By Jesús Colina
ROME, JULY 11, 2008 (Zenit.org).- On Benedict XVI’s ninth international trip he will address the need for evangelization in the country he once named as one of the most secularized of all nations.
The Pope leaves Saturday for Sydney, Australia, the highlight of which will be the weeklong celebration of World Youth Day. The event will culminate with an open-air Mass at Randwick Racecourse on July 20, where more than 500,000 are expected to be in attendance.
The Pontiff mentioned Australia at the top of a list of secularized countries during an impromptu question-and-answer session with priests of the Italian Diocese of Aosta in 2005.
He said a secularized society is one that is “tired of its own culture, a world that has arrived at a moment in which the need for God is no longer felt, and much less so of Christ, and in which, consequently, it seems that man might construct himself.”
“In this climate of a rationalism shut-in on itself, which considers the model of the sciences as the only model of knowledge, everything else is subjective,” Benedict XVI continued. “Naturally, Christian life also becomes a subjective option and, therefore, arbitrary. It is no longer the way of life.”
“This happens especially in Australia,” he added, “also in Europe, somewhat less so in the United States.”
Confirmed in faith
The preface of the missal prepared for youth event also comments on the challenge of secularization in the country.
“While the Christian faith has an honored place and history in the life of modern Australia,” it says, “increasing secularization of society gives an even more urgent thrust to the need for young people to be witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit.”
The missal was prepared by the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, with the cooperation of the Liturgical Directorate of the World Youth Day 2008 Office in Sydney.
“As the World Youth Day prayer for Sydney implores,” the text continues, “we pray that this time may herald a new Pentecost for the young people of the world, resulting in ‘conversion of life, a deeper faith, and love for all.'”
To that end the Holy Father will confirm 24 young people at the closing Mass, after which, the missal states, he will “entrust the newly confirmed and all the pilgrims with the task of taking the Gospel to the world.”
“Young people are called to give a vibrant testimony of Christ with their lives,” the preface adds. “As the prayer for Sydney expresses, they are called to build ‘a new civilization of life, love and truth.'”
The Central Statistical Office of the Church announced last week that Catholicism is the largest religion in Australia, with 27.56% of the total population belonging to the Church.
Nonetheless, the office noted that while the Catholic population grew by 125,260 between 2001 and 2006, it failed to grow in proportion to the country’s total population.
The Australian episcopal conference’s Pastoral Projects Office reported last month that those who consistently attend Mass is a much lower number.
A national survey conducted in May 2006 revealed that the total number of people at Mass on a typical weekend was 708,600, or about 14% of the census Catholic population. That low number was already down a bit from 2001’s count of 15%.
Sydney is the first venue the Holy Father has chosen for the celebration of an international youth day, although it is the second such event he has participated in since elected to the pontificate. Pope John Paul II chose Cologne, Germany, as the site of the last youth day in 2005.
The theme of the event is “You Will Receive Power When the Holy Spirit Has Come Upon You; and You Will Be My Witnesses.”[Karna Swanson contributed to this report]
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On the Net:
World Youth Day Missal: www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/libretti/2008/messale_Australia.pdf