Soon a reversal of the dispersed disciples will culminate with a gathering of pilgrims from all over the world. As pilgrims of many languages journey to Kraków, they will mimic the small house experience of the disciples in a big way. Many differences will be encountered through languages, music, prayer, food, customs, currency, and flags—all of which may be unfamiliar. Yet, these pilgrims will be united by the faith of the Catholic Church. They will be able to celebrate together through expressions of prayer that are profoundly understood, no matter what language the presider speaks. The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit will connect them all.
In the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA military personnel and their families are frequently moved to foreign countries as part of their commitment to serve. Some embrace the opportunity to learn a new language and travel. They discover new foods, make new friends, and develop a lifetime of memories because they are willing to explore. Others struggle with or maybe even fear the unknown, preferring to stay within the American culture created inside the walls of the overseas installation. They build a zone of comfort that in many ways prevents them from being challenged or misunderstood. They risk losing the opportunity of communicating in unfamiliar ways.
The international celebration of World Youth Day can also be experienced either way. A pilgrim may travel through the crowds within a bubble of their own language group, trying to find some of the familiar foods or brands from their home country in a foreign land. Alternatively, a pilgrim may allow the wind of faith to carry them into new encounters and risk being ruffled just as much as the flags of the many nations parading throughout the streets of Kraków. These ruffling struggles, the attempts of trying to communicate when it is not easy, and the willingness to stop and listen, especially when one does not completely understand, offers a lived experience of the many gifts of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the people of God.
The shared experience of the international pilgrimage of World Youth Day is communicated less through words and more through one of Pope Francis’ favorite themes: encounter. Smiles, friendly hand gestures of welcome, knowing nods of recognition, praying together, and sharing food all contribute to living out the encounters of communion celebrated during the daily Masses throughout the week. Being open to learning and sharing a few phrases from several other languages helps the keen pilgrim to move outside of their very self, moving from simple shared words to profound encounters of the faithful, unarticulated yet understood. The embrace of the struggle and the chaos of this unknown international experience will propel the willing pilgrim to discover how God is moving them to share the Gospel when they return home, as a missionary disciple filled with the Holy Spirit too.