John Paul II Novena – Day 4 of 9 – WYD Toronto 2002: His Last World Youth Day

Written by Jeff Lockert

After my return from World Youth Day in Rome in August of 2000, I had a deep sense that the next World Youth Day (planned for Toronto in 2002) would extremely significant. Yet I couldn’t have imagined how truly significant it would be for CCO, for the Church in Canada, and for the universal Church.

Leading up to the great event in July 2002, we sought as a movement to lay it all on the line. We invested ourselves completely and to the fullest extent that we could. We planned to get as many students there as possible. We created a special summer Impact mission to train up students. We brought the entire staff team together to attend the WYD. We volunteered during and after. We set up a CCO information booth at the vocation pavilion. We had the Ultimate Relationship booklet translated and printed in English, French and Spanish and distributed a combined total of close to 20,000. We animated Catechises sessions and put on a huge evening youth festival. We poured our complete energies and more into the World Youth Day knowing it would be a moment of grace for the Church in Canada. It was through this full commitment that our deep friendship with Fr. Rosica was formed, since he was the CEO of the World Youth Day.

From the very first moments when JPII landed in Toronto, one could already sense that these were historic moments. Because of the Pope’s ailing health, a special elevator had been built to take him down from the plane. But with vigour and courage he defiantly walked down the stairs, almost to say that anything can be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. In his very first speech, which was addressed to the Prime Minister who greeted him, JPII complemented our country and reminded us to stay true to our foundations:

But the core of [Canadian] heritage is the spiritual and transcendent vision of life based on Christian revelation which gave vital impetus to your development as a free, democratic and caring society, recognized throughout the world as a champion of human rights and human dignity. I pray that the World Youth Day will offer all Canadians an opportunity to remember the values that are essential to good living and to human happiness.

There were a lot historical moments being generated for CCO too. Perhaps you also recall seeing the famous JESUS signs? It was at this WYD that they were created and often photographed. Throughout the rest of the WYD, there continued to be these profound moments where JPII spoke powerfully to youth of the world and to us in Canada. I recall many times when it was as if Pope John Paul II was speaking right to us. Certainly the final Mass at Downsview Park was one of those moments.

After a torrential rain storm and incredible winds, the clouds parted as JPII began his homily (this type of miraculous weather improvement happened a number of times around JPII throughout his ministry). The sun began to shine and he began what we now know was his final WYD homily ever. None of us knew that WYD in Toronto would be his last, but we had a sense from the way he spoke that he seemed to know it would be. He was giving his final exhortation to the youth of the world and every word was carefully chosen. Towards the end of his homily he said, “You are young, and the Pope is old and a bit tired.” Immediately, the entire crowd of close to 1 million people started spontaneously shouting, “Pope is young, Pope is young!” He looked up from his paper, smiled and said off-script, “81 or 82 is not the same as 21 or 22.” And then he continued with his parting exhortation to the youth of the world, including CCO:

Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.

Pope John Paul II’s final word was “hope!” We have spoken many times about how CCO is a movement of hope. And I think JPII knew this. In fact I think we brought him a lot of hope personally as he learned more about CCO in the years that followed. His words from that final homily are still relevant today, especially as we prepare for his beatification. As CCO missionaries, let us stake our lives on hope and continue in prayer towards Divine Mercy Sunday.

To read the final homily of Pope John Paul II in Toronto, click here:

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