Dear Friends, Young People!
Today I counsel you to read an extraordinary book.
It is extraordinary because of its content but also because of its format, which I wish to explain to you briefly, so that you will understand its particularity. Youcat drew its origin, so to speak, from another work that came out in the 80s. It was a difficult period for the Church as well as for worldwide society, during which the need was perceived of new guidelines to find a way towards the future. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and in the changing cultural environment, many people no longer knew correctly what Christians should actually believe, what the Church taught, if it could, no more and no less, teach, and how all this could be adapted to the new cultural climate.
Is not Christianity, as such, obsolete? Can one still today be reasonably a believer? These are the questions that still today many Christian ask themselves. Pope John Paul II then made an audacious decision: he decided that the bishops worldwide should write a book to answer these questions.
He entrusted to me the task of coordinating and overseeing the work of the bishops so that a book would be born from the contributions of the bishops, a real book and not a simple juxtaposition of a multiplicity of texts. This book was to bear the traditional title of Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), and yet be something altogether stimulating and new; it was to show what the Catholic Church believes today and how one can believe in a reasonable way. I was frightened by this task, and I must confess that I doubted that such a thing could succeed. How could it be that authors who are spread around the whole world could produce a legible book? How could men who live in different continents, and not only from the geographical but also from the intellectual and cultural point of view, produce a text with an internal and comprehensible unity in all the continents?
To this was added the fact that the bishops had to write not simply as individual authors but in representation of their confreres and their local Churches.
I must confess that still today the fact seems a miracle to me that this project in the end succeeded. We met three or four times a year for a week and discussed passionately on the individual portions of the text that had been developed in the meantime.
The first thing to be defined was the structure of the book: it had to be simple, so that the individual groups of authors could receive a clear task and not force their affirmations into a complicated system. It is the very structure of this book, it is taken simply from a centuries-long catechetical experience: what do we believe/ in what way do we celebrate the Christian mysteries / in what way do we have life in Christ / in what way should we pray. I do not wish to explain now how we engaged in the great quantity of questions, until a real book resulted. In a book of this nature there are many debatable points: all that men do is insufficient and can be improved and, this notwithstanding, it is a great book, a sign of unity in diversity. From many voices it was possible to form a choir because they had the common score of the faith, which the Church has transmitted to us from the Apostles through the centuries until today.
Why all this?
Already then, at the time of the drafting of the CCC, we realized not only that the continents and the cultures of their people are different, but that also within the individual societies different "continents" exist: A worker has a different mentality from a peasant's, and a physicist from a philologist's; an entrepreneur from a journalist's, a youth from an elderly person's. For this reason, in language and in thought we had to place ourselves above all these differences and so to speak seek a common area among the different universal mentalities; with this we became ever more aware of how the text required "translations" into the different worlds, to be able to reach the people with their different mentalities and different problems. Since then, in the World Youth Days (Rome, Toronto, Cologne, Sydney) young people from all over the world have met who want to believe, who are searching for God, who love Christ and desire common paths. In this context we asked ourselves if we should not seek to translate the Catechism of the Catholic Church into the language of young people and make its words penetrate their world. Of course also among the young people of today there are many differences; thus, under the tested guidance of the archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn, a Youcat was formatted for young people. I hope that many young people will let themselves be fascinated by this book.
Some persons tell me that the catechism does not interest today's youth, but I do not believe this affirmation and I am sure I am right. Youth is not as superficial as it is accused of being; young people want to know what life truly consists of. A crime novel is fascinating because it involves us in the fate of other persons, but which could also be our own; this book is fascinating because it speaks to us of our very destiny and that is why it concerns each one of us very closely.
Because of this I invite you: Study the catechism! This is my heartfelt wish.
This supplement to the catechism does not flatter you; it does not offer easy solutions; it calls for a new life on your part; it presents to you the message of the Gospel as the "precious pearl" (Matthew 13:45) for which there is need to give everything, Because of this I ask you: study the catechism with passion and perseverance! Sacrifice your time for it! Study it in the silence of your room, read it together, if you are friends, form groups and study networks, exchange ideas on the Internet. In any case remain in dialogue on your faith!
You must know what you believe; you must know your faith with the same precision with which a specialist in information technology knows the working system of a computer; you must know it as a musician knows his piece; yes, you must be much more profoundly rooted in the faith of the generation of your parents, to be able to resist forcefully and with determination the challenges and temptations of this time. You have need of divine help, if you do not want your faith to dry up as a dewdrop in the sun, if you do not want to succumb to the temptations of consumerism, if you do not want your love to be drowned in pornography, if you do not want to betray the weak and the victims of abuse and violence.
If you dedicate yourselves with passion to the study of the catechism, I would like to give you yet a last counsel: You all know in what way the community of believers has been wounded in recent times by the attacks of evil, by the penetration of sin in the interior, in fact in the heart of the Church. Do not take this as a pretext to flee from God's presence; you yourselves are the Body of Christ, the Church! Carry intact the fire of your love in this Church every time that men have obscured her face. "Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord" (Romans 12:11).
When Israel was in the darkest point of its history, God called to the rescue no great and esteemed persons, but a youth called Jeremiah; Jeremiah felt invested with too great a mission: "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth!" (Jeremiah 1:6). But God did not let himself be misled: "Do not say, 'I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak" (Jeremiah 1:7).
I bless you and pray every day for all of you.
Benedict PP. XVI