August 17, 2011 // Uncategorized

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Pope ends World Youth Day trip with many words of thanks

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Benedict XVI is escorted by Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia as he walks to board a plane at Madrid's Barajas International Airport Aug. 21. The pope returned to Italy after spending four days in Spain's capital for the celebration of World Youth Day. (CNS photo/Paul Hanna, Reuters)

MADRID (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI said he was leaving Madrid filled with gratitude to the Spanish people, the World Youth Day organizers and volunteers and the million-plus pilgrims who prayed with him.

“Spain is a great nation whose soundly open, pluralistic and respectful society is capable of moving forward without surrendering its profoundly religious and Catholic soul,” the pope told King Juan Carlos and other dignitaries Aug. 21 before boarding a plane to return to Rome.

Spain has a reputation as a country where the overwhelming majority of residents are baptized, but faith has little resonance in public policy.

But Pope Benedict said the way Spanish society handled World Youth Day showed it could rally for a great cause: “helping young people to become more deeply rooted in Jesus Christ, our savior.”

The pope thanked the young pilgrims who came to Madrid for World Youth Day with their “joyful, enthusiastic and intense presence. To them I say thank you, and I congratulate you for the witness which you gave.

“I leave Spain very happy and grateful to everyone. But above all, I am grateful to God, our Lord, who allowed me to celebrate these days so filled with enthusiasm and grace, so charged with dynamism and hope,” the 84-year-old pope said at Madrid’s Barajas airport.

Many of the young pilgrims were on hand at the airport, waving mostly Spanish flags and cheering for the Holy Father as he reached his final destination of the four-day whirlwind tour.

World Youth Day lets the church look toward the future with greater hope and trust in God, he said. That is why the church “continues to be young and full of life,” even as it confronts challenging situations.

The grace of Christ, the pope said, “tears down the walls and overcomes the barriers which sin erects between people and generations,” a fact the pilgrims at World Youth Day experienced firsthand.

The pope said the celebration also proved that young people will respond happily and massively “when one proposes to them, in sincerity and truth, an encounter with Jesus Christ.”

He asked bishops, priests and lay leaders to make sure that their young pilgrims are supported as they return home, so the experience could transform their lives.

Before going to the airport, Pope Benedict took time to thank about 12,000 of the 30,000 volunteers from around the world who ensured — as much as possible — the smooth functioning of the Aug. 16-21 World Youth Day events.

Crowds waving banners and throwing confetti bid the pope farewell as he traveled through the streets of Madrid on the way to the fairgrounds adjacent to the airport. Upon entry, a crowd of green-shirt-clad volunteers clapped and waved, cheering for the man whose visit they had worked nonstop all week to coordinate. Baby after baby was lifted through the window of the popemobile for a papal kiss as he circled the crowd, smiling and waving.

After greeting a handful of volunteers personally, Pope Benedict addressed the entire group, acknowledging “all the effort that went into preparing for these days, all the sacrifices, all the love.”

“Everybody did his or her best, by work and prayer, to weave, stitch by stitch, the magnificent, colorful tapestry of this World Youth Day,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the volunteers, Giselle Azevedo, a 28-year-old from Rio de Janeiro, said they all love God and the church, which led them to dedicate their time and energy “to serve and to help young people from the whole world have the most incredible experience of their lives: a personal encounter with Christ.”

And, she said, the young people of Brazil eagerly await the opportunity to welcome young pilgrims to World Youth Day 2013 in Rio.

– – –

Contributing to this story was Gretchen R. Crowe.

Driving rain, wind don’t dampen spirits during World Youth Day vigil

By Gretchen R. Crowe

Pilgrims join Pope Benedict XVI in Eucharistic Adoration during the World Youth Day prayer vigil at Cuatro Vientos airfield in Madrid Aug. 20. Despite enduring a downpour during the vigil, hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world spent the night on the open field. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

MADRID (CNS) — Hours after firefighters doused overheated pilgrims with much-needed jets of water, the heavens added to their efforts by driving rain and wind onto the more than 1 million young Catholics camping at Cuatro Vientos airbase for the World Youth Day vigil.

But the rain did not dampen the spirits of the pilgrims, who sang and chanted all the louder for Pope Benedict XVI, who entered the airbase to cheers and applause. The pope, however, skipped the longer speech he had prepared in favor of short addresses to pilgrims in Spanish, French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese and Polish.

In the different languages Aug. 20, he told the young people to be proud of the gift of their faith and they should “gather with others to deepen it, be faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist, the mystery of faith par excellence.”

Pope Benedict asked that the youths, during the eucharistic adoration that followed, “raise our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ” so he “may he pour out his Spirit upon us and upon the whole church, that we may be a beacon of freedom, reconciliation and peace for the whole world.”

He encouraged them to seek their vocation and to “persevere in it with joy and fidelity, knowing that he never abandons you or betrays you.”

“Guard the flame which God has lit in your hearts tonight. Never let it go out, renew it each day, share it with your contemporaries who live in darkness and who are seeking a light for their way,” he said. “This vigil will remain as an unforgettable experience in your lives.”

The pilgrims began arriving in the morning — some on foot, some via Metro, some by bus — at the airbase baking in the Spanish desert. Using sleeping bags and tarps, they staked their claims for sleeping space. Throughout the day, firefighters hosed off grateful crowds, and pilgrims clamored for drinking water. As the sun lowered in the sky, anticipation began to build for the arrival of the pope, who entered Cuatro Vientos in his popemobile to shouts of joy and welcome.

The storm arrived shortly after the pope did and caused a temporary pause in the proceedings. Once the skies cleared, however, eucharistic adoration continued as planned, and pilgrims dropped to their knees in reverence in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

A deep silence followed, during which pilgrims prayed quietly, either standing or kneeling on the ground. Cheers erupted again for the Holy Father as he left the stage.

“It’s really crazy being here right now, (seeing) all the youth supporting the pope,” said Melissa Emmel of Madison, Wis. “You don’t realize all the people that are in the church until you come and see something like this.”

Emmel said she would love to know what the pope was thinking, looking out at the crowd.

“He knows that it’s not for him, but that it’s for Jesus Christ, and that people love Jesus Christ and want to be in the church and to get to heaven,” she said.

Rachel Leghezza, 17, from the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the experience was “unworldly.”

“You have these little connections with people from other countries where you just kind of click and you realize that you’re all here for the same reason, to rejoice and celebrate being Catholic,” she said. “Seeing over a million people in unison celebrating God is … something to be seen.”

At Mass with seminarians, pope says he’ll proclaim new doctor of Church

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Benedict XVI, celebrates a Mass with seminarians inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Almudena in Madrid Aug. 20. During the service, the pope announced his decision to proclaim St. John of Avila, patron of Spanish clergy, as the 34th doctor of the Church. The pope was in Spain for the celebration of World Youth Day. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

MADRID (CNS) — Telling seminarians they must prepare seriously for the priesthood by devoting themselves to becoming saints, Pope Benedict XVI gave them a role model: St. John of Avila, who will become the Catholic Church’s 34th doctor of the church.

At the end of a Mass Aug. 20 with some 6,000 seminarians from around the world, the pope announced he soon would add the 16th-century Spanish saint to the short list of saints formally recognized for making a big mark on Catholic theology through their teaching and writing. His remarks were greeted with sustained applause in Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral.

Pope Benedict entrusted all the seminarians, as well as priests and bishops, to the intercession of St. John, a master of spirituality and a renowned preacher.

“As they persevere in the same faith which he taught, may they model their hearts on that of Jesus Christ the good shepherd,” the pope prayed.

Pope Benedict did not say when he would make the formal proclamation, and while the announcement was a bit of a surprise, it was almost a replay of how the news came out the last time a pope declared a doctor of the church.

The 33rd saint honored with the title was St. Therese of Lisieux. It was during World Youth Day in Paris in 1997 that Blessed John Paul II made the announcement; the formal ceremony was held at the Vatican two months later.

The doctors of the church are all saints and come from both the Eastern and Western church traditions. They include early church fathers like Sts. Jerome, John Chrysostom and Augustine, as well as major theologians like Sts. Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure and John of the Cross. In addition to St. Therese of Lisieux, the women doctors of the church are Sts. Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Aug. 20 that a date for the ceremony has not been set.

He described St. John of Avila, who lived 1500-1569, as “a great master of priestly spirituality,” and an important influence on Spanish Catholic luminaries like St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

“He was one of the important figures of the golden age of Spanish spirituality,” Father Lombardi said.

During the Mass for seminarians attending World Youth Day, Pope Benedict said the young men preparing for priesthood are “proof of how Christ continues to call young disciples and to make them his apostles.”

Pope Benedict told the students their time in the seminary “should be years of interior silence, of unceasing prayer, of constant study” and gradual introduction into pastoral activities.

But prayer, study and pastoral activity are not enough, he said: The seminarians must strive for holiness.

“The holiness of the church is, above all, the objective holiness of the very person of Christ” and “we have to be saints so as not to create a contradiction between the sign that we are and the reality that we wish to signify.”

Seminarians must be open to the grace of the Holy Spirit that will help them decide to live a life of celibacy, simplicity and obedience, he said.

“Approach the priesthood only if you are firmly convinced that God is calling you to be his ministers, and if you are completely determined to exercise it in obedience to the church’s precepts,” he said.

Mood changes as pope, young people reflect on suffering in Way of Cross

By Cindy Wooden and Gretchen R. Crowe

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead the Way of the Cross in Plaza de Cibeles during World Youth Day in Madrid Aug. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

MADRID (CNS) — The mood at World Youth Day changed dramatically late Aug. 19 as Pope Benedict XVI and hundreds of thousands of young people turned their thoughts to suffering.

The vividly painted, graphic statues that illustrated each station of Jesus’ passion and death were accompanied by meditations focused on individuals, groups and nations enduring serious suffering today.

Many young people — even those blocks away, watching on Jumbotrons — read along in special prayer books included in pilgrim backpacks.

Ryan Titzer, a 17-year-old parishioner of St. Timothy Parish in Chantilly, Va., described the “pasos” as “3-D Stations of the Cross.”

“They show such reality in the way they depicted the scenes,” he said. “I had to get a picture of every single one to show my parents, just because they were incredible looking.”

“It’s different then seeing a painting or a picture of him,” he added. “You could see the pain on Jesus’ face, and it just made it more real.”

One of Titzer’s fellow pilgrims, Bayleigh Aschenbrenner, 16, said the only thought in her head was, “It’s unimaginable that he went through all that for us.”

“It’s very humbling,” she said, and it gave her a greater appreciation for Jesus’ passion. “Being a more visual person, it’s definitely clicked a whole lot more.”

Many of the young people sacrificed their time and comfort by arriving hours early and standing in the hot sun to stake out a place near the papal platform in Plaza de Cibeles or in front of one of the station-statues set up along a main street leading to the plaza.

The meditations included prayers for the defense of human life, for peace in the Holy Land and other areas where there is conflict, for the victims of natural disasters, for the unemployed, for those who suffer racial discrimination or religious persecution, for those with alcohol or drug addictions, and for the victims of sexual abuse.

A cross was carried from one station-statue to another by young people from countries or situations where there is suffering. They included Iraqis, immigrants, recovering drug addicts, unemployed and people from Rwanda and Burundi.

A local woman, tissue in hand, leaned out of her shutter-flanked balcony to watch the progress of the cross.

The “paso” depicting the ninth station, Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments, included a prayer for victims of sexual abuse.

A few days earlier, Jenny McGuire, 18, of the Irish Diocese of Ferns, said years of revelations of clerical abuse of children had caused most Irish Catholics to lose faith in the institution of the church rather than their faith in God.

“It’s not that they don’t believe in Jesus or that they don’t have faith in Jesus,” she said, “but it’s the institution of the church and the priests that they’re losing faith in. It’s not that they’re completely nonreligious. There still is strong faith in Ireland.”

Seamus Sutton of County Wexford, Ireland, agreed, adding that World Youth Day, including the Way of the Cross, was a healing opportunity for pilgrims.

“I see this as a reconciliation with the church and with how these people are serving God and what I’m following,” he said.

Lauren O’Reilley, also from County Wexford, said that the abuse allegations have been especially hard on the Irish priests “that are so good.”

“People in Ireland are losing their faith, especially young people,” she said. “It’s nice to see all of us coming together to see that people still have faith.”

In his remarks at the end of the service, Pope Benedict acknowledged that everyone knows suffering, but he urged the young people to focus on Christ’s suffering out of love for all humanity and to imitate that love by committing themselves to alleviate the suffering of others.

Pope Benedict said meditating on Christ’s passion and death should lead Christians to ask, “What can we do for him?”

“Christ’s passion urges us to take upon our own shoulders the sufferings of the world, in the certainty that God is not distant or far removed from man and his troubles,” because Christ became human himself, enduring suffering and death, the pope told the young people.

The pope prayed that Christ’s love would “increase your joy and encourage you to go in search of those less fortunate. You are open to the idea of sharing your lives with others, so be sure not to pass by on the other side” of the road “in the face of human suffering, for it is here that God expects you to give of your very best: your capacity for love and compassion.”

“The different forms of suffering that have unfolded before our eyes in the course of this Way of the Cross are the Lord’s ways of summoning us to spend our lives, following in his footsteps and becoming signs of his consolation and salvation,” the pope said.

The harsh wood of the cross, he said, is a sign of the self-giving love that will give eternal life to all who ask.

“The cross was not a sign of failure, but an expression of self-giving love,” the pope said. The cross “teaches us to love what God loves and in the way that he loves. This is the good news that gives hope to the world.”

Protesters, pilgrims face minor confrontations on Madrid streets

By Gretchen R. Crowe

A woman rebukes a pilgrim who cries, holding on to her cross, Aug. 17 during a demonstration against what protesters claim is the expensive cost of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Madrid. The pontiff was in Spain Aug. 18-21 for World Youth Day. (CNS photo/Susana Vera, Reuters)

MADRID (CNS) — A paradox was alive in the streets of Madrid as hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims shared the sidewalks with local protesters frustrated over Spain’s hosting — and, some believed, funding — of the weeklong event in a time of economic turmoil.

A group of protesters broke into a run the night of Aug. 18 when police descended on a square near the historic Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) plaza, causing bystanders to duck into the doorways of local bars and cafes. Police then barricaded the Calle Mayor, a main street in Madrid’s historic district, as a procession of black-clad pilgrims walked slowly, bearing a giant crucifix.

Flanked by police, participants holding tall candles and arranged in two long rows led the procession. A large group of pilgrims followed, holding the crucifix above their heads and pausing at intervals. Bringing up the rear was a band, in full uniform.

Crowds on the sidewalk — pilgrims and locals alike — snapped photos and took videos; some applauded.

The scene served as a preview of the 11th station of the Way of the Cross the evening of Aug. 19, in which pilgrims carried “pasos,” or statues, used in Holy Week processions across Spain. Each statue originated in a different Spanish city, with the 11th station, Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross, sculpted in 1942 by Francisco Palma Burgos of the seaport town of Malaga.

At various times throughout the Aug. 16-21 World Youth Day, protesters — largely young out-of-work residents of Madrid — confronted young Catholics from around the world. Reactions to the protests among the pilgrims were mixed. Some chose to counter the demonstrations with chants of their own; others prayed.

Dave Myszkiewicz and Robert Zygadlo, both from Edmonton, Alberta, said they responded with chants of “Viva Papa” and “Benedicto” when a group of protesters entered Puerta del Sol with anti-papal signs and a mock popemobile.

“It’s nice to see that all of the youths, all of us pilgrims are going to unite and kind of fight back against it,” Myszkiewicz said. “I’d rather see that then see the rest of us kind of stand there and not do anything about it.”

“Everyone has their own opinion,” Zygadlo said. “Sitting there and praying there for them would be a good idea.”

“I pray for everybody,” agreed Maylis Du Plessis, 22, of France. “It’s sad that when we are all gathered for Jesus, that people are still protesting, even if they don’t have the choice. I didn’t expect it for my first visit to Madrid, to see all the protests.”

Lilly Cozzoleno, 21, of Naples, Italy, called police when she witnessed protesters in Puerto del Sol Aug. 17.

“Sometimes we were very afraid … but they did not attack me,” she said.

Despite her fear, Cozzoleno said the only way to react to the protests is “with peace, only peace. … Jesus taught us this, so I think this is the better way of life.”

Delegates from the Philippines were not so lucky. Some experienced a “jarring” cultural shock after being harassed by hostile protesters, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

The report said the harassment ranged from chants to obscenities, with some incidents leading to a verbal confrontation.

“I just cannot understand that they brought the Christian faith to the Philippines, but there are now so many anti-Catholic Spanish people. What happened?” asked delegate Jan Dell Posion.

Two Filipino delegates from Dubai — Chris Asero, 28, and Rome Jarlego, 27 — said they were walking in Madrid Aug. 17 when they saw protesters harassing Italian, German and French pilgrims.

“Some were already cursing. Their placards were really derogatory,” Asero said.

Jarlego said the protesters were against government spending for World Youth Day. They wanted that money to be given to poor countries like Somalia or even Spain itself, which is facing its own economic crisis over debt.

The Spanish government has said the cost of hosting World Youth Day, including extra security, was being paid for by private funds and donations.

Eating with pope is a permanent memory; the menu, not so much

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Benedict XVI pretends to play a piano made out of cake after meeting young people for lunch in Madrid Aug.19. The pontiff was in Spain Aug. 18-21 for the celebration of World Youth Day. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

MADRID (CNS) — Lunch with Pope Benedict XVI was an unforgettable experience for 12 young people at World Youth Day. Just don’t ask them what they ate.

“I wasn’t very hungry,” said Aurora Maria Almagro, 21, of Spain. “The food wasn’t the most important thing. We didn’t eat meat today because it’s Friday.”

In what has become a World Youth Day tradition, the pope sat down for lunch Aug. 19 with a young man and young woman representing the host country — Spain, in this case — and a male and female each representing five continents.

Ten of the diners were chosen by lot from among the international volunteers who helped prepare World Youth Day. The young man from New Zealand and the young woman from Australia were chosen by their bishops.

The menu included a soup, a fish dish and ice cream, but the young people were not more specific.

Michelle Hatfield, a 22-year-old from Stafford, Va., called lunch “an amazing experience.”

“The Holy Father is the father of the church and he guides us all. That’s what lunch was like. It was like eating lunch with your family: your father and people you have been working with and really care about.”

No one guided the conversation, she said, and no one decided who would talk next.

“It just came naturally. It’s like eating dinner with your family: You all listen, you all talk, but there’s no set structure.”

Most of the conversation, she said, involved the young people telling the pope about their lives and about the lives of young adults in their countries.

Hatfield, who has been working in the World Youth Day office in Madrid for five months, said she really wanted to give the pope something from the States, “but I have nothing” and she couldn’t go back just to get something.

The young people were seated at a round table with the pope and Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela of Madrid.

Eva Janosikova, 28, of Slovakia and Ya-Chen Chuang, 25, of Taiwan sat on either side of the pope.

“It was awesome. I wasn’t expecting that,” said Janosikova, who was among the first to greet the pope and go sit down. She went to the far side of the table, assuming she would be next to the cardinal.

“We prayed. He sat down and he opened the menu, but it was upside down, so I was just helping him. It was really cute,” she said. “He surprised me by his listening very actively and being interested in others.”

Martin Leung-Wai, a 25-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand, said the luncheon “has made my World Youth Day experience the experience of a lifetime.”

“Having lunch with the Holy Father is something you tell your …. family and friends and future generations about,” he said. When asked why he hesitated to say it was something you tell your grandchildren about, he said he was one of many at World Youth Day considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

Leung-Wai also invited Pope Benedict to New Zealand.

“He was laughing,” the young man said.

Pope offers challenges to young professors, young religious

By Cindy Wooden

Nuns sing as they wait for Pope Benedict XVI to arrive at the Basilica of St. Lawrence in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain, Aug. 19. In his meeting with young women religious, the pope said the church needs their "youthful fidelity." The pope was in Spain for the celebration of World Youth Day. (CNS photo/Andrea Comas, Reuters)

SAN LORENZO DE EL ESCORIAL, Spain (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI’s meetings with young religious women and young university professors, held in the same complex, had very different tones.

The sisters and nuns — all under 35 — gathered in the sunny courtyard of the Basilica of St. Lawrence, while the professors — most under 40 — gathered inside the imposing stone basilica.

The young consecrated women were exuberant: singing, chanting and doing the wave. Most of them stood on their plastic chairs when the pope entered. The young professors visited one another rather quietly before the pope arrived and remained standing on the floor when the pope entered; they were in a church, after all.

In speeches to both groups, the pope expressed gratitude and offered encouragement, but he once was a young professor himself, and much of his advice to the scholars was based on personal experience and a continuing keen observation of what is happening in universities around the world.

Because of political or economic pressures and influence, too many universities are becoming almost technical schools, training the young for a profession without helping them learn to seek and to love knowledge and truth and what it means to be created in God’s image, Pope Benedict said.

Catholics teaching in universities are part of a centuries-long “chain of men and women committed to teaching the faith and making it credible to human reason,” the pope said. “We do this not simply by our teaching, but by the way we live our faith and embody it.”

“Young people need authentic teachers: Persons open to the fullness of truth in the various branches of knowledge, persons who listen to and experience in their own hearts that interdisciplinary dialogue; persons, who, above all, are convinced of our human capacity to advance along the path of truth,” he said.

It’s not enough to be an expert in your subject, the pope told the professors.

“We need to realize in the first place that the path to the fullness of truth calls for complete commitment: It is a path of understanding and love, of reason and faith. We cannot come to know something unless we are moved by love; or, for that matter, love something which does not strike us as reasonable,” he said.

Also, the pope said, scholars must have humility, “since it protects us from the pride that bars us from the truth.”

“We must not draw students to ourselves, but set them on the path toward the truth, which we seek together,” he said.

Maria Sacristan, 41, a professor of corporate strategy at King Juan Carlos University in Madrid, said, “God must also be at the university — even in corporate strategy. I must teach my students business ethics, but also in a university we talk about everything — why exclude God?”

Father Christoph Ohly, 44, who teaches canon law at the University of Trier, Germany, said he came to the meeting because “it’s important that these conversations take place in the university, not just in the theology faculty, but in medicine and engineering and other subjects.”

While the mood was more effervescent in the courtyard with the sisters and nuns, the pope’s message was no less challenging.

Sister Belen, a member of the Servants of Mary who cares for the aged in their homes, thanked the pope for recognizing religious life as “a visible expression of the holiness of the church.”

“The church is holy because it is united with Christ and because, within its heart, holiness blooms like a marvelous garden of different flowers,” she said. “All of us here want to be saints; although we know the path isn’t easy, we trust in the grace of Christ, in communion with the Church and in the magisterium of Your Holiness.”

Pope Benedict told the young religious, “In a world of relativism and mediocrity, we need that radicalism to which your consecration, as a way of belonging to God who is loved above all things, bears witness.”

Through their lives and vows, he said, religious become a “living exegesis” or explanation of God’s word of love and salvation.

“Your lives must testify to the personal encounter with Christ which has nourished your consecration, and to all the transforming power of that encounter,” he told them.

“The Church needs your youthful fidelity, rooted and built up in Christ,” he told them before intoning the Lord’s Prayer in Latin. As the high, light voices of the sisters filled the courtyard, the pope sang more and more quietly.

Sister Marta, 29, a Mexican member of the Carmelite Servants of the Holy Family, said being at the meeting with the pope and so many other young religious was “a dream come true. All of these people feel what you feel: You want to change the world with your prayers, with what you do and who you are. It’s one feeling, one with Christ and the Church.”

She said that before the pope arrived the sisters were asking each other which order they belonged to and what their order’s special mission was.

“It was amazing,” she said. “The Holy Spirit has a lot of imagination.”

Military members, their families enjoy sharing faith with many cultures

By Tom Tracy

MADRID (CNS) — Although he and his group were unable to get very close to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to World Youth Day, Erick Arellano, a senior airman with the U.S. Air Force, still felt the excitement of being among the thousands that packed the Spanish capital’s Plaza de Cibeles.

“We couldn’t get that close. We were somewhere in the middle,” Arellano said of getting a glimpse of Pope Benedict as the popemobile passed through the packed plaza.

“It was quite an experience, hard to explain and one that gave me goose bumps because you get this feeling of peace,” said Arellano, 27, a native of California.

Catholics serving in the U.S. military, their children and others working with military families in the U.S. and Europe said they enjoyed the opportunity to experience their faith with thousands of fellow Catholics from around the world.

An estimated 155 children of active-duty members were lodged at U.S. military installations near Madrid during World Youth Day.

As Arellano made his way to the English-language catechesis sessions for World Youth Day pilgrims Aug. 19, he said he enjoyed being among people representing many different cultures.

“It brings unity. I am taking a lot of things to heart,” said Arellano, a eucharistic minister, usher and a sacristan at Our Lady of the Sky Catholic Community at the Royal Air Force base at Lakenheath, England.

“When (military personnel) travel to those countries, they will have a little more knowledge of how that country works,” he added. “I look forward to walking around and making friends so that when I go to their countries I can be welcomed …. The Spirit is definitely working upon us here.”

Ian Hart, 17, a member of a U.S. military family based in Europe, attended World Youth Day with a group that included 12 youths and five adults. He said he was most impressed with the classic look of Madrid and the impressive sites that the group has visited.

“This is a lot different from America, and military families don’t get out much,” he said. “The architecture, the buildings, the food, the music, statues and the culture we find here in Spain, there is a way of life here.”

Hart and his group saw the pope at the welcoming event and were looking forward to seeing the pontiff again.

“We did see him only for a few seconds, but it was worth the wait. It was extremely empowering. I have never seen a pope or even a cardinal before. It was a great inspiration; he is not just a figurehead in Rome, this makes him a person,” he said.

Jason Sclafani, 30, a youth minister and civilian contractor at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., said attending events such as a World Youth Day is always chaotic and logistically difficult.

He said he spent four hours waiting in the wrong place before relocating to a spot along the pope’s route. He said his group got “two four-second glimpses” of Pope Benedict.

“But in the end it is always worth it, and the kids get a lot out of everything we do, spiritually and culturally,” he said.

Sclafani compared the long wait for the pope with people living in the Holy Land at the time of Christ who would travel from town to town to get a glimpse of Jesus.

“And here we are traveling around, seeking a glimpse of the pope,” he said.

Brandon Brown, 16, whose parents serve in the U.S. Air Force in England and who traveled to Madrid with his sister, Bailey, said his group mistakenly entered the wrong train on Madrid’s crowded Metro system and spent four hours moving about the city, arriving too late for the welcoming ceremony.

Still, Brown said on the way to a morning catechetical session Aug. 19, he has enjoyed the long walks around Madrid, the group togetherness and learning about his religion.

“It is nice and warm here, like a great vacation from England,” he said, adding that the weekend events with the pope would be a great finale to his pilgrimage.

“It will be the best part of the trip, I can’t wait. To see the pope on the weekend, I can’t wait,” he said.

Youths welcome pope to WYD; he asks them to think about faith

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd from his popemobile as he arrives for a welcoming celebration as part of the World Youth Day festivities in central Madrid Aug. 18. The pope arrived earlier that day in Spain's capital to spend four days with hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims. (CNS photo/Susana Vera, Reuters)

MADRID (CNS) — Formally welcomed to World Youth Day by a boisterous, flag-waving throng of hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged their enthusiasm but also urged them to be strong, solid and think about their faith.

Pope Benedict walked through the Puerta de Alcala, a monumental arch symbolizing the entrance to the city, with young people representing Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Moving to the nearby Plaza de Cibeles for the formal greetings and a prayer service, young people representing the various regions greeted the pope and gave him a gift that represented a formal cultural welcome. The pope received salt and bread from a young Polish woman; a flower garland from a Japanese woman; a bowl of rice from a South Korean; a sombrero from a Honduran; and coffee beans in a banana leaf from a young man from Australia.

Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela of Madrid also took a turn at the microphone, welcoming the pope on behalf of the Spanish church and society, but the evening ceremony and prayer service Aug. 18 were clearly about the pope and the young people.

Hours before the pope arrived, young people staked out spots in the plaza and surrounding streets. To pass the time, they danced in the streets, sang, clapped and waved their nations’ flags. Hundreds of thousands of people swayed to the beat of the “Macarena.”

German Sarah Wang could hardly contain her excitement.

“You always see him on TV or in pictures; it’s so exciting that he’s actually in the same country (as me),” she said. “The last two days you are waiting for him, but now it’s so different. That’s the purpose why you’re here, to see the pope and hear him.

“When you see the pope, you feel like you’re Catholic,” said Florence Pua, part of the Chinese-Filipino community in Manila, Philippines. “I want to see him so I can firm up my faith and detach myself from the things that are earthly.”

The pope greeted the youths in Spanish, French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese and Polish.

In English, he expressed his hopes that “these days of prayer, friendship and celebration” would “bring us closer to each other and to the Lord Jesus. Make trust in Christ’s word the foundation of your lives.”

After the Gospel was sung in English, the pope gave the youths an in-depth introduction to the World Youth Day theme, “Rooted and Built up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith.”

The pope said that some words simply amuse or inform, but the words of Jesus “must reach our hearts, take root and bloom there all our lives.”

He asked the young to listen to God’s word and allow it to become “a rule of life which likens us — poor in spirit, thirsting for justice, merciful, pure in heart, lovers of peace — to the person of Christ.”

World Youth Day is an opportunity to know Christ better and “to make sure that, rooted in him, your enthusiasm and happiness, your desire to go further, to reach the heights, even God himself, always hold a sure future, because the fullness of life has already been placed within you,” he said.

The pope asked the young to be steadfast in faith, but also know that “in the face of our weaknesses which sometimes overwhelm us, we can rely on the mercy of the Lord who is always ready to help us again and who offers us pardon in the sacrament of penance.”

He said some people “take it upon themselves to decide what is true or not, what is good and evil, what is just and unjust; who should live and who can be sacrificed in the interests of other preferences.”

Such people claim to be living a life free from every constraint, but their lives have no mooring and no clear horizon, he said: They are lost.

The 84-year-old pope urged the young people to be “prudent and wise, build your lives upon the firm foundation which is Christ” so that “nothing will make you fear, and peace will reign in your hearts.”

“Then you will be blessed and happy and your happiness will influence others,” he said. “They will wonder what the secret of your life is” and they, too, will discover Christ, “your friend, brother and Lord, the Son of God incarnate, who gives meaning to all the universe.”

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Contributing to this story was Gretchen R. Crowe.

World Youth Day vocations fair helps young people put God first

By Gretchen R. Crowe

Carrie Smith, 17, who lives at the U.S. military base in Heidelberg, Germany, participates in the U.S. bishops' vocations fair during World Youth Day in Madrid Aug. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

MADRID (CNS) — As pilgrim Mark Horn mingled among hundreds of young people in an auditorium full of priests and women and men religious, the words he had just heard from Father Robert J. Barron cascaded through his mind.

It is through God that true happiness can be found, Father Barron told Horn and an auditorium full of English-speaking pilgrims during a vocations fair sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at St. Francis Borgia Parish in Madrid Aug. 17, part of World Youth Day activities.

Father Barron, who runs the Chicago-based Word on Fire ministry, was “spot on,” said the 24-year-old Horn of the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D.

“I thought the talk was what a lot of young people need to hear,” Horn said. “There’s no illusions. The way to happiness ultimately is about God and not me and does require sacrifice.

“Any person who’s serious about their spiritual life … does look to the cross for inspiration,” he added.

Horn was not alone in grasping Father Barron’s message that each person is called to a vocation in life that requires putting God first and ego second.

Stephen Yang of Arcadia, Calif., said the priest’s talk opened his mind to a new way of thinking about a vocation.

“The word vocation was always obscure to me,” he said. “I would hear it and think it means priesthood or consecrated life, something other than being married or single. But now I know fully that it includes both single and married life.”

Yang said the day’s events inspired him to seek out regular eucharistic adoration when he returns home so he could continue to discern his vocation.

The fair began with exposition of the Eucharist and prayer with Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley. Activities unfolded throughout the day and included a concert as well as opportunities for young people to mingle with religious women and men.

Father Barron stressed to the young people gathered the importance of distinguishing between the “ego drama” and the “theo drama” — between putting self first or God first. He recalled St. Thomas Aquinas, who suggested the four primary ways that people choose themselves over God are wealth, pleasure, power and honor.

“Everybody in this room has an ultimate concern,” Father Barron said. “If it is anything other than God, your life is disordered, your life is off-kilter and you find yourself within the context of the ego drama.”

Vocation, he said, is about finding the place where a person can worship God alone, devoid of all distractions.

“Vocation is all about finding that place and erecting the altar to the true God alone,” he said.

Once free of the attachment to wealth, pleasure, power and honor, “you are ready to become a conduit of the divine life,” he said.

Father Barron suggested that the faithful use the image of Christ on the cross as an example to follow and as a reminder to let go of the things of the world.

“Love what he loved,” he said. “He loved doing the will of the heavenly Father. Because he’s free … that’s why he’s able to respond to the divine will. The exact same thing’s true of you.”

Pope says listening to, praying with young is a great joy

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Benedict XVI shakes the hand of Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero after arriving at Madrid's Barajas airport from Rome Aug. 18. At center is Spain's King Juan Carlos. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

MADRID (CNS) — Listening to and praying with energetic young Catholics is a joy, Pope Benedict XVI told the king of Spain.

“I have come here to meet thousands of young people from all over the world, Catholics committed to Christ, searching for the truth that will give real meaning to their existence,” the pope told King Juan Carlos Aug. 18 at Madrid’s Barajas airport.

The king, walking with a crutch, and Queen Sofia welcomed the pope, as did 50 Spanish boys and young men dressed as Swiss Guards to make the pope feel at home.

Pope Benedict told the royal family, Spanish bishops and dignitaries at the airport that joining hundreds of thousands of young people at World Youth Day was the motive for his third papal trip to Spain and his 20th trip outside of Italy since becoming pope in 2005.

Many participants at the youth gathering “have heard the voice of God, perhaps only as a little whisper, which has led them to search for him more diligently and to share with others the experience of the force which he has in their lives,” the pope said.

Faith gives the young people the strength to look with hope and confidence at the world and its problems, he said.

They see “superficiality, consumerism and hedonism, the widespread banalization of sexuality, the lack of solidarity, the corruption,” he said.

But with God by their sides, they walk upright, the pope said.

World Youth Day, he said, reminds them that they are not alone in their journey with God and gives them an opportunity to share their hopes, their cultures and “motivate each other along a journey of faith and life.”

“It gives me great joy to listen to them, pray with them and celebrate the Eucharist with them. World Youth Day brings us a message of hope like a pure and youthful breeze,” he said.

Young Catholics can feel alone or ignored, he said, “but they are not alone. Many people of the same age have the same aspirations and, entrusting themselves completely to Christ, they know they have a future before them and are not afraid.”

Some struggle in places where there is conflict or a lack of justice and respect; others are tempted by drugs or alcohol, while some fear the future because of economic difficulties or environmental destruction, he said.

“There are even some who, because of their faith in Christ, suffer discrimination, which leads to contempt and persecution, open or hidden, which they endure in various regions and countries. Some are harassed” to give up faith in Jesus and are not allowed even to mention his name, the pope said.

“But with all my heart, I say again to you young people: Let nothing and no one take away your peace; do not be ashamed of the Lord,” he said.

In the end, in his speech to the king and queen, the pope made only a brief reference to declining religious practice and increasing secularism in Spain.

The traditional faith of the Spanish people, which was responsible for so much missionary work, especially in the Americas, “is a great treasure which should be cared for constructively for the common good,” he said.

Even under a strong midday sun, young pilgrims and Madrid residents lined the streets from the airport to the nunciature, where the pope is staying.

Daniela Cantu of Monterrey, Mexico, was part of a group of pilgrims that spent hours waiting for a short glimpse of the pope as he entered Madrid.

“We were almost crying,” Cantu said. “We pray every day and we (saw) the one we pray for on earth.”

“Seeing the pope changes your life, no doubt,” she said.

There were no signs of the previous night’s violent protests against Spain spending taxpayer money to help finance the pope’s visit during hard economic times. Police arrested eight people and 11 — including two police officers — were injured.

World Youth Day organizers have said the event will pay for itself.

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Editors: Contributing to this story was Gretchen R. Crowe in Madrid.

On plane to Madrid, pope says WYD refreshes, strengthens the young

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Benedict answers reporters' questions during a news conference aboard his flight to Madrid Aug. 18. The pope is traveling to Spain to spend four days with hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO MADRID (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI described the World Youth Day celebrations as a “waterfall of light” that refreshes, nourishes and strengthens young Catholics and, therefore, can bring hope to the world.

Responding to four questions during the flight from Rome to Madrid Aug. 18, the pope told reporters that Blessed John Paul II was inspired when he instituted World Youth Day, and the celebration has brought much good to the church and the world, even if the results aren’t always evident immediately.

“God sows silently, and the seeds he plants don’t show up right away in statistics,” the pope said. It’s like the parable where some of the seeds fall on the road and just dry out, while others fall among weeds and struggle, and others fall on fertile ground and flourish, he said as he prepared to join hundreds of thousands of young people in Spain Aug. 18-21.

Obviously, he said, some of the seeds sown during World Youth Day “will be lost, but that is human.” However, he said, he was confident most of the seeds, especially the seeds of “friendship with God and friendships with others,” would continue to grow.

The best way to ensure a successful youth gathering, he said, is to offer the young opportunities for spiritual preparation beforehand and opportunities to share and to grow afterward.

Asked about how young people can be so confident of the truth of the Gospel and of the Catholic Church in a world that requires them to live with tolerance for members of other faiths, Pope Benedict said, “Freedom and truth are intimately connected.”

The pope said many people today challenge the church’s claims about truth, arguing that they make tolerance and dialogue impossible.

“It’s true that in the past, there were abuses” in asserting truth, he said, referring to times when Catholics tried to coerce or force others to believe.

They were wrong, he said, “because truth is accessible only in freedom. One can use violence to impose certain behaviors, customs and observances, but truth comes only with freely given consent.”

But Pope Benedict said it also is wrong to claim there is no such thing as objective truth that can be discovered through the use of human reason.

“This truly exposes the human person to the whim of those who have power” and end up making all the decisions without being limited by what is good, he said.

Pope Benedict also responded to a question about the global economic crisis and, particularly, its impact on young people.

“The ethical dimension isn’t external to economic problems, but internal and basic. The economy doesn’t work with just market self-regulation, but requires an ethical foundation to work for the human person,” he said.

“The economy is not measured by maximum profit but by the good it brings everyone,” so it must create jobs — especially for the young — and must respect the environment to ensure a future for all humanity, he said.

Denver archbishop urges youths to live faith boldly, publicly

By Conor Gilliland

Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput leads a religious freedom panel discussion Aug. 17 at the Love and Life Center, the English-speaking venue at World Youth Day in Madrid. The recently appointed archbishop of Philadelphia urged thousands of pilgrims to live out their faith boldly in the public square. (CNS photo/Conor Gilliland, Denver Catholic Register)

MADRID (CNS) — A panel of prominent Catholics, led by Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, urged thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims to live out their faith boldly in the public square.

“Religious freedom includes the right of religious believers, leaders and communities to take part vigorously in a nation’s public life,” Archbishop Chaput told youths from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States during an Aug. 17 discussion at “Love and Life,” the English-speaking center at the international youth gathering.

Archbishop Chaput, who will be installed as archbishop of Philadelphia in September, recalled a story that came out in March about a mob of young people who stormed the chapel of a well-known Spanish university, ridiculing the faith, insulting the pope, and inciting fear in other young students who were trying to pray there.

“People tend to think of Spain as a Catholic country,” he said. “But this example of anti-Catholic bigotry happened right here, in this beautiful city, at the Complutense University of Madrid. … So today is a good time to talk about religious freedom, and Madrid is a good place to do it.”

From casting fear into Catholics in Spain to violence aimed at Christians in Egypt to life issues in the United States, Archbishop Chaput said it is up to young people to become “capable defenders” of the faith. He said Catholics should be informed by trustworthy Catholic media, because much of the secular mass media is opposed to the church and pushes a false agenda.

“Being uninformed about the world and its problems and issues is a sin against our vocation as disciples,” he said.

“We can’t change the direction of the world by ourselves or on our own. But that’s not our job,” Archbishop Chaput said. “Our job — and especially your job as young leaders — is to let God change us, and then through us, God will change others and the world.”

Panel speaker Helen Alvare, associate professor of law at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., said she had already seen youths letting God change others and the world at Madrid’s World Youth Day.

She said she conducted an informal experiment while watching secular media coverage of World Youth Day on television — she turned down the volume and observed the joy on the faces of the pilgrims contrasted with the maligned faces of the pope-protesters. As the pilgrims spontaneously broke into song and dance, Alvare concluded that the true news about World Youth Day was written on the faces of those pilgrims.

During a discussion period after the talks, the panelists responded to the question, “How do we begin to fight secularism?”

“Instead of fighting secularism,” responded Archbishop Chaput, “let’s promote religious freedom.”

Alvare said what she strives to do is to “bring the insight of the faith to a modern secular problem.” Calling faith and reason pillars of Catholic truth, she urged using them boldly in tandem as a starting point to fight secularism.

Other panel speakers included Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, who spoke on the philosophical milieu of anti-Christianity. Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Media Foundation in Toronto, spoke passionately about his city’s World Youth Day experience in 2002, and Pablo Barroso, producer of the upcoming film “Cristiada,” spoke about secularism and Mexico’s Cristero Rebellion of the 1920s.

Admit faith is weak, New York archbishop tells young people in Madrid

By Gretchen R. Crowe

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York greets pilgrims from New York as he arrives for a catechesis at a church in Madrid Aug. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

MADRID (CNS) — World Youth Day pilgrims got down to business in Madrid Aug. 17 as the first catechesis classes taught by archbishops and bishops were held in locations throughout the city.

Sessions were divided by languages, and pilgrims were encouraged to go to the session closest to their accommodations.

At San Ricardo Church, northwest of the city center, cheers and cries of welcome greeted New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan as a group of approximately 350 young people — mainly from Australia, the United States and Barbados — caught a first glimpse of their teacher for the day. A clear lover of people, Archbishop Dolan posed for every photo-op, embraced many familiar — and unfamiliar — people, and ended up at the front of the church with an Australian baby propped in his arms.

With his catechesis theme gleaned from that of World Youth Day, Archbishop Dolan spoke about faith as a logical gift from God and about what it means to keep that faith firm.

The best way to maintain a strong faith, he said, is to acknowledge that it is weak.

“When we admit our faith is weak, when we admit our faith is shaky, when we admit that our faith isn’t what it should be, actually we’re exercising it, and we’re making it more and more firm,” he said. “Something tells me that’s why we’re (at World Youth Day),” he said. “Our faith is weak, our faith is shaky. We want to be with a million other young people from around the world who love their faith and are trying to make it strong.”

Using personal anecdotes of his life in New York, Archbishop Dolan explained to the young people that faith is easy to observe, but difficult to define. He called it a gift given by God to those who ask for it: Free will enables people to live without faith, but it’s always ready and waiting.

Archbishop Dolan described what he called the paradox of faith: how in the world today faith is often seen as illogical, unable to be scientifically verified, a crutch for people to avoid the duties and trials of earthly life, and the cause of hatred in the world.

But faith is “the most logical thing of all when you think about it,” he said. Most of the things that matter most to people cannot be demonstrated, such as love, loyalty, friendship, joy and trust.

“We can’t show that under a microscope, and yet those are the most real things in life,” he said.

Faith should be fostered through the sacraments, and struggles and tough times in life should be used to strengthen faith, not hurt it, he said. And, he stressed, Catholics need to remember that faith is not a doctrine, creed or even a church.

“Our faith is in a person, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he said. “He and he alone is the root, the origin and the goal of our faith.”

During a question-and-answer session, one Australian pilgrim touched on what will likely be a challenge for many young people once they leave World Youth Day: how to interact with those who do not agree with the basic principles of the Catholic faith and who are, in fact, living a life averse to the church’s teachings.

The archbishop’s answer was simply this: with love.

“We can scream, we can yell, we can castigate, we can alienate, we can nag, and most of the time if we do that we lose,” he said. “Or we can be gracious, patient, loving, understanding, persistent, welcoming. And most of the time when we do that, we’re also going to lose. But less than the first one.”

It was this frank manner of speaking that led Nicole Bedosky, 16, of Middletown, N.Y., to call her archbishop “engaging.”

“Everybody was paying attention,” she said. And seeing her own archbishop was a pleasant surprise and a taste of home, she added.

The catechetical sessions will continue Aug. 18 and 19, offering pilgrims additional opportunities to meet with those in positions of authority in the church — a fact that is much appreciated by the young people.

“They’re taking time out of their lives and their positions to come and speak to young people,” said Rebecca Devitt, 25, of Dubbo, Australia. “It may allow (the youths) to get to know the people who are probably a little bit on a pedestal in a lot of places. It may humanize them a little bit more.”

On the way into the church, Archbishop Dolan told Catholic News Service that World Youth Day is “a powerful icon of the church universal.”

“This is a great honor for me just to be able to teach, because bishops are, first and foremost, teachers,” he said. “To teach 300 or 400 kids who are eager to hear, it’s a challenge and inspiration.”

At opening Mass, WYD pilgrims begin ‘days you will never forget’

By Gretchen R. Crowe

Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela of Madrid celebrates the Eucharist at the opening Mass for World Youth Day in Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid Aug. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

MADRID (CNS) — A cloudless blue sky turned to inky night as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims participated in the opening Mass for World Youth Day, celebrated by Madrid Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela in the Plaza de Cibeles.

Protected from the heat by white umbrellas and streams of soft mists, dozens of bishops and priests gathered on and around the makeshift altar to celebrate the Mass for pilgrims representing their homeland with flags, special hats, T-shirts and banners.

In his homily, Cardinal Rouco said World Youth Day is inseparable from Blessed John Paul II, “the pope of the young,” whose memory they celebrated with the Mass. The relationship Blessed John Paul had with the young was “unprecedented,” he said “a hitherto unknown relationship between the church and her young: direct, immediate … imbued with a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, enthusiastic, hopeful, joyful, contagious.”

This tradition has continued with Pope Benedict XVI, he said, who did not hesitate to highlight Blessed John Paul’s love of the young in his homily for his predecessor’s beatification in May.

World Youth Day inspires a new encounter with the Lord, the cardinal said: “He is the only one who can understand you and lead you to the truth giving life that never ends, to give you happiness, true love.”

Young people are looking for Christ, he said.

Pilgrims fill Madrid's Plaza de Cibeles for the opening Mass of World Youth Day Aug. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Letting oneself be found by him is the key to the success of any World Youth Day,” he said. “It will be your success. Youths of the 21st century need, even more than previous generations, to find the Lord through the only path that has proven effective spiritually: the humble and simple pilgrim seeking his face.”

In comments following the Mass, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, welcomed the crowd by telling them the event for which they had been waiting and preparing had finally arrived.

“These will be days you will never forget,” he said, “days of important discoveries and decisions that will be decisive for your future.”

Reflecting on the words of St. Paul that form the theme of this year’s World Youth Day: “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith (Col 2:7),” the cardinal acknowledged the challenge of living out this call.

“This is very demanding because it contains a definite life plan for each one of us,” he said.

“Faith is like a root that is nourished by the lifeblood of the word of God and the sacraments,” he added. “It is the foundation, the rock on which life is built, the dependable compass that guides our choices and gives clear direction to our lives.”

In a world where so many people reject God, Cardinal Rylko said, World Youth Day shows that the Catholic faith lives.

“You have come to say aloud to the whole world — and in particular to Europe, which is showing signs of being very lost — your unwavering ‘Yes!'” he said. “Yes, faith is possible. It is, in fact, a wonderful adventure that allows us to discover the magnitude and beauty of our lives.”

For hours before the Mass, pilgrims lined the street. Many played cards, read, wrote in their journals or even napped, waiting for the event to begin.

Oblate Father Richard Hall, pastor of San Juan de los Lagos Parish in San Antonio, said the opening Mass, which united all the pilgrims attending World Youth Day for the first time, was what he and his group of pilgrims had been waiting for.

“To be here, beginning the experience with Mass (is what is) so wonderful about our church,” Father Hall said. “No matter where you’re at, you’re able to celebrate the liturgy in whatever language (you speak) or country you’re from. To come here around the archbishop of Spain with all the bishops in communion with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is a great experience.”

“It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said Morgan Simon, 16, of Sydney. “The representations of all the countries around the world — it’s mind-blowing. Everyone’s happy and cheerful. They all want to talk to each other and get to know you and where you’re from and trade things. It’s one of the most amazing things ever.”

“We’re all here for the same reason,” said Leslie Comstock, 23, of St. Mary Parish in Holliston, Mass., who had just finished attaching an American flag to a nearby fence. “We may not be able to speak to each other very well, but the idea is the same. (Mass) is the only way to start.”

Walking down the street arm-in-arm with fellow pilgrims from Bogota, Colombia, Catalina Bamargo said she could not believe that she was living this experience with 3,000 pilgrims from her country — and with hundreds of thousands more from around the globe.

“This is wonderful, we’re excited,” she said. “The Church lives.”

English-speaking pilgrims find culture, faith at Love and Life Center

By Gretchen R. Crowe

MADRID (CNS) — The colors of World Youth Day lit up the auditorium of the Palacio de Deportes sports arena in Madrid Tuesday afternoon for the opening of the “Love and Life Center: A Home for English-Speaking Pilgrims.”

American, Canadian and World Youth Day flags, among others, swayed to the rockin’ beat of Louisiana-based L’Angelus, a Catholic family band that opened the event to cheers of young people ready to be on fire with their faith.

Band members invited their younger siblings onstage. Twins Maximilian and Kolbe Rees, 7, played “When the Saints Go Marching In” on the trumpet, and 5-year-old Molly endeared herself to the crowd by singing and performing a French-Canadian dance.

L’Angelus offered a fitting tribute to the center’s celebration of the Catholic faith.

The center is a “microcosm of the culture of life,” said Sister Mary Gabriel, novice director for the Sisters of Life. “You will find everything. You will find a home for yourself.”

A collaboration of the Knights of Columbus and the New York-based sisters, the Love and Life Center will offer four days of programming to help pilgrims grow closer to God. Events include catechesis by Sydney Cardinal George Pell; a panel on theology of the body; music from groups like L’Angelus and Northern Virginia-based folk-rock group Scythian; a “You and Me” exhibit depicting the power of choice; and, of course, prayer.

The center is co-sponsored by Holy Cross Family Ministries, Canada’s Salt and Light Television Network, the Apostleship of Prayer, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), World Youth Alliance and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

Sister Mary Gabriel said the Love and Life Center is all about giving hope to the young people who participate. She said the nuns arrived Aug. 10 and have since been busy getting the center ready for the pilgrims, especially the “You and Me” exhibit, which uses audio to tell the stories of people who allowed God to work through the choices they made in their lives.

“It’s about the human person and the power of a choice,” Sister Mary Gabriel said. “Even one choice can radically change the world.”

Pilgrims wiped tears from their eyes as they moved from station to station, listening to the witnesses of real people the Sisters of Life met through their ministry or through the Catholic community. The different examples of family life show how “literally new worlds were opened up” as people found guidance through God’s help, Sister Mary Gabriel said.

“They touch on issues of the heart, the issues that everyone grapples with to some degree,” she said. “They’re all really powerful.”

Jennifer Loser, alumni relations manager with FOCUS, said the group’s connection with the Knights of Columbus has enabled it to “share in the joy and the hospitality of inviting people into the love and life center.”

“We hope that (pilgrims) see that people are young and attractive and excited to serve the Lord,” Loser said.

About 5,000 Canadian young people gathered for a national celebration at the center on its opening day.

Sister Mary Gabriel said she hopes the pilgrims will leave the center knowing there is “hope for me — that Christ is good and Christ means good for us.”

“The idea is that everyone who comes here will be able to receive something that allows them to grow closer to Christ and grow closer to who they are and knowing what their potential is,” she said. “The Lord is with them. Love is possible in their life. They can live life in this way and be set free.”

She said all the work, time and effort put into getting the center ready all boils down to making “a place where the Lord can give us what he’s prepared for us.”

“He’s here and he’s anticipated this more than us,” she said. “That, to me, is what is so beautiful. He just takes over, and you let it roll.”

Holy Cross on the Ground at World Youth Day

NOTRE DAME — This week at World Youth Day 2011 (Aug. 16-21) in Madrid, the Congregation of Holy Cross is there on the ground! Not only is Holy Cross religious leading youth from our parishes and education institutions on this spiritual pilgrimage and major event in the Catholic Church, but we’re also hosting the largest venue for English-speaking pilgrims and a Vocations Café. We’re working the streets handing out 600,000 Rosaries along with filming and interviewing pilgrims daily as part of our missionary efforts to spread the Gospel through digital media.

“One Holy Cross, One Family, One World”
The following United States Province of Priests and Brothers parishes and schools are in Madrid this week: University of Portland, Portland, Ore.; St. John Vianney Parish and Catholic School, Goodyear, Ariz.; St. George’s College, District of Chile; Colegio de Nuestra Senora de Andacollo, District of Chile; and La Luz Parish, Region of Mexico. Worldwide within the Congregation of Holy Cross, many other Provinces are expected to be leading groups as well, including the Vicariate of France.

On Wednesday, Aug. 17, they will all come together for an international gathering, “One Holy Cross, One Family, One World” hosted by the U.S. Province’s Office of Vocations and U.S. Province apostolate Holy Cross Family Ministries. More than 100 youth whose paths might not otherwise ever cross will have a chance to connect, get to know each other, and pray together with their fellow Holy Cross family members. Read more in the blog post to be posted later today.

Love and Life Center: Family Rosary Chapel and the Vocation’s Café
Located in the heart of Madrid, World Youth Day’s main venue for English-speaking pilgrims is the Love and Live Center, which is sponsored by U.S. Province apostolate Family Rosary in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus and the Sisters of Life. Here Family Rosary is hosting a Marian Music Festival as well as assisting with the many other concerts, panels and events on the main stage.

Within the Love and Life Center there are two venues: the Family Rosary Chapel and the Vocation’s Café. The Family Rosary Chapel is a place where pilgrims can spend time together in prayer. At the Vocation’s Café, co-sponsored by the Sisters of Life and the U.S. Province’s Office of Vocations, pilgrims will be able to consider their vocation as a young Catholics in conversation with priests, sisters, brothers, young married couples and others who have found their vocation.

On-the-Street Interviews with Pilgrims
Family Theater Productions, another apostolate of the U.S. Province, is on the ground “working the streets” of Madrid interviewing participants on their experiences at WYD, on how and when they pray the Rosary, along with many other questions. Visit Family Rorsary’s website for daily posts of video and photos from Madrid.

Rosary Donation and Rosary Prayer Campaign
To ensure pilgrims to World Youth Day have a Rosary in their hands to pray throughout their time in Madrid, Family Rosary donated 600,000 Rosaries and is handing them out at WYD activities.

In conjunction with the donation, a prayer campaign began on May 1 during the Beatification Ceremony for John Paul II. The video promoting the Firm in the Faith with Mary Rosary Prayer Campaign was screened in St. Peter’s square to launch the initiative. The Campaign, which continued right up to the start of World Youth Day on Tuesday, Aug. 16, joined together people from around the world to pray the Rosary on the Saturdays leading up to WYD. Family Rosary has a long history of praying the Rosary for the success of an event. Family Rosary was founded by Holy Cross priest Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, CSC.

Mass opens World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid
Young people from around the world carry YOUCAT to Eucharistic celebration

ATLANTA — Hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from around the world packed into Madrid’s Cibeles Square – YOUCATS in hand – for the 2 p.m. ET (USA) Mass that opened World Youth Day 2011. The Archbishop of Madrid presided over the celebration of the Eucharist, which was concelebrated by bishops and priests from across the globe who are participating in the bi-annual event. World Youth Day 2011 concludes Aug. 21.

Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in Madrid on Aug. 18 with a full schedule that includes multiple events with young people in attendance. The Holy Father will hear confessions Aug. 20, and will celebrate the event’s closing Mass on Aug. 21.

“All of us are going to Madrid to see the Pope, the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Jesus Christ who is also going to Spain to see us so that together we can meet the Lord Jesus Christ,” said the Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, the new Archbishop of Philadelphia, in a July 31 homily during Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo., where he served as Archbishop before receiving his new assignment. “My prayer for all of us is that the Lord would use this pilgrimage as a way of drawing us closer to himself so that we understand that we are all on pilgrimage to our true citizenship with him in heaven.”

Already a hit in the United States with more than 100,000 copies in circulation, YOUCAT’s official introduction occurred today in Madrid, as those registered for World Youth Day received copies of the book in their native languages as part of their registration packet. The book was developed with the help of young Catholics and written for high-school age people and young adults. The English edition, published by Ignatius Press, has the imprimatur.

Those unable to attend World Youth Day 2011 can join young Catholics from every corner of the Earth in making a virtual pilgrimage online at

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