You see, for WYD2002, I was in charge of the Papal Welcome Ceremony. I loved planning that event. I loved working with the Liturgy team, the operations team, the International Liturgy coordinator, the Vatican Master of Ceremonies, the Papal Protocol people, the Vatican liturgy people, the security people... did I say, I loved working that event?
And I have fond memories: the procession with the flags; the Spirit Movers wheelchair dancers; preparing with the singers and musicians on stage; the young people on stage moving closer and closer to the Holy Father, to the dismay of the Security personnel and the Holy Father saying it was OK... being on stage with the JPII...
I remember standing on stage at Exhibition Place, when the Pope walked on, and looking out at the 300,000 people out on the grounds, cheering, "JP II we love you" and "Giovanni Paulo!" and "Juan Pablo segundo, te quiere todo el mundo!" No rock star gets that kind of reception. And I remember not relating to the whole "Papamania". When I see the Holy Father I just want to sit and watch him. I am in awe. I am not moved to cheering and excitement. But I remember looking out at the crowd and thinking that the cheering was not for the Pope but for what he stands for, for the apostolic Church, for the Papacy, for vocations, and certainly for Jesus. I really had the sense that they were cheering for Jesus. They see the Pope as Jesus representative on earth.
And that's not a bad thing.
Today I had a very similar feeling. In my old age, I am less excited by the crowds and am moved less and less to cheering and yelling. I just wanted to sit and watch in awe. Benedict seems to have moved more into his role of leader. And that is what I felt the young people were cheering for today: for a leader. They long for leadership. They long for someone to point them towards the Truth.
In his homily Benedict said something about Jesus and Truth. I thought, "of course, Truth is the Way to Life".
It all makes sense.
The Pope is our leader in finding the Truth. Who is the Truth?
Jesus is why we gather for World Youth Day. Jesus is who we come to meet during WYD. And when we meet Him, when we have a personal encounter with the Living Christ, something happens. We are converted. Not by the homilies, or the prayers. Not by the Catechesis or speeches. We are converted by the Spirit.
And by the witness of those around us who are gathered to meet with Jesus. And once converted, we too become witnesses.
In speaking to the Spanish-speaking pilgrims, Benedict said: "Your witness is to share the happiness in having found the Friend who will never let you down".
My hope is that you too find that friend.
Image courtesy of WYD2008/Getty Images