When Benedict XVI arrived by boat in Sydney Harbour his message was simple: Christ offers everything.
By Anthony Barich and Catherine Smibert of ZENIT
Two days of waiting for Benedict XVI to officially arrive at World Youth Day seemed like an eternity for young pilgrims across Sydney.
This only led to a build-up of excitement, which brimmed over as the Holy Father disembarked at Barangaroo for the welcoming ceremony with the youth day pilgrims on Thursday afternoon.
The first glimpse of the flotilla of 13 vessels dubbed the papal “boat-a-cade” in the distance set off the chants – “Ben-e-det-to” and “Viva il Papa” – from approximately 500,000 youth and locals lining the shores and streets of Sydney.
Benedict XVI boarded at Rose Bay, East Sydney, where he was welcomed by Aboriginal representatives, and travelled on the “Sydney 2000” Captain Cook cruise liner around the bays of the city to then arrive at Barangaroo.
Rapturous cheers emanated from all sections of the 22-hectare disused shipping port in East Darling Harbour.
Benedict XVI could not keep the smile from his face, even throughout his lengthy welcoming speech in which he reminded the crowd, and all those watching his arrival live on huge screens around the city, that whatever their weaknesses, they can build a kingdom of love when empowered by the Holy Spirit.
“In many ways the Apostles were ordinary,” the Pope said. “None could claim to be the perfect disciple. They failed to recognise Christ, felt ashamed of their own ambition and had even denied him.
“Yet, when empowered by the Holy Spirit, they were transfixed by the truth of Christ’s Gospel and inspired to proclaim it fearlessly.”
He likened the pioneering religious and priests who came to Australia’s shores – and to other parts of the Pacific-from Ireland, France, Britain, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe to the Apostles who, in obedience to Christ’s command, set forth bearing witness to “the greatest story ever.”
The Pontiff called the youth to look to the patrons of World Youth Day 2008 for inspiration, including Australian Blessed Mary MacKillop, the founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, and Blessed Peter To Rot, a martyr from what is now known as Papua New Guinea.
Benedict XVI warned against relativism, and said that there is “something sinister” which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth, fuelled by the notion that there are no absolute truths to guide their life.
He said that experiences detached from any consideration of what is good or true can lead not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, a lowering of standards, a loss of self-respect and “even to despair.”
The Pope said the answer to and ultimate freedom from life’s problems lies in Christ, and his Church.
“Christ offers more,” the Holy Father exclaimed. “Indeed, he offers everything. Only he who is the Truth can be the Way and hence also the Life. Thus the ‘Way’ which the Apostles brought to the ends of the earth is life in Christ.
“This is the life of the Church; and the entrance to this life, to the Christian way, is baptism.”
Benedict XVI also addressed the problem he identified shortly after he announced Australia would host WYD – the increasingly secular nature of Australian society.
Though secularism often presents itself as neutral, impartial and inclusive of everyone, the Pope warned that it also imposes a worldview.
“If God is irrelevant in public life, then society will be shaped with little or no reference to the Creator,” he said.
The Pontiff said that concern for nonviolence, sustainable development, justice, peace and care for the environment, while of “vital importance,” cannot be dissociated from a “profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death”.
He said this is a dignity that is conferred by God himself and thus inviolable.
He urged the thousands of young people to bring the message to the world that freedom is found in truth, and that this is the work of the Holy Spirit, strengthened by the sacraments of the Church.
Michael Dooley, a 28-year-old Catholic from Queensland said that as a result of that day’s moment with the Pope, he felt a new call to mission.
“It says in the Bible that when a priest speaks they should speak as if they are words from God,” says Dooley, “and I’m certain that each one of us present for his speech today was touched deeply as it came from the vicar of Christ himself.”