Pope Marks World Youth Day Today is World Youth Day for the Catholic church. Pope Benedict XVI is in his homeland of Germany to lead celebrations and a mass in front of thousands of people from all over the world.
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Pope Marks World Youth Day

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Pope Marks World Youth Day

Pope Marks World Youth Day

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Pope Benedict XVI wound up his first international trip today with a solemn Mass before hundreds of thousands of young Catholic pilgrims.

Pope BENEDICT XVI: 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.

HANSEN: The pontiff's homily for the Catholic festival of World Youth Day focused on the spiritual, urging young people to form faith-based communities and to avoid what is called do-it-yourself religion. The Mass followed the pope's landmark encounters with Jews, Protestants and Muslims in what was also his first papal visit to his homeland. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us on the line from Cologne.

Sylvia, Pope Benedict has the appearance--and he is, indeed, a German theologian--his appearance is rather austere. How does he fare in the glare of the limelight?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

Well, you know, he's handled himself rather well. Remember, this is an event that was created by and for John Paul II, who was a former actor and who also knew the importance of mass events and their wide coverage by the broadcast media. Benedict is a shy intellectual who's always been--who's always worked behind the scenes in the musty, book-filled offices of the Vatican. But all in all he's weathered the onslaught of these cheering, enthusiastic crowds of young people pretty well. He sometimes even seems to enjoy it.

You know, this was a very globalized event with music from all over the world, lots of Christian pop, not exactly the style of a pope who favors the old Latin Mass. So somehow I doubt he'll take part in such massive events as often as John Paul did. His style is one of dealing more, you know, one on one with smaller groups. And, you know, in fact, the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said that there are no trips on the papal agenda--lots of invitations, but nothing's planned. He says this is going to be a papacy of words rather than gestures.

HANSEN: Elaborate a bit more on the message of his closing homily.

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, he spoke in German, French, Italian and Spanish, and his tone was very much that of the German professor. He said vast areas of the world today--in vast areas, there's a strange forgetfulness of God, accompanied by what he called `an explosion of consumerlike, do-it-yourself religion,' which he said is ultimately barren. He also urged young people to study scriptures and the Catholic catechism and to form faith-based communities. But he warned them not to lose contact with the pope and bishops, who are the ones who can guarantee they will not seek private paths, he said. The homily was very didactic. It was kind of oblivious to the hyped-up, emotion-seeking audience. You know, many in the crowd he was addressing are young people who don't follow strictly all Catholic dogma, particularly sexual ethics. But he didn't make any concessions to these kids.

HANSEN: Talk a little bit about the meetings he had. I mean, these encounters with the Jewish groups, Protestants, Muslims--how did these interfaith talks go?

POGGIOLI: Well, the encounters were very important, especially Benedict's visit to the synagogue that had been destroyed by the Nazis in the 1938 Kristalnacht Pogrom. He strongly condemned what he called new signs of anti-Semitism, and he vowed to strengthen Jewish-Catholic relations. But he never mentioned the role of the Catholic Church during the war or his own personal experience when he, as a teen-ager, had been forced to join the Hitler Youth and assist anti-aircraft gunners. Nevertheless, Jewish leaders in Cologne expressed great joy and satisfaction and pointed out the great symbolic impact of a visit to a German synagogue by a German pope.

The meeting with Muslim leaders was also very significant. Benedict's statement was blunt and squarely focused on terrorism and the duty Islamic teachers have in educating young people. He addressed these Muslim leaders who met with him; mainly they were Turks who live here in Germany. And he said, `You have a great responsibility for the formation of the younger generation.' And he insisted that dialogue between Muslims and Christians is a vital necessity.

HANSEN: He's held the office of pope for about four months now, since the College of Cardinals elected him. Was there anything in this visit to indicate any guidelines he might be setting down for the future of his papacy?

POGGIOLI: I think this papacy might have a very Europocentric focus. While here in Germany, he never spoke about the developing world, about social justice issues, globalizations or about wars and conflicts. What he stressed is the need to re-evangelize Europe, which he sees as the cradle of Christianity that's losing ties to its faith. Churches throughout Europe are empty, and, according to the polls, only 21 percent of Europeans say religion is very important to them. Now as we've seen, Benedict is a very reserved intellectual rather than an energetic pastor. The question is: How will this media-shy Benedict wage his campaign to lead Europeans back into churches and arrest the process of what he calls `the excessive secularization of Europe'?

HANSEN: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli at the press center at the Catholic festival of World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. Sylvia, thank you very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Liane.

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