Pope Benedict XVI shakes the hand of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops' conference, during the pope's annual exchange of Christmas greetings in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Dec. 22. The pope said the "faith fatigue" seen i n various areas of church life contrasts sharply with the faith and joy he witnessed during World Youth Day in Madrid and during his November trip to Benin. CNS photo/Claudio Peri, pool via Reuters

Pope points to joyful lessons learned from World Youth Day, Benin trip

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • December 23, 2011

VATICAN CITY - Knowing one is loved by God gives life meaning and gives one the energy needed to carry on with joy, even in difficult personal or societal situations, Pope Benedict XVI told top Vatican officials.

Meeting members of the Roman Curia Dec. 22 for his annual exchange of Christmas greetings, the pope said the "faith fatigue" seen in various areas of church life contrasts sharply with the faith and joy he witnessed during World Youth Day in Madrid and during his November trip to Benin.

The two trips, he said, hold lessons for church leaders and for the faithful.

In what usually amounts to a review of the past year, Pope Benedict's speech to the Curia included acknowledgment of the global financial crisis, particularly in Europe, as well as of the dwindling number of practicing Catholics and the priest shortage on the continent.

The church's commitment to a new evangelization push can help both situations, he said.

As he has said many times, Pope Benedict told the curia members that the economic crisis is ultimately an ethical crisis that continues, in part, because "the motivation is often lacking for individuals and large sectors of society to practice renunciation and make sacrifices."

Looking inside the church, the pope said the general aging and diminishing number of active Catholics and the "stagnating" of new vocations to the priesthood in Europe are indications of "a crisis of faith."

"If we find no answer to this, if faith does not take on new life, deep conviction and real strength from the encounter with Jesus Christ, then all other reforms (of the church) will remain ineffective," he said.

In Benin, the pope said, he saw "none of the faith fatigue that is so prevalent here, none of the oft-encountered sense of having had enough of Christianity."

The pope said World Youth Day in Madrid in August was "a further remedy against faith fatigue" and one that held several lessons for the church in general as it tries to strengthen active Catholics, bring back those who do not go to church and reach out to people who have not seriously considered the Christian message.

Pope Benedict said the lessons for the church are:

-- A need for an "experience of catholicity, of the church's universality," so that people understand that despite differences of age, language and culture, "we know one another" and are united in faith and in the experience of being children of God.

-- Learning through volunteer work "a new way of living our humanity." The youth day volunteers "were visibly and tangibly filled with a great sense of happiness," because they gave of themselves.

-- Cultivating a spirituality based on eucharistic adoration, "an act of faith" that says one recognizes God is present, which leads one to bow down in adoration.

-- Returning to the sacrament of confession, recognizing "we need forgiveness over and over again, and that forgiveness brings responsibility."

-- Showing others the joy that comes from knowing "I am wanted; I have a task; I am accepted; I am loved."

The pope told the curia that if people do not believe in God and experience God's love, it is difficult for them to love themselves and love others.

"Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: It is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being," he said.

"Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably," he said. Growing doubt in the world about God's existence and his love can be seen "in the joylessness, in the inner sadness, that can be read on so many human faces today."

Pope Benedict said the world Synod of Bishops on new evangelization and the beginning of the special Year of Faith, both in October, will be moments for the church to launch a strong response.

At Christmas and throughout the year, he said, the church proclaims the good news of Christ's birth "so as to bring joy and hope to our world."

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