On the road to Madrid
"I, John Paul,…successor of Peter in the See of Rome and Shepherd of the Universal Church, from Santiago I shout to you with love, old Europe: Find yourself, rediscover your origins, revive your roots, go back to live by the authentic values that have made glorious your history and make real your presence in other continents… You can still be the guiding light of civilization and stimulus of progress to the world."
As never before, the words shouted 22 years ago by John Paul II at "Finis Terrae," the extreme limb of the European continent, truly resound again in these days. Europe seems lost, taken by a profound crisis. Cultural relativism, propagated by many as the surest recipe for social peace, has revealed itself the cause of enormous and continuous conflicts. The recent disorder in England has revealed to the world young people disposed to burn or to kill in order to possess a new phone. Behind these teenagers there are no longer parents, there is no family, there is no culture; there is not even society. Many young people grow up without God and without law, almost like new barbarians, where the only the semblance of a family or a social group is the gang. The economic crisis, which seems to be growing graver, is only the external manifestation of a culture that has reneged on its Christian roots and is going towards oblivion. Divorce, abortion, adulteries: the chaos of personal life is reflected on a social level, economic as well as political. The destruction of the family is the major cause of impoverishment and the demographic decline is halting the economic resurgence. No party dares to cut public benefits that are no longer sustained by a growing economy. Instead they take refuge in ever expanding debts, destroying the future of the next generation. This is why the moral crisis becomes an economic crisis and democracy is transformed into demagoguery.
John Paul II saw on the horizon the grave dangers Europe and the West were going towards, especially the new generations. World Youth Day was born from this prophetic vision, so that the youth may experience the beauty of Christianity; to be able to live a life abandoned in God and therefore experience eternal life, so that they may taste, thirsting for eternity, the eternal dimension of their existence. The NeoCatechumenal Way has participated from the beginning in the World Youth Days, bringing many young people who have had beautiful experiences. This year it is estimated that around 200,000 young people of the NeoCatechumenal Way will be present in Madrid. Many of the young people that are currently in Madrid are children of the youth who went to Santiago in 1989 or to Denver in 1993 and who today, married and with large families, guide groups of pilgrims. From the U.S., 5,000 young people from the NeoCatechumenal Way are participating in Madrid. Many of them landed in England and evangelized their peers on the streets, in the restaurant, in the squares, announcing to them eternal life, opening for them a way back to God and giving them hope for their life. They did this in the same neighborhoods where there was rioting a few days before and where you can still see the destruction and the fires in the streets. These groups that are going through the streets of all of Europe are not tourists; at every stop, they go to the main square or the center of the town and they announce their experience of Christ. People are shocked to see so many young people who believe that life has a meaning, that they have a perspective, that they have hope. Many English people, seeing so many youth who spoke of God instead of breaking windows, and were going to Madrid to see the pope, were stupefied and would call out from their third floor windows "Who are you? Where do you come from?"
"The pilgrimage symbolizes your life," said John Paul II speaking to the young people in 1982. "It signifies that you do not want to install yourself, that you resist everything which attempts to diminish your energy, to suffocate your questions, to close your horizon. It's about putting oneself on the way, accepting the challenge of change, to face obstacles, especially those of your fragility, to persevere until the end." The pilgrim leaves his homeland to look for his true country. In the past, before leaving, the pilgrim would celebrate almost a second baptism. He would make a general confession, reconcile with his enemies, he would ask forgiveness to everyone, he would pay his debts; he would leave everything. They would make a will and clothe themselves with the garment that they would wear for many years, or maybe the rest of their life. How can we understand, with our mentality which recognizes in comfort and security the epitome of happiness, an experience that puts as the goal of human life the abandonment of all riches and comfort, a life as a mendicant? And yet in the complete and trusting abandonment to the providence of God, the pilgrim discovers a freedom and a quality of life, also from a purely human point of view, superior to the one that riches and security can procure.
Anthony Palombo, son of a fireman who died in the Twin Towers, went on the pilgrimage with a group coming from New York. Anthony is the first born of ten children, and some years ago entered the seminary to become a priest. His mother has been fighting cancer for 2 years. When interviewed on London radio, he recounted how Jesus Christ came to look for him thru the NeoCatechumnal Way in moments of profound crisis caused by the death of his father and looking for refuge in drugs, in alcohol and sex. Through this meeting with the love of Christ, Palombo has recognized also his mother's cancer as a blessing from God, discovering that God is his father and does not give him anything that is bad. "Listening to your experience," the interviewer commented "we see the necessity to reawaken the moral conscience of the young people after the violence of these days. What can the governments and the communities of faith do to promote ethics, a new sense of morality?" "To try and promote a new sense of morality, beating the law on the head of the people, does not work," Palombo answered. "You cannot convert anyone by putting in their heads the Ten Commandments; the first thing is the announcement of the love of God, to discover that God loves you, and that what He wants for you is what is best for you; this is what changes the life of people. When I understood that the things said by my parents, things that I heard in the Church were true, that it was true that drugs, sex and alcohol did not make me happy and instead that God was offering that which gives me happiness: this is what has changed my life. It helps your friends to see you happy, not when you steal or fornicate or when you take drugs. On the contrary, to experience that God loves you, this announces a new morality. This is the announcement that we are bringing to London and it is very important to see people with a new morality and to see how happy they are living in a different way. In these days, when we evangelize in the streets, listening to the experience of my father who died in the Twin Towers and my mother, who has cancer, they ask me 'Why? Why does God allow these things?' Through the Church I have seen that God is present also in the suffering of my mother. People are shocked, but in my house you can find the joy that you can't find anywhere else. We can face suffering in a way different from those who don't have God."
In London, another group coming from New Jersey, met a young girl who lost her father 3 months ago. After the death of her father, this young girl began to drink and take drugs. While drunk, she was raped 3 times and is now living on the streets. In this situation she has received the announcement brought to her by these young people in these days. The night before she met these young people, she saw, in a dream, 2 young people bringing her the Good News and with them she goes to a big white tent to listen to them. These 2 young people, Andres and Bill, asked her what she thought was this white tent. This young girl, who had fallen into a hopeless abyss in only 3 months time, answered them: "Surely it is the Church." Many young people are waiting for something that neither politics, nor education, nor the economic upturn can give them: it is the Good News that God loves them and that their life has a meaning.
"The world without God becomes a hell," said Benedict XVI announcing the World Youth Day of Madrid. "Egoism prevails, division in the family, hatred between persons and peoples, the lack of love, of joy and of hope. On the contrary, there where the person and the peoples worship him in truth and listen to His voice, a civilization of love is concretely built in which each one is respected in his own dignity; there communion grows, together with the fruits that it brings."
Giuseppe Gennarini is the responsible of the Neocatechumenal Way in the Unkted States.