Pontiff urges youth to enter church life “more deeply”
by luke eggleston
SUN Staff writer
NEW YORK — A day-long youth rally Saturday, April 19, at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers culminated in the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI.
After a day of entertainment featuring performances by headline singers such as Kelly Clarkson and spiritual singing trio the Three Graces, the pontiff was greeted with a clamor that was unprecedented throughout the event.
The Syracuse Diocese issued 200 tickets to the youth rally. For many of the young people who attended, having an opportunity to relate to fellow Catholics had been enough of a thrill already.
“This feels great,” said Aaron Murphy, a freshman at Marcellus High School who attends Holy Family Church in Fairmount. “It’s like a bond, it’s a connection, it’s overwhelming.”
Another Holy Family parishioner, Sarah Whelan, noted that the gathering, which included roughly 25,000 attendees, amplified her anticipation of seeing the pope.
“I think it’s so cool to see this many people here to see the pope,” she said. “It’s just great to see this many people of one faith.”
The youth from the Syracuse Diocese who attended the rally also attended a pre-papal event Friday, which was hosted by the Rockville Centre Diocese at the St. Agnes Cathedral on Long Island. That event was co-coordinated by the Syracuse Diocese’s Office of Youth Ministry.
“They were really excited last night,” said Bob Walters, Syracuse Diocese director of youth ministry.
Walters added that many of the young attendees had sacrificed a portion of their vacation to attend the rally.
“They came here on the last Friday of their spring break to sit in the hot sun and to talk about the Holy Father,” Walters said. He added that the previous night, many youths participated in Eucharistic adoration for the first time in their spiritual lives and that many more went to confession in preparation for greeting the pontiff.
Deacon John Woloszyn chaperoned six young people from his parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Liverpool. He observed that the youth from his parish were astonished at the turnout.
“They’re excited. I think they’re overwhelmed,” he said. “They can’t believe there are so many when they look around.”
Before the pope’s arrival, Woloszyn noted that the event had already inspired many of the young people and that seeing the Holy Father would be the apex of the experience.
“The kids are coming to see the pope and they will — that’s the pinnacle — but they’ve been partying for two days,” he said.
Samantha Pareh, a 13-year-old who is home schooled and attends Immaculate Heart of Mary, said that it was exciting to be immersed in a crowd that shared her faith.
Comedian Mo Rocca emceed the event and he issued “shout-outs” to a number of locales. While the majority of the attendees responded to states, cities and boroughs in the Northeast, some cheers emerged in response to such far-flung states as North Dakota and Oregon.
“It’s really amazing. There’s tons of people here who believe the same thing,” Pareh said.
The pope’s impending arrival became apparent as more and more security personnel appeared along the perimeter of the crowd. Complementing the personnel on the ground, the helicopters hovering overhead swelled in number.
Finally, television screens revealed the pope blessing disabled young people and being presented with a painting by two young girls within the chapel at St. Joseph’s.
When the pope’s vehicle came into view the cheers grew wilder and then reached a crescendo when he acknowledged the crowd from the stage.
Then, young people sang happy birthday to the pope in his native German. The pontiff turned 81 Wednesday, April 16, the day he arrived in Washington, D.C.
Cardinal Edward Egan of the Archdiocese of New York personally welcomed the pope to the stage.
“We are truly delighted to have you here and to greet the youth of the church and with them the future brothers and sisters,” said Cardinal Egan, who made mention of the pope’s special request that this particular rally include seminarians and future religious.
After the cardinal’s welcome, several young people offered gifts to the pope and several others offered presentations featuring saints.
During his address to the young people, the pontiff identified with a generation that he said was beset by “difficulties, activities and mindsets which stifle hope, pathways which seem to lead to happiness and fulfillment but in fact end only in confusion and fear.”
The pope made special mention of his own youth, which he said was “marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers.”
Pope Benedict XVI concluded by directing his address to vocations in particular and offered words of encouragement to the religious candidates and seminarians there.
“Gathered here at St. Joseph Seminary, I greet the seminarians present and indeed encourage all seminarians throughout America,” he said. “I am glad to know that your numbers are increasing! The people of God look to you to be holy priests, on a daily journey of conversion, inspiring in others the desire to enter more deeply into the ecclesial life of believers. I urge you to deepen your friendship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.”