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Day 21: Reaching out

Majella is a 27 year old MSc student in Psychology in Dublin, who has an interest in Spirituality, and the dialogue between Christianity and other religious traditions.

My first memory of Pope Benedict was when he stepped out onto the global stage on his first overseas journey, to address the youth gathered for World Youth Day in Cologne. This was an unusual occasion, because his homily had been prepared in advance by his predecessor Pope John Paul, giving the impression that the recently deceased Pope was still very much present with the young people; while at the same time an emerging curiosity arose in the youth about this new Pope, who was now being warmly welcomed in his homeland.

Skip forward three years to the same Pope who traveled to the ‘ends of the earth’, to meet with the young people at the World Youth Day in Sydney. In his millennial pastoral trip to Israel, Pope John Paul courageously addressed the wrongs committed by the Catholic Church towards the Jewish people in his public apology for the persecution of Jews by Catholics over the centuries. In Sydney, Benedict showed similar compassion when he acknowledged the hurt caused to those affected by abuse committed by Catholic clergy in Australia.

In his closing homily at Randwick Racecourse, Benedict showed a deep understanding of the challenges we are facing in our lives and the potential contribution that we as young people can offer to the Church and the rest of humanity:

Dear young people, let me now ask you a question. What will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure?… The world needs this renewal! In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair.

Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith’s rich vision, a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished –not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships.

Dear young friends, the Lord is asking you to be prophets of this new age, messengers of his love, drawing people to the Father and building a future of hope for all humanity.

I received these words as a personal challenge from the Holy Father, which I have tried to put into practice over the last five years!

How can you love someone that you do not know, whether that person is Jesus Christ or a remote figure such as the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church?

If you rely only on mainstream media reports to gain this knowledge then you will only receive one depiction of Pope Benedict.

I am glad to be part of Generation Benedict. While attending five gatherings with Pope Benedict, over the last seven years, I have had an opportunity to build up a personal relationship with this Pope and the tradition he represents. What strikes me is the steadfastness and humility with which he has communicated the core messages of the Church, while embracing new technologies such as Twitter in order to do so.

Pope Benedict XVI (R) greets British professor Stephen Hawking during a meeting of science academics at the Vatican October 31, 2008. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano        (VATICAN)

Pope Benedict XVI greets British professor Hawking during a meeting of science academics at the Vatican

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict worked with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Benedict had a wider role as overseer of the Pontifical Academies. In this role, he inspired me in the way he reached out to those who would not normally be associated in a positive way with the Catholic Church or its tradition. I am thinking of people such as Stephen Hawking, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, and members of the Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Letters of the Virtuosi at the Pantheon, which counts many contemporary artists amongst its membership.

I am grateful to Pope Emeritus Benedict for being our German Shepherd!

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