Rome - Jubilee

If You Are What You
Should Be, You Will Set
the Whole World Ablaze

August 19th was World Youth Day. More than two million
young people invaded the Eternal City with their “ruckus.”
The encounter with the Pope on the plain
of Tor Vergata.“It is He that you seek”




Urbem quam dicunt Romam… The deserted streets, the clear air, 96 degrees in the shade. The majestic Colosseum, the Baths of Caracalla, the Imperial Fora. Then Parliament, the Quirinal Palace, Via del Corso with its shops closed for mid-August vacation. Yes, vacation. We’re spending ours here, a thousand of us, in the city of Rome. At school. We are housed in the Istituto Cristo Re, a beautiful building with a soccer field, the desks and chairs piled up in the halls, the grades from the school year just ended posted next to the principal’s office. In just a few minutes we understand the purpose of the rectangles marked off on the floor with tape, in the classrooms, in the gym, on the porch: they are assigned sleeping spots, where we will diligently unroll our mats and spread out our sleeping bags. A thousand kids about eighteen to twenty-four years old. Just graduated from high school, just graduated or about to graduate from college, all in Rome during their vacation time. To pray. To meet the Pope. The good, elderly Pope. It is August 15th, in the late afternoon, when the summer sun is loosening its hold on the square of St. John Lateran, and the welcome meeting is starting. Then later, in St. Peter’s Square, between two sides of the crowd singing and shouting, “Giovànni-Paolo, Jo-ohn Paul”… Others, South Americans, chant, “Juan Pablo Segundo, te quiere todo el mundo.” Then, the usual Inter soccer fans: “What do we care about Ronaldo, we have Wojtylà, Wojtylaaaaa.” Each in his or her own way, as it comes to them. “What have you come seeking? Or better, whom have you come seeking?” he thunders, smiling, from the stage. “Whom have you come seeking? There can only be one answer: you have come seeking Jesus Christ!” Yes, we have come seeking Christ. In the stones of this city, at the tomb of the apostle Peter, in the words of this old man who is younger than all of us. “Don’t let the time that the Lord gives you go by as though it were all by chance.”


The pilgrimage

The next morning we set out walking to visit the four basilicas in the center of Rome. It is hard, in the confusion of the streets, among thousands of pilgrims, to follow the two small signs with “CL” written on them. “It must be the diocese of Caltanisetta,” some passersby comment. It is hard not to get distracted. “Don’t let time pass as though by chance.” We run across the intersections and snake along the sidewalks. Everyone goes into San Clemente to admire the splendid mosaic of the Tree of Life in the apse, then we gather in front of San Giovanni in Laterano, the church of St. John Lateran, which the day before we had only seen from the other end of the square. We go through the Holy Door, one of four in Rome, where so many, as we do, kneel and recall God’s mercy. The Door of Memory. We sit down in Santa Croce, the basilica that Constantine’s mother had built to venerate the relics of Christ’s cross that are preserved here. Not the cross, but the one who hung on it: we adore Him who died on the cross, but who rose again to save us from our sins. We end our pilgrimage at Santa Maria Maggiore, the first church in Christendom dedicated to the Virgin Mary.


The exhibition

Peter and Paul. Two men, friends, who met Him. The exhibition, created by the Rimini Meeting Association in collaboration with the Vatican Museums, mounted in Palazzo della Cancelleria, follows the traces these two left in Rome. Sarcophagi, inscriptions. And a city that, thanks to them, changed its aspect. Peter and Paul embrace in a bas-relief on an ivory plaque. The two of them, together, in the name of Christ, conquered a city.


Tor Vergata

We arrive at dawn at the Tor Vergata station, a few kilometers from the great wooden platform that we cannot yet see. The floodlamps light up an enormous field, still empty in the early morning light. Coming together along this road, the thousand that we were has become seven thousand. Other CL youth have joined us, ferried here by special trains. We walk along, all seven thousand of us. Soon we will be more than two million in number. The rising sun brings a stifling heat, barely mitigated by the fountains at the corners of the field. We build tents and emergency shelters with crates and sleeping bags for protection. The singing begins, and we too: “sotto la stessa luce\ sotto la Sua Croce\ cantiamo ad una voce\ Emmanuel\ Emmanuel” [beneath the same light\ beneath His Cross\ we sing with one voice\ Emmanuel\ Emmanuel”]. Around 2:30 p.m. our section is silent, the makeshift tents have disappeared, everyone is listening to the testimony of Carrascosa on the experience of pilgrimage to the Black Virgin of Czestochowa.
The heat is back. All around the fountains is a sea of mud. The field is a teeming crowd. We no longer notice the ambulances rescuing the young pilgrims who have succumbed to heat stroke or fatigue. Around 6 p.m. the Pope arrives. He rides in his car among the young people, his young people. He smiles happily, this eighty-year-old who is younger than all of us. “Youth is an attitude of the heart: Communion and Liberation salutes John Paul II,” reads the banner we raise as he passes and blesses us. “Whom are you seeking?,” the Pope had asked us a few days before. “It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity….” Very few people have talked to us like this, testifying their faith to us. It’s true, Rome will never forget this “ruckus.” We move under the sky full of fireworks toward our sector, near the exit, where we will spend the night and listen to Mass tomorrow. Tired, worn out, but “in pain, happy,” and certain of the extraordinary events we have just witnessed.


Vigil of Prayer, Saturday, August 19th

This is what faith is all about! It is the response of the rational and free human person to the word of the living God.

Divine revelation, Jesus’ question and man’s response end in the disciple’s personal encounter with the living Christ, with the Risen One. This encounter is the beginning of a new relationship between each one of us and Christ, a relationship in which each of us comes to the vital realization that Christ is Lord and God; not only the Lord and God of the world and of humanity, but the Lord and God of my own individual human life

There is something of the Apostle Thomas in every human being. Each one is tempted by unbelief and each one asks the basic questions: Is it true that God exists? Is it true that he created the world? Is it true that the Son of God became man, died and rose from the dead? The answer comes as the person experiences God’s presence.

Dear friends, to believe in Jesus today, to follow Jesus as Peter, Thomas, and the first Apostles and witnesses did, demands of us, just as it did in the past, that we take a stand for Him, almost to the point at times of a new martyrdom: the martyrdom of those who, today as yesterday, are called to go against the tide in order to follow the divine Master, to follow “the Lamb wherever He goes.”

Perhaps you will not have to shed your blood, but you will certainly be asked to be faithful to Christ! A faithfulness to be lived in the circumstances of everyday life: I am thinking of how difficult it is in today’s world for engaged couples to be faithful to purity before marriage. I think of how the mutual fidelity of young married couples is put to the test. I think of friendships and how easily the temptation to be disloyal creeps in.

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal. It is He, Christ!

I wish to end my talk here, my message, by saying to you that I have been eagerly waiting to meet you, to see you, first at night, and now in the day. I thank you for this dialogue, which you have punctuated with your shouts and applause.


Homily at Mass on August 20th

Dear young people, if we are here today, it is because we identify with the Apostle Peter’s reply, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68) Around you, you hear all kinds of words. But only Christ speaks words that stand the test of time and remain for all eternity. The time of life that you are living calls for decisive choices on your part: decisions about the direction of your studies, about work, about your role in society and in the Church. It is important to realize that among the many questions surfacing in your minds, the decisive ones are not about “what.” The basic question is “who”–“who” am I to go to, “who” am I to follow, “to whom” should I entrust my life?

Only Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and of Mary, the eternal Word of the Father born two thousand years ago at Bethlehem in Judaea, is capable of satisfying the deepest aspirations of the human heart.

In Peter’s question, “To whom shall we go?,” the answer regarding the path to follow is already given. It is the path that leads to Christ. And it is possible to meet the divine Master personally: He is in fact truly present on the altar in the reality of his Body and Blood.

Yes, dear friends, Christ loves us and He loves us forever! He loves us even when we disappoint Him, when we fail to meet his expectations for us. He never fails to embrace us in his mercy. How can we not be grateful to this God who has redeemed us, going so far as to accept the foolishness of the Cross? To God who has come to be at our side and has stayed with us to the end?

The world must not be deprived of the gentle and liberating presence of Christ living in the Eucharist!

You yourselves must be fervent witnesses to Christ’s presence on the altar. Let the Eucharist mold your life and the life of the families you will form. Let it guide all life’s choices.

If any of you, dear young men and women, hear the Lord’s inner call to give yourselves completely to Him in order to love Him “with an undivided heart” (cf. 1 Cor 7:34), do not be held back by doubts or fears. Say, “Yes” with courage and without reserve, trusting Him who is faithful to his promises. Did He not assure those who had left everything for his sake that they would have a hundredfold in this life and eternal life hereafter?

When you return home, do not grow lax. Reinforce and deepen your bond with the Christian communities to which you belong. From Rome, from the City of Peter and Paul, the Pope follows you with affection and, paraphrasing Saint Catherine of Siena’s words, reminds you, “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!” (cf. Lett 368)

I look with confidence to this new humanity that you are now helping to prepare. I look to this Church that in every age is made youthful by the Spirit of Christ and today is made happy by your intentions and commitment.


A Presence, not a Discourse

The text of an article by Fr. Giussani, published in a special World Youth Day edition of L’Osservatore Romano, August 13, 2000

By Luigi Giussani

That torrent of humanity that inundated everyone with John Paul II’s first speech to the whole world when he was elected Pope could not fail to interest young people too.
In the Letter addressed to them, the Holy Father affirms, “Youth is a time of particularly intense discovery of the human ‘I’ and of the properties and capabilities attached to it.” It is therefore a time when the great questions that drive us to search for the meaning of life and that give our existence a particular “movement” come to the surface with special intensity and evidence. Man’s heart, always alive and beating, cries out the need for an exhaustive answer, in whatever condition he is forced to live, even in the condition of self-forgetfulness.
Thus, man’s heart is always waiting for something new, or, more precisely, for Someone.
The mysterious state of things that this expectation implies forms its tangible image in search of companionship. “I tell you with confident frankness that the most beautiful and exciting adventure you can have is the encounter with Jesus, the only One who gives true meaning to our lives. Searching is not enough: we must search in order to find certitude.” (John Paul II, Address to Italian Soldiers) Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6)
This discovery of Christ’s friendship fills us with enthusiasm when we are young, and even in old age it can make our hearts glad, for youth is an attitude of the heart. It is just so with the Pope, who, before crowds of young people, reveals the nature and the value of companionship as an encounter with Jesus. It is not just a speech–many young people are used to hearing these and they all leave them indifferent and above all lonely–it is rather a presence, as the Pope said at the Angelus last July 30th,“Christianity cannot be reduced to a doctrine, nor to mere principles, because Christ, the center of Christianity, is alive and His presence constitutes the event that constantly renews human creatures and the cosmos.”
The event of Christ present is the Church as a companionship of persons that originates in the presence of a real, though invisible, genetic factor. The Church then is a concrete, real, and tangible reality made up of persons changed by an encounter that has communicated a new kind of life to them, a life that is more joyful, more human–or rather, truly human, with and through all the limitations that mark each individual existence.
All of life’s factors, regarding both family and society as a whole, tend therefore to become the object of a constructive responsibility of one’s own personal truth in history. Thus, young people can feel as an ideal provocation of all their energies, of all their time, the memory of that sentence that summarizes every loving look of a person: “It was necessary for what is heroic to become normal, and for what is normal to become heroic.”
This is precisely the way the human figure of the one who is leading the Church today has appeared to the whole world.