World Youth Day - News



ROME, Aug. 17 (FIDES/ -- The following is an editorial commentary on World Youth Day by Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of the Fides news service:

The sight of the ocean of young people at St John's and St Peter's on the evening of the August 15 bank holiday in Rome was, to say the least, reassuring.

After modest forecasts by the organizers, and some fears of a Jubilee "flop," the enthusiasm of more than 700,000 young Christian pilgrims in Rome said a lot about the weight of the Catholic faith in the world of youth-- so often the object of deprecation in what is seen as a hostile, impenetrable planet. Most of the pilgrims came led by their youth leaders, of parish or movement, a priest or a nun or lay person who were there dancing with them on the evening of the 15th because they share life with them day after day.

But this living ocean is also intimidating. Have they really come because they believe? Over the last few days the press, political leaders, sociologists, and others have said they think the "Pope's young people" are just like all the others: that they live in packs, that they come to Rome as if they were going to a football match, that they listen to catechesis but then spend the evening and night dancing and drinking.

These 700,000 young people did dance on August 15th, and they did drink-- water.

Water hoses were brought in-- not to calm the crowds but to cool them as they waited patiently, expectantly for the Pope, like children waiting for their father. The word of the day was that this appointment was better than any football match or rock concert. After the meeting with the Pope, in both squares, no cans of beer or marijuana had been consumed. It was better than any concert or match.

Those who propose liberalizing drug laws should be reminded that what young people want is not something to suppress their desires, but someone to love them, to recognize their dignity, and to pull them out of the various humiliating situations in which many adults drown young people. John Paul II said: "Never think you are just a number in an anonymous crowd. Each of you is precious for Christ; he loves each one tenderly, even those who are not aware of his love."

The Pope's frank question-- "What have you come for; whom are you looking for?"-- brushed away any ambiguity. And the young people's answer-- a football-style roar: "Jesus, Jesus"-- might have caused amusement among some sophisticated intellectuals, even Catholics. But that cry came from the heart; these young people have come to Rome in search of Jesus Christ.

Young people who gather to pray and sing of their faith on a hot summer holiday evening are not just tourists or culture fans. One young pilgrim from Latvia risked an attack of phlebitis after three days and nights in a coach to Rome. The joy of meeting so many other Catholics makes young Hong Kong teenagers forget they are missing their daily shower: "Here with you all, we have really encountered Jesus", one of them told a Fides reporter.

The Pope has one goal: to help all pilgrims to have a personal meeting with Jesus Christ. And this is also the goal of bishops, cardinals, educators, and committed lay people who are here. For too long the faith has been regarded only as a set of rules to keep, a series of principles to uphold-- principles which demand a lot-- but not as a way of life.

For John Paul II, Jesus Christ is the reason for our wonder at creation, for us, men and women. It is in Christ that mystical longings, struggles to protect the environment or to further justice, find energy and intelligence. The threat to the faith in the 3rd millennium will not come from our youth; it will be from monotonous, passionless educators. Like those who support the legalized use of drugs, they speak of emotions without saying "about whom," of commitment but not "for whom;" they speak of wonder without saying "thanks to whom."

The Pope led the way on that August 15 evening, when he said: "First of all I want to tell you that I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord." There followed the story of his vocation-- not a sentimental journey but a witness of his life laid in the hands of the Lord. Only the rediscovery of personal witness of faith will guarantee a lively Church of the 3rd millenium.


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