In Retrospect: Benedict XVI at International Youth Center

5 Years On, Centro San Lorenzo Directors, Volunteers Recall Pontiff’s Visit

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As Pope Benedict XVI prepares for his forthcoming resignation, young volunteers of the Centro San Lorenzo remember the day the Holy Father visited the youth center five years ago.

The occasion of the 2008 visit was the 25th anniversary of the Centro San Lorenzo International Centre for Youth (CSL). Founded in 1983 by Blessed John Paul II, the mission of the youth center is to serve as a place where young pilgrims can encounter the living reality of the Church in Rome through community and the sacraments.

The Holy Father came to the CSL at the invitation of the then-directors, Leen den Blauwen of Belgium, and Roselyne Lauwick of France. The visit came about with the help of Msgr. Francis Kohn who, at the time, was director of the Pontifical Council for the Laity’s youth section.

Celebrating Mass in the CSL’s church, the medieval San Lorenzo in Piscibus, which stands adjacent to the youth center, Pope Benedict addressed the young people off the cuff rather than using a prepared homily.

«When we touch the Cross,» he said, «indeed, when we carry it, we touch the mystery of God, the mystery of Jesus Christ. The mystery that God so loved the world – us – that he gave his only Son for us (cfr. John 3, 16). We touch the glorious mystery of God’s love, the only real redemptive truth. Yet we also touch the fundamental laws, the constitutive norm of our lives; that is, without this ‘yes’ to the Cross, without the journey, day by day, in communion with Christ, life cannot thrive.»

In recalling the experience, Leen den Blauwen told ZENIT how she was especially moved when she saw the Pope put down his paper and speak freely to those present at the Mass.

«This is, for me, what Benedict XVI is about,» she said. «He’s a shepherd. He’s a person who wants to lead. He wants to lead the faithful towards a better knowledge of their faith.»

«I’m a child of the John Paul II generation,» she continued, explaining how World Youth Day was instrumental in her conversion. «But Benedict XVI, for me personally, also meant going deeper into my faith, intellectually. So when he laid down his papers, at that moment, and started freely speaking, speaking to these youth, it was really like a father speaking to his children, teaching them. He spoke about the truth, and what it is to look for the truth.»

Speaking with ZENIT, Roselyne Lauwick recalled the excitement she felt, as CSL director, in preparing to welcome the Holy Father. «We were waiting for the Holy Father with our young hearts, full of enthusiasm, excitement, and personal expectation.»

«The Centro is the home of all young people, but all the more it is that of the pope. We therefore wanted to welcome him as though it was his home,» she said.

«Receiving the Holy Father means to receive the successor of Peter,» Lauwick continued. «For the youth center, it was an encounter with an ‘apostle’ who guides us to God.»

Serving at Mass with the Holy Father as a seminarian was Michael Coughlan, a deacon for the Diocese of Shrewsbury who is currently receiving his formation at the Venerable English College (VEC) in Rome. He noted how Pope Benedict’s visit to the small Church occurred without the pomp and circumstance often observed with other heads of state. Nevertheless, he said, the Holy Father «had a very powerful presence there. People hung on his words, and it was interesting to hear what to he had to say. The Gospel for that day was talking about life – the resurrection of Lazarus – because we were still in Lent. He was challenging the young people present, and those who would come after, about what life is all about.»

Deacon Coughlan went on to explain what this visit meant for the young people who frequent the CSL. «The whole mission of the Centro is to try and bring young people closer to Christ, and close to the head of the Church in that way. The pope represents Christ on earth; he acts as a unifying figure for the Church.»

Pope Benedict’s visit was significant, Deacon Coughlan went on, not only because he was returning to the place he had often visited while he was an archbishop and cardinal in Rome, but because he was «going back as the vicar of Christ, that unifying figure… for the young people to join with him in prayer, to hear what he had to say, and find encouragement.»

World Youth Day Cross

In 2009, continuing the celebrations one year later, the young people of the CSL were invited to greet Pope Benedict XVI in Saint Peter’s Square during his Wednesday audience to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the World Youth Day Cross. The original cross, which resides permanently at the youth center, was entrusted by Blessed John Paul II in 1984 to the young people of the CSL, who received the cross as representatives of the youth of the world. The CSL youth were granted permission to carry the WYD cross into the square for the audience, where it was placed standing upright behind the Holy Father.

Addressing the young people of the CSL, Pope Benedict said: «Dear friends, I entrust this cross to you again! Continue to carry it to every corner of the earth, so that the next generation may also discover the Mercy of God and have the hope in Christ crucified and risen renewed in their hearts!»

Marc Homsey, a VEC seminarian for the Diocese of Leeds, participated in the audience and was granted the opportunity to meet Pope Benedict along with nine other CSL representatives. In being greeted by the Holy Father in this way, he said, «there was a real sense of having the Cross entrusted back to us yet again, even though it had been entrusted to us already by Blessed John Paul II. It was as if our mission was being renewed.»

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Ann Schneible

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