Journeying from Hawaii to Europe is no easy feat. We first flew from Hawaii to New York, where we were able to see fantastic views of the city from the top of the Empire State Building. We also visited the ‘crossroads of the world’ – Times Square – and had a tour of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. One of the best parts was when we got to walk along “Father Damien Way,” a street in Manhattan that was recently renamed for the Belgian priest who spent his life serving lepers in Hawaii and who was canonized in 2009. You can imagine our excitement when, at the WYD welcome ceremony for Pope Francis, Saint Damien was chosen as a “witness to mercy” representing North America! From New York, we continued our journey to Warsaw, where we jumped on a bus with a stop in Czestochowa before finally arriving in Krakow – halfway around the world.
As I reflect on the many experiences of WYD – catechesis, cultural festivals, and others – I recognize that WYD is not only an opportunity for young adults to learn, share, and be rejuvenated in their faith through various experiences (most especially through the words of the Holy Father), but WYD is also an opportunity to appreciate the multitudes of cultures that are present. It gives young adults an opportunity to become interested in global issues and concerns effecting those outside the United States.
The war in Syria, and the effects it has had on the young people of that country, really impacted myself and the other pilgrims in my group during WYD. We had all seen on TV and online the violence in Syria which has caused the displacement of so many people. But hearing the witness of a young Syrian woman, Rand Mittri, at the Saturday Evening Prayer Vigil was inspirational. Despite her experiences of personal loss – like several young people she knew who have been killed in the war – she continues to serve those in her city. She is truly an example of the phrase that we heard over and over at World Youth Day, “Jesus, I trust in You”.
Pope Francis reminded us at the Vigil of how important prayer is, and he led us in prayer, especially for war-torn countries like Syria. But, he also reminded us that we shouldn’t be “couch-potatoes,” we have to live life fully – we have to have the courage to take the path of the “craziness” of our God, who teaches us to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. You can practice the corporal works of mercy by volunteering with local homeless shelters, cleaning out your closet and donating the gently used clothing to those in need, donating to emergency relief funds for countries like Syria, or even volunteering with your diocese’s prison ministry. To practice the spiritual works of mercy, consider volunteering as a youth minister at your parish or making yourself available as a “should to cry on” for friends who have lost loved ones. We demonstrate the love of God when we serve the bodily and spiritual needs of those around us.
There’s a Hawaiian saying that reads: “Aloha mai no, aloha aku; o ka huhu ka mea e ola `ole ai.” In English, “When love is given, love should be returned; anger is the thing that gives no life.” God gave us the true gift of LOVE – Christ Jesus, His Son. We have to return that love, and during this Jubilee of Mercy especially, we have to return this love to the Father through acts of mercy, not just to those in our communities, but to those around the world.
Rand Mittri’s story is just one of so many stories that are encountered while on the WYD pilgrimage. All of us – those who participated ‘in person’ at the international event, those who participated in stateside events, and those who participated digitally – can share the mercy and love that God has gifted to us with those who are truly in need.