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Archive of August 20, 2011

Summer program reinforces faith of youth

Sioux City, Iowa, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA) - Learning about the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary was a highlight of the Totus Tuus, Totally Yours summer program for Maya Bishwokarma.

“This week I learned about the carrying of the cross, the agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar and the crucifixion,” she said.

This Sioux City Holy Cross third grader is a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament and attended Totus Tuus at St. Michael Church the week of July 16-22. She decided to participate because she thought it looked interesting.

“I have really enjoyed how we learn. Every day it gets funner and funner,” said Bishwokarma. She added that each day when they reviewed she was raising her hand up and down more and more to answer questions because she had learned so much.

Program reaches many

Bishwokarma was one of many youth from the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa to experience Totus Tuus this summer. Four teams of teachers taught approximately 976 first through sixth graders and 345 seventh through twelfth graders in week-long sessions over seven weeks.

The teams traveled to 24 parishes in the diocese and one outside the diocese beginning the week of June 4-10 and ending the week of July 23-29.

This year the focus was on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and the mysteries of salvation history. The teachers were with the first through sixth grade students from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and the junior high and high school program was held from 7 to 9 p.m.

This was the first summer that Karmen Bower, assistant diocesan director of religious education and family life, was the Totus Tuus assistant director.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of parishes, a better group of teachers or a better group kids,” said Bower. “I am going to be able to leave this summer with such a positive experience. The parishes, the priests, the DREs and contact persons were so welcoming, hospitable and organized.”

She wanted to thank the parishes for opening their arms to the teachers. She said those who opened their homes and made meals for the teachers “are a beautiful example of living charity and servant love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“It can be a long summer for the teachers,” said Bower. “To be able to be incorporated into the family setting brings them a lot of joy. It is so evident through Totus Tuus in our diocese that we have awesome families and very vibrant parishes. I have been very impressed by how strong the faith is in each parish.”

Sean Martin, diocesan director of religious education, family life and youth and young adult ministry, thought the summer went very well.

“The teachers were dynamic in their teaching and faithful to their prayer, always striving to place the students in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a love for his church,” said Martin.  “The parishes served were very pleased with the program and are already planning for next year.”    

Reinforcing faith

St. Mary Parish in Larchwood has been hosting Totus Tuus since it began in the Diocese of Sioux City and have continued because it is a wonderful program, noted Father Jeff Schleisman, pastor.  This year St. Mary’s hosted Totus Tuus the week of July 17-22. 

“The children and the youth look forward to it being held. The response has always been positive from both parents and the children,” said the priest. “I personally look forward to it myself.  I enjoy getting to know the Totus Tuus teachers. They are always very gifted and are eager to share their knowledge and talents with the youth of the parish.” 

For the past several years, Father Schleisman has hosted the two male teachers in the rectory and most of the time the two men are seminarians studying for the Diocese of Sioux City.  He said this is an opportunity for him to get to know a future priest for the diocese.

“The children benefit from Totus Tuus as it reinforces their faith. The good seed has been sown in their lives, and Totus Tuus helps the seed to find fertile ground in their lives,” he said.  “The teachings and message that the week offers helps the seed to take root. I see Totus Tuus as water and nutrients in the children's lives. The children's and the youth's faith life will have an extra boost of growth due to having participated in Totus Tuus. As their faith grows, so does the church grow. The children are the church, and when they grow strong in their faith, so does the church grow stronger as a result.”

Father Schleisman added that both children and church “are inseparable, we are all in this together – to glorify God by building up the body of Christ the Church and Tutus Tuus helps do exactly that.”

Totus Tuus has been hosted at Holy Family Parish in Emmetsburg since 2007. A teaching team was in Emmetsburg the week of July 10-15.

“We have continued to host Totus Tuus because of the love of the program our students have, all ages from first grade to seniors in high school come to share the love Jesus in their life,” said Jean Hyslop, DRE at Holy Family. “Not only do our students attend and learn from the Totus Tuus teachers, but also students in grades 7-12 help with the classes during the day.”

Some of the students, she said, arrive at 9 a.m. to help out, leave at 2:30 p.m. and are back at 7:30 p.m. “to witness the love of Jesus in the young men and women who are wonderful role models to our students.”

According to Hyslop, hosting Totus Tuus is fairly simple.  They send in the payment to guarantee a team for the parish, ask for volunteers to provide housing for the teachers and ask for volunteers to serve evening meals to the teachers.  Volunteers are also needed during the day to help in the classrooms, with snack, lunch and to clean up.  On Wednesday evening the parish hosts a potluck. 

“The parish and children benefit from the Totus Tuus program because for one week these children see college age young people witness their faith all day and into the evening.  These teachers are ‘Totally Yours’ for this week,” said the DRE. “It is also very evident in the kind of young people selected to teach, that they live their life according to the commands of Jesus.”

 The parish benefits by utilizing a program through the diocese that would be almost impossible to duplicate in their parish.  The potluck brings the generations together for food, building community, laughs and songs, noted Hyslop.

Printed with permission from the Catholic Globe, newspaper for the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.

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Archbishop Dolan praises Madrid's move on abortion and confession

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA) - New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan has applauded the Madrid archdiocese's decision to authorize all priests at World Youth Day to forgive abortion, a task normally reserved for the local bishop.

“At special times like this the Church bends over backwards to say ‘Alleluia, your sins are forgiven; go in peace, there is no limit to God’s mercy,’” he told CNA on Aug. 19.

“Not bad if you ask me,” he enthused. “Alleluia!”

Church regulations, known as canon law, require that “certain particularly grave sins” – including cooperation in an abortion – can only be absolved “by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them.”

In practice, many bishops in countries such as the United States do authorize priests to forgive such sins, usually after special training. This week Madrid's Archbishop Antonio Rouco Varela has given this authority to all priests attending World Youth Day.

“This is to make it easier for the faithful who attend the World Youth Day celebrations to obtain the fruits of divine grace,” the archdiocese explained on its website.

Archbishop Dolan said the current canon law showed the Church to be “a wise teacher.”

“And one of the ways she teaches is by sometimes attaching certain penalties to sins that are particularly hideous – abortion would be one of them – so usually abortion is regarded as a ‘restricted’ sin.”

But with pilgrims coming to the diocese for just a brief time, “you don’t want to be in the position of saying ‘hmm, could you come back tomorrow?’”

“No. You don’t want to do that and Jesus wouldn’t want us to do that.”

Archbishop Dolan's sentiment is shared by Vicki Thorn, the Milwaukee-based founder of the post-abortion counseling network Project Rachel.

Thorn happens to be in Madrid this week, and told CNA that while abortion “must normally be taken to the bishop before forgiveness is granted,” the process is “untenable at an event such as this.”

It would be “an undue burden to expect a pilgrim to find the same priest before leaving after he has had to make contact with a bishop.”

Thorn, who has counseled women after abortions for 44 years, says the experience of true repentance, followed by sacramental confession and absolution, “is absolutely critical to the healing process.”

A woman who wrongly assumes that she has “committed the unforgiveable sin … needs the grace of confession to heal.”

Thorn also said that the “vast majority” of priests in the United States already have the authority from their bishops, to absolve Catholics who confess their involvement in an abortion.

Abortion sharply divides Spain, as it does most other Western countries. Last month, Spain's Socialist government received parliamentary approval for new laws liberalizing the process, in a country where over 100,000 children already die from abortion each year.

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Hollywood star Matt Marsden urges young Catholics to get involved in movies

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA) -

Hollywood actor Matt Marsden said that young Catholics need to get involved in movie-making and other artistic ventures if they want to change the culture.

“It’s vitally important for the future,” the 38-year-old actor – who has starred in movies such as “Black Hawk Down” and “Transformers” – told CNA during his World Youth Day visit in Madrid on Aug. 19. 

“There’s not going to be anything left if we don’t fight,” he added. “Pope John Paul was so explicit about it wasn’t he? About getting involved in culture and movies – and at the moment we’re not.”

Marsden had just taken part in a panel discussion on the subject of faith and entertainment at Madrid’s Palacio de Deportes indoor stadium which, for this week, is a base for English-speaking pilgrims at World Youth Day. 

“There’s so much I wanted to say to the young people – that I’m so proud and inspired by them and that they’re so far along in their faith at such a young age. I think that’s really crucial.”

But it is the culture that young people are growing up in that most concerns Marsden, and the lack of impact that Catholicism has upon the movie making process in Hollywood.

“We are the only group that doesn’t have a voice in Hollywood – the only group – and that’s totally down to investment.”

The solution, said Marsden, is for “high net worth” Catholics to come together to create a film fund that could invest in specific film projects or even buy a studio. Otherwise, film projects that promote or reflect a Christian worldview simply won’t get made, he said.

“You’ve got to look at something like the 'Passion of the Christ,'” Marsden noted. “To me it always was a slam dunk. You’ve got Mel Gibson who, for me, is a fine actor and is an even better director – the guy is a genius – and he couldn’t get funding for it. That for me is just madness.”

“Catholics,” he said, “will sit about and complain about the state of the culture but then they’ll go and build a wing of a hospital. That’s great but they’d have much more impact on the culture as a whole if they invested in a film fund.” 

Marsden originally hails from near Birmingham in England but now lives in Los Angeles, despite his ongoing obsession with his favorite English soccer team, West Bromwich Albion. His greatest passions in life, however, are his family and his faith.

“I get great inspiration from my wife,” said Marsden, who has been married to Maltese-born Nadine for the past six years. They have three children.

“She is the way that people should live their lives. The way she behaves, she’s amazing. Every time I look at her I see the goodness of God. I really mean that –  because she’s an angel.”

Equally inspirational, he said, are prayer and the sacraments.   

“Confession is very, very important as well. When I was younger I never went to confession and now I go weekly. It is such a great gift and people who don’t go should go.”

As for future projects, his ambition is to make a film about the 16th century Siege of Malta when the Christian Knights of St. John, vastly outnumbered, defeated the Muslim forces of the Ottoman Empire.

Marsden explained that “if Malta had gone Christendom would have been wiped out.”

“It is a staggering story of faith, just staggering,” he said, but it would also make “an incredible action film.”

The hero of the story is Jean Parisot de Valette, the Grand Master who was “a 73-year-old man fighting in a suit of armor – I mean it’s just so cool,” Marsden said.

“And I love Malta because my wife is Maltese and the set is already there – it’s the island. So that is my dream to do that. It would be excellent. And I’d love Mel Gibson to direct it.”

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Lunch with Pope in Madrid, an unforgettable experience for 12 pilgrims

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

World Youth Day volunteers who were selected to have lunch with Pope Benedict XVI on August 19 experienced a relaxed, communal and exciting atmosphere, sharing their thoughts and experiences.

“The Pope was very happy, (and) laughed with all of us. That is a side of him that I wish more people would know, because it is not well known,” said 33-year old Juan Carlos Piedra, from Ecuador, in an interview with CNA.

Piedra was one of twelve World Youth Day 2011 volunteers who got to share a meal with the Pope after his name was drawn from a pool of 30,000 others. The globally diverse group spoke English, Italian, French, Spanish and German over lunch at the Ambassadors Lounge of the Apostolic Nunciature, according to Piedra.

The conversation was very casual, and each of the selected youth told the Pope “our worries, desires and the people we represented,” Piedra explained.

“He transmitted serenity to us, because at first we did not know what to say, we did not know what to do while everyone arrived.”

Claire Brown, a 22-year old Australian, told CNA that having lunch with the Pope was “an amazing experience.”

For Brown, World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney was “an incredible experience that inspired many in Australia to grow in the Catholic faith.” This year, 4,000 Australians have come to Madrid, “the largest group of pilgrims from my country that there has ever been at World Youth Day.”

“The chance to be with the Holy Father and youth around is something I will never forget,” she said.

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Kenyan father and son made sacrifices to make it to Madrid

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA) - It took a long trip, and “a lot of sacrifice,” for Lucas Masila and his 6-year old son Laurent to make it to Madrid for World Youth Day 2011.

But they're glad to be here, and to have their faith strengthened by Pope Benedict XVI. “It was not easy to come, so we are thankful,” Masila told CNA on August 20.

Catholics, he said, “are the majority in Kenya,” but “it is challenging, because of the hardships …  Social-economic situations make it hard, but we are happy. We are happy to be Catholic.”

The trip cost about $3,000 dollars for each of them. Because his son is so young, Lucas traveled separately, without a larger group.

“He is my group,” Lucas Masila said, smiling and looking down at his energetic son.

Laurent's father is attending World Youth Day for the third time this year, having traveled to Italy for the 2000 gathering and to Germany in 2005. He experienced Blessed Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in 2000, and is excited to have seen Pope Benedict XVI.

“For me, it is wonderful. For my son it is more exciting! It is the first time he is at World Youth Day, and we have seen the Pope twice. We are very excited about it.”

Their favorite event so far has been the Stations of the Cross, where youth from different countries carried the cross.

“My son wanted to walk with the people carrying the cross - he was not very happy because he wanted to walk,” Lucas said, chuckling at his son’s eagerness.

The experience will “improve his faith,” and Laurent “will be able to direct other people,” the boy’s father observed.

“He is a happy boy,” he said. “A God-fearing boy.” 

Laurent said that he has had “a lot of fun” throughout the week, and has collected an array of pins and other mementos, all displayed on his pilgrim backpack.

The experience has been “more than worth” the sacrifice it took,” said his father: “We do not regret anything!”

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US bishops share their appreciation with World Youth Day pilgrims

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Some 8,000 U.S. pilgrims at World Youth Day 2011 received expressions of gratitude and encouragement from their country's bishops, following a Mass on the morning of August 20.

“We bishops encourage your energy, your enthusiasm and your love. We support your witness when you go back home, we request your prayers in return,” Chicago's Cardinal Archbishop Francis E. George told Mass attendees at the “Love and Life Center,” this week's headquarters for English-speaking pilgrims.

Cardinal George, who presided at the Mass, spoke “on behalf of my brother bishops,” thanking the U.S. pilgrims “for your dedication and your love to our Lord Jesus, for all your efforts and the testimony you have given.” New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan was the homilist at the Mass, concelebrated by all of the U.S. cardinals and bishops attending World Youth Day.

In his remarks, Cardinal George also encouraged the young pilgrims to be “grateful to your parents, your benefactors and all those who made possible for you to be here.”

After the Mass, delegates from the U.S. bishops' dioceses arranged for the faithful of the local churches to meet with their bishops, at sites throughout the large “Palacio de Deportes.”

Chicago resident Larissa Campos told CNA that “it was really cool to spend time with our bishop.”

“I haven’t seen him since I received confirmation and it was so great to be here with him, sharing the same experience,” she added, after meeting with Auxiliary Bishop John Manz.

“We also discovered he is a lot of fun … something we would have never imagined,” said Maricela Avila, also from Chicago.

The Mass and get-together was the last event held at the “Love and Life” pilgrim center, hosted by the Knights of Columbus and the Sisters of Life. At its peak, on August 17, the site hosted 20,000 pilgrims.

Sponsors of the English-speaking center included Holy Cross Family Ministries, Canada’s Salt and Light Television Network, the Apostleship of Prayer, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), World Youth Alliance and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

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Pope hears confessions at World Youth Day's 'Forgiveness Festival'

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI heard confessions from four young people in Madrid at the August 20 event billed as a “Forgiveness Festival,” where 200 priests also offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

A drawing took place from the pool of World Youth Day volunteers who wished to go to Confession with the Pope, according to Vatican Press Office Director Father Federico Lombardi.

To be included in the pool, the volunteers had to be able to speak one of the three languages that the Pope speaks best: Italian, French or German.

Two volunteers from France, one from Switzerland, and one from Spain were chosen. Originally, three young people were to be chosen, but a fourth was selected in case one could not attend. In the end, however, all four arrived and met with the Pope.

Pope Benedict concluded the confessions in the morning and went to the Cathedral of El Almudena, where about 2,000 seminarians were expecting him for a special Mass.

A World Youth Day volunteer named Guadalupe was at the Forgiveness Festival, and told CNA that she had “never seen anything like it in my life.”

Young people “cried with joy and excitement. It was very nice to see so many people united,” she reflected.

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Pope to address Norwegian youth at Cuatro Vientos airport

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI will receive a group of Norwegian World Youth Day pilgrims at the Cuatro Vientos airport on August 20, addressing them with encouraging words following last month's terrorist attack.

“Norway, as we are all aware, suffered this tragedy that impacted the whole world, during which many young people died,” Vatican Press Office Director Father Federico Lombardi noted on August 20.

Fr. Lombardi said the Pope would give the pilgrims a “message of hope and integration” in the aftermath of the violence that killed 77 people.

The address will occur in the context of the vigil that will take place in the Cuatro Vientos airport, which opened its doors early in the day to host the estimated 1.5 million people expected to attend the concluding events of World Youth Day 2011.

Anders Behring Breivik, an opponent of European immigration and multiculturalism, was responsible for the July 22 attacks in the Norwegian capital of Oslo and the island of Utoya.

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Pope calls upon seminarians to become saints

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has told over 4,500 students for the priesthood that they should spend their years of study becoming saints as well as priests.

“We have to be saints so as not to create a contradiction between the sign we are and the reality that we wish to signify,” said the Pope at a special World Youth Day Mass for seminarians at Madrid’s Cathedral of the Almudena.

“Looking at you, I again see proof of how Christ continues to call young disciples and to make them his apostles, thus keeping alive the mission of the Church and the offer of the Gospel to the world.”

The young seminarians' enthusiasm for the Pope was evident from the moment of his arrival outside the Cathedral just after 10am. Glimpsing the Pope on television monitors, those inside spontaneously began to chant “Benedicto! Bendedicto!” and “El Papa! Viva!” amid youthful cheers and applause.

Immediately before Mass a young Spanish seminarian, Pablo Lamata Molina, welcomed the Pope on behalf of the several thousand students who were drawn from seminaries around the world.

In his homily the Pope noted how each of them had been called by Jesus. “You have followed his voice and, attracted by his loving gaze, you now advance towards the sacred ministry,” said the Pope, before outlining how they should live life at seminary.

“First of all, they should be years of interior silence, of unceasing prayer, of constant study and of gradual insertion into the pastoral activity and structures of the Church.”

The Pope also said that that a seminarian's heart “must mature while in seminary, remaining completely open to the Master” so that “this openness, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, inspires the decision to live in celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and, leaving aside the world’s goods, live in austerity of life and sincere obedience, without pretense.”

He also told them always to be faithful to the teachings of the Church, to “meditate well upon this mystery of the Church” as a divine institution, and only to proceed to the priesthood if they were “completely determined to exercise it in obedience to the Church’s precepts.” 

All of this will prepare the seminarian to be a “servant, priest and victim” who will rely on the love of Jesus Christ and “not be intimidated by surroundings that would exclude God and in which power, wealth and pleasure are frequently the main criteria ruling people’s lives.”

The Pope, who recently celebrated his 60th year as a priest, reassured the seminarians that whatever challenges may arise after ordination, “God gives the right grace to face and overcome those challenges with love and realism.”

Thus, said the Pope, the ministry of the priest will bring many people to Christ, the Church, and ultimately to Heaven.

“Through Christ we know that we are not walking towards the abyss, the silence of nothingness or death, but are rather pilgrims on the way to a promised land, on the way to him who is our end and our beginning.”

Both seminary staff and students reacted warmly to the Pope's remarks.

Father Pedro Rivero, seminary rector for the Spanish Diocese of Tenerife, told CNA that the Pope “said several very important, fundamental things about our Catholic life and about priestly formation, such as the need for study, the need to be near to the poor and sick people and the importance of sanctity.”

Meanwhile an Iraqi seminarian who read one of the prayers of intercession during the Papal Mass told CNA he was moved by all he saw and heard.

“I was very happy to meet the Pope and to pray with him and happy that he prayed for our Church and for peace,” said Deacon Raed Fadhil Khadhur of the Mosul Archdiocese.

“I was also glad the Pope encouraged us seminarians to continue praying and to carry the faith in their hearts and to witness in the world.”

The Mass concluded with Pope Benedict declaring the 16th century Spanish priest, St. John of Avila, a Doctor of the Church. After his proclamation, the congregation sang an anthem to Our Lady of the Almudena, the patron of Madrid.

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Pope declares a new Doctor of the Church: St. John of Avila

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has honored the 16th century Spanish priest St. John of Avila by naming him the 34th Doctor of the Catholic Church.

“In making this announcement here, I would hope that the word and the example of this outstanding pastor will enlighten all priests and those who look forward to the day of their priestly ordination,” said the Pope at the conclusion of a special World Youth Day Mass for seminarians at Madrid’s Cathedral of the Almudena on August 20.

St. John of Avila was born in 1500 in the town of Almodovar del Campo, 155 miles south of Madrid. A Christian of Jewish descent, he studied law at the University of Salamanca before being ordained a priest. He went on to become a great preacher, author and mystic, writing works that influenced St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Francis Borgia among others. 

His best-known works include “Audi Fili,” a tract on Christian perfection, and his collected spiritual letters to his followers. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970, with his feast day falling on May 10.

The title of ‘Doctor of the Church’ is bestowed upon a saint whose writings are deemed to be of universal importance to the Church. The Pope must also declare the individual to be of “eminent learning” and “great sanctity.” Other Doctors of the Church include St. Augustine, St. John Chryosostom, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Catherine of Siena.

“It is very happy news because he is the patron of secular priests in Spain, and it was a surprise because we didn’t know this announcement was going to be made,” said 22-year-old Madrid resident Alfonso Rodriguez-Ponga, speaking to CNA after the Mass.

“I think that he’s a very important saint for Spanish people,” said 28-year old Almudena Vigie, also from Madrid, “and I think that it’s very good news because we all in Spain love this saint and we study him at school and know all about him. And now, hearing the Pope say he’ll be a Doctor of the Church is very good news. We are very happy.”

The last saint to be given the title was the 19th century French nun St. Theresa of Lisieux. Her elevation to the rank was announced by Pope John Paul II during World Youth Day in Paris back in August of 1997, with the proclamation coming into effect two months later.

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Youth flood Cuatro Vientos airport, awaiting Pope's arrival at vigil

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - More than a million young people from around the world eagerly awaited Pope Benedict's arrival at the Cuatro Vientos aerodrome for the World Youth Day 2011 vigil on August 20.

“We look forward to having time to pray together and meditate on our lives,” Salesian Society member Paola Felleti told CNA on August 20. She described the time in Madrid as an “intense week, with lots of great moments.”

Felletti's group of 8,000 Salesian Society pilgrims arrived at Cuatro Vientos around 2 p.m. She laughed as she recalled how the group spent the earlier hours of the day, mostly “trying to survive the hot weather (by) drinking water and just waiting for the sunset.”

She and a small group of other pilgrims entertained themselves by playing cards, as they sat on their mats and blankets.

Another Salesian Society member, 30-year old Spaniard Nacho Roba, told CNA his group was “in disbelief with the amount of people that are here.”

He looked out over the vast sea of people and flags, declaring: “It's fantastic!”

“We are a little apprehensive about whether we will see the Pope from our spot or not, but we will get as close as possible,” the pilgrim from Spain said.

“I think the most exciting part tonight will be the development of the vigil – the singing, cheering, and tomorrow’s Eucharistic procession. It will be especially exciting for those who have never been to World Youth Day before, or even left their country,” Roba observed.

One of those first-time attendees is Mattia Piampiano, a 16-year old from Italy. He told CNA that he was excited for the vigil, and had met people from many countries during the week.

“Tonight will be wonderful - the best night of World Youth Day 2011!” he said with a big smile, surrounded by the group of fellow Salesian pilgrims from around the world as they cheered and sang with the rest of Cuatro Vientos.

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Pope braves lightning storm to teach 1 million young pilgrims

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

In some of the most extraordinary scenes witnessed at any recent Papal event, Pope Benedict XVI braved thunder, lighting and driving rain to tell young people to stay close to Christ as they make their way in life.

“Be proud of the gift of faith which you have received, as it will illumine your life at every moment,” said the Pope to over a million young people gathered for a prayer vigil at Cuatro Vientos air base on the outskirts of Madrid.

“Christ alone can respond to your aspirations. Let yourselves be seized by God, so that your presence in the Church will give her new life!”

Pope Benedict’s address had barely started, however, when a ferocious lightning storm enveloped the entire event, threatening its very continuation. 

“We are going to wait for a few more minutes, counting on your prayers, and see if this stops,” said an event organizer over the public address system.

Young pilgrims got drenched while Pope Benedict took shelter from the wind and rain beneath a large white umbrella, held fast by his master of ceremonies Father Guido Marini.

The Pope remained remarkably serene amid the howling gales, although his hair was repeatedly buffeted by the wind - as was his prepared text, which subsequently was abandoned.

But the storm didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of young pilgrims, as many simply chose to dance and sing in the downpour.

And minutes later, and as the repeated chant of “We are the Pope’s Children” went up to the heavens, the rain ceased.

“The storm? Wow. It was a blast,” said a very wet 17-year-old Matt Horn, originally from Florida, to CNA. He added: “I guess it’s a sign from God to wash away our sins and now that it’s cleared we’re clear of our sins for now - and hopefully that means that we’ll now listen to the Pope and be his children as the chant says.”

“Thank you for your joy and resistance. Your strength is bigger than the rain,” said Pope Benedict as the rain let up. “The Lord sends you lots of blessings with the rain.”

In a shortened speech, the Pope went on to urge the young people to use tonight’s prayer vigil to grow closer to Jesus Christ as they discern their paths.

“Dear young people, in these moments of silence before the Blessed Sacrament, let us raise our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ, the Lord of our lives and of the future,” said the Pope to English speaking pilgrims.

“May he pour out his Spirit upon us and upon the whole Church, that we may be a beacon of freedom, reconciliation and peace for the whole world.”

A sense of peace descended on the crowd as the Mass choir sang Mozart's Eucharistic hymn “Ave Verum Corpus,” before Pope Benedict led all present in the service of Benediction.

Movingly, most of the million-strong congregation chose to kneel in the mud before the Blessed Sacrament.

In an impromptu address before leaving, the Pope told the young pilgrims that they had “lived an adventure together” this evening, and thanked them for the sacrifice they were making with their all-night prayer vigil.

And he drew one further lesson from this evening’s storms.

“Like tonight, with Christ you can face the trials of life. Do not forget. Thank you.”

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Young pilgrims feel emboldened by dramatic vigil experience

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA) - Young people at the Cuatro Vientos air base felt their passion for God and the Church renewed after experiencing an evening of torrential rainstorms together with Pope Benedict XVI on August 20. 

“To see the man that is leading you and the world in your faith, and the fact that he cares enough to put up with the rain himself, is so inspiring,” Michelle Emit, a 19-year old Australian, told CNA.

Speaking from the heart and full of passion, Emit said that seeing and hearing the Pope, with so many other young people, “makes you want more than anything to be Catholic and devote your whole life to Jesus Christ.”

Such moments “redirect your life to Christ” and put things back in perspective, she reflected. “I am so glad to be Catholic and to be here!”

For 17-year old Pablo Zanoso, an event volunteer from Spain, the storm made for an anxious night – but seeing the Pope from one of the closest rows, he said, was indescribable.

“We have shown him great love, and he has shown it back to us, considering us friends – what else can you ask for?” 

Zanoso said the fearless response to the storm, on the part of the Pope and all those present, shows how the Church “demonstrates that it is strong.”

“It can evangelize, and re-evangelize, Europe and the rest of the world,” thanks to people who “pray and fight for the world to be closer to what Christ wanted for it.”

After seeing the Pope during the Stations of the Cross and at the vigil, the young volunteer was excited to be with him again for Sunday Mass. “It is a huge privilege – your legs start to shake!”

Listening to the Pope’s message inspired 19-year old Canadian Anne Dollie to “be more active in my parish and the Church,” she told CNA.

She also saw the Pope from one of the rows closest to the stage, and said it was “unbelievable.”

“He was so joyful and everyone else was, too.” She thanked God for the opportunity, despite the rain.

In the past, Dollie felt “alone” in her faith. But in the presence of so many others gathered to worship God, “my heart was just lifted up.”

“I know Jesus is here. I can feel it,” she said, radiant with excitement and looking forward to tomorrow’s Mass.

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Pope Benedict XVI defends the dignity of the disabled

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI visited a center for mentally and physically disabled young people as part of his World Youth Day visit to Madrid.

“Dear friends, our society, which all too often questions the inestimable value of life, of every life, needs you,” the Pope told those at the Instituto San Jose in Madrid on August 20.

“In a decisive way you help to build the civilization of love.  What is more, you play a leading role in that civilization.”

Pope Benedict met many of those who use the center, including 20-year-old Antonio who is both mentally and physically handicapped. He explained to the Pope how his parents' love had helped him overcome adversity.

“It was thanks to the love they showed me, even when faced with what could turn out to be an obstacle in their lives, they decided to look toward the future,” the young man said. “This attitude helped us to excel. It helped us to never give in.”

In response, the Pope said that the modern world often struggles to cope with suffering, such that “when suffering appears on the horizon of a young life, we are shaken; perhaps we ask ourselves: 'Can life still be something grand, even when suffering unexpectedly enters it?'”

But the Pope pointed out that “the true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer,” adding that “a society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through compassion, is a cruel and inhuman society.”

Madrid’s Instituto San Jose was founded in 1898 and is run by the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God. The Pope praised the commitment of all those involved in the center, saying it proclaims “the greatness to which every human being is called: to show compassion and loving concern to the suffering, just as God himself did.”

He said the presence of the young people at the institution “awakens in our often hardened hearts a tenderness which opens us to salvation,” so that the “lives of these young people surely touch human hearts, and for that reason we are grateful to the Lord for having known them.”

Earlier in the day the Pope also met with the organizers of World Youth Day at the Papal Nuncio’s residence in Madrid to thank them for their efforts.

“Only love for the Church and zeal to evangelize young people can explain this generous commitment of time and energy, which will bear much apostolic fruit,” the Pope told those who have worked for years to make this week’s events possible. His thanks went out to both civil and ecclesiastical authorities.

“Since Jesus tells us that not even a cup of water given in his name will go without reward,” said the Pope, “how much more will be rewarded the daily and unceasing contribution to the organization of a church event of such importance as the one we are now celebrating!”

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