Pope Benedict walks with youths from Latin America and Africa during World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. CNS photo from Catholic Press Photo, Pool

Benedict had strong connection with youth

  • January 5, 2023

Fr. Joshua Roldan, the director of the Office of Catholic Youth at the Archdiocese of Toronto, turned 20 years old in 2005, the year the late Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.  

Roldan said it was at a time in his life when he yearned to know more about his faith, the Church and, above all, Jesus Christ. For him, Benedict was a figure who stoked stirrings of spiritual curiosity in the young and old.

“I honestly believe that Pope Benedict XVI inspired the Church to learn more about who, and why, and what we are in the person of Jesus Christ and inspired a generation to grow even deeper in that relationship with God Himself,” said Roldan. “This was especially true when he wrote Deus Caritas Est — God is Love — to remind us the fundamental truth of God’s profound love made incarnate in Jesus Christ.”

Professor Mark Yenson, chair of religious studies at King’s University College in London, Ont., also enjoyed the 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est. The academic said, “Benedict is one of the great theologians of the late 20th century” and his theological legacy “is going to remain important and influential.”

Yenson, who was named an associate academic dean last June, has employed the written wisdom of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in teaching the foundational principles of Catholicism to hosts of post-secondary students over his long teaching career. 

“I use his 1968 book Introduction to Christianity often. It’s a classic, and it really helps students think through the core tenets of Catholic Christianity. He helps my students to think about the Church in history and how the Church and its doctrines have developed. He also helps my students understand the relationship between faith and reason. Some of his writings on creation and evolution are really helpful.”

As a theologian, Benedict XVI is a consummately helpful figure in the eyes of pupils, said Yenson, but the conservatism of the former pope puts him out of step with students of a more liberal mentality. 

“He can really embody and represent the tensions of Catholic life and theology at the end of the 20th century. As the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, we sometimes studied his responses to theologians. They can see the kinds of tensions within theology. He was a part of the conversation,” said Yenson.

Yenson expects religion courses at King’s University College, and other institutions across Canada and worldwide, will devote time in the coming days and weeks to academically assess the complexity of the late pope. He expects that broader conversations will also be sparked about the historical nature of Benedict’s resignation, the role of the Bishop of Rome and the role of the papacy in the Church.

While Yenson has witnessed the former pontiff serving as a great intellectual communicator of Catholic Christianity over his long teaching career, Jeff Lockert, president of Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), has seen up close Benedict XVI’s giftedness in being an inspiring evangelical figure for teenage and young adult Catholics seeking to set their faith ablaze. 

“I was at World Youth Day in (Cologne) Germany, which was his first World Youth Day as pope after the death of John Paul II,” said Lockert. “You can certainly see his affection and love for young people as he engaged with the crowd. One of his greatest gifts is his clear and straightforward style of communicating in his teaching in the speeches he gave, the encyclicals he wrote and the homilies and other presentations he delivered. His speeches are very comprehensible for young people and very inspiring.

“Particularly his encyclicals on faith, hope and love are going to be very important legacies for young people in the future.”

His wisdom looms large for the university student evangelization movement. In fact, a quote from Pope Benedict XVI is a cornerstone of the CCO’s Ultimate Relationship booklet, the organization’s premier evangelistic tool. It reads:

“Do not be afraid of Christ. No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ — and you will find true life.”

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