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by Romeo Trottier, SDB

translation by Rev. J. Occhio, SDB


Fr. Alain Léonard, a Salesian from Sherbrooke, Canada, accompanied a small group of young people to WYD to Toronto last July. I asked him to share with our Website friends his impressions and reflections. I thank him for taking time to recall to our mind some of those very striking images we saw on TV and in newspapers. Fr. Romeo Trottier SDB

R.T.: In what state of mind did you go to WYD in Toronto ?
A.L.:. A small group of seven young people from Sherbrooke came together and decided to participate in WYD. Young people capable of exercising a positive influence on each other, united by the fact of having been students at Séminaire Salésien. Young people chosen because of their various pastoral experiences in groups like Bosco-Vie, Bosco Bicycle or WYD 2000 in Rome. Young people attracted to Don Bosco’s charism.
We left for Toronto, after some preparation, with an open mind and mutual trust with the desire to let ourselves be challenged by Christ’s message in whatever way God’s graces would be granted to us. We knew that this was a unique happening, that it should be lived in the spirit of a pilgrimage and that it was not merely a tourism thing.

R.T.: What was the atmosphere like in Toronto ?
A.L.: When we arrived in Toronto, we found ourselves in the midst of a crowd of about 200,000 young people gathered at Exhibition Place for the opening Mass presided by Cardinal Ambrosic. So we began our prayer on asphalt, each one of us bearing in our heart our personal intentions before receiving Communion, together with that enormous crowd of respectful, recollected persons desirous of communing with the great Gatherer, Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The scenario seemed to be just that all along the six days of WYD. Being with thousands of young privileged people (for the most part, they were not poor, abandoned or marginal youths!), capable of expressing their gratitude and their faith in that they lived something good and beautiful with the Lord.

R.T.: What did Pope John Paul bring to WYD ?
A.L: In a certain way, John Paul II spoke to us more just by our seeing him walk .A good old Pope who in spite of his weak health remains vigorous, determined and courageous and who passes on to young people the message not to let themselves be conquered by the difficulties of life, even if they are serious. Then in his speeches, always the same central message: to embrace the Gospel of Christ, to denounce the attitudes and behaviours contrary to that Gospel, to search for creative ways to become “salt and light” ( the WYD theme), each one in our own milieu. It was moving to hear a young man begin his address by saying: “Dear Holy Father, dear father, dear grandfather!” The Pope had beautiful words for us. As when he said: “Dear young people of Canada, of America and of all parts of the world ! Contemplating Jesus, you can understand what it means to be poor of heart, humble and merciful, what it means to seek justice, to have a pure heart, to be peacemakers,” or again when he said: “Do not forget! Christ needs you to realise his project of salvation. Christ needs your youth and your generous enthusiasm to make his good news of joy resound in this new millennium… Have faith in Christ, because He has faith in you.” That’s very beautiful, isn’t it , coming from this “old Pope,” as he called himself ?

R.T.: What was the purpose of the catechetical sessions in the different centres ? 
A.L.: Speaking to linguistic groups, bishops from all over the world were available to deepen the WYD theme: “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.” Three mornings were devoted to that. Some young people told me: “It is easier to be salt than light. Salt gives flavour. That requires a positive and peaceful attitude. Whereas light means to be a guide for others, and that demands a certain maturity and a greater commitment.” The third catechetical session was about reconciliation. “If God grants his forgiveness to all the sinners that we are, why then speak about heaven and hell at the end of our life?” a young man asked a bishop after a session. Through questions, sharing and prayer, those sessions allowed the participants to be enlightened by the Word of God and by the answers of the different religious leaders present at the event. Our own linguistic group gathered young people from Tahiti, France, the Dominican Republic, and, of course, from Quebec and other parts of Canada. The Taizé Community animated the singing at the eucharistic celebrations.
These sessions were a very important part of WYD; they were meant to deepen our faith. They were very appreciated, like those of Card. Turcotte, of Montreal, of which I heard very positive echoes. Our own Salesian Cardinal from Honduras, Oscar Rodriguez, was also one of the most appreciated “catechists.” 

R.T.: Was there any special Salesian event during WYD in Toronto, as was the case for the other WYD’s ?
A.L.: Yes, there was a Salesian Youth Rally on July 24. It was said unofficially that it was perhaps the best Salesian meeting of all WYD’s , or at least the second best! In his “Good Night” Fr. Domenech, the General Councillor of our Congregation for Youth Apostolate, said in a very enthusiastic way that Don Bosco was really present at this feast, all the criteria of our Salesian action being present: a home that welcomes, a parish that evangelises, a school that prepares for life, a playground where friends meet and enjoy themselves (songs, music, dance, etc.). On that July 24, Don Bosco was rejoicing with us, continuing to exercise his charism with force. There was really an atmosphere of feasting in that huge park near the Salesian church of St. Benedict.
It was really great to find ourselves together, Salesian priests, Brothers and Sisters, together with pupils, past pupils and young people from Salesian works all around the world: from Brazil, USA, Mexico, Honduras, Salvador, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, the Philippines, Italy, Spain, Africa, India and so many other countries. And evidently also from Canada ! You should have heard the song Salt of the Earth, Light of the World, composed for the occasion by a very gifted past pupil of Don Bosco Secondary School in Toronto, Vince Sgambelluri ! “ Mother of the earth, Help of Christians in the world, We pray that you’ll protect every boy and girl...” A really creative composition ! As also the official song of the Rally, Live the Dream. (Both songs are on CD’s).

R.T.: If I asked you to select one image of WYD, what would it be ?
A.L.: A “Catholic Popestock!” An enormous crowd!
When we read the Gospel, we see Jesus sometimes surrounded by great crowds. Thousands of people liked to gather in Palestine to listen to His words… In Toronto, like on other occasions with John Paul II, young people from 173 countries came together because they were hungry for words that could nourish and sustain them, fed up with too much superficiality of our society.

R.T.: What did WYD make you more aware of? 
A.L.: In spite of its 2000-year history, my Church remains young, vigorous, resplendent and very much alive, bearer of hope for today’s world. It wants to be salt and light. 

R.T.: Thank you, Fr. Alain, for sharing this meaningful experience with us. I wish that you and all those young men and women who had rendez-vous in Toronto will always preserve in your heart, as did Mary, the mother of Jesus, the memory of that meeting: the brotherhood of those youths from all over the world, the message of John Paul II, that pilgrimage to encounter Christ.

 Last update: 2020.09.15