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The Great Transformation

At World Youth Day in Cologne, the pope was celebrated like a rock star. But Benedict’s message went deep. His homily at Mass in the Marienfeld on 21 August 2005 went right to the heart of the Faith. The pope exhorted the those in attendance to live their lives centered around the Eucharist and the Sacraments. In doing so, they would change not only themselves, but the world.


by Tanja Constien

[Translate to English:] Portrait Tanja Constien

“The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood. We all eat the one bread, and this means  that we ourselves become one. In this way, adoration [...] becomes union. God no longer simply stands before us as the One who is totally Other. He is within us, and we are in him. His dynamic enters into us and then seeks to spread outwards to others until it fills the world, so that his love can truly become the dominant measure of the world.” (Benedict XVI)

The pope – celebrated like a rock star by thousands of jubilant youths who received him on the banks of the Rhine at Cologne. World Youth Day – a huge event with a concert stage, camping out on the green meadow, and very little time to sleep. When most people think of World Youth Day 2005, these are the kinds of memories that have stuck with them.

As for myself at the time, I followed the event only in passing. Today, seven years after my conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, I can easily relate to the fascination which Pope Benedict XVI inspired among those young people back then, a spirit which has been carried forward since then by the Youth 2000 movement in particular.

Die Aufnahme aus der Luft zeigt die Pilgermassen auf dem Marienfeld am Weltjugendtag am 20.August 2005 in Köln mit Papst Benedikt XVI.

The fascination which Benedict XVI inspires in people is no superficial thing

Yet in my opinion, this fascination comes not from Benedict XVI’s outward acts or his appealing presence in front of a crowd. It is not some superficial enthusiasm for his person, but flows from the inner depths of his theology, especially his homilies, where he demonstrates his ability to take people step by step into the joy of faith and expound the truth to them.

At the concluding Mass in the Marienfeld near Cologne, attended by 1.1 million pilgrims and watched on television by 250,000 people around the world, Pope Benedict XVI began his homily with the words: “Yesterday evening we came together in the presence of the Sacred Host, [...] and there we began our inner journey of adoration. In the Eucharist, adoration must become union.” 

Thus, after the pilgrims spent the previous evening adoring Christ in vigil before the Blessed Sacrament – on their knees before him, their attention focused entirely on him – Christ now comes to them fully, gives himself to them in his Body and Blood in order to become one with them.

The Pope directs our outward-looking gaze inward

Pope Benedict then recalls Jesus’ gift of his body at the institution of the Eucharist on the night before his death. He asks: “What is happening?” His answer once again directs our attention to an exterior and an interior reality of the event: “What on the outside is simply brutal violence – the Crucifixion – from within becomes an act of total self-giving love.”

Because God gives himself to us in this way, not only are the gifts of the earth transformed in the Eucharist, but the entire world is renewed from within – and thus too are all those who allow themselves to be “drawn into that process of transformation” in this manner.

What does this mean, specifically? The pope is inviting young people to (again) place the Eucharist at the center of their lives. “Let us pledge ourselves to do this – it is worth the effort!” Starting with the Eucharist, we can then discover the other gifts of grace – the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which “always allows us to make a fresh start in our lives.” Ultimately, our love for the sacraments will make us want to pass it on; it has an impact on the way we live our own lives. “Then we will no longer be content to scrape a living just for ourselves, but we will see where and how we are needed.”

Papst Benedikt hält ein Kreuz in der Hand, ist gold gekleidet und schaut in die Pilgermassen am Weltjugendtag in Köln

Is that old-fashioned? Not at all!

Even if his advice might seem a bit old-fashioned on the surface, what the pope is revealing to these young people is nothing less than the meaning of life: Adoration and the Eucharist lead us to God and to our fellow human beings – and ultimately to ourselves.

The “Nightfever” evenings, started by young Christians after World Youth Day in Cologne and now a worldwide phenomenon, have internalized these core elements of Benedict XVI’s message, and continue to bear abundant fruits of faith, even among outsiders. 

Exterior and interior – these two ways of viewing things are a recurring motif, it seems to me, not only with regard to Benedict XVI, but in the life of every single Christian. Let us pray that the inner transformation of the world will one day be turned completely outward, so that “God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

[Translate to English:] Portrait Tanja Constien

The author, Tanja Constien, is a research associate at the Pope Benedict XVI Institute in Regensburg.