World Youth Day celebrations begin
— Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims attend the Opening Mass in Cibeles Square, Madrid
By Marin Dunlop in Madrid
World Youth Day 2011 officially began in Madrid on Tuesday evening with the celebration of Mass in the city’s Cibeles Square.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims—including more than 300 young Catholics from Scotland—gathered at the square in the late evening sun and lined the surrounding streets for the celebration, which was led by Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid.
He was joined in celebrating Mass by some 800 bishops, archbishops and cardinals and a further 8000 priests, representing the 193 nations organisers believe have gathered in Madrid for the event.
Tuesday evening’s Mass was dedicated to Blessed John Paul II, who founded World Youth Day—the Church’s largest international gathering—in 1984 and who is the patron of this year’s celebrations.
In his homily Cardinal Rouco said that World Youth Day is inseparable from Pope John Paul II, ‘the Pope of the young.’ He added that the traditions of Blessed John Paul II have been continued by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who was due to arrive in Madrid on Thursday.
Cardinal Rouco also echoed the present Holy Father’s message to the UK’s young Catholics last September when he said in his homily: “Do not be afraid of being a saint. Let Christ live in your heart. Respond to Him with a ‘yes’ that is full of excitement and generosity of life.”
The Madrid archbishop reminded the pilgrims of the theme of this year’s WYD—Planted and built up in Christ, firm in the Faith—and urged young people in the 21st century to follow the path of ‘the humble, simple pilgrim.’
Speaking about the challenges of living their Faith, Cardinal Rouco told the young pilgrims that ‘your place in life has its own characteristics’ and ‘your problems and circumstances have changed.’
“Globalisation, new technologies of communication, the economic crisis, and so on, have determined how you are, for the better and, often for the worse,” he said. “Not founding a solid foundation for your lives in today’s society and culture, nor often in the family, it is powerfully tempting for you to go to the limit and lose direction on the path of life.”
Message for pilgrims
Cardinal Rouco’s message was reaffirmed by the Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, who spoke to pilgrims following the end of the Mass.
“You have come to say aloud to the whole world—and in particular Europe, which is showing sings of being very lost —your unwavering ‘Yes,’” Cardinal Rylko said. “Yes, Faith is possible. It is, in fact, a wonderful adventure that allows us to discover the magnitude and beauty of life.”
As the SCO went to press this week, pilgrims in Madrid were preparing for Thursday’s arrival of Pope Benedict, who will perform a welcome ceremony for young people, a Way of the Cross prayer service, address pilgrims participating in an overnight vigil and celebrate WYD 2011’s closing Mass as part of his itinerary during his four-day visit to the Spanish capital.
The staging of WYD in Madrid has, however, been a source of anger for some members of the Spanish public and a protest against the event was planned for Wednesday evening, on the eve of the Holy Father’s arrival. Many of those expected to protest are angry at the use of public funding and tax breaks to help finance a religious celebration during an economic crisis.
Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, said, however, that the planned protests are ‘not worrying or surprising’ to the Vatican, particularly because ‘there are hundreds and thousands of young people who will be happy to welcome the Pope.’
“It seems to me that before every Papal trip there are demonstrations by people who have a different opinion and use the occasion to express their problems or concerns…it is part of life in a democratic country,” Fr Lombardi said.