WYD hold the promise of God doing amazing things in and around pilgrims

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on July 31, 2016   

 

            When you read this column, I will be in Poland for World Youth Day (WYD) with Bishop Melczek, Kevin Driscoll, our diocesan youth director (Many THANKS to Kevin!), several priests and 80+ young people of our diocese.  We will be joining hundreds of thousands of Catholics from all over the world to celebrate, witness and grow in our faith in with Pope Francis.

            Conceived by Pope John Paul II, WYD lasts six days, are held usually every three years in a different country, and are intended to increase the faith and love of Catholic young people. Skeptics in the Vatican never thought an event of such magnitude could ever succeed, but, as so often was the case, St. John Paul II proved his critics wrong. 

            I have participated in three World Youth Days prior to this year - Denver in 1993, Toronto in 2002 and Cologne in 2005. All intense experiences, these encounters offer times for Mass, reconciliation and prayer, catechetical sessions with our bishops, service experiences with the poor and sick, music, fun and touring around, all of which culminates in a long walk to a massive field on Saturday in preparation for a prayer service with the Holy Father that night. 

            Then, everybody sleeps overnight in the field and the next morning, the pope returns to celebrate a huge closing Mass with all the pilgrims. Such a trek is not for the faint of heart! It involves long travel, much walking, tolerating heat, crowds, sleeplessness, a lot of waiting and limited bathroom facilities. But it is a pilgrimage and everybody loves it!

            St. John Paul II clearly intuited that we as Catholics can’t just live our faith in our heads all the time, just thinking about God or creating this privatized world of just Jesus and me. Because the Son of God became incarnate in our flesh, we need to see, hear, feel, act , sing and even sometimes shout out our faith, in comm with other people, both within the Church and in the world.

            If our practice of religion ever becomes so antiseptic that we never get our hands dirty because of it, are never inconvenienced in some big ways, never live it out in broader contexts that make us feel uncomfortable, or never cry or laugh because of it, we are not yet fully disciples of the Lord Jesus.

            When you read the Acts of the Apostles or the lives of the saints, you realize quickly that these spiritual leaders rejoiced, bled, sweated, cried, suffered, danced, laughed, sacrificed, worked hard and were even sometimes killed to build the Kingdom of God. Faith was a tangible, gritty reality because Jesus Christ was real, alive and present in all the details of their lives.

            Pilgrimages, mission trips, processions, hands-on service, devotions, vacation Bible camps, WYDs and a multitude of other experiences makes Catholicism a beautiful and wild patchwork quilt of encounters with the power of the Divine Presence, mysteriously imbedded in the complexity of the human experience. 

            Young people are unfailingly transformed through their participation in World Youth Days because they fundamentally grasp this truth on a very deep level. Many married couples, singles, priests and religious discovered their vocations because of WYD! 

            Coming back from Denver, Toronto or Cologne, young people would tell me that they never knew the Church was so big or diverse, that there were so many other young people like themselves living the faith, that being Catholic could be this much fun, that God loved them so much or that their lives and what they do really matter so much.

            Occurring in the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, this WYD will focus on the extraordinary love of God, poured out in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we collectively live through this very difficult historical moment, fraught with terrorism, violence, mass killings, hatred, rage, poverty and war, the world has never needed the saving, healing, reconciling and forgiving mercy of Jesus Christ more. 

            As disciples of the Lord Jesus in this troubled time, we are the instruments of that mercy and peace.  This realization simultaneously inspires, frightens, energizes, overwhelms and ultimately reassures me that the Gospel call is authentic, life-giving and transformative when we have the courage and grace to respond. God is with us and is the one who does all the heavy lifting.

            In Poland, we will be elated, inspired, tired, joyful, impatient, hungry, challenged, nourished and sanctified. We will experience deep moments of prayer, comm, love, peace and also craziness, exhaustion and confusion. God will do amazing things in and around us. 

            Sounds a lot like the lives of the saints!

 

+ Donald J. Hying