Pope Benedict, wrapping up his visit to Australia, on Sunday urged a crowd of 400,000 young people to beware the spreading “spiritual desert” that often accompanied modern prosperity.
At the start of his last full day in the country, the pope flew by helicopter over hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who staged an all-night vigil at a race track ahead of the outdoor papal Mass which formally ended World Youth Day celebrations.
“In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading — an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair,” he said in his homily.
Some 200,000 young pilgrims camped out at the race track overnight, singing as temperatures dipped to about 8 degrees Celsius (46F).
The crowd swelled to some 400,000 as others who slept elsewhere flocked to the track on an overcast morning, organisers said.
In a tribute to the region’s native peoples, a group of dancers from South Pacific island nations performed in front of the pope in straw clothing that was in stark contrast to his traditional red and gold vestments.
But the pope’s message to the young people was very traditional — they had to avoid that “falsely conceived freedom” and look for that “underground river” of Christian values that will help them build their lives on firm foundations.
His underlying message to them over the past five days has been that they should have the courage to be Catholic and live the tenets of their religion openly and proudly.
The 1.1 billion-member Catholic Church hopes World Youth Day, the brainchild of the late Pope John Paul II, will revitalise the world’s young Catholics at a time when the cult of the individual and consumerism have become big distractions in their lives.
The 81-year-old Benedict announced that the next one will be in Madrid, Spain in 2011 and that he hoped to be there.