MADRID (CNS): Pope Benedict XVI said he was leaving Madrid filled with gratitude to the Spanish people, the World Youth Day organisers and volunteers, and the million-plus pilgrims who prayed with him.
“Spain is a great nation whose soundly open, pluralistic and respectful society is capable of moving forward without surrendering its profoundly religious and Catholic soul,” the Pope told King Juan Carlos and other dignitaries on August 21 before boarding a plane to return to Rome.
Spain has a reputation as a country where the overwhelming majority of residents are baptised, but faith has little resonance in public policy.
But Pope Benedict said the way Spanish society handled World Youth Day showed it could rally for a great cause: “helping young people to become more deeply rooted in Jesus Christ, our Saviour”.
The Pope thanked the young pilgrims, including several thousand Australians, who came to Madrid for World Youth Day with their “joyful, enthusiastic and intense presence. To them I say thank you, and I congratulate you for the witness which you gave”.
“I leave Spain very happy and grateful to everyone,” the 84-year-old pope said at Madrid’s Barajas airport.
“But above all, I am grateful to God, our Lord, who allowed me to celebrate these days so filled with enthusiasm and grace, so charged with dynamism and hope.”
Many of the young pilgrims were on hand at the airport, waving mostly Spanish flags and cheering for the Holy Father as he reached his final destination of the four-day whirlwind tour.
World Youth Day lets the church look toward the future with greater hope and trust in God, he said.
That is why the Church “continues to be young and full of life”, even as it confronts challenging situations.
The grace of Christ, the Pope said, “tears down the walls and overcomes the barriers which sin erects between people and generations”, a fact the pilgrims at World Youth Day experienced firsthand.
The Pope said the celebration also proved young people would respond happily and massively “when one proposes to them, in sincerity and truth, an encounter with Jesus Christ”.
He asked bishops, priests and lay leaders to make sure that their young pilgrims were supported as they return home, so the experience could transform their lives.
Before going to the airport, Pope Ben-edict took time to thank about 12,000 of the 30,000 volunteers from around the world who ensured – as much as possible – the smooth functioning of the August 16-21 World Youth Day events.
The next World Youth Day will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2013.
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