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Young people give Holy Father an enthusiastic greeting in Madrid.
BY DAVID KERR and MARIANNE MEDLIN
This article has been updated since the afternoon of Aug. 18.
MADRID (EWTN News/CNA) — Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Madrid for World Youth Day 2011 on Aug. 18 to the delight of a massive throng of young people. Over the next four days, he will meet and pray with more than a million young pilgrims.
“I come as the Successor of Peter, to confirm them all in the faith, with days of intense pastoral activity, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life,” he said upon his arrival at Madrid’s Barajas Airport.
Pope Benedict was formally welcomed by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain, along with Cardinal Antonio Rouco of Madrid.
As military bands played the Spanish and Vatican national anthems, an honor guard composed of Spain’s military and, uniquely, a group of schoolboys dressed as mini Swiss Guards met the Pope.
Also there to welcome him were 2,000 enthusiastic young pilgrims waving Spanish and papal flags.
King Juan Carlos thanked Pope Benedict for his third visit to Spain in his six years as Pope, adding, “We interpret this as a very special distinction for our country.” In return, the Pope described Spain as a country “rich in history and in culture through the vitality of its faith, which has borne fruit in so many saints over the centuries.”
Pope Benedict said that the hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims were seeking an alternative to “the prevailing superficiality, consumerism and hedonism, the widespread banalization of sexuality, the lack of solidarity, the corruption” and that “they know that, without God, it would be hard to confront these challenges and to be truly happy.”
“But, with God beside them, they will possess light to walk by and reasons to hope, unrestrained before their highest ideals, which will motivate their generous commitment to build a society where human dignity and true brotherhood are respected.”
During his four-day visit, Pope Benedict will attend a total of nine World Youth Day events. This will include leading young people in the Way of the Cross Aug. 19, hearing their confessions on Aug. 20, and offering Mass for more than a million pilgrims at Madrid’s Cuatro Vientos airport on Aug. 21.
Of the young pilgrims, the Pope said it gives him “great joy to listen to them, pray with them and celebrate the Eucharist with them,” because “they really have a future before them and are not afraid.”
Hence, he said, “World Youth Day brings us a message of hope like a pure and youthful breeze, with rejuvenating scents which fill us with confidence before the future of the Church and the world.”
He then made his way to the papal nuncio’s residence in the popemobile. Pope Benedict was accompanied along the entire route by the cheers of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who chanted “Benedicto! Benedicto!” while showering the popemobile with confetti and balloons. Homemade banners were also in great evidence, with one displaying the message “From Madrid to Heaven
With the Pope.”
Later on, the Pope reminded the youth to “seek the Truth … a person, Jesus Christ.” He also told them to “ground your life in Christ.”
Following the Gospel reading, Matthew 7:24-27, he said the words of Jesus must reach their hearts. Jesus knows the true way to God, he added.
“Use these days to know Christ better,” Pope encouraged the youth.
Pope Benedict XVI told the hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims at World Youth Day in Madrid that they will be happy and at peace if they center their lives on the “solid rock” of Jesus Christ.
Build “your lives upon the firm foundation which is Christ,” he urged. “Then you will be blessed and happy, and your happiness will influence others.”
“They will wonder what the secret of your life is, and they will discover that the rock which underpins the entire building and upon which rests your whole existence is the very person of Christ, your friend, brother and Lord, the Son of God incarnate, who gives meaning to all the universe.”
The Pope made his remarks on the evening of Aug. 18 at the Plaza de Cibeles. The gathering was his first face-to-face meeting with the massive throng of cheering young people gathered from dozens of countries across the globe.
As the popemobile made its way to the plaza through the crowds, Pope Benedict smiled and waved to the thousands of youth waving their national flags and enthusiastically yelling their greetings.
The night’s events included a local group of university students singing for the Pope, an official welcome from archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, gifts being presented by several young people from the various regions of the world.
“Today Madrid is also the capital of the world’s young people, and the gaze of the whole Church is fixed here,” Pope Benedict said. “Let us pray that his message of hope and love will also resound in the hearts of those who are not believers or who have grown distant from the Church.”
In his homily, he drew from the Gospel of Mark reading that contrasts the wise man who built his house on rock and the foolish man who built his house on sand.
When “we do not walk beside Christ our guide, we get lost on other paths, like the path of our blind and selfish impulses, or the path of flattering but self-serving suggestions, deceiving and fickle, which leave emptiness and frustration in their wake,” he said.
But if “you build on solid rock, not only will your life be solid and stable, but it will also help project the light of Christ, shining upon those of your own age and upon the whole of humanity.”
The Pope lamented that many people today create “their own gods” and believe that they need “no roots or foundations” other than themselves.
“They take it upon themselves to decide what is true or not, what is good and evil, what is just and unjust; who should live and who can be sacrificed in the interests of other preferences; leaving each step to chance, with no clear path, letting themselves be led by the whim of each moment.”
He noted that although these temptations are “always lying in wait,” it is important not to give in, since they lead to a fleeting and illusory half life which fails to satisfy.
“We, on the other hand, know well that we have been created free, in the image of God, precisely so that we might be in the forefront of the search for truth and goodness,” he reminded the youth.
We are “responsible for our actions, not mere blind executives, but creative co-workers in the task of cultivating and beautifying the work of creation.”
Pope Benedict encouraged the young pilgrims to use the upcoming days to get to know Christ better. If you are “rooted in him, your enthusiasm and happiness, your desire to go further, to reach the heights, even God himself, will always hold a sure future, because the fullness of life has already been placed within you.”
In his closing remarks, the Pope dedicated “the fruits of this World Youth Day to the most holy Virgin Mary, who said ‘Yes’ to the will of God and teaches us a unique example of fidelity to her divine Son, whom she followed to his death upon the cross.”
“Let us meditate upon this more deeply in the Stations of the Cross. And let us pray that, like her, our Yes to Christ today may also be an unconditional Yes to his friendship, both at the end of this day and throughout our entire lives.”
The Pope will pray the Stations of the Cross with the pilgrims at Cibeles Square on the evening of Friday, Aug. 19 after meeting with college professors and religious sisters earlier in the day. On Aug. 20, he will meet patients at a local hospital and take part in a prayer vigil that night with the young people, as well as hear confessions.
Pope Benedict’s World Youth Day visit will culminate on Sunday, Aug. 21 in an outdoor Mass, which is expected to draw more than 1 million people.
He also imparted his apostolic blessing to those gathered on Aug. 18 before the conclusion of the liturgy.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” beamed Hannah Davidson, an 18-year-old from Kansas. “(My faith) is definitely stronger, and I am going to promote it a lot more.”
Language was no barrier for Pope Benedict’s message to be heard and understood by non-Spanish speakers. Pilgrims were able to listen to the Pope’s message in their native languages through various radio stations with live translations.
The area surrounding Plaza de Cibeles was filled with excited conversations, impromptu dances and cheers following the Pope’s appearance.
Several young people spoke with EWTN News after the address, including Chris Desousa, a 27-year-old from Australia. He said that, so far, his favorite part of the experience was “building up to World Youth Day and actually seeing (the Pope) here. Now he is going to spend the next few days with us!”
“It was beautiful to hear him speak and address all the youth,” he said, with an Australian flag tied around his neck.
For 19-year-old Michael McCormick from Massachusetts, it was powerful to see “people from all over the world who practice the same faith.”
He explained that at home, “it can seem like you are the only one, but (to) see all of these people alive for God is really fantastic,” especially “after a long couple of days in the sun and sitting here for a few hours.”
Even those who were not able to see the Pope directly on stage had meaningful experiences, thanks to the many screens and speakers set up throughout the streets around Plaza de Cibeles.
“His presence here in Spain (is) so exciting,” said Kris Gomez, a 16-year-old from the Philippines. Even though she did not get to see him drive by, “him being here was just … wooh!”