Pope To Young 'Apostles Of The 21st Century'

Pope Benedict presided over the World Youth Day closing Mass in Madrid’s Cuatro Vientos military airport Sunday morning, inviting the young people to be “the apostles of the twenty-first century” and to join him again for the next World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013.

“You are now about to go back home. Your friends will want to know how you have changed after being in this lovely city with the Pope and with hundreds of thousands of other young people from around the world. What are you going to tell them?

I invite you to give a bold witness of Christian living to them. In this way, you will give birth to new Christians and will help the Church grow strongly in the hearts of many others”.

This was Pope Benedict XVI’s mandate to the estimated 2 million young people – the ‘disciples of the new evangelization' - who had braved a stormy night at Cuatro Vientos aiport and were impatient to hear the Holy Father’s words.

The tent city had withstood the battering winds and driving rains that cut short Saturday’s prayer vigil but the young people, though tired, still had enough energy reserves to welcome Pope Benedict enthusiastically as the Pope mobile entered the vast military compound, for the closing Mass of this 26th World Youth Day.

His first words to them, after a welcoming address by the Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Ruoco Varela, were “I hope you were able to sleep a little last night”, to the young people’s applause. Then with the procession of bishops and priests to the sweeping white stage, upon which a simple altar was shaded by the outstretched branches of an artificial golden tree, the closing ceremony of this week of prayer, song, meditation and encounter begun.

“We cannot encounter Christ and not want to make him known to others.” Pope Benedict told them in his homily. “So do not keep Christ to yourselves!”. The entire homily was drawn from the Sunday Gospel, Mathew 16, from Christ’s question to the apostles: “But who do you say that I am?”

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“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”, he said. And then looking out on the horizon of young men and women, religious and lay, that extended before his gaze, the Pope said to them , “today Christ is asking you the same question”. “Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits young hearts like your own”.

Then Pope Benedict spoke of how faith in Christ cannot be separated from his Church: “The Church… 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”.

And following Jesus in faith means participation in the communion of the Church. “We cannot follow Jesus on our own”, he told the young people. “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”.

Pope Benedict appealed to the young people to love and care for the Church, by recognizing how important their participation in the life of parishes, communities and movements in their local realities is. He spoke of the celebration of Sunday Mass and the need we all have to frequent the sacrament of Reconciliation.

“Friendship with Jesus will also lead you to bear witness to the faith wherever you are, even when it meets with rejection or indifference” he observed. “The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God. 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”.

His homily was followed by a profound silence that echoed around the arena, and as a gentle breeze lifted the flags of the nations of the world the intercessory prayers were read: The first prayer in Italian, for the Church; the second prayer for the Pope, read in Chinese; the third prayer, in Arabic, is for all young people who don´t know Christ; the fourth prayer, in Polish, for the poor of this earth; the fifth prayer, read in German, for all the young people gathered at the Mass.

Then as the choir sang 'Antigua Eterna Danza', the liturgy of the Eucharist began. It was the moment that millions of young people had saved, worked and prayed for. However during Saturday’s storm some makeshift chapels set up on the field's perimeter were also damaged, forcing organizers to announce Sunday morning over loudspeakers that not everyone would be able to receive Communion during the Mass. Nonetheless the pilgrims took this news with the same calm and good nature with which they have conquered the hearts of Madrid residents. Pope Benedict gave communion to a selection of pilgrims to the notes of 'Here I am Lord'. While beneath the altar 2 million young people dropped to their knees in prayer. A very different wind was blowing Sunday morning across Cuatro Vientos.

Pilgrims then raised the crosses that had been placed in each backpack for the Apostolic Benediction. But the Pope’s thoughts and prayers went well beyond the Madrid airport and those immediately present: “During these days, how often I have thought of the young people at home who are waiting for your return!”, he said to them during his address before the midday Angelus. “Take my affectionate greetings to them, to those less fortunate, to your families and to the Christian communities that you come from”.

And then the party really began as Pope Benedict officially announced that the next World Youth Day will be held in 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. “Before we say good-bye," he said "and while the young people of Spain pass on the World Youth Day cross to the young people of Brazil, as Successor of Peter I entrust all of you present with this task: Make the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ known to the whole world! He wants you to be the apostles of the twenty-first century and the messengers of his joy. Do not let him down!".

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