Recently I had the privilege of conversing with Benedikt (Ben) Winkels aged 15 and his father Jorg of the parish of Dromana in Victoria. Ben had just returned from Madrid where he shared in the celebrations of World Youth Day. He was accompanied by his brother Francis aged 17. They had been members of a small contingent of young people, nine in all, who travelled together, first to Rome, then to Barcelona and the Navarre region of Spain before moving on to Madrid to attend the main event of their exciting adventure of joining other groups of young people from all over the world.
Their group was identified as coming from Oceania, embracing Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the islands of the southern Pacific region. From this larger grouping, seven members were chosen to meet the Pope who arrived in Madrid on Thursday, 18 August.
Ben was one of three Australians chosen to meet Pope Benedict and his personal reaction was that of a profound feeling of meeting the Papa of the universal Catholic Church, the Vicar of the living Christ, the one trusted to reach out to all mankind as Christ had done when he commissioned His Church to teach what he had taught as the Redeemer.
I was immediately struck by the fact that I had experienced similar sensations during the first visit of Pope John Paul II to Australia in 1986. I wrote in my dairy of that time the following: "The Pope commented on the secularisation of society and the separation of faith from daily living, an error that can be seen, not only in the decrease in the practice of religion but also in the fundamental deformation of consciences which are plainly and simply violations of the law of God."
In 1986, the Pope was recognised as the one to bring Christ into the centre of man's world and the World Youth Day in Madrid had the theme: "Rooted and built in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith." That was the feeling that Ben experienced when he grasped the hand of Benedict XVI.
Ben also experienced the presence of God in the final Mass on Sunday, 21 August. A crowd estimated at between 1.5 and 2.0 million gathered at Cuatro Vientos Airport when the temperature soared to 40 degrees plus. The liturgy was a profound expression of the glory of the Holy Trinity and Ben was one member of a huge crowd of his peer group who sensed the presence of Christ in their midst.
On the day that I conversed with Ben Winkels, I looked at the readings for that day, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The first was the letter of St Paul to Timothy (I Timothy 4:12-16):
"Do not let people disregard you because you are young, but be an example to the believers in the way you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith and purity. Make use of the time until I arrive by reading to the people, preaching and teaching. You have in you a spiritual gift which was given to you when the prophets spoke and the body of elders laid their hands on you; do not let it lie unused. Think hard about all this, and put it into practice, and everyone will be able to see how you are advancing. Take great care about what you do and what you teach; always do this and in this way you will save both yourself and those who listen to you."
Both Ben and Francis had also attended World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. They observed that the youthful pilgrims in Madrid shared the same positive responses from the local community that were a feature of the Sydney event except that in Madrid the numbers were far greater than at the earlier venue.
The TV coverage from Madrid revealed the wide diversity of the ethnic groups whose cultural presentations were florid and tasteful. All this testified to their shared religious belief and their high moral tone. No doubt the next meeting in South America in 2013 will see even greater numbers.
It is this burgeoning response of the present generation of young Catholics to the vicar of Christ that holds the key to the resurgence of Christendom.
But it must be built on a reawakening of the concept of the Domestic Church as described in John Paul II's Encyclical Familiaris Consortio in which the Pope reminds us that the religious formation of the young is in the hands of the parents. This involves a true knowledge of the Catholic faith along with the normative influence of parents through their Christian witness in their daily lives and the practice of the faith.
It was interesting to me that all the registrants of the youth groups in Madrid received a free copy of the book called Youcat, The Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Dr Joseph ("Joe") Santamaria is a retired physician and now an occasional writer and commentator on bioethical and related issues.