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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIII, No. 2
Pentecost 2008

A Future Full of Hope
Pope Benedict and the Young

Colleen Carroll Campbell, a St. Louis journalist, author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, anchor of EWTN’s “Faith and Culture” series, and member of the Voices editorial board, among other worthy efforts, was a contributor to a New York Times blog on Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States. Following are two of her entries during the visit. Links to these and other articles can be found on her personal web site:

April 20, 2008

Since Pope Benedict began his visit dedicated to “Christ Our Hope”, flashes of hope have touched sexual abuse victims who finally felt heard after telling their stories to the pope. They have reached the relatives of terrorist victims who found healing as Benedict prayed with them at Ground Zero. And they have inspired Catholics throughout America who struggle to keep the faith despite sin, scandals and the distractions of our secular age.

Particularly significant for the Catholic Church’s future in America was the hope and affirmation that Benedict gave young Catholics through this visit.

It was notable that the pope chose to conclude his farewell homily at Yankee Stadium with a message to the young. After confiding that he had been “moved by the joy, the hope and the generous love of Christ” of the 25,000 young pilgrims who greeted him in Yonkers Saturday, Benedict reminded his audience that young Catholics “are the Church’s future and they deserve all the prayer and support that you can give them”.

The pope then challenged his “young friends” to proclaim Jesus Christ and the teachings of their Catholic faith with boldness, defend human life in its most vulnerable stages, serve the poor and needy with love and remain open to God’s call to the priesthood and religious life. Benedict’s remarks about the right to life of the unborn and the beauty of celibate priestly and religious life were interrupted by spontaneous applause — another reminder of the surprising openness of many young Catholics to the Church’s countercultural witness in the world.

By emphasizing the importance of a faith that combines fidelity to Church teachings with openness to infusing the wider culture with Gospel values, Benedict spoke to a central concern of many young Catholics today. Weary of the divisions that have plagued the Church since their childhood and uninterested in waging the battles for a more democratic, culturally accommodating Church that consumed their elders, they hunger for a faith that transforms culture rather than rejecting or capitulating to it.

These young adults see connections, not conflicts, between their concern for the poor and their defense of the unborn, between their focus on a personal relationship with Jesus and their attraction to ancient Catholic devotions and between belonging to a hierarchical Church and embracing the universal call to holiness affirmed at the Second Vatican Council.

They are buoyed to know that Benedict sees those connections, too. His constant refrain during this trip — that Catholics must reject false dichotomies, transcend stale divisions and embrace a faith that reaches out to the world while remaining true to teachings handed down through the ages — comes as particularly good news to them.

Yet it also comes as a challenge. You’re on the right track, he tells them, but much work still must be done. Stay humble. Stay prayerful. And treat others — including the elders with whom you disagree — the way you want them to treat you.

“Only God in His providence knows what works His grace has yet to bring forth in your lives and in the life of the Church in the United States”, Benedict said today, as he concluded his remarks to young Catholics. “Yet Christ’s promise fills us with sure hope.”

Benedict often says that young American Catholics give him hope for the future. This week, he returned the favor by inspiring them to continue their quest for a faith ever ancient and ever new.

Benedict and the Young

April 19, 2008

It happens every time the pope encounters a young crowd, and it is happening again at the papal youth rally in Yonkers: Young Catholics will turn out in droves to give Pope Benedict a warm, rock-star welcome. And many of their elders will watch and wonder: What do they see in him?

He’s the pope, of course, which still counts for something among even the most poorly catechized young Catholics. And a certain contagious enthusiasm always permeates youth gatherings. Then there is the cult-of-personality explanation favored by journalists who puzzled over Pope John Paul II’s rapport with young people for decades. But that rationale lost steam after 1 million effusive young pilgrims showed up to cheer the shy and retiring Benedict at his first World Youth Day gathering in 2005, which pundits had expected to be a flop without the charismatic John Paul.

The youthful crowds turn out for Benedict, as they did for John Paul, for the same reason that young Catholics across America are rediscovering the rosary and Eucharistic adoration, forming reading groups to study the early Church fathers and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, joining Catholic lay movements and religious orders that stress fidelity to Catholic Church teachings, launching Bible studies and chastity clubs on secular campuses, and working to bolster religious education programs at Catholic parishes.

They are hungry for God. They are seeking transcendent truth and reliable moral guidance. And a growing number of them have come to believe that they can find both in an unreserved embrace of their Catholic faith and its most demanding moral teachings.

These young Catholics do not admire Benedict in spite of his message, but because of it. While many leaders today regard the young as bundles of hormones incapable of sacrifice or self-restraint, Benedict views them as souls longing for goodness and God. He tells them that the restlessness they feel — the persistent longing that no amount of money, power, or pleasure can seem to satisfy — is not a curse. It is a reminder that they were created for more than the consumption of goods and satisfaction of appetites. You were created for love, Benedict tells them, the kind of love that originates in God and spills over into service to others.

This message is not internalized by every young Catholic who shows up at a papal rally. The new faithful are a minority in their generation, as the anemic Mass attendance rates of their peers attest.

Yet their grassroots movement toward a more orthodox, countercultural Catholic faith has become a driving force for Church renewal in America. The fact that many of these highly committed young Catholics were once disaffected Catholics themselves suggests that the radical conversions they have experienced could be shared someday by many more young adults.

After all, the new faithful are not the only young adults yearning for God. A 2004 study from the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found that one-fifth of American college students are “highly religious” — a term that describes students who frequently attend religious services and retreats, read sacred texts, join campus religious organizations and tend to be morally conservative. Yet the UCLA study also found that three in four college students say they pray, discuss religion or spirituality with their friends, and find religion to be personally helpful.

Benedict knows about this youthful openness to God. On Wednesday, he urged US bishops to draw on the “growing thirst for holiness” among the young and the “great idealism” and “promise” of highly committed young Catholics to reach their less committed peers.

It’s a strategy that too many bishops, pastors and religious educators have overlooked in their attempts to reach the young. In the coming weeks, as swarms of young Catholics return to their parishes and schools brimming with enthusiasm after celebrating the faith with Benedict, now would be the perfect time to give it a try.

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