29 July 2016

It's More than Catholic Woodstock

World Youth Day itself is amazingly incredible as well as equally chaotic and stressful at times. Sometimes it can be hard to explain to folks who have never been.

My sweet friend Laurel went to WYD both in 2000 (Rome) and 2002 (Toronto). I am so excited to have her share her WYD experiences here today:)
Take it away Laurel!

During my teenage years, I had the privilege of attending two World Youth Days -- Rome in 2000 and Toronto in 2002 --which would radically change my life. Youth ministry was an important aspect of my life throughout this time, but these two events were the cherry on top, so to speak, of that period. It was during (and following) those pilgrimages that I became more firmly convicted in orienting my life toward Christ, in searching Him out and truly discerning the vocation He was calling me to live.

Rome in 2000
They call us the John Paul II Generation, and rightly so, for his words and example have struck us to the core. Our dear Holy Father seemed timeless, maintaining that vigor of youth that accompanied him in his twenties and thirties as a young priest. We connected with him instantly. (And, incredibly, I don't think this was an exclusive experience for the youth.) He spoke directly to the hopes and dreams of our hearts, and inspired us to follow Christ daily.

In both WYDs that I attended, the closing homilies given by our Holy Father, St. Pope John Paul II, touched my heart deeply. His words seemed a personal letter written just for me, from a loved one who cared immensely for my spiritual health and general well-being.

He spoke words of truth that I could not ignore. Nor have I been able to ver all these years, having gone back over those homilies numerous times. Even reading them once again today, in preparation for writing this, I am struck by them. They fill me with emotions as I remember how they moved me--how they still move me with a desire to live my life in Christ.

During the first one I attended, we were celebrating the Jubilee Year. The Holy Father emphasized over and over again the importance of making the Eucharist the center of our week, the focal point of our lives.
“Dear friends, when you go back home, set the Eucharist at the centre of your personal life and community life: love the Eucharist, adore the Eucharist and celebrate it, especially on Sundays, the Lord’s Day. Live the Eucharist by testifying to God’s love for every person….

You yourselves must be fervent witnesses to Christ’s presence on the altar. Let the Eucharist mould your life and the life of the families you will form. Let it guide all life’s choices. May the Eucharist, the true and living presence of the love of the Trinity, inspire in you ideals of solidarity, and may it lead you to live in communion with your brothers and sisters in every part of the world.”

I was inspired to attend daily Mass often and make time for Adoration at least weekly. During my college years, with a chapel just steps from my dorm, I was able to follow His beckoning with great regularity. This closeness to Christ helped me through my formative studies and influenced some wonderful relationships I formed with others during my college years. I miss this as it has become more difficult for me to make regular visits, but makes me realize just how powerful connection to His Heart in the Eucharist is for my life.

In Toronto, the Holy Father spoke on the Gospel where Christ calls us to be the "salt of the earth" and "light of the world." Drawing back to Vatican II's "universal call to holiness," we were reminded that every one of us is called to be a saint. We are called wherever life takes us to be saints in those very moments, to enliven the world with the flavor of Christ's love.

“It is a world which needs to be touched and healed by the beauty and richness of God's love. It needs witnesses to that love. The world needs salt. It needs you - to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Salt seasons and improves the flavour of food. Following Jesus, you have to change and improve the "taste" of human history.”

Getting ready to leave! (Toronto in 2002)
He reminded us that holiness is not just for the elderly, something to do once you've lived your life, but for us, right now.
“[H]oliness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit.”

In fact, one of our greatest assets to the living Church was our youthful hope. He called us to embrace this and continue to look towards it in the midst of difficult situations, in the midst of our faults and failings.
“I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope.

Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Even when I stumble, even when I neglected my relationship with God, I am reminded that He is constantly calling me back to Him. There have been some dark times in my life since 2002, but recalling these words of St. Pope John Paul II have always helped me return to a place of hopefulness for the future. They have reminded me of what the Lord wants of me, of the importance of always drawing near to Him.

World Youth Days are like large Catholic rallies where one can connect with like-minded Christians. But they are so much more. With an open heart, they can be a turning point that changes the rest of one's life. Carrying on the zeal that was enlivened there, taking to heart the wisdom shared, they became for me the opening act of a life lived in Christ.
(If you have a moment, take a read through the homilies yourself {2000 and 2002}.)

I love the perspective of people who attended WYD's I myself have not. I never had the experience of being at WYD with its founder, St. Pope John Paul II, so I cherish hearing stories of those who were present. 
So thank you for sharing those precious memories Laurel!

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