On Thursday, Aug. 18, hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims made their way toward the Plaza de Cibeles to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Madrid. Excitement filled the air and music filled the streets as volunteers and police directed the growing crowd.
“It is absolutely unbelievable. There are people everywhere,” said Brent West, a member of Illini Council 2782 at the University of Illinois in Champaign. “There are so many different flags from so many different countries. We’re just excited to see the Holy Father soon.”
A total of 24 college Knights of Columbus, who have been working as volunteers at the Love and Life Centre, arrived early enough to get a good spot near the parade route and close enough to see the stage from where the pope would speak.
“The anticipation has really been building. They have been serving pilgrims all week,” said Michael Brewer, who supervises young adult membership development for the Knights of Columbus. “There has been a lot of joy and really inspiring experiences associate with that, but now its time or them to be pilgrims, too, and not just volunteers serving other pilgrims.”
“It’s just amazing. There’s so many people crammed into this place, all of the young Catholics together. It’s great for the future of the Church,” said Joseph Chelak, a member of Father Justin Cunningham Council 11324 at the University of Virginia. “We’ve been up for countless hours, working long days, but there’s still so much excitement and so much energy here.”
The Pope’s Message to Youth
Upon his arrival, Pope Benedict XVI greeted the cheering masses in various languages before giving an address in Spanish. To English-speaking pilgrims, he said, “May these days of prayer, friendship and celebration bring us closer to each other and to the Lord Jesus. … Let us pray for one another, so that we may be joyful witnesses to Christ, today and always. “
In his address, Pope Benedict observed that when a person’s life is not rooted in faith in Christ, it is easy to get lost on “other paths … which leave emptiness and frustration in their wake.”
He encouraged his young listeners to seize the opportunity “to know Christ better and to make sure that, rooted in him, your enthusiasm and happiness, your desire to go further, to reach the heights, even God himself.”
The Holy Father further described how a life characterized moral relativism contrasts with the Christian vocation.
“Indeed, there are many who, creating their own gods, believe they need no roots or foundations other than themselves,” he said. “They take it upon themselves to decide what is true or not, what is good and evil, what is just and unjust; who should live and who can be sacrificed in the interests of other preferences; leaving each step to chance, with no clear path, letting themselves be led by the whim of each moment.”
In this light, Pope Benedict encouraged the youth to build their lives upon “the firm foundation which is Christ.” He said that the freedom found in Christ is the “reason for our joy” and “the firm ground upon which to build the civilization of love and life, capable of humanizing all of us.”
Finally, forshadowing the Way of Cross to take place through the streets of Madrid on Friday, the pope said, “I commend the fruits of this World Youth Day to the most holy Virgin Mary, who said ‘Yes’ to the will of God, and teaches us a unique example of fidelity to her divine son, whom she followed to his death upon the Cross.”