Faith Ruled Over WYD Activities (with slide show)

MADRID – On the final full day of World Youth Day, diocesan  pilgrims  took up their sleeping bags, food rations and other personal items and made their way to Cuatro Vientos, Madrid, to meet the Holy Father.

Although they were able to make most of their journey via public transportation, the walking was not an easy task. When the pilgrims got off the Metro, they had to carry their belonging in temperatures that reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nearing their destination, they left the paved road and walked through terrain resembling the dusty hills of a desert.

“It’s like our own Exodus: having to do this to see the pope,” said pilgrim Matthew Pascual, from St. Sebastian parish, Woodside. “We all have to suffer a little towards the good.”

Throughout the arduous journey, the pilgrims showed great camaraderie. Deacon Andrew Ciccaroni, from St. Robert Bellarmine parish, Bayside, sprained his ankle earlier on the pilgrimage and was now able to move around with the use of his newly bought wheelchair.  During part of the walk, the pilgrims had to cross a dry water ditch. Ten people from diocese volunteered to carry the deacon to the other side.

Before the pilgrims could take their designated spot in the field they had to wait in line for about an hour with hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims from around the world. When they finally took their place, the ground was covered with dry hay that was painful to the touch.  The sun was high in the sky and bugs started to crawl all over the pilgrim’s packs.

The evening brought the promise of cool air and the arrival of the pope. However, as the Pope Benedict XVI was entering Cuatro Vientos to greet the young people who spent hours in the sun waiting for him, a thunderstorm came over the field.

“I felt we were being tested because during the day there was extreme heat, and people fainted, and at night there was a storm that broke down some of the chapels,” said Jennifer Urbano, from SS. Peter and Paul parish, Williamsburg. “So it felt like we were being tested by all the elements.”

The pilgrims were not scared away by the elements. The Holy Father brought with him a sense of excitement. Amidst the wind, rain and thunder, the wet pilgrims began to chant: ‘Benedicto.’

Venessa Moses, St. Boniface, Elmont, said she was discouraged at first and wanted to leave. However, when the Holy Father came, she said she understood what the sacrifice was for.

“At the moment you feel it,you know it was worth waiting for,” she explained.

Deacon Ciccaroni saw the hand of God in the difficulties of the day.

“When the pope brought out the Blessed Sacrament, it stopped raining,” he said. “And it didn’t start raining till the Holy Father put the Eucharist away. That couldn’t have been a coincidence; that was Jesus at work.”

After the pope left the old military airfield, the pilgrims spent the night waiting for his morning return. Deacon Ciccaroni said he was impressed by the sense of community the pilgrims developed over their short stay together.  It brought him great joy to see the pilgrims from his parish playing cards with their counterparts from other parishes during the night they spent in the open field.

 “It shows that although they come from different backgrounds, the Church can bring them together,” he said.

 In the morning, the pilgrims were woken to the announcement that Pope Benedict would soon be joining them for Mass, but not everyone would be receiving communion because some of the temporary chapels had collapsed in the storm.

“It was such a bad day, but everybody in the morning was just happy,” Urbano said. “We had all the reasons to be upset but we weren’t.”

She said she was grateful she was able to partake in Mass with the pope. She said one message he preached spoke to her deeply.

“The world is trying to oppose what we are trying to do but we can’t be afraid because that’s the only way we can follow Jesus,” she said.

Paul Morisi, diocesan director of young adult faith formation, said he was inspired by the crowd’s dedication to the pope.

“They are genuinely happy waiting for hours sitting in the hot sun just to see him,” he said. “I learned that our faith is not as exhausted as our media would have us believe.”

At the final Mass closing World Youth Day Aug. 21, the pope challenged the pilgrims to take that faith, make it grow and share it with the world.

In his homily, he said, the vision of that sea of happy souls “fills my heart with joy.”

“I think of the special love with which Jesus is looking upon you. Yes, the Lord loves you and calls you his friends,” the pope told the young.

To the joy of the crowd, particularly the Brazilians present, at the end of the Mass, the pope announced that the next international gathering of World Youth Day would be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

Pope Benedict said faith is not about understanding a bunch of facts, “it is an ability to grasp the mystery of Christ’s person in all its depth.”

Even if it feels like a struggle at times, faith is not primarily about people working out their thoughts about God; it starts with the gift of God’s love and God’s reaching out to each person, he said.

Faith entails “a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings,” he said.

But the pope went even further, telling the young that a personal relationship with Jesus always must be transformed into action, service and love for others.  In addition, it must be lived within the Church, the community of believers to whom Jesus entrusted his message and his mission of salvation.

Contributing to this article was Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service.