Because this was a gathering of ‘only’ 20,000 people, compared to the over 2 million at the Closing Mass, the event felt much more intimate than some of the other World Youth Day events. The location of the event was especially meaningful because I had spent the preceding days volunteering at the Mercy Centre with brother Knights of Columbus from all over the world. It felt as if we were welcoming the Holy Father – and all of the World Youth Day volunteers – into our home. Sitting next to me were young people from Jordan, Brazil, Austria, Spain, and Nigeria—a true microcosm of the Church, and a genuine reminder that the faith is very much alive in the world today!
As Pope Francis arrived, no one would have guessed that we had hiked several miles in the sun and slept outside at Campus Misericordiae after the Vigil the night before; we were all on our feet, cheering and straining for a glance of our Papa. When the time came for the Holy Father to speak to all of us, he put aside his prepared remarks and began speaking from the heart. Pope Francis spoke to us with the same simplicity and sincerity for which he has become known through his daily homilies. His message was one of gratitude and encouragement, a message that I found particularly helpful for my own vocational discernment.
First of all, the Holy Father reminded us that the success of World Youth Day was not only a result of our many hours of service, but more importantly was due to our prayers. This reminded me of the opening of Psalm 127, which has served as a helpful reminder throughout my discernment: If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor. In thanking us for our commitment to prayer and service, the Holy Father was emphasizing the importance of turning to the Lord, who is the author of all the good that we do.
Next, the Holy Father echoed the words of an earlier speaker, who said that we are called to be the hope for the future of the Church. But he made it clear that there are two conditions that must be met if we are to live up to this calling. The first condition he spoke of is: to have a good memory. In order to serve well in the Church and in the world, we must not lose track of where we have come from and all that we have received. In particular, Pope Francis encouraged us to learn from our grandparents and the elderly of our communities. All of us are products of a family and a community that have helped to shape us into the person that we are.
The second condition of this calling is: to be courageous in proclaiming the faith. Not only should we be mindful of the blessings that we have received in the past, but we must also live joyfully and courageously in the present! To paraphrase the words of John XXIII, the Church is not so much a museum to be curated, but a living garden to be nurtured and cultivated! The lifeblood of the Church is composed of those who are willing to joyfully give testament to their faith in the face of any obstacle or barrier.
For the duration of the Holy Father’s remarks, all of us listened with rapt attention. There was no doubt that we were in the presence of the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ. In his voice, we recognized the voice of the Good Shepherd. Ultimately, this event served as a reminder to all of us that as we go our separate ways – on the journey home and in our vocational discernment – we are never without a shepherd to guide us along the pilgrim road.
This lesson was not meant exclusively for those who were present. On the contrary, WYD serves as a reminder to the world that the Church is God’s pilgrim people on earth, and that the Good Shepherd continues to be present to his people through his ministers, especially the Holy Father. Let us continue to pray for his ministry, that the world might recognize in his voice the voice of the Good Shepherd.
To read more reflections regarding the return from WYD, please click here.
For more information on WYD and sharing your encounter with Christ, the Good Shepherd, click here.