The USCCB’s WYD USA office ensures that the bishops and young adult leaders from across the country have the information they need from the international organization to have a well-planned and formative pilgrimage. My role at WYD was to document and share the experiences of the bishops through digital media. I took thousands of pictures and a ton of video of our bishops as they took this journey to see the Holy Father in Krakow, Poland.
Here’s what I learned:
Right here and right now, at this very moment, I am exactly where I am meant to be.
The bishops taught me how to take a look around and see God’s presence in the present. In this space. In this moment.
The lesson began on the very first day we landed in Krakow. Our flight was delayed and we were a bit late. I was the main contact for a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau that a handful of bishops and staff were going to attend. As soon as we landed, I had to drop my bags in our hotel and then jump back on the bus for the tour. The ride took forever to get there and the sunlight was getting low in the sky. I was flustered and frustrated by a great many circumstances that were out of my control. The other staff members were also frustrated and, unfortunately, I think that we fed off of each other’s frustrations. But then I noticed Bishop Folda, the Bishop of Fargo, North Dakota.
Bishop Folda was not feeding off of the frustration, but breathing in his surroundings. He was looking intently at the bricks of the building, reading the signs, walking slowly and intentionally on the broken cobblestone roads. I took a deep breath and looked around. I laid my frustrations down, and moved into the experience more fully. Bishop Folda and I didn’t speak that day. It wasn’t until the next day that we were able to process our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau together. His words moved me and remind me to be fully present in all that I do even if it is a place with horrific history. Be fully present as God has something to share with you, right her and right now.
WYD events remind me each time I attend that everything is going to be okay and I can handle whatever comes next. This lesson continued in Krakow. As usual, I made it to the Saturday night Prayer Vigil and was ready to throw in the towel. At this point during WYD, I’m tired. I’m hungry. My legs are achy from walking. My back hurts from the 30 lb. backpack I lug everywhere. I’m done! “That’s it, God. I’m done…”
Then as we were walking from the Vigil site back to the buses, God reached down and showed me how to keep going.
I saw bishops jumping off of the paved road and walking through a ditch to speak with pilgrims. These pilgrims were not even close to the main event or even a jumbo-tron, but there they were with their candles and rosaries, having faith that they were where they were supposed to be. I watched bishops offer blessings over the pilgrims, laugh with them, take selfies with them. I had forgotten how important “ministry of presence” is to the work of God. By stepping off of the beaten path and going to the pilgrims, bishops from all over the world reminded me of this. They showed me that we were exactly where we were supposed to be.
The bishops’ example gave me the strength I needed to keep going. After about three hours of sleep, I was right back at Campus Misericordiae for Mass with the Holy Father – an event I considered skipping. With God’s graces that night, I was able to show up the next day to praise him with a million and a half of my brothers and sisters. I was able to see the beauty of the Mass in a new, unique, and amazing way.
There numerous encounters between the bishops and pilgrims that I witnessed were life giving reminders of the importance of showing up. As I continue to journey through everyday life back here in the states, I also continue to ponder: what am I not seeing? How can I more fully experience my surroundings and relationships? What is it that God wants me to know right here, right now? In this moment, how can I share God’s grace with those around me?
Each of the bishops had something to teach me at WYD and I learned to love them all in the process. I thank the Lord for this opportunity and ask for his blessings on our shepherds.