The Pope is in Australia. Pope Benedict XVI is here in the land of Oz to mark the celebration of World Youth Day where almost 150,000 of the faithful will congregate in the city of Sydney, culminating next Sunday in an open-air mass with up to half a million people.
As someone who was brought up as a Catholic I should probably be jumping for joy right now. Some people have said they can feel the positive energy in the streets, that the city is shining in its spiritual journey, that this event, is in fact, bigger than the 2000 Olympics.
I am ambivalent about this whole world youth day thing. I feel myself stepping back from religion the older I get. It seems to me the major problem with any religion is the lack of respect shown to other religions. Surely that’s not what it’s all about. Religion should be inclusive not exclusive. I met a guy at the bus stop yesterday who told me how excited he was at the prospect of the Pope’s visit and the city being awash with Catholics. ‘For a whole week I’m going to be among my people,’ he said. So what about all the other people he’s with at other times? Are they just making up the numbers?
For those of you who read this blog regularly [and I thank you so much **hugs**] you will know that I am presently experiencing a crisis of faith that has been going on for a number of years. Recently, I decided I would not be returning to the Church. Yes, I am officially one of the fallen. I have varied, solid reasons for this but as many of you know the major reason I have grappled with this is because my cousin was abused by a Catholic priest and later as an adult took his own life.
I believe in forgiveness. I believe it is necessary to move forward and to grow, but I cannot get past what happened. The Pope is supposed to apologise at some stage this week to the victims who were sexually abused by priests, cardinals, and so on; but I think too little, too late.
Yet Benedict XVI is the only Pope in recent history to openly acknowledge sexual abuse within the Church. I actually admire him. He is tackling issues previously ignored by the Catholic Church. I applaud his stance on the environment and on issues like the unequal distribution of wealth in society. But I don’t know if he can compete with the consumerist society we find ourselves presently enmeshed in. Personally, I think it’s going to take more than several hundred thousand Catholics praying in the streets to stimulate a spiritual awakening in my city. There is only one God that rules here. The almighty dollar. And he has a firm grip on most of the inhabitants. The only God that counts.
In some ways these are desperate times we live in. Times of uncertainty, times where hope is hard to come across. I have friends who have young adult children who can’t afford to move out of home, who face a shrinking job market, econonomic uncertainty, and a housing crisis. Not to mention environmental concerns. It must be difficult to be on the brink of adulthood in 2008.
Pope Benedict XVI is urging young people to seek faith amid the tumult, saying that our world needs a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that young people are the instruments of that renewal, and that it is only through seeking Christ that a better world will be attained.
Is he right? I hope so. I hope this week points all of those young people in the direction they need to live a fulfilling life, I really do.
And for those who feel the need to protest such events –
Their voice needs to be heard if we are going to come to a mutual place that is going to benefit all of us. Annoyance laws have been introduced for this week, giving police the power to fine people deemed to be annoying or hampering the pilgrims, with fines of up to $5,500. A large price to pay for voicing your opinion.
I’d like to end with a quote about religion made over 40 years ago that still inspires me –
The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.
– JOHN F KENNEDY
Amen to that!