- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

If the highly regarded showmanship of Pope John Paul II allowed cynics to dismiss the tremendous attendance at previous World Youth Days — including 1.6 million people in Poland in 1991 and a staggering 5 million people in Manila in 1995 — as merely the appeal of the dynamic and engaging pontiff, then clearly the success of Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne should convey the real reason for the event’s success: the value of the message.

In his first foreign trip as pope, Benedict returned to his German homeland to continue the World Youth Day tradition started by his predecessor in 1984. Benedict successfully subordinated himself to his message, clearly emphasizing the fact that the appeal of the church resides in the potency of the latter rather than the captivating rhetorical quality of the former. Not clearly enough for some, though, as the New York Times’ reporter Ian Fisher muses, “one remaining question seemed to be whether Benedict’s message, if not his stage presence, would have continuing appeal to young people.” Mr. Fisher, writing the New York Times only article Monday on World Youth Day, neglects the pope’s message for his own opinion that John Paul succeeded in spite of Catholicism, not because of it.

The message that Benedict conveyed throughout his visit to Germany was one of inclusion, reaching out and embracing others. Speaking to representatives from Cologne’s Jewish and Muslim communities, he condemned rising anti-Semitism and called for an end to terrorist violence. “If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence,” Benedict challenged, “we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards peace.”

The real triumph of World Youth Day, bringing together the young people in a spiritual embrace during a formative period of their lives, shone through. Benedict reminded a group of German bishops, “Young people, in fact, are not looking for a church which panders to youth but one which is truly young in spirit.” Through his entire four-day visit, Benedict never forgot the purpose that John Paul intended the World Youth Day to serve. Nowhere is this more evident than in his charge to Muslim leaders: “Teaching is the vehicle through which ideas and convictions are transmitted… You, therefore, have a great responsibility for the formation of the younger generations. As Christians and Muslims, we must face together the challenges of our time. There is no room for apathy and disengagement,” the pope reminded us all, “and even less for partiality and sectarianism.” This, indeed, is what World Youth Day is all about.

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