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BY FATHER ALFONSO AGUILAR, LCRegister Correspondent
Today’s youth have
often been considered a “lost cause” for the Christian faith and the moral
renewal of society — especially European youth.
But if you joined the
25,000 young people gathered at the vigil celebration of the Fourth European
University Day held March 11 in Paul VI Hall, you would get a different
These young men and
women came from all over Italy and other nations to spend a Saturday evening
praying the Rosary with the Holy Father. The vigil began at 5 p.m., but by 4
p.m., Paul VI Hall was already packed with 10,000 people. The other 15,000
youth followed the celebration from the big screens in St. Peter’s Square. I
was fortunate enough to get inside the hall with some students from Rome’s
Regina Apostolorum University.
It wasn’t a Saturday
night disco party.
Before the Pope
arrived, the World Youth Day cross was brought from the back of the hall to the
stage by a delegation of 11 nations — seven from Europe and four from Africa.
Prayers, readings, songs and testimonies were offered via satellite from three
From Francisco de
Vitoria University in Spain, Cardinal Antonio Rouco of Madrid led a prayer for
the eternal repose of the 192 victims who died in the train bombings that took
place in Madrid the same day two years ago.
As scheduled, the Pope
arrived at 6 p.m. All of us welcomed him with cheers and a standing ovation.
The Holy Father was happy. He surprised us by starting to shake hands with the
people who were in the lobby of the hall, outside the big auditorium.
Then, he proceeded
through the main corridor greeting as many faithful as he could on his way to
the stage. “Ben-edet-to! Ben-edet-to!”
we chanted rhythmically.
Each one of the
participants received the celebration’s booklet, a candle, a commemorative cap,
and a multi-media CD-ROM with the encyclical Deus Caritas Est and other religious and cultural materials. The
Holy Father gave printed copies of his first encyclical to some of the young
reflected the catholicity of the
Church. It was connected via satellite to groups of young people and their
bishops in cathedrals and shrines in Madrid and Salamanca (Spain), Munich
(Germany), Fribourg (Switzerland), Dublin (Ireland), Sofia (Bulgaria), St.
Petersburg (Russia), Owerri (Nigeria), Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Antananarivo
(Madagascar) and Nairobi (Kenya).
Students from Salamanca
led a brief rite in remembrance of our baptism. Then, young people from five of
the participating cities each led a decade of the Rosary in their native
language. Every decade was introduced by a special intention, the reading of a
Gospel passage, and the Our Father recited by the Holy Father in Latin.
Benedict prayed the
whole Rosary kneeling before a beautiful icon of Our Lady that stood at the
center of the stage. Behind the Pope and the icon stood the large sculpture of
the resurrected Christ. It was a meaningful picture: Mary and the Vicar of
Christ lead us to Christ mostly through prayer.
At the end of each
decade, we all sang the Latin version of the Ave Maria. How moving. Catholic
youth from various racial, cultural and linguistic backgrounds prayed to Christ
through Mary in a common language.
“This was,” Benedict
said in his final remarks, “a beautiful sign of the communion in the Catholic
The Catholic communion
was beautifully expressed in the heavenly singing and music. Some 3,500 young
voices from 97 Italian choirs sang in splendid harmony. The professional
orchestra was formed by the best musicians from 29 groups.
After the Rosary and
the Pope’s blessing, the World Youth Day cross was carried by the youth from
Paul VI Hall to the Church of St. Agnes in Rome’s Piazza Navona. The procession
was interspersed with the recitation of the Stations of the Cross. Each of the
stations was animated by various ecclesial movements with songs, readings and
No doubt, many young
people in our secular nations are spiritually thirsty. How could you otherwise
explain that thousands of them are willing to make big sacrifices to pray the
Rosary with a 78-year-old Pope and carry a heavy wooden cross through the
streets of Rome?
The theme of this vigil
was “Christian Humanism as a Way of New Cooperation Between Europe and Africa.”
We may be witnessing
the dawn of a new Christian humanism established by the Vicar of Christ and the
Alfonso Aguilar teaches
philosophy at Rome’s
Regina Apostolorum University.