YONKERS, NY-"Take Courage! Fix your gaze to our saints," cried Pope Benedict XVI as he addressed the crowd of 22,000 young Catholics and seminarians from across the nation at Saint Joseph Seminary on April 19.
Large, colorful banners of yellow and violet were hung on the stage of the field where thousands gathered, including over 2,000 seminarians, on the field of the 40-acre seminary. The crowd was given flags in the papal colors of white and gold, which were emphatically waved as the Holy Father arrived on stage.
Pope Benedict, during his address, stressed the idea of courage in faith to the young people at the rally. "You are Christ's disciples today," he said. "Shine His light upon this great city and beyond."
Being courageous as a Catholic is the message that had the biggest impact on Joseph Seebode, 14, a resident of Clark-the Union County town in the Archdiocese of Newark. He and his Saint John the Apostle Emmaus Youth Group from Linden/Clark, led by Father Phil Latronico, were one of the first groups to arrive at the rally.
"It was really fun and a great experience. When the pope first came on stage, a rainbow appeared in the sky. It was a great moment," Seebode said.
Also a part of the Saint John the Apostle Parish youth group, Rahway resident John Cymbaluk, 16, said he did not know what to expect from the event. "My voice is still sore from all the screaming and chanting," he said. "It was an amazing, mind-blowing and invigorating experience for me. You are used to seeing the pope on television but not up close. We were just singing, dancing and going crazy at the concert. It was a fun time."
Cymbaluk's perceptions of the Holy Father were changed after attending the rally. "I expected a quiet, reserved and reverent man. However, he was just so cool; he was smiling and happy. He was just so lovely. I can't believe he is 81-years-old. I am never going to forget going to this event."
Before addressing the crowd, Pope Benedict met with approximately 50 young people with disabilities and their caregivers at the Saint Joseph Seminary chapel. This meeting was projected on two large screens to the cheering crowd.
"God is our origin and our destination, and Jesus the way," Pope Benedict said. "The path of that journey twists and turns, just as it did for our saints, through the joy and trails of ordinary, everyday life."
The pope recalled how difficult it was for him when he was a youth growing up in a time when the Nazis rose to power in Germany. "My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers," he said. "It banished God and thus became impervious to anything true and good. Let us thank God that today many people of your generation are able to enjoy the liberties, which have arisen through the extension of democracy and respect for human rights."
Evils that penetrate the hearts and minds of young people today, such as violence, racism and degradation, also can be attributed to having such freedom, the pontiff stated.
"Freedom is a delicate value. An idea has spread which, in giving value to everything indiscriminately, claims to assure freedom and to liberate conscience. This we call relativism," Pope Benedict said. "Dear friends, truth is not an imposition; nor is it simply a set of rules. It is discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust."
The pope encouraged the seminarians and religious in the audience, claiming that those in religious vocations are needed now more than ever.
Citing the vocation of marriage as valuable to the life of the Church, Pope Benedict also asked young people to be open to religious life. "Do not be shy to speak with religious brothers, sisters or priests about the charism and spirituality of their congregation. You too can make your life a gift of self for the love of the Lord and Jesus and, in Him, of every member of the human family."