Thursday, July 31, 2008

From a theologian to Pope of the people

World Youth Day under Sydney's limpid blue skies has opened a new chapter in the story of Pope Benedict XVI, one which seasoned Vatican observers describe as a turning point in his papacy.

The shy professor of theology turned cardinal, chief inquisitor and keeper of the Catholic faith has shown the first glimpse of a mass communicator in the making - one whose DNA may not be infused with the star power of John Paul II but who has now, even if reluctantly, embraced the need to engage directly with his 1.2 billion global followers.

"It is in Sydney that this Pope has truly learnt his job," said Andreas Englisch yesterday. Englisch, a German author, journalist and member of the Vatican press corps since 1986, has written seven books, including two on Pope John Paul II and one on Benedict XVI.

"Ratzinger is a theologian. He knows his church but he knew it through books, through his writing, from his study but not from the people. In Australia, even more than in the United States, he has learnt the church from his people … they do not want to be kept at arm's length.
"In Cologne in 2006, 1.5 mill-ion people lined the Rhine to see him. He spoke only to the young people on the boat with him … there was no effort to wave, to smile, to acknowledge all those that came out to see him … There was much criticism of him, even from his bishops. Here in Sydney it has been different, completely different."

Pope Benedict, born and bred in the cold of Bavaria, seems to have thawed in Australia.
When he faced the first phalanx of television cameras and microphones on board the flight to Sydney from Rome seven days ago he looked transfixed, hesitant in demeanour and rusty in English, the language of his soon-to-be hosts in Australia.

"He was faced by a battery of cameras and lights … he is not at his best in a crowd, he looked like a deer caught in a spotlight," another veteran Vatican specialist on board the flight said.
"But just a few days later, if you talked to those 12 kids who had lunch with him at St Mary's, you would not know it was the same man," she said.

"He laughed, he relaxed, he played with the stress ball that one of the American kids gave him. Theatrics go against his nature, but he has learnt here to play his audience … even to punch his applause lines, to listen, to time delivery with them."

In the past seven days the Pope, a man of undisputed fierce intellect and steadfast theological position, has gradually allowed a different part of his personality to emerge. At last he has provided a glimpse of the man behind the mitre.

At Government House, during his first official outing after resting at Kenthurst, the Pope was led through a review of the troops - an Australian protocol for a visiting head of state but one that departed entirely with papal tradition. It was clear from the Pope's demeanour that he was unsure of what was expected of him - even mildly embarrassed - as the navy, army and air force military bands waited at attention and he was led past each one.

"It is simply not a papal thing to do … I think it has only ever happened once or twice, usually in small African nations," said a senior Vatican reporter and veteran of 19 papal trips.
"He is never made to walk past like that … but it was obviously local tradition, and so he stopped each time, he waved; he obviously seemed to want to make a human connection."

According to his spokesman, the Jesuit priest Padre Federico Lombardi, the previous pope, John Paul II, had come from a pastoral tradition. "All of us see the difference in their personalities, the difference in their approach to people. You only need to watch them to see that difference.
"I think that for John Paul II this [a World Youth Day event] was a very spontaneous thing. He also had a personal past in pastoral work with youth. He used to take canoe trips, nature walks in forests with them. His gestures, his ripostes to curious questions [from youth] were all spontaneous.

"Pope Benedict XVI was a university professor. You can see that too in the way he imparts his speeches, his relationships, the way he expresses himself and so on … he has a rapport with the young but is more shaped by his students. I think though that he has shown a great willingness to live this new pastoral experience, which he inherited from his predecessor but which he has now infused with his own characteristics, of simplicity, of humility and availability to all."

Padre Lombardi said what was most visible in Sydney was the Pope's direct participation with young people and that he allowed himself to become involved.

The changes observed in the Pope during his Australian trip are particularly significant as no cardinal of the Roman curia had ever enjoyed the celebrity status - but as an intellectual not a populist - enjoyed by Joseph Ratzinger in Europe when he was cardinal.

According to John Allen, the Pope's unauthorised biographer, the then Cardinal Ratzinger's fame "transcended the borders of church life; [making him] a bona fide public figure with a cultural profile similar to [the conservative commentator and writer] William F. Buckley jnr's in the United States."

In his biography, which the Vatican did not receive warmly as it meticulously and critically analyses Joseph Ratzinger's dramatic evolution from early libertarian theologian to arch-conservative, Allen points out that in German newspaper polls at the time he was cardinal, Ratzinger came in the top 30 of German's most important and powerful nationals. He was placed ahead of the then head of the German central bank and even the tennis player Steffi Graf.

Allen's final analysis rejects critics who portray the Pope as a man driven only by fear - of losing power, of women, of sex, of modernity. He argues that the very few people who know the man, and even those who disagree with his theological positions, describe him differently: "… He is a refined man with a lively sense of humour, not someone working out his personal pathologies through the power of his office," he writes. When asked once, on Bavarian television, what he was afraid of, Allen writes that his quick-witted response was "I'm afraid only of the dentist".

On Sydney Harbour, during a welcome usually afforded rock stars, the Pope surprised many when he moved out of the papal entourage and ensconced himself at the front of the boat, looking as excited as the teenagers who flocked around him.

Similarly, his triumphant tournee around the racecourse at Randwick yesterday was markedly populist and warm. His security men turned a blind eye to the many babies and toddlers thrust through the open window for the Pope to kiss.

The only real criticism of the week revolved around the complexity of his homily at the Saturday night vigil on the St Augustine's theology of the Holy Spirit.

Some youngsters found the teachings impenetrable, and even Padre Lombardi, in a flash of great humour, admitted that he and others who had read the homily found it difficult "on first impression".

But that, he said, was a good measure of this Pope. "It was his choice, to choose issues that invite reflection, that require work to understand, that may need you to come back and return to them to seek clarity. There are other things that he might have said that might glean greater applause … but they would not have stimulated thought."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's good to read things like this.

School of the prophet welcomes Lord's flock

POPE Benedict XVI may have raised the ire of the Muslim world almost two years ago when he invoked a harsh medieval description of Islam during a speech in Germany, but for almost 300 Catholic pilgrims, an Islamic school will be home during World Youth Day.

"Pope Benedict clarified his comments on Islam," said Pinad Elahmed, a teacher in charge of inter-religious activities at Malek Fahd school in Greenacre. "Anyway, no one here even thought of it when we decided to offer hospitality to the pilgrims.

"We are Muslims but we are also very committed Australians and that means living in a multicultural, multi-faith country. We want to be a role model of generosity for all Muslims.
"This is not unusual. After all, the prophet himself opened his house to Christians."

The 281 pilgrims will bunk down in the gymnasium and several classrooms. "They will basically have the run of the place," Ms Elahmed said.
Andrew West

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sydney farewells Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict XVI farewelled Australians with "deep gratitude", before boarding a Qantas charter flight bound for Rome at the end of his hectic World Youth Day tour.

The 81-year-old pontiff took off from Sydney airport, having closed the six-day WYD celebrations with a huge open air mass before 400,000 people on Sunday.

"Dear friends, as I depart from Sydney, I ask God to look down lovingly on this city, this country and all its inhabitants," he said.

"And as I bid you farewell with deep gratitude in my heart, I say once again, may God bless the people of Australia."

From a small dais in front of his plane at Sydney airport's Hangar 96, the Pope thanked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Governor General Major General Michael Jeffery, the federal and NSW governments, the business community and the people of Australia.

"In characteristic Australian style you have extended a warm welcome to me and to countless pilgrims who have flocked here from every corner of the globe," he told the crowd.
"You have opened your doors and your hearts to the world's youth and on their behalf I thank you."

He also thanked more than 200,000 pilgrims for making the journey to Sydney, saying it was "them who have made this a global event".

"I thank them for coming, I thank them for their participation and I pray that they have a safe journey home," he said.

The pontiff expressed hope people would be inspired by the Blessed Mary MacKillop's example of compassion and service, and nominated his visit to her North Sydney memorial among the highlights of his trip.

Rudd thanked the pontiff for making the long journey to Australia for WYD, saying his presence, and WYD, had both left an indelible mark on Australia.

"Within that week, Your Holiness, it feels very much that you have already become one with us, indeed that you have become one of us," the prime minister said.

"After sharing this week with us I believe you now know you are among friends." Rudd said the sun had shone literally for the duration of the papal visit.

"As we think back on this last great week of reflection and celebration, minds and hearts of people are filled with the images of affirmation, of possibility and of unity," Rudd said.

He noted the Pope's special efforts to examine indigenous issues and address the difficult issue of child sex abuse by members of the clergy.

Pope Benedict then personally farewelled many of the 200 dignitaries gathered at Sydney airport's Hangar 96, including newly appointed Ambassador to the Vatican Tim Fischer, and the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell.

After climbing the steps to the aircraft, he waved both hands and bowed slightly, before shaking hands with Qantas flight crew and disappearing into the cabin.

Earlier he thanked thousands of WYD volunteers in the Domain, many of whom waited for hours to see him. The Pope arrived at the Domain in the Popemobile just before 9am and toured the crowd before again taking centre stage.

"I want to thank all of you for the generous commitment of time and energy you have made in order to ensure the smooth running of each of the events we have celebrated together," Pope Benedict said.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pope urges Australian youths to spurn materialism
By KRISTEN GELINEAU, Associated Press Writer

SYDNEY, Australia - Pope Benedict XVI urged young people Sunday to reject what he said was the "spiritual desert" spreading throughout the world and to embrace Christianity to build a new age free from greed and materialism.

At a Mass before more than 200,000 young Roman Catholic pilgrims in Sydney, Benedict said "the world needs renewal" and challenged them to be the agents of change.

"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," the pontiff said.
The 81-year-old pope said it was up to a new generation of Christians to build a world in "which God's gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished — not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed."

The aim was "a new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deadens our souls and poisons our relationships," he said.

Sunday's Mass wraps up the church's six-day World Youth Day festival in Sydney that has drawn massive crowds to Australia's largest city, and has been watched on television by a global audience estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.

The Mass, delivered at a horse racetrack filled with pilgrims who had camped out overnight, comes a day after the pope made a forceful apology for the sexual abuse of children by Australia's Roman Catholic clergy. The apology is part of an effort that began in the United States to publicly atone for what he called evil acts by priests.

In his apology Saturday, Benedict said: "I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them as their pastor that I too share in their suffering," Benedict said in Sydney's St. Mary's Cathedral.

He said he wanted "to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt" and called for those responsible to be "brought to justice." The acts were "evil" and a "grave betrayal of trust," he said.

But the pope's apology was not enough to satisfy representatives of the victims of clergy sexual abuse, who said it must be backed by Vatican orders to Australian bishops to stop what they say are efforts to hide the extent of the problem and block survivors' attempts to win compensation.
Sunday's events wrap up a busy four-day schedule for Benedict in which he touched on all the major themes of his three-year-old papacy, including the need to rejuvenate what he says is a church in "crisis" in the West because people are losing their faith in God.

He also stressed the need for mankind to protect the environment and end its "insatiable consumption" of the world's resources. He continued to reach out to other faiths, telling leaders of Islam and other religions they must unite against those who were threatening the world with "sinister and indiscriminate violence."

The pope flew over the scene early Sunday in a helicopter — dubbed "the holy-copter" by bleary-eyed pilgrims below — to see the assemblage amassed on the track with a jumble of sleeping bags, backpacks and other personal items.

He later took a slow drive through the crowd, stopping once to plant a kiss on the forehead of a toddler held up to the popemobile's window. Pilgrims from more than 160 countries gave him a rock-star welcome, waving the flags of their nations, cheering and chanting: "Benedicto!, Benedicto!" — the pope's Italian name.

The pope, who was due to leave Australia for the Vatican on Monday, said the next Roman Catholic youth festival would be held in Spain in 2011.

"I look forward to seeing you again in three years' time," he said.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pope Benedict Apologizes to Australian Abuse Victims
By Jacob Greber and Ed Johnson

July 19 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Benedict XVI apologized to victims of childhood sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church's Australian clergy, saying those responsible should be brought to justice.

``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,'' the pontiff said today at a mass in Sydney. ``I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy'' in Australia.

Australian support group Broken Rites, which says more than 3,500 people have sought its help during the past 15 years, demanded ``action, not just words,'' and said the Catholic Church must make it easier for victims of sexual abuse to take action in the courts.

The German-born pope addressed the issue during a visit to the U.S. in April, where some had criticized the Vatican's reluctance to confront child abuse. His apology today came as tens of thousands of Catholic pilgrims celebrating World Youth Day walked through Sydney and gathered for an overnight vigil.

``These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation,'' Benedict told clergy as he dedicated a new altar at St. Mary's Cathedral. ``Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice.''

Fight Against `Evil'
Broken Rites says 107 Catholic priests and brothers have been sentenced in Australian courts for abuse since the group was set up in 1993.

It says the church's approach to tackling the problem lacks transparency and that many victims are reluctant to trust the institution to investigate abuse allegations independently.
The pope must tell his Australian bishops to ``stop blocking victims' access to justice in the civil courts'' by fighting litigation ``fiercely,'' the group said in a statement.

The abuse issue captured headlines last week as the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia acknowledged mishandling allegations of sexual assault by a priest more than 20 years ago. Cardinal George Pell announced a panel would review the case involving a former church education coordinator who says he was abused by a priest in 1982 when he was 29 years old.
``I ask all of you to support and assist your bishops, and to work together with them in combating this evil,'' said the pope.

Pilgrimage Walk
Sydney Harbour Bridge was closed to traffic as the first pilgrims began crossing at 5:30 a.m. local time. They will sleep at the city's main horseracing track while awaiting a papal mass tomorrow before as many as 500,000 people that will close the weeklong World Youth Day celebrations.

``It is the climax of the week,'' said Dave Gale, 20, from Wagga Wagga, 450 kilometers (280 miles) southwest of Sydney. ``So many Christian people in one place for this event is incredible.''
Activists protesting Benedict's policies against contraception and abortion also marched through the city. The NotoPope Coalition, which includes gay rights activists and atheists, says it will hand out condoms and carry coat hangers to symbolize the death of women from ``backyard'' abortions.

Freedom of Speech
The Federal Court of Australia this week overturned police powers to fine protesters more than A$5,000 ($4,865) if they ``annoy'' people attending the event, saying the regulations introduced by the New South Wales state government infringe upon freedom of speech.
Protesters wore T-shirts with slogans such as ``Pope Go Homo'' and ``The Pope Is Wrong, Put a Condom On.''

World Youth Day is billed as the biggest youth festival in the world. Organizers say it is the largest event Australia has hosted, drawing people from 167 other countries.
The state government, which has spent A$86 million hosting the event, forecasts it will generate A$150 million in revenue for the local economy.

It is Benedict's first visit to Australia, where about 26 percent of the country's 21.3 million people described themselves as Catholic in the most recent census, in 2001. About 17 percent of the world's population is Catholic, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook.

To contact the reporters for this story: Jacob Greber in Sydney at jgreber@bloomberg.netEd Johnson in Sydney at


Pope Benedict XVI warns of critical juncture for Christianity
Manila Times19 July 2008

Pope Benedict XVI warned Christian leaders Friday that the push to unite Christian churches was at a critical juncture, as Anglicans met to avert a schism over the ordination of women and gays.

The Pontiff, leading hundreds of thousands of Catholics in World Youth Day celebrations in Australia, also called on people of all religions to unite against sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence.

At a meeting with around 50 Christian leaders, including those from the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran and Uniting churches, the Pontiff called on them to fight for unity within the Christian faith.

I think you would agree that the ecumenical movement has reached a critical juncture, the leader of the worlds 1.1 billion Catholics told a meeting in Sydneys Saint Marys Cathedral.
We must guard against any temptation to view doctrine as divisive and hence an impediment to the seemingly more pressing and immediate task of improving the world in which we live.
The Pope did not elaborate on what he saw as the critical juncture in the search for greater unity.

But his comments came as Anglican bishops from around the world gathered at Canterbury in England, for a once-a-decade conference amid splits between liberal and conservative elements of the church.

Around 650 bishops were to attend the 20-day conference, with the issue of gays and women in the church expected to dominate.

About a quarter of the churchs bishopsincluding most from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Ugandaare staying away, a week after the Church of England approved the ordination of women bishops.

The Pope later told leaders from the Muslim, Jewish and other faiths that religions had a special role in maintaining peace and uniting peoples.

A harmonious relationship between religion and public life is all the more important at a time when some people have come to consider religion as a cause of division rather than a force for unity, he said.

In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity.

After a series of private meetings Friday, the Pope took part at the start of a stations of the cross re-enactment of the last days of Jesus Christs life.

The re-enactment, held at some of Sydneys most famous sites including the Opera House, had been expected to draw between 350,000 and 450,000 spectators, organizers said.

Police moved seven activists from Broken Rites, a support group for victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, from outside St Marys Cathedral where the Pope was to pray at the start of the re-enactment.

Its really shameful of the church to be doing this, to be moving people on. Theyre just stopping people from being heard, said protester John Ellis.

Thousands of spectators gathered at each of the seven sites as the actors made their way around the 13 stations in bright sunshine in the heart of Sydney.

As night fell on the city, the crucifixion of Jesus was solemnly re-enacted at the former wharves where a day earlier the 81-year-old Pontiff received a rapturous welcome from some 200,000 young Catholic pilgrims.

The World Youth Day celebrations, aimed at strengthening the faith of young Catholics, ends on Sunday with a papal mass, which organizers hope will attract 500,000 people. -- AFP

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Address to Australia and Youth of the World

To the beloved people of Australia and to the young pilgrims taking part in World Youth Day 2008

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you will be my witnesses" (Act 1:8)

The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you! In a few days from now, I shall begin my Apostolic Visit to your country, in order to celebrate the Twenty-Third World Youth Day in Sydney. I very much look forward to the days that I shall spend with you, and especially to the opportunities for prayer and reflection with young people from all over the world.

First of all, I want to express my appreciation to all those who have offered so much of their time, their resources and their prayers in support of this celebration. The Australian Government and the Provincial Government of New South Wales, the organizers of all the events, and members of the business community who have provided sponsorship – all of you have willingly supported this event, and on behalf of the young people taking part in the World Youth Day, I thank you most sincerely. Many of the young people have made great sacrifices in order to undertake the journey to Australia, and I pray that they will be rewarded abundantly. The parishes, schools and host families have been most generous in welcoming these young visitors, and they too deserve our thanks and our appreciation.

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you will be my witnesses" (Act 1:8). This is the theme of the Twenty-Third World Youth Day. How much our world needs a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit! There are still many who have not heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, while many others, for whatever reason, have not recognized in this Good News the saving truth that alone can satisfy the deepest longings of their hearts. The Psalmist prays: "when you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps 104:30). It is my firm belief that young people are called to be instruments of that renewal, communicating to their peers the joy they have experienced through knowing and following Christ, and sharing with others the love that the Spirit pours into their hearts, so that they too will be filled with hope and with thanksgiving for all the good things they have received from our heavenly Father.

Many young people today lack hope. They are perplexed by the questions that present themselves ever more urgently in a confusing world, and they are often uncertain which way to turn for answers. They see poverty and injustice and they long to find solutions. They are challenged by the arguments of those who deny the existence of God and they wonder how to respond. They see great damage done to the natural environment through human greed and they struggle to find ways to live in greater harmony with nature and with one another.

Where can we look for answers? The Spirit points us towards the way that leads to life, to love and to truth. The Spirit points us towards Jesus Christ. There is a saying attributed to Saint Augustine: "If you wish to remain young, seek Christ". In him we find the answers that we are seeking, we find the goals that are truly worth living for, we find the strength to pursue the path that will bring about a better world. Our hearts find no rest until they rest in the Lord, as Saint Augustine says at the beginning of the Confessions, the famous account of his own youth. My prayer is that the hearts of the young people who gather in Sydney for the celebration of World Youth Day will truly find rest in the Lord, and that they will be filled with joy and fervour for spreading the Good News among their friends, their families, and all whom they meet.

Dear Australian friends, although I will only be able to spend a few days in your country, and I will not be able to travel outside Sydney, my heart reaches out to all of you, including those who are sick or in difficulties of any kind. On behalf of all the young people, I thank you again for your support of my mission and I ask you to continue praying for them especially. It remains only for me to renew my invitation to the young people from all over the world to join me in Australia, the great "southern land of the Holy Spirit". I look forward to seeing you there! May God bless you all.

Sydney Harbor

A smiling Pope greeted tens of thousands of young pilgrims as he sailed through Sydney Harbour into Barangaroo during his official arrival for the 23rd World Youth Day.

Waving pilgrims lined the shore of Sydney Harbour, flags fluttered in Barangaroo and people stood on the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, watching the Pope's boat-a-cade come into the harbour. Ten boats carrying young people followed the Holy Father's cruise ship, which was filled with clergy and specially selected youngsters in national dress.

Disregarding protocol-the young people had been told to go up to the Pope on the top deck-Benedict XVI came down and stood on the lower deck chatting with them, waving and smiling, as boat entered the harbour. The Pope and the youngsters were both visibly moved by their personal encounters. One young Papua New Guinean could not be moved from his place at the Pope's elbow for the entire journey.

Once on shore, a group of Aborigines performed a dance for the Pope, before he moved up to the Sanctuary where Cardinal George Pell celebrated the Opening Mass for WYD08 on Tuesday.
Sydney's Cardinal Pell greeted the Pope on behalf of Australian Catholics, focusing on his role as the successor of Peter. The cardinal pointed out that there had been a pope in Rome 900 years before there was a king of England and 1,700 years before the Gospel first came to Oceania.
After the opening prayers and reading from the Gospel of Matthew (20:25-28), Pope Benedict gave a homily, addressing the pain suffered by the Aborigines and indigenous peoples of Australia and Oceania first, saying that the time for healing had come.
He said: "I am deeply moved to stand on your land, knowing the suffering and injustices it has borne, but aware too of the healing and hope that are now at work, rightly bringing pride to all Australian citizens."

As expected the Holy Father then spoke about Creation drawing the parallel between the scars affecting both physical environment and the social environment.

Looking out of the window of the Papal plane on the flight to Australia, he was filled with a sense of awe at the beauty and goodness of Creation with men and women at its heart he said. But under the beauty there are scars, he said. Erosion, deforestation, "the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption" affected the physical environment, but society too has its scars affecting the innate good in people.
Once on shore, a group of Aborigines performed a dance for the Pope, before he moved up to the Sanctuary where Cardinal George Pell celebrated the Opening Mass for WYD08 on Tuesday.
Sydney's Cardinal Pell greeted the Pope on behalf of Australian Catholics, focusing on his role as the successor of Peter. The cardinal pointed out that there had been a pope in Rome 900 years before there was a king of England and 1,700 years before the Gospel first came to Oceania.
After the opening prayers and reading from the Gospel of Matthew (20:25-28), Pope Benedict gave a homily, addressing the pain suffered by the Aborigines and indigenous peoples of Australia and Oceania first, saying that the time for healing had come.

"Yet such moments do not last. So again, we ponder. And we discover that not only the natural but also the social environment - the habitat we fashion for ourselves - has its scars; wounds indicating that something is amiss. Here too, in our personal lives and in our communities, we can encounter a hostility, something dangerous; a poison which threatens to corrode what is good, reshape who we are, and distort the purpose for which we have been created."

He spoke about alcohol and drug abuse, the exhaltation of violence, sexual degradation and exploitation.

Pope Benedict XVI said: "There is also something sinister which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth. This is fuelled by the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives.

"Relativism, by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything, has made 'experience' all-important. Yet, experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead, not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair."

The Holy Father said that life was not just a succession of events or experiences but a search for the Truth:"

It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this - in truth, in goodness, and in beauty - that we find happiness and joy.

"Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth."

"Christ offers more! 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."
Earlier that day, Benedict XVI met the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and congratulated him on having made a public apology to t he Aboriginal people of Australia. He said that Mr Rudd had made a "courageous decision to acknowledge the injustices committed against the indigenous peoples in the past" which was helping close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australian peoples.
After meeting with the prime minister, he went to pray at the Mary MacKillop Chapel, where the beatified nun lies.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict texted thousands of young pilgrims in Australia on Tuesday, urging them to renew their faith as they gathered for the Catholic church's largest youth festival.
Hymns and chants of hallelujah filled Sydney's streets as hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from around the world gathered for the opening mass of World Youth Day, July 15-20.

"Young friend, God and his people expect much from u because u have within you the Fathers supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus - BXVI," read the first of the Pope's daily text messages which will be sent out during World Youth Day.

Using "u" instead of "you" is a popular shortcut among youth around the world, who send millions of text, or SMS, messages daily.

Pope Benedict arrived in Sydney on Sunday and will attend World Youth Day events from Thursday, culminating in a Sunday mass before an estimated 300,000 pilgrims.

The Pope has said he will apologize to Australian victims of sexual abuse in the church. Broken Rites, which represents abuse victims, has a list of 107 convictions for church abuse, but says there may be thousands more victims as only a few go to court.

"I'm glad there will be an apology, but the church needs to do more to alleviate the living hell of those who have endured the ultimate betrayal," said sexual assault lawyer Vivian Waller. "The church must embrace justice rather than playing legal charades," she said, claiming the Catholic church in Australia regularly used the legal system to avoid sex abuse cases.

The Pope confronted the issue of sexual abuse in the church during a visit to Washington in April, meeting victims and vowing to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood.

Some sex abuse victims plan to protest against the papal visit in Sydney, along with a group called "No Pope" which opposes church teachings on sex and marriage and new anti-protest laws which they say crush their civil liberties.

The "No Pope" group has launched a legal challenge to overturn new laws which could see protesters arrested and fined A$5,500 (US $5,340) for annoying pilgrims with anti-Catholic T-shirts or by handing out condoms.

Reflecting the religious fervor in Sydney, "Ratzinger Rules" was spray painted on a war memorial overnight. Josef Ratzinger is the birth name of Pope Benedict.

Police have closed some 300 roads and erected concrete and wire security fences across the central business district, in a security operation not seen since the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Sydney is treating World Youth Day as bigger than the Olympics, urging workers to take holidays. Organizers estimate the event will earn the city up to A$200 million.

But the Catholic church hopes the biggest windfall will be religious in a country where church attendances are falling. Despite being led by the oldest Pope elected, the church believes the 81-year-old pontif can still engage with young people.

In Australia, home to the world's biggest gay and lesbian mardi gras and where abortion and stem cell research is legal, the Catholic church's teachings often fall on deaf ears.

Some 5 million Australians describe themselves as Catholic, but less than one million attend Sunday mass and the number may have dropped to about 100,000 in the past 5 years.

"We're a very secular society in Australia, we're very materialistic and I think we've lost something in all of that," said World Youth Day ambassador John Herron.

Organizers are expecting more than 150,000 pilgrims, 26 cardinals, 400 bishops and up to 4,000 priests at the opening mass on Tuesday on the shores of Sydney Harbor.

"That will make it the biggest mass we've ever celebrated in Australia," said Bishop Anthony Fisher.

Holy Father Arrives in Australia for World Youth Day

The pope was greeted Sunday by officials including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on the tarmac of a military air base on Sydney's outskirts, after a flight from the Vatican of more than 20 hours and a refueling stop in the northern city of Darwin.

Benedict, 81, will rest for three days at a retreat in Sydney before joining the World Youth Day festival starting Thursday.

Benedict told reporters during the flight that while in Australia he wants to help heal wounds caused by the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

He was also asked during his flight about climate change following discussions on the environment during this month's Group of Eight summit in Japan.

There is a need to "wake up consciences," Benedict responded. "We have to give impulse to rediscovering our responsibility and to finding an ethical way to change our way of life."
Benedict said politicians and experts must be "capable of responding to the great ecological challenge and to be up to the task of this challenge."

"We have our responsibilities toward creation," Benedict said, stressing, however, that he had no intention of weighing in on technical or political questions swirling around climate change.
Benedict said he would also address the problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. He reiterated his view that sexual abuse is "incompatible with the behavior" required of priests.
At the start of his U.S. pilgrimage, Benedict had said he was "deeply ashamed" of the abuse scandal and pledged to work to make sure pedophiles do not become priests.

Benedict said that during the 10-day visit to Australia he would work for "healing and reconciliation with the victims" of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy there "just as I did in the United States" earlier this year.

Clergy abuse support groups in Australia have demanded that Benedict apologize during his visit for the abuse they suffered. The exact number of victims of clergy abuse in Australia is not known, though activists say they number in the thousands.

Benedict acknowledged that the Church in the West was "in crisis" but insisted it was not in decline. "I am an optimist" about its future, he said.

The Australia pilgrimage is the longest in his three-year-old papacy and will test the pontiff's stamina.

Although aides say the pope is in fine health, the Vatican appeared to be taking no chances to ensure Benedict is fit for World Youth Day, canceling a weekly public audience this past Wednesday and most other meetings to give him as much rest as possible.

After he succeeded John Paul three years ago, Benedict said he doubted he would make many long trips. But invitations keep coming in from world leaders and officials of his global 1-billion member flock.

He visited Brazil last year, made a pilgrimage to the United States in April and will travel to France in September.

Benedict will be greeted at Sydney Harbor Thursday by a group of Aborigines and other young people from the Pacific Basin and deliver what is expected to be an important address. In 2001, John Paul issued a formal apology to the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands for injustices perpetrated by Catholic missionaries.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pope welcomes Bahrain's tolerance of Christians

King Hamad invites Benedict XVI to visit Bahrain as Pope praises Manama’s religious tolerance praise.

CASTELGANDOLFO - The Vatican praised Bahrain's religious tolerance on Wednesday during a visit by the Gulf state's king to Pope Benedict XVI at his summer residence outside Rome.
Benedict and King Hamad had what the Vatican described as "cordial" discussions in Castelgandolfo.

"The Vatican authorities thanked the king for the welcome given to numerous Christian immigrants" to his country, it said in a statement.

The two men "reiterated their common commitment to intercultural and inter-religious dialogue."

The tiny Gulf state has a population of 530,000 people, nine percent of which is Christian, nearly all of them expatriate workers from the Philippines.

The king recently named a Jewish woman, Huda Nunu, as ambassador to the United States in what Bahraini officials said was a choice which reflected a climate of tolerance towards minorities in Bahrain.

During the course of their discussions, the king invited Benedict to visit Bahrain, the Vatican said.

The country has close ties with Washington and is the headquarters of the US navy's Fifth Fleet.