In the school of Pope John Paul II
Pawel Zuchniewicz talks to Bishop Renato Boccardo, the Holy Father's travel co-ordinator.
Pawel Zuchniewicz: - In what circumstances did you begin your responsibility of organizing pontifical journeys to the World Youth Day?
Bishop Renato Boccardo: - On 18 April 1992 I was asked to become office head of the youth section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The Pope also wanted to appoint me for this position, which was connected with organising the World Youth Day. I was very surprised but I agreed to do it. I never thought I would deal with such an important dimension of the Church's activities.
- How can we explain the phenomenon of the World Youth Day?
- By using concrete gestures the Holy Father wanted to show that the Church was close to the young people. In his book 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope' John Paul II clearly says that youth is not only a transition from maturing to adulthood, but also the time of grace given to each man because this is the time when man lays foundation of his/her life. The Pope invented World Youth Days as a way to accompany young people in the decisive moments of their lives. This is a kind of proposal - a chance to see the living Church, to hear the message of Christ and experience the community of people who are gathered to hear the Good News.
- Did it work?
- Certainly. Firstly, World Youth Days have left a mark on all youth pastoral ministry. This initiative bore many more initiatives on the level of the local Church: pastoral, formative and catechetical projects, prayer groups, and a bigger involvement of young people in their Christian lives. These are visible fruits that bring hope. But I think that we do not know most of the fruits that the World Youth Days yielded. This is the time of grace; personal experiences of Christ that young people gain.
- Those who participated in the first World Youth Days are now adults. Have you got an idea what they think about their experiences now?
- It seems to me that that experience is some point of reference for them. It was a strong experience. They have it in their thoughts and even in their prayers so that they can find the sense of their present lives. They are not 'veterans' and they do not only recollect those Days. Those moments help them be faithful to some project of life, which they worked out or accepted when they participated in the World Youth Days.
- You could often see young people approaching the Pope although his guards did not let them. One can say that in some ways they 'broke barriers'. How can one interpret that?
- One could see great feelings and admiration for the extraordinary personality of the Holy Father. Young people felt that they had taken an important place in his heart. The Pope spoke about it thousand times. One cannot explain it rationally. This is some impression that reaches the depth of human being. They also felt that the Pope trusted them even if he proposed difficult things and requirements. He said, 'You can do it. I know that I ask a lot of you but I believe you can do it'. And they ran towards him wanting to express their closeness to him.
- And what did it mean to the Pope?
- It seems to me that the Holy Father always behaved like a good father who accepted, hugged and comforted children. Like that girl from the Sudan, those numerous Africans and young people from all over the world who wanted to be hugged by him. I will never forget certain young man from Guinea who here, in St Peter's square, on 15 August 2000, during the opening ceremony of the World Youth Day, spoke on behalf of the youth welcoming the Pope, 'Holy Father, we thank you because you have accompanied us from our births on our way to Christ - most of us are at the age of your pontificate'. I think this is most important. Beyond all folklore and emotions the hearts of the youth are filled with such words.
- The Pope also told young people that they themselves should offer their lives. That must have been difficult to him - to demand so much...
- Yes, but the youth knew that he lived what he demanded. Contemporary patterns are not always trustworthy. People speak a lot, they even speak about beautiful things but those who speak such things do not often practice them.
- How can you explain the phenomenon of the Pope's fatherhood?
- It seems to me that the Holy Father explained that in his Letter to priests, 1985. He commented on the encounter between Jesus and the rich young man according to the description of the Gospel of Mark. The Evangelist writes that Jesus looked at him with love. The Pope says, 'The attitude of us, priests, towards the youth should be like this - to look at young people with love like Jesus. This is not a look to evaluate, this is not a critical look but a look full of life that encourages, forgives, reconciles, pushes forward'. The Pope, like every priest, participates in this mysterious fatherhood of God for his creation. His fatherhood is revealed through his priesthood...
- One can speak about the John Paul II generation that evangelizes the older generation...
- Yes, there are young people who bring the message of the Gospel, their presence, generosity, and good will into their families. The Pope often challenged the youth to carry the Gospel to others and reminded them that their experiences of the World Youth Days did not belong to them but they were to share them.
- What are the main pillars the organisation of the World Youth Days is based on?
- The first pillar is proclaiming Christ through catechetical talks and ministering sacraments. Bishops coming from the whole world deliver the talks.
The second pillar is the ecclesial dimension of the celebration - the youth experience the community of the Church. They can see various ways of Christian life. They know that their way of being Christian is not the only one, they meet bishops, and the bishops and the Pope are among them not as 'professors' but as those who give guidelines like Saint John the Baptist who shows, 'This is the Lamb of God'. The purpose of the World Youth Days is not to see the Pope but to look at Christ with him.
The third pillar is the missionary dimension. The Pope sends out young people, 'What you have experienced you need to put into practice'.
Pawel Zuchniewicz talked to Bishop Renato Boccardo.
Abbreviated interview published in Pawel Zuchniewicz's book entitled 'I have looked for you'.
Bishop Renato Boccardo (born in 1952) worked in the Pontifical Council for the Laity, had the responsibility of organising the pontifical journeys to the World Youth Days in Denver, Manila, Paris and Rome. He was elected bishop in 2003. He was secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and recently appointed secretary-general of Vatican City State.