Monday, July 14, 2008

World Youth Day

I just read this article on the U.S. Byzantine Catholic website on World Youth Day this year in Australia. When I read this paragraph
"Young people of past World Youth Days are now adults and know up to what point this experience has been wonderful for their lives," said the priest. "Today's young people, tomorrow's adults, will also know that Sydney is close, and that hope and love in the Church's future and in that of the whole of humanity also depends on them."
I was reminded of my own first experience of World Youth Day in 2000--in Rome for the first time since the creation of the event in 1986 (that is, the first "international" World Youth Day; there are world youth days in Rome every year it is not held somewhere else). I went to Rome with 25 students and 5 chaperons from my home parish in CA. It was a deeply moving experience to be in Rome for the first time in my life, to see all the wonderful sights, the works of art, churches, and, of course, the witness of thousands of pilgrims (actually, for this one in 2000, I think it may have been millions). Following the instructions from the WYD website, I packed all that I would need for a week (including shirts that would dry quickly so I could hand wash them and wear them again) into one backpack. I packed a small fleece sleeping bag (no pad) and did not bring a pillow. We slept on the floor in an Italian school in Colleferro, about an hour southeast of Rome. We took the train into the city on the two or three days we went there. It was hot. Rome in August is very warm and quite humid. I remember drinking copious amounts of water; I do not remember needing to use the bathroom very often. It was very crowded. The general audiences in St. Peter's square were stuffed with pilgrims--in order to make it through the crowd with a group of 30, we had to hold on to each other very tightly and pull each other through the masses of people. But it was all so wonderful! Each line we had to stand in gave us an opportunity to meet new people. Every moment we stood still, hemmed in by the crowd, gave us a moment to think or rest or simply see. The official "theme song" for WYD 2000 was "Emmanuel" God With Us. I remember young people chanting things like "John Paul II, we love you!" To which JPII would respond, "Pope John Paul loves you all!" He was very young at heart!! My deepest impression of that world youth day, my first, is that the Church needs her young people, and that the Holy Father loves them all deeply. He needed us; he wanted us to become strong leaders in the Church; he wanted us to know that Christ loves us and deeply desires a relationship with us. He wants to be with us. What I realized was that I mattered--quite specifically--to the future of the Church. In 2002, by an act of God, I was able to attend my second World Youth Day, in Toronto, Canada. This, too, was a very moving experience. If my pilgrimage to Rome was mostly about the Holy City, my journey to Canada was mostly about the people I met and friends I made (you can tell this by the pictures I took!). I went to Toronto with a group from Gonzaga, before I even was a student there--the summer before my freshman year began. We were all lucky enough to be housed by various members of St. Bartholomew's parish, and I actually got to sleep in a bed this time!
I stood less than 20 feet away (on a friend's shoulders) and watched the pope as he passed by in his pope-mobile. That year's theme song called us all to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. Our Holy Father told us, that summer, "You are young. But the pope is old." We didn't believe it--we all shouted "No!" and began afresh our chants of "JPII, we love you" or "Giovanni Paolo *clap, clap, clap, clap, clap*" We weren't ready for him to leave us yet... I can't recall him saying he would see us in Germany in 2005. I know it was in headlines and whatnot, since that's when the next WYD was set for, but I don't remember JPII actually saying it . Perhaps he knew. And now, though I haven't been able to attend WYD 2005, or this year's gathering in Sydney, Australia, I feel I am able to share, in a very special way, in the experience of those few (those happy few) who are currently making their journey to join thousands of other young people in the wide embrace of our new pope--Benedict! I was so glad to hear he continued the WYD tradition--I feel it has become so important to the Catholic youth of today to know they are loved, needed, and prayed for. It is true that "today's young people...will know that hope and love in the Church's future, and in that of the whole of humanity, also depends on them!"
I hope the world youth days continue well into the future--as a constant reminder to the world and to the Church that the future is in the hands of our young people. I hope my children are able to someday attend a world youth day, perhaps in Rome even, and know how deeply they are loved by the pope. I have hope in the future of the Church--hope that has come from meeting hundreds of "kids like me" who are passionate about their faith and truly want to know Christ and see Him in all people.

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