One of the great joys of my priesthood is working with the young people of the archdiocese and those who serve them, as a member of the Office for New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults (ONE). I am personally grateful for all of the men and women who put out into the deep, in season and out of season, to mentor and disciple young people in our Catholic faith. For each of them I say: thank you Lord!
In a special way, I am grateful for all those leaders and volunteers who accompanied young people, from their parishes and/or universities, with the ONE Team to World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain (Aug. 15-21). It was inspiring to be on pilgrimage with them and to be given the opportunity to observe the way they care for and love their young people. They clearly demonstrated for me that the Catholic faith is not something that is merely taught, but it is also something that is caught. Young people "catch the faith" by being around faithful people. Jesus told the apostles "You will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8); servants of the Gospel who will win the world for Christ.
Blessed John Paul II, in his vision for the World Youth Day experience, created a pilgrimage model where young people would journey away from home to a sacred place, accompanied by witnesses. The accompaniment of authentic witnesses is critical for the transmission of the Gospel. Faith comes by hearing. The Gospel message comes with great power when it is communicated through the loving, joyful witness of a believer who invests in these young people on pilgrimage. As Pope Paul VI beautifully articulated: "modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).
Our Boston pilgrims were blessed to have many witnesses, beginning with our beloved priests. Their presence and interaction with our young people spoke volumes to them (better than any vocation talk could offer!). Is it any wonder that over 20 percent of the priests ordained this past year in the U.S. have been to a WYD? Our priests were also a tremendous source of Christ's love in the way they selflessly offered the gift of their priesthood (i.e. confession, pastoral care, etc.) to our young people throughout the pilgrimage.
Our priests were joined by many faith-filled and dedicated leaders, parents and volunteers. These servants sacrificed many of their own needs (i.e. personal vacation time, etc.) in order to accompany our young people. They worked diligently and offered many sacrifices in order help our young people have a life-changing encounter with Christ and His Church.
We are so grateful that our entire Bostonian contingent was accompanied by a very important person to our Catholic faith: Cardinal Seán O'Malley. Blessed John Paul II's vision for this pilgrimage model would be incomplete if it did not include the chief shepherd of the local flock, the bishop. Cardinal Seán, by virtue of his office, evokes awe among the young people -- he is a successor of the apostles. His holiness of life, pastoral love for young people and his gift for preaching, enable him to draw young people to the Lord. Over the course of the week at WYD, the cardinal celebrated Holy Mass for us (three times), joined us for a couple of meals and enriched us at one of his catechetical sessions. By getting to know and being in the presence of their shepherd, the Boston pilgrims learned in a tangible way that Cardinal Seán truly cares for them; he is no longer someone they have just heard about, he is their shepherd whose voice they hear. Thank you Lord!
As this contingent of Boston's WYD pilgrims made their way they encountered tens of thousands of fellow pilgrims (young people accompanied by their witnesses) from all over the world. The catholicity of this encounter opens the minds of the young people to something so much greater than themselves. Their presence offers a gift to so many, and the presence of the multitudes offers a gift in return -- a kind of Holy Communion takes place. United as one body in Christ young people, locally, nationally and internationally pray and celebrate faith and life in a variety of ways (Holy Mass, festivals, concerts, random gatherings and interactions, and the Vigil, etc.).
It is within this context that the Holy Father, the successor of St. Peter, descends upon the multitudes. As young people on pilgrimage begin to experience and understand their Catholic faith, in the context of so many witnesses, they begin to understand the vastness of the Church, and the significance of the Vicar of Christ on earth. They are in awe of him! To catch a glimpse of the pope as he drives by, or to just be in his presence, creates memories that will last forever. When he speaks, they listen: "So do not keep Christ to yourselves! Share with others the joy of your faith. The world needs the witness of your faith..." (Mass at Cuatro Vientos, Aug. 21, 2011).
Thank you Lord for your good and faithful witnesses: they are the ones working hard to till the soil so that our young people will be "rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith" (Col 2:7). For all of the witnesses to Jesus Christ laboring among our young people in the Archdiocese of Boston, I say: thank you Lord!