Pope: Loreto, young people's spiritual capital
Loreto (AsiaNews) – As the moving voice of tenor Andrea Bocelli singing Gounod’s Ave Maria drifted across the Plains of Montorso, the dark statue of Our Lady of Loreto slowly made its way through a huge crowd of almost 300,000 young people, amid their applause and enthusiasm. Organised by the Italian Bishops’ Conference in preparation of the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney, the statue symbolises the gathering, the agora. A combination of carnival, party and prayer, the youth Vigil brought out the best in young Italian Catholics, their concerns and eagerness included; it did the same for Benedict XVI, who expressed his emotions, attentiveness and imagination, often putting aside his prepared speech in favour of a direct, heartfelt approach to the young people.
Slums and God’s silence
The vigil, which included chanting and music, saw some speakers bear witness as to what it means to be young today, addressing questions to the Pope. From the southern Italian city of Bari, Piero, an engineer, and Giovanna, a social worker from the city’s slums, were the first to speak. After talking about their own commitment, they asked: “How is it possible to hope when reality takes away whatever dream for happiness you may have, denies you a chance to plan your life?”
In his reply the Pope said that the anxiety the question betrays did not need any theoretical or feel-good answer. Putting aside his prepared text, the Holy Father spoke about marginalisation and ghettoisation, tragedies caused by the inaction of centres of power. He went on to say that the institutions that should take care of the powerless like the family and the parish church have been weakened. He further stressed that for the Church no one is an outsider and everyone is part of the whole. Christ was born in Nazareth, a place far from any centre of power; and yet he “revolutionised the world.” The Church should go back into the poorer neighbourhoods and with Christ’s help rebuild the social fabric of their inhabitants. For this reason young people he said must “change the world,” starting in its poorest corners, places time forgot.
When it was her turn, Sara, a 24-year-old office worker from Genoa, spoke about young people’s confusion, about the violence they experience and the lack of educators “as good and credible reference points to whom one may turn with one’s pain is too much. . . . Holy Father, in this silence so heavy for me and my faith, where is everybody? Above all, where is God?”
“Every believer knows about God’s silence,” said the Pontiff answering off the cuff. “With all her charity, even Mother Teresa suffered from God’s silence.” But he recalled a story about Pope John Paul II, when he was still Cardinal Wojtyla. A scientist told him that he was “certain” that God did not exist but that “whenever he looked out at the mountains, he saw that He existed.” In truth, “the beauty of creation,” the Pope said, “is a sign of God’s goodness.” Not only do we meet God in creation, but we feel his “presence in the liturgical celebrations and in the Word,” he said. We have the same experience in the “great music by Bach, Mozart, and Haendel.” Listening to them we discover that God is the source of everything. Also there is friendship and companionship in faith and travel like what young people in Loreto have experienced. “God,” he said, “wants us to bear witness to our faith and be a light” onto others.
Acknowledging that “it is hard to talk to our friends about God and the Church,” a God “of prohibitions” and “a Church that imposes,” he urged his audience to “try to experience the living Church, not the image of a Church that is a centre of power.”
Remembering his visit to Fazenda Esperanza in Brazil, a drug rehab centre, he said that “the certainty in God’s existence means salvation from desperation.” God “broadens life,” he noted; “drugs destroy it.”
He concluded saying that “Christ came to create a network of communion in the world so that we can all help each other. In so doing we discover that the commandments and the relationship to God are in reality a path to joy.”
Almost as confirmation to what the Pope said, Ilaria, 26 and from Rome, offered her story as a happy ending. She told her fellow young people the story of her family, a violent father, her anorexia, her mother, and a priest who helped her psychologically and spiritually. Now she is married and the mother of a little girl, and has adopted Pope Wojtyła’s apostolic motto Totus Tuus ("totally yours”) which he borrowed from the Marian consecrating prayer.
Father Bossi’s greetings
Fr Giancarlo Bossi’s story is another happy ending. A missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in the Philippines, he spent 39 days in captivity on the Filipino island of Mindanao. Father Bossi was invited to attend the Vigil; one of the reason for returning to Italy for. Speaking from the stand, he thanked Pontiff and young people.
“Holy Father,” he said, “I am happy to be here tonight to give thanks, to God for holding my life lovingly in His hands; to you for holding me in your heart during my captivity and encouraging so many to pray for me; to all those young people who through their prayers and love gave me courage to remain faithful to Christ, His Church, my missionary vocation and all the people to whom I belong. You also gave courage to missionaries who work around the world. Thank you in the name of God!”
After singing, praying and Bible readings, Benedict XVI spoke about Loreto which, because of so many young people, has become the “spiritual capital, the centre, where so many young people from the five continents have converged to share their ideals.”
The Pope spoke about their hopes and expectations, but also about their deceptions, the “impossible” dreams they have. He referred to their “anxieties” and “doubts,” asking “how can one become part of a society with so much injustice and suffering? How can one react to selfishness and violence which sometimes appears so overwhelming? How can one give real meaning to life? In raising these questions Benedict XVI said he felt “close” to the young people in Loreto, telling them that “through you,” he could reach out “to people of your own age.”
Like Mary, fear not!
“Fear not, Christ can fulfill the most intimate aspirations your heart holds! Can some dreams be impossible if they are awakened and nourished in the heart by God’s spirit?”
In comforting tones, he told young people to face the unease that their fragility, insecurity and sense of uselessness may cause. “Let me repeat, tonight,” he said, “if each one of you remains united with Christ, you can accomplish great things. This is why, dear friends, you must not fear to dream, eyes wide open, and do good; don’t let yourselves be discouraged by hardships. Christ trusts you and wants you to achieve your highest and noblest dream of real happiness.”
“Look upon Mary,” he suggested, who, in saying “yes” to God found Herself at the “centre of humanity.” “Looking upon her, meekly following her, you shall discover the beauty of love, not a disposable one, transient and deceptive, prisoner to a selfish and materialistic mentality, but one that is true and deep.”
The Pope also raised the issue of so many “broken” families, of couples that break up, saying that to “those who find themselves in such a delicate and complex situations I say this tonight: the Mother of God, the Community of Believers and the Pope stand by you and pray that the crisis that affects today’s families not turn into an irreversible failure.”
In his address to the young crowd Benedict XVI was especially keen in supporting the more responsible choices young people make, helping them overcome their fear of failure. “In the night that awaits us, at the foot of Her Holy House, Mary shall again tell each one of you, my dear young friends, the same words She heard from the Angel: Don’t fear! Don’t be afraid! The Holy Spirit is with you and shall never abandon you. To anyone who places his trust in God, nothing is impossible. This is true for those who are meant to marry; it is even more so for those to whom God proposes a life of total detachment from earthly things and a full commitment to his Kingdom.”
Again he referred to Fr Giancarlo Bossi “for whom we have prayed all through his captivity in the Philippines, and whose presence today in our mist we enjoy. In him we want to greet and thank all those who live for Christ on the edges of evangelisation. My dear young people, if the Lord calls you to live intimately at His service, answer with generosity. Be certain that a life devoted to God is never lived in vain.”
The Pope ended his homily, greeting with a “father’s heart” “each one” of the young people present in the Plains of Montorso, urging them to meet again in Sydney. “Let us pray that the Lord who does all kinds of wonders may let many of you to be there. May He give me and you such an opportunity! This is but one of the many dreams we have and which tonight we shall entrust in Mary as we pray together.”
The Pontiff then blessed the Jubilee Cross from the diocese of Endeber (Ethiopia). Young Italian Catholics have in fact taken on the task of helping the Church in this African country.
At the end of the meeting and following a brief pause the Pope walked over to the Holy House to pray in silence as young people prepared for the night vigil. Tomorrow he is scheduled to celebrate mass in the Plains of Montorso.