The vigil with the Holy Father was very moving. Unlike the other World Youth Days I have attended (in Sydney and Madrid), there were no “rival events” to the pope’s prayer.
There were no small groups holding ad hoc dance parties. There were no pilgrims with their back to the pope, engrossed in conversation or (!) card games. This year’s Vigil was free even of well-meaning pilgrims who diminish the spirit of prayer by ill-timed chants of “Viva il papa!”
This is what did happen:
- Millions listened attentively to the pope (or to real-time translations on their small radios).
- Millions laughed when the pope joked; millions cried out “no!” when he asked if we’d conform to the world, and “si!” when he asked if we’d be generous disciples.
- Millions of people fell to their knees to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in five languages, candle in one hand, and — for those who had them — rosary beads in the other.
- And perhaps most profoundly, when the pope asked for moments of silence, and when he ministered benediction with the Blessed Sacrament, two million weary pilgrims, scattered across several hectares, made no earthly sound, but stormed heaven in prayer.
Before the vigil, I heard many good confessions, and during it I saw some younger pilgrims overwhelmed with emotion. Among the 200 pilgrims I’ve accompanied, most of whom I didn’t meet personally, I have met seven young people who are for the first time contemplating a priestly or religious vocation, and two more who aren’t Catholic but who wish to become Catholic on their return.
Many, many pilgrims have personally encountered Christ, some for the first time, and in the case of the younger pilgrims, the faith of their parents is now becoming their own faith. In the words of one teenager, “I thought the Church was governed by rules and prohibitions, but now I know it’s all love.” Grace has flowed through the pilgrimage like a torrential river, and the pilgrims I accompanied corresponded with youthful generosity.
Many pilgrims have experienced a different World Youth Day. The faith and enthusiasm of their peers has only emphasised their own doubts, or at least a spiritual dryness. Pray for them, that they can find God even in such trying circumstances, and learn to love His holy will.