1,000th General Audience Draws 22,000 Altar Servers

«In Jesus You Have Found a True Friend for Life»

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 1, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Altar servers are much more than «simple helpers of the parish priest,» John Paul II said today at his 1,000th general audience.

«Above all, you are servers of Jesus Christ, of the eternal High Priest,» the Pope told 22,000 altar servers from around Europe who gathered in St. Peter´s Square for the highlight event of their pilgrimage to Rome.

«Today St. Peter´s Square is the square of youth,» a relaxed-looking Pontiff exclaimed when he greeted the boys and girls, more than two-thirds of them German.

«You altar servers are called in particular to be young friends of Jesus,» the Pope said, often speaking in German. «Be determined to go deeper and to cultivate this friendship with him. You will discover that in Jesus you have found a true friend for life.»

On display in the square was a 2-meter-high replica of a censer, a typical instrument of an altar server. It weighed almost 200 kilograms (440 pounds).

The Holy Father explained that the altar server «occupies a privileged place in the liturgical celebration,» as «he experiences firsthand that Jesus Christ is present and active in every liturgical act.»

John Paul II urged the young people to be witnesses of hope in a world full of conflicts.

«Your contemporaries wait for the real light of the world,» he said. «Do not hold your candlestick only inside a church, but carry the light of the Gospel to all those who are in darkness and are living through a difficult time in their life.»

Lastly, the Holy Father said he would be happy if some of the boys present discovered a vocation to the priesthood, and if some of the girls embraced the consecrated life.

He also said that the service of the altar server even teaches «those who wish to be united in marriage … that a real union must always include readiness for reciprocal and free service.»

The Pope arrived for the general audience from his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, southeast of Rome, earlier in the morning.

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