TWO MILLION APOSTLES FOR NEW MILLENNIUM
John Paul II Concludes World Youth Day
ROME, AUGUST 20 (ZENIT.org).- "You are the young heart of the Church; go throughout the
world taking peace," John Paul II exhorted the two million youths who attended the closing Mass of
this historic World Youth Day, the largest gathering ever seen in the Eternal City's history.
The Pope's farewell to the enthusiastic young men and women, who had spent two sleepless nights
and walked miles under a burning sun, necessitating medical attention for 1,000 of them, was not a
goodbye but, rather, an "until we meet again" as, before they dispersed, he invited them to the next
World Youth Day, which will be held in Toronto in the summer of 2002.
Crowded in the immense Tor Vergata field, the more than two million "morning watchmen," as the
Holy Father described them yesterday evening, gave John Paul II a spectacular welcome. The youths
spent the whole of last night singing, talking, praying, and enjoying themselves. It was enough for them
to catch sight of the Pope, however, when the cry went up: "Long live the Pope," as they surged
forward to catch up with the Popemobile.
At the beginning of the ceremony, four youths brought stones from four churches in the four cardinal
points of the earth. The stone from the north was from Churchill Hudson Bay; the one from the south,
from Punta Arenas, that of the west, from Samoa Appia; and that of the east, from Taraua.
"Will You Also Go Away?" This was the question on which John Paul II centered his homily,
expressing Jesus' heartfelt lament, after the crowd was scandalized when he described himself as the
"bread of life."
"Christ's question cuts across the centuries and comes down to us; it challenges us personally and calls
for a decision," the Pope said, addressing the ocean of youths before him. "What is your answer?
Dear young people, if we are here today, it is because we identify with the Apostle Peter's reply:
'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'"
"In Peter's question: 'To whom shall we go?' the answer regarding the path to follow is already given.
It is the path that leads to Christ. And, it is possible to meet the divine Master personally: in fact, he is
present on the altar in the reality of his Body and Blood," the Pontiff explained.
"Yes, dear friends, Christ loves us and he loves us forever!" the Pope cried, eliciting thunderous
applause. "He loves us even when we disappoint him, when we fail to meet his expectations for us.
He never fails to embrace us in his mercy."
Modern society desperately needs Christ, and young people even more so, "tempted as they often are
by the illusion of an easy and comfortable life, by drugs and pleasure-seeking, only to find themselves
in a spiral of despair, meaninglessness, and violence. It is urgent to change direction and turn to Christ.
This is the way of justice, solidarity, and commitment to building a society and future worthy of the
human person," the Holy Father said.
"Jesus is no lover of half measures, and he does not hesitate to pursue us with the question: 'Will you
also go away?' In the presence of Christ, the Bread of Life, we too want to say today with Peter:
'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Final Message of Youth Forum
At the end of the closing Mass, the conclusions of the International Youth Forum were read. The
Forum brought together 400 representatives of all countries, movements, and international Catholic
organizations. In the text, the youths expressed their adherence to the Pope's mandate to be a sign of
contradiction and to live in fidelity to Jesus, their friend.
The celebration ended with the Pope's farewell before praying the Angelus. John Paul II thanked
Cardinal James Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, for the enormous
effort in organizing the World Day and, after referring to youths as "my joy and my crown," he called
everyone to join him in Toronto in 2002.
The time for goodbyes had arrived. Overwhelmed by the youths' turnout, the Pope shared confidences
with them: "You are the young heart of the Church: go throughout the world taking peace. The Lord is
alive, the Lord has risen, he walks with you. Be his witnesses among your contemporaries at the dawn
of the new millennium."
The crowd began to disperse. Many had walked 6 miles under a punishing midday sun to arrive in
Rome. They spent the past few nights on the floors of schools, parishes, and barracks. Homeward
bound, they would now endure long hours on buses, planes, ships, and trains, but the exhaustion did not
rob them of their smiles and overwhelming joy.