My role on the USCCB national staff for WYD was to assist the bishops, pilgrims, and leaders from the USA on-site in Krakow on their journey to the mountaintop of WYD. I had been working in this role for the past year, and my time in Poland was the culmination of this incredible experience.
Despite mostly accompanying others on their journeys during the week of WYD, for one night, I was able to have the chance to climb to the mountaintop myself.
I was blessed to have the opportunity to serve as one of the young adult representatives from the United States on stage during the Saturday Evening Prayer Vigil with Pope Francis. When I got to the stage, I was surrounded by other national representatives along with priests and bishops from all over the world. I spoke with other pilgrims about their experiences at World Youth Day. They told me about the twists and turns of their pilgrimages. Though their plans had changed throughout the week, they were so excited to represent their country and have the opportunity to pray alongside the Holy Father. Everyone, including myself, was excited to encounter Christ in prayer with Pope Francis that evening. When the Pope finally arrived on stage, we erupted into cheers and chants, excited that Pope Francis had finally arrived to lead us in prayer.
When the time came for Adoration, the cheering and chanting that had been audible throughout the afternoon had stopped. In its place, a reflective silence had descended upon the crowd. Jesus – his body, blood, soul and divinity – was present and everyone recognized that they were meeting Christ face to face. My view was blocked from seeing the beautiful monstrance and the exposed Eucharist. I could only see the pope, standing in prayer and gazing at Christ. Behind him, I could see Campus Misericordiae, the giant field outside of Krakow where the prayer vigil and closing mass were held, lit up in candlelight. I was amazed by the amount of people who were praying at that moment, visually apparent to me as I looked out on flickering flames as far as the eye could see. At that very moment, over two million young adults from all over the world were praying with Pope Francis
As I looked across the stage and into the crowd, I was reminded of the Canticle from that day’s Vespers prayer: “So that at Jesus’ name, every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!” (Philippians 2:6-11). Millions of people had made pilgrimage from all over the globe to Campus Misericordiae to experience the presence of God. I felt like Peter when he witnessed the Transfiguration. I had arrived at the mountaintop, and I did not want this moment of grace to pass.
In that singular moment, God destroyed any remaining expectations that I had for the rest of the night. The reminder of Jesus’ love for us echoed throughout Campus Misericordiae as Pope Francis gave the benediction. I longed to stay in that moment of prayer. Like Peter during the Transfiguration, I wanted to pitch a tent on stage and stay to pray longer, but I knew that the work of assisting bishops, pilgrims, and leaders was what I still needed to do.
After Pope Francis left for the evening, I had the chance to walk to the edge of the stage to look at the candlelit crowd. In that moment, I remembered the rest of the story of the Transfiguration as I walked away from my seat and towards the edge of the stage.
Though Peter wanted to stay on top of the mountain, God had greater plans for him. He witnessed Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. He spread the Gospel and witnessed many miracles. He also became the first pope (whose successor was only a few feet from me that night). Although Peter thought he had reached the pinnacle of his life on top of the mountain, even more incredible things happened to him after he came down. I also had to leave my mountaintop moment. I literally had to climb down the stairs from the stage and get back to work. But as I looked out one more time at Campus Misericordiae and the millions of flickering candles in the darkness, I marveled at the great plans God has in store for me (whatever they might be).
Before I left my World Youth Day mountaintop experience, I prayed the prayer that guided me throughout my journey one more time.
The choir led the crowd in “Jesus Christ, You are my Light” and I gazed out one last time at the candlelit crowd, praying:
“God, destroy my plans, wreck my expectations and insert your own. Jesus, I trust in you.”