Watching televised events of the current Holy Father’s trip to the United States triggered memories of the Papal Mass I was privileged to attend twenty years earlier, in 1995, celebrated in, what was then called, Giants Stadium.
What struck me in the hour(s) before the beginning of that outdoor Mass was the exuberance, persistence, and determination of a small group of young adults, seated together in one upper-level section of the stadium.
At a certain moment, well before the stadium even began filling, that group attempted to initiate a “wave.” For a time, their repeat attempts inspired no more than a handful of persons seated here and there in a few adjacent sections to join in.
Nevertheless, the core group persisted, from time to time, in attempting to energize their “wave” movement. As the stadium continued to fill, more people –scattered throughout the stadium, but still basically nearby the core group (the “instigators”), stood and waved.
…As embarrassed as I felt for core group, I also had a sense of admiration. Undaunted, they kept trying to lead–to generate a more powerful, fuller wave throughout the entire stadium. Never mind that it wasn’t working…
Then…amazingly!, when the entire stadium was full, but before any formal announcements or directions were given over the PA system, the persuasive, adamant body language finally, slowly culminated…more and more people joined in; more sections joined in. Then! The miracle happened. The entire cheering stadium, section after section, without exception, enthusiastically participated.
Goosebumps. Goosebumps were what I experienced…We were seated close to the end of the wave…I prayed the chain reaction would not be broken. It wasn’t. The wave came full circle–not once, but twice. Judging by their cheers and screams, the core group was jubilant–as were the rest of us.
What joy! What a sense of solidarity and celebration!
Why did the “wave,” the unrehearsed, spontaneous synchronized body language of more than sixty-five thousand individuals, waiting for Holy Mass to begin, finally happen?
Maybe people felt sorry for the small core group (as I had); maybe people were happy to have something to do, to fill the boredom, having waited so long to see the Mass celebration get underway; maybe people felt relieved to have an outlet to express their pent-up energy and anticipatory enthusiasm for the moment that the Holy Father would enter the stadium…
Who knows for sure what motivated the unity of action! …I surely cannot say definitively.
No matter. I like to think that what happened proves the truth of Margaret Mead’s statement:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Admittedly, getting 65,00o strangers to agree to do the “wave” did not change the world…but it did convince me that what Ms. Mead said is true…the dedicated commitment of even a small core group can have a far-reaching impact. One day, a small group of young adults led the “wave”–another day–just imagine what they might accomplish!
Since St. John Paul II was such an outspoken champion of “young people,” as he called them, it seemed especially fitting that such a demonstration of the potency of youth to affect a change–albeit even such a seemingly inconsequential change as getting apathetic and/or simply shy/reluctant people to engage in the “wave”--would take place in a stadium filled with men, women, and children of all ages, filled with great anticipation at being at the Papal Mass for which he was the main celebrant.
Whenever I think back to that Papal Mass, I always recall, with renewed trust in the youth, and with an appreciation for their enthusiastic belief in bringing about change–how a small group could motivate and inspire more than 65,000 people to do what they wanted. Witnessing and participating in that wave was a very hopeful, awesome sight and feeling.
Recalling what those young adults brought about that day, reminds me, too, that the power to influence is a sacred trust, one that needs to be exercised responsibly, with integrity. What those youth did to inject happiness and excitement to unify an entire outdoor congregation, a stadium of “spectators,” and help prepare them to be a community of participants in a Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass …to me, was nothing short of a Papal Mass miracle.
As a retired person, the wholehearted, enthusiastic commitment potential, which is a signature of American youth, has become–and continues to become–more important to me. Selfishly, I pray that among the “causes” and concerns our young people embrace will be a commitment to protect the elderly–thinking, perhaps, of protecting and providing for their own grandparents…(and me!)
Having seen and felt what a core group of committed young people accomplished on one Fall day at Giants Stadium, I have not one doubt that they can accomplish–for good–anything they set their minds and hearts to doing.
What causes and concerns do you hope young people will commit to doing?