The most outstanding example of helping young people be open to Jesus I have ever seen…
Having said that the greatest steps are taken through experiencing hardship at World Youth Day, I must say, a small dollop of comfort can go a long way in helping you endure. At every World Youth Day, the Knights of Columbus from the US take over an enormous arena and fill it with amazing evangelistic music, catechesis, workshops. We knew this is where we’d find air-conditioning, American welcome and hospitality, free wifi, comfortable seating, hotdogs and fries. World Youth Day is exhausting, young people spend their nights lying on gym floors, and so you can bet, at any World Youth Day, you will find young pilgrims taking a nap in any space they can find in the cool, comfortable American centre. Despite Pope Francis’ warning of the dangers of sofas – when my friend Collette and I found an empty sofa in the Vocations Café, we felt utterly blessed by God, and snoozed there for an hour or two.
I’m re-watching some of the live stream from the Tauron Arena’s Mercy Night at World Youth Day. For almost every young person I spoke to, this was one of the most powerful moments of the two weeks we were in Poland. You can see it here, from around 4hr 45mins onwards. Bishop Robert Barron said it was one of the highlights of his entire priesthood (see his video commentary here) and there’s a fantastic summary article from Aleteia here which really says everything.
Amazingly, what was achieved at the Mercy Night was an intimate encounter with Christ, which is incredible when you consider 20,000 people were present. The entire event was constructed exceptionally well by LifeTeen – they are experts at creating conditions for young people to open their hearts to Jesus, which is essentially what all youth ministry is about, right? Opening with worship from Matt Maher and Audrey Assad, praying for the Holy Spirit, and moving to a brilliantly kerygmatic message from Joel Stepanek, 20,000 young people were beautifully prepared for the entrance of the Blessed Sacrament into the arena. What followed was a powerful procession of Jesus around the entire arena which was simultaneously awesome and intimate.
When the Blessed Sacrament finally rested on the main stage, Bishop Barron emerged from the procession, and gave an outstanding, memorable, powerful message on the Cross. The mood over those days was affected by Fr Jacques’ martyrdom and Bishop Barron’s message was simple: The crucifix says it all – this is what they did to our Lord! Nothing can frighten us! His Love has conquered all! As the Blessed Sacrament processed out of the arena, the cries of Oh death, where is your sting? Oh hell, where is your victory? Oh Church, come stand in the light, Our God is not dead, he’s alive! He’s alive! were rousing and pierced hearts. The celebration that followed as hundreds of young people ran forward to the stage was immense. It ended too soon, we could have praised all night. All I can say, the group I was with spent over two hours with our hands outstretched to Jesus and uplifted in praise, and I think it was the best praise and worship I have ever been part of. Just awe-inspiring and powerful.
World Youth Day is phenomenal at inspiring in young people trust and curiosity in Christ and his Church; what the Mercy Night achieved was intentionally helping young people be open to a personal and radical relationship with Jesus. Every moment of it was crafted with an unevangelised teen in mind. I am sure many thousands of steps towards discipleship were taken that night. Awesome stuff, LifeTeen, Knights of Columbus, Word on Fire, Sisters of Life… How blessed we have been by you!