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WYD: a pilgrim's view.

World Youth Day 2002 was an experience that most of us will never quite forget. Media coverage and personal stories have shown that whether you were in actual attendance or not, everybody noticed that something out of the ordinary was happening. To those thoughts and reflections I would like to add my own.

I am a thirty-three-year-old mother of three who has for a long time not defined myself as "youth". The Church, on the other hand, defines "youth" as anyone between 16 and 35; so, grateful for their generosity, I signed up.

WYD is a week-long experience that the Church bills as a pilgrimage. I live within an hour's drive of Toronto, a city I have visited many times, and needless to say I did not take the moniker "pilgrimage" very seriously. My thoughts were "I'm going to Toronto and I'm going to walk around a bit. No big deal." I was wrong. It was a week that for a North American was filled with hardship. Everything required walking and waiting, everything it seemed, was earned. For my group, it was a daily hour-long commute, minimal sleep, simple food, very modest accommodations, great heat, and lots and lots of walking. For us in the great "West" used to luxury and ease, it was a shock to the system that in me created an atmosphere of reflection and introspection.

For me WYD was first and foremost an experience of Catholic culture. For one week I lived among my own people instead of as a stranger in my own land. I lived with people united in faith with common goals. We did not have to apologize for our faith but used it as the marker by which we recognized one another as members of the same brotherhood. We were a people united in our liturgies and our sacraments; a people united in our saints and role models; a people united in a desire for justice and global change. We were a people united in the universal language of the Mass.

Among 250,000 people there is a wide range in the level of conversion--from those just beginning to yearn for God, to those who live daily in His grace. Not everybody at WYD was holy, but everybody was trying to be, some for the first time in their lives. For the North American children raised in a secular culture, forced to live a double life if there is faith expected in the home, it was difficult for them to suspend their school-taught skepticism and modern suspicion that holiness is boring and silly. World Youth Day did a lot to dispel their prejudices as it became obvious that we were all "normal". The youth of the developing nations suffered no such hang-ups, for faith is still the lifeblood of their cultures.

WYD was a truly authentic Catholic experience, an expression of the Church's awesomeness. When you celebrate Mass with 800,000 you know for certain you belong to the Universal Church.

It has been remarked by many that we were universally peaceful and what an astonishing thing it was to see. I say with confidence to those who observed us: it really was that peaceful, nobody stole, nobody made war with another and everybody really did help others. It filled me with great gladness, for who are we as Christians if they cannot see the difference, if we do not wear our creed as an action, not a statement?

That was us. But what about him, the man we all came to see? It has been suggested by some in the media that we behaved like fans at a rock concert, and since a large number of Catholics practise many things forbidden by the Church, that our admiration for JP II was nothing more than the worship of a pop star or mass hysteria.

I answer in this way: first, clapping and chanting is the only way 250,000 pilgrims can communicate with one man. Secondly, genuine love moved all of us because he is so obviously good. On his face are none of the marks we carry of our irritation, of our pride, and of our impatience. His face is the face of charity and patience. His face is easy to love.

When John Paul II speaks, he speaks to the heart of man. He speaks to the soul that was created to understand truth. He speaks with the gift of authority and he speaks the truth.

As to his frailty, he is not frail. I have never seen a man so physically bold. Yes, he is bent and sore and shaking but he does not care. It does not matter to him. We, and the truth of Christ's gospel, matter much, much more. A bent, old body is not about to get in his way!

I was also deeply impressed by his obvious understanding of his own authority as the Vicar of Christ. WYD is his event and the Toronto version had the marks of his wishes all over it. It was not an event of the Canadian Catholic Church; it was an event of the Church as she exists in Rome. It was his show and his agenda and he did not let the middle management of the Church get in the way. He is also, clearly, a very savvy politician, using his office with force to effect global change. This was most obvious during the role call of nations, which included the names of nations formerly enslaved behind the Iron Curtain read out as independent peoples once again. At John Paul's first WYD they could not attend, and now in his twilight years they were there in force. He made it possible for them to attend as free men.

Personally, in the Brantford group, I was privileged to witness some extraordinary events impossible to adequately describe. I watched and participated in the final conversion of the heart of one of my group. It was a conversion two years in the making that was the result of rigorous intellectual argument and soul-searching with a close friend in the group. I watched as God confirmed in the heart what He had already taught the head as He permanently bound that soul to Himself through the Holy Eucharist.

We also participated as a group in the beginning of healing for another pilgrim, a young woman marked by abortion. I saw, first hand, how God knows our broken-ness and searches for us to rescue us from sin and deep pain. God searched for her and provided her with those who could offer comfort and forgiveness. He taught our small group that He expects and graciously allows us to intercede for one another through prayer.

What ultimately is the meaning and purpose of WYD? The Holy Father has called us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world and he taught us what he means by it.

He, and therefore God, wants us first to be obedient to the commandments of the Church (all of them), to be faithful to her teachings and then, conformed to Truth, to go out and spread the Gospel by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. But also by teaching the truth of the Church so that all men may have access to the peace and freedom of God.

If I have learned anything, I was taught again that the Catholic Church is TRUE, like God's reply to Moses, "I AM THAT I AM." The Church is true, through her we find our liberty; through her we find our humanity because she is the bride of Christ and His beloved.

As the Holy Father said: "Do not let hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son." The Holy Father wants a revolution, a revolution of love, and he has called us all to take up arms against the darkness. And that, quite simply, is why everybody loves him.

He called us together to remind us of our mission and to remind us to whom we belong. John Paul II challenged the pilgrims to be different and he issues the same challenge to each member of the Universal Church. He is asking us to choose between the "spirit of the world" and the spirit of truth. He commands all men to ask in their hearts, "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of Eternal Life," so that armed with love we can change the world.

All must ask and answer the question for themselves; John Paul II came to Canada to remind us of our obligation to ask it. Whether we follow through remains to be seen, but we in Canada will never be able to say no one ever showed us how.

Bettina Hagey home schools and is a mother of three small children. She lives in Brantford, ON.
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Title Annotation:World Youth Day
Author:Hagey, Bettina
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Words:1510
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