I was fortunate to be able to see Blessed John Paul II in person on two occasions, first when he visited St. Louis in 1999 and then again at World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. The opening ceremony for World Youth Day was one of the high points of that trip; the members of my group were among the lucky 400,000 or so who managed to squeeze into St. Peter’s Square as Pope John Paul greeted the pilgrims, one country at a time. The video below captures one of the evening’s most memorable moments:
From the Holy Father’s address to the young pilgrims assembled at Tor Vergata for the prayer vigil the night before WYD’s closing Mass:
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 grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.
Dear young people, in these noble undertakings you are not alone. With you there are your families, there are your communities, there are your priests and teachers, there are so many of you who in the depths of your hearts never weary of loving Christ and believing in him. In the struggle against sin you are not alone: so many like you are struggling and through the Lord’s grace are winning!
Dear friends, at the dawn of the Third Millennium I see in you the “morning watchmen” (cf. Is21:11-12). In the course of the century now past young people like you were summoned to huge gatherings to learn the ways of hatred; they were sent to fight against one another. The various godless messianic systems which tried to take the place of Christian hope have shown themselves to be truly horrendous. Today you have come together to declare that in the new century you will not let yourselves be made into tools of violence and destruction; you will defend peace, paying the price in your person if need be. You will not resign yourselves to a world where other human beings die of hunger, remain illiterate and have no work. You will defend life at every moment of its development; you will strive with all your strength to make this earth ever more livable for all people.
Dear young people of the century now beginning, in saying “yes” to Christ, you say “yes” to all your noblest ideals. I pray that he will reign in your hearts and in all of humanity in the new century and the new millennium. Have no fear of entrusting yourselves to him! He will guide you, he will grant you the strength to follow him every day and in every situation.