If every journey begins with a single step, it is especially true for those who wish to go on pilgrimage. For a pilgrimage is not simply a vacation or travel to an exotic place. For those of us traveling to WYD in Krakow, our journey will take us far from our homes and friends. It will involve sacrifice, patience and perseverance. It is a journey whose destination is not simply a city in Poland but an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ in a more personal and dynamic way. It is walking together to celebrate the beauty, vitality and mission of the Church in and through the presence and ministry of Pope Francis. For those experiencing World Youth Day digitally or stateside, it is no different. Our destination is Jesus Christ.
Our Holy Father has invited us to celebrate who we are as Catholics and what we are called to be as missionary disciples of mercy. For each of us, regardless of whether we gather in Krakow or in the United States, or wherever we may be this summer, this journey is possible because we had the courage to say “yes” and become ready to take that first step out of the door! It will be a journey filled with many blessings and surprises!
What will the journey be like for you and me? While each of us will walk a different path to World Youth Day and have very different experiences along the way, our destination is the same. We are walking to rediscover the presence of Jesus in a deeper and more personal way. He is both our destination and our guide. The Lord will help us to feel His love through one another and experience how His Church is alive in every part of the world.
I will never forget my previous WYD pilgrimages. Each one renewed my joy and hope. For example, when I traveled to WYD 2008 in Sydney, Australia, I will always remember the joyful smiles of a group of young pilgrims from Tasmania and how they filled the catechetical session that I led with thunderous, joyful praise of the Lord. I have never felt such joyful hope as I did that day in a country so far away from home. In Rio de Janeiro, I met a group of young women from Philadelphia who were staying in a school campus nearly one hour away from the center of the city. Even though their accommodations were almost primitive, their openness to learn what I had come to teach and the peace that shown through their eyes reminded me of the trust that we need to have in Jesus, even when we face the most difficult of circumstances. Their faith renewed my faith!
As we prepare to travel to Krakow or make plans to celebrate stateside, we cannot forget that He whom we seek at World Youth Day is already with us, right here and now. Christ will be with you and with me every step of our pilgrimage. We are traveling not simply to join in solidarity with young people from around the world in celebration of our Catholic faith. We are not journeying to listen to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and to hear his challenge to become missionary disciples of mercy in the world. Rather, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are going on pilgrimage so that our eyes can be opened to the presence of the Lord who is with us right here and now!
He walks with us every moment of every day of our lives. In our laughter and difficulties, through our prayers and catechesis, in our moments together with young people from around the world and in those quiet moments when we will be alone in our own thoughts, our pilgrimage to WYD will provide us with a unique opportunity to open our eyes and be amazed that the love and power of the Lord Jesus is already alive in your life and mine. For that first step out the door would not be possible if Jesus were not already standing with us and accompanying us every step of the way.
Our incredible WYD pilgrimage of faith, joy and renewal is about to begin. May we take that first step together, knowing that we will return renewed in Christ.