The first time I heard about World Youth Day was in 2016. I was 21 and my priest asked if I’d like to go as the parish representative.
That year the host city was Krakow in Poland. Whilst I’d always wanted to visit, I wasn’t sure if World Youth Day was for me. Going away with people I didn’t know was a daunting prospect, so I politely declined and someone else took the chance to go.
When she returned, she spoke to the parish about her experience and I knew I had made a mistake. If another opportunity came up, I was going to take it.
The next chance I had was in 2018 when I signed up to attend World Youth Day in Panama. This was the first time it was in Central America so a small group of us went with Westminster Youth Ministry.
As soon as I arrived at Gatwick airport on that cold January morning, I knew I’d made the right decision.
Almost instantly, I made friends. By the time we landed in Costa Rica it was like we’d known each other for our whole lives.
Although its known as World Youth Day, the events and services actually span the course of a week. Each morning we would start with a catechetical session. Bishops, young people, and other laity would share their testimonies with us.
Because of the diversity of the languages spoken at World Youth Day, they try to arrange groups so they contain people who speak the same language. In our English-speaking group, we had young people from countries including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
This allowed me to make friends with a girl from Australia. I kept in touch with her after World Youth Day and we have met a few times over the years.
One of the highlights of my time at World Youth Day was the vigil for the closing mass.
As there is such a huge number of people who attend World Youth Day this mass is usually held in a large open space to accommodate everyone. It’s estimated that over 700,000 young people were in attendance in 2019.
In addition, as part of the vigil, everyone comes together and camps outside for the night. Being together in one space with thousands of people from different nations, who spoke different languages was a unique experience. I was in awe that despite our differences, we were all together in the same place, united by faith.
In addition to announcing the new host city, the Pope bestows a blessing on all the young people there. In Panama, he encouraged us to take home the gifts and joy we experienced.
He told us ‘Do not forget that you are not the tomorrow, you are not the “meantime”; you are the now of God.’
These words have stuck with me over the past few years. They inspire me to act and go for something in all aspects of my life.
As we get closer to World Youth Day in Lisbon, remember that you are the now of God.
Now is the time to take up new opportunities. Now is the time to explore and develop your faith and now is the time to make lifelong friendships. Don’t delay, take heed of the words of Pope Francis and sign up to WYD today!
Caitlin is Information Officer for Caritas Westminster, the social action agency for the Diocese of Westminster. She also volunteers for the Annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes as a Team Leader and occasionally works with Westminster Youth Ministry. Get in touch with Caitlin at email@example.com. For more about Caritas Westminster, go to https://www.caritaswestminster.org.uk/.
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