Pope Benedict XVI waves from his popemobile as he arrives to celebrate the closing Mass of World Youth Day. CNS photos

MADRID – Pope Benedict XVI saw that 1.4 million young people could be buffeted by gusty winds and drenched by a driving rain and still fall silently to their knees to adore the Eucharist.

At the final Mass closing World Youth Day (WYD) on Aug 21 in Madrid, the pope challenged the Catholic pilgrims to take that faith, make it grow and share it with the world.

Despite the hardships of getting to the Cuatro Vientos military air base in blistering heat on Aug 20 and the downpour during the nightime vigil with the pope, hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world spent the night on the open field, praying, singing and perhaps trying to snatch a few hours’ sleep.

But they were up, ready and rowdy when the pope arrived for the morning Mass.

In his homily, Pope Benedict said faith is not about understanding a bunch of facts, “it is an ability to grasp the mystery of Christ’s person in all its depth”.

Faith entails “a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings”, he said.

Young people brave strong winds and rain during the WYD vigil.

However, he stressed that a personal relationship with Jesus always must be transformed into service and love for others. In addition, it must be lived within the Church, the community of believers to whom Jesus entrusted His message mission of salvation.

Pope Benedict told the young people, who had been texting, tweeting and posting Facebook updates about their adventures, that whenever we really “like” anything, we share it, and that must hold true for faith as well.

To the joy of the Brazilians present, at the end of the Mass, the pope announced that the next international WYD would be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

Pilgrims carry the WYD cross during the Way of the Cross.

Even before Mass began, WYD officials told the crowd that most pilgrims would not be able to receive Communion and asked them to offer it up as a sacrifice for the pope.

Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the plan was to distribute Communion from 17 Eucharistic chapels set up on the perimeter of the airfield. The previous evening’s storm destroyed several of the chapel-tents, and police asked organisers to dismantle most of the others as they posed a danger in the wind.

Young people said they have been touched by their WYD experience.

Miss Brigette Liss, a 26-year-old American, said she has a difficult time attending church every Sunday while working.

“This experience has helped me come back to Mass and see how important it is to keep up on your faith and be sure that every day you take time out to pray and think of God,” she said.

She added that it was the WYD catechesis and the witness of so many young people alive in their faith – “wearing it on their sleeves” – that helped her.

The previous evening’s vigil had been a challenge.

Hours after firefighters doused overheated pilgrims with jets of water, the heavens drove wind and rain onto the more than 1 million participants camped at the airbase.

But this did not dampen the spirits of the pilgrims, who sang and chanted all the louder for Pope Benedict XVI, who entered the airbase to cheers and applause.

He told them to be proud of the gift of their faith and that they should “gather with others to deepen it”.

He asked the youths, during the Eucharistic adoration that followed, to “raise our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ” so He “may pour out His Spirit upon us and upon the whole Church, that we may be a beacon of freedom, reconciliation and peace for the whole world”.

For Rachel Leghezza, 17, from the US, the WYD experience was “unworldly”.

“You have these little connections with people from other countries where you just kind of click and you realise that you’re all here for the same reason, to rejoice and celebrate being Catholic,” she said. “Seeing over a million people in unison celebrating God is … something to be seen.”

Earlier that day, at the end of a Mass with some 6,000 seminarians from around the world, the pope announced he would soon proclaim St John of Avila, a 16th-century Spanish saint, as the 34th doctor of the Church.

Pope Benedict entrusted all the seminarians, as well as priests and bishops, to the intercession of St John, a master of spirituality and a renowned preacher.

On Aug 19, 12 young people, chosen from the five continents, were privileged to have lunch with the pope.

“It was like eating lunch with your family: your father and people you have been working with and really care about,” said Miss Michelle Hatfield, 22.

“It just came naturally,” said the American. Most of the conversation, she said, involved the young people telling the pope about their lives and about the lives of young adults in their countries.

A highlight of the WYD celebrations was the Way of the Cross that day.

Many arrived hours early to stake out a place near the papal platform in Plaza de Cibeles or in front of one of the station-statues set up along a main street leading to the plaza.

The meditations included prayers for the defence of human life, for peace in the Holy Land and other areas where there is conflict, for victims of natural disasters, for the unemployed, for those who suffer racial discrimination or religious persecution, for those with alcohol or drug addictions, and for the victims of sexual abuse.

A cross was carried from one station to another by young people from countries or situations where there is suffering. They included Iraqis, immigrants, recovering drug addicts, unemployed and people from Rwanda and Burundi.

The theme for the WYD in Rio de Janeiro will be Go and Make Disciples of All Nations.

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