The World Youth Day (WYD) is a massive gathering of young people from all over the world, promoted by the Catholic Church. It is a grand festivity of faith celebrating the joy of the personal encounter of millions of young people with Christ, gathered around his Vicar on earth, the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI, the 265thsuccessor of St. Peter the apostle, reminds the youth that the lead actor of WYD is not the Vicar of Christ but Christ himself, and rightly so.
This year’s WYD was held in Madrid, Spain from the 16th to the 21st of August 2011 under the theme “Planted and Built up in Christ – Firm in the Faith”, a quote from Colossians 2:7. The Madrid setting was excellent; a city wearing a crown of gleaming skyscrapers; rich in history dating back 2000 years; churches with an architecture that immediately puts you in the presence of God; capital city of a country which has produced a large number of saints for the universal church such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the society of Jesus, St. Francis Xavier, patron of the Missions, St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, reformer of the Carmelite Order and Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross, St. Francisco de Borja, St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, among others.
Words have not yet been invented that correctly describe the atmosphere of the WYD event. To put linguistics to the task, it was an electric atmosphere to say the least. A sea of humanity from all walks of life, numerous nationalities, race, sex, culture, democrats and liberals graced the occasion. Official records show that over two million youth from all over the world showed up for the vigil night at the Cuatro Vientos airfield (Cuatro Vientos is Spanish for “four winds”)..
These young people all came to be in solidarity with an 84-year old, white-haired, jovial, man who has spent most of his life reading and writing books. These people could not possibly have travelled half-way around the world to see the Pope just because of his human qualities, which are outstanding in themselves, but rather because of the figure he represents, Christ himself. It is otherwise impossible to draw such people. Two million young people? In this bleeding and battered generation? No way!
Let’s try to create a mental picture of the atmosphere of the WYD event: youth gathered in small groups to recite the rosary; attending daily catechesis which included brief presentations regarding certain touchy issues (for instance the Theology of the Body), Confession, Bishop’s catechesis, moments for reflection, questions and Holy Mass.
The young folk also joined the Roman Pontiff in the welcoming ceremony held at the Plaza de Cibeles. There was also a Way of the Cross which proceeded from Plaza de Colon to Plaza de Cibeles. This was a special event because selected groups of youth got to carry the cross from one station to the next. Some of the selected groups were young people from situations where Christians suffer persecution because of their faith; young people from Iraq; young people freed from drugs; youths who suffer marginalization; young people from Albania; young people from Rwanda/Burundi; youth from Haiti and Japan; young people from Sudan…
The Vigil was a night I will never forget (I wish I was writing a composition in primary school!). A couple million youths joined the Holy Father for the activity at Cuatro Vientos. They weathered a minor summer storm which left them completely drenched. Before leaving, the Vicar left us with these words,” We have lived together an adventure. Strengthened by your faith in Christ, you have resisted the rain. I thank you for the sacrifice that you are making and I have no doubt that you will offer it generously to the Lord. As happened tonight, you can always, with Christ, endure the trials of life.” What better words to encourage two million waterlogged youth.
Being so close to the Pope, one got the feeling of being in Rome, the Seat of St. Peter. We felt cared for and experienced what it means to be truly Catholic. A feeling of universality overwhelmed us given the myriad of races and nationalities that were in attendance. For the entire week nobody cared where they were from, whether black or white, kikuyu or embu, ODM or PNU. We were all children of God. Whichever direction you glanced there were happy faces. People looked very optimistic about life and I believe some saw their vocation clearly in those days. It could only be a joy of one’s knowledge of being a child of God. We all experienced, first hand, the unity that is truly present in the Church.
Now we are back at home but the sensation of being in solidarity with the Pope still persists, especially during the holy sacrifice of the Mass, as we offer it for his intentions. As the priest utters the words of the liturgy, one cannot help but be attentive, and an occasional flashback of Pope’s image crosses mind. Praying for the quickly becomes part and parcel of everyday life: the duty of being a shepherd of 1.2 billion sheep weighs heavily on him and he needs all the grace he can get. One is also filled with a desire to painstakingly search for the truth and enlighten the masses regarding the scandalous lies that shroud the image of the Vicar of Christ.
I leave you with the words of Benedict XIV in his address to the young people. “I wish that all the young people, both those who share our faith and those who hesitate, falter in their belief or don’t believe at all, could live this experience, which may be a turning point in their lives: the experience of our Lord Jesus Christ, who resurrected and is alive, and of his love for each and every one of us.”
The next World Youth Day event will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013. I can’t wait.