World Youth Day starts this week! Although I’m not there physically (and probably won’t be in spirit since I barely have time in the day to think about things other than baby stuff), I am really excited for all the pilgrims who are in Rio this year to celebrate.
There’s nothing like going to a World Youth Day. You’re surrounded by hundreds of thousands of other young Catholics, just like you, who love the Church and just feel like a family. No one is worried that people will think they’re weird for loving Church-y things, no one thinks it’s weird that you’re praying a Rosary or you’re excited to see the Pope. Things are a lot less cynical and a lot more exciting. It’s like a tremendous family reunion where not a lot of people can understand each other’s languages, but understand the person, instead.
I was fortunate enough to attend WYD both in Rome in 2000 and in Toronto in 2002. A benefactor paid for my trip to Rome; to this day I have no idea who sponsored my trip – an anonymous parishioner from a church I don’t know supplied the funds for my airfare, my lodging, and my passport fees.
There were eleven of us in our trip to Rome. The youngest of us was 17 (my brother Elliot) and the oldest was 24 (our Seminarian friend Rob, who I dated after our trip – but he had left the seminary by then, haha.) I was 19 and turned 20 while in Rome…which was pretty awesome.
Of course, tons of awesome things happen during WYDs, but I believe I really witnessed a miracle while on the trip. Not a huge one, but one that made a huge difference to me.
Each event that took place during World Youth Day was held in different areas of the city, so when we left the apartment for the day we took everything with us we would need: sunscreen; our passports, just in case; money; our WYD-appointed travel guides and itineraries; and our meal tickets. We received two a day, for lunch and dinner, and were the only ones we we would get for the week. If you lost them, there would be no others, and you’d need to buy your own food or ask your companions to share theirs.
I lost mine, of course. The first night.
“What are you looking for?” my friend Faith asked me, walking into the bedroom we shared. I was on my hands and knees, searching the floor for the tickets. I told her, and she helped me to look, checking beneath my bedsheets, under my suitcase, behind the dresser and in the closet. They were nowhere to be found.
“Guys, we gotta go,” Elliot’s voice called from the living room. We had a subway to catch, and if we left any later we’d miss any chance of seeing the Holy Father up close (well, relatively up close, since there were about five hundred thousand of us who would be in attendance).
I reluctantly took one last look in the room before leaving, ashamed of myself and my forgetfulness.
“Well,” Faith said, “We could always pray to Saint Anthony.”
My stomach churned the entire way to the field where the Pope would make his appearance, berating myself for being so stupid. All of Rome passed by our Metro’s windows, but I saw none of it. All I could see was my stupidity.
Two hours later, we stood in the large field, the sun setting. Music played from a large soundstage; banners displaying the faces of saints fluttered in the wind.
As I took it all in, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d done. Because of me, my friends would have to sacrifice parts of their meals so I could eat. I could barely focus, my guilt was so great.
Now, any normal person might not think it was a big deal – I mean, each friend would only have to sacrifice a spoonful or two for each meal – but I couldn’t get over it.
I closed my eyes. “Saint Anthony, I feel really badly about what happened. I know you help people find things, like car keys and parking spaces. Not that you’d lose a parking space, really, but people like finding them.” I opened my eyes; I was going off on a tangent. I tried again. “Anyway, I feel really badly about what happened, and I don’t want my friends to suffer because of me. If you could help me find my meal tickets, I’d appreciate it. Thanks!”
When we got home that night, I headed to the bedroom to drop off my things, and quickly called Faith into the room. We were both shocked to find all of my meal tickets fanned out, neatly, on my pillow, where they hadn’t been before we left.
Which was really cool!
I hope everyone has a great time. 🙂