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The World Youth Day experience

By Yvanne Dandan

On July 16, 2013 twenty-nine youths from the Archdiocese of Winnipeg jumped on a plane headed for Brazil just like millions of other youths from all over the world to gather in one place, at one time, and all for one celebration: World Youth Day.

“Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This was the theme of World Youth Day 2013 which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which I was blessed to be part of this past July 2013. I had an amazing experience at WYD and I have been very excited to share the stories that continue to form the joy in my heart because of WYD.

What is World Youth Day (WYD)?

World Youth Day (WYD) is an international event that is celebrated every two to three years in a chosen host country. This international celebration involves youths from all over the world joining together as brothers and sisters in Christ to proclaim their love of God and the Catholic faith. World Youth Day was initiated by Pope John Paul II back in 1984 and was first officially celebrated in 1986 in Rome, Italy. Since then, WYD has been hosted by another twelve countries, one of which was the Philippines in 1995.

WYD consists of several spiritual activities, praise and worship, prayers, service to community, catechism, and the most anticipated encounter with the Pope. Ultimately, WYD aims to set the fire in the hearts of the Catholic Youth all over the world in order for them to bring back to their home countries the inspiration and energy that was celebrated during WYD.

All in all, I had an amazing experience at World Youth Day. Something that was truly evident for me was that it was not a ‘vacation’ nor would I even consider it as a ‘trip’. It was no more and no less a pilgrimage. Prior to our arrival in Brazil, we were all encouraged to view ourselves not as tourists but as pilgrims.

Lessons learned

1. Faith perspective

During the week of WYD we were all invited to participate in Catechesis sessions in order to understand and deepen our faith. The catechesis sessions were led by Archbishops from different parts of the world. The first catechesis our Winnipeg group attended was led by Retired Archbishop Vincent from Delhi, India. Something I took from his session was that he really encouraged all of us to live with a “faith perspective”. Now, what exactly does that mean?

Living with a faith perspective means that we are able to look beyond the imperfections of those around us and see them as beautiful children of God. Living with a faith perspective means that there is no room left for grudges and dismissals, only for forgiveness, healing, and understanding. Living with a faith perspective means that when we look at another person, we see them as our brother/sister in Christ.

Retired Archbishop Vincent invited all of us to live with a faith perspective, especially in times of misunderstandings. In any environment, we can find ourselves in the midst of collision - a collision of thoughts, ideas, personalities, and attitudes. All of these and more can create a tangled web that forms the heart of any dispute. In cases like these, it is so tempting to look at others in the worst light. However, what we are encouraged to do is to view everyone as part of our faith family. Yes, everyone. In this way, we are able to face issues coming from a position of love. As we can see, if we were to pursue a life lived with a faith perspective, there can only be love.

2. “Go and make disciples of all nations” starting at home!

The theme for WYD is not a request, it is a command sent by God which was delivered to all the participants of WYD through His Holiness Pope Francis. Honestly, as inspired as I was to “go and make disciples of all nations”, the task itself is daunting. However, taking even tiny steps forward is always better than staying in the same spot forever. At some point during WYD, it was discussed that starting at home and focusing on family is a good step forward. We all play an integral part no matter what role we play in our family settings; whether you’re the dad, mom, sister, brother, daughter, son, grandparent, etc. We are all equally responsible for inviting God into our homes when He knocks on our door everyday. Building a strong foundation of faith starting with our families is always a great head start in making disciples of all nations.

3. God Whispers (If you would only listen)

Probably the biggest lesson I learned is that “God whispers”. Do you ever find yourself asking God “Can you please give me a sign?” I don’t know about you, but this is something I find myself asking a lot. However, when we ask, are we ready for the answers?

God may not answer us in the ways we want Him to. He may not come with a grand entrance and a fireworks finale. He may not spell the answers with the stars in the night sky but God surely whispers, and we can recognize this if we would only listen.

We can easily get caught in the chaos of our busy lives and we may not know it, but we might be shrugging off God’s messages to us. During WYD, we were all put in a situation where we were completely unplugged from our regular routines (work, school, extra-curricular activities, responsibilities, etc.) and it personally made me feel uneasy at first because I was not used to the silence. However, I learned through this silence that God is ever so near and present.

With that said, I encourage all of us to keep our eyes open, our minds awake, and our hearts ready.

The next World Youth Day is set to take place in Krakow, Poland in 2016.