By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"An Undertaking of Immense Consequence and Promise"

This is how the Holy Father described World Youth Day in his farewell address just prior to his return flight to Rome. This endeavour of enormous import is, precisely, "that of helping young people to become more deeply rooted in Jesus Christ."

And millions of young people are searching for exactly that. It is very difficult to put into words what I have experienced in my encounter with the young gathered in Spain over these past few days. I spoke in my last blog post of the deep questions that, in part, define their search. Well, on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning I was with them as they gave visible expression to their awareness that the ultimate answer to those questions is a person: Jesus Christ. I am speaking of the breathtaking assembly of over a million young people with the Holy Father at Cuatro Vientes in Madrid. The gathering at the vigil was officially estimated at 1.4 million! Those present at the Mass the following morning would have exceeded that number. (The photo above, by Sergio Perez of Reuters, courtesy of CNS, shows just a few of them!)

For me, the most impressive moments were those of silence. Hard to describe to those not present. We are familiar with the images and sounds of so many young people at WYD giving joyful, loud, and exuberant expression of their happiness in the Lord. And that was certainly present in abundance at the vigil and Mass, let me tell you! Even the rain and thunder that interrupted the vigil for a brief time could not dampen (apologies for the pun) the enthusiasm. In fact the more it poured the greater were the cheers and laughter. I am very encouraged by their zeal and resilience, but what has moved me most is their silent reverence before the Lord.

Pope Benedict introduced Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to the celebration of the WYD vigil . When the sacred Host was brought forward and placed in the monstrance, all fell perfectly silent. All 1.4 million. And again at the final Mass, following the Pope's homily when those gathered we're invited to meditate upon the Word of God and the teaching of the Holy Father, silence. Perfect silence. The same was true for the post-communion period of thanksgiving. Millions united in one act of openness, listening, adoration, praise and thanksgiving, the profundity of which was expressed in the depth of the silence. Incredible.

It was at these moments that I knew for myself the accuracy of the Pope's words. The consequence and promise of this and all WYD experiences is immeasurable in its scope. When this many young people open their hearts and lives to be more deeply rooted in Jesus Christ, great good will come. And there are millions more of them! Think of the many other WYD events that have occurred over the past 26 years, each of which has drawn young people together in numbers that no other event has done or can do. WYD is very clearly a powerful work of the Holy Spirit that will bear wondrous and plentiful fruit for generations to come.

Now our pilgrims are heading home. To say that they are exhausted would be an understatement. They have endured full days in blistering heat, often sleeping in the most basic of accommodations. Yet their energy and enthusiasm remained, even if it did take a while in the early mornings to get kick-started after only a few hours of sleep. Their perseverance taught me a great deal about their commitment to the Lord and his Church, and I am extremely proud of them.

Next WYD will be Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 2013. Can't wait!