By David Hartline
YONKERS, New York, APRIL 21, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Young people who endured long hours under the sun with limited food and water seemed to forget the inconveniences as soon as Benedict XVI began speaking at a rally Saturday.
On the second leg of his five-day, two-city trip to the United States, the Pope addressed youth, seminarians and young women religious at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, and according to Mark Butler, director of Youth and Young Adult Minister for the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, it was a life-changing experience for some.
The enthusiastic crowd — limited to approximately 20,000 because of the size of the grounds of the seminary — waited for hours with limited access to food and water for the Pontiff’s arrival. Butler described to his group the much harsher conditions endured by pilgrims 1,000 years ago.
“In that time pilgrims were aware of the harsh conditions they would face and yet they remained focused on their spiritual journey,” he said. “The small inconveniences we face help us to understand the suffering so many in the world must deal with every day.”
Butler noted that once Benedict XVI began his address, “the young people were held in rapt attention by the Holy Father. Afterward, some of our young people told me that the Holy Father’s words were a life-changing experience.
“I personally know of many vocations fostered at events like these, be they national Catholic youth events or papal events like World Youth Day.”
Various musical acts featuring secular, Catholic and non-Catholic Christian musicians entertained the crowd, beginning more than four hours prior to the Pope’s arrival.
The evangelical Christian rock band Third Day seemed especially grateful for the invitation. The lead singer Mac Powell spoke of his joy at seeing the exuberant crowd and hoped it would lead to greater Christian unity. As the time approached for the Holy Father’s appearance, the crowd chanted their affection for Benedict XVI in various languages.
In front of the stage was assembled a large gathering of seminarians, young priests, young women religious and those young men and women exploring a vocation. Dressed in cassocks or habits, they — like the rest of the crowd — tolerated the unusual April warmth. The temperature rose to nearly 80 degrees.
The event was part rock concert, part pilgrimage. Many young people were clad in T-shirts which had slogans such as, “Become What You Believe,” or “I Love My German Shepherd.”
As the Pope arrived, the atmosphere became electric. It took several minutes for the event to begin as the crowd roared their approval.
Once under way the program featured various young people of the Archdiocese of New York presenting gifts to the Holy Father. The gifts often symbolized those saints — and those who are being considered for sainthood — who at one time or another lived in the greater New York area.
Those young people represented the rich Catholic cultural diversity that is present in the Archdiocese of New York. The assembled crowd even sang Happy Birthday to the Holy Father in German, for which he later thanked them and awarded them an “A+” for their German pronunciation.
Benedict XVI then addressed the crowd, spelling out both the gifts they possess and the challenges they face in today’s world.
The Holy Father spoke of the darkness that still lies in too many hearts. He said, “What might this darkness be? What happens when people, especially the most vulnerable, encounter a clenched fist of repression or manipulation rather than the hand of hope?
“A first group of examples pertains to the heart. Here, the dreams and longings that young people pursue can so easily be shattered or destroyed. I am thinking of those affected by drug and substance abuse, homelessness and poverty, racism violence and degradation — especially of girls and women.
“While the causes of these problems are complex, all have in common a poisoned attitude of mind which results in people being treated as mere objects; a callousness of heart takes hold which first ignores then ridicules the dignity of every human being.”
Benedict XVI also spoke of his youth and the evil of Nazism that was unleashed on the world. The German Pontiff connected the modern evil with the evil of his youth insisting that only through understanding the love of Jesus Christ and his teachings can one take on such sinister forces.
The Pontiff also reminded those in the crowd that everyone has a vocation and it is through prayer that one determines what that vocation is.
Prayer can come in many forms, he said, and specifically cited personal and contemplative types of prayer. The Holy Father also made it clear that prayer is to lead to a more personal relationship with God and his Son, Jesus.
“In the liturgy,” the Holy Father noted, “we find the Church at prayer.” He spoke of the paschal mystery and the need for the young to witness God’s grace at Mass. “Whenever you gather for Mass, when you got to confession, whenever you celebrate any of the sacraments, Jesus is at work,” said the Pontiff.
The Pope’s voice rose to a loud joyous level when he greeted the seminarians and noted the increase in vocations in America by saying, “I am glad to know your numbers are increasing!”
It was evident that the Holy Father wanted to bring many points home to the youth. It was made clear in his direct and urgent manner as well as the length of the speech, the longest of any of his talks or homilies during this papal visit.
After the Holy Father’s address, the crowd recited the litany of the saints. The program concluded by singing the Our Father, followed by the American pop singer Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of “Ave Maria,” and then the contemporary hymn, “City of God.”
The event culminated as the Holy Father departed by making his way across the large area of the stage going from left to right waving to the jubilant crowd.