Over 5,000 Canadian youngsters began World Youth Day this morning with a rally where they gathered to pray, sing and celebrate their Catholic faith.
“The Lord has a wonderful way of placing things and timing things,” said Fr. Thomas Rosica, organizer of this morning’s event at Madrid’s Palacio de Deportes, in remarks to CNA.
“It wasn’t until we were preparing, though, that somebody said to me, ‘you realize you’re the first event of World Youth Day?’”
The 90-minute event - conducted in English and French – is also the first time the Canadian Catholic Church has attempted such a mass gathering at a World Youth Day on foreign soil.
It heard testimony from young people who had taken part in World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada in 2002, as well as speeches from various Canadian bishops, 22 of whom were present.
“We are delving into the mystery of our faith, the beautiful faith of the Church, which we’re immersed at the time of our baptism. And as we do, we pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us to a new encounter with Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton told the young pilgrims.
Meanwhile Archbishop Terence Prendergast of Ottowa and Archbishop Gerald Lacroix of Quebec led the gathering in a “prayer of commissioning” that was first used by Pope John Paul II in Toronto.
Throughout, music was provided by Christian rock singer Fr. Robert Galea, a Maltese priest who is now based in Australia.
CNA caught up with a group of young pilgrims from the Diocese of Kamloops, British Colombia as they exited the arena.
“It was really great, it was awesome, it made me think more about the faith and the way everybody spoke about it was very inspiring,” said 13-year-old Emily Ouillette.
“It was amazing. Canada is a very unified country, so to come together in Madrid and show our faith is really amazing,” added 25-year-old Mike Bruno.
“The youth will always bring new life to the Church. If we can inspire the youth of our country, it’ll be the grassroots swelling to keep our faith alive,” said their pilgrim group leader, Fr. Andrew L’Heureux.
“To give the children an understanding a great love of God is the most important thing – if our young people can understand how much God loves them, how much Mary loves them and how much they desire to have intimate friendship with them, then they will inspire the rest of the country. They will be the fire for our country.”
“This is the beginning of something,” Fr. Rosica predicted.
“The fact that there are over 6,000 Canadians present here at the moment in Madrid is incredible. The fact they wanted to gather together is another great gift. It was quite beautiful.”