John-Henry Westen
The Interim

By all accounts, World Youth Day, held this year in Cologne, Germany, was a phenomenal success and one during which young Catholics and the world were exhorted to rise above the fray, respect orthodoxy and defend the sanctity of life.

During his homily for the closing Mass of World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the youth to pursue a pure and full faith, which does not pick and choose among doctrines. He continued on that theme in remarks to the German Catholic bishops before returning to Rome.

“If it is pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product,” said the Pope to over a million pilgrims in attendance at the three-hour Mass culminating World Youth Day. People choose what they like …  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. Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ!” he said.

After a farewell to the youth, the Pope made his way to a meeting with the German bishops, during which he encouraged them to capitalize on the rejuvenation of faith that comes with World Youth Day. “We need, then, to cherish this gift which God has given to the church in Germany, to accept the challenge that it presents and to make good use of the potential it provides,” he said.

The Pope did not content himself with glossing over negatives in the church. In fact, he said, they must be examined. “We know that on the face of this church there are unfortunately also wrinkles – shadows that obscure her splendour. These, too, we should keep before us in a spirit of unfailing love,” he said.

Returning to the theme of orthodoxy, the Pope warned the bishops that, “Many people abandon the church or, if they remain, they accept only a part of Catholic teaching.”  He counselled: “Young people, in fact, are not looking for a church which panders to youth, but one which is truly young in spirit, a church completely open to Christ, the new Man.”

He urged Catholic bishops to “confront the most difficult issues facing the church in Germany,” noting that young people “are asking us to be consistent, united and courageous.” And while he encouraged bishops to reach out to the youth, he warned, “Yet, there can be no false compromise, no watering down of the Gospel.”

Throughout the 1960s and to the modern day, when faced with the demands of the popular culture, many in church leadership felt that watering down church teaching to make it palatable especially for youth was the key to success. However, the empty churches and seminaries, particularly in areas where watering down of church teaching was rampant, have shown that recourse to compromise with the world is an abysmal failure, especially when juxtaposed with the over-crowded seminaries in those locales where orthodoxy reigns.

The Pope said to the bishops, “I am confident that you will take care to ensure that the persons chosen to be teachers of religion and catechists are well-prepared and faithful to the Church’s Magisterium.”

At the airport, the Pope bid farewell to his beloved homeland. “Indeed, one can say that during these days, Germany has been the centre of the Catholic world,” he said. “I hope that this event will remain impressed on the life of Germany’s Catholics and will be an incentive for a renewed spiritual and apostolic outreach!”

He concluded, “Filled with the emotions and memories of these days, I now return to Rome.

In one of his first events upon returning to Germany, the first papal visit to his homeland by Pope Benedict XVI, he made a historic visit to Cologne’s synagogue and spoke with Rabbi Netanel Teitelbaum.

In his address, the Pope condemned in vivid language the atrocities committed against Jews during the Holocaust. “In the 20th century, in the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt, planned and systematically carried out by the regime, to exterminate European Jewry,” said Pope Benedict. “The victims of this unspeakable and previously unimaginable crime amounted to 7,000 named individuals in Cologne alone. The real figure was surely much higher. The holiness of God was no longer recognized, and consequently, contempt was shown for the sacredness of human life.”

He concluded his remarks by calling on Jewish believers to join Christians in defending life and family. “Our rich common heritage, and our fraternal and more trusting relations, call upon us to join in giving an ever-more-harmonious witness and to work together on the practical level for the defence and promotion of human rights and the sacredness of human life, for family values, for social justice and for peace in the world,” he said.

Organizers were pleased with the 2005 World Youth Day. More than 400,000 youth were officially registered for the week’s events and more than one million were estimated to have attended the final Mass.

Furthermore, a survey of German media by The Catholic Universe, an English newspaper, found almost universally positive coverage of the event by European media. However, in Canada, the location of the last World Youth Day, there was a virtual blackout of the event, as the only television channel to cover it was Salt and Light Television, which is available only on digital television, and the American EWTN channel, also only available in Canada on digital TV.

These reports are a summary of some of’s World Youth Day 2005 coverage.