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Pastor’s Blog

World Youth Day Madrid: a source of hope, signs of spiritual renewal

I have had the opportunity and privilege to go to World Youth Days (WYD for short) with blessed pope John Paul II three times in my life. WYD was founded by the blessed pope in 1981 where he began inviting youth groups from around the world to gather with him in Rome or in other major cities in other countries. It would become an amazing occasion for the pope to reach out and educate and evangelize the youth culture to the Christian faith.
The first time I went was in the summer of 1997 in Paris France. I had only finished my first year in the Seminary Studying for the priesthood. It was for me an amazing experience spiritually and in my experience of Church. There was frequent times of intense prayer, especially before the blessed sacrament, as well as one particular vigil for vocations in front of Notre Dame Cathedral that touched my soul. But the experience of the church and what the church could be for the world became very evident for me. All of Paris was inundated with Christian youth from around the world. There was a happy vibe to the city. Groups were chanting and singing songs of faith and love in Christ, and strangers would easily strike up spiritual conversations and a build fellowship in amazing ways. Some people angered by the presence of Christian youth would occasionally yell at them only to be met with a blessing. It was as if a new Christendom had surfaced. More it felt like heaven was meeting earth, and in a real way I think it did. It made me realize that this was what church was meant to be, a place where Christ is alive and felt through the presence of his disciples.
WYD 2002 in Toronto Canada was my second experience. I was now finishing my internship at St Thomas a Becket Parish and I joined the youth group for this great event. This time I was one of the adult leaders guiding the youth. What I experienced most was becoming a witness to God's grace working in the life of these young people I was accompanying. I saw young people set afire for love of God, young people discovering Jesus and seeing a new way to live, young people learning to give and serve others with the love of Christ.
Again in 2005, WYD in Cologne Germany, I took my third trip to see the pope. He was a new guy, cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. I was now an ordained priest for two years and I went with these youth and shepherded them as only a priests can do. I would preside mass hear confessions, and help these youth grow in the grace of God.
World Youth Days are truly exciting events that have gathered the most people in one place from around the world. and yet the Media stubbornly ignores it. These are events that are helping to transform lives and build up an authentic Christian culture that will shape the future of the world.

In the on line magazine Sandro Magister reports on how this last WYD in Madrid has touched our youth.

"To simple outside observation, these worldwide gatherings also demonstrate distinctive characteristics, which were especially visible in Madrid.
There are at least three innovations that characterize the World Youth Days with this pope: moments of silence, the very young age of the participants, the passion to witness to faith in the world.

1)The first is silence. A prolonged, very intense silence that breaks out at key moments, in a throng of young people that had been exploding with celebration just a moment before.

The Via Crucis is one of these moments. Another, even more striking, is that of the adoration of the sacred host during the nighttime vigil. A third is that of communion during the concluding Mass.

Silent adoration of the sacred host is an innovation introduced into the World Youth Days by Benedict XVI. The pope kneels down, and with him hundreds of thousands of young people kneel down on the bare ground. All of them kneeling not to the pope, but to that "our daily bread" who is Jesus.

2)A second distinctive characteristic of this last World Youth Day is the very low average age of the participants, 22.

This means that many of them were taking part in it for the first time. Their pope is Benedict XV, not John Paul II, whom they knew only as children. They are part of a generation of young and very young people highly exposed to a secularized culture. But at the same time, they are the signal that the questions about God and ultimate destinies are alive and present in this generation as well. And what motivates these young people is precisely these questions, to which a pope like Benedict XVI offers answers that are simple, yet powerfully demanding and attractive.

3)A third distinctive characteristic is the projection of these young people "ad extra." They don't have any interest in the battles within the Church to bring it into step with the times.

For them, it is enough for them to be Catholics as Pope Benedict shows and explains to them. Without diversions, without concessions. If we were saved at a high price the blood of Christ we must reach just as high in giving our lives as true Christians.

The American vaticanista John L. Allen has called the young people who gathered in Madrid "Evangelical Catholics":
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Fr. Stephen Otvos

Posted on Wednesday August 31 2011


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