“A prophetic intuition” of the “unforgettable” predecessor, destined to mark out a “great springtime of hope” for Europe and the world: this is Benedict XVI’s definition of the World Youth Day.
At the general audience held on Wednesday 24 August the Pope spoke about his trip to Germany, recounting aspects of its most significant moments. Seven thousand filled the Paul VI Hall and included an interfaith delegation from Nagasaki, Japan, and a group of Buddhist religious.
From Benedict XVI’s address:
“Divine Providence willed that my first pastoral trip outside of Italy should have, precisely as its object, my country of origin and that it should be on the occasion of the great meeting of young people of the world, 20 years after the institution of World Youth Day, established with prophetic intuition by my unforgettable Predecessor.
The ideal embrace with young participants in the World Youth Day began from the moment of my arrival at the Cologne-Bonn airport and became ever more charged with emotions when sailing on the Rhine from the Rodenkirchenbruecke pier to Cologne escorted by five other vessels representing the five continents. Evocative, also, was the pause in front of the Poller Rheinwiesen wharf where thousands upon thousands of young people awaited, with whom I had the first official meeting, called appropriately “welcome festival” and which had as its motto the words of the Magi “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2a).
It was precisely the Magi who were the “guides” of those young pilgrims to Christ. How significant it is that all this took place as we prepare for the conclusion of the Eucharistic Year called by John Paul II! “We Have Come to Worship Him”: The theme of the meeting invited everyone theoretically to follow the Magi, and to undertake together with them an interior journey of conversion to the Emmanuel, the God-with-us, to know him, meet him, adore him, and after meeting and adoring him, to then depart bearing in spirit, in the depth of our being, his light and joy.
In Cologne, young people had repeated opportunities to reflect profoundly on these spiritual themes and felt themselves driven by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Christ, who in the Eucharist has promised to remain really present among us until the end of the world. I recall the different moments that I had the joy of sharing with them, especially in the Saturday evening Vigil and Sunday’s concluding celebration. Millions of other young people from all corners of the earth were joined to these thought-provoking manifestations of faith thanks to providential radio and television connections.
But I would like to recall here a singular meeting, the one with the seminarians, young men called to a more radical following of Christ, Teacher and Shepherd. I wished to have a specific time dedicated to them, to highlight also the vocational dimension typical of World Youth Day. Not a few vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life have flowered in these 20 years, privileged occasions in which the Holy Spirit makes his call heard.
Very well placed in the rich context of hope of the Cologne Day, was the ecumenical meeting with representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial communities. Germany’s role in the ecumenical dialogue is important whether because of the sad history of divisions or the significant part played in the path of reconciliation. I hope, moreover, that the dialogue, as a reciprocal exchange of gifts and not just of words, will contribute to make that ordered and harmonious “symphony” grow, which is Catholic unity. In such a perspective, World Youth Day represents a valid ecumenical “laboratory.”
And how can I not relive with emotion the visit to the Synagogue of Cologne, where the oldest Jewish community has its headquarters? With our Jewish brothers I remembered the Shoah and the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. This year, moreover, marks the 40th anniversary of the conciliar declaration “Nostra Aetate,” which opened a new season of dialogue and spiritual solidarity between Jews and Christians, as well as of esteem for the other great religious traditions. Among these, a particular place is held by Islam, whose followers worship the one God and refer gladly to the Patriarch Abraham. For this reason I wanted to meet with representatives of some Muslim communities, to which I expressed the hopes and concerns of the difficult historical moment that we are going through, hoping that fanaticism and violence will be extirpated and that we will be able to collaborate together in defending always the dignity of the human person and in protecting his fundamental rights.
Dear brothers and sisters, from the heart of “old” Europe, which in the past century, unfortunately, knew horrendous conflicts and inhuman regimes, young people relaunched to the humanity of our time the message of hope that does not disappoint, because it is founded on the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, dead and risen for our salvation. In Cologne, young people met and worshipped the Emmanuel, the God-with-us, in the mystery of the Eucharist and understood better that the Church is the great family through which God creates a space of communion and unity among all continents, cultures and races, a — so to speak — “great group of pilgrims” led by Christ, radiant star that illuminates history.
Jesus makes himself our travel companion in the Eucharist, and, in the Eucharist — as I said in the homily of the concluding celebration, borrowing a well-known image from physics — effects a “nuclear fission” in the depth of the being. Only this profound explosion of goodness that overcomes evil can give life to the other transformations necessary to change the world. Let us pray therefore so that the young people of Cologne will bear with them the light of Christ, who is truth and love and will spread it everywhere. In this way we will be able to witness a springtime of hope in Germany, Europe and the whole world.”