The spectacle in the Circus Maximus during those muggy days was unprecedented. Thousands upon thousands of youths waited patiently for their turn to receive God´s forgiveness. Thousands of priests endured hours of temperatures as high as 95 F (35 degrees Celsius), to impart the sacrament of forgiveness.
Father Luca Ferrari, who was responsible for the World Youth Day 2000 Confession Service, said that when he first proposed the idea, many reacted with skepticism, saying that it was like something of the past.
"It was the greatest appointment with the sacrament of reconciliation that the Church can remember," Father Ferrari told ZENIT.
"In the beginning, it was not easy to convince everyone," the priest said. "Some wondered if it wouldn´t be better if men religious, or nuns, or at least seminarians organized activities to accompany the youths."
He continued: "We decided to take this new road. We believed the time had arrived to make these youths rediscover one of the most precious treasures that the risen Lord has given to the Church. To do so, to use the expression of one of the boys, it was necessary ´to take the sacrament out of the closet,´ where it has been locked in for too long."
"Christian tradition understands the need for public penance for a public sin, or for celebration after reconciliation," the Italian priest added. "Many of these aspects were already present in the first centuries of Christianity, expressing a fundamental exigency of God, the Church, and each person in need of conversion."
The youths´ response surprised the organizers, offering signs, as John Paul II said in his recent Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday, of overcoming the crisis that this sacrament has experienced for years.
Father Ferrari said that in the "Circus Maximus there was the fruitful meeting between the existential demand of every youth, even when he is not consciously Christian, and the free response of faith to his need for life."
Now, catechesis must "restore and transmit the doctrine on grace in an intelligible and essential way, in response to every youth´s search for meaning," Father Ferrari emphasized. "The Christian community must live the sacraments as an expression of a vital relation with God and men. Alternatively, theological concern that is lost in peripheral questions runs the risk of making it more difficult for youths to have a real understanding of God´s action."
"Today the easy flow of tears and exasperated expressions of one´s feelings are fashionable," he said. "As a privileged witness, I can say that in the Circus Maximus one breathed the atmosphere of a genuine Pentecost, in which tears were sincerely and abundantly shed, free of rhetoric. An incredible spectacle of youths and priests who wept with joy for three days, to the point of wishing that time would stand still."