Among the many things Pope John Paul II will certainly be remembered for is his outreach to youth. The establishment of World Youth Day, a tradition that has been embraced by Benedict XVI, has proven a visionary teaching opportunity, a way to reach the next generation of Catholic parents, priests and religious.
A new Knights of Columbus/ Marist poll shows just how important reaching the next generation of Catholics really is. The results of the recent survey of younger Millennial Americans (birth years 1978-2000) revealed a combination of hopeful news and areas of concern for the Catholic Church, which could be helpful to Catholic evangelists - lay, clerical and religious - especially those who deal with young people.
Encouraging is that the survey found that among Millennials who identify themselves as Catholic - not just practising Catholics - 85% believe in God. Their top priorities are getting married and being close to God. About 82% think marriage is undervalued.
That's the good news. But what's truly worrisome is that only around 60% think abortion and euthanasia are morally wrong and 61% believe it's all right for Catholics to practise more than one religion. Nearly 2 in 3 think of themselves as more spiritual than religious, and 82% see morals as relative.
These problems aren't just speculation - they are fact. And they are a fact that Benedict XVI had the incredible foresight to speak out about five years ago.
Speaking at John Paul II's funeral, just days before being elected Pope, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned the world that a 'dictatorship of relativism' was taking hold.
He said: 'Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be 'tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,' seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognise anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.'
In contrast to that distorted vision of the world, he offered something else: 'A different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An 'adult' faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.'
He also gave us a solution: 'We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith - only faith - that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.'
This generation seeks love. They want marriage - that is, true love - more than anything else. They see that marital love as undervalued.
In a 2006 interview with the German media, Benedict XVI presented exactly the manner in which to implement the solution needed. What is needed, he said, is a presentation of the positive, of the happiness that living Christianity offers.
He said then: 'Christianity, Catholicism, isn't a collection of prohibitions: it's a positive option. It's very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We've heard so much about what is not allowed that now it's time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it's in this way that marriage develops, first of all, as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then the family, that guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet. So, firstly it's important to stress what we want.'
Recently he reiterated this message to the bishops of Scotland, and added this: 'Be sure to present this teaching in such a way that it is recognised for the message of hope that it is.'
To a group that has marriage as its top priority, and sees marriage as undervalued by society, a Church that supports and proclaims the beauty of the Christian meaning of marriage is a Church that will present a resonating message to the next generation of Catholic parents.
The path charted by Benedict XVI is exactly the one that will resonate with this generation.
There will be some who believe that they won't listen. But consider this: nearly 2 in 3 are very or somewhat interested in learning more about their faith.
This is the reason that the work on the marriage document being prepared by the Pontifical Council on the Family - which can now benefit from the theology and pastoral approach of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI - is so important.
It's up to us to present the faith in a way that is meaningful to the lives of young Catholics, and there is no better place to start than - drawing on the great wealth of theology and pastoral approach of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI - to show these young men and women how to build happy, healthy, and ultimately holy marriages.
With acknowledgment to Zenit News Service. Carl Anderson is the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and a New York Times bestselling author.