The night before we left for Portugal, 24-year-old Preston Richter, with St. Paul’s Outreach, told me that he could not wait to be together with Pope Francis. Preston is a college missionary based at Rutgers University who has to raise money for his mission.
Any type of mission, including attending World Youth Day (WYD), requires resources. And it begs the question: is it worth the cost? St. Pope John Paul II answered that question when he instituted WYD in 1985. His stamp of approval meant that young people needed to figure out the expense and the travel logistics in order to come together in one place.
Since then, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have continued the custom and approved of the outrageous logistics of WYD, which are handled better than one might expect.
I got to see the things that happen along the way to meeting our pope – like when Nathalia Carreon, St. Gerard, Roanoke, started a dance party on a metro that turned into a conga line down the aisle. Or when Olmer Pineda, Blessed Sacrament, Harrisonburg, gave his life testimony on an international stage and was met with hugs from Portuguese youth afterward.
During a walk after Mass in the city of Maia, Beatriz Muñoz had a conversation about religious life with Johann, a novice in the Comboni Sisters. We met religious sisters and brothers, seminarians and priests from every country. A dozen priests heard confessions on the plaza before catechesis with Bishop Knestout in Lisbon. We mixed and mingled with youth people from around the world.
On a packed train, I met a group of Portuguese couples who were wearing the insignia of Teams of Our Lady, a married couples’ group that began in France. One of the teams of six couples has been meeting monthly for 25 years. While we stood there, I introduced the idea to Mariano Muñoz and then down the aisle to Mariana, his wife. I nearly shouted, “Mariana, will you help start a group at St. Gerard?”
She responded, “What did Mariano say?”
“He said, ‘Yes!’”
The Portuguese couples all cheered.
There is an absolute delight in seeing young Catholics descend upon an entire country with smiles and joy. It is infectious. It crosses cultural and language barriers. It energizes us to be a Church in the streets. It calms your heart when a crowd of 1.5 million people all come to silence before the Blessed Sacrament. It reaches the pinnacle as we celebrate the Eucharist.
As Pope Francis stated at his weekly general audience Aug. 9 – World Youth Day is not a vacation, but “an encounter with the living Christ in the Church. The young people went to encounter Christ.”
Father Joe Goldsmith is the spiritual director of Blue Eagle Ministries and the group’s coordinator for World Youth Day. He is the pastor of St. John, Dinwiddie; St. James, Hopewell; and Church of the Sacred Heart, Prince George.