Pope Urges Youth to Fight Secularization of Europe

Pope Benedict returns to Rome after leading celebrations that marked World Youth Day. He celebrated mass in Germany, his homeland, in front of thousands of people from all over the world.

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Pope Benedict XVI has finished his first trip abroad as pope. It was also his first trip home to his native Germany. At World Youth Day in Cologne, the pope told hundreds of thousands pilgrims to follow all the church's doctrine, not just the parts they like. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Cologne.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

The papal visit was a study in contrast as a 78-year-old German intellectual and theologian turned pope was given the megastar treatment. Wearing a gold miter for the final Mass, Benedict stood at the altar high above the crowd, and unlike his predecessor John Paul II, Benedict was never seen tapping his feet or swaying to the music.

(Soundbite of music)

Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

POGGIOLI: Lifting his index finger to his lips to silence the exuberant youngsters, Benedict delivered his homily in German, English, French and Italian. Without ever mentioning sexual ethics explicitly, it often sounded like a stern wake-up call for a rudderless generation.

Pope BENEDICT XVI: That freedom is not simply about ensuring life and total autonomy but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness so that we ourselves can become true and good.

POGGIOLI: Switching to Italian, the pope lamented that in vast areas of the world today, there's a strange forgetfulness of God coupled with a new explosion of religion.

Pope BENEDICT XVI: (Through Translator) Religion constructed on a do-it-yourself basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis, we're left to ourselves.

POGGIOLI: The pope urged young Catholics to study, to take time to regularly attend Mass and to form faith-based communities. The crowd of pilgrims, many of whom had camped out all night on the field waiting for the Mass, came from all over the world. Rebecca Diaz(ph) came all the way from Mexico.

Ms. REBECCA DIAZ: I was excited when I saw him. I was waiting for him, like, for hours, and I thought it's worth it.

POGGIOLI: Some like Juan Rivera from California had come here to hear a special message.

Mr. JUAN RIVERA: Words to inspire the youth, words to touch us and help us in our daily life and our personal life and what we need to do to continue God's way, you know.

POGGIOLI: But Claudia Schultz(ph) from Germany came here for a different reason.

Ms. CLAUDIA SCHULTZ: I met many people, so I love it here, but that religious point is not my type.

POGGIOLI: The four-day event attacked hundreds of thousands of young people, including Catholics critical of many of the positions of the Catholic Church.

Mr. TOBIAS RASCHKE: Young people are looking for community, for spirituality, but the Catholic Church is not offering that.

POGGIOLI: Tobias Raschke helped organize an alternative World Youth event with discussion groups and distribution of leaflets urging the lifting of the Catholic Church ban on condoms to help combat the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Mr. RASCHKE: If they really want to change, they need to be really serious about the problems of young people, which means changing the attitude on sexuality, integrating half the world's population which are women into the Catholic Church, to really get a better idea of what families are, what children are and all these things. The pope, the bishops, they have no idea of these things whatsoever.

POGGIOLI: Before his departure, Benedict told German bishops that secularism and de-Christianization continue to advance and that the influence of Catholic ethics and morals is in constant decline. He told the bishops they're in mission territory and must seek the best way to pass on the faith to future generations.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Cologne.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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