jciIt is not long to go until World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And what a World Youth Day it will be. The first World Youth Day with a new pope, a South American pope, and in South America.

Many younger generation Catholics have an experience of World Youth Day.

The World Youth Day movement was started in 1985 by Pope John Paul II, who invited youth from all over the world to celebrate with him in Rome. Since then, World Youth Day (WYD) has been held annually in dioceses as well regularly around the world on a larger scale. At an international WYD large numbers of young people gather around the Pope for a week of celebration and catechesis, culminating in a large final WYD mass, with crowds often in the millions.

My World Youth Day experience lasted longer than most, and truly changed my life and who I am as a person in more ways than one.

I come from the small country of New Zealand, population 4 million, in the bottom corner of the world. A land far removed from Catholicism (and often religion in general) and often lucky to be so far removed from the problems of the world through our isolation.

World Youth Day 2008 was to be held in Sydney, Australia. Our nearest neighbour and for most of us New Zealanders, our one opportunity (given the cost and distance to the rest of the world) to attend this amazing festival. Our small country put a lot of effort into getting as many young people as possible to WYD.

In 2007 I became Sydney’s first Long Term Volunteer. I was 20, in my last year of my bachelor’s degree at university and working as a youth ministry coordinator at my local parish when God called quite unexpectedly. Through a series of events in a short matter of time I unexpectedly found myself leaving my job, university, boyfriend, family and friends and heading off to Sydney. To explain all these would take quite a while, but I’ll say that at that time I could definately feel God moving me in ways I didn’t expect to take up my adventure.

In the WYD office I took up the position of Journey of the Cross and Icon (JCI) Liaison, looking after the journey of the WYD Cross and Icon and its travelling team as they journeyed around Australia in the year before WYD. I was given opportunities that are literally once in a lifetime. I learnt about event organisation, media, writing and public speaking by doing it all. I learnt about life and friendship from beautiful people from all around the globe who have left lasting impressions on me though I may not speak to them often now. I learnt about my faith from leaders of the church, experiences of the global church, vibrant and young American religious, and people around me who were passionate about their faith. I grew as a person with Christ through experiencing things like solitude, homesickness and generosity of others. I met the Pope, carried the Cross into WYD week events, spoke to international media and did big things. Then I had the joy of experiencing my first WYD with my fiance, future sister and brother in law and home town group. Amongst that there were challenges overcome, going semi-blind just before the pope’s arrival being one.

POPEMOBILE MAKES WAY THROUGH THRONG OF YOUNG PEOPLE  DURING WORLD YOUTH DAY CLOSING MASSThe effect led me to my vocation to marriage with my husband and taught me to be open to God and his opportunities wherever possible, such as in openness to life and in seeking adventure and doing what I can in any area.

To write about all I experienced and the effect it has had on me would take a long time.

Experiences like World Youth Day are incredible tools of evangelisation and strength for the church.

In a modern world it can seem like a contradiction to be an intelligent, well reasoned young person and yet also be a practising, devout Catholic. Faith filled young people can feel isolated and often lack in good models for catechesis. The media (including most of the time social media) would have you think that religion doesn’t exist, is corrupt in multiple ways, and no one actually subscribes to that any more. The general population seems quick to criticise, even if they are ‘religious’ themselves. This would all have you believe you have no soul, there is no God and all that religious stuff is pointless.

World Youth Day gathers together young people from all over the world in large numbers, as well as adults that come with them, religious orders, church leaders, Catholic ‘big names’ and of course the Pope in one event. It allows all those who gather to not feel isolated. To learn that having faith is worthwhile and to learn why the church teaches what it teaches. To give models that being a Catholic means living out your calling with joy and enthusiasm. Most importantly, to experience Christ.

WYD could be the start of that journey, it could be a revival for a stagnant faith or it could be the encouraging on in an already strong bond.

Being a Catholic in the modern age isn’t an easy road. When the world is so contrary to church teaching, a Catholic has to look closely at church teaching and find out as much as possible.To believe in these things you need to REALLY believe them. Understand them and not just take them on face value. On face value they make little sense, until you find the reasons why. You need to act upon them. You need to believe and seek Truth. The double life isn’t easy and people will look for hypocrisy in every thing you do.

People seek weakness, simply because what you live when you live real Catholicism is so radical. They will encourage you to seek a “way out” that they think is for your own good and happiness. Perhaps they will think you are brainwashed and part of a cult. They only know things they have heard about the church, things the media has said, or what they learnt in Catholic school. This is often a completely false version of what the church actually is. After all, in the words of Fulton Sheen:

“There are not one hundred people […] who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

World Youth Day is a way for the public to see that the Church isn’t what they perceive it to be. It is a chance to strengthen against the world.

WYD quite could be ‘the experience of your eternal life’ (as the WYD2008 tagline said). Possibly the contagious effect of this experience will get to others you know too.

How have you been affected by World Youth Day?

Advertisements