The World Youth Days have a lasting effect on the young people that participate from around the world. And the same is true for the host cities. In this special presentation for the ten year anniversary of WYD Toronto, former National Director and CEO of WYD Toronto, and current CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. visits some of the memorable sites, recounts the event and shares his personal memories of Blessed John Paul II with host Sebastian Gomes.
How John Paul II was close to me in WYD 2002
We sow seeds, often unknowingly, which yield fruit and great meaning in the future. Sow generously, God gives the growth. This is the story of a little table that brought someone close to John Paul II.
In 2002, I was 16 years old and had just finished grade 10. That summer was to be my first time attending World Youth Day. My parents raised me Catholic and every Sunday we went diligently to mass. I remember often resisting going to mass, and just felt too bored by the whole experience of being Catholic. During those years of my life I had no interest in anything religious. Going to World Youth Day that summer was going to be more a trip to be with “friends” than an anticipated spiritual experience. I look back now, particularly with our celebration of World Youth Day Toronto’s 10th anniversary and recall to myself the seeds that were planted and the story that was to unexpectedly unfold.
My father is a carpenter, he works for a company that owns many apartment buildings throughout the Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph and Cambridge area. The daughter of the owner of the company is married to Scott, who was responsible for sound system in Downsview Park. Leading up to the week of World Youth Day the Cardinal in charge of the main stage made it known that custom “furniture” was necessary for the Holy Father’s visit. Scott got wind of this need and contacted Frank, my father’s boss. My dad, known to be a Polish man who practiced his faith was asked: “Would you like to build a special table and podium for John Paul II?” [Read more...]
Watch the full video of John Paul II being greeted by the Youth of the World in Exhibition Place, 2002.
Watch the entire video of John Paul II’s arrival into Toronto on July 24, 2002.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of WYD 2002 Toronto. To celebrate we’ll be taking a look back at main events of that WYD, and talking to people who participated as pilgrims or volunteers to see where they are ten years later. Above is our Perspectives Daily show for July 23, which features Fr. Thomas Rosica remembering JPII’s arrival at Exhibition Place, an interview with one of the young men who served as a portageur and worked with the International Liturgy Group. There are also scenes from the moving arrival ceremony at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Stay tuned all week for more highlights of WYD 2002 and to find out what impact that event had on young people’s lives.
Were you in Madrid this summer for World Youth Day? Were you, like so many others, in the middle of an immense sea of people unable to get the view you wanted? WYD Madrid just uploaded this video to their still-active YouTube page, a one hour look back at whole week of WYD. Titled “The Story of an Unforgettable Week”, the video includes footage from TeleMadrid and 13TV, the official broadcasters of World Youth Day Madrid. You’ll enjoy the excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI’s homilies.
By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB for The B.C. Catholic
This is an excerpt from a speech given in June by Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, called, “Is the Media Against the Catholic Church, and Why?”
The challenge and opportunity I wish to mention is what the Church has learned from the media about World Youth Days, and what the media has learned from the Church’s experience of them.
I cannot help but recall Cardinal James Francis Stafford’s stirring words spoken to the throngs of young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square and its vicinity at the opening ceremonies of the rather apocalyptic Jubilee World Youth Day Aug. 15, 2000.
Addressing a visibly moved and aging Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Stafford said, “Holy Father! These young people come as pilgrims from 157 nations. Not too long ago it was ominous when thousands of young people moved across national borders. Citizens trembled in fear. They closed and barricaded their doors. Those hosts of young men signified armies of war, instruments of destruction, plague, and darkness.
“At your initiative, Holy Father, these young men and women of Europe and of the world have formed a different kind of army. They are ‘on pilgrimage from the Lord.’ They reflect the beauty envisioned by you and the Fathers of the Council.”
In 2002 World Youth Day hit Toronto at a very low ebb of the Church’s history. The historical backdrop included the aftermath of September 11 and a world steeped in terror, fear and war; a Church enmeshed in a major sex abuse scandal in the United States with a Pontiff who was visibly aging and feeble; and a Canadian culture of religious indifference and increasing secularity… …Read More
Jesus made his own the call to holiness already addressed by God to the people of the old covenant: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev 19:2)”. He repeated it continually by word and by the example of his life. Especially in the Sermon on the Mount he left to the Church a code of Christian holiness. The history of Christian holiness is the proof that by living in the spirit of the Beatitudes proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:3-12), Christ’s exhortation in the parable of the vine and the branches is realized: “Abide in me, and I in you…. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (Jn 15:4, 5). These words are verified in many ways in the lives of individual Christians, thereby showing, down the centuries, the manifold riches and beauty of the holiness of the Church.
Become the Saints of the New Millennium
Pope John Paul II spoke frequently to young people about the call to holiness and the vocation to be saints. Who can forget his message for World Youth Day 2000 in Rome? He wrote to his dear young friends throughout the world unforgettable words that became the rallying cry for the Jubilee’s greatest celebration: “Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity”.
Two years later for World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, John Paul II took up once again the theme of holiness and saints in The Way of the Cross on Good Friday in his Private Chapel (25 March 2005)his message to the young people of the world: “Just as salt gives flavor to food and light illumines the darkness, so too holiness gives full meaning to life and makes it reflect God’s glory. How many saints, especially young saints, can we count in the Church’s history! In their love for God their heroic virtues shone before the world, and so they became models of life which the Church has held up for imitation by all…. Through the intercession of this great host of witnesses, may God make you too, dear young people, the saints of the third millennium!”
At the concluding Mass of Canada’s World Youth Day at Downsview Park on Sunday, 28 July, 2002, Pope John Paul issued a stirring challenge that still resounds in North America, in particular, today: “And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit, just as Kateri Tekakwitha did here in America and so many other young people have done”.
In announcing the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne – an event he would not live to see, Pope John Paul II sent a letter to the young people of the world: “Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession.”
Attending his first World Youth Day as pope, Benedict XVI built on the his predecessor’s repeated invitations to young people and at the great vigil of Cologne’s World Youth Day on August 20, 2005, Benedict cried out at Marienfeld:
“It is the great multitude of the saints – both known and unknown – in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture-book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today.”
“The saints… are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.”
Friends of God
During his Pontificate, Pope John Paul II proclaimed 1,338 Blesseds and 482 Saints. Young adults need heroes and heroines today, and the Pope gave us outstanding models of holiness and humanity. In a world that desperately seeks authentic heroes and heroines, John Paul II presented us with the real heroes and heroines of the faith who will never let us down.
Pope John Paul II reminded us that the heroes and heroines the world offers the world today are terribly flawed. They leave us so empty. The real “stars” of Pope John Paul II are the Saints and Blesseds who did not try to be regarded as heroes, or to shock or provoke. He taught us that the saints aren’t just people to turn to when something is lost or a situation seems hopeless; they are examples to follow in prayer and in efforts to reform and renew the church. If we befriend the blesseds and saints and imitate their lives, we too embark on the path of holiness.
We must honestly ask ourselves if the Holy Father’s important teaching on the Blesseds and Saints has become an integral part of our catechesis, Evangelization and formation of young people today. Have we have placed our pastoral work with young people under the heading of holiness? Have we invited them to truly desire to be saints?
When the throngs of people — so many of them the young men and women who were his spiritual sons and daughters — began chanting “Santo Subito” at the end of the Pope’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really chanting? They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He looked at us, loved us, embraced us, healed us and gave us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.
If the Church proclaims Pope John Paul II blessed, it is because he lived with God, relying totally on God’s infinite, divine mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. Pope John Paul II gave flesh and blood to the Beatitudes throughout his entire lifetime. He let us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and showed us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he was surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life. Is it any wonder, then, that millions of young people throughout the world loved him and took up his invitation to become the “saints of the new millennium?”
The Church is the “home of holiness” and holiness is our most accurate image, our authentic calling card, and our greatest gift to the world. It describes best who and what we are and strive to be. In the life of Karol Wojtyla, holiness was contagious. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but a Father who was and is Holy. On 2 April, 2005, he died a public, global death that stopped the world for several days. On 8 April, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching and blessing us ‘from the window of the Father’s House’”.
As we prepare for Sunday May 1, 2011, the Beatification of this great servant and priest, and a real hero for young people today, let us beg his intercession and blessing. May he intercede for us and give us the desire to become holy and to be saints.
Thomas Rosica, csb, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada; Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; served as National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002, Canada
Interview with Robert Légère, Who Depicted Jesus in the Stations
TORONTO, DEC. 25, 2002 (Zenit.org) Robert Légère is best known for his depiction of Jesus during the Way of the Cross last summer at World Youth Day.
Légère, 25, was born in St. Louis de Kent, New Brunswick. He graduated from the University of Moncton with a degree in finance, and attended the Information Technology Institute in Moncton. After graduating, he moved to Toronto where he has spent the past two years working for Multiple Retirement Services. He has no theatrical training.
Robert was first introduced to World Youth Day by his girlfriend who first attended WYD in her home country of the Philippines, then in Rome two years ago. He says: “I never dreamed I would be playing Jesus in an event like this.”
ZENIT: Christmas is the coming of Christ among us. The Way of the Cross in Toronto was, in many ways, a coming of Christ among the people on the principal streets of a modern city. What did the Way of the Cross mean for the people of Toronto, and what did it mean for you?
Légère: It’s hard to say what the Way of the Cross really meant for the people of Toronto in general, but I do know that it was a very powerful experience for the entire city. Hundreds of thousands of people really entered into the pain and suffering of Jesus’ final hours on earth. Some people have stopped me and told me that they where crying as they watched me, as Jesus, dying on the cross.
The entire city came to a standstill that Friday evening, July 26, 2002. I was very moved at seeing thousands of people on their knees as we moved up University Avenue, in the middle of downtown Toronto. People were looking at me and praying. It was a very strange sensation.
I witnessed so much faith and piety that evening. I never thought that something like this would happen in Toronto or, for that matter, in Canada. Having the Way of the Cross re-enacted right in the heart of downtown Toronto was a profound symbol and public statement.
[WYD 2002 coordinator] Father Thomas Rosica and Father Robert Gendreau, the coordinator of the Stations of the Cross, had told us very often that, unless a country and a people like Canada reclaim their deeply Christian origins, we would remain unfaithful to our identity. At first, I didn’t know what they meant. Now, I know exactly what they meant.
For me, the Stations of the Cross was a unique experience. I know I was there, and have the tape to prove it. But it was just my body that was there. My mind wasn’t really there. It was as if something took my body and made me go through the movements and actions. Someone else was leading me that night.
I really don’t remember what happened after the second station. Someone else led me… …Read more
An excerpt of the book: Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Spiritual Writing by Canadians
By Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
In July 2002, Toronto hosted the 17th International World Youth Day. Several hundred thousand young people from 172 nations descended upon the city—and with them came the elderly and infirm Pope John Paul II. To kick off the event on July 23, the pope defied all odds and stunned all critics when he painstakingly walked down the steps of that Alitalia plane at Pearson International Airport instead of using the special lift prepared for him.
To the government officials gathered at the airport and to and the people of Canada, the pope spoke these words: “Canadians are heirs to an extraordinarily rich humanism, enriched even more by the blend of many different cultural elements… In a world of great social and ethical strains, and confusion about the very purpose of life, Canadians have an incomparable treasure to contribute – on condition that they preserve what is deep, and good, and valid in their own heritage.”
Toronto may have lost the Olympic bid two years earlier, but it struck gold with World Youth Day, which I was privileged to serve as director. The sheer numbers of people taking part in the four days of events astounded us. More than 350,000 people packed Exhibition Place on Thursday afternoon, July 25, for the opening ceremony with Pope John Paul II.
Then, the following evening, Toronto’s majestic University Avenue was transformed into the Via Dolorosa of Jerusalem as more than half a million people took part in the ancient Stations of the Cross. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada told us that the worldwide television audience that night was more than a billion people in 160 countries.
The deeply moving Saturday evening candlelight vigil at Downsview Park drew together more than 600,000 people, and the concluding Papal mass on Sunday, with its atmospheric theatrics, gathered 850,000 people at a former military base. Even the most cynical among us could not help but be impressed, even moved by the streams of young people who expressed their joy at being Christians in a complex and war-torn world.
On the tarmac that Saturday evening of the vigil, John Paul II spoke to the young people. “The new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios,” he declared. “One, the sight of multitudes of pilgrims coming to Rome during the Great Jubilee to pass through the Holy Door which is Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer; and the other, the terrible terrorist attack on New York, an image that is a sort of icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail. The question that arises is dramatic: On what foundations must we build the new historical era that is emerging from the great transformations of the 20th century? Is it enough to rely on the technological revolution now taking place, which seems to respond only to criteria of productivity and efficiency, without reference to the individual’s spiritual dimension or to any universally shared ethical values? Is it right to be content with provisional answers to the ultimate questions, and to abandon life to the impulses of instinct, to short-lived sensations or passing fads?”
The provocative images the Pope evoked that night remain engraved on people’s memories. Terrorism, along with ethnic and religious divisions, generates violence that seems to have no end. Economic insecurity raises collective anxieties. And against that backdrop, we heard our challenge – to recover the depth, beauty, and vastness of the church’s mission.
Pedagogy with young people
Pope John Paul II had a particular fascination for and effective ministry among young people. The two largest recorded crowds in history have been for World Youth Day masses. In the midst of those great gatherings and the hundreds of meetings with young people, the pontiff left us pedagogy, a way of meeting and accompanying the young along the journey. One of the hallmarks of his interaction with young people was John Paul II’s calling them “his young friends.” And he meant it. As we observed that summer in Toronto, he enjoyed the company of youth.
Challenge was one of John Paul II’s favorite terms. During World Youth Day, he challenged young people to be “brave,” “strong,” to “have courage.” He saw in the valor of so many of his own contemporaries during World War II the capacity of young people for this type of bravery, courage, and heroism.
His parting words from the Downsview Park stage still resound in my ears: “You are young, and the pope is old; 82 or 83 years of life is not the same as 22 or 23. But the pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations. Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope. Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”
The experiences of World Youth Days in recent years have brought much new life to each of the countries where the great events have taken place. More than five years after the great event of Toronto 2002, we need to take stock of the gifts we received, asking how the vision and hope of John Paul II have impacted our own efforts in pastoral ministry with young people.
What we learned
What have the joy, exuberance, and creativity surrounding the 2002 World Youth Day taught us, and how have they transformed youth and young adult ministry in the Canadian church? Have we followed through with the commitments we made then? How have we initiated a “preferential option” for young people in the church today? How can we give the flavour of the gospel and the light of Christ to the world today?
One of the important goals of World Youth Day is to instill hope and vibrancy in the church—to differ with the cynicism, despair, and meaninglessness so prevalent in the world today. John Paul II knew well that our world today offers fragmentation, loneliness, alienation, and rampant globalization that exploits the poor.
In recent years we have witnessed a phenomenon that our current Pope Benedict once called “a dictatorship of relativism,”—the deconstruction of all objectivity in our perceptions of reality. We have witnessed the crisis of marriage and family life. We see the loss of respect for human life and human dignity. We see the serious crisis of fatherhood in our contemporary world.
The preparation for World Youth Day 2002 offered the Church in Canada some unique and profound moments to deepen our Christian devotion. Many Canadians are unlikely to forget the powerful images of the World Youth Day Cross on its historic, 43,000 kilometre pilgrimage through more than 350 cities, towns and villages – from sea to sea to sea to sea.
The presentation of the Stations of the Cross on Friday evening, July 26, 2002, was a provocative, profound witness of the Christian story in the heart of a modern city. How have we continued this tradition in our parish communities and youth activities? Do we acknowledge the need for solid, biblically, rooted Christian piety and devotion in the lives of young people today?
During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II proclaimed 482 saints. Young adults need heroes and heroines today, and the Pope gave us outstanding models of holiness and humanity at each World Youth Day, especially ours in Canada. The saints and blessed ones remind us that on the path to heaven, we are never finished; we are only and always on the way. When we think of holiness in these terms – as a kind of direction, rather than a destination – we have a sense that what unites us with the saints, our fellow travelers, is much deeper than all that sets us apart.
John Paul II summed up the whole mission as: “Meet Christ, become friends with him, announce to others the miracle of his love!”. His strategy and pedagogy with young people was endless patience; loving closeness and a call to be saints.
The theme of Canada’s 2002 World Youth Day was “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world” taken from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5. This theme served as a leitmotiv during the build-up to World Youth Day 2002, for the event itself, and in the follow-up in local churches throughout the world. It also inspired the establishement Canada’s first national Catholic television network, Salt and Light Television, which I was asked to direct in 2003.
During World Youth Days, bishops and cardinals serve as teachers and catechists. Thousands of young people gather around them to hear reflections based on the Word of God, and in particular on the theme of the event. This novel invention has taken on a life of its own, becoming an intrinsic part of the celebrations. Not only have the teaching sessions become a unique encounter between generations, but also an opportunity to proclaim and preach the Word of God across cultures, offering to young people concrete possibilities for living a biblically rooted life.
In Toronto, we saw another unique gift of John Paul II: fatherhood. In “Radiation of Fatherhood,” the 1964 drama he wrote when he was still Polish Bishop Karol Wojtyla, he suggested that becoming a father meant being “conquered by love,” which liberates us from the false freedom of self-absorption. For millions of young people worldwide, the pope’s spiritual fatherhood was a reflection of the fatherhood of God. I’m convinced that the young people responded to him so positively because in many cases he was the father they never had and the grandfather they never knew.
During the celebrations of 2002, John Paul II offered us powerful opportunities to become bearers of hope, agents of community, neighbors to those around us, and instruments of a moral globalization that must accompany all other globalization efforts. He challenged us to give a reason for the hope we have to the people we meet day by day – to know our faith, to be ready to explain it and, if necessary, defend it.
Boldness and solidarity
As we think further about his call to the transformation of Canadian culture and to deeply Christian roots, I offer two words that I see as key: boldness and solidarity. They come out of the strategy of the early Church as seen in Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts chapter 4, Peter and John were arrested and brought before the officials. They were interrogated, threatened, and ordered to speak no longer in the name of Jesus the Lord. Once they were released, their community uttered a remarkable prayer. It wasn’t about the actual harm inflicted on the believers but about the fact that the word of God was chained, threatened, and suffocated.
The community prayed for guidance. It wanted to understand the events in the light of faith, to discover the meaning of what had happened. When they had prayed, we read, the place in which they were gathered was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word with boldness.
Then in chapter 18 we see the apostle Paul facing hostility in Corinth. The Lord responds in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching the people the word of God. What a wonderful encouragement this is – that we not despair. We are not alone. God has many friends with whom we can develop prayerful networks of solidarity and friendship.
World Youth Day in Canada woke us up, infused us with joy, and reminded us of our gifts. It reminded us of the qualities of hospitality, tolerance, and peacemaking that have characterized this nation. It called us back to our deeply Christian origins and heritage. As we bask in the radiant memories of the summer of 2002, we can admit now that it was no panacea or quick fix to the problems facing us today. It was not a show, a rave party, a protest, or photo opportunity. It was an invitation. Against a global background of terror and fear, economic collapse in many countries, and ecclesial scandals, World Youth Day 2002 presented a bold, alternative vision of compelling beauty, hope, and joy. They give us courage and solidarity to help future generations.
Father Thomas Rosica was National Director of World Youth Day 2002 and currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network.