August 29, 2005


After Cologne: The Remarkable Lesson of Professor Ratzinger: For Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims. A survey of the first trip outside of Italy for the new pope – who, the more demanding he is, conquers minds and hearts all the more (Sandro Magister, August 25, 2005, Chiesa)

He had announced it since his first morning as pope, in the seminal address delivered in the Sistine Chapel on April 20: “The Eucharist will be the centre of the World Youth Day in Cologne in August.”

And what he said, he did. To the million young people gathered from 197 countries for four days in the city that keeps the relics of the Magi – even to those of little faith and the non-baptized – Benedict XVI preached “the inconceivable greatness of a God who humbled himself even to appearing in a manger, to giving himself as food on the altar.”

One of his other early statements was that the pope “must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.”

And he kept this promise, too. From August 18-21 in Cologne, Benedict XVI did not bestow upon the crowd a mere theatrical gesture, or nothing more than a striking phrase. He led the young people to look, not at him, but always and only at the true protagonist: that Jesus whom the Magi adored in Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” and who is now concealed in the consecrated host.

Joseph Razinger took a big risk in Cologne. Cardinal Angleo Scola, one of the many bishops who came to catechize the young people during the first three days of the vigil with the pope, thought he would win them over with a ten-minute recitation from “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. Benedict XVI, on the other hand, challenged everyone’s attention span with a difficult explanation of “the different nuances of the word ‘adoration’ in Greek and in Latin. The Greek word is ‘proskynesis’. It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure. [...] The Latin word is ‘ad-oratio’, mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is love.”

The theme of this twentieth World Youth Day was: “We Have Come To Worship Him,” the words of the Magi who came following the star. Ratzinger used this episode as the outline for a remarkable lesson that lasted four days – beginning with his arrival on the banks of the Rhine – on “the great procession of the faithful called the Church.” Walking behind the Magi are the saints “in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages.” Their relics “are indeed just human bones,” but of “individuals touched by the transcendent power of God.” And over their reliquary, “the most exquisite reliquary of the whole Christian world,” Cologne “raised above it an even greater reliquary, this stupendous Gothic Cathedral, [...] one of the most important places of pilgrimage in the Christian West,” together with Rome, Santiago de Compostela, and Jerusalem. For this reason, “here in Cologne we discover the joy of belonging to a family as vast as the world, including heaven and earth, the past, the present, the future.” The Church can be criticized, because it contains both grain and darnel, but “it is actually consoling to realize that there is darnel in the Church. In this way, despite all our defects, we can still hope to be counted among the disciples of Jesus, who came to call sinners.”

Benedict XVI spoke the latter of these words at the culmination of the nocturnal vigil in Marienfeld, before an altar beneath a starry sky. And then, all of a sudden, he added: “Dear friends, this is not a distant story that took place long ago. It is with us now. Here in the sacred Host he is present before us and in our midst. [...] He is present now as he was then in Bethlehem. He invites us to that inner pilgrimage which is called adoration.” Silence. The pope blessed the crowd with the host and quickly withdrew into the shadows, without passing through the crowd. He would return the next morning for the Mass, to repeat that it is only through God and the Eucharist that true revolution comes to the world. And he would give two pieces of advice to the young people: that they attend Sunday Mass and study the catechism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2005 11:09 PM
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