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You are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World (Mt. 5:13-14)


The most important event of World Youth Day was the Holy Mass celebrated by the Pope on Sunday, July 28th, on the grounds of the disused military airfield at Downsview Park. Since early Saturday morning, innumerable groups of singing and praying youth had walked the 10-kilometer distance, braving sweltering temperatures, in order to get to their meeting place with Christ in the Eucharist. By evening, when the prayer vigil began, a vast crowd of up to 600 thousand had filled the grounds.

During the two-hour prayer service the Holy Father appealed to the youth to become guardians of the dawn of the 21st century. They were to be the salt of the earth and a light in a world which is still ruled by the darkness of sin. He asked them to let the light of Christ illumine their lives, and not to fear taking the road of holiness. After the Holy Father left, some of the young pilgrims went to sleep, but for most of them the festival of joy lasted into the early hours of the morning.

They danced, prayed, talked and shared their faith experiences with others. I was deeply moved to hear Anthony of New York talk about his father, Frank Palombo, who died at the age of 46 in the ruins of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. He had left behind 10 children, the youngest now being 2 years old, the eldest Anthony 17. With tears in his eyes, Anthony recalled his father, who had been a model of faith and prayer to him. Two years earlier, they had both taken part in World Youth Day in Rome, and together they had planned and prepared for a family trip to Toronto. Anthony said that during the pilgrimage he could almost feel the spiritual presence of his father. The words and teachings of the Pope had strengthened his conviction that Jesus was calling him to the priesthood.

Anthony had come to Toronto with his mother, two younger brothers, and his New York parish’s neo-catechumenate group. Mrs. Palombo told me what a wonderful man her husband had been. Thanks to him, she experienced a spiritual conversion early in their marriage. Before that, she had never prayed. She resorted to contraconception and did not want to have children. She even considered divorcing her husband. It was he who helped her take that first step toward total devotion to God. Then the miracle of her life occurred. Her home became a place of love, joy and peace. During their 17 years of married life, she bore him 10 children, which she considered a wonderful gift from God. “We were a very happy family” she confessed with tears in her eyes. Her unbearable grief upon the death of her husband could only be cured by her faith. “Physically, I lost the dearest person I had, but God is more powerful than death. I know that my husband is happy and is present with us spiritually. Now I can see the glory of God. That is why I feel marvellous. I wish all people could understand that faith is our greatest treasure, and that it really works” – said Jean Palombo.

The weather forecast for that Sunday morning was anything but promising. A storm with heavy thunder and lightning activity was approaching Toronto. Television crews equipped themselves with cordless cameras in anticipation of power outages. At 5 a.m. it began to rain. A rude awakening for the hundreds of thousands of people sleeping in the open air. The sky was heavily overcast. Clearly, an ill-omened start to the day’s events. An hour before the Pope was due to celebrate the Holy Mass, it began to pour. The air became piercingly cold. Umbrellas and raincoats were useless. In no time, we were all soaked to the skin. What was astonishing, however, was that the people did not think about the rain. Instead, they looked forward to the Pope’s arrival and the Eucharistic event that was about to begin. When at last the Holy Father approached the altar, there was a sudden change in the weather. A powerful wind blew up, and by the time the Gospel reading was read, the sun had begun to shine. The dark clouds dissipated, giving way to an indescribably blue sky. The temperature shot up 32 degrees. Everyone saw this abrupt change as a visible sign from God. Now the crowd could listen attentively to the Pope’s homily and receive Christ devoutly in the Eucharist. In his homily the Holy Father told his attentive listeners that Jesus was directing an urgent appeal to each one of them to “choose between life and death, between the truth and a lie (...). Listen to the voice of Jesus in the depth of your hearts! (...) His words tell you who you are as Christians ... what you should do in order to remain in His love”. The Holy Father went to say that the spirit of the world proposes something quite different from what Jesus proposes. It offers “numerous illusions, a host of parodies of happiness. Undoubtedly, there is no thicker darkness than the darkness which appears in the souls of young people when false prophets destroy in them the spirit of faith, hope and love. The greatest deception of all, and the greatest source of misfortune, results from the illusion that one can find life without God, achieve freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibility.

The Lord summons us to choose between these two voices that rival with each other over your soul. This choice constitutes the essence and the challenge of the World Youth Day. Why have you come here from all parts of the world? To tell Christ: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’. (Jn 6:68) Jesus, a faithful friend of every young man, has the words of life. The world that you will inherit desperately needs the renewed sense of brotherhood and solidarity of men. This world needs to be touched and to be cured by the beauty and the richness of God’s love. The present world needs witnesses to this love. It requires that you be the salt of the earth and the light of this world. Salt is used to preserve and keep food in freshness. So you, as the apostles of the Third Millennium, will be responsible for preserving and keeping up the living awareness of Jesus Christ, our Savior, especially in performing the Eucharist, the memorial of His redemptive suffering and His glorious resurrection. You should keep the living memory of the words of life that He uttered, and the magnificent acts of mercy and goodness He performed. You ought to constantly remind the world that ‘the Good News is God’s power for salvation’. (Rom. 1:16) Salt seasons and gives taste to food. Following Christ, you should change and improve the ‘taste’ of human history. Your faith, hope and love, your intelligence, bravery and perseverance should humanize the world we live in, as it is said in today’s Reading of Prophet Isaiah: ‘Loose the bonds of wickedness, share your bread with the hungry; if you take from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, then shall your light rise in the darkness’ (Is. 58: 6-10) Even a weak flame that only flickers, removes the heavy lid of the night. How much more light can give you, all together, if you become one in the Communion of the Church! If you love Jesus, love Church. Do not become discouraged with the sins and the failings of some of its members. The harm done by some priests and brothers to young people, so susceptible to injuries, fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame. But think of the vast majority of dedicated priests and brothers whose only wish is to serve and do good. There are many priests, seminary students and consecrated persons here; be close to them and support them. If you feel in your hearts a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid of following Christ along the royal way of life! Aspiring to holiness becomes more urgent in difficult times of the history of the Church. But holiness is not a question of age, it is a problem of life in the Holy Spirit, as with Kateri Tekakwitha and many other young people. You are young and the Pope is old and a little bit tired. But he still identifies with your aspirations and hopes. Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. Do not let hope die. Stake your lives on it. We are not the sum of our weaknesses and falls; we are the sum of the paternal love for us and our real ability to be the image of His Son”.

The Holy Father finished his homily with the following prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, keep these young people in your love. Let them hear your voice and let them believe in what you are saying, since only You have the words of love. Teach them how to confess their faith, how to give love and how to transmit their own hope to others. Make them trustworthy witnesses of Your Gospel in a world that so desperately needs your saving grace. Make them the new people of the Beatitudes, so that they may become the salt of the earth and the light of the world on the threshold of the Third Millennium. Blessed Virgin, Mother of Church, protect and lead these young men and women of the 21st century. Shelter them all in your motherly heart. Amen.

The crowning moment of the Holy Mass was the reception of the Resurrected Christ in Holy Communion. Hundreds of thousands of young people, absorbed in prayer, their joy expressed in song, took Jesus into their hearts and devoted their lives to Him totally.

With Holy Mass over, people eagerly shared their impressions with journalists. “This is fantastic!” – said Ernesto from Italy. “Spirituality requires young people to come together and pray together. It makes it so special”. Brendan of Boston, aged 18, told us: “Through God I meet people, and when God is the center of my life, everything is in the right place”. Samantha, a 26-year-old medical student, admitted that World Youth Day had brought about a great change in her life. “After participating in the meetings with the Holy Father and the Way of the Cross on Friday, I must totally devote my life to Christ as a member of a religious order”.

Not every young person attending the Papal Mass was Catholic. 26-year-old David admitted that even though he was not a Catholic, the speeches of the Holy Father had greatly influenced his way of thinking: “I feel a powerful spiritual energy, emotion and holiness of this great man. It is a wonderful message to young people of the world, so that we all remember Christ’s blessings, rejoice in His love, and serve Him by serving our neighbors, especially those in need”. After showing me his rosaries, Patrick from Michigan, aged 17, informed me that he had discovered the power of the rosary. He had decided to pray it every day with his friends. Brittney, 16, confessed that she had devoted her life to God two years earlier, at World Youth Day in Rome. In Toronto she responded to the Holy Father,s appeal by promising to live in chastity. “Since then I have stopped behaving in such a way as to impress others. I pray a lot every day. Put this down in your magazine: that your readers should reject every fear, and open their hearts to Christ. This way they will find real happiness and love. They will become the light of the world and the salt of the earth”.

Dear readers, will you not also respond with concrete resolutions to the message given by the Holy Father during his last pilgrimage to Poland? Will you not join the Movement of Pure Hearts? It is a spiritual revolution of love in Jesus. It means devoting your life totally to God and resisting the wave of corruption and slavery that comes from giving in to pornography, drugs, alcohol and tobacco use.

If you wish to join the Jesus Movement of Pure Hearts, first go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, and then say the following prayer:

Those wishing to devote their lives to Jesus and take the oath of the purity of heart are invited to write to the editors at the address below.

We will then send you a special blessing and inscribe your name in the Book of Pure Hearts, which we will present to the Holy Father.

As you know, we regularly publish the wonderful testimonies of your brothers and sisters in faith. These testimonies have helped others to return to the path of faith. Jesus wants you to share your experiences with others. Write to us about them. Write about your faith and about your daily struggle with sin and bad habits. Let us pray for each other. We make up a great community of people who are striving to live in the spirit of Christ’s Eight Beatitudes. In order that Christ may save us from the slavery of sin, and lead us to freedom, we must establish an intimate bond with Him through daily prayer.

If we arrange our daily schedules properly, we will always have time for prayer. We recommend praying the rosary (at least once a day), reading and meditating on Holy Scripture (at least 15 minutes daily) and, where possible, participating in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Our prayers are with you always. We hope to hear from you soon.

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The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!"

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