Following Up on World Youth Day
Offer young people a path to holiness
On Aug. 26, five days after the conclusion of WYD in Madrid, Fr. Fabio Attard, the Salesian general councilor for youth ministry programs around the world, offered a personal reflection on what the experience meant for the 7,000 Salesian youths who took part, and for the Salesian Family in general.
(ANS - Rome) - World Youth Day in Madrid is now over in terms of an event. But what is not over are the effects the experience would have aroused in the hearts of many young people. Listening to and re-reading Benedict XVI's addresses, I think there are four key terms in this celebration of faith.
The first word is one that invites young people to “be not afraid.” The Pope repeatedly urged young people not to be discouraged by an environment hostile to faith, an environment which even ridicules the very choice of faith. His words were comfort, not confrontation. The Pope opened the door of consolation that comes with the choice of faith to those who welcome it with courage and simplicity.
Along similar lines, the second goal that the Pope indicated to young people was to “overcome mediocrity.” On at least three occasions Benedict expressed simple yet profound thoughts on the need to overcome the culture of emptiness that people find themselves swamped by. Anyone who accepts the challenge of faith leaves the merely horizontal level behind and discovers the beauty of the mystery that gives meaning to time and history.
It is here, then, that the Pope offers a way forward, by being anchored in Christ, which means to build one's house, one's own life story, on rock, steadfast in the faith. Pope Benedict's invitation does not come as something alien to young people and their story. Young people seize this invitation at the heart of their plans for their lives. Someone like me who spent several hours in the confessional at El Ritiro Park during the days in Madrid knows how young people welcomed the Pope's words. The experience of forgiveness and reconciliation that the young pilgrims had in Madrid was not a once-off experience. They have good experience of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and frequent it often.
The last key point of World Youth Day in Madrid, then, was the Pope's invitation to them to go back home happy, but not only in themselves. Someone who has had the good fortune to encounter Christ cannot keep him selfishly to himself. Someone who has had the experience of discipleship now has to proclaim it, has to be an apostle. And the Pope asked young people to be faithful and happy witnesses – the two sides of a life of faith. Whoever believes seeks to be faithful, and fidelity finds true joy, true happiness.
Madrid was an “upper room” experience for a week, where one sensed the faith of a generation of young people who are tired of emptiness. It was a joyful place for many young people who are in search of truth, beauty. We met young people of all languages, races and cultures. They are happy young people who seem to be friends forever – friendship that is faith in Jesus Christ.
For us Salesians now is the time to offer them true and lasting experiences, not just events – experiences that will mark their lives and not just entertain them for a while. Don Bosco invites us to give them the true happiness that is the path to holiness. And holiness, for the young pilgrims, is no longer a word that brings shame, but only strength! The challenge is ours!