All or nothing as pope warns of DIY religion

Pope Benedict XVI wrapped up his first foreign tour on Sunday with an uncompromising warning that Catholics must strictly follow the church’s teachings.

Addressing nearly one million young pilgrims, many of whom had camped overnight in a muddy field outside Cologne, the pope said that Christians should not choose the bits of doctrine they liked and ignore the rest.

He told a vast open-air mass to mark the end of World Youth Day: “At the same time that God is being forgotten there is a boom in religions ... Religion constructed on a do-it-yourself basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves.”

On Sunday night the pope flew back to Rome.
In his final address he said he hoped his visit had shown the world “the other Germany” of cultural and spiritual resources, in contrast with the shameful evil of the Nazi period.

“We are all well aware of the evil that emerged from our homeland during the 20th century, and we acknowledge it with shame and suffering,” he said. “During these days, thanks be to God, it has become quite evident that there was and is another Germany, a land of singular human, cultural and spiritual resources.”

The pope’s homily earlier in the day—delivered from a hill and relayed by loudspeaker to thousands of pilgrims camped below—was a sign that Benedict is determined to reconnect the Catholic church with orthodox doctrine. “Freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good,” he said.

Many of the pope’s audience were numb with cold after a rainy night spent in flimsy tents and sleeping bags. Most of those in their teens and early 20s however, stirred themselves and cheered as Benedict arrived. The pope did not—as his predecessor John Paul II did—specifically refer to sexual behaviour in his address, which was delivered in four languages. But his message was unambiguous. “This means no sex, basically, doesn’t it?” Malte Schuburt, a 19-year-old German, said. “He has to say that. He is the pope, but I think people should make their own choices.”

Others agreed with the pope. “I am part of a movement for devotion to the Virgin Mary. We strictly follow the teachings of the Church. The pope is right to warn against do-it-yourself religion, it should be all or nothing,” said Nuno Gonzago (20) from Portugal.

After four days in Germany the contours of Pope Benedict’s papacy are becoming clearer. Unlike his flamboyant predecessor, Benedict finds the attention lavished on him embarrassing. But it is also clear that the 78-year-old German, a more diffident figure than John Paul, is a formidable intellectual, able to express his ideas with fluency and vigour.

“He is no virtuoso when it comes to dealing with the crowds,” Daniel Deckers, the religious affairs correspondent of the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper said. “But at the same time he doesn’t pretend to be someone he isn’t.”

The pope appeared to enjoy himself on Sunday, gently shushing the crowds and smiling as they broke into cheers of “Ben-e-detto”. He delivered his final blessing in eight languages including Polish and Swahili.

The next World Youth Day would be held in Australia in 2008, he said, adding: “I thank you all from my heart.”

The visit to his native Germany has undoubtedly allowed the pope to show his softer side. Before his election in April, Joseph Ratzinger headed the Church department that oversees doctrine and was often depicted by the media as being cold and harsh.

The trip also gave the pope an opportunity to push ahead with his efforts to continue dialogue with other religions. On Friday he made a historic visit to Cologne’s synagogue, destroyed by the Nazis in 1938, and warned of the threat of new anti-semitism. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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