NEW YORK - Pope Benedict, recalling his own youth under the yoke of the "monster" of Nazism, urged young Americans yesterday to avoid the snares of drugs and materialism and seek the truth about life.
On the next-to-last day of his first trip to the United States as pontiff, the 81-year-old Pope addressed about 30,000 young people on the field of St. Joseph's Seminary.
"As young Americans you are offered many opportunities for personal development and you are brought up with a sense of generosity, service, and fairness," he said. "Yet you do not need me to tell you that there are also difficulties: activities and mindsets which stifle hope, pathways which seem to lead to happiness and fulfillment but in fact end only in confusion and fear."
As a teenager in his native Germany, the Pope was forced to join the Hitler Youth but did not participate in it and his parents opposed the Nazis.
At the end of World War II, he was enrolled into an anti-aircraft unit. He was taken prisoner of war by American troops and held briefly.
"My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers; its influence grew - infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion - before it was fully recognized for the monster it was. It banished God and thus became impervious to anything true and good," he said.
He urged young people to cherish their freedom and appreciate the sacrifices of those who made it possible but also to beware of falling into the darkness.
Pope Benedict began the day, the third anniversary of his election as Pontiff, with a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
The landmark Roman Catholic church on Fifth Avenue was packed with cardinals and bishops, priests, and nuns who cheered him to mark the day he succeeded Pope John Paul II on April 19, 2005.
The German-born Pope lamented that what he called "the joy of faith" was often choked by cynicism, greed, and violence. Yet he drew an analogy to show how faith can overcome distractions and trials.
"The spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet in the heart of this busy metropolis they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God," he said.
He also returned to the sex abuse scandal that he said has caused "so much suffering" for the American church, assuring his audience "of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents."
It was the fourth time he has spoken of the scandal since beginning his first papal pilgrimage to the United States on Tuesday.40.71455 -74.00713