VATICAN CITY, (ZENIT.org).- "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
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
"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.