My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Having been to every World Youth Day (WYD) since 2000, the experience of WYD 2011 was an extraordinary confirmation of my faith in the Catholic youth of the world, especially the youth of Brooklyn and Queens. The expression that they have made as a group is very visible, not only because they all wore the same color shirt on the same day, but also because their vitality and strong New York voices make them very outstanding. Many bishops told me that they met the young people of the Brooklyn Diocese and were impressed by their diversity (we have our own United Nations) and their outgoing and friendly attitudes.
To my surprise and delight, our diocese had the greatest number of pilgrims from the U.S. at WYD. We have 340 traveling with the diocesan program under the direction of Father Gerard Sauer, director of pilgrimages, and another 300 pilgrims made up from the various movements and other parishes, including the neo-catechumenal and charismatic groups. Our force of numbers is only exceeded by the great spirit exhibited.
Although there were anti-youth day demonstrations and even some violence against the police and pilgrims, our youth were unphased. One group, faced with insults and anger, simply knelt down and prayed the rosary. Spain is a very secular and lay state. Even though the pilgrims have brought an economic boost to the country, some locals have complained of the public expenditures in a time of austerity in Spain.
The Holy Father has been upbeat in his talks and strong in the many activities on his agenda. The youth exuberantly chant “Benedicto!” whenever they see him. Truly, he is a blessing, as the name implies, to the Church. The welcoming ceremony and closing Mass, in spite of the heat, were wonderful occasions of faith-filled joy. Nothing can match the happiness of young people and WYD is meant to be a joyful experience, and it was.
As I concelebrated Mass with Pope Benedict in Cuatro Vientos, I couldn’t help but think of the more than 600 young people from our diocese who slept out under the stars and endured the torrential rain. For those who think the Church is dying, I respond, let them come to Madrid and see the million and a half young people who stayed up in vigil throughout the night.
I pray that they take to heart the exhortation of the pope, “We cannot encounter Christ and not want to make him known to others. So do not keep Christ to yourselves! Share with others the joy of your faith.”
In laughing and praying with our young people these last days, I know they return home transformed and I am convinced that they will transform the world.
My own participation, along with Auxiliary Bishops Octavio Cisneros and Frank Caggiano, who presented catechetical instructions for three days, gave our pilgrims a sense of being part of the diocesan Church. There were also 18 priests and one deacon from our diocese who were with us. Great thanks goes to the adult chaperones who so generously gave of their time to accompany the pilgrims.
One of the highlights of the pilgrimage is the opportunity for confession. The pope, himself, heard confessions for nearly one hour. I, myself, heard confessions for six hours over two days, in as many languages as I know. The sincerity of the world’s youth is amazing, or as they might say, “awesome.” WYD is like getting a shot of adrenaline for sometimes weary pastoral ministries.
Even though we have our own United Nations with us, it is my hope that the youth from the Diocese of Brooklyn will return home from WYD with the experience of the vibrancy of the Church and its universal character. Meeting young people from all over the world who share the same faith is truly an inspiring experience. To see the Holy Father and listen to his wonderful words will also give our young people an opportunity to see the Church in its fullness. Taking this opportunity to be with the youth of Brooklyn and Queens was such a privilege.
World Youth Day is a pilgrimage in which its participants put out into the deep. The pilgrimage of life is one in which we all participate.
For the youth on this pilgrimage, their visit to Avila, the home of St. Teresa, was a highlight and a lesson to be remembered. There they learned her prayer:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains the goal.
One who has God lacks nothing.
God alone fills all our needs.