St. Peter of Alcantara – Model of Poverty

Poverty and Chastity. Those were two virtues at the forefront of his earthly life. He is none other than St. Peter of Alcantara. Meet your second WYD 2013 Patron Saint.
So, who is St. Peter of Alcantara? What sort of spirituality did he have that would warrant him being made a Saint?

St. Peter was born in Alcantara, Spain (which borders on the country of Portugal). His father was the governor of Alcantara. St. Peter studied law at Salamanca University and at the age of 16, he joined the Observant Franciscans.

When he was 39, he was elected provincial of his order and became renowned to others as a preacher.  It is important to know in his earthly ministry, St. Peter of Alcantara did not seek out attention. On the other hand, he preferred a life lived in poverty, and embraced silence and solitude.

In 1554, St. Peter of Alcantara received permission to form a group of Franciscans, formally known as Alcantarines. Later on, the Alcantarines were joined with the other Observant friars and became known as the Order of Friars Minor. Interestingly enough, St. Peter of Alcantara was a confessor and spiritual director to St. Teresa of Avila.

As St. Teresa of Avila’s confessor, he encouraged her to bring about and promote Carmelite reform. Because of his dynamic ability to preach, St. Peter of Alcantara inspired many people to embrace religious life, especially to the Secular Franciscan Order, the friars and the Poor Clares.

He was eventually canonized in 1669.

Fast forwarding to the year 1826, St. Peter of Alcántara was named Patron of Brazil. Every year, the universal Church celebrates his feast day on Oct. 19.

Don’t forget – join WYDCentral every Monday for our next instalment on Patron Saints, as we begin our incredible journey to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

St. Peter of Alcantara, pray for us!

Un-dampened spirits at Papal Vigil

Thousands of pilgrims celebrate despite being denied access to Papal vigil & mass
By Mari Alvarez

1.5 million people attended the 2011 World Youth Day (WYD) Papal vigil and mass in Madrid, Spain, but I was not one of them. Despite travelling from Canada and holding valid passes purchased a year in advance, our group of 67 pilgrims from Sacred Heart Parish in Uxbridge, Ontario was denied entrance into the grounds due to an error that left nearly 20,000 pilgrims with valid entry passes stranded outside the grounds.

“The grounds are full. The gates are closed” we were informed by the guards without further explanation. We looked around and realized that we had been diverted with the rest of the multitude into an overflow holding ground originally planned to hold the thousands of pilgrims who would arrive without passes to the grounds. Another stranded group from Mexico explained to us, “We have passes too. We have been waiting for two hours. It’s a disaster. The system failed and the grounds are at capacity. They can’t let anyone else in for safety reasons -people would get crushed.” We looked around at the desert-like wasteland around us and realized that this was it. We could either spend the vigil here and watch it on the giant screen or fight our way through the multitude to go in search of a hostel to spend the night. We decided to stay, but our troubles were not over yet. We soon realized that we had also lost access to our meals and would be spending the night hungry. A few hours later, some of the volunteers, sympathetic to the plight of the pilgrims outside, began to pass food over the fence. The situation resembled a refugee camp and for the first time in my life, I had a taste of what it feels like to be on the other side of the fence. On the one side of the fence was the promise land (an organized space with grass and tarmac and all the provisions we required) and on the other side was the desert (a field of dirt where we would go hungry). A double barbed wire fence patrolled by police separated the one from the other and we were on the wrong side. The situation was tense, with some pilgrims trying to force their way in, but the vast majority accepted their lot and sat in groups, praying, singing and continuing to celebrate with un-dampened spirits. Not even the lighting storm that followed drove them away.

In the midst of all these difficulties, I was challenged to turn to my faith for meaning. It has always been in the times of my life that I have suffered the most that I have felt closest to God. Perhaps it’s because at these times, by heart is most open to Him. Through secular eyes, the evening was a complete failure, but through the eyes of faith, there is good to be found even in the midst of affliction. My grandmother used to say, “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” It is Spanish for, “There is nothing bad that does not come for a greater good.” Although our experience of the Papal Vigil and Mass was not what we had expected, it was exactly what we needed. As Canadians, we have grown up on the “right” side of the fence; in a first world country where justice, comfort and security are the norm. Most of the world has not been so blessed. This experience opened my eyes and left a deep and lasting impression on me of what life is like on the other side of the fence.

In the introduction to YOUCAT, the special youth catechism book that all the WYD pilgrims received as a gift from the Holy Father, Pope Benedict says: “You need God’s help if your faith is not going to dry up like a dewdrop in the sun, if you want to resist the blandishments of consumerism, if your love is not to drown in pornography, if you are not going to betray the weak and leave the vulnerable helpless.” This experience helped me to grow in a deeper understanding of those words; in particular in understanding that as privileged citizens of the promise land of the first world, we cannot ignore the plight of those who are on the other side of the fence in the developing world. They are fellow members of the body of Christ to which we all belong.

The theme of WYD was, “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith.” A garden needs to be weeded before flowers can be planted. Likewise, vice (weeds) need to be uprooted from the soul before virtues (flowers) can be planted. I believe that this experience served as a kind of “weeding” for our souls to uproot the vices of greed, gluttony, consumerism and individualism that plague us in the first world so that the virtues of charity and true love of neighbour could be planted. It was not what we expected, but we accepted it joyfully and managed to even sing in the rain. May God be praised forever and ever. Amen.

Mari Alvarez is a teacher at Sacred Heart CSS in Newmarket. She travelled as a leader to WYD11 with the pilgrim group from Sacred Heart Parish in Uxbridge, Ontario.

The Songs, the Joy, the Chaos and the Silence… Why we all flocked to Madrid this summer

Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
Dear Friends of Salt and Light,

It would take me a good week to respond to all of the mail, e-mails, calls and messages we received over the past two weeks as Salt and Light Television tried our best to bring you World Youth Day 2011. Thank you for your very kind messages of affirmation and encouragement. The line that keeps showing up in the messages is: “We felt like we were there with you!”

Our signal was carried not only across Canada, but also in the USA and Australia, and to many people who joined our audio broadcasts on the Catholic Channel of Sirius Radio in the USA as well as on Radio Maria Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world watched World Youth Day through the lenses of Salt and Light Television in Canada.

It is the day after the concluding mass of Spain’s 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid. Hundreds of thousands of “pilgrims” are still roaming the streets of Madrid with their flags and songs. Hundreds of buses are now being loaded with luggage and weary pilgrims as they return to various destinations of Europe. Madrid’s Barajas airport is probably experiencing the busiest day of its history as pilgrims fly off to the four corners of the earth. Those of us who worked on the event, and covered it through media outlets from throughout the world (6000+ journalists formally accredited to the event!) were able to sleep a bit this morning! Many of us picked up summer colds with the extreme heat outdoors and heavily air conditioned hotel rooms! [Read more...]

Thanking volunteers, Benedict XVI asks for something more

Today is the Pope’s last day in Madrid, but he wasn’t going to leave without expressing a personal thank you. Before heading to the airport, the Holy Father met with World Youth Day volunteers at the IFEMA Fairgrounds.

In his address to volunteers, he said that their work and prayer was like “weav[ing], stitch by stitch, a magnificent, colourful tapestry”. In particular, he praised the sacrifice of those who had to miss World Youth Day events because they needed to keep working behind the scenes.

The Pope asked them to consider extending their service to the Church through priesthood, consecrated life, or marriage. In doing so, he acknowledged that even as he was thanking the volunteers, he was asking them to do something more.

“But that is the mission of the Pope, the Successor of Peter,” he explained, to call the faithful to “respond in love to the One who for love gave himself up for us.”

The English translation of the Pope’s address continues below.
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Pope’s Homily at Final Mass

Dear Young People,

In this celebration of the Eucharist we have reached the high point of this World Youth Day.  Seeing you here, gathered in such great numbers from all parts of the world, fills my heart with joy.  I think of the special love with which Jesus is looking upon you.  Yes, the Lord loves you and calls you his friends (cf. Jn 15:15).  He goes out to meet you and he wants to accompany you on your journey, to open the door to a life of fulfilment and to give you a share in his own closeness to the Father.  For our part, we have come to know the immensity of his love and we want to respond generously to his love by sharing with others the joy we have received.  Certainly, there are many people today who feel attracted by the figure of Christ and want to know him better.  They realize that he is the answer to so many of our deepest concerns.  But who is he really?  How can someone who lived on this earth so long ago have anything in common with me today?

The Gospel we have just heard (cf. Mt 16:13-20) suggests two different ways of knowing Christ.  The first is an impersonal knowledge, one based on current opinion.  When Jesus asks: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, the disciples answer: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”.  In other words, Christ is seen as yet another religious figure, like those who came before him.  Then Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them: “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter responds with what is the first confession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”.  Faith is more than just empirical or historical facts; it is an ability to grasp the mystery of Christ’s person in all its depth.

Yet faith is not the result of human effort, of human reasoning, but rather a gift of God: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”.  Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life.  Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation.  So Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?”, is ultimately a challenge to the disciples to make a personal decision in his regard.  Faith in Christ and discipleship are strictly interconnected.

And, since faith involves following the Master, it must become constantly stronger, deeper and more mature, to the extent that it leads to a closer and more intense relationship with Jesus.   Peter and the other disciples also had to grow in this way, until their encounter with the Risen Lord opened their eyes to the fullness of faith.

Dear young people, today Christ is asking you the same question which he asked the Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?”  Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits young hearts like your own.  Say to him: “Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me.  I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word.  You know me and you love me.  I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands.  I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me”.

Jesus’ responds to Peter’s confession by speaking of the Church: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”.  What do these words mean?  Jesus builds the Church on the rock of the faith of Peter, who confesses that Christ is God.

The Church, then, is not simply a human institution, like any other.  Rather, she is closely joined to God.  Christ himself speaks of her as “his” Church.  Christ cannot be separated from the Church any more than the head can be separated from the body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12).  The Church does not draw her life from herself, but from the Lord.

Dear young friends, as the Successor of Peter, let me urge you to strengthen this faith which has been handed down to us from the time of the Apostles.  Make Christ, the Son of God, the centre of your life.  But let me also remind you that following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church.  We cannot follow Jesus on our own.  Anyone who would be tempted to do so “on his own”, or to approach the life of faith with kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.

Having faith means drawing support from the faith of your brothers and sisters, even as your own faith serves as a support for the faith of others.  I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church which brought you to birth in the faith, which helped you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and which led you to discover the beauty of his love.  Growing in friendship with Christ necessarily means recognizing the importance of joyful participation in the life of your parishes, communities and movements, as well as the celebration of Sunday Mass, frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and the cultivation of personal prayer and meditation on God’s word.

Friendship with Jesus will also lead you to bear witness to the faith wherever you are, even when it meets with rejection or indifference.  We cannot encounter Christ and not want to make him known to others.  So do not keep Christ to yourselves!  Share with others the joy of your faith.  The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God.  I think that the presence here of so many young people, coming from all over the world, is a wonderful proof of the fruitfulness of Christ’s command to the Church: “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).  You too have been given the extraordinary task of being disciples and missionaries of Christ in other lands and countries filled with young people who are looking for something greater and, because their heart tells them that more authentic values do exist, they do not let themselves be seduced by the empty promises of a lifestyle which has no room for God.

Dear young people, I pray for you with heartfelt affection.  I commend all of you to the Virgin Mary and I ask her to accompany you always by her maternal intercession and to teach you how to remain faithful to God’s word.  I ask you to pray for the Pope, so that, as the Successor of Peter, he may always confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith.  May all of us in the Church, pastors and faithful alike, draw closer to the Lord each day.  May we grow in holiness of life and be effective witnesses to the truth that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the Saviour of all mankind and the living source of our hope.  Amen.

- Photo Credit © M.Mazur/www.thepapalvisit.org.uk

‘May no adversity paralyze you’: Pope’s address at rainsoaked Vigil

The official World Youth Day website has published a translation of the full address that Benedict XVI intended to give at the WYD Vigil. Due to heavy wind and rain, the Pope limited his spoken remarks to the greetings to the different language groups at the end of his address. The vigil resumed following a brief delay as the weather passed.

Dear Young Friends,

I greet all of you, especially the young people who have asked me their questions, and I thank them for the sincerity with which they set forth their concerns, that express the longing which all of you have to achieve something great in life, something which can bring you fulfillment and happiness.

How can a young person be true to the faith and yet continue to aspire to high ideals in today’s society? In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus gives us an answer to this urgent question: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (Jn 15:9).

Yes, dear friends, God loves us. This is the great truth of our life; it is what makes everything else meaningful. We are not the product of blind chance or absurdity; instead our life originates as part of a loving plan of God. To abide in his love, then, means living a life rooted in faith, since faith is more than the mere acceptance of certain abstract truths: it is an intimate relationship with Christ, who enables us to open our hearts to this mystery of love and to live as men and women conscious of being loved by God.
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Pope encourages young profs to be ‘authentic teachers’


A university education is about more than attaining technical ability or satisfying the demand for labor, says Pope Benedict. The Holy Father reflected on the role of the university during a meeting with young professors at the Basilica of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. His address followed his meeting with young women religious.

“This sort of utilitarian approach to education is in fact becoming more widespread,” said the pontiff. He compared this “reductionist and curtailed vision” with what he described as “the authentic idea of the University”.

“Teaching is not just about communicating content,” he explained, “but about forming young people.” For this task, he said that young people need “authentic teachers” who are open to the “fullness of truth”. At the same time, he encouraged a humble approach to truth, reminding professors that “truth itself will always lie beyond our grasp.”

“We can seek it and draw near to it,” he said, “but we cannot completely possess it; or put better, truth possesses us and inspires us.”

Published below is the full text of the Pope’s address.

Your Eminence,
My Brother Bishops,
Dear Augustinian Fathers,
Dear Professors,
Distinguished Authorities,
Dear Friends,

I have looked forward to this meeting with you, young professors in the universities of Spain. You provide a splendid service in the spread of truth, in circumstances that are not always easy. I greet you warmly and I thank you for your kind words of welcome and for the music which has marvelously resounded in this magnificent monastery, for centuries an eloquent witness to the life of prayer and study. In this highly symbolic place, reason and faith have harmoniously blended in the austere stone to shape one of Spain’s most renowned monuments

I also greet with particular affection those of you who took part in the recent World Congress of Catholic Universities held in Avila on the theme: “The Identity and Mission of the Catholic University”.
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Pope to pilgrims: ‘Use these days to know Christ better’


“Listen regularly every day” to the words of Jesus, Pope Benedict told young people gathered in Madrid’s Plaza de Cibeles, “as if he were the one friend who does not deceive.”

Following an initial address at the start of the Welcome Ceremony liturgy, the Holy Father delivered a longer homily. Drawing upon the World Youth Day theme, he urged the young faithful to “build your lives upon the firm foundation which is Christ.”

The live event continues right now on S+L TV and online at WYD Central. It will also be streaming on-demand at WYD Central following the broadcast. S+L will re-air the Welcome Ceremony tonight at 7:35pm ET/4:35pm PT and once more at 11:35pm ET/8:35pm PT.

Published below is the full text of Pope Benedict’s homily:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the kind words addressed to me by the young people representing the five continents.  And I salute with affection all of you gathered here, young people from Oceania, Africa, America, Asia and Europe; and also those unable to be here.  I always keep you very much in my heart and pray for you.  God has given me the grace to see and hear you for myself and, as we gather together, to listen to his word.

In the reading which has just been proclaimed, we heard a passage from the Gospel which talks of welcoming the words of Jesus and putting them into practice.  There are words which serve only to amuse, as fleeting as an empty breeze; others, to an extent, inform us; those of Jesus, on the other hand, must reach our hearts, take root and bloom there all our lives.  If not, they remain empty and become ephemeral.  They do not bring us to him and, as a result, Christ stays remote, just one voice among the many others around us which are so familiar.  Furthermore, the Master who speaks teaches, not something learned from others, but that which he himself is, the only one who truly knows the path of man towards God, because he is the one who opened it up for us, he made it so that we might have authentic lives, lives which are always worth living, in every circumstance, and which not even death can destroy.  The Gospel continues, explaining these things with the evocative image of someone who builds on solid rock, resistant to the onslaught of adversity, and in contrast to someone who builds on sand – we would say today in what appears a paradise – but which collapses with the first gust of wind and falls into ruins.
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Sea of pilgrims welcomes Pope to Madrid


Today Madrid is “the capital of the world’s young people,” declared Pope Benedict XVI, soon after he arrived at Plaza de Cibeles. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at the Papal Welcome Ceremony cheered in agreement.

The Pope also offered what could be interpreted as a response to those who have protested his visit. The Holy Father urged the faithful to pray that the Lord’s “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.”

Later during the ceremony, the Pope is also expected to give a homily, which we will subsequently post on the S+L Blog. The live event continues right now on S+L TV and online at WYD Central. It will also be streaming on-demand at WYD Central following the broadcast. S+L will re-air the Welcome Ceremony tonight at 7:35pm ET/4:35pm PT and once more at 11:35pm ET/8:35pm PT.

Dear Young Friends,

It is a great joy for me to meet you here in the heart of this lovely city of Madrid, whose keys the Lord Mayor has kindly presented me.  Today Madrid is also the capital of the world’s young people, and the gaze of the whole Church is fixed here.  The Lord has brought us together here so that during these days we can experience the beauty of World Youth Day.  Through your presence and your participation in these celebrations, the name of Christ will echo throughout this great City. 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. Many thanks for the splendid welcome which you gave me as I entered the City, as a sign of your love and closeness to the Successor of Peter.
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Panel Discussion on Prayer