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World Youth Day: from Toronto to Cologne

International meeting: Rome 10-13 April 2003

James Francis Card. Stafford
Pontifical Council for the Laity


Concluding remarks


First of all, I would like to mention two things that came to my mind during the meetings these past few days. We spoke of the desire for holiness among young Catholics and the kind of youth ministry that is required for our times and for the future.

1. On last Thursday evening, as the Holy Father met with the young people of the diocese of Rome during a heavy rainfall, the Holy Father put aside his speech. He had been speaking about Our Lady. He then spontaneously recalled an incident that took place when he was about 22 years old. While he was working in a chemical plant during the period of occupation of his country, he was inspired to say to Our Lady, "totus tuus"- I am all yours. Such a radical declaration does not come out of the void. It comes from a sustained spiritual life of prayer and asceticism.

2. The second thing that came to my mind was the present post-war occupation of Iraq, one of the  three countries designated as the so-called "axis of evil", and the confusing and challenging world facing us, particularly young people, at this time in history. Mass violence is a fact of life for the younger generations. It has been a reality throughout the twentieth century.

What do we as Christians and as Church have to offer young people confronting such violence? Our focus must be on Jesus first and foremost. His name means "Saviour". The Gospel of John says that he is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". Sin. Think of that word in relation to the frightening times in which the young Wotyla found his vocation, and in relation to the confusing and equally frightening times being experienced in Iraq and elsewhere today. It is striking to see how often the word, "sin", appears in the liturgy. "Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church". We need a better understanding of the Lamb of God who takes away sin. We cannot talk of our strengths and weaknesses without including the reality of sin.

Obviously, there is need for reconciliation within a living community of faith. This is where the new lay movements enter. I have been a bishop in Denver, Memphis and Baltimore. During those years, I was faced with the challenge presented by dying parishes. There were huge numbers of people belonging to various ethnic groups whose spiritual needs were not being cared for, and many newly baptised whose needs were not addressed by parishes and who eventually drifted away from the Church. It was a major challenge with which the dioceses and the religious communities could not cope. In 1980 I discovered the lay ecclesial communities. Later in Denver, a young diocesan priest whom I had assigned to one of these challenging parishes invited a lay ecclesial community into his parochial community. Its members were able to reach out to the various troubled groups - poor, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. - so that parish was revivified.

The Second Vatican Council stated that the constitution of the Catholic Church is based on two essential elements: the institutional and the charismatic. The institutional is represented by structures: parish, diocese, bishops' conferences, and the ordained ministries - bishops, priests, deacons. This element cannot be vital without the charismatic element which has appeared in successive waves of renewal throughout history. Such renewal took place throughout the last century and has a distinctly lay character. The founders and foundresses of today have seen a charismatic role for lay people within the structures of the Church, and received the support of modern Popes and many bishops.

At the parish level, lay communities can offer invaluable service. With their enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge, they know how to introduce the newly baptised into the life of the local church community and how to animate parish life at a time when parishes are undergoing changes and challenges which have arisen  with industrialisation, urbanisation and secularization. In one way it is humbling for the institutional Church to admit that it requires this help, but it is also liberating. To repeat, the charismatic element is as essential to the constitution of the Church as the institutional, especially in experiencing forgiveness, pardon and reconciliation.

At this meeting there are delegates from 75 countries  representing institutional aspects of the constitution of the Church, and 41 delegates from lay communities representing the charismatic element within the Church. These two groups are not fundamentally in tension with one another. Rather, their relationship is complementary. This reality is something we should take advantage of in preparation  for the next World Youth Day in Cologne 2005. Central Europe needs it, as do many other places. Let us thank God for the renewal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Pope John XXIII prayed to God for a new Pentecost. Pope John Paul II, on the eve of Pentecost in 1998, addressed 300,000 people from lay ecclesial communities in Saint Peter's Square. That event was a sign that the prayer of Pope John XXIII is being realized.