I travelled with 9 Canisius College students this year and my colleague, Greg. These were amazing students who really put their heart and soul into the trip. We actually spent close to a month in Poland, as we participated in the Jesuits’ pre-cursor to WYD called MAGIS, which is the Latin word for “more.” “What more might I be able to give to God? What more might God be inviting me into in my life?” These questions guided our Magis experience. We explored deep questions that some might like to leave unanswered like, “What am a doing with my life? Am I really happy with things? What might God be calling me to next? We realized they are not for the faint of heart and were able to explore them intimately throughout our time together.
MAGIS sent us on an “Ignatian experiment” for about five days in which we concentrated on a particular aspect of Ignatian Spirituality. Some folks walked a pilgrimage route for 15 miles or so each day. Others found God in singing together and performing for children for the week. Others were on a retreat that explored finding their life’s mission.
I was sent to Slovakia to walk in the footsteps of a Jesuit novice named Tomas Munk who was killed with his father by the Nazis because they were Jewish converts to Catholicism. We traveled to the town square where they lived, hiked in the glorious mountain ranges, and took a long hike to the villa where Munk walked each weekend to enjoy time with his fellow novices. The altitude in Slovakia was much higher than I am used to, and I had a hard time with all the hiking. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I really just needed to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. What’s more is that I had new friends to support me. I came into that week not knowing anyone in my experiment group at all. I met people from Spain and Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. There were also five Americans with me from Jesuit schools in the U.S. We came in with nothing more than ourselves, and we left with not much more than ourselves, but it was more than enough for us and for God. We found this incredibly enriching. It was not so much the “material” that we explored on the experiment, but rather the conversations and insights that we shared with each other that enriched us. Therefore, we needed only ourselves to be the “material” that would help us to find God. And in doing so, we saw God reflected in each individual immensely.
As we moved toward WYD, one of my students got ill. The final night of WYD is a Prayer Vigil where pilgrims sleep outside and then awake to celebrate Mass with the pope. Rachel was too sick to be able to sleep outside, so I returned with her to our housing site and then we decided to simply get up early the next day and walk the pilgrimage route (about 3 miles after a short tram or bus ride from our hotel) to the closing Mass. We didn't realize that the buses and trams would be shut down because of security for the papal motorcade. So instead of 3 miles, we had to walk 7 more! But because we did, we ended up seeing this:
The truth is WYD keeps me young, my students keep me enthusiastic for my work, for the church and for them whom I serve as their Campus Minister, and the pope keeps all of us inspired by reminding us of God’s mercy and love that is the gift that never runs out.
We too need to become that gift of love and mercy for others. I pray that this coming year, my students and I will continue to walk together and toward others to bring them God’s message of love and mercy.
To learn more about World Youth Day 2016, please click here.
To learn more about sharing God’s message of love and mercy, please click here.