The artists of the Middle Ages loved to contrast the Tower of Babel with the “Tower” of the Upper Room. Babel symbolizes the divisions of people caused by sin. Pentecost stands for a hope that such separations are not a tragic necessity. The babbling mob of Babel compares poorly with the heartfelt unity of the Pentecost crowd. Babel was a mob. Pentecost was a community. A people without God lost the ability to communicate. A people suffused with the Love of the Spirit spoke heart to heart. On Pentecost the full meaning of Jesus' life and message is poured into our hearts by the Spirit alive in the community. The New Testament seems to say that - for a fleeting moment - the nations of the earth paused from their customary strife and experienced a community caused by God.
Pentecost signals the start of the universal mission of the Church – a mission that overcomes human obstacles and has the Spirit as its driving force. The picture of the disciples huddled together with Mary in the Upper Room, tongues as of fire resting on each of their heads, sets the stage for this great feast. This Upper Room evokes both the memory of the Last Supper and, symbolically, the heights of Sinai in the Hebrew Scriptures. The mighty breath of God and the fire of the Spirit’s presence engulf the one large group of disciples gathered in prayer around Mary, Mother of the Lord.
In July we will celebrate the fifth anniversary of World Youth Day 2002. As I remember vividly the great event of July 2002, one image seems to dominate: that of the rather violent and ferocious wind and storm that rocked Downsview Park on Sunday morning, July 28, 2002 for the final mass. It was frightening storm that blew in from the west - a storm that nearly prevented the papal helicopter from taking off from Morrow Park. A storm that ripped off part of the roof of the largest stage ever constructed in North America. A storm that soaked the hundreds of thousands (850,000 plus!) of young people encamped on a former military base and runway and drenched over 600 bishops and cardinals and even the Pope as we brought him out on stage! Surrounded by the police chiefs of what seemed to be all of Canada, I uttered some silent prayers, begging God to let us get through this last, final challenge and obstacle.
For me and for many this was the wind of Pentecost that we hear about in the Acts of Apostles, Chapter 2. And yet, in the midst of this violent storm, the nations of the earth - at least 172 of them huddled together in that field - understood one another as they gathered around Peter on that July morning. On the shores of Lake Ontario, I believe that the Church was born again in Canada.
We may choose to speak of WYD 2002 as something in the past - that brightened the shadows and monotony of our lives at one shining moment in history in 2002. Against a world background of terror and fear, economic collapse and ecclesial scandals, World Youth Day presented an alternative vision of compelling beauty. Some have called those golden days of July 2002 a “Camelot” moment. That is one way to consider the WYD - fading memories of an extraordinary moment in Canadian history.
There is, however, another way: the Gospel way. The Gospel story is not about “Camelot” but about "Magnificat," constantly inviting Christians to take up Mary’s hymn of praise and thanksgiving at the ways that Almighty God breaks through human history here and now. This way is not only nourished by memories, however good and beautiful they may be. The resurrection of Jesus is not a memory of a distant, past event, but it is Good News that continues to be fulfilled today - here and now.
The souvenirs of WYD 2002 have left us… to take their rightful past in the realm of memory and history. What remains is the extraordinary encounter between Jesus and his young friends - between the young pilgrims and that beloved old man in white who journeyed from the banks of the Tiber to the shores of Lake Ontario for a meeting - an encounter - a kairos moment, a new Pentecost during July 2002.
I pray that the mighty wind of Pentecost continue to blow furiously throughout the Church in Canada and especially in this great Archdiocese of Toronto - and with that wind a roaring blaze sent by God’s restless Spirit. May that wind now blow from sea to sea to sea - bringing to full life a church that was reborn on July 28, 2002 at Downsview Park in the heart of Toronto. May the tongues of fire that we experienced in no small measure during that blessed July gently alight once again on our heads, and give us the courage to constantly make room in our Church for young people who are Christ’s guarantee of endless joy and youthfulness.
During the Angelus prayer at Downsview Lands on Sunday, July 28, 2002, the Holy Father summed up beautifully the sentiments of millions of people who were touched in some way by World Youth Day 2002: "As we prepare to return home, I say, in the words of Saint Augustine: "We have been happy together in the light we have shared. We have really enjoyed being together. We have really rejoiced. But as we leave one another, let us not leave Him.”
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful & kindle in us the fire
of your Love! Lord, send us your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth...
the face of our Church, the face of our Parishes,
the face of our communities, our own faces, our own hearts. Amen.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
Former National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network Member of the General Council of the Basilian Fathers