Once again, Pope John Paul II confounded his detractors with his visit in Toronto for the World Youth Day, which brought young people from a record 173 countries. His critics say that he is now too weak to attract crowds or even lead the Church, but the Sunday Mass with the Holy Father at Downsview Park was the largest gathering in Canadian history, with more than 800,000 people. (Many police officers who were present say the crowd was over one million.)
The same thing happened when he was in Mexico City on July 31: 10 million people were gathered along the streets to see him. And two weeks later, in Poland, for the 8th official visit to his native land, the Holy Father attracted over 2.7 million people in Krakow, the largest crowd ever for any Papal Mass in Poland.
|Pope John Paul II salutes the youth of the world gathered at Exhibition Place, on July 25.|
No human being in history has drawn so many people. Why? It is because this man is the Vicar of Christ, and one can really feel he is in close contact with God. It is like Jesus who speaks to us, with the same words of eternal life. Like Jesus, John Paul II is not afraid of telling the truth, of saying that it is not easy to be a Catholic, a Christian, in today's world.
And this is precisely why the young people love him. They know he is right; they know he is courageous. Despite his illness, Pope John Paul II had made clear many months ago that there was no question for him to miss this “rendez-vous” with the youth of the world in Toronto. Upon his arrival on Tuesday, July 27, he astonished everyone, even his own helpers from the Vatican, when he ignored the hydraulic lift prepared for him, and opted instead to descend the steps of the airport gangplank. And the journalists who follow him regularly say that he has never spoken so clearly for at least a year. Maybe it is because, as the Pope says himself, he gets younger when he is with young people!
|Our group distributed several thousand leaflets to the young pilgrims in Toronto during the whole week. On this picture, some of our Pilrims distributing leaflets at Exhibition Place on July 25.|
Several Pilgrims of St. Michael followed the ceremonies with the Pope in Toronto on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Saturday morning, our first bus with 61 “White Berets” left Rougemont, and arrived in Toronto at 2 p.m. to attend the evening vigil with the Pope, and also spend the night there for the Mass the next day. Saturday evening, three more buses, accompanied by mini-vans, left Rougemont for Toronto, and arrived around 4 a.m. to be also present for the Mass. Many of the Pilgrims made many sacrifices, but no one regretted it, for it was an unforgettable event.
It was quite something to see people from so many nations, gathered at the same place. One could hear the English-speaking people shouting: “John Paul II, we love you!”;, the Italians: “Giovanni Paolo” (and then clap their hands five times); the Poles “Niech nyze Papiez!” (Long live the Pope!); and the Spanish: “Juan Pablo Secundo te quiere todo el mundo” (John Paul II, the whole world loves you!).
In fact, graces were showered upon us, especially on Sunday morning, with the rain! This spectacle of the pouring rain and heavy winds that began before the Mass on Sunday was particularly striking. Seeing the crowd battling with the rain, the Pope began to say: “Be strong! Courage! Animo! Coraggio!" It was during the Sprinkling Rite of the Mass which reminds us of our baptism, and people were sprinkled indeed! The Pope added with humour, in English: “This is Baptism in a natural manner!”, and then in French: “The rain reminds us of the water of Baptism!” As soon as the Pontiff began his homily, the dark clouds disappeared, the rain stopped, and the sun appeared again. As the sea parted upon the words of Moses, darkness fled in front of the powerful words of the Pope. (This rain was a blessing in more than one way, for without it, the whole place would have become a real furnace, with temperatures well over 35 degrees Celsius in the afternoon.)
Here are excerpts from the exceptional speeches of the Holy Father during his six-day stay in Canada that deserve to be meditated upon again and again, not only by young people or Catholics, but by every person of good will, if one wants to remain young at heart!
In his address during the arrival ceremony at the Toronto International Airport, on Tuesday, July 23, the Holy Father said:
“Young people from all parts of the world are gathering for the World Youth Day. With their gifts of intelligence and heart they represent the future of the world. But they also bear the marks of a humanity that too often does not know peace, or justice. Too many lives begin and end without joy, without hope. That is one of the principal reasons for the World Youth Day. Young people are coming together to commit themselves, in the strength of their faith in Jesus Christ, to the great cause of peace and human solidarity. Thank you, Toronto; thank you, Canada, for welcoming them with open arms!
|On Friday, July 26, the Way of the Cross was re-enacted on the streets of Toronto.|
“In the French version of your national anthem, ‘O Canada’, you sing: ‘Car ton bras sait porter l'épée, il sait porter la croix.’ (For your arm knows how to carry the sword, how to carry the cross.) Canadians are heirs to an extraordinarily rich humanism, enriched even more by the blend of many different cultural elements. But the core of your heritage is the spiritual and transcendent vision of life based on Christian revelation which gave vital impetus to your development as a free, democratic and caring society, recognized throughout the world as a champion of human rights and human dignity.
In a world of great social and ethical strains, and confusion about the very purpose of life, Canadians have an incomparable treasure to contribute – on condition that they preserve what is deep, and good and valid in their own heritage. I pray that the World Youth Day will offer all Canadians an opportunity to remember the values that are essential to good living and to human happiness. Mr. Prime Minister, dear Friends: may the motto of the World Youth Day echo throughout the land, reminding all Christians to be ‘salt of the earth and light of the world’. God bless you all. God bless Canada.
On Thursday, July 25, the Pope was welcomed in Exhibition Place in front of 400,000 young people. John Paul II told them that the secret of true happiness had been given by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-16), which were read to the crowd:
“And seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up into a mountain, and when He was set down, His disciples came unto Him. And opening His mouth, He taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their full.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
“Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice's sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.
“You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.
“So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
The Pope continued:
“Dear young people! What we have just heard is the Magna Carta of Christianity: the Beatitudes. (...) Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides: many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, with success, with power. Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses. (...)
“People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But He asks you to trust Him. True joy is a victory, something which cannot be obtained without a long and difficult struggle. Christ holds the secret of this victory. (...) It is by walking with Christ that we can achieve joy, true joy! Precisely for this reason He again repeats the proclamation of joy to you today: ‘Blessed are they...’
“Gathered around the Lord's Cross, we look to Him: Jesus did not limit Himself to proclaiming the Beatitudes; He lived them! Looking at His life anew, re-reading the Gospel, we marvel: the poorest of the poor, the most gentle among the meek, the person with the purest and most merciful heart is none other than Jesus. The Beatitudes are nothing more than the description of a face, His face!
“At the same time, the Beatitudes describe what a Christian should be: they are the portrait of Jesus' disciple, the picture of those who have accepted the Kingdom of God and want their life to be in tune with the demands of the Gospel. To these Jesus speaks, calling them ‘blessed’. The joy promised by the Beatitudes is the very joy of Jesus Himself: a joy sought and found in obedience to the Father and in the gift of self to others.
“Young people of Canada, of America, and of every part of the world! By looking at Jesus you will learn what it means to be poor in spirit, meek and merciful; what it means to seek justice, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. With your gaze set firmly on Him, you will discover the path of forgiveness and reconciliation in a world often laid waste by violence and terror. Last year we saw with dramatic clarity the tragic face of human malice. We saw what happens when hatred, sin and death take command. But today Jesus' voice resounds in the midst of our gathering. His is a voice of life, of hope, of forgiveness; a voice of justice and of peace. Let us listen to this voice!
“Dear friends, the Church today looks to you with confidence and expects you to be the people of the Beatitudes. Blessed are you if, like Jesus, you are poor in spirit, good and merciful; if you really seek what is just and right; if you are pure of heart, peacemakers, lovers of the poor and their servants. Blessed are you!
|Part of the crowd at Downsview Park on Sunday, July 28|
“Only Jesus is the true Master, only Jesus speaks the unchanging message that responds to the deepest longings of the human heart, because He alone knows ‘what is in each person’ (cf. Jn 2:25). Today He calls you to be the salt and light of the world, to choose goodness, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace. His call has always demanded a choice between good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death. He makes the same invitation today to you who are gathered here on the shores of Lake Ontario.
“What call will those on early morning watch choose to follow? To believe in Jesus is to accept what He says, even when it runs contrary to what others are saying. It means rejecting the lure of sin, however attractive it may be, in order to set out on the difficult path of the Gospel virtues.
“Young people listening to me, answer the Lord with strong and generous hearts! He is counting on you. Never forget: Christ needs you to carry out His plan of salvation! Christ needs your youth and your generous enthusiasm to make his proclamation of joy resound in the new millennium. Answer His call by placing your lives at His service in your brothers and sisters! Trust Christ, because He trusts you.”
During the Vigil held on Saturday evening at Downsview Park, the Holy Father continued to develop the theme of the World Youth Day (“You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world”) by asking the youth to “build the city of God within the city of man”:
“Dear young people, dear people of the Beatitudes! The new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios: one, the sight of multitudes of pilgrims coming to Rome during the Great Jubilee to pass through the Holy Door which is Christ, our Savior and Redeemer; and the other, the terrible terrorist attack on New York City, an image that is a sort of icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail.
“The question that arises is dramatic: on what foundations must we build the new historical era that is emerging from the great transformations of the twentieth century? Is it enough to rely on the technological revolution now taking place, which seems to respond only to criteria of productivity and efficiency, without reference to the individual's spiritual dimension or to any universally shared ethical values? Is it right to be content with provisional answers to the ultimate questions, and to abandon life to the impulses of instinct, to short-lived sensations or passing fads? The question will not go away: on what foundations, on what certainties should we build our lives and the life of the community to which we belong?
“Dear friends, spontaneously in your hearts, in the enthusiasm of your young years you know the answer, and you are saying it through your presence here this evening: Christ alone is the cornerstone on which it is possible solidly to build one's existence. Only Christ – known, contemplated and loved – is the faithful friend who never lets us down, who becomes our travelling companion, and whose words warm our hearts.
The twentieth century often tried to do without that cornerstone, and attempted to build the city of man without reference to Him. It ended by actually building that city against man! Christians know that it is not possible to reject or ignore God without demeaning man.
“The aspiration that humanity nurtures, amid countless injustices and sufferings, is the hope of a new civilization marked by freedom and peace. But for such an undertaking, a new generation of builders is needed. Moved not by fear or violence but by the urgency of genuine love, they must learn to build, brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man.
“Allow me, dear young people, to consign this hope of mine to you: you must be those ‘builders’! You are the men and women of tomorrow. The future is in your hearts and in your hands. God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with him in the building of the civilization of love.
“Dear young people, let yourselves be taken over by the light of Christ, and spread that light wherever you are. ‘The light of the countenance of Jesus – says the Catechism of the Catholic Church – illumines the eyes of our heart, and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all’ (n. 2715).
“If your friendship with Christ, your knowledge of His mystery, your giving of yourselves to Him, are genuine and deep, you will be ‘children of the light’, and you will become ‘the light of the world’. For this reason I repeat to you the Gospel words: ‘Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Mt 5:16).
“I say to you this evening: let the light of Christ shine in your lives! Do not wait until you are older in order to set out on the path of holiness! Holiness is always youthful, just as eternal is the youthfulness of God. Communicate to everyone the beauty of the contact with God that gives meaning to your lives. In the quest for justice, in the promotion of peace, in your commitment to brotherhood and solidarity, let no one surpass you!
“How beautiful the song that we have been hearing during these days: ‘Light of the world! Salt of the earth! Be for the world the face of love! Be for the earth the reflection of His light!’ That is the most beautiful and precious gift that you can give to the Church and the world. You know that the Pope is with you, with his prayer and fond blessing.”
|Pierre Marchildon, who is in charge, for our Movement, of the Toronto area, proudly stands with our flag in front of the altar at the end of the Papal Mass on July 28.|
In his homily during Sunday Mass, still at Downsview Park, Pope John Paul II asked the young people to make a definite choice between “Jesus and the spirit of the world”:
“Dear young people, on a hillside near the lake of Galilee, Jesus's disciples listened to His gentle and urgent voice; as gentle as the landscape of Galilee itself, as urgent as a call to choose between life and death, between truth and falsehood. The Lord spoke words of life that would echo for ever in the hearts of His followers. Today He is speaking the same words to you. (...) Listen to the voice of Jesus in the depths of your hearts! His words tell you who you are as Christians. They tell you what you must do to remain in His love.
“But Jesus offers one thing, and the ‘spirit of the world’ offers another. In today's Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul tells us that Jesus leads us from darkness into light (cf. Eph 5,8). Perhaps the great Apostle is thinking of the light that blinded him, the persecutor of Christians, on the road to Damascus. When later he recovered his sight, nothing was as before. He had been born anew, and nothing would ever take his new-found joy away from him.
“You too are called to be transformed. ‘Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light’ (Eph 5, 14), says Saint Paul.
“The ‘spirit of the world’ offers many false illusions and parodies of happiness. There is perhaps no darkness deeper than the darkness that enters young people's souls when false prophets extinguish in them the light of faith and hope and love. The greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God, of finding freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibility.
“The Lord is calling you to choose between these two voices competing for your souls. That decision is the substance and challenge of World Youth Day. Why have you come together from all parts of the world? To say in your hearts: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?’ Who has the words of eternal life? `You have the words of eternal life' (Jn 6,68). Jesus – the intimate friend of every young person – has the words of life.
“The world you are inheriting is a world which desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity. It is a world which needs to be touched and healed by the beauty and richness of God's love. It needs witnesses to that love. The world needs salt. It needs you – to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
“Salt is used to preserve and keep. As apostles for the Third Millennium, your task is to preserve and keep alive the awareness of the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, the memorial of His saving death and glorious resurrection. You must keep alive the memory of the words of life which He spoke, the marvellous works of mercy and goodness which He performed. You must constantly remind the world of the ‘power of the Gospel to save’ (Rom 1, 16)!
“Salt seasons and improves the flavour of food. Following Jesus, you have to change and improve the ‘taste’ of human history. With your faith, hope and love, with your intelligence, courage and perseverance, you have to humanize the world we live in, in the way that today's Reading from Isaiah indicates: ‘loose the bonds of injustice ... share your bread with the hungry... remove the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil... Then your light shall rise in the darkness’ (Is 58,6-10).
“Even a tiny flame lifts the heavy lid of night. How much more light will you make, all together, if you bond as one in the communion of the Church! If you love Jesus, love the Church! Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members. The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame. But think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good! There are many priests, seminarians and consecrated persons here today; be close to them and support them! And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church's life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit, just as Kateri Tekakwitha did here in America and so many other young people have done.
“You are young, and the Pope is old, 82 or 83 years of life is not the same as 22 or 23. But the Pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations. Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope.
“Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.
“I finish with a prayer. O Lord Jesus Christ, keep these young people in Your love. Let them hear Your voice and believe what You say, for You alone have the words of life. Teach them how to profess their faith, bestow their love, and impart their hope to others. Make them convincing witnesses to Your Gospel in a world so much in need of Your saving grace. Make them the new people of the Beatitudes, that they may be the salt of the earth and the light of the world at the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium! Mary, Mother of the Church, protect and guide these young men and women of the Twenty-first Century. Keep us all close to Your maternal heart. Amen.”
John Paul II