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World Youth Day: bringing a message of hope to the secular culture
The theme of the World Youth Day in Sydney has been, 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses' (Acts 1: 8). This supernatural power is available to all the youth of the world. The challenge is to turn away from hopelessness and embrace Jesus Christ our true beacon of hope.
I read somewhere the following explanation of hope: 'The theological virtue defined as the desire and search for future good, difficult but not impossible to attain without God's help.'
Mindful of this explanation one notes that the Catholic Church in Australia is aiming through World Youth Day, and with God's help, to encourage the virtue of hope among the youth of the world.
Our secular culture today is dominated by technology and materialism; indeed it might well be described as a 'throwaway' culture. Such an environment can easily foster in people a sense of hopelessness and confusion of thought that exclude God, and contribute to promiscuity, whether sexual or consumerist.
Meanwhile many of our political leaders offer the wrong kinds of messages to the young through their anti-life stances on issues like abortion, euthanasia or human embryo experimentation; and the world of entertainment often leaves a lot to be desired in its warped presentations of immoral life- styles.
By contrast, and in the context of World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI has offered the world a message of Christian hope in his encyclical Spe Salvi:
'It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love - a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free.' (5).
Elsewhere in that encyclical, Benedict wrote: 'Young people can have the hope of a great and satisfying love; the hope of a certain position in their lives. But even when such hopes are fulfilled, it becomes evident that 'only something infinite' will satisfy us, the 'great hope' that is something more than we can 'ever attain' or achieve for ourselves' (30, 31).
And in the course of an address in anticipation of World Youth Day, the Holy Father reminded the youth of the world: 'Build your life on Christ, accept the Word with joy, put its teaching into practice: this, young people of the Third Millennium, should be your program'.
One recalls St Augustine's words at the beginning of his Confessions: 'Our heart is restless until it finds rest in you, O Lord'.
So the message to the Youth of the World is that they are free - really free to choose. They are the creation of a loving, personal God who in the person of His Son Jesus Christ has offered them the Good News of Salvation.
They are invited to see themselves as beloved sons and daughters of God and to have a vision of hope, not losing themselves in the deceptions of the world's hedonism. This, I believe is the message of World Youth Day.
In his address to the Youth of the World on 20 July 2007, Benedict reminded young Catholics of the underlying theme of their spiritual preparation for World Youth Day in Sydney, namely 'the Holy Spirit and mission.'
He asked them to reflect prayerfully on 'the Spirit of Fortitude and Witness' that gives the courage to live according to the Gospel and to proclaim it boldly. Not unlike the Apostles in the upper room after the death of Jesus, the youth are being challenged 'to allow the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Jesus to test the quality of their faith, to rediscover it if it is lost, strengthen it if it is weak, savour the fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, brought about by the indispensable working of the Holy Spirit'.
Benedict concluded his address by describing World Youth Day as 'an exceptional opportunity to proclaim the beauty of the Gospel to a society that is secularised in so many ways'. Australia, he added, like all of Oceania, 'needs to rediscover its Christian roots'.
The Holy Father then cited his predecessor's words in the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Oceania: 'Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church in Oceania is preparing for a new evangelisation of peoples who today are hungering for Christ ... a new evangelisation is the first priority for the Church in Oceania'.
The Catholic youth of the world have been invited to attend in great numbers to be a sign of hope not only for the themselves but for all young Australians.
Fr Dennis W. Byrnes is the priest in residence at Port Macquarie in the Lismore Diocese, NSW.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 21 No 7 (August 2008), p. 20
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