(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
Bishops conducted prayer services encouraging young pilgrims to think about a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. The secular media, though, sought to emphasize a controversial side to the papal trip rather than focusing on the uplifting spiritual journey of 800,000 young pilgrims. They did not have to look far this time as the sexual abuse scandal pervading the Church in the U.S. and Canada provided a convenient undercurrent to most news reports.
The pope referred to the controversy during the closing Mass.
“The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame. But think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good,” the pope said.
“If you love Jesus, love the Church,” he added.
For the youths, many of whom traveled to World Youth Day with their parish priest, his words were welcome.
“I think it's important that he talk about it today. We hear so much about this on our news stations, and it's important for the pope to say he still supports the priests who are leading these groups here,” said one participant from New York.
At one point, the 82-year-old pontiff conceded to his own growing physical limitations.
“You are young, and the pope is old and a bit tired,” he told the young people. “But he still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations. Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young.
“Do not let that hope die!” he said. “Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.
The Holy Father ended his homily with a prayer for the pilgrims.
“O Lord Jesus Christ, keep these young people in your love. Let them hear your voice and believe what you say, for you alone have the words of life. Teach them how to profess their faith, bestow their love, and impart their hope to others. Make them convincing witnesses to your Gospel in a world so much in need of your saving grace. Make them the new people of the beatitudes, that they may be the salt of the earth and the light of the world at the beginning of the third Christian millennium! Mary, Mother of the Church, protect and guide these young men and women of the 21st century. Keep us all close to your maternal heart. Amen.”