VATICAN CITY — The attendance response to a Pentecost weekend event for Church movements has exceeded the Vatican’s expectations by 50,000 people.
“Over 120,000 people have signaled their attendance; around 150 ecclesial realities coming from around the world are registered, attesting to the fact that the Church’s Catholicity knows no boundaries,” said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
“The Year of Faith is going better than what I thought, because the response has been great so far,” he remarked in a May 15 interview with Catholic News Agency.
“We expected 70,000 people, and we’re reaching double the numbers,” he added.
The Vatican has organized the May 18-19 weekend for Church movements to gather in Rome as part of the Year of Faith, an initiative aimed at evangelizing and helping Catholics become more fervent in faith.
The Church movements are typically focused on presenting the Gospel in depth, building and promoting Christian community, and preparing their members to witness to their faith in the public square.
“New movements and associations are the young face of the Church, and it’s a fruit of the Second Vatican Council,” the archbishop explained.
Participants in the weekend will have a chance to experience the faith in several ways. Starting at 7am on May 18, groups of around 50 people will be guided by experts in theology on a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s tomb inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Later in the afternoon, between 3-6pm, members of the Focolare movement’s Gen Verde musical group, along with a choir of more than 150 singers from the various movements, will provide music for those gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Once the music has finished, Pope Francis will join in the celebration with a prayer in front of the image of the Virgin Mary Salus Populi Romani (Saving Health of the Roman People). The event will continue with two strong testimonies by Irish writer John Waters and Pakistani surgeon Paul Bhatti, whose brother was killed by the Taliban for standing up against the country’s blasphemy law. Members of the movements will then ask the Pope some questions, which he will respond to in off-the-cuff remarks. A large group of people with disabilities, the parents of a child killed in L’Aquila’s earthquake and Italian politicians from the Communion and Liberation movement will be among those attending.
The weekend ceremony will conclude on Sunday with Pentecost Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at 10am in St. Peter’s Square.
The archbishop explained that Pope Benedict XVI launched the Year of Faith to call people to be witnesses of faith.
“On the other hand, the new Pope’s presence and his simplicity is attracting many people to Rome who want to listen, touch and see him,” said Archbishop Fisichella.
“This is great,” said the archbishop, “and it’s in some way an effect of the Year of Faith, especially seeing Pope Francis being the first witness.”