Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Member of the John Paul Two Generation Encounters Pope Benedict at Dunwoodie

Before the Octegenarian Pontiff came to the USA for his first visit as pope, there was much speculation in the media that the youth wouldn’t relate to him as they had to Pope John Paul II, who outgoing personality and skill with the media was well known. I wondered myself if Pope Benedict could replace my beloved role model, and worried that I would not have the same experience at Dunwoodie that I had had in 1979 in Madison Square Garden.
A seventeen year old, who, the year before, switched to Catholic school in an effort to embrace my faith, I could not have wanted to become a serious Catholic at a better time. During my senior year, I won a ticket to go to Madison Square Garden to a Youth Rally with the new pope, John Paul II. I had no way of anticipating the excitement of seeing the Vicar of Christ in person. From the moment the Pontiff entered, we were screaming at top volume, standing on our seats, as if he was a rock star. It was hard to calm us down, in fact we took turns chanting phrases like,” John Paul II, we love you” for around twenty minutes, delaying the Pope’s speech. He made a sound I can still hear in my memory, “Wooooo. . “ the sound of a Polish father encouraging his children. In his talk, he told us to “look to Christ for the answer to all your problems and questions”, and to value our Catholic education. From that day on, Pope John Paul was my spiritual father, someone whom I loved and wanted to make proud of me. I felt every one of his speeches and encyclicals as his personal exhortation to me to become a saint.
When he died, he left a void in my heart, which for three years I had been trying to fill with Pope Benedict. I respected him for his exceptional intellect, his obvious love for Pope John Paul, his devotion to liturgy, and his gentleness, yet an emotional connection hadn’t been forged. Yet. So, like the teens from Holy Family Youth Group in New Rochelle, whom I accompanied to the Papal Prayer Rally at Dunwoodie, I was curious on just what awaited me when Pope Benedict took the stage.
So, when the Holy Father was seen on the Jumbotrons at Dunwoodie, after hours waiting in the sun, the crowd was electrified, and a roar swept across the field, accompanied by the vigorous waving of gold and white handkerchiefs. The excitement built until he was suddenly before us, and the teens were exuberant in their love for the octogenarian pontiff, chanting, “We love you” and “Que viva el Papa!”. We sang, Happy Birthday to him in German and received an A+ . The next day, during his homily at Yankee Stadium, he said,” I was impressed by the joy, hope and generous love of Christ which I saw on the faces of the young people at Dunwoodie”.
Pope Benedict, was animated by the cheers, raising his hands to acknowledge them, and receiving rousing cheers and frantic waving first from one side, then from another. He gave his longest address to date to the youth, and seemed reluctant to leave us. As the popemobile was sighted by the crowd at the top of the hill, I found myself running with the teens towards him so that he could see me wave goodbye, tears in my eyes. My heart has adopted Pope Benedict as a new spiritual father, not replacing the love for John Paul, but accompanying it. I found myself promising him to be a better wife and mother, teacher and writer to bring glory to the Church, and win souls for Christ. I watched him today saying Mass at Yankee Stadium with a sense of devotion and feel his leaving the USA as a deep loss.

Another beautiful article on the Holy Father's Youth Rally at Dunwoodie is from Brother Christopher Simpson, LC, here.

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