If you’re reading this blog, I guess it’s likely that you know what World Youth Day is, but in case anyone is glancing this way without that knowledge, the basic gist is this. World Youth Day is a huge gathering of Catholic young people, which has been held every 2-3 years since 1987. You get people attending from all over the world. Part of the draw of the whole thing is that the Pope goes and leads the final Mass.
Now when I say this is a huge gathering, I really do mean it! At the final vigil/Mass with Pope Francis, an estimated 1.5-2 million people attended. To put that into some kind of context, Glastonbury tends to have around 150,000 – 200,000 people.
Yep, that’s right. I’ll just let that number of people sink in for a minute.
Given how the media reports on the event, particularly in the UK, you’d be forgiven for not realising what a big deal it is. Being at home during the previous one, held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, I found it really interesting how the media would report on some of the things Pope Francis was up to, without actually mentioning the reason for him being there; and from what I can see, the same thing happened with Kraków.
One fantastic example of this was this article, reporting on the tragic martyrdom of Fr Jaques Hamel where the quote from the Bishop of Rouen was taken while he was at “a Catholic gathering in Poland”. To be fair to the BBC though, they did also publish some video diaries from a few of our pilgrims.
Being surrounded by that number of young people who all have the same passion for God that you do can be incredibly intoxicating. Right around now, all over the world, young pilgrims will be feeling the WYD come down. This is the key moment for them.
For a large number of those two million people, this will be a life-changing experience. Some will have found their vocations – whether to religious life, the priesthood, or marriage. Others will still be searching, but will have discovered what their next step should be. There will have been some there who have been struggling with their faith, for whom this will have been a call back into the embrace of the Church.
Some pilgrims will have been to Confession for the first time in years, some will have found a new devotion to a particular saint or saints, and for some this may have been their first experience of the universal nature of the Church. There will be others for whom this will not feel like a massively life-changing event, but simply another step on their faith journey.
No one can attend a World Youth Day and return unchanged. The important thing now is to keep hold of that change. It is so easy to love your God, your faith and your Church when you’re in that high place. Now is the time to bring that love and joy back and share it with the rest of the world.
As Pope Francis said in his final homily, what Jesus desires is for us, like Zaccheus, to “Come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). If you’ve not read his homily, go do it. It’s challenging and comforting in equal parts, as all good homilies should be! It can be found here.
In today’s world, we have a terrible tendency to be Sunday Catholics. We compartmentalise. We say “God, I’m all yours… On a Sunday… During Mass.”
And then ignore Him the rest of the time. This is always the danger when it comes to events like World Youth Day, that these all-consuming, super-intense events will be just another Sunday, and we’ll go back to our everyday life just as before. But Zaccheus was forever changed by his encounter with Jesus, and so too must we be.
I’ll write another post soon with more content on what we actually got up to at World Youth Day, but for now, I’d like to recommend a temporary fix for the WYD comedown… Youth 2000 do fantastic retreats, and the big one is coming up – in Walsingham over the bank holiday weekend. More details can be found at the Youth 2000 website.