Marking 5 Years Since Youth Day '02

Interview With Father Thomas Rosica

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TORONTO, JULY 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- World Youth Day 2002 woke up the Church in Canada, said Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, national director of the event held in Toronto five years ago.



Speaking with ZENIT to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 17th World Youth Day, Father Rosica commented about what effects the event brought to Canada and the Church.

Father Rosica is the director of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Media Foundation and Catholic Television Network, which he founded in 2003.

Q: World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto took place five years ago. What do you think has been the most profound effect the event had on the Church in Canada?

Father Rosica: World Youth Day 2002 was a tremendous catalyst allowing many great things to happen in and to Canada.

We may choose to speak of World Youth Day as something in the past -- that brightened the shadows, monotony and fatigue 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.

World Youth Day 2002 woke up the country and the Church in Canada.

The Catholic Church was alive and young during those glorious days of July 2002, and the Church continues to be alive and young today.

World Youth Day 2002 also shifted the plates of the earth in Canada in the area of media relations. Two sections of the Holy Father's talks remain engraved on my memory.

First, at the arrival ceremony in Toronto for John Paul II at the beginning of World Youth Day 2002, the Holy Father spoke these prophetic words to government officials and the people of Canada at Pearson International Airport on July 23, 2002:

"Canadians are heirs to an extraordinarily rich humanism, enriched even more by the blend of many different cultural elements. ...

"In a world of great social and ethical strains, and confusion about the very purpose of life, Canadians have an incomparable treasure to contribute -- on condition that they preserve what is deep and good and valid in their own heritage."

Then on Saturday evening, July 27, 2002, on the tarmac of a former military air base in Toronto, Downsview Park, John Paul II spoke these thought-provoking words to the crowd of more than 600,000 young people gathered at the great vigil of World Youth Day 2002:

"The question that arises is dramatic: On what foundations must we build the new historical era that is emerging from the great transformations of the 20th century?

"Is it enough to rely on the technological revolution now taking place, which seems to respond only to criteria of productivity and efficiency, without reference to the individual's spiritual dimension or to any universally shared ethical values?

"Is it right to be content with provisional answers to the ultimate questions, and to abandon life to the impulses of instinct, to short-lived sensations or passing fads?"

And what happened in our country over the past five years? One of the most serious crises of our times is the crisis of marriage and family life.

Canadians have to reflect carefully on the social consequences involved in the redefinition of marriage, examining all that is entailed if society no longer gives a privileged place and fundamental value to the lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage.

As the keystone of society, the family is the most favorable environment in which to welcome children.

I will never forget the sight of John Paul II descending the stairs of the plane that brought him to Toronto, and ascending the stairs of the plane that would take him to Guatemala at the end of our World Youth Day in Toronto.

John Paul II taught us in the twilight of his pontificate that everyone must suffer, even the Vicar of Christ. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through.

In a youth-obsessed culture in which people are constantly urged to fight or deny the ravages of time, age, disease, he reminded us that aging and suffering are a natural part of being human.

Where the old and infirm are so easily put in nursing homes and often forgotten, the Pope was a timely and powerful reminder that our parents and grandparents, the sick, the handicapped and the dying have great value.

Our Canadian reality is truly based on a transcendent vision of life based on Christian revelation that has made us a free, democratic and caring society, recognized throughout the world as a champion of human rights and human dignity.

We will only continue to offer this treasure to humanity and history if we preserve what is deep and good and valid in our own heritage.

We must uphold the dignity of all human life, from its earliest moments to its final moments of natural death. And we must celebrate the dignity and sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman, as well as fostering and loving family life.

Q: You attribute the founding of Salt and Light Television to World Youth Day. Can you explain more about your network and how it was the direct result of that event?

Father Rosica: Canada needed this television medium more than we know.

Starting up a television network anywhere is fraught with challenges, and in Canada this is compounded by the country's size, distances, languages and cultures.

But God was with us from the beginning of this great adventure, just as he was with us through the preparation and execution of World Youth Day 2002.

I learned most of what I am doing here at Salt and Light Television from John Paul II. He was a brilliant teacher and model of goodness and humanity, a wise communicator and a true "Pontifex Massmediaticus."

Salt and Light Television was born on the wings of World Youth Day 2002, drawn from Matthew 5:13-14 -- "You Are the Salt of the Earth and Light of the World" was the theme for World Youth Day 2002.

The Catholic television project is clearly a tribute to and a legacy of John Paul II, and World Youth Day 2002 was the wind beneath our wings.

There could be no better way to carry on the legacy of World Youth Day 2002 than through Canada's first national Catholic television network that bears the imprint and tradition of World Youth Days.

The television network came about through the generosity of an Italian Canadian family that owns the largest private print and media company in the country, St. Joseph Media.

Its founder, Gaetano Gagliano, now 90 years old, was a disciple and friend of Blessed Giacomo Alberione. Gagliano views Salt and Light as the crown of his long career in the print, media and communications industry.

The Gaglianos provided the seed money of $15 million to get this project off the ground four years ago.

Initially available only in the Toronto area, the network is now carried by cable and satellite television services that cover Canada coast to coast.

Its programs -- in English, French, some Italian and, most recently, shows in Mandarin and Cantonese -- are available to nearly a half-million Canadian homes, primarily as a low-cost pay-cable channel.

A limited amount of Salt and Light programming also can be seen in the United States. U.S. residents can sample Salt and Light programming on our Web site, which offers promotional clips of all current shows as well as streaming video.

Salt and Light documentaries appear periodically on the Eternal Word Television Network. Salt and Light also has entered a programming exchange with Boston Catholic Television Network, which is available in various parts of the East Coast of the United States.

Recently has been announced the launch of H2O News, a new multilingual television service developed in cooperation with several Vatican agencies.

We are thrilled to have been invited by H20 to provide the English component of H2O, as well as assisting with the French and eventually the Chinese services. This will certainly help us to enhance our news dimension and thrust us on a global stage.

Q: Staffed by young people, most of whom participated in some way in World Youth Day, what do you think is the unique contribution Salt and Light offers television viewers?

Father Rosica: First and foremost one of the great contributions of Salt and Light Catholic Television Network is the unique manner in which young Catholics have assumed leadership roles in our evangelization efforts.

One clearly gets the impression that the Church is "alive and young" at Salt and Light.

Second is our commitment to offer Canadian society a message of hope, and an invitation to draw closer to Christ and the Church through our programming.

In many ways, Canada is a new mission territory, and the urgent pastoral needs for education in faith and spirituality, history and Church teachings are so vast and can never be fulfilled by one group or agency.

Everything we do at the Salt and Light Catholic Television Network revolves around the five pillars of the Salt and Light Television network: 1) prayer, devotion and meditation; 2) multilingual Catholic liturgy, Vatican events and ceremonies; 3) learning and faith development for all ages; 4) stories of Catholic action and social justice throughout Canada and around the globe; 5) stories of our Catholic communities, information and context.

Salt and Light Television network also works closely with the major television networks in Canada to assist in the background material and education about Catholic matters.

This was clearly evident in 2005 during the transition in the papacy. These efforts have built badly needed bridges with the secular media, and continue the legacy of World Youth Day 2002.

Q: Other than the network, have you seen tangible examples of young lives changed by World Youth Day? And what about the not-so-young you encounter?

Father Rosica: One of the most significant aspects and fruits of World Youth Days is that young people have rediscovered their bishops and priests, and bishops and priests have rediscovered their young people.

I recall John Paul II stating on several occasions that World Youth Days exists not only for the conversion of young people and the societies in which they live, but also for the conversion of their bishops and priests. There is much truth in these words.

Canada was particularly blessed to have many bishops who truly believe in World Youth Day as a powerful instrument of evangelization.

Through World Youth Days, John Paul II unleashed something totally new and unthinkable some 25 years ago!

We have felt the effects of World Youth Day 2002 throughout the vast Canadian landscape over the past five years, from the dynamic Youth Ministry Program in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, to the powerful Scriptural "Lectio Divina" evenings with the young people of Edmonton, Alberta.

Over these past five years the Cathedral of Kingston, Ontario, came alive with catechesis sessions for young people and many older ones as well!

There have been revitalized youth ministry programs in the Ontario Dioceses of St. Catharines, London, Toronto, and Cornwall.

We cannot help but be grateful to God, giving thanks for the renewed energies among the young people of the Archdiocese of Montreal, Quebec.

In Atlantic Canada there has been a veritable explosion of youth activities in Halifax, and World Youth Day inspired the birth of the John Paul II Media Center in Halifax, a creative media project led by young people.

In Quebec City, birthplace of the Church in North America, the seeds of and winds of World Youth Day 2002 have empowered young people and the Quebec Church to prepare for the Eucharistic Congress in June 2008.

The energy of World Youth Day has swept across Canada through powerful, Gospel-rooted movements like Catholic Christian Outreach, now present on many university campuses of the country. National Evangelization Teams Ministries continues to flourish with the World Youth Day 2002 spirit.

The phenomenon of World Youth Day has become a powerful seedbed for vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life, marriage and lay ecclesial ministries.

Whether it is because those who have already sensed a call choose to attend World Youth Day out of their strong faith life, or because World Youth Day awakens young adults for the first time to the special call of God, World Youth Day can be a moment of life-changing discernment.

On June 29, as I sat in St. Peter's Basilica and watched the scene of Benedict XVI placing the pallium on the shoulders of five new Canadian archbishops, I quietly thanked God that each of these pastors and leaders had already taken to heart the gift of World Youth Day 2002 and have built so well on its foundation.

And many of the episcopal appointments in Canada over the past five years have manifested that being a bishop today in the Church means that one has a special mission to young people.

Q: Canada once had a thriving Catholic culture. Have you seen a return to the participation in the Church, sacraments, etc., in the years following World Youth Day?

Father Rosica: World Youth Days offer no panacea or quick fix to the problems and challenges of our times. Rather, they offer a new framework and new lenses through which we look at the Church and the world, and build our future.

One thing was clear after World Youth Day 2002: We realized that we have much work to do in reaching out to young adults across this vast land.

July 2002 was for us not an end or accomplishment of some feat; it was rather beginning of a new adventure of faith and hope for the entire Canadian Church.

At our World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, John Paul II issued a clarion call to commitment to the entire Church in Canada.

To his young friends he said: "Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides: many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, success, and power. Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses."

The alternative call was Jesus' cry: "He calls you to be the salt and light of the world, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace." The choice was stark, self-denying, life-defining, and irrevocable.

It was between, "good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death."

There were no shortcuts or compromises for John Paul II, only clarity. And that is what young people are seeking today, not quick answers but Gospel clarity.

It is incumbent on the Church to offer solid opportunities for youth and young adult ministry that contain solid content, vision, community and hope.

Many people have commented to me that World Youth Day 2002 taught them to wear biblical lenses in order to understand what July 2002 was all about for the Church in Canada.

On a very personal note, as I remember the great event of World Youth Day 2002, and allow it to take on its true dimensions -- 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.

It was for me and for many the wind of Pentecost that we read about in the New Testament.

And yet, in the midst of the howling wind and violent storm, the nations of the earth -- at least 172 of them huddled together in that field -- understood one another as they gathered around the successor of Peter on that July morning five years ago.

This was the wind that had led the World Youth Day Cross from sea to sea to sea, across Canada "a mari usque ad mare." That summer and that particular morning of July 28, 2002, I believe that the Church in Canada was born again on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Canada is often described on the international scene as being one of the most politically correct or tolerant societies in the world.

Some take great pride in these words applied to our country. Others, including myself, do not necessarily see this description as something terribly positive.

There is nothing politically correct about preaching and living the Gospel, about being salt and light in a culture that has lost the flavor of the Gospel and tried to extinguish the light of Christ.

In fact, the Gospel message is at times completely incorrect in the eyes and ways of the world! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed with boldness and with courage -- and that is one of the great lessons of World Youth Day 2002.

A boldness that does not overpower, that is not rude, that does not bully, that is never disrespectful, that never shows off or flaunts gifts that one has received -- but where the Spirit has been so lavishly poured out upon us as individuals and as a faith community, the Church has an obligation to announce and to proclaim Jesus Christ boldly, unapologetically and unabashedly -- with great joy.

Earlier this month while visiting Rome, I spent several long moments in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica, at the grave of John Paul II, the great dreamer and father of World Youth Days.

Every day I ask the Servant of God Pope John Paul II to pray for us and intercede for us, and especially for the young people who found in him a father, a grandfather, a teacher and a demanding friend who loved them.

May those same young people find in the Church in Canada a rock, a shelter, a harbor, a home, and a possible lifetime of service in the Church today -- a Church that is "alive and young," as Benedict XVI said at the inauguration of his Petrine Ministry in 2005.