Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 5, 2002
Youth buoy pope and follow Jesus
Spirit of joyous celebration dominates World Youth Day
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
with WCR News Services
Pope John Paul brought Canada's World Youth Day to an end July 28 by urging the Church's youth to follow Jesus and transform a world torn by violence and hatred.
The pope told 800,000 people attending the closing papal Mass that the essence of the World Youth Day message was that they must decide between the "two voices competing for your souls."
He warned them the "spirit of the world offers many false illusions and parodies of happiness."
The pope told the receptive youth the world "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 you to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world."
The congregation at the Mass was called the largest crowd ever to attend a public event in Canada.
The pope's words and presence highlighted World Youth Day, a five-day celebration where an army of young people in T-shirts and backpacks prayed, listened to homilies and made friends among those from more than 170 countries.
The pope displayed more stamina than he has shown for months. And when his energy waned, the exuberant crowd lifted him again.
When he arrived on July 23, Pope John Paul surprised observers by walking down the stairs of the plane.
The welcoming ceremony on July 25 created a mob scene as young people sought to get a glimpse of the pontiff.
The more than 200,000 youth who registered for the event, endured long lineups, scorching sun, a downpour of rain and strong winds to learn more about their faith, meet Catholics from around the world, catch a glimpse of the pope and celebrate the sacraments.
"I have rarely seen such joy, such a sense of celebration, such faith," Calgary Bishop Frederick Henry said.
The head of the Canadian bishops' conference said World Youth Day was a "huge success" that will help build a "reinvigorated and younger" Church.
Bishop Jacques Berthelet called on Catholics across Canada to welcome the pilgrims home "with open hearts, open minds and open spirits."
He said the bishops look forward to "their new fervour, their enthusiasm and dreams as we build the Church of Jesus Christ.'"
Archbishop Thomas Collins told the WCR, "I think the whole experience was very focused and very much centred on Christ."
Collins underlined the presence of the Pilgrim Cross and called it "the most dominating visual sign of the event."
This cross that visited Alberta last November, was venerated at every major event at the WYD, while replicas were on display in every hall at Exhibition Place.
"I also think that the people have to be aware that the big things on the television are only the high points in terms of visual impact," Collins said. Much of WYD occurred in other places and was not reported on TV, radio or secular newspapers.
Thousands of people celebrated the sacrament of Reconciliation at Duc in Ultum Park (Coronation Park), Downsview Park and just about anywhere anyone would want to celebrate the sacrament.
Bishops of the world gave catechetical talks on being salt of the earth and light of the world at 129 different Catholic churches and seven major halls.
"I have rarely seen such joy, such a sense of celebration, such faith."
- Bishop Fred Henry
The youth took part in social service projects such as constructing a house for Habitat for Humanity, feeding street people, visiting the aged and the sick, helping out in soup kitchens and attending awareness seminars on social justice.
The young people also partied, no denying that. But when they did, the focus was still on Jesus. Whether it was a simple group sharing or a concert, their faith dominated.
Although the preparations began right after WYD 2000 in Rome, Torontonians were sometimes caught off guard.
Wherever they turned, they encountered swarms of pilgrims carrying the signature backpacks. They were in the malls. They clogged the subways. Some bus routes were impossible to access. Local newspapers even received letters to the editor complaining about the attention Catholics received for this event.
Many other Toronto folk were gracious, saying "This is great. It will be very long before we see such displays of faith again."
Henry said the pope's determination touched the minds and hearts of the youth.
"They look at this man and they see, he is old, he is faithful, he is honest and what they see is what they get. He is a teacher and he is a rock of stability."
Henry believes anyone who attended the WYD will not come home the same person. They will be touched in many ways. For some, the transformation will be soon while others will need time for the experience to sink in.