MAKING my way as one of 400,000 pilgrims exiting Randwick Racecourse last Sunday following the pilgrimage in, evening liturgy, overnight sleep-out and Papal Mass, there were few words to describe the spiritual, emotional and physical experience of World Youth Day.
Among the crowds, still chanting and clapping “Benedetto”, still enthusiastically flying flags, still attempting to “swap” souvenir items and still in fine international voice, there was a tangible sense of having not only witnessed the “extraordinary” but also of having contributed to its dynamism.
Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival for the evening liturgy on July 19 prompted enthusiasm but once the ceremony began and the night sky appeared, it was the spectacle of thousands of candles that truly was “breathtaking”.
The Pope reflected on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in a variety of languages, and the crowd’s attentiveness was indicative of their reverence and his place among the young people of the world.
Pope Benedict called on the intercession of the saints throughout the powerful liturgy, encouraging young people to look to them “for perseverance and holiness”.
A young male prayed that the Holy Spirit, present in the lives of the saints, would “be present” in the “words and thoughts and weaknesses” of young people, bringing “strength”.
“Help us respond to Jesus’ call to be witnesses in our world today,” he said to the more than 200,000 gathered there.
The Pontiff encouraged belief “in the power of the Holy Spirit”.
“The Spirit sustains the Church in union with the Lord,” he said.
“Leading us into the very heart of God … the more the Spirit directs us, the more perfect creation we are in Christ.”
The Pope asked a significant question.
“Friends, do you accept being drawn into God’s Trinitarian life?” he said. “It only requires one response and that is, ‘I accept’.”
Describing the Holy Spirit as “the artisan of God’s work”, he encouraged young people to allow the gifts of the Holy Spirit to shape them “amid the ups and downs of daily life”.
“Be strengthened by prayer and nurtured by the sacraments,” he said.
“Be transformed … Accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities and nation.”
Cardinal George Pell of Sydney lifted the already elevated spirits of the crowd in his opening address of the Papal Mass last Sunday.
“It can be difficult to see the Church as she really is … She often appears disfigured and discouraged,” he said.
He said that, at World Youth Day, the Church “appears as she truly is … alive with evangelical health”.
“We see the college of bishops united … we see young priests eager to preach, we see eager seminarians generously responding to the Lord’s invitation to labour in the vineyard,” he said.
“We see radiant young women religious, holy sisters who lift up our spirits and make the Church beautiful.
“We see young couples who love each other and love Christ setting out together on the blessed path of Christian marriage.
“We see families, parents and children who teach us that life is a gift to be welcomed.
“We see young men and women who are just out of mission … we are encouraged by their high ideals in embracing the mission the Lord has chosen for them.
“We see faithful disciples of all generations who show us that to be a Catholic is a joyful and happy thing.
“This morning in Sydney we are truly at the heart of the Church.”
In his homily, Pope Benedict again drew on imagery of the Holy Spirit and its power when “unleashed”.
“The power of the Spirit never ceases to fill the Church with life,” he said.
“Through the grace of the Church’s sacraments that power also flows deep in us like an underground river which nourishes our spirit and draws us even nearer to the source of our true life which is Christ.”
The Pontiff said “daily prayer” was important, both as an individual, “in the quiet of our hearts”, and liturgically as “Church”.
“Prayer is love in action … communion with the Spirit who dwells within us … Jesus present in our hearts,” he said.
“Hear his voice … and receive power from on high.”
– Selina Harris