World Youth Day Concludes With Call for Church Unity

Pope Benedict XVI ended World Youth Day yesterday in Cologne with an appeal to young people around the world to unite “to build a better world” by helping the poor and elderly.

The Pope was speaking to a crowd of more than 800,000 young flag-waving Catholics at a special Mass to close the festival when he made the appeal. He added that greater commitment should be shown by young Catholics to the rituals of the Church.

“Do not be deterred from taking part in Sunday Mass, and help others to discover it too,” he told the crowd.

“Religion constructed on a do-it-yourself basis cannot ultimately help us.”

“It may be comfortable but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves,” he added.

Pope Benedict was not shy in his scolding of Church members who simply select the parts of the religion that suit them while ignoring the rest, stating that Catholicism was not a “consumer product.”

The four-day trip was the first of the Pope’s foreign visits since his election to the head of the Vatican.

Despite Benedict’s reserved manner and strong traditionalism, the thousands of young Catholics seem to have completely embraced the new pope.

“There were some ugly headlines when he was appointed Pope like ‘God’s Rottweiler’, and ‘Panzer Pope’, because everyone thought he was strict and unfeeling,” 19-year-old Eamon MacMahon told the UK-based Telegraph. “But I think he’s proved over the last few days that he’s a kind-hearted, intelligent man, who clearly enjoyed being with us.”

François Lagorse, 21, from Brive, France, defended the Pope’s conservatism, saying, “He has to be conservative – he wouldn’t be the Pope if he wasn’t and while we felt a bit rudderless following the death of John Paul II, we can now be confident that Benedict XVI will lead us well.”

The Pope also threw down his reservedness on numerous occasions, walking right up to the crowds to shake hands and kiss babies.

The Pope’s name and face adorned numerous products over the event including T-shirts bearing the slogan “Papa Ben” and Benedict snow shakers.

However, Sister Maria Sanchez of Spain told the Telegraph, “I think he is embarrassed by the celebrity status, particularly when he is in a church and people shout ‘Papa, Papa’, and the focus is on him rather than on God.”

The four-day visit of the Pope to his native homeland of Germany has undoubtedly reserved some of the negative press he has received.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of the German bishops’ conference and often critic of some of the Pope’s views, expressed his delight at the new Pope.

“The Pope has swept away much of what has clouded his reputation in this country in recent years,” Lehmann said, according to Reuters.

“I’ve always said he’s not like the Panzerkardinal or Grand Inquisitor or whatever else they call him. He charmed everyone.”

The German media, which has been critical of the Pope’s more dogmatic views, also spoke favorably of the Pope’s handling of the often rowdy crowd and his sensitive meetings with Jews, Protestants and Muslims.

The Neue Presse, a Hannover daily, stated, “Of all people, this pope – who rejects everything that youths normally like to do – is accepted by them fully.”

Many Germans, including German Catholics, disapproved of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s election as pope because of his strongly conservative Catholic views which conflict with much of Germany’s liberal and “progressive” self-image.

Christian Linker, head of the German Catholic Youth Association in Cologne told Reuters that he “was one of those people who said, ‘Oh no, are we heading for another Ice Age?’ But he has made some very interesting points. I think we’re in for some surprises.”

One newspaper also commented that the Pope’s reception at World Youth Day indicates more openness to Christianity among youths than realized.

“There is a lot more religious yearning and readiness to attend religious events in Europe than we’ve assumed from looking at the crisis in institutionalized Christianity,” Friedrich Wilhelm Graf, a Protestant theology professor at Munich University, told the left-wing Tageszeitung.

Sunday’s Mass was held in Marienfeld, a former open-cast mine on the outskirts of Cologne.