Pope Benedict XVI and Youth of the World
Back in 1986 I was privileged to be chaplain for a group of youth and adults, 55 in number, when we traveled to the great city of Rome for the very first World Youth Day. We were excited to say the least for we heard that not only would we see our then still vigorous Holy Father John Paul II but also that Mother Teresa would be attending this first time unique event. So we left with great expectations. However, we weren’t quite sure what “World Youth Day” would be about. Once we arrived we learned that we were not alone in some ignorance of this call to Rome by Pope John Paul, the week before Holy Week that year. But the Pope had prepared the youth of the world about a year before for this and we all sensed that our faith would be renewed and young people of the world would be valued and inspired to live their Catholic faith more fully.
We were given directions and information and learned that 150,000 young people, not a bad number for a first time event, would be gathered for prayer and talks at various Churches around Rome with several general gatherings in St. Peter’s square with the Pope. After a very inspiring session with Mother Teresa and about 5,000 English speaking pilgrims (I was fortunate to meet her briefly) we also gathered in St. Peter’s square the next afternoon for prayer with Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. To say that was an extraordinary moment in the presence of two living Saints would be an understatement.
I well remember one young man from our group who stood next to me. Upon seeing the Pope and Mother Teresa walk hand in hand out from the front doors of St. Peter’s Basilica to join the youth at the foot of the front steps, he exclaimed: “Look Father! It’s Jesus and Mary!” I agreed wholeheartedly. That powerful and grace-filled week was concluded with Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s square and a few hundred thousand more pilgrims in attendance. We flew home on Holy Thursday with lasting memories.
Well, the rest is history as is said and World Youth Day has grown exponentially. This week upward from 500,000 young people, priests, Bishops and adult chaperones are gathered in Madrid, Spain with Pope Benedict XVI for World Youth Day again, which has continued about every four years since that first call in 1984 in various cities of the world including here in the United States - Denver, Colorado.
Let’s keep our young people in prayer this week. I truly believe, as I did at the first event, that Pope John Paul was not only a profound gift to our Church but that this Youth event was an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The growth and success of each and every one, the personal sacrifices that are made, the spirit of enthusiasm and deeper commitment to our Catholic faith by so many young people testifies to the inspiration of the Spirit. Below is a link to more information on this year’s event in Madrid, Spain, the 26th such gathering since its beginning.