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The Pope and Plato

Half way through the second day of the Papal Visit — in a Madrid peacefully invaded by an impressive number of young men and women from every corner of the world — Benedict XVI quoted Plato in the Basilica of El Escorial, “Seek truth while you are young, for if you do not, it will later escape your grasp”. The invitation of the philosopher who lived before Christ, in the antiquity evoked by both Jews and Christians in support of biblical revelation, sums up well the meaning of the Successor of Peter’s presence at the World Youth Day.

Indeed, as a university teacher for some 60 years Joseph Ratzinger has been accustomed to the dialogue with the new generations and understands their anxieties. This is why the Pope chose to dedicate a speech to the crucial issue of the quest for truth at his meeting with young professors — a few days after the World Congress of Catholic Universities in Avila, the city of St Teresa of Jesus, whom Paul VI proclaimed Doctor of the Church: an innovation in the history of World Youth Days, as the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid recalled in his greeting.

The meeting was not a last-minute addition to the papal schedule, nor, likewise, was his encounter with the young women religious who welcomed Benedict XVI with enthusiastic and moving affection. On both occasions — against the splendid backdrop of the austere monastery of San Lorenzo de Escorial, conceived of by Philip ii, the sovereign who, among the patches of light and shade, is perhaps most representative of the Spanish Catholic Monarchy — the Pope continued his reasoning with the young people, and not only with those who identify themselves with the Church.

The search for truth involves everyone and is inexhaustible, Benedict XVI explained, in the middle of these days that were turning out to be an event of great magnitude. And the international media are waking up to this, albeit with some exceptions. These are due to prejudice or to a logic which does not respect the most elementary hierarchy of news, such as a bbc programme that gave air time to truly minor protests at the expense of information on the Madrid event, causing even the Guardian to complain.

Yet there is news and many are becoming aware of it. The Pope has been able to bring together in Madrid young people from all over the world to encourage them in their faith, in the hope of also moving the hearts of those who are distant or who have drifted away from the Church: in a restless society in search of solid foundations that are certainly not to be found in the mediocrity and utilitarianism that seem to prevail.

However, a reliable reference point exists and it is in the Person of Christ, intuited by Plato in accordance with the Fathers of the Church: the only friend who never lets us down and whom Benedict XVI never tires of pointing out.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 20, 2018

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