Sunday, August 21, 2011

Esta es la Juventud del Papa

Esta es la Juventud del Papa!

It is difficult to put into words all that our hearts have experienced in the last days. Yesterday, (Saturday) we began our day again at the Love and Life Center, where we took part in the US Bishops Mass. The Mass was celebrated by over 50 bishops and about 200 priests from around the United States that had come with groups of young people. The arena was close to full with American pilgrims gathered to celebrate Mass with their bishops. After Mass, the pilgrims were given the opportunity to visit with their bishops, as they made themselves available for this purpose. It was a gift to be able to come together as a country, across the world, to be with our bishops and priests and one another. Cardinal George from Chicago was the main celebrant, and Archbishop Dolan was again the homilist. His homily was a beautiful reflection on St. Peter and how the Lord "turned his life around" especially on his encounter  at Quo Vadis, in which Peter, fleeing Rome, asked the Lord, "Where are you going?" and the Lord replies that he going back to Rome to be crucified. At this, Peter turned around and went back to Rome where he was crucified. Archbishop Dolan exhorted us all to go to Peter in these days, and allow this encounter with him, and through him our Lord, to "turn our lives around." 

In the afternoon then, we began our pilgrimage to Cuatro Vientos for the Vigil and Mass with the Holy Father. Before leaving, we gathered to prepare our hearts for the trip. We understood that we had arrived on "Calvary", and we were now beginning our ascent with Peter to Jesus. We knew these would be difficult days, but they were also the most important, the days to which our Lord had been leading us to the entire time. Though we were already very fatigued, we knew the Lord was asking us for more. And in the end, we did give all we had, but the Lord gave us so much more....

The trip was not an easy one, as nearly two million other youth were moving in the same direction; the Metros were scenes of mild chaos as well, the heat was  very difficult to bear; the temperature on Saturday was 100 degrees in the shade and 113 in the sun. The dry hot air made dehydration along the multi-kilometer walk. However, very beautifully, as we walked, people in the apartments lining the streets would relieve our heat by throws buckets of water from their windows. We were very happy to be soaked. 

This important and welcomed relief continued as we entered the airfield: the firetrucks spent the entire day and evening moving through the passage ways with their hoses going full blast. This was very needed, for the field of Cuatro Vientos was like a desert: very rocky, dry and dusty with no grass or shade. As well, the dirt and dust was a constant and heavy presence in the air. Add to this two million people in a scramble for precious water and bathrooms and food..... What a joy and a gift to be able to offer it all for  our dear Holy Father, the Church and those we love. 

In many senses this was the most prominent message that was sent to the Holy Father and the world - we are here for you, Holy Father, and the Church. We will mount Calvary with you and there we will remain....with joy. And joyful it was. None of this dampened the spirits or resolve or charity of those present. There was dancing singing, chanting, talking, and sharing. Everyone understood that we were here for a reason and nothing would deter us from. To offer the difficulties was a joy. 

This was tested even more when our Pope Benedict arrived to shouts of of joy and welcome. But as soon as he began to give his address to his children, the heavy storm clouds that had come behind us released their force: heavy rain, wind, thunder and lightning came upon the miles long expanse of people. 

The Holy Father did not yet leave the stage, but instead began to smile as the whole crowd voiced their support by chanting, "esta es la juventud del Papa" (this is the youth of the Pope). Finally however he had to exit the stage after he and the text of his speech were soaked. In the midst of the storm, we hovered under umbrellas and tarps, praying that it would cease. And when it began to abate and the Holy Father came back to cheers and joyful shouts.

The Holy Father told us, "Young people, thank you for your joy!....Thank you for your resistance! Your strength is greater than the rain!" he added. "The Lord, with the rain, sends us many blessings. Also in this, you are an example...Guard the flame which God has lit in your hearts tonight. Never let it go out, renew it each day, share it with your contemporaries who live in darkness and who are seeking a light for their way."

The vigil continued with the main portion of the program: a Eucharistic procession and adoration, and benediction.

He did not finish his address, but instead did the planned consecration of all the youth to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We had sensed before that this consecration would be powerful, which became more evident when the weather tried with all of its power to prevent it. Following this, we had time of adoration, in which the whole assembly fell silent; as one Spanish journalist reports, the field was converted into the largest temple of God on earth. 

At the end, the Pope said good night: "Dear young people, together we have experienced an adventure. Firm in the faith in Christ, you have resisted the rain....Before leaving I want to tell all of you good night. Rest well. Thank you for the sacrifice you are making. And which I don't doubt you will offer generously to the Lord. We'll see each other tomorrow, God willing. I await you all. I thank you all for the marvelous example that you've given. Just like tonight, with Christ you will always be able to take on the tests of life. Don't forget that. Thank you to all!"

After the Holy Father left, we were given a message from the Holy Father: first, "he is very proud of us." And second, he would like to drive among us tomorrow before Mass so he could see us. And this he did. Before Mass on Sunday morning, he drove through the crowds waving hello and greeting his children. Mass began at 9:30am after a night spent in the field. Thankfully, except for a small rain, the night passed without incident. Mass was a beautiful moment in which yet again, the dry and dirty field became a powerful temple of heaven, in which the Church united to praise and give glory and thanksgiving to our Lord.  May we too allow the Lord to take our dry and dirty souls and convert them into a beautiful place of worship. 

After Mass we pilgrimages back home. Mary opened the way for a small miracle for us and it ended up being much easier and shorter than expected. The rest of the afternoon and evening was a evening of rest. Some of the group attended a closing event: a soccer game in the World Cup Stadium.

Overall, in general, it was precisely the difficulties that made it so powerful. There was a deep joy in the face of the Holy Father that expressed a feel ing of consolation. We are his youth and we want to be there with him. What a witness it was to so many to see almost two million young people remain despite trial. What an important spiritual lesson for us: we must remain in the heat and storms and trials of life. Will we go seeking comfort elsewhere or will we stay with our shepherd? Will we remain with Christ on the cross? And our dear Shepherd was very consoled to see that "his youth" did in fact remain. 

The entire week was a powerful and moving encounter, as a father with his children, each coming to realize more deeply how much they are loved. It was a witness of of joy and zeal and charity in often difficult moments. The Church is alive and beautiful and firm in the faith with our shepherd. 

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