Written by Andre Regnier
Seeing great potential in young people, John Paul II started up the World Youth Days in Rome 1985. This has proven to be a significant and providential event, awaking the potential of our young people and revitalizing youth ministry in the host country. If you have ever had the opportunity to be at a World Youth Day hosted by John Paul II, it was surely evident that JPII was able to build a great connection with young people. Regularly the crowds would shout out, “John Paul II, we love you” and he would respond, “John Paul II loves you too”, and the crowds would erupt with cheer. I believe that the respect, influence and authority he had with the youth came from his willingness to challenge young people to such heroic lifestyles and missionary action.
In Rome 2000, 2.2 million young people spent a night under the stars at Tor Vergate, Italy. I saw the willingness of young people to respond to the Pope when he challenged them the next day to be the saints of the new millennium. He was not asking them to confidently and quietly fit into the culture. He was asking them to rise up and influence the world around them. Without hesitation, the ground shook as they responded with a united “yes”. I saw the “yes” of these young people, who came from all over the world, as a beautiful sign of hope for the Church and for the world.
As a movement, we are constantly referring back to his words and we are committed to responding with our “yes”. But this “yes” is not a sentimental gesture of love and respect for the Vicar of Christ, rather it is a commitment to action. This commitment to action became clear to me at WYD 2002 in Toronto. Everyone was trying to position themselves so that they could get a glimpse of this great man as he passed by in his Pope mobile. I was with Brett (Powell) who had never seen the Pope before. We were unable to get anywhere near the path the Pope was taking so to help him get a good look, I placed him on my shoulders. Evidently, this did not give him much of an advantage simply by the fact that I am only 5’ 3” tall. While he was up there waiting to catch sight of the Pope, I was thinking of how I didn’t care if I could see him or not. My commitment to him was not to see and wave but was to do what he wanted me to do. That is what WYD meant to us. It was a time to get our marching orders. What mattered to us was not that we got a good look at him, but that rather that we were hearing clearly what he had to say and then to respond by going and doing it.
In Toronto 2002, these are the words we heard:
The twentieth century often tried to do without that cornerstone, and attempted to build the city of man without reference to Him. It ended by actually building that city against man… The aspiration that humanity nurtures, amid countless injustices and sufferings, is the hope of a new civilization marked by freedom and peace. But for such an undertaking, a new generation of builders is needed. Moved not by fear or violence but by the urgency of genuine love, they must learn to build, brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man. Allow me…to consign this hope of mine to you: you must be those “builders!” …God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting,of working with him in the building of the civilization of love. (3,4)
Address by the Holy Father John Paul II 17th World Youth Day Evening Vigil. Toronto, July 27, 2002
Blessed John Paul II has consigned this hope upon you and I: that we would build the city of God in the midst of the city of man, one brick (person) at a time. Let our “yes” be “yes”.