That day changed my life. Experiencing the true universality of our Catholic faith, befriending other young adult Catholics from all over the world, and feeling that presence of the Spirit started me moving on a path that would take me away from my plans for law school and into full time ministry. That intangible presence of the Spirit was a force that propels me to this day – especially compelling me to recognize and foster the relationships between each one of us and our God.
As often happens in life, plans change. I hoped this summer would mark the sixth time I would participate in the 2016 international World Youth Day (WYD) gathering in Krakow, Poland. Instead, I will be working on a WYD home event hosted at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois (near Chicago). While the Polish part of me wishes I were heading to Krakow, I am excited for the celebration, fellowship, and prayer of the stateside event.
I find myself reaching back to the field in Rome to remind myself of that blanket, the Spirit. I find the reassurance of that presence that covers us all so necessary and powerful. While we may default to social media and texting to assure ourselves of those connections to others, nothing binds us so closely together as the Spirit.
Jesus reminds us in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” WYD brings together just a few more than that two or three. Christ’s spirit binds us together whether we are celebrating WYD in Krakow, Des Plaines, Lancaster, San Angelo, or among a group of friends at the coffee shop around the corner.
Therein lies the challenge – creating community that helps the Spirit manifest Christ’s presence. Initially this seems daunting. Then I remember my WYD experiences and realize that the task is far simpler as it returns us to our core. The two most powerful aspects of WYD are the community and the prayer. There is the power of the immense crowds praying Mass together, the spontaneous small groups offering the Rosary, or new friends praying Lectio Divina as they wait in the shade for the Popemobile to drive by. These are things we can do, easily, accessibly in our homes, parishes, and regions. Gathering for formal and informal prayer, gathering for meals, coming together to share our stories – this is what we hope to do in Des Plaines and how I try to live WYD every day.
WYD reminds us that we are one Church, one people, all children of God. WYD reminds us that we must be actively concerned for each of our brothers and sisters. It reminds us that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we must care for the needs of one another - whether our neighbor in need is next door, on the street corner, or in a refugee camp halfway around the world. It reminds us that we are bound by ties far stronger than the divisions created by violence, prejudice, hate, fear, and political rhetoric. World Youth Day embodies the call to community.
While the international travel, preparations, speakers, and musicians seem to be what makes WYD what it is, they are not its essence. WYD is about young Catholics joining together in prayer. It is about joining together to share our stories of faith and life, hurts and joys, fears and courage. It is about celebrating our faith through the sacraments. WYD is about remembering that Christ is in our presence and He is calling us to go out to the world.
Wherever you find yourself this summer, remember, we are all pilgrims. Together, we journey from our homes into the world, strengthened by the Spirit, proclaiming the Good News of God’s infinite love and mercy to a world so desperately in need.
For more stateside and international resources on World Youth Day 2016, click here.