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April 27, 2008

Words of Pope Benedict spoke ‘directly to us’ Young adult shares how seeing pontiff in New York inspired hope in Christ and courage to live in him

By Alicia Torres


“Dear friends, only God in his providence knows what works his grace has yet to bring forth in your lives and in the life of the Church in the United States.” With these words, Pope Benedict XVI began to close his homily at Yankee Stadium on April 20, and in a greater sense, encapsulate the entire message of his apostolic journey.

When we heard our Holy Father was coming to the United States, we had a great desire to welcome him and bring his message back to Chicago. Young adults face an immense challenge to escape from the noise of our culture in order to hear God’s voice. In light of this, Pope Benedict’s message of hope comes at a crucial time for all of us.

Youth gathering

Early Saturday morning we arrived at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., for the youth rally. Looking across the field, we realized that this experience would truly be a mini World Youth Day. Not only were there young people from every race and ethnic group present, but also a support network of volunteers, priests and religious who ensured our experience was uniquely Catholic.

Before our Holy Father arrived, several music groups kept the crowd on their feet. Most interesting was a Yonkers parish-based hip-hop group, M.O.C. (Messengers of Christ). To see a Catholic priest dressed in a full cassock and sporting a NY Yankees cap while rapping messages of repentance and hope was phenomenal — and the youth responded tremendously.

Throughout the day the sacrament of reconciliation was readily available. So many young people seem to forget about this sacrament, and we were reminded of the need for forgiveness and the amazing graces received through reconciliation that keep us strong as we face the adverse influences of society.

When we first saw Pope Benedict on the jumbo screen, the crowd was set on fire. After almost an hour he finally arrived at the rally site and the zeal of those present erupted for several minutes. After a few ceremonies, he finally addressed us, calling us to prayer, service and vocation.

“Do you leave space to hear God’s whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Friends, do not be afraid of silence or stillness, listen to God, adore him in the Eucharist. Let his word shape your journey as an unfolding of holiness.”

Pope Benedict was calling us to a deeper prayer life — a relationship with God in which each one of us will discover the deepest desire of our hearts.

Sunday Mass

At first glimpse of the popemobile entering Yankee Stadium on Sunday, more than 50,000 people broke out in welcome of our Holy Father, mirroring the response of the youth on Saturday. As Mass began, the diversity of Catholics in the United States was made clear — during the Mass we prayed in nine different languages.

As Pope Benedict drew his homily to a close, he remarked “My dear young friends ... may you step forward and take up the responsibility which your faith in Christ sets before you. May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, ‘the same, yesterday and today and for ever’ and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him. These are the truths that set us free!”

When our pope encouraged us to be open to vocations to priesthood and religious life, both in English and Spanish, the crowd erupted in applause. You could truly sense the entire Mystical Body of Christ willing to foster a culture of vocation. His Holiness exited the stadium rock-star style and the crowds cheered until he was out of sight. There was a spirit of joy among all gathered — our beloved “papa’s” message of hope did not fall on deaf ears.

As we return to our lives in Chicago, neither of us will forget the time spent with Pope Benedict. As vicar of Christ on earth, he was speaking directly to each of us — not only those present, but to all Catholics. Sometimes we are tempted to despair as we see troubles in our world. Yet, Pope Benedict’s message reminded us that Christ is our hope.

Our Holy Father finished his homily on Sunday by saying “Let us turn to Jesus. He alone is the way that leads to eternal happiness, the truth who satisfies the deepest longings of every heart, and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world. Amen.”

May we take courage in the witness to hope that Pope Benedict gave our country, and heed his call to a deeper life of prayer and dedication to Christ and our church.

Torres is coordinator of young-adult outreach for the archdiocese’s Respect Life Office. Dennis Stoll of the Vocations Office contributed to this story.