Reflections on World Youth Day

| September 1, 2011

The following is the first of a two-part series.

Archbishop John Nienstedt poses for a photo with youth pilgrims at World Youth Day in Madrid. Photo courtesy of Peggy Doherty

I just returned on Aug. 22 from World Youth Day in Madrid. Two weeks before, about half of our pilgrims, together with families and friends, had gathered at the Church of All Saints in Lakeville for Sunday Eucharist and a special pilgrimage prayer.

Since it was my privilege to celebrate that Mass, I directed my reflections on the Scripture readings to the meaning of what we were about to undertake. A pilgrimage, I said, was quite different from a guided tour of a foreign country. On a vacation tour one does what one wants to do. On a pilgrimage one goes in search of the living God. Thus, a pilgrimage involves as much “interior” effort as the external, physical effort.

Good attendance

Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

Besides our general archdiocesan group, there were at least six other groups comprised of various parishes from across the archdiocese journeying to Madrid to be with the Holy Father, comprising over 300 pilgrims in all. When in Madrid, I counted 14 archdiocesan priests among our number.

Most groups left on Tuesday or Wednesday of that week in order to spend a few days visiting Marian shrines or some of the shrines dedicated to one of the Spanish saints. I left on Monday, the 15th, and was joined in Atlanta on my Delta flight by two other World Youth Day groups. The joyful celebration had already begun!

The opening liturgy on Tuesday, the 16th, in Madrid was held at an outdoor altar set up in the Plaza de Cibeles. Some 800 bishops, including about 70 of us from the United States, concelebrated with Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela, the archbishop of Madrid and president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference. The Mass was, fittingly, in honor of Blessed John Paul II, so recently declared blessed.

The cardinal gave credit to Pope John Paul II for initiating the World Youth Days some 26 years before. (I recall being present in St. Peter’s Square for the very first one.)

He called the late pope “the father of youth” and urged the young pilgrims present to go forth in imitation of him to evangelize their contemporaries who are being so negatively influenced by a highly secularized society. At the end of Mass, the cardinal blessed a reliquary with a vile of the blood of Pope John Paul II and then led the assembly in a Spanish hymn to the Blessed Mother.

Morning of catechesis

The next morning Bill Dill, our archdiocesan coordinator for youth events, met me at my hotel and together we went to the Palacio de los Deportes (i.e., Sports’ Palace) for a morning of catechesis by Sister Mary Gabriel of the Sisters for Life and Cardinal George Pell of Sydney.

Sister spoke of the dignity given in the sacrament of baptism which leads us to our destiny as disciples of Jesus, making us missionaries of faith and love.

Cardinal Pell reminded us of our belief in the Triune God, asserting that such a belief is inherently “reasonable” and, in fact, can be substantiated by scientific data. He urged the young pilgrims to not let the flame of faith grow dim or be extinguished on their watch. The morning concluded with a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit.

That evening, Cardinal Rouco invited the bishops who had come to World Youth Day to a symphonic and choral concert at the National Auditorium of Music. We heard everything from Puccini to Brahms to Verdi and even Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Pie Jesu.” I was once again how the gift of music can lift the soul to contemplate the beauty and majesty of God.

Chastity talk

On Thursday, our first talk of the morning at another catechetical session was given by a married couple, Jason and Cristilina Evert. The topic was the joy of being chaste.

Cristilina told of how she lost her virginity at the age of 15 because her boyfriend had told her it would prove her love for him. Afterwards, he lost all respect for her and they soon parted. But when he left, she reported, he took with him something that was very special to her.

Gradually she came to see how she needed to respect herself and her body in order to experience true joy. Jason recalled giving a chastity talk to a group of high school students after which he was approached by a burly football player who had written down “A hundred ways to love my girlfriend without sleeping with her.” He said his next assignment was to push the list to a thousand.

Archbishop Miller of Vancouver next told us that once we know someone’s name, that person is no longer a stranger and can be a friend. We know the holy name of Jesus, he said, so we must deepen our friendship with him. Friendship with Jesus opens the doors to happiness. Open wide, he urged us, the doors of our hearts to Him!

That afternoon, we returned to the Plaza de Cibeles and waited for two hours in the sweltering heat for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. When he was spotted, the pilgrims went crazy with songs and cheers.

The Holy Father greeted the youth in seven languages, welcoming them to Madrid and reminding them that the nature of our gathering was spiritual, whereby we share with one another our mutual friendship in Jesus.

He challenged the pilgrims with the theme of this World Youth Day to stand “firm in the faith” and “to be planted and rooted in Jesus Christ” so that they would openly show forth their faith and never be ashamed of Jesus. He encouraged his young audience to use these days to get to know Jesus better, finding new ways to grow in holiness, especially through the celebration of the sacrament of penance.

By the way, throughout the three days of catechesis, the sacrament of penance/reconciliation was available in every language you could imagine in Retiro Park, where hundreds of youth lined up to experience God’s mercy. The sacrament was also available at each of the catechetical sites.

Light to the world

On the last day of our instruction, Archbishop Tim Dolan gave a spirited talk on how the pilgrims were called to go back home and spread their faith by being light to the world and salt for the earth. He mentioned four ways of doing this:

1) By showing charity in all we do: Here he mentioned Catherine Dougherty of Canada, who said if we cannot serve the poor with love, we better just close up shop.  Love is our business.

2) By being joyful: The definition of joy, he said, was Jesus first, others second and yourself last.

3) By being hopeful: Here he recalled his trip to Haiti after the earthquake and marveled at the resilience of the Haitian people whose hope never diminished.

4) By being passionate in our love for the church: As Catholics, we cannot have Christ without the church because Christ is alive, available, accessible through and in the church, which is not only his body, but his bride as well.

The message was clear, concise and easy to remember.

(To be continued)

God bless you!

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Category: Only Jesus

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