Cardinal Pell Kicks Off World Youth Day
Benedict XVI Sends Pilgrims a Text Message
By Anthony Barich and Catherine Smibert
SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 15, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal George Pell gave a message of welcome and hope to an energized crowd gathered together for the opening Mass of World Youth Day.
Before the Mass got under way at Barangaroo today, the some 150,000 youth were greeted by warm weather in Sydney and a welcome event celebrating indigenous culture. And the young people got a text message from none other than Benedict XVI.
The Pope's message said: "Young friends, God & his people expect much from u, because u have within u the Father's supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus -- BXVI."
After a 168-flag procession and the entrance of the youth day cross and icon, Cardinal Pell welcomed the international pilgrims in four languages.
His greeting was reciprocated with wild applause and accompanied by chants and cheers similar to those used for papal receptions. Cardinal Pell was joined by 26 other cardinals, 400 bishops, a 300-person youth choir, and an 80-piece orchestra. He had told members of the media earlier this week that he was looking forward to celebrating the biggest Mass of his life.
As the sun set over the western Sydney waterfront skyline, Cardinal Pell used the first reading from Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones to illustrate the promise of hope.
From a stage built of original Australian timber, the archbishop of Sydney talked to the youth about Ezekiel's presentation of the dead being preyed on by birds that had long since finished stripping off the flesh, in an "immense battlefield of the unburied."
Ezekiel, he noted, was urged by God to prophesy to these bones. As he did so, the bones "rushed together noisily, accompanied by an earthquake. Sinews knitted them together, flesh and then skin clothed the corpses." Then God breathed life into them and "a great and immense army" arose.
God of surprises
Cardinal Pell stressed that his first priority was not those who are already strong in the faith, but "welcoming and encouraging anyone, anywhere who regards himself or herself as lost, in deep distress, with hope diminished or even exhausted."
He affirmed that the causes of any personal wounds -- whether alcohol, drugs, family break-ups or even the loneliness of success -- were "quite secondary" compared to Christ's call to all those who are suffering.
"Christ is calling you home; to love, healing and community," he said. He encouraged hope for "all of you who are tempted to say 'our hope is gone, we are as good as dead.'"
"We Christians believe in the power of the Spirit to convert and change persons away from evil to good; from fear and uncertainty to faith and hope," Cardinal Pell added. "Our task is to be open to the Spirit, to allow the God of surprises to act through us. Whatever our situation, we must pray for an openness of heart, for a willingness to take the next step, even if we are fearful of venturing too much further.
"If we take God's hand, he will do the rest. Trust is the key. God will not fail us."
Referring to the second reading from Paul's Letter to the Galatians, Cardinal Pell urged the youth to avoid spending their lives "sitting on the fence, keeping your options open -- because only commitments bring fulfillment."
He said being a disciple of Jesus requires discipline, adding that while "self control won't make your perfect -- it hasn't with me -- [it] is necessary to develop and protect the love in our hearts and prevent others, especially our family and friends, from being hurt by our lapses into nastiness or laziness."
Earlier in the day, Cardinal Pell's auxiliary bishop, Anthony Fisher, spoke to ZENIT about the Mass and what the cardinal planned to say. He characterized the homily as particularly poignant for Australia.
Bishop Fisher noted that a literal interpretation of Ezekiel is apt for the nation, suffering a 10-year drought. But the message is more about a "people in decline," he said.
"The promise Christ makes of new life is for our culture, our country, the countries from which the pilgrims come, for those who are suffering and those youth experimenting in drugs," said bishop affirmed. He contended that the reading and the cardinal's message would give disaffected youth hope to get them over their fear, depression or anxiety.
He acknowledged that the homily would be challenging for the thousands of youth gathered Down Under, but he said its message for young people is that World Youth Day will offer Christ and his Church as hope for them.
"When they are feeling like dry bones, there is hope for a new Spirit, of new life for them," he affirmed.
Sydney's auxiliary bishop noted as well the historical significance of the Mass: Cardinal Pell carried the crosier of one of his predecessors, Cardinal Patrick Moran, Australia's first cardinal. He also wore the episcopal ring and pectoral cross of Archbishop John Polding, Sydney's first archbishop.
Looks like the Mass finished late =)
Kinda reminds me of the famous statue of the American soldiers raising the US flag on Okinawa during WWII.