Aussie pilgrims had two reasons to wave their flags high at the World Youth Day vigil.
Not only were they revelling in being with Pope Francis and more than half a million other pilgrims from around the world – they were celebrating Australia Day as well. It was well and truly a double-barrelled celebration.
And they were especially delighted to receive a “shout out” from the World Youth Day stage, with a number of the Australian pilgrims being invited up in celebration of our national day.
Spirits were high, even after the early start and the long walk in the Panamanian sun. The first pilgrims started arriving at around 4am in order to secure the best spot at the site.
The Holy Father joined the vigil at 6pm to address the pilgrims, and to lead them in Eucharistic Adoration.
In his address, the Holy Father picked up on the language of social media ‘influencers’ to describe the role of Mary.
“Obviously, the young woman of Nazareth was not part of the “social networks” of the time,” he said. “She was not an “influencer”, but without wanting or trying to, she became the most influential woman in history.”
The Pope also continued the strong theme of the love of God for each individual person in his address, reminding those gathered that the Lord is always ready to pick them up after they fall.
This promise of mercy and of renewal was made tangible in the presence of so many priests amongst the pilgrims, ready to hear confessions of those seeking the Sacrament of Penance, even late into the night.
“Only what is loved can be saved,” he said, repeating this phrase several times.
“Only what is embraced can be transformed.
“The Lord’s love is greater than all our problems, frailties and flaws. Yet it is precisely through our problems, frailties and flaws that he wants to write this love story. He embraced the prodigal son, he embraced Peter after his denials and he always embraces us whenever we fall: he helps us to get up and get back on our feet. Because the worst fall, the fall that can ruin our lives, is to remain down and not allow ourselves to be helped up.”
The noisy, celebratory crowd of 600,000 fell to their knees and completely silent when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed from the sanctuary, in a beautiful monstrance that depicted the Blessed Sacrament in the womb of Mary.
While such a period of silence would generally be seen as impossible amongst such a large crowd of young people, it has become a characteristic experience of World Youth Day.
On the main sanctuary, alongside the Holy Father, was Sydney Catholic Youth leader Chris Lee. Chris was chosen to represent pilgrims from Oceania, and had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis before joining him in prayer.
Fellow Sydney pilgrims were delighted to see one of their own being given such an honour, and were grateful that he was able to represent the faith of all of them before the Blessed Sacrament and beside the Holy Father.
The Pope will return in the morning to celebrate Mass, and to announce the next host city for World Youth Day.