I would like to apologize to you, my readers. I have been a slacker recently. As I'm sure you've noticed, my last several posts have been video-heavy. I seek to remedy that with this post.
Unfortunately, I did not get to go to World Youth Day in Madrid this year. Seeing the images, videos, and media coverage of World Youth Day over the past two weeks though, I was struck by something heavy. I was reminded of the immortal words of Josef Stalin. Yes, you heard me correctly. World Youth Day, a gathering of about 1.5 million faithful Catholic young adults publicly proclaiming their faith and praising God, reminded me of the greatest mass-murderer in human history. No, hear me out, I'm not completely insane... just a little bit. I was reminded of the famous quote wherein Stalin says, in 1935, "The Pope! How many divisions has he got?" Stalin was, of course, dismissing the power and influence of the Pope with the Russian people. But there was a larger meaning there. Stalin, indeed Communism as a whole, hated religion, and Catholicism in particular. The irony of all this is that Communism fell just over 50 years later with nary a shot being fired, largely due to one man: The Pope of Rome, His Holiness Blessed John Paul The Great. It was his Papal visit to his homeland of Poland in 1979 was the beginning of the end for Communism. Lech Walesa, the founder of the Polish movement Solidarity, credited JP2 with giving the Poles the courage to rise up and throw off the shackles of Atheism, Communism, and Soviet domination. He inspired those Poles, he gave them hope, something they had not had for over 30 years. That was then. Flash forward 30 years, and you arrive at the present.
Hope. Above all else, that is what World Youth Day gave me. Hope is the heavy object God hit me with as I was watching coverage of WYD 2011. Let me be clear, I often suffer from a lack of hope for the world. Seriously, ask my mother. I have no lack of Hope for my future, or the future of my friends and family. I tend to think that the world may very well be going to Hell in a hand basket. It is a problem that I struggle with on a daily basis. It is an oft-heard complaint these last 5 years that Pope Benedict XVI is not a charismatic as JP2. That Der Panzer Pope is a stuffy traditionalist, out of touch with today's average Catholic. Ha! Almost 2 MILLION young Catholics, the very people B16 is supposed to be out of touch with, flocked to Madrid from all over the world to see him, to hear him speak, and, above all, to worship our Heavenly Father with him. They came to see this man, this frail, kinda creepy-looking 82 year-old Bavarian theologian.
What attracts my generation to this man? The answer: Love. It is telling that the average of this year's WYD participant is 22. That means that this WYD was attended not just by the remnants of the JP2 generation, but also by the B16 generation. Like me, the majority of the pilgrims grew and matured with Papa Benedict as our Holy Father. It is not valid, then, to say that the crowds in Madrid were drawn by the remnants of JP2's charisma. This year, the crowds were drawn by B16 himself. And you know that every one of those 1.5 million pilgrims represents at least 10 others who wish they could have been there.
A great example of why we are drawn to our Papa is this: the night before the last day of WYD, there was a vigil held at the airfield. B16 was in the middle of a speech when a freak thunderstorm blew in. Frankly, it reminded me of a Texas supercell from the descriptions. It poured, it blew, dust was picked up and whipped the pilgrims. Tents were ripped apart and blown around, some people were hurt. And yet, nobody wanted to leave. Many of the pilgrims, in fact, started dancing and singing, grateful for a break from the heat. Pope Benedict's skullcap was blown from his head and he was forced to abandon his speech, and those wonderful men whose job it is to look after his well-being urged him to leave and take shelter. He didn't leave his flock. Under a large white umbrella, he waited out the storm in solidarity with his children.
These holy youth are inspired by the Pope. He leads, and he speaks to us not as unintelligent children, but as young men and women of God, coming into our own in this fallen world and seeking Truth and Love. He understands that we, the future of the Church, desire to be challenged not coddled. We hunger for red meat, while the vast world tries to feed us cake. Pope Benedict XVI understands this. He challenges us, teaches us. We recognize that the enormous sacrifice of Christ on the Cross requires a similarly huge commitment to living his Gospel in the world, even when it's not the politically-correct or popular thing to do, and he points us to the Church and the Sacraments as the way to follow Christ. We are young. We are positive. We are smart. We are energetic. We are strong. And we are willing to sacrifice in order to re-form our fallen world into a better image of Christ's love for us, despite the costs to ourselves. We are not interested in reforming the Church, letting priests marry, ordaining women, letting gay people marry, popular elections of Bishops, or introducing democracy to the church. We are content with the church as it is and, if anything, wish to go back to the old customs. We seek out the full glory of the Sacred Traditions. We seek and recognize true Beauty in life. We are the Pope's divisions, and, if we are any indication, the future of he church looks bright indeed.