“I came that they might have life, and have it to the full”

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(John 10:10- Theme from World Youth Day, 1993)

 

“A thousand years in your eyes are merely a day gone by…”, so says the Psalmist in Psalm 90. It hasn’t been a thousand years, but thirty years has certainly swept by since Pope Saint John Paul II instituted the first World Youth Day in Rome in 1986. Over the course of these thirty years I have only been able to attend one of these great gatherings of faithful, in 1993 in Denver, Colorado. I still recall much of that week, some of it vividly, from 23 years ago.

Having recently completed my sophomore year in college, I joined a group of youth and young adults from my hometown of Wausau, WI for the pilgrimage to Denver to join with a million other young people from around the country and world to celebrate our faith and “meet” the Holy Father. My most vivid memories of the trip are, as often happens, the most unpleasant or uncomfortable ones. The crowds of people pushing to get in stadiums, food, portable restrooms (they were even nicknamed for the occasion: Vati-cans). The endless walks from place to place to place in the thin, hot mountain air. The day and night spent in a park waiting for the Papal Mass to begin, baking in the sun and 110 degree temperatures by day and freezing at night when the thermometer dipped to 45. The lines of people at medic tents waiting to be treat for altitude sickness, dehydration, and everything else imaginable. In many respects, it was some of my worst dreams come true in one long week, which ended with a 15-hour bus ride back home.

Yet there was something that pervaded the week, which holds more strongly in the hearts of those almost one million of us who were there. As Pope Saint John Paul II mounted the stage at Mile High Stadium for the first time that week, the crowds overflowing that place shook the walls and bleachers and thundered the skies with cheers and laughter and tears as the Holy Father greeted us with his own smile and tears of joy. He said: “Jesus has called each one of you to Denver for a purpose! You must live these days in such a way that, when the time comes to return home, each one of you will have a clearer idea of what Christ expects of you." This Pope, who was some very much-beloved by the youth and young people across the world, called us to take our part in the mission of Christ and his Church. Throughout the week he called us to embrace the life Christ gave us and draw ever closer to him through our loving care and service to others. Lines and heat and discomfort aside, the Holy Father moved the hearts of millions of people that week with the message of Christ and sent them forth to be Christ’s life and love for others.

Pope Francis is gathering young people of the world again this week in Krakow, Poland, and asking them to be merciful as the Father is merciful. Our Capuchin brother, Fr. Zoy Garibay, director of Campus Ministry at our Saint Lawrence Seminary, will be present for this week. We hold him and all the pilgrims in prayer. As this week of pilgrimage, prayer and inspiration begins let us further pray that the hearts of all- those present in Krakow and all people throughout the world- may hear Christ’s call in their hearts to be the hands and face and heart of mercy to all!