The pope has urged young people, at the end of his trip to Australia, to stay away from the “spiritual desert” that he says is spreading across the world.
A crowd of about 200 000 had gathered at the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day event, in order to hear Benedict XVI, 81, say that they should build a new age, free from greed. He said that the world “needs renewal”, and challenged the young pilgrims to be agents of change.
He also apologised, earlier this week, for abuse carried out by Catholic clergy.
Despite the fact that the numbers attending Mass fell short of the 500 000-plus expected by organisers, benedict XVI was at the centre of a spectacular finale to the Church’s six-day-long youth festival.
By helicopter, the pontiff flew over many thousands of pilgrims, many of whom had travelled from around the world to be there, and had camped out in cold weather at Sydney’s Randwick Racecourse, in preparation for Sunday’s events.
Then, the pope met some devotees at closer quarters, in popemobile, before celebrating Mass.
In his homily he said that “in so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading – an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair”.
God was asking young people to be “prophets for a new age” in which “hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deadens our souls and poisons our relationships”, he said.
The next World Youth Day (WYD) would be in Spain, in 2011, announced the pope at the close of his address, and pledged to attend.
“Until then, let us continue to pray for one another and let us joyfully bear witness to Christ before the world”, he told pilgrims.
‘The next one’
At the event, young people said they were sad that the final Mass marked the end of WYD.
It was “a bit surreal” that the events had ended, Alicia Desa, 18, who travelled from Toronto, Canada, told AFP news agency.
“It’s kind of sad that it’s all over, but people are looking forward to the next one.”
The Vatican would regard the event as a huge success, said the BBC’s Nick Bryant, in Sydney. He added that the thousands of young people who had attended appeared to have been energised by the pope.
The aim of the WYD is to strengthen the faith of young Catholics, and since 1986, it has been held every two or three years.