July 25, 2008


Search for the good, the true and the beautiful

What can an 81-year-old man tell young people that they’re likely to remember and take to heart?

How about this? Of the many thousands of words that Pope Benedict XVI spoke to those attending World Youth Day in Australia, we found these statements in the middle of the address that he gave when he was welcomed in Sydney Harbor: “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.”

He went on to say that this search should end in Christ because “he offers everything! Only he who is the Truth can be the Way and hence also the Life.”

This was the 23rd World Youth Day, or WYD XXIII. (Like our Super Bowls, the Vatican—with greater justification—counts them in Roman numerals.)

Earlier in that welcoming address, the pope spoke about the marvels of God’s creation that he saw on his

20-hour-plus flight. He then spoke of the “scars which mark the surface of our Earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption.”

The Associated Press reported that part of his talk, noting that he “struck a theme that has earned him a reputation as the ‘green pope.’ ” However, at least in the article we saw, it failed to quote what the pope said next. He said that, although safeguarding the environment is important, the center of God’s creation is the human being, whose life and dignity must be safeguarded first of all.

Society, too, he said, has “scars, wounds indicating that something is amiss,” and “the poison that threatens to erode what is good” can be seen in alcohol and drug abuse, violence and the degradation of human sexuality.

“How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space—the womb—has become a place of unutterable violence?” he asked.

The pope spoke mainly to the 400,000 youth from around the world, including 91 from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and a group from China. What he said, however, is relevant for all of us.

Benedict the theologian gave a magnificent seminar on the Holy Spirit, beginning with his welcoming speech about the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism, continuing especially in his homily at the vigil on July 19 and culminating with the confirmation of 24 youths at his Mass on July 20.

He took much of his lesson from the teachings of St. Augustine—not surprisingly since he wrote his doctoral dissertation on St. Augustine’s ecclesiology. He said that Augustine’s unique insight was that the Holy Spirit’s particular quality is unity, abiding love and gift.

“Inspired by the insights of St. Augustine,” he said, “let unifying love be your measure; abiding love your challenge; self-giving love your mission!”

Time and again, the pope also returned to his condemnation of relativism—“the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives.” This philosophy, he said, “by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything,” 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.”

In his closing address, he said, “Dear young people, let me now ask you a question: What will you leave to the next generation?” He encouraged them “to be prophets of this new age, messengers of his love, drawing people to the Father and building a future of hope for all humanity.” The world needs this renewal, he said, because “a spiritual desert is spreading.”

We hope you will read our coverage of World Youth Day in this issue, including reports from freelance writer Katie Berger about our local pilgrims. But we could not cover it all. We invite you to see more on our WYD weblog at www.archindy.org/wyd. You can also read all of the pope’s speeches during his July 12-21 apostolic journey to Australia—including his talks to ecumenical and at interreligious groups—on the Vatican’s Web site at www.vatican.va. Just click on the Sydney 2008 icon.

—John F. Fink

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