Bishop's Interview: World Youth Day was an experience of faith
Editor: Bishop, at the end of July you attended World Youth Day in Brazil. Tell us about your experience.
Bishop Vásquez: World Youth Day 2013 was a very uplifting and affirming experience for me as a bishop. This is my third opportunity to participate in World Youth Day –– I visited Toronto in 2002 and Madrid in 2011; and once again I was amazed by this impressive gathering of young people from every corner of the globe. Approximately 3 million people were at the closing Mass with Pope Francis, which was held on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janiero. As I looked down the beach, I could see people from all parts of the world waving their country flags. It was a marvelous sight to behold. The question arises, “Who has the ability to gather so many people from all over the world for a spiritual event –– our Holy Father!” Blessed John Paul II initiated World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI continued the tradition and this year Pope Francis welcomed millions of pilgrims to Brazil. I just couldn’t help but be proud to be Catholic!
Throughout my experience at World Youth Day, I was very impressed and hopeful with the youth and young adults of our church. They walked great distances in the cold, rainy weather and they stood for hours waiting for Mass. And yet there were times of quiet in the midst of such an immense assembly of people. Several times at these moments of prayer, Pope Francis called for silence, and there was an immediate reflective silence, which was beautiful.
So often we hear our youth are disenchanted with the church and its teachings, but after witnessing World Youth Day, I can see that our young people are very engaged. They are asking deep, serious questions about life, about purpose and service, and about wanting to be involved with the church. It is a great sign of hope to see this gathering of millions of youth from all over the world who want to put Christ at the center of their lives and want to serve the church.
Editor: What were some of the specific highlights?
Bishop Vásquez: During World Youth Day, there were different sites located throughout the city of Rio de Janeiro where the youth would come and receive catechesis on the Catholic faith. I had the privilege of listening to two excellent presentations –– one given by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the other given by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. Both were amazing because they both connected with the youth. As I listened to the presentations, it was obvious that their message resonated with the young people. Our youth want to encounter Jesus Christ.
The cardinals spoke about some very difficult and challenging topics, with both of them admitting that there have been errors made and there have been faults within the church. Yet, the Catholic Church remains a great sign of hope because Christ promised that he would be with us until the end of time. The church remains faithful to Christ and the mission entrusted to her, which is to proclaim Christ to the world.
The other highlight was witnessing Pope Francis as he visited the people of Rio. Every time he went through the streets, he spent time with the people. He wanted to communicate with the people. He sought to get to know them just like any good pastor would. And the people were obviously drawn to him. He began his visit at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, patron of Brazil. There the pope said, “Today, looking forward to the World Youth Day which has brought me to Brazil, I too come to knock on the door of the house of Mary –– who loved and raised Jesus –– that she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal.”
Pope Francis quickly won the hearts of the Brazilians and everyone who was gathered for World Youth Day. And at the end of the gathering, Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer told the Holy Father that the country’s door would be permanently open to him and called on him to “just enter without knocking, because there will always be a place for Your Holiness in Brazilians’ hearts.”
I thought this was a marvelous expression of the door as a sign of welcome and reception and knowing that the Holy Father would always be received there. He visited people who were ordinary folk and he met with government officials and bishops. Watching him move in and among the people, and watching him pray with the people was impressive. Not only was he visiting a country, he was building the faith of young people and all who came into contact with him. And at the end of his visit, the pope admitted that being in Brazil and being with so many young people was an opportunity to have his own faith strengthened as well.
Editor: Pope Francis seems to really have ignited the faith in Catholics throughout the world. What do you think of this?
Bishop Vásquez: Yes, I agree. I think this is because he has taken a different approach from our previous popes. That is not to say that our previous popes were any less men of faith or men of God and that is not to say that they didn’t make a significant contribution to the church. However, I think Pope Francis has added a dimension of simplicity and humility, which I think people find appealing –– he has a very pastoral, down-to-earth approach. He himself is living a simple life. He has chosen not to live in the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace, but to live in a suite in the Vatican guesthouse, which is a simple house for official visitors. He is a man who comes from serving people in poverty. In Argentina, he lived among people who were poor and he visited them just like a pastor. Even though he was archbishop, he traveled through the country, through the city the way that ordinary people traveled.
While he was in Rio, Pope Francis traveled in the open-air popemobile and he stopped and walked among the people. As he traveled through the crowds, people showered him with flowers, soccer jerseys, flags and other gifts. The people’s response to him and their love for him was beautiful to witness and his response to the people was equally moving. He takes babies and kisses them. He blesses the sick. He embraces those who are incapacitated. He spends time with people. He is not afraid. He is confident of the role that has been entrusted to him.
I loved what he told the youth at one point about the faith being revolutionary. “Peace, consolation, gentleness, courage, serenity and joy, which are all fruits of the Holy Spirit, find a home in our heart, so our very being is transformed; our way of thinking and acting is made new, it becomes Jesus’ own, God’s own, way of thinking and acting. Dear friends, faith is revolutionary and today I ask you: are you willing … to enter into this revolutionary wave of faith? Only by entering into this wave will your young lives acquire meaning and thus become fruitful!”
Editor: What is your prayer for Pope Francis and for the church as we go forward?
Bishop Vásquez: Of course, our prayer for our Holy Father is always that God will continue to protect him, watch over him, guide him and inspire him so that he may continue to be the Vicar of Christ that we need at this particular moment in time. Every Holy Father, of course, deals with many issues because it is a universal church. My prayer is that our Holy Father will speak the words of Christ and will continue to renew and motivate us. Especially during this Year of Faith, I pray all of us will be confident of our Catholic faith and not be afraid of expressing it and communicating it with others. I pray we are all as he has said –– revolutionary.