World Youth Day was initiated by Blessed Pope John Paul in 1985. It is celebrated annually, and at a week-long international level every two to three years at different locations. The international level events attract hundreds of thousands of youth from almost every country on the planet. It is a major part of the upsurge in Catholic Youth Work. For example, the Director of Catholic Youth Services has said of the event... that it would have far-reaching effects, not restricted to those who attended. Well, it had an effect on me last night. We hadn't planned to watch the whole thing, but I sat there, mesmerized, and didn't want to turn it off. Several of our youth and our former Priest left for Rome and Madrid last week. The kids have been doing all kinds of projects to earn the money to be able to go. They have held bake sales, garage sales, etc for over a year now.
We turned on just as the Pope was leaving to attend the event. Thousands greeted him on the streets of Madrid. He is an old man, but you would never know it...he has such stamina and grace. The crowds had waited for six or more hours in the hot sun....remember, they were standing all that time. It was the height of the day and people were fanning themselves with paper fans anything they could find. I understand that the police were spraying the crowd with water from time to time. There were hats of all kinds. There was the Pope in his, it seemed to me, very warm vestments. The crowds greeted him in all different languages. Flags waving from every nation. The sun was still high, beating down on the pilgrims as they watched the giant wooden World Youth Day Cross come to rest before the first station. It was carried, in turn, along the path marking Christ’s passion, by young Christians from Iraq, from Rwanda, from Spain, from earthquake victims in Japan and Haiti, young Catholics with disabilities, young men and women who have recovered from addiction. At each station were beautiful statues ...centuries old, depicting each part of Christ's final hours. I believe that these statues belong to Spain. At each station the youth carrying the Cross changed. One station was particularly meaningful. The cross was carried by people with disabilities. A young man, with Down's Syndrome, led the way, carrying the foot of the Cross. Most of the youth were very serious and didn't smile...but here was this young man with the biggest smile on his face. He was leading the way and made me smile. Tonight the Rosary will be said by thousands of youth. I read that they handed out 600,000 Rosaries to all the kids attending.It should be a very beautiful event.