“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:14)
It is our first full day in Madrid as a complete team – all 13 of us! This morning began with Mass (well. . . after this priest began with a cup of café con leche!) in which we hear the above passage. . . . how appropriate.
In the days just before World Youth Day, things always get rather hectic and can easily lose their focus. After a few of these events, I have begun to see some of the same patterns emerge from one “Day” to the other. In the quiet days before the pilgrims arrive, the local media usually highlights the problems, the cost, the expected delays and street closures, etc. . . However, what they cannot see yet is exactly what Jesus highlights the Gospel today – all of that is to come belongs to the youth and young at heart.
When I served on the long-term staff for Sydney ’08, I saw the same pattern. In the final days just before the pilgrims arrived, the press was very critical; but then the pilgrims arrived and it all began to make more sense. When the Pope arrived, there was even more excitement (though the press still had their criticisms). Then the Way of the Cross illustrated the real purpose of this gathering – then the articles changed. No longer was World Youth Day about costs, delays and closures; no longer was is it a massive gathering of young people who were going to mess up the city. Now it was a celebration. Now it was connected to something that could not be seen earlier. Now it was about a relationship with Hope itself.
So I understand the criticisms, because until the pilgrims arrive, all of this makes little sense, and there may still be criticisms afterward. However, the very practice of our faith should remind us that God has done great things in the past and thus, will most certainly continue to do so in the future. World Youth Day is a wonderful manifestation of that faith. As the pilgrims come, they will bring with them a hope and joy that will overshadow the negativity that lives in the now quiet streets; for it is to them that this celebration belongs.