The Madrid World Youth Days: Continuity and Changes
The 26th World Youth Days (WYD) were held in Madrid, from August 16 to 21, 2011. A million and a half young people, from 193 different countries, assisted at the closing Mass at the airport of Cuatro Vientos. Fr. Eric Jacquinet, head of the “youth section” of the pontifical Council for laymen, declared to the press, congratulating himself on the confessions organized during these WYD: “We are not only at a beautiful Catholic feast where everyone jumps like fleas to the music, but also on a veritable pilgrimage, a path of conversion proposed to the youth.” Indeed, for better or for worse, these two aspects – rock music and prayer – lived together side by side during these days.
Certain commentators have attributed the festive and exuberant side to the spirit that John Paul II had given to the WYD in creating them, and have considered the more recollected side – with the individual confessions and Eucharistic adoration – to be the personal addition of Benedict XVI to this international meeting. Nonetheless, as Jean-Marie Guénois, Figaro's special envoy, recalled on Religioblog, “in this city transformed into a giant cathedral, the show-image had to be thought of in order that these hundreds of thousands of young people might 'see' something on the giant screens and might be able to make it their own. So there is a sort of WYD 'staging'. (...) One of those who broke this taboo was Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger: for the 1997 WYD, in Paris, he had been the first to voluntarily and openly 'produce' the WYD 'for TV'. And in fact, the pilgrims of Madrid did not resist the urge to great waves to the TV cameras that passed back and forth before them. The program for these six days shows what entered into continuity with the WYD as they were in 1985, and the changes that have been introduced, particularly into this 26th edition.
The opening Mass and the catechism of the bishops present
On Tuesday, August 16, the opening Mass was celebrated for John Paul II by Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, archbishop of Madrid, assisted by 800 bishops and more than 8,000 priests. A reliquary containing a drop of John Paul II's blood was placed on the pulpit where the Gospel was. Here is what Pascal Fessard from Apic says about this first ceremony: “For two days now the youth of the world has been pouring into Madrid. All meet for the first time before the Cibeles palace. The amplitude of the WYD is finally revealed. Thirty minutes before Mass, the square dedicated to the goddess Cybeles – the 'temple' where the fans of the local soccer club, the Real Madrid, come to celebrate the trophies won by their favorite team – is inaccessible. The incoming arteries reach the saturation point, for example, the 'Gran Via' which is to the road what the aorta is to blood circulation. The blood cells cluster together, they must be about 500,000, is what they say. The bolder of them try a breakthrough; it would end 10 meters further, during the Eucharist. They move a lot in the ranks, they speak, they telephone, and for the most part, they do not know what is being said at Cibeles. Applause is heard, taken up in echo, out of amusement, as one rises to follow an 'ola'. But a few reference points recall the young people to their prayers. Flags floating in cadence above the heads participate in the spiritual alliance of the nations, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, France, Turkey, Iraq, the United States, etc.”
This gigantic assembly of several hundreds of thousands of young people in the Spanish capitol did not fail to raise serious problems with organization and lodging. A participant declared to us that his group of 1500 faithful found itself in a gymnasium where priests, monks, nuns, boys and girls were supposed to sleep. And the Federation of the Catholic Youth of Germany voiced lively criticisms of the organization. “What has happened here during these two days is unworthy of such a manifestation,” declared the president of the Federation, Simon Rapp, to the news agency KNA. According to him, the young people were nothing but figures to furnish huge numbers for the media. Several directors of groups decided in the end to leave early, conscious of “their responsibility towards the young people.” For the dioceses of Cologne and Münster, 3,000 young people thus left Madrid earlier than planned.
The next day, August 27, the pilgrims were able to assist at catechism offered by the bishops present, in more than 250 places – churches, multi-purpose rooms, theaters, amphitheaters – in Madrid and its surrounding suburbs. Each of these catechisms began with a lesson, then a question and answer time with the pilgrims; it ended with the celebration of the Mass. On the website of the Swiss Bishops' Conference, Bishop Marian Eleganti, auxiliary bishop of Coire, gives his testimony: “I was able to address 3,000 young people in a large church in the heart of Madrid; 1,000 more were just outside the entry. I went to meet them. Everything was in French, with neither notes nor preparation: catechism, questions and answers, liturgy and preaching. Everywhere joy and attention. I think that each and every one experienced the Holy Ghost. I cannot describe it.” – “With neither notes nor preparation,” recognizes the Swiss bishop; an eye-witness of the WYD confided to us that the instructions given by the bishops were of very unequal value, precisely because of the preparation that they did or did not have.
Benedict XVI's first discourse to the youth
On Thursday, August 18, Benedict XVI arrived in Madrid. At his descent from the airplane he declared to the young people in Spanish: “Do not be ashamed of the Lord,” after having observed that the difficulties are not lacking: “There exist tensions and confrontations in so many places in the world, with even blood flowing. Justice and the high value of the human person bow easily to egoistic, material and ideological interests.”
In the beginning of the evening, the Pope delivered his first discourse before 500,000 pilgrims, at Cibeles Square, Madrid: “You carry questions in you and you are seeking for answers.” “It is good always to seek,” he claimed, before saying: “Seek above all the Truth that is not an idea, an ideology or a slogan, but a person, Christ, God himself come down among men.” Benedict XVI invited the young people to reject mediocrity, to aim for sanctity, and to build the “civilization of love”, asking them to establish their lives in Christ, an unshakable rock, who will ensure that they obtain a solid and stable life. He told them not to follow the flow of fashion, not to do as “those who believe themselves to be gods and decide what is truth and what is not, what is good or evil, or what is worthy of life or can be sacrificed on the altar of other preferences.”
The Pope greeted the young people in different languages, including French, English and Italian, from a huge white podium. Before him, pilgrims were still brandishing flags from a multitude of nations. Many standards with the colors of Argentina, Spain and even France could be made out. In the first row, a great Iraqi flag was waving.
These young people, crowded in the avenues leading to Cibeles square, greeted the Sovereign Pontiff with cries of “Esta es la juventud del papa” (behold the Pope's youth) and “Benedicto!” (Benedict). Many of them had been there, some with no shade, for more than eight hours. In the afternoon, Madrid firemen sprayed them several times. Volunteers also sprinkled the crowd using sprayers. Jean-Marie Guénois of Figaro, relates on Religioblog: “Evidently, that dishevels. Cibeles Square is indeed, on this late Thursday afternoon in Madrid, decibel square. The young people look so tired; there is an over-excited, over-colored, over-tired WYD atmosphere, but what incredible and rare joy. Here then is a universal, Catholic Church, a little crazy, in T-shirt, tanned, swaying under rock tunes. It is astonishing. But that is why the young people are there. They recognize each other in this common faith that passes over all cultural, social, linguistic, ethnic and racial barriers.”
The speech to the nuns, the discourse to the university students and the Way of the Cross.
On Friday, August 19, in the late morning at the royal monastery of Escurial, about fifty kilometers from Madrid, Benedict XVI met with over 2,000 nuns from everywhere in the world. “The personal encounter with Christ that nourishes your consecration,” he said to them, “takes on a particular importance today, when we are witnessing a sort of eclipse of God, a certain amnesia, even a real refusal of Christianity and a denial of the treasure of the faith received, at the risk of losing one's own profound identity.” “In the face of relativism and mediocrity,” continued the Pope who was visibly crushed by the heat, “the necessity of this radicalism to which consecration bears witness, as a belonging to God, loved above all things, makes itself felt.” He also called the nuns to be in “filial communion with the Church,” with their pastors the bishops, but also to appreciate “the other charisms.”
On the same day, at Escurial, in the majestic 16th century basilica, the Sovereign Pontiff asked where the youth of today could find reference points in a “crumbled and unstable” society. He spoke before 1,500 young Catholic teachers, wearing bonnets the colors of their University. Benedict XVI regretted that “a utilitarian vision of education is spreading, especially in the extra-university circles.” When only utility and immediate pragmatism are raised up as the principal criteria, the losses can be dramatic: from the abuses of a science without limits, going far beyond itself, to a political totalitarianism that comes easily back to life when one eliminates all superior references from the simple calculation for power.” The Pope wished that the ideal incarnated by the University might not lose its virtue, “neither because of ideologies closed to rational dialogue, nor out of servility to a utilitarian logic of a simple market, that sees man as a simple consumer.” He insisted upon the fact that teaching is not a dry communication of contents, but a formation of the youth, that helps them to quench their thirst for the truth.
This August 19, late in the day, the way of the Cross was led by Benedict XVI. The meditations had been composed by the Sisters of the Cross, Spanish sisters consecrated to helping the poor. They denounced the “rich societies blinded by materialism,” speaking of society problems like unemployment, social exclusion, drugs, Aids, but also of conflicts, hunger, natural catastrophes, the persecution of Christians and the humiliation of immigrants. The ninth station – Jesus is stripped of His garments –, evoked sexual abuse of minors, underlining in particular that “Jesus had compassion on the sufferings of the victims of rape and sexual abuse and of crimes against children and adults.” These meditations also invited all to “courage in the defense of life, from its beginning to its natural end,” as well as to prayer for the victims of alcohol, drugs and other addictions that enslave. – Besides more sociological than theological nature of the meditations, a participant told us his regret that for the way of the Cross, modesty in clothing was not recalled to some pilgrims, often in beach clothes; that would perhaps have avoided certain exhibitions at the closing Mass, when it was announced that Rio would be the site of the next WYD.
The Pope hears the confessions of four pilgrims and addresses the seminarians
The next day, Saturday, August 20, in the early morning, the Pope heard the confessions of four young people in the gardens of the park of Buen Retiro, in the center of Madrid, where 200 confessionals in canvas had been set up. By this unheard-of move, the Pope showed the attention he gives to confession, “central and fundamental element” of the Faith, declared Fr. Eric Jacquinet, head of the 'youth section' of the Pontifical Council for Laymen, to the Roman agency I Media. Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See's Press Office also confided to the journalists that the Holy Father had “wanted to give a sign of personal participation in the importance of the sacrament of confession, which, in our days, is not always frequently used as it once was.” He also pointed out that on top of the 200 portable confessionals installed at Buen Retiro for a week; the young people had the possibility of going to confession in several of the city's churches. Never, during the preceding WYD's, had Benedict XVI and his predecessor John Paul II heard the confessions of young people. Last March 30, the Sovereign Pontiff had invited priests to follow the example of St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, the patron of confessors, to compensate for the “lack of esteem for confession” and to remedy the “moral waywardness” of our times.
The same morning, celebrating Mass before 6,000 seminarians from all over the world, in the cathedral Santa María La Real de La Almudena, Benedict XVI called them to be “saints.” To these particularly enthusiastic candidates to the priesthood, the Pope also voiced his wish that, leaning upon the love of Christ, they might not let themselves be “intimidated by an environment that pretends to exclude God and in which power, possession or pleasure at little cost are the principle criteria that direct existence.” “You may be despised,” he told them, “as often happens to those who seek the highest goals or unmask the idols before which many today are prostrate.” The Pope then indicated “that a life profoundly rooted in Christ will really prove to be a novelty and will draw with force those who truly seek god, truth and justice.” He gave them some advice for their years of preparation for the priesthood: “Before all, these must be years of interior silence, of permanent prayer, of constant study and of progressive insertion into the actions and pastoral structures of the Church.”
At the end of Mass, Benedict XVI announced his intention of soon proclaiming St. John of Avila, a great mystic and preacher of the Counter-Reform in Spain, a doctor of the universal Church. The Pope wished “that the words and example of this eminent pastor illumine priests and those preparing with joy and hope to receive ordination one day.” This announcement was greeted with hearty applause in the cathedral of La Almudena, as well as outside where the seminarians intoned the Christus vincit.
The Eucharistic vigil and closing Mass
On the evening of the 20th the vigil was being held at the airport Cuatro Vientos, when a torrential downpour and gusts of wind came beating down, forcing the Sovereign Pontiff to interrupt his discourse. The Pope had sported a huge smile when the wind had just carried off his white skull cap. When he started his discourse again, the microphone showed signs of weakening. In spite of all these unforeseen details, Benedict XVI, after having put on a gold cope, remained kneeling for a long time before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in an immense monstrance, held in the middle of the podium thanks to an elevator system. The great silence that then took over the airfield made a sharp contrast with the cries that had followed the arrival of the storm a little earlier.
The next day, Sunday, August 21, in his sermon for the closing Mass, Benedict XVI exhorted the young people present – between 1.5 and 2 million, according to the estimates – to place Christ “at the center of their lives,” to “walk with Him in the communion of the Church.” “We cannot follow Jesus alone,” said the Pope to the crowd of pilgrims, before declaring that “he who gives in to the temptation to walk on his own or to live the faith according to the individualistic mentality that predominates in society, runs the risk of never encountering Jesus Christ, or of ending up following a false image of Him.” “The world needs a testimony of your faith,” he again claimed, “it certainly needs God.” The Sovereign Pontiff then precised that one cannot “encounter Christ and not make Him known to others.” He asked the pilgrims “to be the disciples and missionaries of Christ in other lands and countries where a multitude of young people aspires to great things and, discovering in their hearts the possibility of more authentic values, do not let themselves be seduced by the false promises of a style of life without God.”
The executive director of the World Youth Days of Madrid, Yago de la Cierva, did not hide his disappointment, early in the afternoon, after “almost all” the faithful present at the closing Mass were unable to receive communion. To the journalists, he explained that, the night before, the tents that sheltered the hosts and ciboriums for the communion had been sealed up by the police for security reasons. A little earlier, because of the huge gusts of wind, two of these tents had also been destroyed.
At the end of the Mass, benedict XVI announced that the next meeting of the Catholic youth of the world would take place in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), in 2013. To the French-speaking youth, the Pope pointed out that Christ was sending them on a mission to be courageous and un-complexed, authentic and credible witnesses.” “Have no fear of being Catholic, of always bearing witness around you with simplicity and sincerity,” he told them, all the while warning them: “You will feel yourselves going against the flow in a society where there reigns a relativist culture that give sup seeking for and possessing the truth.”
After the WYD
This question had been asked by the journalists present in the place that brought Benedict XVI to Madrid, on August 18: “How can the positive experience of the WYD be made to persevere in daily life?” The Pope had answered: “God always sows in silence. That does not appear immediately in the statistics. The seed that the Lord places in the ground with the WYD is like that spoken of in the Gospel. A little falls on the road and is lost, a little upon the rock and is lost, a little in the thorns and is lost, but a little falls on good ground and bears much fruit. It is like that with the WYD as well. Much is lost and that is human and, to take other words of Our Lord, the mustard see is small, but it grows and becomes a great tree. In other words, it is obvious that much is lost, we cannot say that a great growth will take place in the Church tomorrow. God does not act in this way. But growth – a great growth – takes place in silence.”
These reporters echoed the worry of many, ever since the creation of the WYD by John Paul II, at seeing these days of enthusiasm without an outcome. Many indeed are those who deplore that the WYD do not check the decline in vocations and stop the constant lessening of religious practice among the youth. Doubtless that is why Benedict XVI, in his homily during the closing Mass, exhorted the pilgrims one last time to a practice that is more than occasional: “For the growth of your friendship with Christ, it is fundamental that you recognize the importance of participation in parishes. Communities and movements, as well as the importance of the participation in the Sunday Eucharist, the frequent reception of the sacrament of forgiveness, and fidelity to prayer and meditation on the Word of God.” (Sources: apic/IMedia/KTO/Radio ND/Radio Vatican/Figaro/La Croix/private testimonies – DICI Sept. 6, 2011)