VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI defended the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day as a “great feast of faith,” rejecting descriptions and criticisms of the popular annual event as a mere “rock festival.”
Benedict made his remarks on Monday (Dec. 22), during his Christmas address to the Roman Curia, the Catholic Church’s international government at the Vatican.
World Youth Day, established by Pope John Paul II in 1986, is celebrated on a diocesan level every year, and on an international scale every two or three years. The July 2008 gathering in Australia, attended by Benedict, drew more than 200,000 participants.
“Analyses in vogue tend to consider these days as a variant of modern youth culture, a sort of modified, ecclesiastical rock festival with the pope as the star,” Benedict said.
But religious worship lies at the center of all the celebrations, the pope said, noting that a “Way of the Cross” procession through the streets of Sydney was this year’s “culminating event.”
“Thus the pope is not the star around whom everything turns,” Benedict said. “He is totally and solely the vicar.”
The “joy” experienced by World Youth Day participants is “not comparable to the ecstasy of a rock festival” because it derives from the presence of God, he said.
Reviewing other events of the past year, Benedict recalled his trips to the United States and France, which he described as “days that irradiated luminosity.”
This year was the 40th anniversary of the controversial papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, which set forth the church’s prohibition of contraception. In Monday’s speech, Benedict stressed the document’s continuing relevance to contemporary questions of human sexuality.
Stating that the “nature of the human being as man and woman” is an “order of creation that must be respected,” the pope described the church’s affirmation of sex differences as a kind of nature conservation.
“(The church) should also protect man from the destruction of himself. There needs to be something like an ecology of man,” the pope said. “The tropical forests deserve our protection, yes, but man as a creature no less so.”
He also said the church should reaffirm the definition of marriage as “the life-long bond between man and woman,” presumably in response to the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, which the Catholic Church opposes.
By Francis X. Rocca
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