Pope praises, challenges Australia

On arrival at Barangaroo, Sydney for World Youth Day, Pope Benedict praised Australia for its recent "courageous" apology to aborigines and challenged young people to take responsibility for modern challenges including the environment and the internet.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports Pope Benedict made a triumphant maritime arrival at Sydney's Barangaroo this afternoon welcomed by 150,000 young pilgrims and a sea of 168 national flags.

Scenes around the Harbour were joyous and upbeat as a chorus of "Benedetto Benedetto!" rose from crowds as he passed.

After a welcome from the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell and the Archbishop of Adelaide, Phillip Wilson, Pope Benedict delivered his first public homily, talking about faith, the challenges of the environment and the need to use faith to find solutions to humanity's problems.

Referring to the pioneering priests and nuns who came to the Pacific and to Asia and Australia from Europe, he said it was his turn to provide leadership for today's young people as they ace modern problems.

"Today it is my turn. For some of us, it might seem like we have come to the end of the earth! For people of your age however, any flight is an exciting prospect. But for me, this was one was somewhat daunting.

"Yet the views afforded of our planet from the air were truly wonderous. The sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north African desert, the lushness of Asia's forestation, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the horizon upon which the sun rose and set, and the majestic splendour of Australia's natural beauty which I have been able to enjoy these last couple of days; these all evoke a profound sense of awe.

"It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story - light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth, and living creatures; all of which are 'good' in God's eyes (cf. Gen 1:1 - 2:4).

"Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator: 'how majestic is your name in all the earth?'

"And there is more  something hardly perceivable from the sky men and women, made in nothing less than God's own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26).

"At the heart of the marvel of creation are you and I, the human family 'crowned with glory and honour' (Ps 8:5). How astounding! With the Psalmist we whisper: 'what is man that you are mindful of him?' (Ps 8:4). And drawn into silence, into a spirit of thanksgiving, into the power of holiness, we ponder. What do we discover?

"Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption.

"Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought. God's wondrous creation is sometimes experienced as almost hostile to its stewards, even something dangerous. How can what is 'good' appear so threatening?"

He told young people that every day, they not only must face up to the challenges thrown up by the degradation of the physical environment but also those created by the erosion of the social environment.

He said alcohol and  drug abuse were prevalent problems but warned about the "exaltation of violence and sexual degradation, often presented through television and the internet as entertainment".

"I ask myself, could anyone standing face to face with people who actually do suffer violence and sexual exploitation "explain" that these tragedies, portrayed in virtual form, are considered merely "entertainment?

"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."

Pope Benedict said that relativism, which indiscriminately gives 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."

Earlier he said that the Australian Government's "courageous decision" to say sorry for injustices done to indigenous people in the past.

And he said World Youth Day filled him with confidence about the world's future.

"Since the first European settlement here in the late 18th century, this country has become a home not only to generations of Europeans but to people from every corner of the globe."

The Pope also said that "ancient heritage" formed an essential part of the landscape of modern Australia.

"Thanks to the Australian Government's courageous decision to acknowledge the injustices committed against the indigenous peoples in the past, concrete steps are now being taken to achieve reconciliation based on mutual respect," he said.

The Pope also welcomed efforts to bridge the gap between the life expectancy, education and economic opportunity of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

"This example of reconciliation offers hope to peoples all over the world who long to see their rights affirmed and their contribution to society acknowledged and promoted."

He also said those who came to Australia from Europe had "always included a significant proportion of Catholics and they may be ... proud of the contributions they have made to the building up of the nation."

The Pope said that, since it began in 1986, World Youth Day had given young pilgrims the chance to come together to "deepen their faith in Christ" and return home filled with hope of building a "better world".

"World Youth Day fills me with confidence for the future of the church and the future of the world," he said.

"It seems particularly appropriate to celebrate World Youth Day here, since the church in Australia, as well as being the youngest of any continent, is also one of the most cosmopolitan.



Pope's message at the end of the earth (SMH, 18/7/08)



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