Before any major event, we need to prepare. A student needs to study for an exam. A runner must practice before running a marathon. A bride and groom plan out the intricate details of a wedding day. A mother and father decorate the nursery before their baby is born. As you anticipate the festivities of World Youth Day (WYD) 2019, you must also prepare yourselves spiritually for the event that is about to take place. You need to get yourself into the right mindset in order to be open and to fully experience all that WYD 2019 will have to offer, whether you are traveling to Panama, attending a stateside event, or participating digitally. We are preparing to: Encounter, Accompany, Live Community, and Send!
There are many ways in which leaders and pilgrims alike will experience the act of encounter when they are participating in a World Youth Day celebration. The most important encounter that leaders or pilgrims will experience is the encounter with Jesus Christ. We are able to encounter Jesus Christ through the Sacraments, through scripture and prayer, through service, and through our relationships with others. The WYD experience provides for ample opportunities for the encounter with Jesus Christ particularly through Masses, catechesis sessions, and through building and developing relationships with your fellow pilgrims and leaders.
As a pilgrim, you will need to accompany your fellow pilgrims during this journey. Be there to support and encourage each other on the road. The act of accompanying furthermore requires a pilgrim leader to maintain a delicate balance of not only providing support and encouragement, but also allowing your pilgrims to encounter Jesus Christ in their own way. You need to be there to support your pilgrims, but you also need to let them figure things out themselves. But you are not doing this alone. As a leader, you are accompanied by your pilgrims, your parish, your diocese, your community, your family, all of those also participating in WYD2019, and the Church as a whole.
For leaders and pilgrims alike, one important thought to keep in mind about the act of accompanying is that you need to meet people where they are. You cannot expect anyone to be exactly where you are on the journey due to everyone’s different life stories and challenges. Pray for an openness to support those around you in the way they need best. Your accompaniment can lead others into deeper life in Christ in and through the community of faith, the Church.
Nothing that we do as Catholics is done simply alone. We are in relationship with God, the communion of the Most Holy Trinity. We are part of the community of faith that we call the Church. The point of common bond with one another no matter where one is from at WYD2019 events is rooted in this community. We move beyond simply ourselves and into deeper communion with the global Church. “Fellowship and communion with one another in the community of faith is also a reflection of the Trinity” (Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization, 16). You as leaders and pilgrims need to live community deeply during the time of WYD2019. It is not simply a trip, but an opportunity to more fully encounter Christ in the community of faith.
While we are always rooted in community, God also sends us forth on mission to a world that needs our witness of the love and mercy of Christ, especially after WYD2019.
World Youth Day 2019 isn’t over on January 27, 2019. It continues on through your experiences and your enthusiasm long after your flight has landed back from Panama or you have returned home from your local stateside event. You must share your stories with your friends and those in your parish to enliven them with the gift of the Holy Spirit that you received at your event. You must continue on the journey as a missionary disciple. As Pope Francis tells us in Evangelii Gaudium, “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ or ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’” (120). Once we experience the great love of Jesus Christ, we must go forth and share that good news with those around us. We are inspired by the example of Pope Francis as well as the patron saints of World Youth Day to do so.
We invite you to continue to prepare for this journey on which you are about to embark. Take a look at the USCCB’s World Youth Day page and the Catholic Apostolate Center’s World Youth Day Portal. Read through the guides for stateside pilgrimage leaders and for international pilgrimage leaders for more about Encounter, Accompany, Live Community, and Send.