Pell offers hope when many despair

28 Jul 2008

By The Record

By Anthony Barich and Catherine Smibert

Cardinal George Pell gave a message of welcome and hope to an energised
crowd gathered together for the opening Mass of World Youth Day.


Aboriginal dancers perform a Welcome to Country dance before the Opening Mass of World Youth Day at Barangaroo, Sydney, on July 15, as police secure the area. Photo: Anthony Barich


the Mass got under way at Barangaroo on July 15, the some 150,000 youth were
greeted by warm weather in Sydney and a welcome event celebrating
indigenous culture. And the young people got a text message from none
other than Benedict XVI.

The Pope’s message said: "Young
friends, God & his people expect much from u, because u have within
u the Father’s supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus — BXVI."

a 168-flag procession and the entrance of the youth day cross and icon,
Cardinal Pell welcomed the international pilgrims in four languages.

greeting was reciprocated with wild applause and accompanied by chants
and cheers similar to those used for papal receptions. Cardinal Pell
was joined by 26 other cardinals, 400 bishops, a 300-person youth
choir, and an 80-piece orchestra. He had told members of the media
earlier this week that he was looking forward to celebrating the
biggest Mass of his life.

As the sun set over the western Sydney
waterfront skyline, Cardinal Pell used the first reading from Ezekiel
about the valley of dry bones to illustrate the promise of hope.

a stage built of original Australian timber, the archbishop of Sydney
talked to the youth about Ezekiel’s presentation of the dead being
preyed on by birds that had long since finished stripping off the
flesh, in an "immense battlefield of the unburied."

Ezekiel, he
noted, was urged by God to prophesy to these bones. As he did so, the
bones "rushed together noisily, accompanied by an earthquake. Sinews
knitted them together, flesh and then skin clothed the corpses." Then
God breathed life into them and "a great and immense army" arose.

Pell stressed that his first priority was not those who are already
strong in the faith, but "welcoming and encouraging anyone, anywhere
who regards himself or herself as lost, in deep distress, with hope
diminished or even exhausted."

He affirmed that the causes of any
personal wounds — whether alcohol, drugs, family break-ups or even the
loneliness of success — were "quite secondary" compared to Christ’s
call to all those who are suffering.

"Christ is calling you
home; to love, healing and community," he said. He encouraged hope for
"all of you who are tempted to say ‘our hope is gone, we are as good as

"We Christians believe in the power of the Spirit to
convert and change persons away from evil to good; from fear and
uncertainty to faith and hope," Cardinal Pell added. "Our task is to be
open to the Spirit, to allow the God of surprises to act through us.
Whatever our situation, we must pray for an openness of heart, for a
willingness to take the next step, even if we are fearful of venturing
too much further.

"If we take God’s hand, he will do the rest. Trust is the key. God will not fail us."

to the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, Cardinal
Pell urged the youth to avoid spending their lives "sitting on the
fence, keeping your options open — because only commitments bring

He said being a disciple of Jesus requires
discipline, adding that while "self control won’t make your perfect —
it hasn’t with me — [it] is necessary to develop and protect the love
in our hearts and prevent others, especially our family and friends,
from being hurt by our lapses into nastiness or laziness."

in the day, Cardinal Pell’s auxiliary bishop, Anthony Fisher, spoke to
ZENIT about the Mass and what the cardinal planned to say. He
characterized the homily as particularly poignant for Australia.

Fisher noted that a literal interpretation of Ezekiel is apt for the
nation, suffering a 10-year drought. But the message is more about a
"people in decline," he said.

"The promise Christ makes of new
life is for our culture, our country, the countries from which the
pilgrims come, for those who are suffering and those youth
experimenting in drugs," said bishop affirmed. He contended that the
reading and the cardinal’s message would give disaffected youth hope to
get them over their fear, depression or anxiety.

He acknowledged
that the homily would be challenging for the thousands of youth
gathered Down Under, but he said its message for young people is that
World Youth Day will offer Christ and his Church as hope for them.

"When they are feeling like dry bones, there is hope for a new Spirit, of new life for them," he affirmed.

auxiliary bishop noted as well the historical significance of the Mass:
Cardinal Pell carried the crosier of one of his predecessors, Cardinal
Patrick Moran, Australia’s first cardinal. He also wore the episcopal
ring and pectoral cross of Archbishop John Polding, Sydney’s first


Cardinal George Pell of Sydney consecrates the Eucharist during the opening Mass of World Youth Day at Barangaroo, Sydney. Photo: WYD08/Getty Images