- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

COLOGNE, Germany — Pope Benedict XVI brought his first foreign trip as pope to a joyful conclusion yesterday, telling more than a million mainly youthful and exuberant followers at an outdoor Mass that they should not pick and choose at their faith.

“If it is pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product,” he said. “People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it.

“But 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.”

For a chance to experience the pope, many of the youths spent Saturday night camped out on the field.

“It was like nothing I have ever experienced before,” said Danielle Langenkam, 16, of Ohio. “He seemed so open and friendly. He was everything I expected and a lot more.”

The pope’s host in Germany, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, said Benedict had been “amazed” at the exuberance of his reception at what some described as a “Catholic Woodstock.”

“He called it a miracle that so many would come out and seemed almost surprised,” Cardinal Meisner said. “But he also said he listened and learned much and really enjoyed it.”

After spending much of his four-day visit to Germany seeking unity with other Christian leaders and reaching out to Jews and Muslims, the pontiff concluded the trip by returning to his central theme — an attempt to inspire faith in the young pilgrims who had gathered in Cologne for World Youth Day.

Benedict, 78, arrived in his glass-enclosed “popemobile” and walked to a raised platform, eliciting a huge cheer from a sea of flag-waving faithful that stretched across Marienfeld, or Mary’s Field, just outside Cologne.

He smiled and, directing his remarks to the young followers, told them: “Freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness so that we ourselves can become true and good.”

The visit provided Benedict with his first chance to demonstrate whether he can inspire the young as effectively as his charismatic predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who founded World Youth Day in 1985 and died in April.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the current pope served as the “watchdog” of doctrine under John Paul and was known for his cool intellectualism and shyness.

Throughout the trip, he eschewed many of the gestures and themes of John Paul, such as kissing the ground when arriving in a new country, or preaching abstinence to the young.

Benedict took care in Germany to maintain doctrinal continuity with his predecessor, but focused on forging better relationships with non-Catholics and told young people they must attend Mass and demonstrate their religion in their lives, providing service to others.

Faith “must be seen in our capacity to forgive,” he said. “It must be seen in our sensitivity to the needs of others, in our willingness to share. …

“Today, there are many forms of voluntary assistance, models of mutual service, of which our society has urgent need. We must not pass by when we meet people who are suffering.”

Before leaving for Rome, the pope said the older generation should take greater responsibility for the young.

“I express my hope that we can strengthen our common commitment to train the younger generation in the human and spiritual values which are indispensable for building a future of true freedom and peace,” he said.

He also referred to his homeland’s history under the Nazis and expressed his hope that the visitors will have seen a better side of Germany.

“We are all well aware of the evil that emerged from our homeland during the 20th century, and we acknowledge it with shame and suffering,” he said, echoing a speech made at a synagogue on Friday.

“During these days, thanks be to God, it has become quite evident that there was and is another Germany, a land of singular human, cultural and spiritual resources.”

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