WYD creates new prophets
Some weeks ago in Toronto 500 or so bishops were granted a rare privilege. It is rare for any of us to be allowed a glimpse of the future, rarer still to see a future that is filled with hope and promise. But that is what we witnessed at World Youth Day 2002.
It was marvellous to see so many of our own bishops, priests and youth leaders in Toronto - but more marvellous still to see our young people there. World Youth Day is an opportunity for the youth of the world to gather, in peace and in joy, to learn more about their faith and to be inspired by thousands of other young people from every country and walk of life. Above all, it is an opportunity for young men and women to spend time with the Holy Father. The participation of our Australian youth in Canada was a source of great personal pride to me and a tribute to them and to the organisers of this event.
Each time World Youth Day has occurred it has been the largest public event in the history of the host country. In itself this is a wonderful witness: so often older people view crowds of young people with scepticism or suspicion; but here, vast crowds gather to witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. World Youth Day is a matter not just of sheer size, however, but also of countless individual events that take place, lives that are changed for ever, memories that will never be lost.
The Pope, as we all know, has always been happiest in the presence of young people. From early days in Poland he has delighted in being with and supporting families and the young. As he told us in Toronto, 'the old Pope is still young at heart.' Despite his years and ill health, the Pope clearly enjoyed his time in Canada - and the young people were certainly filled with enthusiasm at his every appearance, only reluctantly letting him leave for a few hours rest each day.
On the eve of World Youth Day the Pope joined us in a Vigil at Downsview Park. Before a crowd of 500,000 young people he spoke of the gift they were and the gift they could offer to the world: 'let yourselves be taken over by the light of Christ, and spread that light wherever you are. Do not wait until you are older in order to set out on the path of holiness!'
At the Solemn Mass of the 17th World Youth Day, the Pope spoke movingly of the voice of Christ, 'as gentle as the landscape of Galilee, as urgent as a call to choose between life and death.' He preached on the illusions of happiness offered by the secular world, the false prophets of greed and materialism that seek the souls of the young. He spoke too of the love of the Church for the young, and the love of the young for the Church.
Perhaps most movingly of all he recalled, 'you are young and the Pope is old - 82 is not 22 - but the Pope fully identifies with your hopes and your aspirations.' He recalled the terrible totalitarian regimes through which he himself lived and said that now, in his old age, his prayer and focus is on the young: 'you are our hope, the young are our hope.'
When the Mass reached its most solemn moment and the Pope offered the Body and Blood of the Lord on the altar, thousands of young men and women went down on their knees, kneeling at this stage in inches of mud, and many remained there throughout, deep in prayer. It was clear form the faces that this moment changed many who were present.
On the trip home to Melbourne our young pilgrims were full of excitement and hope. One parent said at the airport that their faces had changed, 'like the faces of the prophets after they had finally met the Lord.'
I thank most sincerely everyone in the Archdiocese - priests, leaders, and parents - who worked so hard to make this pilgrimage a success. I thank particularly Catholic Youth Ministry who offer us such fine leadership and such an excellent example. And I thank our young people, who have once again filled us with hope, and rekindled the love of the Lord in the hearts of their priests and their families.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.