Value prayer, silence, Pope urgesFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
The largest single event in the history of Australia -- as with many countries, a papal event -- concluded with a rejuvenated Catholic community and the prospect of a softening in the hard edge of Australian secularism.
Benedict, on his longest overseas trip to date, used the visit to encourage young Catholics to live their faith boldly, to work for reconciliation with victims of sexual abuse, and to learn the value of prayer and silence in a noisy world.
"God's love can only unleash its power when it is allowed to change us from within," Benedict said. "We have to let it break through the hard crust of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age. Only then can we let it ignite our imagination and shape our deepest desires. That is why prayer is so important."
A Saturday candlelight "Vigil under the Southern Cross" -- a cruciform stellar constellation only visible from the south hemisphere -- highlighted Benedict as a teacher of prayer and contemplation. After a lengthy and complex address on St. Augustine's theology of the Holy Spirit, the pope led the nearly 300,000 present in silent prayer. There are few sounds so filled with awe as an immense crowd utterly silent. Again, yesterday, there were two lengthy periods of silence.
"In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading -- an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair," Benedict said. That interior emptiness requires the remedy of prayer, like an "underground river" that nourishes from within.
With some 125,000 young pilgrims from overseas, Sydney marked the most distant location for WYD yet, a fact acknowledged by the theme of being Christian "witnesses to the ends of the Earth."
An unofficial theme of the papal visit related to the scandal of clergy sexual abuse, with prominent cases being given renewed attention in the days before the papal arrival. Benedict indicated on the papal flight to Sydney that he would repeat the comments he has made both before and after becoming pope, which he did at a special Mass at the Sydney cathedral on Saturday morning.
"Indeed, I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that as their pastor I, too, share in their suffering," Benedict said. "These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. They have caused great pain and have damaged the Church's witness.... Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice."
The question dominated the media here more than was the case in Toronto for WYD 2002, even though the sexual abuse story was at its peak in the spring and early summer of that year. Indeed, WYD encountered hostility from sectors of Australian opinion that were willing to use any stick available to strike a blow against the event -- road closures, traffic congestion, public financing, security measures, protest laws, or even the lost revenues for the Randwick Racecourse where the final Mass was held.
Despite the pre-WYD hostility, the same spirit that conquered Toronto six years ago overcame even sceptical Sydneysiders, who responded to both the event in great numbers, with some 400,000 lining the harbour and streets to greet Benedict when he arrived last week. More than that, ordinary residents professed their wonder and joy at having their streets full of exuberant, singing, praying pilgrims.
Organizers took pains to use the natural and civic beauty of Sydney as the backdrop for many key WYD events, prompting one Sydney tourism official to estimate the value of the free publicity to be some $50-million. The Pope arrived in the harbour by boat, floating under the iconic Harbour Bridge; a live passion play was set against the Opera House and on the docklands with the sun setting behind the crucified Christ.
The Sydney police commissioner reported that as of Saturday night, there has only been one pilgrim incident requiring police attention, despite more than 200,000 pilgrims in the city. The incident was an Australian pilgrim who delivered a minor blow to an anti-papal protester in the midst of the daylong pilgrimage to Randwick. The typical Australian response to that news: "Good on him!"
Some 2,000 Canadian pilgrims came to Sydney for WYD, led by 15 bishops.
Pope Benedict announced that the next WYD would be in Madrid in 2011.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Value prayer, silence, Pope urges." National Post, (Canada) July 21, 2008.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Image courtesy of WYD 2008 ACN 118 060 987 as Trustee for the World Youth Day 2008 Trust ABN 73 422 698 032
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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