Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 5, 2002
And the heavens opened . . .
Papal Mass renews joy of the first Easter
By RENATO GANDIA
Some called it rain, while others called it renewal of Baptism. But no priest was blessing people with holy water.
The heavens did the job and blessed the people with an abundant, almost violent, thunderstorm.
As the rain poured and the wind tossed the pope's green alb, he prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ you renew the youth by water of Baptism and by the water of life, by this water . . . renew in us the joyful remembrance and grace of the first Easter."
It was a celebration of faith with nature playing its part in the symphonic culmination of a celebration, Toronto, if not the rest of Canada, will remember for quite some time.
Then the sun broke through and the pope spoke to an estimated 800,000 drenched, yet mostly cheerful pilgrims, urging them to choose between life and death, truth and falsehood.
Then came the statement that was not meant to be political although some commentators took it as one.
"The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us with a deep sense of sadness and shame," a reference to the sexual abuse scandal that has hit the American Catholic Church hard.
The crowd went ballistic. This statement in his entire visit, received the loudest cheer. It is believed to be the first time the pope had spoken publicly on the scandal, although he has addressed the issue in public writings and in meetings with cardinals.
"But think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good."
"If you get called to the same life, do not be afraid to follow Christ."
The pope urged the youth to support and be close to the seminarians, religious and priests.
"At difficult moments in the Church's life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent."
The pontiff, who has continually urged young people to make a difference in the world, told them that the world they are inheriting "desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity."
"It is a world which needs to be touched and healed by the beauty of God's love. It needs witness to that love. It needs you to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world," he said.
Archbishop Thomas Collins told the WCR he thinks the pope's statement on sexual abuse was not political at all.
"The remarks of the pope were very important but the heart of WYD is really the message of Christ of being salt of the earth and light of the world," he said.
Collins said the youth of the world focused on that general theme rather than on topical issues.
The holy father's homily, replete with urgings to choose the difficult path of holiness over the illusory path of sinfulness, was delivered in English, French and Spanish.
"The spirit of the world offers many false illusions. There is perhaps no darkness deeper . . . than the illusion of finding life by excluding God."
"The world you are inheriting is a world, which desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity. It is a world that needs to be touched by the witness of love."
"You are young and the pope is old . . . but the pope still identifies with your hopes and aspirations," Pope John Paul said as he became more animated and veered away for a moment from his prepared homily.
Again, the familiar cheering, "JP II we love you!," to which the pope responded, "Do not let that hope die."
"We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father's love."
Most of the crowd at the Mass had spent the night in the airfield after a late-night vigil with the pope.
Music, dancing, drumming and mingling continued until 3 a.m. While there was light drizzle in the early morning, the heavens opened by 6 a.m., turning parts of the former air base into spongy, muddy stew.
Innisfail's Natasha Simoni, 24, said she felt the presence of God.
"Just the pope being there and just the way he spoke, I just felt it was totally God working in him. Everything that he said, I heard the voice of God," Simoni told the WCR.
Simoni took the words of the pope as "commissioning us to go to the world and spread the Gospel of love."
Red Deer's Jason Ragan, 24, also felt the presence of God. "I think that was best exhibited through the rain."
He observed how the clouds and the gusty wind were going in opposite directions. "Whatever it was, God was there," he told the WCR.
Ragan will take home the pope's teachings on the Beatitudes which he talked about during the welcoming ceremony and which he followed up at the vigil.
"I think that's what the pope and Jesus are asking us to do: to live out the Beatitudes and be people of Beatitudes."
At the Mass, 20 people from the archdiocese led by Andrew Papenbrock, were at the stage close to the pope.
Stettler's Trina Van Straten, 22, did not feel worthy to be up on the stage. "I was overwhelmed and I couldn't describe it more than that."
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