World Youth Day - News



Officially Opens World Youth Day

VATICAN CITY,  ( "The Pope, a youth like us," the banner read, which expressed the sincere feeling of the 200,000 youth gathered in St. John Lateran Square which was intended for the youth of Rome and Italy, though attendance wasn't restricted in any way. "O Roma felix!" shouted the Holy Father. "O Happy Rome! Happy because this witness that you conserve is still alive today and is offered to the world, and in particular to the world of the young generations!"

The Italian youth detained the Holy Father for almost 40 minutes with their cheers before he stood up and told them that he had an appointment with more youth in St. Peter's Square. He then boarded the Popemobile and was driven across the Eternal City to the Vatican along streets lined with knapsack carrying pilgrims who could not find a place in the two Squares. Youth in both Squares watched the Pope's progress on large-screen televisions, while listening to the songs from the previous World Youth Days.

The scene at St. Peter's was a real festival of color, light, and friendship among youth gathered from all corners of the earth. The Pope joked for most of the 4 hours he spent with the young adults, after repeating the words with which he opened his pontificate: "Do not be afraid: open, open wide your heart and life to Christ."

The entire Papal Address with which John Paul II opened World Youth Day became an invitation to youth to be courageous, discover Christ's friendship, and to be a witness to their faith. The youth expressed all their affection for the Holy Father. "Long live the Pope!" the youth shouted. "He has lived for 80 years and the young want him to always stay young," he joked. One young lady jumped over a barrier to greet the Pope, who gave her a big smile. She gave him a Chilean flag and the Pope, who was seated, left it on his lap for a good part of the ceremony.

In the great meeting in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, John Paul II began by greeting representatives from each one of the countries. The Pope's words were accompanied by a spectacular choreography of youth symbolizing the continents. In addition to the 5 geographic continents (as numbered in Europe), the Pope had special affectionate words for the young people from the bloodied "continent" of countries at war.

One of the few times the Pope leaves room for confidences is when he is with youth. And he did not betray the custom this evening. He spoke about his infancy and his family where he learned to pray. He recalled the lessons he learned from "the experience of war and the years of work in a factory."

"My priestly vocation came to its full maturity during the Second World War, during the occupation of Poland. The tragedy of the War gave a particular coloring to the gradual maturing of my vocation in life. In these circumstances, I perceived a light shining ever more brightly within me: the Lord wanted me to be a priest! I remember with feeling that moment in my life when, on the morning of November 1, 1946, I was ordained a priest."

His confidences passed from his youth to October 16, 1978 when, after being elected to the See of Peter, he was asked: "Do you accept?" "From that time on, I have tried to carry out my mission, drawing light and strength every day from the faith that binds me to Christ," he said.

"Dear friends: Why do I want to offer you this personal testimony at the beginning of your Jubilee?"
the Pope asked. "I do so in order to make it clear that the journey of faith is part of everything that happens in our lives. God is at work in the concrete and personal situations of each one of us: through them, sometimes in truly mysterious ways, the Word 'made flesh,' who came to live among us, makes Himself present to us."

"John Paul II, the whole world loves you!" the youth of the "Wojtyla generation," cried.

"Don't ever think, then, that you are unknown to Him, as if you were just a number in an anonymous crowd. Each one of you is precious to Christ, He knows you personally, He loves you tenderly, even when you are not aware of it," the Holy Father said.

The youth attending World Youth Day have not had their spirits and zeal dampened by the sticky, asphyxiating heat, the long hours of waiting, and meeting under an implacable sun. Some of the groups arrived in St. Peter's Square as early as 6 a.m. to assure a good view of the Holy Father when the time came for the meeting. After the meeting, the youth flocked to the food distribution centers, where they received a hot dinner and plenty of water.

Over the next few days, the youth will live moments of prayer, meeting, and functions that will culminate on Saturday night with the great meeting with the Pope, and on Sunday morning, with the farewell Mass. On that occasion, the number of participants might well double from the already 700,000 youth gathered in Rome.


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