'We have come to do him homage' (Mt 2:2)
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
Wlodzimierz Redzioch: - The World Youth Days were the idea of John Paul II, the priest who was involved in youth ministry for many years, who spent his holiday with young people, who prepared them for marriage. But the contacts of the present Pope with the environment of the youth were limited to meetings at universities where Prof. Ratzinger lectured. That's why many people feared that mass youth meetings did not match 'the temperament' of Benedict XVI. Were these fears justified?
Archbishop Rylko: - The 20th World Youth Day, like the previous Days, was full of surprises. First of all, it was the youth that astonished us again because they responded to the invitation, which this time two Popes extended: John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and arrived in great numbers. The participants will remember Marienfeld for a long time; the picture of one million young people from all over the world, immersed in the Adoration of the Eucharist, full of joy and enthusiasm of faith. 'Tired Christianity' of Western Europe, which Pope Benedict XVI often speaks of, needed such a testimony very much. But this time it was also Benedict XVI that astonished us. Despite of various opinions, the ones you have mentioned, he managed that great task he faced. Naturally, his style of dialogue with the young people was different from John Paul's. However, the heart of Peter's Successor was opened to meet the youth and they felt that at once. Thus we saw the great enthusiasm, which accompanied the Holy Father in Cologne from the moment of his arrival to his departure.
- As one of the main organisers of the World Youth Day in Cologne you were close to Benedict XVI all the time. What were the Pope's feelings about his first meeting with the young people who are called 'the generation of John Paul II'?
- The Holy Father did not hide his joy when he met the youth, which we all could see. It was evident that he felt good and reacted spontaneously to all signals, which the young people made. He found very quickly the right key to the hearts of the participants of the World Youth Day. At the same time Pope Benedict XVI was aware of many extraordinary circumstances, which preceded that meeting. He stressed several times that it was John Paul II who had chosen Cologne as the venue of the Youth Day, and thus he determined the place of the first foreign journey of his successor. 'I have not decided!' he repeated many a time... Truly, the decrees of God's Providence are unfathomable!
- The 20th World Youth Day was called the Day of Two Popes: John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It might have been the reason why numerous journalists tried to compare their 'pastoral styles'. Many claimed, as did Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Vatican spokesman, that John Paul II was 'Pope of gesture' whereas Benedict XVI is 'Pope of word'. Is this synthetic statement accurate?
- When we consider such rich personalities as John Paul II and of Benedict XVI every attempt to place them in some straitjacket of typology is an extremely risky endeavour because it oversimplifies too many things. I think that speaking about 'Pope of gesture' and 'Pope of word' is such a simplification. For all people know that John Paul II's 'gestures' were followed by the word and that word was extremely strong, with enormous prophetic load, the 'words' of Benedict XVI were followed by gestures, which express his personality. Let us pay attention to the sound of the Holy Father's voice, to his delicate and endearing smile, to his arms that were opening to the young people with father's embrace - those were his gestures, which the young people understood at once and responded with enthusiasm. In a word, they felt loved by that Pope, too! Speaking of 'gestures' we cannot forget the meeting in the Cologne synagogue, the ecumenical meeting and the meeting with the Muslim community...
- What was the most important message of Benedict XVI to the youth, gathered in Cologne?
- The Holy Father's addresses to the young people in Cologne are a real mine of contents, which both the young people and the shepherds should carefully reflect on. The Holy Father Benedict XVI gave us a clear framework of pastoral youth ministry, which should first make the effort to seek 'the Way, the Truth and the Life', which is Christ (the Wise Men provide an excellent example) and reach its climax in the Adoration and the Eucharist. This is the programme which sets high requirements both to the young people and chaplains, and they are required to go 'against the stream' of the tendencies of secular culture as well as against some pastoral tendencies (especially in Western Europe!), which 'fear' to speak about demands, call to holiness, prayer since priests are afraid of losing the youth. However, the young people of today, contrary to appearances, expect their chaplains to speak about such things. One could very clearly felt that in Cologne!
- Can we speak today about some concrete fruits of the youth meeting in Germany?
- The World Youth Days are a great gift for young people, today they are often lost, but at the same time the Days are a gift for the Church that needs those moments of 'epiphany' of her youth, which she takes from Christ and his Gospel. The Days are providential tools of evangelization of young people, which the Servant of God John Paul II left. You ask about the fruits of the World Youth Day in Cologne. They will certainly be similar to those we know from previous meetings, so first of all, the young people glow with enthusiasm of faith in its social dimension; their feelings of belonging to the Church; among other things we can mention that their attachment and love for Peter's Successor, have been deepened, but above all, there are numerous authentic conversions: people return to Christ and the Church after years of having gone astray and they discover the sacrament of penance. The Church also expects that young people would take courageous and thought-over decisions concerning their callings, especially priestly and religious vocations. The last dimension is extremely precious today! The youth ministry also looks for new impulses. This year, 750 bishops and about 10,000 priests arrived in Cologne. The meeting was an important school of youth ministry for them. Therefore, every World Youth Day is a great gift for the whole Church but at the same time it is a task, which we all, young people and priests, have to take on again. The seed, sowed in young souls in those days, needs to be tended and we must not forget that!
- Is the formula of the World Youth Days still valid after 20 years or should it be changed?
- The formula of the World Youth Days is characterised by the fact that it is very broad and flexible. The world youth meetings with the Successor of Peter have similar programmes, having their own physiognomy and structure (this is the task of the Pontifical Council for the Laity that I preside over), but at the same time every Day is different, has its characteristics, defined e. g. by the circumstances of time and place as well as the themes the Holy Father chooses. This happens every time. Therefore, every World Youth Day carries some element of astonishment to all, including us, organisers. Every World Youth Day appears to us as a gift that surpasses us. The final effect is always much bigger that the contribution of human powers and organisational ideas. That's why, today out basic concern is not to change the formula but to be faithful to the gift, which the Church received through John Paul II.
- So far every Youth Day has left some symbol. Which scene or gesture can assume the proportions of the symbol of the 20th World Youth Day?
- At the moment two extremely evocative scenes come to my mind. The first one is the welcome of the Holy Father on the Rhine, which was deceptively similar to the evangelical scene when Christ taught crowds from the boat on the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret. Many young people had such an impression. This was not a skilfully directed spectacle - this was a sign and message, which the young people understood perfectly well. And the second scene - the Eucharistic Adoration at the end of the vigil of prayer. One million people from all over the world knelt before Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. It was some kind of 'Statio Orbis' of the present Year of the Eucharist! This was also an extremely powerful sign, which was given to us so that we should think about it. But there was also some challenge directed to the young people: do not be afraid of kneeling, do not be afraid of praying. At the same time it was the challenge directed to priests: do not be afraid of proposing prayer to the youth and do not be afraid of creating occasions for prayer. The Holy Father Benedict XVI reminds us tirelessly that man reveals his identity, dignity and greatness at adoration before his Creator. I think that the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne will be remembered because of these two meaningful signs. The great spiritual adventure of the World Youth Days is continued. Saying good-bye to Cologne the young people were saying to one another: see you in Sydney in 2008, at the time of the next youth meeting with Peter's Successor. The preparations have already begun...
- Thank you for the conversation.