Holiness, welcome among us, thanks a lot – as usual – for giving us the opportunity for a brief meeting during the outbound flight. The “flying community” of journalists here, is composed of 56 people from many different countries, but the journalists who await you in Madrid number more than 4 000, in fact there are almost 5 000. This is a record for Spain and also for the coverage of a world event. We will make it our duty, of course, to give an adequate echo to your words during this wonderful event. As usual, I propose a few questions that I have been given in the past days by the journalists present here.
Holy Father, this is the 26th World Youth Day, and the 12th celebrated with a big international meeting. John Paul II, who invented them, is now a Blessed and is the Official Patron of this World Youth Day in Madrid. At the beginning of your pontificate we had wondered whether you would continue the line of your predecessor. Now you are already marking the third World Youth Day since then, after Cologne and Sydney. What is the significance of these events in the pastoral “strategy” of the Universal Church in the third millennium?
Dear friends, greetings! I’m happy to go with you to Spain for this great event. After having personally experienced two WYD, I can only say that it was truly an inspiration that had been given to Pope John Paul II when he created the idea of a large gathering of young people and of the world with the Lord. I would say that these WYD are a signal, a cascade of light; they give visibility to the faith, of God’s presence in the world, and thus foster the courage to be a believer. Believers often feel isolated in this world, almost lost. Here they see that they are not alone, that there is a large network of faith, a great community of believers in the world, that it is nice to live in this universal bond of friendship. And it is thus that I think friendships are born, friendships across the boundaries of different cultures and different countries. It is this birth of a universal network of friendship, which links the world and God, and is an important reality for the future of humanity and for the life of humanity today. Of course, World Youth Day cannot be an isolated incident: it is part of a larger journey, which has been prepared by the way of the Cross which has travelled to different countries already uniting young people in the sign of the Cross and the wonderful sign of the Virgin Mary. And thus it is that the preparation for World Youth Day is much more than the logistics of planning an event which naturally has many technical problems. It is requires an inner preparation, a willingness to join a path that brings us to others so that we can journey together towards God. And then, later, following the establishment of groups of friends, keeping this universal contact opens the borders of cultures, of human and religious differences, and continues a path which then leads to a new arrival point in a new WYD. It seems to me that the World Youth Day should be considered in this sense, as a sign, a part of a great journey, which creates friendships, open borders and demonstrates that is good to be with God, and that God is with us. In this sense, we want to continue with this great idea of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
Holiness, times change. Europe and the Western world in general are experiencing a deep economic crisis, which also makes manifest serious social and moral problems and a great uncertainty about the future, all of which become particularly painful for young people. In recent days we have seen, for example, the events taking place in Britain, with the outbreak of rebellion and aggression. At the same time there are signs of generous and enthusiastic commitment, of volunteerism and solidarity, by young believers and non-believers. In Madrid we will meet many wonderful young people. What messages can the Church give for the hope and encouragement of the youth of the world, especially those who are now tempted to discouragement and rebellion?
And thus, it is confirmed in the current economic crisis that which had already appeared in previous great crises, that the ethical dimension is not something external to economic problems, but an inner and fundamental dimension. The economy does not only work with a self-regulated market, but needs an ethical way of reasoning in order to work for man. It appears again that what Pope John Paul II had already said in his first social encyclical: man must be the center of the economy and the economy is not to be measured solely according to achieving maximum profits. Its true measure is according to how it serves the good of everyone, including taking responsibility for others, and it works really well only if it works in a humane manner with respect for others. This includes different dimensions. The first is that individuals take responsibility for their nation and not just for themselves. The second is that nations must take responsibility for the world – beyond their own national interests, even a continent like Europe must not think only of its own good but assume responsibility for all of humanity and should always think about its economic problems in the light of this responsibility for other parts of the world: for those who are suffering, thirsty and hungry, and have no future. And then – the third dimension of this responsibility – is the responsibility for the future. We know that we must protect our planet, but we must protect – all in all – the functioning of the service of economic work for everyone by reckoning that tomorrow is also today. If the youth of today have no prospects in life, our today has made a mistake and is ‘evil’. Therefore, the Church with her social doctrine, with its doctrine of responsibility to God, opens man up to the possibility of renouncing profit and seeing things in the religious and humanistic dimension, that is to live for one another. Thus open even the paths. The large number of volunteers who work in different parts of the world, not for themselves but for others, and thereby find meaning in life, show that this is possible and that educating young people to aspire to these great purposes, such as the Church is trying to do, is essential for our future.
Holiness, the youth of the world today generally live in multi-confessional and multicultural environments. Mutual tolerance is more essential than ever. You always insist on the topic of truth. Do you not think that this insistence on the truth and the unique Truth that is Christ is a problem for today’s youth? Do you not think that this insistence leads them to positions of opposition and to difficulty in trying to dialogue and search together with others?
The connection between truth and intolerance, monotheism and the incapacity to dialogue with others, is a topic that often comes back in the debate on Christianity today. And of course, it is true that in history there have been abuses, both of the concept of truth and the concept of monotheism; but one needs to recognize these as abuses. The reality is totally different. The argument is wrong, because truth is accessible only in freedom. You can impose upon others through violence, rules of conduct, outward observances, and activities – but not the truth! Truth is only open to freedom, and free consent: freedom and truth are so intimately united, that the one is the condition for the other. And for the rest, to seek the truth, the real values that give life and orient us to our future without alternatives. We do not want lies, we do not want the positivism of norms imposed by certain kinds of force, because only true values lead to the future and therefore we say that it is necessary to seek these true values and not let the arbitrariness of some run the day. Do not let a positivist manner of thinking set in that tells us, about ethical problems, and man’s greatest problems: that there is no rational truth. This would really expose man to the arbitrariness of those who have power. We must always seek the truth and true values; we have a core of values, in fundamental human rights, and other similar elements which are recognized, and it is these which enable us to be in dialogue with one another. Truth as such is dialogic because it seeks to know better, understand better and it does so in dialogue with others. Thus, to seek the truth and the dignity of man is the greatest defence of freedom.