Well, at long last, here is the posting I promised earlier. I'll begin with our morning Mass:
After departing from the hotel, all the 100+ seminarians from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary went over to Archbishop Stepinac High School for Mass; the chapel was very nice, especially considering how little room for decoration there was. We then proceeded to the Yonkers raceway, which was converted from a raceway into a large parking lot full of charter busses and youth waiting to be ferried over to St. Joseph's Seminary (also called Dunwoodie).
At the Seminary
After a short while waiting around, we boarded a bus and went to the Seminary. Surrounding the Seminary were literally hundreds of police officers, and, I'm sure, many federal security agents. Luckily, it didn't take too long to get inside; once we were there, a few other St. Louis seminarians and I staked out a location in the front section (reserved for Seminarians, priests and religious) quite close to the stage. Being so close to the stage made the event very intimate for the seminarians, and, I'm sure, the many youth who arrived early enough to be close behind us. To show how packed the area was getting (even at 2 p.m.!), here's a picture of myself along with many other St. Louis seminarians (I'm glad I remembered a towel to keep the sun off my neck and face—even if I did look like a dork!):
The entertainment was comprised of Christian and Catholic musicians, along with a few dancing groups and choirs. On the whole, everything was entertaining and loud; not necessarily my cup of tea, but I didn't have any problems with the entertainment. A few interesting tidbits: The drummer from the band TobyMac was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap (like the one I was wearing), Matt Maher had a very prayerful selection of music (indeed, his was the most prayerful entertainment of the day), and Kelly Clarkson was the headlining musician of the day (for reasons I know not). Other acts included some Korean dancers, Third Day (a Christian band), the 'Three Graces' (a group of singers), and Salvador (a Latino Christian band). Below you can see Kelly Clarkson rocking her song, "Since You've Been Gone:"
The Audience with Pope Benedict XVI
Around 3:30-4:00 (during Kelly Clarkson's set), bishops and cardinals from around the country began to filter in, taking their seats on the stage after Ms. Clarkson finished. St. Louis' own beloved Archbishop Burke was among the bishops present, and was seated on the left side of the stage. I'm sure he was happy to see the many Kenrick-Glennon Seminarians present—wouldn't you agree?
When the Pope was shown on the video screens exiting his car at the entrance to the Seminary (he was to give a speech and blessing to youth with disabilities inside the Seminary chapel before coming outside), the whole crowd was abuzz with excitement. The cheer was much louder than any of the entertainers had received during the afternoon. And when the Pope came around the Seminary in his Popemobile, the electricity was even higher. As soon as Pope Benedict XVI walked onto the stage, everyone present was cheering almost madly—I managed to snap a couple of shots of him amdist all the waving arms and yellow-and-white scarves:
After about five minutes of continuous cheers (Pope Benedict had a genuine ear-to-ear smile on his face the whole time!), Pope Benedict was presented with many gifts (including pictures of local saints, different kinds of bread, and the gift of songs). He then gave a very well-received speech which I quote here, in part:
Dear friends, the example of the saints invites us, then, to consider four essential aspects of the treasure of our faith: personal prayer and silence, liturgical prayer, charity in action, and vocations. (Source: EWTN)
I am very glad he spoke highly of the need for not only prayer (and liturgical prayer specifically, which binds us together as the Body of Christ), but also of silence. I know of many leaders of youth in the Church who seem to sometimes forget to include a proper amount of silent time in their youth activities. I think programs like LifeTeen would benefit greatly from a renewed look at how much time is spent in vocal prayer (including music) and silent time for adoration, meditation and contemplation.
At the beginning and end of his audience, the Holy Father came down both of the wings of the stage, and was about 15 feet from me! With my 70-300mm zoom lens, I could get a very close picture of Pope Benedict (after, of course, seeing him with my own eyes!), which I've posted as a high-resolution picture on my Flickr page (I include a thumbnail here).
At the end of the Pope's time with us, Kelly Clarkson again took the stage (this time on stage-left) to sing a version of the Ave Maria to Pope Benedict. Again, I'm not too sure why she was chosen as the headliner for this event. I don't necessarily disagree with the decision—I just don't know why the organizers chose her (according to Wikipedia, she's a Baptist) over a Catholic soprano for the Ave Maria...
The event was unforgettable, and I will definitely cherish every moment of it (as with Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in 1999, which I still remember vividly!) in the years to come, especially as I grow nearer to Christ in my calling to the priesthood. I pray that this event may help strengthen the presence of the Catholic Church in the Eastern U.S., and I also pray that there may be an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life in the U.S. as a result of Pope Benedict's Visit this year.
Now it's about time for me to go to bed—twenty hours on a bus makes a weary body! I'm just thankful that our bus didn't have any problems during the whole trip! You can browse through all the pictures I took in New York by clicking here.