Lots of enthusiasm, to say the least! This was my experience of the pilgrims of this Archdiocese who will be setting off this week for World Youth Days in Panama. We gathered Saturday afternoon to celebrate Eucharist in a final moment of preparation, and at the end of mass I invoked a special blessing upon them to send them on their way.
They are enthusiastic, yes, but also deeply and prayerfully serious about this pilgrimage. As well they should be! World Youth Days are moments of encounter with the Lord Jesus in the mystery and communion of his Church. It is a joy for the young pilgrims to be together with hundreds of thousands (!!) of their generation, who are enthusiastic about their Catholic faith. It is thrilling to be in the presence of the Holy Father. At the heart of it all is an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. This personal meeting with the Lord at WYD has had an enormous impact over the years since the first International WYD in Buenos Aires in 1987. Countless vocations to priesthood, religious life and Christian marriage have been attributed to what takes place at WYD.
We can expect the same to arise from this year’s event, particularly in light of the theme chosen by Pope Francis for the gathering: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Lk 1:38).” These are the words by which the Blessed Mother gave her assent to the divine summons communicated by the angel Gabriel. They remain the perfect expression of the “yes” that lies within the heart of every disciple of the Lord.
World Youth Days, the brainchild of St. John Paul II and carried on with enthusiasm by Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis, gather young adults from around the globe. When I’ve asked participants how the experience has affected them, the most common response I’ve received is: “I realize that I’m not alone.” This is usually expressed to me with great joy. A sense of isolation can take over the believer in our current secularizing culture. Western society seems bent on marginalizing and privatizing faith. Sources of entertainment and means of social communication are massively influential, and they often will promote as virtue what Christian tradition insists is vice. Political discourse and trends in legislation are increasingly distant from the Christian teaching which formed our national foundation. In such an environment, feeling alone as a young Christian is not surprising. But it is not true. There are millions of young adults in love with the Lord and his Church and very enthusiastic about sharing the faith with others. This is what is often joyfully discovered by WYD participants, and they return home liberated by this experience of truth.
Let’s be sure to keep our Archdiocesan pilgrims in prayer while they make this faith-filled journey. We can all look forward to welcoming the new enthusiasm they will surely bring to the mission of our local Church.