You forget just how shattering World Youth Day is… It is an endurance test in so many ways and after my third, I am beginning to understand that this is what it’s all about. Crushing through the streets of Krakow for three hours trying to get into Blonia Park, trying to keep 30 young people together, getting drenched despite your fetching blue poncho, not even glimpsing Pope Francis when he arrives, and then doing it all over again to get back out of the Park, navigating the unpredictable transport and getting home 4 hours later after a long walk — the cynical mind would say, what is the point? how much better would your view on TV be?! no chance of losing a 16-year-old! you could actually eat supper, have a glass of wine and an early night… But this cynicism – however strong its protests may be (and believe me, in me they are strong) – is a poison to our faith. It can infect our faith with its seeming reasonableness very quickly. It can mask itself as prudential and sensible. But it forgets one thing – it forgets Love. Love is crazy. And World Youth Day is crazy. When you’re standing in the mud, or lying on a patch of nettles (as we did at Campus Misericordiae), you are there because you want to be, because you choose to be… Yes, Jesus, I am for you… I am in your Church. I am here, your disciple. I am yours!
At the Vigil, when we arrived after hours of walking in fierce heat, crushed in queues, and discovered after an hour of queueing that there was no food left, that our designated sector was already full, and that we had to find a patch on the side of the road to spend the night, I texted a friend of mine in another part of the field to say how much our young group was struggling. In all reasonableness, the health and safety folks would have called it off. Let’s get out of here, find a taxi, and a nice hotel. But we stayed, we prayed, we walked two hours out of the field in search for food and came back with a box of apples, a box of radishes and some cans of tuna (and thanks be to God, one member of our group bought four enormous pizzas). Never on the whole pilgrimage did we laugh together so much as we did that night.
Yes, World Youth Day involves self-emptying that you don’t experience when everything is safe, predictable and comfortable. We ended our pilgrimage with two days’ retreat, where Bishop Hervé Gosselin told us that the opposite of a joyful heart is not a sad heart (because you can experience joy and sorrow at the same time) but a hard heart. Yes, World Youth Day works wonders at breaking our hearts of stone. At the Vigil, Pope Francis warned against “the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa”… and I just love this…
My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, of the eternal “more”. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy. To take the path of the “craziness” of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbours who feel abandoned.
“Ne reste pas au seuil de ton ame” – Don’t stay on the threshold of your soul (Ven Marthe Robin)… This was the theme of our two-week World Youth Day pilgrimage, and it was the best theme ever… it challenged us every day. We were invited to dig deep, to push outside our comfort zones, discover we didn’t actually “need” all the things we thought we did, and that, when we felt empty and broken, the Lord was there with us too.
How thankful I am for World Youth Day. How thankful I am that the Church challenges young people, lets us experience hardship, without being afraid that we will fall away, scared off by the cost. How beautiful it is to have a Lord we can trust will meet every young person in their emptying, in their diving deep, who will conquer and vanquish every darkness, sin, and death in us! Praise be the Lord.