4 World Youth Day Lessons for Life
I’ve been to three World Youth Days (WYD), including the Sydney WYD in 2008 where I got to do some really fun stuff with a large wooden cross that Pope John Paul II gave to the youth of the world (have a look here). In some ways, World Youth Day has been a defining aspect of my ministry as a priest - which is amazing - so here are 4 takeaways from the World Youth Day experience that I think are important for all of us (whether you have been on a World Youth Day, are planning to go to World Youth Day, or never go to a World Youth Day.).
1. Life is about relationships
Anyone who has been on a WYD will tell you that a highlight of the experience is the people you meet along the way. There’s the pilgrimage group you travel with from Australia, there’s the people you meet from the host country, and then there’s everybody else from hundreds of countries who show up for the WYD itself! Meeting different people from different cultures is amazing. You get to try different food, speak a different language and get a taste of a life that is very different from your own. On the other hand, you get to become pretty tight with the members of your own group as you take in all these new sights together. It’s a powerful reminder: people matter more than things, and life is richer when you have friends to share it with.
2. Life is a pilgrimage
A big part of the WYD experience is traveling from Australia to one or more countries. We don’t simply call this a ‘trip’. It is a ‘pilgrimage’. I like to think of a pilgrimage as a journey to a particular place, but where God is the real destination. Which means that you also find God is walking with you along the way. Again, that’s a WYD lesson for life, folks. We sometimes think that the goal of this life is heaven, but the truth is that God is walking alongside us every step of the way too. We don’t always realize it, but it’s true.
3. The Catholic Church is really big
Here’s a funny thought – WYD is often described as the biggest gathering of Catholics in the world, but it is actually the Church in miniature. Millions of people gathered in Rio De Janeiro in 2013, and millions more will gather in Krakow in Poland next year. But there’s more than a billion Catholics around the world. So WYD is really a tiny representation of the Catholic family. Now that’s true whether you are standing in a crowd of a million people in the presence of the Pope, or if you are simply going to Mass in your own parish on Sunday. The key point here: you aren’t alone. Lots of people – and I mean lots of people – believe the same things you do.
4. Being Catholic is something we do together
You don’t get a lot of time to yourself on a WYD pilgrimage. From dawn to dusk, and even when you are asleep, you’re surrounded by people. It doesn’t mean there aren’t quiet times, and times for silent prayer, but often you’re still surrounded in the silence! Always being with others can have its challenges, but it does remind us that Catholicism is never just about me and God. As important as my personal relationship with God is, it’s also vitally important to remember that we come to God together. This is one of the reasons why the Church is so important: God knows we are made for relationship (see no. 1 above) and so He made us to meet Him together… That might be a good thing to remember next time you are wondering about why Mass matters so much to us.