World Youth Day 2002

I am writing this message midst the joy and excitement of World Youth Day 2002. Yes, I am in Toronto with all our wonderful delegation from the Diocese of Buffalo. Because of publishing deadlines I am sending these thoughts on now, before this magnificent event concludes.

Despite its name, World Youth Day actually comprises several days, and in a real sense it does not have an end. It will be unforgettable for generations. Convictions established here will be lived out for years to come.

Our Holy Father's bearing and his voice have been strong, and his message has been stronger. Stressing fundamentals, he has returned to the Sermon on the Mount, described Jesus Christ in the challenge of the Beatitudes, and called upon all of us, especially young people, to be salt of the earth and light of the world.

Pope John Paul II's arrival has been electric. From the first instant his rapport with all was immediate. Young people, lay adults, religious, deacons, priests, bishops and Cardinals from all over the world continued to ring out our applause for him in music and cheers.

Of course, our unity is founded directly in Jesus Christ, but the Pope as Vicar of Christ on earth is a visible sign of that unity. John Paul II embodies that responsibility with profound historical impact.

No one in history has spoken to more people, in more languages, and in more cultural settings than he has. He has been a major force in the overthrow of Communist regimes, revolutions that have been for the most part bloodless and non violent. He has written numerous encyclicals, apostolic constitutions, apostolic exhortations, and pastoral letters. He has authorized the publication of the new Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

He meets with people from all over the world every day, striving with extraordinary resolve to build the Kingdom of God. His immense faith shows him to be a pilgrim on earth. We are here as pilgrims for World Youth Day, but more basically we are reminded that we all are pilgrims and sojourners on earth, in search of a better place, a finer homeland, a heavenly kingdom. All of us in our own ways are called in God's grace to build the City of God.

Of course there are challenges. For the disciples of Jesus Christ the most potent symbol on earth is the cross. Our Holy Father presented World Youth Day in 1984 with a special twelve foot cross. Since then it has been carried throughout the world and is very much in evidence here. It is borne through the throngs for the various events, its very movement underscoring our call as pilgrims. As it is lifted on the shoulders of young people, the Song of the Cross highlights the mystery:

"Love, lifted on the Cross for me,
My Lord, my God, my salvation.
Love, lifted high to set me free,
My Lord, my God, my salvation."

As Christians, as pilgrims, we are reminded that our crucifixions lead to Resurrection.

The theme for World Youth Day 2002 is: "You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world." With all the cheering, excitement, and applause, when all is said and done, we have come here most of all to pray. To pray with brothers and sisters from across the world. Our vision of what it means to be Catholic has been expanded. Our call to discipleship has become more urgent.

One of the keys, I believe, to understanding Pope John Paul is his mysticism. As a young man, at the same age as many young people here, he learned Spanish so that he could read the poetry of the revered mystic, St. John of the Cross, in the original language. He quotes St. John of the Cross in various places, particularly in his very personal testimony, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Citing "Dichosos de Luz y Vida," ("Sayings of Light and Life"), he reminds us: "En la tarde de la vida, seramos examinados por el amor." "In the twilight of our lives we will be evaluated on love."

May all of us, younger and older, be salt of the earth, light of the world, and pilgrims of love.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
July 26, 2002