Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 15, 2002
Papal trip to highlight youths, saints
By CINDY WOODEN
Catholic News Service
As Pope John Paul's health forces him to trim his schedule, two of the priorities of his papacy become even more obvious: young people and saints.
The combination of the two explains why the pope will make his longest foreign trip in three years July 23-Aug. 2, visiting Toronto, Guatemala City and Mexico City.
Pope John Paul will participate in World Youth Day events in Toronto, then fly to Guatemala to canonize Blessed Pedro de San Jose Betancur, then on to Mexico to canonize Blessed Juan Diego and beatify two laymen.
The 82-year-old pope has difficulty walking, especially on stairs, and the tremors and garbled speech that are symptoms of a disease related to Parkinson's continue to worsen.
Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, the pope's personal doctor, will not comment on the pope's health. But he said it does not take a papal physician to gauge the effect young people have on the pope.
"It is like when I see my children and grandchildren, only multiplied by tens of thousands," the doctor said. "You experience the joy and hope that comes from being with so many young people sharing the same ideals."
The pope's pared-down schedule for the July trip includes only a smattering of the meetings usually held with national and local government officials, bishops, priests and religious.
Pope John Paul will meet with the young participants in World Youth Day at three major events in Toronto July 25, 27 and 28, spending much of the rest of his time relaxing at the Basilian Fathers' Strawberry Island retreat.
He has July 27 meetings planned with Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson and Prime Minister Jean Chretien, as well as the premier of Ontario and mayor of Toronto.
The papal schedules for Guatemala and Mexico are even simpler: arrival ceremonies, a daily liturgy and departure ceremonies.
The reason Pope John Paul wanted to make the trip, however, is not simply one of affection for young people, but a conviction born of his earliest work as a young priest, said Cardinal Francis Stafford.
The cardinal said, "The pope sees and knows from his personal pastoral experience that the choices made in one's late teens and 20s are central to what one's life will be.
"It is not just a whimsy, but a profound conviction of the pope that this period of life is determinate," said the cardinal, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, which coordinates World Youth Day.
The pope's insistence on personally presiding over World Youth Day, despite his obvious problems with mobility, "really points up his lifelong respect for young people and the choices they face," he said.
In letters and speeches to young people throughout his pontificate, he said, "the Holy Father has emphasized the central role of dialogue with Jesus when one is at a crossroads in discerning a vocation and making decisions about the future."
Often using the Gospel account of the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life, the pope wants to affirm young people's intuition that "there is more to life than a day-to-day grind until death," Stafford said.
But people need time, space and occasions to hear Jesus' specific call to them, the cardinal said, "and World Youth Day offers that."
For the universal pastor of the Church, the other important aspect of World Youth Day is its ability to show the world the Church's vocation to be perennially youthful, Stafford said.
"The Church's vocation is to be in wonder and awe of the gift of life," he said. "After Sept. 11, we all are much more aware of the precious gift of life and of our need for thanksgiving before the wonder of God."
After encouraging young people to live their faith, Pope John Paul will fly south to proclaim as saints two figures in Guatemala and Mexico.
Blessed Betancur, known as Hermano Pedro, was born in Spain, but worked among the poor and sick of Guatemala. Often referred to as the "St. Francis of the Americas," he founded the Bethlemite Brothers and Sisters in the 17th century.
In Mexico, Pope John Paul will canonize Blessed Juan Diego, the indigenous man to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531.
The canonization cause was stalled for several years during a debate over whether Juan Diego truly existed or whether he was a legendary figure representing the indigenous peoples who converted to Catholicism.