Like Zacchaeus, we too sit perched in the tree of doubt wondering how to approach the Lord when the tremendous weight of our mistakes holds us back. Feeling that we have failed to love the Lord in the way that he has called us to love may make us also feel unworthy to remain in his presence. Frequently, we might even echo the words of Peter as he says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Yet, despite our own sinfulness, the Lord dwells within our hearts, looking past our mistakes, unconditionally loving us as his beloved children.
When we experience the Lord’s mercy deeply in our hearts, we begin to recognize that our true identity is firmly rooted in Christ. We acknowledge that we have been gifted with mercy and yearn to bring that same mercy to others. In other words, when Christ calls us by name, we are invited to live a life centered on Christ. A vocation to carry the torch of mercy produces the glorious aura of Christ’s light in a world enveloped in a cloud of darkness.
As a seminarian for the Diocese of Orlando, I had the privilege of attending WYD with forty-four other pilgrims from our area. WYD, the catalyst that provided many of us with countless experiences of God’s mercy, opened up the vastness of the globe to us within the confined beauty of Poland. In fact, traveling home from the 12 day pilgrimage, many sojourners expressed an overwhelming understanding of what the universality of the Church truly meant. We were indeed largely changed because we had witnessed God’s mercy in very tangible and concrete ways.
One of the most moving and emotional experiences occurred on our visit to the concentration camps of Auschwitz. In that place of extreme darkness where millions of individuals were killed at the hands of the Nazis, glimmers of hope could be found in the stories of the men and women who risked their lives for others, including St. Maximilian Kolbe.
Christ’s light also shone as we gathered in Krakow—literally. At the Opening Mass in Blonia Park, rain poured down all afternoon, drenching everything, including us. Trudging through the muddy field to our assigned section, I noticed that the rain was easing up a bit. By the start of Mass, it had all but completely stopped. When it was time for the Eucharistic Prayer, a sudden break in the bleak clouds appeared and the sun’s gleaming rays glistened directly on the altar, sending chills throughout the diverse crowd. The memory of that moment will be etched in my memory forever.
Each of us had our own unique experiences at WYD. Whether it was experiencing the merciful love and forgiveness of God through the hands of a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or encountering the Lord in our interactions with other pilgrims from around the world, we all realized that we owe God thanks and praise. Reflecting back on those moments, it will be important to hold those memories within our hearts, for it is through those memories that our lives have been changed. Furthermore, those are the memories we are called now to go out and share with all the world.
In his closing remarks to Pope Francis at the Vigil of Prayer in Campus Misericordiae, Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko quoted an address of Pope St. John Paul II which was given during the inauguration of the Shrine of Mercy in Krakow. To those gathered for that celebration, John Paul II said: “You have to light this spark of God's grace. You have to transmit to the world the fire of mercy. In the mercy of God, the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness!” The spark of God’s grace came to us during WYD. Now the time has come for those of us who traveled there to transmit that fire of mercy and transform the rest of the world. It is our time to be those burning torches of mercy bringing Christ’s light to all the world.