Hundreds-of-thousands of young people from around the world gathered in a field in Germany Sunday to hear Pope Benedict the Sixteenth celebrate Mass. The event marked the end of World Youth Day, and was the high point of the pontiff's visit to his native Germany, the first since he became pope.
The young people had camped out all night in sleeping bags in a field near Cologne, and joyfully welcomed the pope in the morning. Dark gray clouds threatened rain as he arrived in his glass-enclosed pope mobile, which made its way slowly through the crowds.
Young people swayed and sang, "Jesus Christ, you are my life." They waved at the pope, and clapped to the music. The pope was wearing gold and white vestments, and clutching a crucifix. He faced a multi-colored sea of young people.
Pope Benedict easily switched languages as he read his homily for the 20th World Youth Day. He called on those gathered to make wise use of the freedom God has given them.
"Freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good," he said.
Then, the pope warned of what he called an explosion of religions. He said his intention was not to discredit all manifestations of religion, because there may be sincere joy in its discovery.
In vast areas of the world today, Pope Benedict said, there is a strange forgetfulness of God. It seems, everything would be just the same, even without him.
He warned that religion risks becoming a consumer product. He said people choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it. He stressed that religion constructed on a "do-it-yourself" basis cannot ultimately help us.
Pope Benedict also urged young people to take the time to go to Mass on Sunday, even if, at times, it seems "inconvenient." Speaking in French, he said: "If you make the effort, you will realize this is what gives proper focus to your free time."
Do not be deterred, he said, in taking part in Sunday Mass and help others to discover it as well.
Before reciting the Angelus prayer, the pope made one last announcement: "I am pleased to announce that the next World Youth Day will take place in Sydney, Australia," he said.
The pope said that event would be in 2008.