Why rain in Spain is to blame for student’s new odyssey to Rome

By Elliot Williams

VATICAN CITY — As Pope Francis released his annual message for World Youth Day last week, I couldn’t help but recall my own experience as a pilgrim four years ago. The trip was surreal. I had barely traveled anywhere in the United States on my own, and certainly had never been abroad. Yet, I refused to be held back by the fear of the unknown, so in the summer of 2011, I went along with Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald of my local Philadelphia Archdiocese to Madrid for World Youth Day. As a leader in an archdiocesan youth group, I was blessed enough to be chosen as one of five students to embark on the pilgrimage.

sanctuary of loyola spain

Villanova student and CNS intern, Elliot Williams, in front of the Sanctuary of Loyola in Azpeitia, Spain, in 2011, during World Youth Day celebrations. (CNS photo/Elliot Williams).

I kept a journal, took pictures, and reveled in the bliss of Europe as we traveled through Lourdes, France; Lisbon, Portugal and Burgos, Spain, visiting sites where the Blessed Mother appeared to those suffering from poverty and war. Throughout the 10-day excursion, we spent many hours listening to motivational speakers who spread messages of love, self-control, and the value of young lives — much like the message Pope Francis shared with the youth in preparation for WYD 2016, to be held in Krakow, Poland next summer.

Our trip culminated with a message from Pope Benedict XVI, which focused primarily on building faith. Four years later, the message from Pope Francis suggests a resemblance to the former, but centers mostly on the Beatitudes, and seeking happiness through the Lord. For those attending WYD in Krakow, this spiritual journey will be life changing, unprecedented for most young people, especially for those who have never seen the Holy Father speak in public before.

1storm wyd

An aide holds an umbrella for Pope Benedict XVI as rain and wind moves through the Cuatro Vientos airfield in Madrid during the World Youth Day vigil Aug. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

I will never forget camping out on a massive lawn of soil with a sea of fellow pilgrims, and watching as the sky turned from a promising blue, to a menacing red, threatening to end the entire event. Pope Benedict XVI spoke for as long as he could before the wind and the rain made it nearly impossible for him to continue (or for his cap to stay on his head). The wild storm persisted, after temperatures had peaked in the 100s (Fahrenheit) a few hours earlier.

I hardly fell asleep that night. Scared, wet and confused, I laid cocooned in a sleeping bag as the pope’s words about remaining strong, despite the rain, churning in my head. After a long night, we awoke to an unexpectedly clear sky. I dare say it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. Firefighters were circling the field, spraying pilgrims with refreshing water to keep us cool. Pope Benedict’s message about remaining firm in the faith was coming to life right before our eyes. The brightest days often come after the stormiest nights, right? Quite the cliché if you ask me. However, I believe that everyone who witnessed that fascinating event four years ago was profoundly impacted.

Now, a third-year student at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, I am interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau, about a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Square. What can I say? I just can’t stay away from pontifical goings-on. I would be lying if I said that WYD 2011 isn’t the reason I’m sitting here in Rome, writing this post. Perhaps it is the beauty of Christ, which Pope Francis often speaks of, that so attracts me. Or maybe it is the delicious food that has brought me to Rome.

In either case, I believe the real answer can be found in the remarks of St. John Paul II — who created World Youth Day 30 years ago — spoken at WYD 2000, “It is He who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise.”

I urge those attending WYD 2016 to keep an open heart, to embrace the universal message of change that Pope Francis hopes to share, and in case there is a nasty thunderstorm… pack a poncho.


The sun rises as pilgrims prepare for the final Mass of World Youth Day at Cuatro Vientos airfield in Madrid Aug. 21, 2011. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.

Official prayer, logo for World Youth Day 2016

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican and the Archdiocese of Krakow — host of WYD 2016 — unveiled today the official logo and prayer for the international youth gathering that’s set for July 26-31, two years from now.


Both the prayer and the logo focus on Divine Mercy and the theme chosen by Pope Francis from the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

Here’s a handy breakdown of the logo, describing what it means:

wyd symbols mean

Graphic distributed on the Facebook page of the official World Youth Day website: http://www.krakow2016.com/en/

The Archdiocese of Krakow is the former see of St. John Paul II and is home to the Divine Mercy sanctuary. St. John Paul had a great devotion to the Divine Mercy, the recognition of God’s mercy as demonstrated in his sending his son to die for the sins of humanity.

Here’s the official prayer (in English and Spanish), which begins with a line from the homily St. John Paul II delivered at the dedication of the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow in 2002.


Prayer for World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow

“‘God, merciful father,
in your son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the comforter,
we entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman.’

We entrust to you in a special way
young people of every language, people and nation:
guide and protect them as they walk the complex paths of the world today
and give them the grace to reap abundant fruits
from their experience of the Krakow World Youth Day.

Heavenly Father,
grant that we may bear witness to your mercy.
Teach us how to convey the faith to those in doubt,
hope to those who are discouraged,
love to those who feel indifferent,
forgiveness to those who have done wrong
and joy to those who are unhappy.
Allow the spark of merciful love that you have en-kindled within us
become a fire that can transform hearts and renew the face of the earth.

Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.

St. John Paul II, pray for us.”


Oracion para la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud de Cracovia 2016

“’Dios, Padre misericordioso,
Que has revelado tu amor en tu hijo, Jesucristo
y lo has derramado sobre nosotros en el Espíritu Santo, consolador,
te encomendamos hoy el destino del mundo y de todo hombre.’
Te encomendamos en modo particular
los jóvenes de toda lengua, pueblo y nación.
Guíales y protégeles en los complejos caminos de hoy
y dales la gracia de poder cosechar abundantes frutos
de la experiencia de la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud de Cracovia.

Padre celestial,
haznos testigos de tu misericordia.
Enséñanos a llevar la fe a los que dudan,
la esperanza a los desanimados,
el amor a los indiferentes,
el perdón a quien ha obrado el mal
y la alegría a los infelices.
Haz que la chispa del amor misericordioso
que has encendido dentro de nosotros
se convierta en un fuego que transforma los corazones
y renueva la faz de la tierra.

María, Madre de Misericordia, ruega por nosotros.
San Juan Pablo II, ruega por nosotros.”



Presto change-oh! It’s the skullcap swap

Monday Oct. 21, UPDATE and CORRECTION:

First a correction from an attentive Facebook fan who sent us a link showing how the cap swap custom goes way back before our 21st-century popes.

I also heard back from one of the Providence College students, who tried to give Pope Francis a new zucchetto. Here’s her backstage look at how it all happened:

Joe had noticed the tradition of the zuchetto exchange, and had wanted to try it for himself. As we all pointed to it, Pope Francis took notice of it and stopped the Popemobile while he had been passing by.

Prior to this, a friend we were with said that she wanted to write the pope a note, to which I replied that I had a stack of bright pink post-it notes. Upon writing the note and all signing our names, we safety pinned it to the zuchetto to ensure it stayed in place for the Pope to read, which is why he didn’t keep the note. It read, “Providence College LOVES Papa Francesco. [signed by seven PC students].

When Pope Francis stopped in front of us, I couldn’t even react. It was like a dream; I was speechless. He had read our note and told us that the zuchetto was too big. He was so close to us and had been so engaged with us as regular audience members (even for the 30 seconds that it was) that it was so surreal.



A pilgrim trying to give Pope Benedict XVI a zucchetto when he arrived for a general audience in St. Peter’s Square June 1, 2011. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The “zucchetto switcheroo” is a long-held tradition for popes and pilgrims.

A guest presents the pope with a brand new white skullcap and the pope is expected to take it and swap it with the one he’s wearing on his head.

While many pilgrims are familiar with the practice, we’ve noticed a newly elected pope usually needs a quick explanation from an aide or security guard when someone suddenly presents him with a fresh new cap purchased from the papal tailors at Gammarelli’s.

But once they know the drill, everyone from Blessed John Paul II to Popes Benedict and Francis has happily engaged in the tradition, letting the lucky pilgrim get a souvenir of a lifetime.

Pope leads general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Joseph Day, a student at Providence College, gets back the new zucchetto he had handed Pope Francis before the start of the general audience Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

One such lucky pilgrim at yesterday’s general audience was a student from Providence College, R.I. who is spending a semester studying in Rome.

Joseph Day, a native of Rehoboth, Mass., stretched his arm out over the heads of his classmates to give Pope Francis a zucchetto with a hot pink sticky note stuck inside.

Pope leads general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis briefly putting on a new zucchetto given to him by a Providence College student at the Oct. 16 general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Our photographer, Paul Haring, was there with his telephoto lens to capture the moment and the secreted note. According to news reports, Day had written “Providence College loves Pope Francis.”

The pope took off his own cap and put on Day’s gift, but then he gave it right back after glancing at the note.

It’s become a bit of a custom for Pope Francis to choose to keep his own skullcap after he places the gifted one briefly on his head and returns it to the gifter.

It’s just a guess on my part, but maybe he’s doing it to avoid any embarrassing misfits as happened in Rio this summer when someone gave him an oversize cap that looked like it had been stuffed in a pocket or backpack:

Pope arrives for World Youth Day ceremony on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro

Pope Francis greets the crowd at the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro July 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Video: Missionary pope: Francis in Brazil

Catholic News Service looks at the impact of the first Latin American pope’s visit to his native continent.

Video: Millions on Copacabana beach conclude WYD

A Saturday night vigil and Sunday morning Mass conclude World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro.

Pope urges Brazilian elites to embrace dialogue and ‘social humility’

RIO DE JANEIRO (CNS) — Speaking to political, economic and cultural leaders of a Brazil recently shaken by mass anti-government protests, Pope Francis called for a “culture of encounter” and said dialogue is the only way to promote social peace.

The Pope made his remarks July 27 in Rio’s Municipal Theater, to an audience representing what the Vatican’s official schedule described as the “ruling class of Brazil.”

Pope Francis blesses Walmyr Junior, 28, during a meeting with political, economic and cultural leaders at Municipal Theater in Rio de Janeiro July 27. The young man, who overcame drug abuse and is now a youth minister, shared his story of life transform ation -- his discovery of a loving God and church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis blesses Walmyr Junior, 28, during a meeting with political, economic and cultural leaders at Municipal Theater in Rio de Janeiro July 27. The young man, who overcame drug abuse and is now a youth minister, shared his story of life transform ation — his discovery of a loving God and church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue,” he said. “Today, either we stake all on dialogue, on the culture of encounter, or we all lose.”

The pope did not explicitly refer to the series of demonstrations in Brazilian cities that started last month, aimed at a range of grievances including government corruption, unsatisfactory public education and health services, the high cost of public transportation and police brutality. But he pointed to dialogue as a third way “between selfish indifference and violent protest.”

“A country grows when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic and technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture,” he said.

Pope Francis also called on his listeners to share “fraternal responsibility” for Brazilian society, “rehabilitating politics, which is one of the highest forms of charity.”

“The future demands of us a humanistic vision of the economy and a politics capable of ensuring greater and more effective participation on the part of all, eliminating forms of elitism and eradicating poverty,” he said.

Noting the importance of Christianity to the country’s cultural heritage, the pope said the church offered an “integral vision of the human person” that is “true to Brazilian identity and capable of building a better future for all.”

“Christianity combines transcendence and incarnation,” he said. “It brings ever new vitality to thought and life, in contrast to the dissatisfaction and disillusionment which creep into hearts and spread in the streets.”

Yet the pope endorsed the separation of church and state, historically a volatile topic in Latin America, where the Catholic Church long held a privileged legal position in many countries, but where it has more recently clashed with governments over issues including abortion and same-sex marriage.

“Peaceful coexistence between different religions is favored by the laicity of the state, which, without appropriating any one confessional stance, respects and esteems the presence of the religious factor in society, while fostering its concrete expressions,” he said.

Before his remarks, the pope was greeted on the stage of the ornate century-old theater by Walmyr Junior, 28, a lay minister in the Rio archdiocese who recounted his upbringing as an orphan in one of the city’s notorious “favelas,” or slums, his experience of drug abuse, and his recovery with the help of the church, which led to his graduation from the city’s Pontifical Catholic University.

Junior was overcome with emotion before finishing his speech, and embraced Pope Francis to loud applause from the audience.

Later, the pope greeted representatives of some indigenous Amazonian tribes appearing in their traditional dress, and briefly posed wearing a large feathered hat they gave him.

“The pope was saying what each one of us would have wanted to say if we had been on stage,” said a member of the audience, Alvaro Siviero, a concert pianist from Sao Paolo. “We saw there a person of common sense who didn’t speak in the way that is usual in politics.”

Siviero said the pope’s decision to address them in his native Spanish instead of the national language of Portuguese — for which he asked forgiveness at the start of his speech — was welcomed as a sign of humility.

“He wanted to talk to our hearts, not our minds only,” the pianist said. “His Spanish was from the heart, it was a universal language.”

Video: Rio re-stages the Stations of the Cross

Youths follow the Way of the Cross during a World Youth Day dramatization of the Passion July 26.


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