‘I had not seen that smile in three years!’

| August 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

Archbishop John Nienstedt is traveling to World Youth Day in Madrid, where he will meet with a group of youth pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who are attending the Aug. 16-21 event. In this Q&A interview, first published on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Media Blog, the archbishop talks about the trip and past World Youth Day celebrations.

Why are you going to WYD Madrid 2011?

Answer: This will be the fifth World Youth Day that I have been privileged to attend. The previous ones were Denver, Toronto, Sydney and Cologne. In fact, I was present in St. Peter’s Square on the first Pentecost Sunday that Pope John Paul announced this initiative and the World Youth Day cross was brought into the piazza, having traveled from Poland.

I had been asked that day to be the English speaker, as I was, at the time, a member of the Vatican Secretariat of State. I marveled at the occasion and continue to marvel at the great vision that Blessed John Paul II had in bringing the youth of the world together to celebrate their being church. I am convinced that for the majority of these young people, this is a life-changing religious experience. They come to pray, to sing, to meet other Catholics and to wallow in the grace of being a member of the Catholic Church.

I am going to Madrid to underscore the fact that the leadership of our church has great pride in our young people and looks to them as the hope for the future of our Catholic faith.

What do you hope the youth from your archdiocese and from the world get from participating in WYD?

A: As I indicated earlier, I believe that all the young people will have a tremendous experience of their universal faith. Catholic youth come from all over the world to celebrate with our Holy Father. As my dad used to say, “It’s seeing the forest for the trees.” It gives one a new vision of being a part of something much bigger than ourselves, or even our own parishes or local dioceses.

I hope that this reality of belonging to something so vibrant and so alive will help the spiritual life of these young people to grow and to blossom.

What do you think are the gifts that U.S. participants will bring to WYD Madrid 2011?

A:I believe that the U.S. participants will bring great enthusiasm, as well as the firm conviction of their faith. Young people here in the United States are searching for answers to spiritual, economic and vocational questions. There is a great

Archbishop Nienstedt talks with the young people from the Diocese of New Ulm at World Youth Day in Cologne, Gemany, in 2005. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of New Ulm

lack of leadership in our government and political bodies. Young people are looking for a sense of direction and I am hopeful that they will gain that from their participation in this WYD.

You have been at prior World Youth Days. Can you share any special moment or anecdote that touched you?

A: There are so many fond memories that I have of the WYD, beginning with that first Pentecost Sunday in Rome.

I especially remember the torrential rain that was falling on us in the Mile-High Stadium in Denver. As soon as the pope’s plane touched down, the clouds disbursed and the sun began to shine. The minute the popemobile arrived in the arena, there was an outpouring of cheering, singing and clapping. I was terribly moved by the excitement that the Holy Father was able to engender in the youth who were gathered. He had a very direct way of being able to touch these young people.

Another key moment was in Toronto when the pope first came on stage. The cheers were deafening with the cry, “John Paul II, we love you!” At that, the Holy Father, who had been suffering from Parkinson’s for so many years, looked up and a beautiful smile came over his face. I had not seen that smile in three years! But again, it showed the deep affection that our Holy Father had for these young people.

Why is participating in WYD important to you, and how has it impacted your ministry?

A: I continue to be concerned about the well-being of our young people and the practice of their faith. I make regular visits to our Catholic high schools and colleges in order to be present and available for our young people.

The WYD gives me ideas about how I can be more accessible to the youth and share the gift of my faith with them. I really take the example of our Holy Fathers, Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, as models for me to emulate in my ministry.

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