Every day of this year’s triennial week-long Catholic festival in Madrid, Anna Halpine reports from the world’s largest gathering of young people.
As pilgrims in Madrid continue to celebrate World Youth Day and prepare for tomorrow’s weekend vigil and pilgrimage with the Pope, serious consideration of the new evangelisation, and the meaning of this papal invitation to the world’s youth took place at the English-speaking site today.
In 1991, reflecting on the collapse of Communism, John Paul II issued a letter to the world, (Centessimus Annus), as a reflection about the forms of society and civic participation that most respect and affirm the dignity of each and every human person. In it, the Pope insists that the role of the Church is not to impose, but to propose. What is this proposal that the Church is called to offer? The new evangelisation arises as an answer to the proposal of the Church in our time, and can be examined in light of the proposal that both John Paul II and Pope Benedict have made and continue to make to the world.
Fundamentally, the question “how am I to live my life”, is central to the task of the new evangelisation, which suggests that the answer lies in seeking to live a life which responds to the deepest desires and longings of the human heart. Young people in particular are searching for an answer to this question. They are thus, in a particular way the focus of the new evangelisation, and are, at WYD, which is an essential expression of the new evangelisation, the central partners in the conversation with the Pope this week in Madrid.
It was fitting that the presentation of the new evangelisation took place today at World Youth Day through a young American priest, Fr Roger Landry. Fr Landry pointed to the critical role played by young people as agents of the new evangelisation, who have the opportunity to rethink how to live and to choose to live a life that is transformed by knowing that God is present and is a decisive reality both in the world and in their lives. This transformation first happens within, and can then influence the world around them through their friendships with others, when young people have the courage to be living witnesses to the great hope which sustains our lives.
There is a paradox in living a life of authentic love and hope, which is that this desire to live a great love requires sacrifice and suffering. Further, it is often precisely in the experience of sacrifice and love that happiness emerges. Mothers experience this in raising a child, students experience this when they succeed after long study and effort, and athletes experience the elation of victory that comes from a regime of training and discipline. Each of these experiences forces the person to focus on something other than himself and the satiation of his own desires, and, by so doing, liberates himself. Love enables us to transform ourselves, but this is done most fully when our love is directed outside of our self to an object worthy of our full self-gift; that is towards another person who is worthy of our full love.
The new evangelisation thus requires a new vision — learning to see with eyes that show us who we truly are, and identifying where we can go to learn to see. Pope Benedict, reiterating Vatican II, reminds us that “Christ reveals man to himself” and is thus the means by which we can learn to identify the life worth living. The response to this proposal is one which resonates with the millions of pilgrims in Madrid. With the Pope, they followed him on the Via Crucis today, meditating on the sacrifice of a God who gave His life out of love for His own creatures. This is the vision of the life of greatness that Pope Benedict has presented to the young pilgrims, and it is one to which they are enthusiastically responding. Called to greatness by the Pope and daring to embrace the sacrifices and struggles that this will require, the young people filling the streets of Madrid are joyfully reaffirming the great hope that motivates their lives.
Anna Halpine is the founder of World Youth Alliance.