ROME — Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, 71, archbishop of Toronto, was in Rome in mid-June working with the Pontifical Council for the Laity on preparations for World Youth Day 2002, which will take place in his city next July. Zenit news service spoke with him about the significance of the event.
The World Youth Days have always exerted a powerful attraction. In August of last year, 2 million youths gathered in the Eternal City. What impact do these events have on young people's lives?
I began to follow the World Youth Days in a more direct way by participating in the one in Denver in 1993. I have seen that these young people, in Denver, Manila, Paris and Rome have faith and live faith experiences in their daily life.
They come from believing families, and school also helps them make their faith concrete. However, the World Days give them an additional charge: They are among other believing youths like themselves. In everyday life, at times one can be afraid of showing one's faith, while in concentrations like this they feel happy to find others with whom they can share the same experience.
The great collective experience allows them to experience another way of living the faith in another environment. As opposed to us adults, these young people are more conditioned by the environment in which they live. For them, history and geography don't mean much. However, when they can broaden their horizons, they go back home with more courage and a wider view of life.
World Youth Day is seen as a great pilgrimage: One leaves home, goes to the diocese, and finally arrives at the goal of meeting with the Pope. Has a new way of going on pilgrimages has been discovered?
The aspect of pilgrimage is fundamental. Pilgrimage has always been a going apart from daily life to feel free to be and say what one thinks. It is a great experience of liberation, freedom and broadening of horizons.
There are those who say that youth follow the Pope but that later, in everyday choices, they are not in line with the Church. What do you think?
It can happen, of course. However, in the Canadian sociocultural environment, the Church is represented as an institution that has no reason.
When bishops speak on ethical and moral issues they are always “mistaken,” because they make statements that are not in line with the media and the world of economic power that they represent. The Pope is also criticized.
However, when young people meet with the Pope, it is not like this; they are ready to listen. In their heart they think that if the Pope says it, it might be true!
The world of youth is especially sensitive to the great social topics of justice and equality. How does the Church respond?
As Canadian bishops, we have addressed social problems many times. The struggle is difficult because consumerism has caught on forcefully, and youth, in addition, are idealists but often in their life they make quite pragmatic choices.
Very often the ideals are not in line with real life, and it is hard for the world of youth to realize how consumerist their life is. However, in Canada there are many groups that commit themselves in favor of Latin America, carrying forward experiences of solidarity, with effects that are seen in time.
World Youth Day will present Mother Teresa as a relevant figure. Why?
She reminds us that social commitment comes from spirituality. The Missionaries of Charity have to pray many hours a day, and Mother Teresa insisted on this aspect. Otherwise, one runs the risk of losing the proper direction, replacing religious with social commitment.
I was very impressed by what Archbishop Mark MacGrath of Panama said to me years ago: In the first five years, a new community must be strongly rooted spiritually, before moving to the social commitment. There must be a determination to change society, but it must be Christian. This is what Mother Teresa teaches, but also other witnesses, like Jean Vanier.