I just returned from World Youth Day 2011 in Spain, and the city of Madrid did a first class job welcoming over a million people from all over the world. These people could be heard singing songs together and joining in chants, packing the subway cars and strolling through the streets of the city
The closing Mass included 1.5 million people (or perhaps more) making it the largest Mass ever celebrated in Spain. The Pope’s homily and some of his other speeches can be found at the Catholic Herald web site. Being among the crowd, one could see an image of what the Evangelist had seen, “Behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne…” (Rev 7:9). Each person, far from being lost in the crowd, is personally known and loved by God. This, I believe, was felt by the youth at the vigil, when the Pope exposed the Eucharist for adoration. God’s loving gaze penetrates each person with a unique and pure love.
Pope Benedict lacks those charistmatic gifts that John Paul II had, but this was a larger crowd than the Great Pope had ever drawn in Spain. It is Christ, living in the hearts of the baptized, who calls them and draws them together, and gives them His joy. I notice that the secular media has downplayed the event as much as possible, saying only that “thousands” or “hundreds of thousands” gathered (if they mentioned the event at all). This lack of coverage was an interesting contrast to a few weeks earlier when the media was far more comfortable covering the hundreds of young people who rioted and burned parts of England.
The contrast was easy to see. In one place young people had gathered for mayhem and violence, while in another place people the same age had gathered for celebration and joy. What made the difference in the second crowd was the presence of Jesus Christ, and His penetrating gaze of love, which is worth more than all the world can offer. Only the love of Christ can satisfy the human soul. When we lose sight of His love, as in Western society where Christ has been systematically excluded, first from politics, then economics, then public life, then family life; young people can see nothing on the horizon but possessions and pleasure, and they begin to wander the cities spiritually hungry and desperate.
The vision of more than a million enthusiastic young people coming together peacefully, joyfully, and making room for one another, is a witness of what the whole world could become, if we accept Christ and allow Him to reign in our hearts. +