This July, over a million young adult pilgrims gathered in Poland for WYD, including 40,000 pilgrims from the United States. As a way of extending that experience of pilgrimage and the memory of encountering Christ more powerfully in life, the Archdiocese of Washington organized a one-day stateside celebration of WYD called Krakow in the Capital. On July 30th over 1,300 young adults gathered, not for a game or concert, but to experience the transformative love of Jesus in prayer, talks, culture, the Sacraments, and in meeting Catholics from across the world. Yet simply participating in religious events, whether in Europe or the US, is not the goal of pilgrimage. Pilgrims, after all, are sent home. The goal of pilgrimage is to encounter Christ so as to be sent on mission in daily life.
Throughout the Gospels, we read stories of Jesus encountering others: calling the Twelve, forgiving the women caught in adultery, healing the woman with a hemorrhage who touched his robe, and so on. Each of these accounts tells the story of a person who is deeply affected by Jesus Christ and is charged to live differently for the rest of their life as a result. Encounters with Jesus Christ always lead to mission.
Interestingly, the Gospels do not record the thousands of stories of people who came in contact with Jesus during his 33 years, but left unchanged and chose the status quo. Jesus fed the 5,000, cured 10 lepers, and daily walked from place to place meeting countless people. Amid life-altering experiences of transformation, so few joined him, so few changed their lives. Just because they experienced the presence of Jesus does not mean that they had deeply encountered him or chose to live differently.
Similarly for us, participating in a WYD celebration and other encounters—like the Sunday Eucharist—is not sufficient in itself. There are no participation trophies in Christianity. Millennials have been stereotyped as the “‘participation trophy’ generation” where everyone, no matter how little intention or effort is given, should be praised and awarded. Yet this is not true for the Christian life. It is not enough simply to show up; we have to do something. We have to respond to the God who first loved us. Pope Benedict XVI affirmed that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Like the Apostles who encountered Jesus and never looked back, each of us are called to live as apostles on mission in our daily lives.
The return home from a WYD experience is not simply the end of a pilgrimage or of an encounter with Jesus Christ. We do not travel home unintentionally or to ‘get back’ to the busyness of daily life. We are sent home as missionary disciples, sent by Jesus to help others encounter Jesus through us. If you return from celebrating WYD or return home from Mass each Sunday and continue to choose the status quo, then something is not right. If your religious and spiritual life doesn’t lead to growth or inspire you to live life in a challenging, exciting, and new decisive direction, then it’s not a religion worth having.
For all those pilgrims who traveled to Poland for WYD or celebrated stateside at events like Krakow in the Capital, I ask: What is your mission? How have you been inspired? What is the message of mercy that God has spoken into your life? How are you called to live differently? To what responsibility do you need to step-up?
As tens of thousands of young people return to their parishes and neighborhoods after WYD, I pray that the young leaders of the Church will inspire the Body of Christ by giving vocal witness to their encounter with Jesus Christ and living in a radically new way.
For more resources to help you integrate your WYD experience, click here.
For more resources to encourage you to be a witness of Jesus Christ, click here.