by Maureen Kramlich
August 2, 2002
While the aboriginal musician beat a sacred drum, the popemobile made its way through a crowd of hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims from 173 countries. I was among them. Tired, muddied and soaked from spending the night and these early morning hours in the rain, we (all 800,000 of us) immediately rose to our feet at the sight of the Pontiff in his pearly white cassock. The sacred drum crescendoed and then ceased as the Pope approached the altar and then took his place there. The Mass began. The rain stopped, and the sun shone.
This Mass was the culmination of a week-long international celebration for young Catholics — World Youth Day 2002. The events of the week included catechetical sessions, social service activities, concerts, prayer services, a film festival, Masses, confession and the Way of the Cross. But certainly the highlight of the week was the time spent with the Pope: a welcoming ceremony, a prayer vigil and this closing Mass.
The Pope connects with young people and they with him. During his homily, he remarked, "You are young, and the Pope is old...." "No, no, no!" the pilgrims chanted. The Holy Father continued, "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."
The Holy Father has a way of speaking right to the hearts of the young. The message, the constant message of his papacy: "Be not afraid." Continuing his homily, he added, "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." Immediately pressed into my mind and heart was the realization that standing before us was a man who survived both the Nazi occupation of Poland and then its Communist takeover. He was standing before me now, having survived these, an assassination attempt, and now various ailments to deliver this message of hope.
One cannot help but be encouraged by this Pope, or more accurately, swept up by his tremendous witness. We are living under much darkness today, due to different sorts of totalitarianism than those under which the Pope grew up: a Supreme Court that has enshrined in the Constitution the right to destroy unborn and partly-born children; a society on the verge of creating a slave race of human beings, created by cloning and destroyed for research; a legal system that sentences some men and women to death. Yet these, too, will pass.
The Pope sent the pilgrims home with these final words of his homily: "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."
Maureen Kramlich is a public policy analyst with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.