Listening to two million young people sing Jesus Christ, you are my life at the closing Mass for the jubilee for youth (Rome, Aug. 15-20) was the real start of the new Millennium for me. These are the men and women who will help shape the beginning decades of the new century. The world will be in good hands.
They came from over 160 countries. From the United States, 45 bishops participated and over 130 dioceses were represented by 20,000 young Catholics. From the Archdiocese of Chicago, Pat Pacer of the CYO organized youth from St. Anne in Barrington, Queen of Angels, St. Gregory the Great, St. Marcelline in Schaumburg, St. Matthias, Our Lady of Tepeyac, St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Alexander, St. Damian, St Germaine, St. Julie Billiart, St. Ambrose, St. Anastasia in Waukegan and several other parishes. St. Ignatius and other high schools also sent pilgrims. All told, there were over 500 young people from Cook and Lake counties along with Bishops Jakubowski and Conway and myself. Some came to Rome from Lourdes, where Father Wayne Watts had brought a group to pray to Mary and help the sick who visit her shrine. On Friday afternoon, Aug. 18, many from Chicago celebrated the Eucharist with me in my titular Church of St. Bartholomew on the Tiber island before making the Stations of the Cross at the Colisseum.
During the Saturday night vigil Aug. 19, each of the young people took the Gospel according to St. Mark, which had been given them in five languages when they registered for the jubilee, inscribed it with their own name and exchanged their copy with that of their neighbor or friend. With this gesture, each of the two million young people agreed to bring the Gospel to their neighbor and to the world. Jesus Christ, they sang, is the light of the world; and the fireworks that concluded the night time vigil lit the immense field where they were camped with a light that reflected the light of Christ burning in their hearts.
Their hearts had been changed by a strenuous week marked by Romes hottest weather. The heat contributed to the penance that is always part of a pilgrimage. The pilgrims were instructed through three days of catechesis. They made their pilgrimage to St. Peters Basilica, walking in groups of thousands through the Holy Door to the tomb of St. Peter. They confessed their sins in hundreds of confessionals set up in the Circus Maximus and at every catechetical site. The several thousand priests who heard confessions, sometimes for ten hours a day, had to be deeply moved by the seriousness of the young peoples life with God.
This is a generation that seems to be less ideological than their predecessors. The often dreary arguments and stale diatribes that dominate too many Catholic discussions in this country seem not to be of great interest to them. The Church is a source of hope and not a burden. Im not sure if or how they will take up causes, but they seem intent on living personally in union with God and know their faith gives hope to their lives.
Pope John Paul II brought them together, but they were already one in their faith before they came to Rome. Christs gift of universal primacy to the successor of Peter enables Catholics, at their best, to distinguish the Church in her fullness from any nation or tribe, parish or family. All the nations of the world were present in the diversity of young people in Rome, but diversity was clearly secondary to the unity of their faith, which was strengthened rather than diminished through its diverse personal expressions.
The Holy Father welcomed the young pilgrims Aug. 15 with a personal testimony about his own journey of faith. First, he drew them into the spirit of Jubilee: Dear friends who have traveled so many miles in so many ways to come to Rome, to the tombs of the apostles, let me begin by putting to you a question...what have you come in search of? Or rather, who have you come here to find? ...you have come in search of Jesus Christ! But Jesus Christ has first gone in search of you. To celebrate the Jubilee can have no other meaning than that of celebrating and meeting Jesus Christ, the Word who took flesh and came to dwell among us. ...Dear friends, are you among those who have accepted Christ? Your presence here is already an answer to that question. You have come to Rome, in this jubilee of the 2,000th anniversary of Christs birth, in order to open your hearts to the power of life which is in him.
The Pope then went on to tell the young people about Christs search for him personally: I wish to bear witness to this faith here before all of you, young friends, at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord wished me to succeed as Bishop of Rome. Beginning with myself, today I wish to tell you that I believe firmly in Jesus Christ our Lord. Yes, I believe, and I make my own the words of the Apostle Paul: The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). I remember how as a child, in my own family, I learned to pray and trust in God. I remember the life of the parish that I attended, called after St. Stanislaus Kostka, in Debniki in Krakow. It was run by the Salesian Fathers, from whom I received my basic training in Christian living. I cannot forget the experience of the war and the years of work in a factory. My priestly vocation came to its full maturity during the Second World War, during the occupation of Poland. The tragedy of the war gave a particular coloring to the gradual maturing of my vocation in life. In these circumstances, I perceived a light shining ever more brightly within me: the Lord wanted me to be a priest!
Continuing through his own calls in life, through the light given to him, to the moment of his being called to become Bishop of Rome, the Pope urged the young people to see how God is at work in their personal circumstances: Dear young people, do not let the time that the Lord gives you go by as though everything happened by chance...(Christ) directs the history of individuals as well as the history of humanity. Certainly, Christ respects our freedom, but in all the joyful or bitter circumstances of life he never stops asking us to believe in him, in his work, in the reality of the Church, in eternal life! Dont ever think that you are unknown to him, as if you were just a number in an anonymous crowd. Each one of you is precious to Christ; he knows you personally; he loves you tenderly, even when you are not aware of it.
For 21 years, Pope John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter, has been telling the world not to be afraid. He has been telling us to open the doors of our hearts, of our parishes and homes, of our streets and cities to Jesus Christ. Each of us is called; no one is anonymous, no matter how large a gathering we find ourselves in.
The huge field where the two million young pilgrims were gathered for the closing ceremonies and Mass was entered through a colossal gate or door surmounted by a statue of the Risen Christ breaking through to those spread out as far as the eye could see. The Pope, now old and feeble, walked through that gate surrounded by young people from all over the globe. His strength and theirs as well is from Jesus Christ, who calls each of us to set the world alight with the truth of the Gospel and aflame with the love of God. God bless you.