As thunder, lightning and wind whipped through the World Youth Day prayer vigil this past August, Pope Benedict XVI was advised to leave the event three times. But he insisted that if the young people stayed, then he would too.
The revelation comes from a young Honduran woman was who stood next to the Pope throughout the event.
“The masters of ceremony were asking him if the wanted to leave because it was raining, it was pouring and the wind was really strong and he kept on saying that he would not leave. In fact, he twice waved his finger saying ‘no, no, no’,” 27-year-old Erika Rivera told CNA.
The advisers then asked a third time if the Pope wanted to leave. But this time he responded even more firmly, pointing to the 2 million drenched young pilgrims and saying, “If they are staying, then I am staying too.”
“And when he said that, we, the young people who were there next to him, were just so happy to have him as the Holy Father. So it was a fantastic, unique experience,” Rivera said.
Rivera was a senior press officer at August’s World Youth Day, but she also served as the host at a number of the week’s papal events, including the Saturday night vigil at Madrid’s Cuatro Vientos airbase.
While the rain lashed and lighting flashed, Pope Benedict seemed to remain prayerfully composed beneath two white umbrellas. Meanwhile, the 2-million strong congregation youthfully sang, danced and prayed in the soaking rain.
We were not afraid at all because we could see that the first one who was serene was the Holy Father,” said Rivera.
“He transmitted a lot of serenity, a lot of calmness and therefore, you know, we thought what else could happen to us?”
After approximately 15 minutes, the rain abated, allowing Pope Benedict to thank the crowd for their “joy and resistance” in enduring the storm. “Your strength is bigger than the rain,” he told them, adding that “the Lord sends you lots of blessings with the rain.”
He then proceeded to lead the young people in Eucharistic adoration.
“It was just fantastic, amazing; it was like a masterpiece,” she said. “The Eucharist was there, the Holy Father was there and the future of the Church was there too - the young people - it was just amazing.”
Two months later Rivera believes there is a deeper lesson to be learned from Pope Benedict’s fortitude in the face of a Spanish storm.
While modern society often opts to “take the easy exit,” she said, to “see Pope Benedict willing to stay there, to make the sacrifice for him who died on the cross for us -- it was truly inspiring for me.”