COLOGNE, Germany—Young people should beware "do-it-yourself" religion, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday to an estimated 1 million Roman Catholics attending World Youth Day.
John Paul II started the Youth Day tradition 20 years ago. Benedict's visit to his home country for the event was his first outside Rome since he became pope in April after John Paul's death.
Part of John Paul's legacy is a close relationship with the church's younger members. He was considered a teacher, while Benedict is seen as more of a theologian.
Standing on a small hill, with his voice broadcast to the crowd spread on a huge green field, the pope spoke about "living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good."
Dorothy Polchinski, 34, from Steubenville, Ohio, said people were excited to hear him speak, but that they came for their faith and not because of the pope.
"John Paul II was wonderful. He was an actor and the world was his stage, and he charmed us all," she said. "But Benedict is a theologian, and we need to hear what he says. He's a perfect pope to follow the last one."
Sunday was the end of the pope's four-day visit to Germany. On Friday he visited a synagogue that had been rebuilt after being destroyed by Nazis in 1938, an important symbolic visit by a man who was a boy in southern Germany during the Nazi atrocities. On Saturday, he met with Muslims and urged them to work against "the wave of cruel fanaticism" that twists faith to create hatred.
The pope on Sunday said that "there is a strange forgetfulness of God in many parts of the world. But there is also frustration," and this dissatisfaction has led to "a new boom of religion."
"I have no wish to discredit all the manifestations of this phenomenon," he said. "There may be sincere joy in the discovery. But if it is pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it. But religion constructed on a `do-it-yourself' basis cannot ultimately help us. Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ."
Michael LaRocco, 16, who attended the Mass with classmates from St. Peter's Prep School in Jersey City, N.J., said he was awed by the experience of being surrounded by a million others sharing the same faith.
"Back home, we hear that nobody goes to church anymore, nobody believes," he said. "This kind of shows that's a lie. A million people, traveling from around the world, camping out in a cold, wet field, just for the chance to share in this experience. It's clear, we're all here because we believe."
Jean Claude Limberaza, a 33-year-old park ranger who came from southern Madagascar, said, "Look around you, the flags from so many nations, so many different people all here celebrating a common faith.
"An event like this reminds us why we like our faiths so much, why it means so much to us: Because it brings us such joy."
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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