The news that Sydney is to host the 2008 World Youth Day
has been greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm especially among the two and a
half thousand Australian pilgrims who took part in this year’s gathering in
Cologne. Many of those young people had attended similar events in Rome in 2000
and Toronto in 2002.
This year there was the opportunity to meet the new Pope
on his first visit outside Italy since his election in April and to witness his
joyous return to his native Germany. Pope Benedict challenged his hearers to be
faithful to the teachings of Jesus, but at the same time he placed great
confidence in young people as bearers of the “good news”.
There is no doubt that these large gatherings of young
people bring many positive results. The inspiration they derive from the
presence of the Pope is significant in that he powerfully presents himself as a
centre and source of unity. Added to that, the weight of numbers means
much to those who often find themselves as part of a beleaguered minority back
home. The World Youth Day helps them to discover their identity as part of a
global Church in which they are very much involved.
Experience shows that at least some of the positive spirit
carries them forward when they return home. Certainly in the Archdiocese of
Canberra and Goulburn, the formation of a vibrant youth ministry has received a
great boost from these overseas gatherings.
It has been suggested that the Catholic Church in
Australia will be “on trial” in the time leading up to the 2008 WYD and that
there are already areas of deep concern about the life of the Church is this
country. The most commonly voiced worrying statistic is the steady decline in
Mass attendance especially among the young. There are of course exceptions to
this trend, very notably here in Canberra in the parishes of Gungahlin and
It is my belief that the way forward for the Catholic
Church in Australia it to take up the challenges of the Second Vatican Council.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the close of the Council yet much of its
teaching is still to be fully implemented. Regrettably too, there have been in
some quarters moves to wind back the positive reforms already implemented. Some
of the proposed changes to the English translations in the Mass will do little
to encourage people back to regular church-going.
Vatican II did much to restore to lay-people their
rightful place in the Church and both the 1989 and 2004 Synods called by
Archbishop Carroll for this Archdiocese have focused on encouraging the laity to
exercise their gifts within the life of the Archdiocese. The emphasis on youth
has not been insignificant. Many parishes have taken up this call at a local
level, enabling the parishioners to have a real sense of ownership and a proper
say in decision-making. Partnership in ministry is meant to be more than a
The universal call to holiness espoused by the Council
encourages all to be actively part of the life of the pilgrim Church. The
primacy of conscience, re-affirmed by Vatican II, respects the unique
responsibility each Christian has before God.
As well as looking at its own life, the post-Vatican II
Church is called upon to see itself in relation to other Christian Churches,
non-Christian religions and society has a whole. One of my favourite lines from
Vatican II is the opening gambit of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in
the Modern World. “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the
people of this age, especially the poor and the afflicted, these too must be the
joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of
This engagement with all people of good-will should enable
the Catholic Church to be effective in spreading the message of the Gospel. It
means being in partnership and in dialogue with a diversity of people and views.
It means not approaching its role with a superior attitude but treasuring what
it has to offer while being prepared to listen to and learn from others.
Building bridges is surely an important part of being a Catholic today. At least
Pope Benedict seems to think so when we see his outreach to Jews, Muslims and
non-Catholic Christians in the first few months of his pontificate. In many ways
he has given lots of examples of engaging contemporary society; he has not
shirked from challenging it, but he has done so in a way which seeks to bring
together rather than to alienate.
My days as a Young Christian Workers’ chaplain taught me
with the young people to recognize the realities of life and to try to bring the
light of the Gospel to bear on those realities. It is my hope that the young
people and the rest of the Catholic Church in preparation for the 2008 World
Youth Day will look honestly at the state of our country and of the Church and
to do whatever is possible to make Australia a more inclusive
The Church’s advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers, for
the poorest people in our society, for our indigenous people, for those
suffering from mental illness, those in prison and other vulnerable people such
as the unborn and the aged will surely be the test of how true we are to our
calling to be the followers of Christ. Mass attendance may again mean something
to those estranged from it when they see the Eucharist as their source of
strength and means of communion with God and their sisters and brothers. There
is more than one criterion by which we may be judged to be a godless society or
(Bishop) Pat Power
- scheduled for publication in The Canberra Times