by Father Mitchel Zimmerman
I went to my first World Youth Day in 1993 in Denver after my freshman year at KU.
The event hosted by Pope John Paul II changed my impression of the universal church dramatically and made a mark inside of me that will last forever.
Bringing all the youth of the church and the world together in one place was the idea of our late Holy Father. It has proven to be a real fruit of the Holy Spirit since for the last 20 years, millions upon millions of Catholic young people have experienced a World Youth Day in places like Sydney, Australia; Paris, Rome, Toronto, Manila, Philippines; Cologne. Germany and elsewhere.
Pope Benedict XVI has now hosted three World Youth Days, including the recent event in Madrid, Spain, which I was blessed to attend with our archbishop, seminarians and other pilgrims from the archdiocese. Pope Benedict is drawing well, as between 1.5 and 2 million pilgrims attended the final Mass.
Without a doubt, the World Youth Days are here to stay, part of the beautiful living tradition of the church, and I invite all young adults of the archdiocese who haven’t been to a World Youth Day to plan on going to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in July 2013.
Our recent pilgrimage to Madrid was tough. It was a real pilgrimage with plenty to offer up. We were hot, tired, uncomfortable and crowded the entire time. Even though Madrid was extraordinarily beautiful with a rich Catholic tradition of which Americans can be envious, the conditions made it hard to pray. Even getting to Mass or finding the time and energy to adore the Lord were tough tasks, and planning was next to impossible.
We had a tough time at the final vigil and Mass fighting for our spot, battling the extreme weather and praying and receiving Communion amid all the chaos of the humongous throng of people.
Still, there is nothing comparable to making it to that final Mass and being touched deeply by the magnitude and impossibility of pulling off something like a World Youth Day.
Jesus promised his disciples that they would do greater things than he himself did, which seems absurd until you experience a World Youth Day. It is just too big and too real to ignore.
I returned grateful that once again our seminarians and young people had the chance to experience in this way the truth that there is nothing bigger or more powerful than Jesus and his church, and nothing more important for us than to find our vocation and mission within his.
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