precedes mathematics and natural laws, the intelligence of God; in other words, an 'intelligent plan' which created both nature with its laws and the human mind."
"There are two possibilities," the Pope told the crowd, "God exists or He does not exist. In other words, we recognize the precedence of a creative intellect ... or we uphold the precedence of the irrational.”
“In the end,” he said, “we cannot speak of 'proving' one project or the other, but the great option of Christianity is the option for rationality, for the precedence of reason."
Following his meeting with the young people, the Pope handed out Bibles to a number of those present, calling the scriptures "a lamp to your feet."
He also recalled
his predecessor, John Paul II, whom he called "a great witness to the
Word of God." At the end of the evening, he and a number of youth went
down to the Vatican Grottoes to pray before the tomb of the late Pope
who originally initiated the World Youth Day celebrations.