By Anthony Barich
Pope Benedict XVI’s scientific approach to explaining the faith to the secular world has sparked a global network of youth dedicated to doing just that, and now it looks likely to spread to Australia.
It all started during World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany, when the secular media’s coverage could be divided into two kinds: young attractive youth interviewed who believe the archaic and autocratic Church has got it all backwards; and Church supporters who were invariably represented by elderly vicars or bishops.
Nathaniel Liminski, now 22, who at the time was doing his internship with a good friend at the German Bundestag (parliament), was appalled.
He was apalled especially because he knew the media simply didn’t give genuine believing young Catholics a face.
This generation, who have deep questions about the important things in life and actually do see merit in the teachings of Benedict XVI, are ‘Generation Benedict’. So Nathaniel and 11 others from Mexico, Italy, the United States, France and Germany started a youth network of the same name.
Doing interviews for EWTN during WYD05, Nathaniel found that youth outside the Church responded to Benedict’s words.
They felt that they did not need to have a Catholic background to be accepted by Christ and His Church.
Most importantly, Benedict XVI communicated to them clearly and easily.
“Young people today aren’t interested in being labelled ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive’, right or left-wing,” Nathaniel said.
“They just want answers, and look to any public figure for them, be they popes, comedians or movie stars.
“With John Paul II, the Church seemed to move on from its image in the ‘80s of being like ‘burnt earth’, where no one seemed to be listening, to becoming one of these authorities that youth now count as being one of these populist figures they listen to.”
To mark the anniversary of Benedict’s visit to Cologne for WYD05, they launched their website, www.generation-benedikt.de, and started bi-monthly workshops where they discussed Church teachings on life issues then invited a secular journalist in to detail how their industry works.
After that, the workshop attendees – up to 40 searching youth who come from around Germany – would come up with ideas of how to convey the Church’s teachings to the secular media.
One such idea that sprang up as a result of one of these meetings was a website where people who had almost had abortions but decided not to, or even those who did, and others with personal stories, told their testimonies in a brief, media bite-like format, easily digestible for even the least-discerning member of the public.
Having worked with the local youth ministry, Nathaniel was close to Cologne’s Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who lobbied hard to host WYD05, who was, in turn, close to Pope Benedict, previously the Archbishop of Munich.
Nathaniel and his 11 co-founders of Generation Benedict presented to the pontiff, via Cardinal Meisner, 12 searching questions about the faith, like: “What is responsible sexuality? Am I missing anything when I’m a faithful follower of Christ? Am I just imagining there is a God when I pray? Is there one Truth?”
Nathaniel says that when the Pope saw these questions, he was struck by their sharpness and simplicity, and said that they “breathed his spirit”, meaning that the questions represented an authentic dialogue between him and the youth of the world.
He was so impressed with the questions, and the concept behind Generation Benedict, that he volunteered to write the foreword to the book that comprised the 12 questions and answers, which were also constructed by the founders based on the teachings of Benedict XVI and John Paul II.
In his foreword to the book, which The Record republishes here below this story, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Faith must be proclaimed today in the compatibility of seeking and finding – in dialogue with inquiring persons. Dialogue is inherent in the Christian doctrine of the Annunciation.
“In this regard, Saint Peter said to the recipients of his first letter: “Always be prepared to give an answer to those who question why you hope” (1 Peter 3:5).
Published by Random House, the book has been distributed in Polish and German, and they are working on an English translation. When this happens, a whole new world will open up for the young network of inquiring youth.
“We don’t care about having a massive movement,” Nathaniel told The Record in the relaxed environs of an Irish pub in Sydney’s Chinatown two days after the hype of WYD08 had calmed down.
“We’re interested in having good people. We have no money, and the people who run our workshops and website do so in their free time from their regular jobs, getting the message out to the public. We want to give a face in the secular media to those young people who believe in the Church but are searching for more answers to the big things in life, who aren’t given a face usually in the media, and certainly weren’t at WYD05.”
So far the network is established in Spain, Poland, Austria, the US, Italy, Mexico, France and, during his trip to Australia for WYD08, Nathaniel found some Melbournians who were interested in starting an Australian branch.
FOREWORD BY POPE BENEDICT XVI
Young people are seeking something. They want to find the path to the future; they want to find life.
In searching for the path into life, the question of God inevitably comes to the fore – today more so than for the previous generation, to whom it broadly seemed that this question prevented us from shaping the world, which we were convinced we held in our own hands. That we must leave the world better than we found it is the conviction not just of young people. But how can we accomplish this? It has become clear that change for its own sake is not enough – that that can just as well result in making things worse.
We need criteria – but where do we find them? Thus, the question of God again becomes urgent. This is a very personal question, because every person longs for the truly great and the infinite. But it must also be a question for society if we wish to find common criteria for leading good lives, and for the proper shaping of the world.
Where is God? Does He care about us? Can we come into contact with Him? Can we know what He wants? Can He become for us the measure of life? In such matters, one naturally looks to the religions, which, in very different ways, want to be paths to God and along which one travels with God, paths leading to upright lives. Is Christianity an answer? Can we still believe and live today what Christianity tells us about God and ourselves? Or has it indeed become a thing of the past?
Meanwhile, there are movements of young people, who, with enthusiasm and élan, recognise the Christian Faith as the way, and the answer to their innermost questions; as a path along which they make friends who join them in constituting communities that break down barriers between cultures and generations.
Even more young people are being moved by great happenings such as World Youth Day; but to make permanent the promise of a fleeting moment, questioning and answering must go on, just as in communities of friends seeking and finding always belong together. Seeking never comes to an end in the finding, and yet it must never go in circles, become complacent and finally end in nothing.
Faith must be proclaimed today in the compatibility of seeking and finding, in dialogue with inquiring persons. Dialogue is inherent in the Christian doctrine of the Annunciation. In this regard, St Peter said to the recipients of his first letter: “Always be prepared to give an answer to those who question why you hope” (1 Peter 3:5). This sentence is worthy of detailed interpretation.
Here I would like to underscore just two points: First, in its totality, Christianity can simply be described as hope. It bestows the future. Second, this hope is rational. It has a reason that can be imparted to others. Christianity is “answer” and as such enables others to hope and to become fellow believers and comrades in hope.
The medieval theologians saw in the phrase of St Peter not only the justification of their scientific, rational work for the faith, but felt it obliged them to do that work.
Therefore, they did not simply lay out the sum total of the faith in the form of a treatise, but rather as an ordered collection of “Questions” (Quaestiones.) These questions are so framed that problems and difficulties – the “questions” about the faith – are presented first, followed by an attempt to make the faith understandable as “answer.”
Every question contains within it a dialogue, which frequently grows out of a dispute that took place at the university, in the encounter of teachers and students. Even catechesis – the basic means of conveying the faith – has been set forth since time immemorial in the various catechisms in the form of questions and answers; the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2005) has again taken up the practice of conveying the faith in the form of dialogue.
I am pleased that in this book the dialogue is lively and quite realistic, that the questions have been posed not by those writing the answers, but rather by young people, who describe their very personal quests in their own words, and thereby act as spokesmen and spokeswomen for their generation.