Valley youth hear pope's call for renewal

SYDNEY, Australia -- Pope Benedict XVI saw the future of Catholicism when he looked out over a sea of more than 350,000 young people at the church's World Youth Day on Sunday. In doing so, he glimpsed 28 Modesto-area youths who say their lives are changed by their pilgrimage.

Kelsey Smith, 16, called it one of the most spiritually powerful events of the pilgrims' young lives.

"I have never felt more unity with all the countries of the world, and the comfort that we all share one faith," she said.

Elizabeth Moraca, 16, said she felt a sense of world peace.

"I have never felt so welcomed and loved anywhere else than at a WYD event; 99.9 percent of the people we meet are complete strangers," she said.

The 81-year-old pope hoped to inspire a new generation Sunday when he urged youths, who packed the Randwick race track, to shed the greed and cynicism of their time to create a new age of hope.

Lauren Coleman, 17, radiated that hope Sunday.

"We've opened our hearts and minds to discover a positive reality and hope for the future as we live our lives together on Earth," she said.

Marissa Wend said people shook with excitement as the pope passed.

"It was as if the Holy Spirit came upon us all," she said.

Benedict touched on themes for the universal church as well as Australia in particular, raising the need for the world to change because of global warming, relations with non- Catholics and the struggle to rejuvenate the church's image in the wake of its sex abuse scandal.

At Sunday's Mass under a threatening sky, Benedict urged young Christians to be agents of change because "the world needs renewal."

"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," the pontiff said.

Faith Chihil, also part of the Modesto-area group, shared the story of how she felt so uplifted that she accepted a stranger's kindness when she would normally question the person's motives.

"I was running late to Mass with a fellow pilgrim when a woman in a van pulled up and asked us if we wanted a ride. We jumped in without a moment's hesitation, a foolish decision to make anyplace else but here," said Chihil, 20. "This is what World Youth Day is all about: trust in the Lord and caring for one another, even in foreign lands."

The Rev. Joseph Illo of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto e-mailed the Modesto-area pilgrims' reactions to The Bee.

The pope urged the crowd to embrace the power of God "to let it break through the curse of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age," he said.

The aim was "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.

It is a primary theme of his papacy, with his acknowledging on his way to Australia that the church in the West was "in crisis" because people no longer see the need for God. But he insisted that it was not in decline. "I am an optimist" about its future, he said.

Benedict announced, as expected, that Madrid, Spain, would hold the next World Youth Day in 2011.

Australian media gave prominent attention to Benedict's apology Saturday for the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, using the headline "I Am Deeply Sorry" above his words.

He said he wanted "to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt" and called for those responsible to be "brought to justice." The acts were "evil" and a "grave betrayal of trust," he said.

The Vatican said today the pope met with victims of clergy child sex abuse in Australia. He held a Mass with two men and two women who represented the victims as a gesture of consolation and his concern.

The pope left for Rome by midmorning.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at ehightower@modbee.com or 578-2382.