Great hope for our church’s future

| September 29, 2011

The following is the last in a two-part series.

Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

I would like to pick up on the World Youth Day experience that I attended in Madrid, Spain from Aug. 16 to 21. In my column Sept. 1, I finished commenting on the first three days on which we had attended catechetical sessions of our Catholic faith: day one’s theme: “Firm in the Faith,”  day two: “Rooted in Christ,” day three: “Go Out to All the World.”

At 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon, all the pilgrims from our archdiocese, some 300 strong, gathered in the Church of “Real Concepcion” for Mass. We were joined by pilgrims from New Ulm and Winona.

The Scripture readings emphasized, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!” (Romans 10:15) as well as Jesus’ command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15).

In my homily, I asked those gathered to reflect on what had been the primary message they had heard the past three days and how that message would likely stay with them. Secondly, I asked them to share in what ways they could bring the good news they had received here in Madrid back home to family, friends and colleagues.

After Mass, there was time to grab a bite to eat and then head back to the Palacio de los Deportes to view the Way of the Cross, presided over by the Holy Father.

Earlier that day, our pilgrims had visited the beautifully ornate stations that had been set up in the open air between the Plaza de Colón and the Plaza de Cibeles.

During the Way of the Cross, the World Youth Day cross was carried by various groups of youth representing the 196 countries from around the world. After praying at each station, the cross was handed over to another group of pilgrims.  It was a solemn invitation to those present to participate in the sorrows and sufferings of Christ as a result of war, persecution, domestic violence, abortion, terrorism and natural disasters.

In his remarks at the end of the prayer service, the Holy Father said that the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for each of us should prompt us to ask what we can do for him in return. The answer lies in taking upon our shoulders the suffering of the world and in doing so to be joined to him who shares with us (con-solatio) the experience of suffering.

To suffer with compassion out of love for another allows us to become a person who truly loves. The icon of the cross, the pope reminded us, is not a sign of failure, but rather an expression of self-giving love, the love of both the Father and the Son. Finally, he urged us to remain steadfast at the foot of the cross as Mary did, asking her to sustain us through the nights of our suffering.

Meeting seminarians

On Saturday morning as our pilgrims made their way on foot to the Cuadro Vientos Air Base, the Holy Father celebrated Mass for hundreds of seminarians at the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Real de la Almuderia across the plaza from the royal palace.

During the course of his homily, Pope Benedict told these priestly aspirants that they should spend their years of formation in interior silence, unceasing prayer, constant study and gradual insertion into the pastoral activities of the church. He urged them to identify ever more closely with Jesus, who is servant, priest and victim.

In a particular way, he urged them to ask Jesus to teach them how to be close to the sick and the poor “in simplicity and generosity,” being “unconditional defenders” of the dignity of the human person.

At the end of the ceremony, the Holy Father announced that he would soon declare as a doctor of the universal church St. John of the Cross, to whose intercession he commended all priests and seminarians. (Here I ask you to keep in your prayers the 19 new seminarians and the 50 returning seminarians from this archdiocese who will be attending our two seminaries this year!)

Late that evening, Pope Benedict stopped on his way to the prayer service at the air base to greet the young residents at the San José Foundation. The home is directed by priests and religious of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God for boys and girls with physical and psychological disabilities. I watched this encounter on television and was moved by the compassion and love with which the Holy Father greeted each one of these young people.

The evening prayer service at Curatio Vientos was planned to take place in three segments. First, there would be a procession of the World Youth Day Cross along with an icon of the Blessed Mother by young pilgrims from various nations. The second part was to be a Scripture service in which the Holy Father would preach.  And the third part was to be exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament followed by Benediction.

Unexpected storm

World Youth Day Cross

Pilgrims set down the World Youth Day cross as they take part in the Way of the Cross in Plaza de Cibeles in central Madrid Aug. 19. CNS photo / Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

But just as the Holy Father was about to speak, a great wind suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It picked the World Youth Day Cross up in the air so that it came crashing down on the head of one of the bishops in the front row. It tore the Holy Father’s zucchetto off his head. It also collapsed the tents that had been prepared for eucharistic devotion during the night.

Twice the master of ceremonies approached the Holy Father, indicating that he should leave. Both times, the pope smiled and shook his head “no.” This was all captured on television. The pilgrims loved it!

When the rain stopped, the pontiff chose not to read his prepared remarks, but invited all present to begin the period of adoration.  It was a remarkable capitulation on the part of the Holy Father to a sudden and rather disconcerting change of plans.

The next morning, the Holy Father expressed concern as to whether the pilgrims were able to get enough sleep despite the weather. In his homily, he addressed to those assembled the question that Jesus asked in that day’s Gospel, “Who do you say I am?” Peter, the pope said, responded in faith and so should we. But faith is a gift that starts with God and involves the surrendering of our whole person to him.

At the same time, Jesus refers to “his” church. The pope pointed out that Christ cannot be separated from the church anymore than the head can be separated from the body. Following Christ means walking at his side in communion with the church. We must not walk alone. And once we encounter Christ, we want to share him with others. Go forth, the Holy Father instructed the pilgrims, as missionaries to other young people and share with them the good news you have heard!

Wonderful experience

At the end of the Sunday liturgy, Pope Benedict announced that the next World Youth Day would be in Rio de Janeiro during the year 2013. The World Youth Day Cross was then transferred from the youth of Spain to those of Brazil. The pontiff then said goodbye in seven different languages to this massive crowd.

This was for me the fifth international World Youth Day I have attended and it was as impressive as any before it. To look out at a crowd of 2 million Catholic youth celebrating and sharing their faith gave me a great sense that, for all our past failings, there is great hope for the future of the church!

These young people had a tremendous religious experience, for many of them a deep conversion. I pray and ask you to pray that the effects of this event on their daily lives will remain and grow ever stronger with their return home.

God bless you!

Tags: ,

Category: Only Jesus

Comments are closed.