by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — All eyes were on Pope Francis at the 34th World Youth Day, as a crowd of more than 700,000 people gathered to hear his address to young people in Panama on Jan. 26.
That same evening, more than 300 youth from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas gathered at the SportingKC Event Center in Kansas City, Kansas, to listen to the pope’s message via satellite and to celebrate with a watch party, eucharistic adoration and Benediction.
The night was organized by ReachKCK director Tricia Hutchison and Rick Cheek, the archdiocese’s consultant for the office of youth evangelization. The night featured a performance by guitarist and songwriter Tony Melendez, who was born without arms, and a closing concert by the Mikey Needleman Band.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann led eucharistic adoration and Benediction, accompanied by musicians Joe and Cayleigh Heron. The archbishop offered young people encouragement to keep God by their side.
“World Youth Day is an opportunity to come together and open our hearts to Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Naumann. “You don’t have to know World Youth Day to know Jesus and encounter him. All you have to do is turn to him in prayer, particularly the Eucharist. He is with us in a very unique and powerful way. Go to your adoration chapels and you can have a mini encounter with Jesus right there.”
World Youth Day is a worldwide encounter with the pope, typically celebrated every three years in a different country. The event is open to all young people who want to take part in a festive encounter with their contemporaries centered on Jesus Christ. It offers an opportunity to experience the universality of the church and to share the hopes of many young people who want to commit themselves to Christ and others. The next World Youth Day will be held in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2022.
Church of the Nativity, Leawood, parishioners Mary Kathryn Schreck, 16, and her sister, Martha, 18, attended the local event. Both expected the Holy Father’s address would inspire them to further deepen their faith.
“I always make sure I pray every day. Normally, I look over the readings and I just always remember that God is at the center of it all,” Martha said. “We’re all his creatures, and no matter what struggles we’re going through, we try to stay focused on God.”
According to Hutchison, 350 people, mostly young adults, purchased tickets to the event. Tickets were priced at just $5 to make it affordable. Several businesses donated funds to provide entertainment and food during the evening. It was the archdiocese’s first World Youth Day watch party and a tremendous success, Hutchison said.
“We wanted to be in communion with the whole church and the people gathered in Panama,” Hutchison said. “It was a great moment of solidarity with the church at large. I hope all 350 souls realize that the church is so much bigger than any one of us.”
For his part, Pope Francis encouraged young people to say “yes” to God, just as the Virgin Mary did.
“With Mary, keep saying ‘yes’ to the dream that God has sown in you,” he said. “With her ‘yes,’ Mary became the most influential woman in history. Without social networks, she became the first ‘influencer,’ the ‘influencer’ of God.”
World Youth Day, according to Cheek, is a powerful event that was started by Pope John Paul II who believed young people are the church now and in the future.
“Our youth are always looking to go deeper. No matter what the secular media is telling us, people are hungry for more,” Cheek said. “As I was praying during adoration, I hoped that these young people know they are loved and that God has this great desire for them to be holy, to never ever walk away and to always be deep in prayer, asking God for anything that they need.”