As you probably know, the Holy Father is currently in Mexico on an Apostolic Visit with our brothers and sisters down south. This made me think of the very first time that I had a personal encounter with Papa Benedicto.
I took the photos above at Pope Benedict’s very first World Youth Day after having been chosen to as the Successor of St. Peter and the successor of World Youth Day’s founder, our beloved Bl. John Paul II the Great.
After morning catechesis, I decided to join thousands of other young pilgrims in lining the route that our still new Holy Father would take as part of the events to welcome him to Cologne, Germany. On my search for the perfect spot, I came across the above group of young people from Mexico and decided to take a picture of their banner which read, Mexico: Siempre Fiel (Mexico: Always Faithful).
When I first saw this back in 2005, I thought what an interesting statement to make to Pope Benedict as he passed in his Popemobile. I took it to mean that these young Mexican pilgrims were somehow assuring the new Vicar of Christ that they and many of their countrymen are faithful to Holy Mother Church, that they have been faithful to Pope John Paul II, and that they would continue to be faithful to Pope Benedict.
This sentiment of ongoing loyalty has a lot, I think, to do with the special relationship between Bl. John Paul II and the Mexican people. Of course, our beloved JP2 connected with people wherever he went, but it seems to me that he had a particularly intimate connection with Mexico and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Whatever the reason for this unspoken bond, the people of Mexico were absolutely not shy about showing their great affection for their Polish pope. A recent article from the Associated Press told of a tradition that young people of the Mexican city where the pope was staying would get up early in the morning and serenade the Holy Father at his temporary residence. The young people started this special papal mananitas for Pope John Paul II and they continue it for Pope Benedict XVI.
Upon his arrival at the Guanajuato Airport, Pope Benedict gave his first address on Mexican soil in which he said,
"I am very happy to be here, and I give thanks to God for allowing me to realize the desire, kept in my heart for a long time, to confirm in the faith the People of God of this great nation in their own land. The affection of the Mexican people for the Successor of Peter, whom they always remember in their prayers, is well known."
And, he is also reported to have remarked, “This is a proud country of hospitality, and nobody feels like a stranger in your land. I knew that, now I see it and now I feel it in my heart.”
What I find surprising is that many people (yes, in the mainstream media) were genuinely surprised that the Mexican people actually love this nearly 85-year-old German man, just as they were surprised that young people would gather from around the world to hear his words and to express their deep affection for him.
Just three days ago, CNN published an article declaring, Pope’s visit overshadowed by predecessor’s legacy in Mexico. The Miami Herald even said that Pope Benedict makes Mexicans “ache for John Paul II,” noting that the Holy Father’s upcoming trip “is drawing little excitement, underscoring the stark differences between this pontiff and his predecessor, John Paul II….” (Yeah, tell that to the thousands of people who will wait hours just to personally greet Papa Benedicto and welcome him to their country!) The Miami Herald even quoted Maria de las Heras, the head of a PR firm, who so optimistically concluded, Pope Benedict is the “antithesis of John Paul II.”
Yet, today’s headline in the Chicago Sun-Times proclaims—I think with some astonishment and confusion—Pope’s arrival in Mexico sparks surprising emotion.
I mean, you would have thought that Big Foot had just strolled out of some forest in the Pacific Northwest and ordered a Venti Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks!
Surprising? Well, that’s our Papa for you. This brilliantly theological, and intimately pastoral German octogenarian has once again shocked mainstream journalists—perhaps its his particular Benedictine charism. Now that their minds and preconceptions have been papally blown, these poor, clueless folks are left again wondering, “Why is this man relevant? And to young people, for that matter!?”
This only goes to show even further (as if you need any more evidence) that the secular media, the secular world doesn’t get it. It doesn’t get who the pope is, whose chair he sits upon, and Who built our Church, the Church upon solid Rock.
Even though they don’t get it, the young people of Mexico do—and our Papa knows it, and responds with great paternal love and affection.
Dear Young People,
I am happy to be able to meet with you and to see your smiling faces as you fill this beautiful square. You have a very special place in the Pope’s heart. And in these moments, I would like all the children of Mexico to know this, especially those who have to bear the burden of suffering, abandonment, violence or hunger, which in recent months, because of drought, has made itself strongly felt in some regions. I am grateful for this encounter of faith, and for the festive and joyful presence expressed in song. Today we are full of jubilation, and this is important. God wants us to be happy always. He knows us and he loves us. If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness.
This place where we stand today has a name which expresses the yearning present in the heart of each and every person: “la paz”, Peace. This is a gift which comes from on high. “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:21). These are the words of the Risen Lord. We hear them during each Mass, and today they resound anew in this place, with the hope that each one of you will be transformed, becoming a sower and messenger of that peace for which Christ offered his life.
The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity. He wishes to write in each of your lives a story of friendship. Hold on to him, then, as the best of friends. He will never tire of speaking to those who always love and who do good. This you will hear, if you strive in each moment to be with him who will help you in more difficult situations.
I have come that you may know my affection. Each one of you is a gift of God to Mexico and to the world. Your family, the Church, your school and those who have responsibility in society must work together to ensure that you receive a better world as your inheritance, without jealousies and divisions.
That is why I wish to lift up my voice, inviting everyone to protect and to care for children, so that nothing may extinguish their smile, but that they may live in peace and look to the future with confidence.
You, my dear young friends, are not alone. You can count on the help of Christ and his Church in order to live a Christian lifestyle. Participate in Sunday Mass, in catechesis, in apostolic works, looking for occasions of prayer, fraternity and charity. Blessed Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, lived this way, and knowing Jesus, during the time of the initial evangelization of Mexico, they discovered that there is no greater treasure than he. They were children like you, and from them we can learn that we are never too young to love and serve.
How I would like to spend more time with all of you, but the time has already come for me to go. We will remain close in prayer. So I invite you to pray continually, even in your homes; in this way, you will experience the happiness of speaking about God with your families. Pray for everyone, and also for me. I will pray for all of you, so that Mexico may be a place in which everyone can live in serenity and harmony. I bless all of you from my heart and I ask you to bring the affection and blessing of the Pope to your parents, brothers and sisters, and other loved ones. May the Virgin accompany you. Thank you very much, my dear young friends.
And as we never tired of chanting in Madrid for World Youth Day this past summer, proclaiming for all the secular world to hear, "Esta es, la juventud del papa! Esta es, la juventud del papa! Esta es, la juventud del papa!" This is the Pope’s youth! This is the Pope’s youth! This is the Pope’s youth!