|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
'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 Düsseldorf. 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
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
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 Taizé,
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 Taizé
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 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 Taizé 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
Taizé 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 Taizé"
(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.