A Look Back at World Youth Day 2005
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala, M.C.
Co-founder and Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative Brothers and Priests, and Founder and Spiritual Director of the Lay Missionaries of Charity

Retreat and Renewal, Grace and Glory, Alive in Cologne

The 20th World Youth Day (WYD) 2005 was a milestone in a series of great events in the history of humankind. During those days in August, in the beautiful land of Germany, there were different kinds of encounters: there was the encounter with God in prayer, listening and adoring him like the Magi, and there was the encounter with God in one another, irrespective of colour, culture, language of nationality. It looked like a mosaic of great artwork.

An ocean of 1 million young people from 193 countries of the world, many Cardinals, 800 Bishops and 10,000 priests met in Cologne, Germany, a city of extraordinary beauty and charm. It is in this city of history, tradition and antiquity that Divine Providence chose through the Church's Magisterium to hold such an important event of faith and history.

Blessings from two Popes

The 20th World Youth Day was held from 15 to 21 August 2005 as announced by the late Pope John Paul II three years ago in Toronto, Canada. Unlike other world youth gatherings, the WYD in Cologne was special. There were two Popes: the Servant of God Pope John Paul II in Heaven and our beloved Pope Benedict XVI on earth.

The assistance from Heaven was very evident, especially with regard to the weather. According to reports received, there could have been heavy showers as the sky was grey. But it did not stop the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from going to Marienfeld (Mary's field) and camping there for the wonderful vigil, and then spending the night in the open, as did the shepherds near Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth.

I prayed a lot to Pope John Paul II to help us from Heaven, as the young people were so dear to his heart until the last day of his life on earth. To the young people who gathered under Pope John Paul II's window in St. Peter's Square, where they chanted his name for his final two earthly days, he said, "I have been looking for you, and now you have come to me. I thank you for this".

While these last words of the late Pope to the young people continue to resound in our ears, we can count on his spiritual presence and assistance from on high.

I still feel that he really did help us from Heaven on Saturday and Sunday, 20-21 August. The weather became pleasant and free from showers, except a rain of heavenly graces on the thousands who gathered around the altar together with our Holy Father Benedict XVI.

It was a real experience of God's inescapable presence and nearness, tender care and concern. Blessed be the Name of the Lord, now and for ever!

'Spiritual Centres' of prayer

In his Angelus Message on Sunday, 28 August, Pope Benedict XVI said that the adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament "is not a luxury but a priority." This was proven true during WYD in Cologne.

I strongly felt that among the many programmes in Cologne for young people, the strongest of all was the "Spiritual Centres". The "Spiritual Centre" was a group of 16 inner-city churches in Cologne, and two churches in Bonn and Dsseldorf. They were open to pilgrims from 16-20 August.

These Centres became the spiritual powerhouses of intense prayer, where there was adoration the Blessed Sacrament 24 hours a day. They became centres of reconciliation, through the Sacrament of Confession and an oasis of peace, meeting, sharing and nourishing. There was an incredible sense of peace, joy, fellowship and brotherhood.

Confessions went on day and night. Not only young people received the Sacrament, but many older people, Religious and priests, too. All of them made their way to Jesus, following the "star of God's irrevocable grace and invincible love". Opening their hearts, they offered the gold of their freedom to Jesus, as they found him in that "little manger" in the form of Bread in a monstrance. So many have poured out their hearts' desires, pain and problems to him like frankincense.

Bethlehem for us today is Jesus in the Eucharist. We are called to be the Magi, not only from the Orient but from all corners of the world. We must come to worship him in the Bread of Life in the house of Bread.

Jesus does not need our gold or silver, but our hearts in place of gold, our free will in place of frankincense, and our body and soul in place of myrrh.

Confession and Eucharist

Very close to the Dom in Cologne, the Missionaries of Charity were given the the Church of the Holy Apostles in the Neumakt area of Cologne. The church became an important spiritual centre for hundreds of young people who continuously came to visit, to pray, to adore the Lord together with the five Branches of the M.C. Family, who were keeping vigil before the Blessed Sacrament exposed day and night.

Various groups of people constant flooded into the church. As there we two main entrances into the church, there were two welcoming teams of Brothers and Sisters, who then gave the visitors not only directions but also the formation about the Missionaries of Charity, distributing rosaries and medals, leaflets, pictures and novenas of Blessed Teresa and other religious articles of interest. Many wanted to talk, some wanted to pray, many went to Confession.

Besides exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, there was also a very wonderful, inspiring and inviting exhibition on our Blessed and beloved Mother Teresa's vocation, vision and mission, her life and activity and the various M.C. Branches she founded. Many were touched by the famous poem she composed on her sea voyage to India in December 1928. Everything spoke very eloquently of Jesus' love for everyone and especially for "the poorest of the poor", as he had said to Mother Teresa back in 1946: "There are plenty of nuns to look after the rich and the well-to-do people, but for My very poor there are absolutely none. For them I long, them I love. Wilt thou refuse?" (MFG. p. 18).

From the exhibition hall people were led to the adoration chapel where, like the Magi and together with the M.C. Family, they could adore the Lord in the Bread of Life and could be reconciled in the Sacrament of Confession if that was desired and necessary. Many did come for confessions, even in the middle of the night. Thanks be to God.

The Liturgy of the Hours and especially the daily celebration of Holy Mass were quite solemn. These events were the most important of the day and were well attended. The parish priest, Fr. Christopher, was a real example of liturgical order and discipline. He wanted all the priests to celebrate Holy Mass with decorum and respect, love and devotion. He is also a real singer! His singing was not only excellent but also very celestial and mystical. He loves his Church, fulfils his duty and instils liturgical devotion.

The celebration of the Eucharist, and all the prayers for that matter, must be the expression of our deep faith, ardent love, fervour and zeal. We must celebrate all our prayers, especially the Eucharist, with gratitude and enthusiasm.

The older we are, the more enthusiastic we must all become. Our life of prayer must not be sterile and static: it must be fervent and dynamic.

Taking a new road

The WYD gathering was a retreat and a renewal. The prayer of the Our Father, as we said or sang it, touched everyone deeply. People were there from all over the world. They spoke different languages, belonged to different countries, possessed different cultures and were of various colours.

Going beyond all these accidentals, which were true and important, WYD went deeper and tried to build the relationship of their common brotherhood on the one and only fatherhood of God. The saying: "In essential things we must have unity, in doubtful things freedom and in all things charity" was followed.

There was a deeper sharing. The prayer of the Our Father really made sense. The cows can be all different colours, but milk is always white. In everyone, irrespective of colour, nationality, culture or language, there is an immortal soul created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26). That image of God in us is hungry and thirsty for the living God; that image of God is thirsty for solidarity and sharing.

In Cologne, the twofold hunger and thirst of the human heart for God and for one another was enkindled and quenched anew. Once again God's infinite and insatiable thirst for man and our thirst for him met in enduring love and became our fervent prayer.

The end result was healing, peace, joy, solidarity, sharing, conviction and determination. Like the Magi, who after meeting the Child Jesus did not go back on the same road but on a different one, so too the participants at WYD cannot continue to travel on the same road but they now have to take another way no matter how difficult and demanding that road can at times be!

Bro. Roger: sign of unity

During the 20th WYD something very shocking and extremely painful took place: the tragic and brutal assassination of Bro. Roger Schutz of Taiz, France, on Tuesday, 16 August.

Humanly speaking, the event was very difficult to accept and to reconcile. He was 90 years old and was praying Vespers with his Brothers in the community, along with about 2,500 people when suddenly a 36-year-old woman stabbed him three times, taking his life.

His assassination in the middle of the 20th World Youth Day can be considered very symbolic and significant. Bro. Roger not only knew the aspirations of young people, their strength and their vitality, but he also knew how they needed to be guided to authentic truth and lasting life values. For he writes "The young people come to fix their gaze not on what divides them but what unites them, not to reinforce the pessimism out to perceive signs of hope".

Youth need guidance in the turning points of their lives. It was Bro. Roger who came from Switzerland to Taiz the age of 25 and began the centre for refugees of World War II, which with time became a centre for young people. As a matter of fact, in 1978, it was Bro. Roger who introduced "the pilgrimage of trust on earth" for young people.

For many years, he used to gather them in the various cities of Europe, including Rome, shortly after Christmas. I still remember giving hospitality to over 50 or more young people in our house in Rome back in the early 1980s. Thousands of youth attended the gatherings. He used to take them to Audiences with the Holy Father John Paul II.

Bro. Roger of Taiz is with us no more in body. But his invincible love and untiring dedication, his devotion to duty, his faithfulness to prayer, his efforts to bring Church unity through prayer and dialogue will continue to produce fruit.

Though he was 90 years old, Bro. Roger loved the young people up to the moment he was killed. He always tried to lead them from the unreal to the real, from pessimism to optimism, from darkness to light, from division to unity, from man to God and vice-versa. Many might have seen him seated on a wheelchair at John Paul II's funeral Mass when the present Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, gave him Holy Communion.

He lived for unity, and prayed very hard and worked even harder to bring unity into the Church. He was a very inspiring and edifying example for all people of good will, including the Popes and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

In the General Audience on Wednesday, 17 August, Pope Benedict XVI said: "This news is an especially heavy blow because only just yesterday I received a very touching and friendly letter from Bro. Roger. In it he wrote that in the depths of his heart he was intending to tell me that 'we are in communion with you and with those who have gathered in Cologne'. He then wrote that because of his health he would unfortunately be unable to come in person to Cologne, but would be present in spirit with his brethren. At the end of this letter he told me that he wanted to come as soon as possible to Rome to meet me and tell me that 'our Community of Taiz wants to journey on in communion with the Holy Father'. And he then wrote in his own hand: 'Holy Father, I assure you of my sentiments of deep communion. Bro. Roger of Taiz" (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 24 August, p. 19, n. 5).

May his martyrdom of blood, which is God's gift to him and a blessing to the world, especially to the world of youth, bring greater unity among the various denominational churches. May the one who loved and tirelessly guided young people on earth continue to love and guide them from Heaven.

Five Branches come together

In Cologne, the five Branches of the M.C. Family met together for the first time in prayer, in adoration, in praise and thanksgiving to God, remaining faithful to the teachings of our Blessed and beloved Mother Teresa, breaking bread and sharing all things in common.

Each day of that unforgettable week we regularly went to the church. We shared our food gladly and generously. The whole M.C. Family was united, heart and soul, sharing the poverty and inconveniences of the place and the difficulties caused by common living.

The M.C. Family thus laid its foundation stone of unity in Cologne and sowed the seed of a new and important venture which has to be nurtured, protected, weeded and watered. By their presence and prayers, the M.C. Family showed the young people of the world the basic and unending values of life on earth

Never before in all these years has the M.C. Family had such a wonderful and joyful sharing as we had in Cologne. This experience of the oneness of the M.C. Family is not a luxury of a few M.C. Brothers and Sisters, nor is it limited to the city of Cologne, but a simple duty of every M.C. member of all Branches and at all times and places.

This unity and brotherhood cannot be arrived at without providing a common forum of life and action. Here is the need for ardent prayer and contemplation, constant sharing and frequent dialogue. The famous saying: "The family that prays together stays together" can be applied to the M.C. Family as well.

God bless you.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 November 2005, page 6

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