World Youth Day 2011 A Pilgrim’s Perspective
Dear Parishioners of St. Luke the Evangelist,
I regret that I am not able to address you in person, but immediately after returning from Spain, I left Raleigh to start my college career at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I returned from my World Youth Day pilgrimage on the 22nd of August having completed one of the most incredible and inspirational journeys of my life. Thank you parishioners of St. Luke for assisting and enabling me to go on this journey, you were in my heart and prayers. The hundreds of prayer intentions you graced me with were with me every step of the way, and they now all sit at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes with a perpetual candle burning brightly for them in her grotto. As I prayed for all of your intentions I asked for some message or lesson to bring back and share with all of you. The message came in a strange and unexpected way.
On the last days of World Youth Day, the pilgrims walk to a site where the Holy Father holds an overnight vigil of adoration and the World Youth Day closing mass. Saturday afternoon the Diocese of Raleigh pilgrims set out for the airfield where the vigil would be; half of us took a metro, and the other half, of which I was a part, walked the eight mile path through the mountains and in 105 degree heat. It was a grueling but beautiful walk.
About a mile from the airfield we receive a call from Patrick, the leader of the group that took the metro. He told us that the field was dangerously crowded, he feared for the safety of the group, and had decided to leave the airfield. There was a miscommunication among those working at the gates and un-ticketed pilgrims were being allowed to enter the ticket-only event. The result was two million people in a location with space and provisions for 700,000 people. The vigil had become a kind of Woodstock where there was neither food nor water, and the crowds were so thick our group inside couldn’t move, much less stake out a place to bed for the night. Patrick surveyed the situation and the desperateness of the crowds, and decided to leave the vigil for reason of safety. I cannot express the heartbreak, frustration, and anger this caused all of us, for we so dearly longed to have this vigil and mass with our Holy Father. We regrouped outside the field where the decision to abandon the vigil was finalized and we turned around to head back into Madrid. I never did get to have mass with Pope Benedict XVI.
The next morning we went to a local church for Sunday mass, and it was in the priest’s homily that I and the rest of the group found meaning in the ordeal we had suffered. Father spoke of the pilgrims, acknowledged all we had endured, and then asked why. He said a true pilgrim would not endure the hardship for the sake of the experience, or the people around them, or even for the Holy Father, that rather a true pilgrim would only be concerned with the pursuit of Christ. He knew hundreds of thousands of us never made it to the airfield and he said that a true pilgrim would remain joyful and determined in his pursuit of Christ. He then reminded us that the Pope was not the pinnacle of the pilgrimage, that the Sunday mass was. The Holy Eucharist was where pilgrims would find their fulfillment, not in the beautiful vigil with Catholic brothers and sisters. After mass we found out that no pilgrim at the papal mass received the Eucharist because wind and lightning had destroyed all of the Communion stations during the night. Had we pursued the experience of the vigil rather than the beauty of the mass the next day in this local church, we would have never received the Holy Eucharist. We would have missed Jesus Christ in our pursuit of something beautiful, the Pope, but far less important than our pursuit of Christ. The priest’s message was to pursue Jesus in the way He has us pursue him, not in the manner that we assume to be best. The pursuit of the vigil with the Pope was a holy one, but it was not one that would end in Christ. The pursuit of the will of God was one that landed us in a position we did not understand nor see as good, but was indeed good, holy, and filled with Christ.
So the message I received is this:
“Follow the will of God, and direct all thoughts, actions, and intentions to Him for love and pursuit of His holy presence. Humbly accept and pursue the will of God above your own, even when it makes little sense. He is a God of integrity and promise, who has pledged to love and take care of you. Pursue Him restlessly in all things, especially in the sacraments.”
May God Bless and keep you parishioners of St. Luke, with courage and trust in Christ.
Your Brother in Christ,