Nowadays, everything seems to be going wrong with Western — especially European — youth.
Among them we find few marriages and much rebellion, lots of drugs and alcohol, religious indifference and moral relativism.
Yet we see hundreds of thousands of young people from all over Europe and the Americas cheering the Vicar of Christ at every World Youth Day.
On Aug. 9, I took part in a sort of a small-scale World Youth Day. The Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain, brought 5,000 young men and women to meet Pope Benedict XVI at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
The pilgrimage was the result of a youth mission organized by the three dioceses in the state of Madrid. For months, young people visited homes and schools to speak about the faith and invite them to the 10-day bus pilgrimage to Gerona, Spain, and to Genoa, Pisa, Assisi and Rome.
Every summer, the Pope stays in the little town of Castel Gandolfo, located on top of a hill about 30 miles south of Rome. He returns to the Vatican only on Wednesdays for his weekly general audience.
The Spanish youth didn’t mind waking up at 5 a.m. to take a bus ride to get to Castel Gandolfo. They weren’t bothered by having to walk up the slope toward the town center for a couple of miles and line up for three hours in the sun before the orange, Renaissance-style facade of the papal palace.
They sang and talked enthusiastically. They expressed joy as if they were graduating from high school or college, and behaved as if they were in a sacred place.
They came from Spain to see the Pope — their pope.
“Esta es la juventud del Papa” (“This is the Pope’s youth”) they chanted as soon as Benedict appeared on the courtyard balcony of the palace at 11 a.m. With a big smile, the Holy Father waved at them energetically.
“Muchas gracias (Many thanks),” he said repeatedly. “In this way, you show your love for the Pope, successor of the Apostle Peter, and your commitment to give yourselves and to serve the Church of Jesus Christ.”
About 3,000 youth fit in the courtyard of the palace. The remaining 2,000 stayed outside in the town’s square and followed the event on a large screen. Two Swiss Guards faced them from the arched bronze door.
At the end of the 40-minute audience, Benedict went to the outside balcony of the papal palace to greet the pilgrims that could not fit in the courtyard.
After the greeting from Archbishop of Madrid Cardinal Antonio María Rouco, the Holy Father and the youth listened to four testimonies. One of them came from Jesús, a 25-year-old man who, working on the youth mission, decided to become a priest.
“Never stop cultivating your personal encounter with Christ,” the Pope said. “Hold Christ in the center of your heart. In this way, all your life will become a mission. You will be able to show the Christ that lives within you.”
The youth listened attentively. Italian police and carabinieri were at ease — an unusual calm reigned over the crowded courtyard and square.
“Being young, you will soon discern about your future,” the Holy Father said. “Discern it in the light of Christ. Ask him, ‘What do you want of me?’ Generously and trustfully, follow the path he will show you, knowing that by baptism each of us — with no exception — is called to be holy and a living member of the Church in whatever way of life we are called to.”
At these words, the youth clapped cheerfully, as if they enjoyed being challenged to reach holiness.
The words were counter-cultural, indeed. Young people are usually invited to enjoy themselves, rebel against authority and do whatever they want without taking any responsibility.
By their numbers and behavior, the pilgrims from Madrid demonstrated that “the Gospel deeply draws the youth,” as Benedict said in his address.
Yes, it is possible to pass on the faith to Generation Y. They, like all youth from all ages, thirst for love and truth. They look for high, noble and lasting ideals.
They want Christ.
The Holy Father knows this well. That’s why he teaches them about Christ and encourages them to join “the fascinating adventure of bringing to others the ineffable joy of finding oneself being loved by God — the only love that never fails and never ends.”
A deep crisis of faith and values lingers over the West. But the Pope’s youth in Castel Gandolfo proved once more that the West is far from dying.
Legionary of Christ Father Alfonso Aguilar
teaches philosophy at Regina Apostolorum University in Rome.