I guess it’s my turn to offer my two cents on the entire World Youth Day festivities here in Toronto. For those not in the know, back in 1983 the Pope presented a wooden cross to the “youth of the world” and instructed them to keep it and care for it, and that they would meet in a major world city every two years with the cross for a week of mass gathering and prayer. This year, Toronto was selected. Some of you will remember a previous post this month when I volunteered to help clear the streets when this cross came through my hometown of Bolton. This week, about 600,000 foreign youths and their families began to crowd into Toronto to take in our beautiful city, and last night, to attend a vigil hosted by the Pope himself. Most, if not all, of these 600,000 people stayed overnight, and now they’re expecting up to 1,500,000 local youths and their families to attend an open mass this morning. My wife has headed down with a friend from work, actually.
Now, if you take 600,000 or more people who are not normally in our area and drop them in downtown Toronto it should go without saying that things will get a bit crowded. These visitors, known as “pilgrims”, have taken to our subway system en masse and have been taking full advantage of their time here to see the whole city. This has, of course, caused for excessive foot traffic on most downtown streets, and promptly sent some members of the whining public into a fit. Don’t get me wrong, I have actually been more than impressed with the general lack of negativity surrounding this event, and I’m sure most of that is owed to September 11th and a general return to faith, or in the very least, an understanding of others’ faith. Two years ago this event would have lead to all sorts of blasphemous comments, no doubt, but people have accepted this Catholic gathering and seem to have gone out of their way to be accepting of it and gracious to our visitors.
Religion, and Catholicism, are frequently held as the major reasons for some of the world’s greater problems. “All of the World’s major fights and wars are over religion.” How many times have you heard that? At least 600,000 Catholics and Christians have crowded into the streets of Toronto this week and have we seen fighting? War? Theft? Murder? Plundering? Looting? I haven’t. No more than usual, which might fly in the face of those that have chosen to use Christianity as a scapegoat for the problems of the World. What I saw last night on the CBC was hundreds of thousands of youth singing, dancing, and happily coexisting with others of different ethnic backgrounds. Skin colour and diversity meant nothing – they were people, bonding together by a common love and possibly the last chance they would ever have to be lead by our present Pope. My faith in the future of our World through the young people was reaffirmed last night as I watched this gathering with nary a bad thing happening from beginning to end. You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate it when this many people can exist so peacefully and with such love for one another.
Have a problem with crowded sidewalks? Upset over busy streetcars and subways? I don’t have a whole lot to say to you about it. Take a minute to look at the greater picture, whether you believe in God or not. To those that have welcomed our pilgrims with open arms, I thank you. People the World over are looking at Toronto with a rich fondness now that perhaps they didn’t before. I’ve had people ask me about our city – with the acceptance we’ve offered these pilgrims, and the great images of happy people and a clean city – they’re interested in paying us a visit. If you can find reason to be negative in all this perhaps you haven’t yet opened your eyes after all.