2011-08-24 Vatican RadioPope Benedict left Madrid on Sunday evening after a four day visit to the Spanish capital where some two million young men and women had gathered for World Youth Day 2011. As he boarded the plane for Rome, the Pope reiterated his call to the young people of the world to be 'firm in the faith', and to live their lives as corageous witnesses to the Gospel of Christ. Our correspondant Emer McCarthy has been following events in Madrid and reports on the concluding moments of this visit: It was only a four day visit. But it made a world of difference. First and foremost to those millions who had answered Pope Benedict XVI’s call not to be ashamed of the Lord, to be the ‘apostles of the 21st century’. As they boarded buses, trains and planes for the long journey home, tired, dirty and sun burnt, they were still smiling, still chanting that call that had echoed through the storm across Madrid on Saturday night “We are the youth of the Pope!”. “Young people readily respond when one proposes to them, in sincerity and truth, an encounter with Jesus Christ”, Pope Benedict XVI said as he prepared to board the papal plane at Barajas airport, on his journey to Rome. “Now those young people are returning home as missionaries of the Gospel…and – he added, speaking to the 800 bishops and thousands of priests and women religious who had accompanied the young people on this pilgrimage - they will need to be helped on their way”. His last words of encouragement to that nation of youth: “There is no reason to lose heart in the face of the various obstacles we encounter in some countries. The yearning for God which the Creator has placed in the hearts of young people is more powerful than all of these”. It was only a four day visit but it also made a world of difference to Spain, a country and a people, weary of the uncertainties born of the current economic and cultural crisis. This was visible not only in the press, which passed from front page reporting on the protests that had erupted on the eve of the Papal trip to the Pope’s call for ethics in political and social spheres to help overcome the crisis- but also among the people of Madrid, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and I probably never will again”, an elderly lady told me as we waited in line at a coffee shop. The Pope’s parting words were of praise. “Spain is a great nation whose soundly open, pluralistic and respectful society is capable of moving forward without surrendering its profoundly religious and Catholic soul”. And of thanks, in particular to the army of 30 thousand young volunteers: “To love means to serve, and service increases love. For me, this is one of the finest fruits of your contribution to World Youth Day”. The 26th edition of the largest gathering of youth on the planet, for those of us who watched it unfold before our eyes, leaves indelible images in its wake. Cibeles Square, first transformed into an open air party, the sheer noise of the young people’s voices as they welcomed the Pope. And again when that street party paused for the Way of the Cross, and the only sound that moved the still evening air was the haunting notes of an ancient Spanish prayer. The majestic El Escorial, and the smile upon the Holy Father’s face, the ‘Professor Pope’, speaking of the ideal of the University to the next generation of teachers. The Jardines del Beun Retiro and the image of hundreds of priests young and old, representing a Babylon of languages, standing beneath the shade of trees long after public security had closed down access to the confessionals in the Festival of Forgiveness, to make sure that every last pilgrim, who so desired, could reconcile themselves to the Lord, as the sun set on Madrid. The image of the Pope, in a midsummer storm, serenaded by the BXVI generation during Saturday’s prayer Vigil, and that same congregation of nations in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. For me, one image sums it all up: in essence, it reveals why they came in their millions to Madrid, to hear Pope Benedict’s message: that of a WYD poster with graffiti sprayed over it that read: “We are atheists”, and under this a reply, “You don’t know what you’re missing, we’ll pray for you”. This is the BXVI generation, they came, they heard and they understood, the apostles of the 21st century.