As part of the 2008 World Youth Day event in Sydney, Pope Benedict lead a giant night vigil at Sydney’s Randwick Racecourse telling young pilgrims to ‘believe in the power of the spirit of love’….

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Prayer Vigil

Shortly before 7 p.m. today, Benedict XVI arrived at Randwick Racecourse, the largest in Australia, where he presided at the World Youth Day prayer vigil with thousands of young people. The site, which has capacity for 300,000 people, has also hosted events with Paul VI (in 1970) and John Paul II (in 1986). The beatification ceremony Sr. Mary MacKillop, presided by John Paul II, was also held here in 1995.

The prayer vigil began with the racecourse in darkness, gradually illuminated by torches borne by dancers on the podium, representing the opening to the Holy Spirit. Subsequently, the World Youth Day cross and flag were positioned on the stage in anticipation of the Pope’s arrival, who entered accompanied by 12 pilgrims while the assembly sang the hymn “Our Lady of the Southern Cross”.

An indigenous woman lit the candles carried by the 12 pilgrims, who in their turn lit those of the assembly and of the bishops. Seven young people then invoked the Holy Spirit through the intercession of the patrons of WYD.

“Tonight we focus our attention on how to become witnesses”, the Pope told the young people in his address. “You are already well aware that our Christian witness is offered to a world which in many ways is fragile. The unity of God’s creation is weakened by wounds which run particularly deep when social relations break apart, or when the human spirit is all but crushed through the exploitation and abuse of persons. Indeed, society today is being fragmented by a way of thinking that is inherently short-sighted, because it disregards the full horizon of truth, the truth about God and about us. By its nature, relativism fails to see the whole picture. It ignores the very principles which enable us to live and flourish in unity, order and harmony”.

“Unity and reconciliation cannot be achieved through our efforts alone. God has made us for one another and only in God and His Church can we find the unity we seek. Yet, in the face of imperfections and disappointments – both individual and institutional – we are sometimes tempted to construct artificially a ‘perfect’ community. That temptation is not new. The history of the Church includes many examples of attempts to bypass or override human weaknesses or failures in order to create a perfect unity, a spiritual utopia”.

Yet, the Pope went on, “such attempts to construct unity in fact undermine it. To separate the Holy Spirit from Christ present in the Church’s institutional structure would compromise the unity of the Christian community, which is precisely the Spirit’s gift! … Unfortunately the temptation to ‘go it alone’ persists. Some today portray their local community as somehow separate from the so-called institutional Church, by speaking of the former as flexible and open to the Spirit and the latter as rigid and devoid of the Spirit.

“Unity is of the essence of the Church”, he added, “it is a gift we must recognise and cherish. Tonight, let us pray for the resolve to nurture unity: contribute to it! resist any temptation to walk away! For it is precisely the comprehensiveness, the vast vision, of our faith – solid yet open, consistent yet dynamic, true yet constantly growing in insight – that we can offer our world”.

“Be watchful! Listen!” the Holy Father told his audience. “Through the dissonance and division of our world, can you hear the concordant voice of humanity?” he asked them. What emerges, he said, is “the same human cry for recognition, for belonging, for unity. Who satisfies that essential human yearning to be one, to be immersed in communion, … to be led to truth? The Holy Spirit! This is the Spirit’s role: to bring Christ’s work to fulfilment. Enriched with the Spirit’s gifts, you will have the power to move beyond the piecemeal, the hollow utopia, the fleeting, to offer the consistency and certainty of Christian witness!”

“The Holy Spirit has been in some ways the neglected person of the Blessed Trinity. A clear understanding of the Spirit almost seems beyond our reach”, said Pope Benedict, going on to explain, however, that St. Augustine comes to our aid with his three “particular insights” about the Holy Spirit “as the bond of unity within the Blessed Trinity: unity as communion, unity as abiding love, and unity as giving and gift”.

St. Augustine affirms, Benedict XVI recalled, “that the two words ‘Holy’ and ‘Spirit’ refer to what is divine about God; in other words what is shared by the Father and the Son: their communion. So, if the distinguishing characteristic of the Holy Spirit is to be what is shared by the Father and the Son, Augustine concluded that the Spirit’s particular quality is unity”.

“True unity could never be founded upon relationships which deny the equal dignity of other persons. Nor is unity simply the sum total of the groups through which we sometimes attempt to ‘define’ ourselves. In fact, only in the life of communion is unity sustained and human identity fulfilled: we recognise the common need for God, we respond to the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit, and we give ourselves to one another in service”.

Augustine’s second insight concerns love, the Pope explained. “Ideas or voices which lack love – even if they seem sophisticated or knowledgeable – cannot be ‘of the Spirit'”, he said. “Furthermore, love has a particular trait: … to abide. By its nature love is enduring”. Thus “we catch a further glimpse of how much the Holy Spirit offers our world: love which dispels uncertainty; love which overcomes the fear of betrayal; love which carries eternity within; the true love which draws us into a unity that abides!”

As for the third insight, “the Holy Spirit as gift”, Benedict XVI said: “The Holy Spirit is God eternally giving Himself; like a never-ending spring He pours forth nothing less than Himself. In view of this ceaseless gift, we come to see the limitations of all that perishes, the folly of the consumerist mindset. We begin to understand why the quest for novelty leaves us unsatisfied and wanting. Are we not looking for an eternal gift? The spring that will never run dry?”

“Dear young people, we have seen that it is the Holy Spirit Who brings about the wonderful communion of believers in Jesus Christ. True to His nature as giver and gift alike, He is even now working through you. Inspired by the insights of St. Augustine: let unifying love be your measure; abiding love your challenge; self-giving love your mission!”

“Let us invoke the Holy Spirit: He is the artisan of God’s works”, the Pope concluded. “Let His gifts shape you! Just as the Church travels the same journey with all humanity, so too you are called to exercise the Spirit’s gifts amidst the ups and downs of your daily life. Let your faith mature through your studies, work, sport, music and art. Let it be sustained by prayer and nurtured by the Sacraments. … In the end, life is not about accumulation. It is much more than success. To be truly alive is to be transformed from within, open to the energy of God’s love. In accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities and nations. Set free the gifts! Let wisdom, courage, awe and reverence be the marks of greatness!”

Having concluded his remarks, 24 catechumens was presented to the Holy Father, upon whom he will impart the Sacrament of Confirmation tomorrow. The prayer vigil will continue through the night, with the Eucharist adoration alternating with moments of silence in preparation for tomorrow’s Mass.