The Cardinal's astonishment was
yet to be fully assimilated: "Two million people? We really didn't
expect it," but his thoughts were already running ahead to Toronto: "The
road has already started," the president of the Pontifical Council for
the Laity, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, said.
American Cardinal Stafford was the person ultimately responsible for the
organization of World Youth Day, a task for which he prepared as
Archbishop of Denver during the 1993 World Youth Day. He was eager to
give his impressions of the event, and began with the confessions in
the Circus Maximus, "an important fact on which the entire Church must
The Cardinal thanked the Church in Italy and Rome for the labor
undertaken to insure the success of World Youth Day: "It wasn't an easy
-- World Youth Day has just ended. What can you tell us about it?
-- Cardinal Stafford: I think the first thing that should be stressed is
that this was a great tribute to the Pope, who has a really great
charisma, as the youths' welcome reflected. What was most impressive
were the confessions in the Circus Maximus, because this sacrament is a
second baptism, and this rediscovery means a recovery of baptismal
innocence: it is very important for the Church, for the whole Church,
beginning with the bishopos, to see that these youths ask to receive the
Sacrament of Reconciliation.
-- What were the youths like who came to Rome?
-- Cardinal Stafford: It is the generation of Vatican Council II, but as
was made very clear during the International Forum, their questions are
very different from those of youths of the 60s and 70s. I think that
today their attention is focused especially on the meaning of Christ's
cross, that pilgrim cross the Pope entrusted to them 16 years ago. What
does it mean? Why have a pilgrimage? Why did the Pope entrust it to us
in '84? These were the questions, and I think this is an important fact,
which must be stressed.
-- Two million arrived to look for the answers. Did you expect it?
-- Cardinal Stafford: Frankly, no. It was a great surprise for me and, I
think, for everyone. Our initial expectations hovered around 500,000
people. In time they increased, but we certainly did not expect that
they could reach two million. I think that in this respect we must
acknowledge and be grateful for the great work of the Italian Church and
the Church of Rome. Yesterday afternoon I watched a television service
on the meeting with the Pope in Tor Vergata, and was able to appreciate
again something really beautiful, very well organized, from the
logistics to all the rest. Obviously, this gratitude must extend to the
whole of Italy, especially the city of Rome, because it wasn't an easy
challenge, with two million people arriving at the same time, which had
never happened before. Yes, it was very difficult.
-- In brief, did it all turn out well?
-- Cardinal Stafford: Yes, very well. We must give great merit for this
Day to Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar of Rome, and his collaborators and
to the Italian and Roman governments.
-- How is the Toronto event being prepared?
Cardinal Stafford: Last Sunday, Canada's ambassador to the Vatican had a
reception, which was attended by Canadian bishops, members of Ontario's
and Toronto's government, and others. Obviously, there was much talk
about the next World Youth Day, and I think all are very much in favor
of this event. I think it will be a very important event not just for
the Church but for the whole of Canada, a land in which three great
cultures meet: English, French, and native.
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