“By Marissa Mantey"
We first must ask ourselves why Pope John Paul the Great started it. It wasn't so young people could see the world or so that they could experience some far-away adventure without their parents' watchful eyes following their every move. No, Pope John Paul II wanted young Catholics to become excited about their faith, to witness the universality of the Church, and to fall in love with God, their Savior and King. My favorite part of World Youth Day was, by far, the closeness I felt to Christ on that trip. I looked forward to daily Mass (even though Father Paul made us get up quite early for it!), meditations, adoration, confessions, and group prayer. Sure, the sightseeing was great, but nothing was better than the intimate relationship we all experienced with God.
We all went to Australia with different intentions. Some wanted direction in their lives; others prayed for conversions of their loved ones. I personally made the pilgrimage with several intentions in mind, and not only is at least one of my prayers currently being answered, but since then, God has continuall poured out so many blessings on me, many of which I may not have asked for and definitely don't deserve. I cannot comprehend how fortunate we are to have such a loving God who wants to protect us and lead us to Him. More than anything, he wants us, his small, weak creatures, to unite ourselves to His Sacred Heart. Along the path of life, we may face obstacles that seem so large and difficult to overcome, but God is always outstretching his hand to us to help us overcome those obstacles.
In today's culture, one can easily get the impression that the youth are caught up with the latest fashions, wanting to own the newest forms of technology, gossiping about Hollywood stars, and pursuing their own self interests. So at our first large gathering of young people in a stadium in Melbourne, it was truly amazing to realize why that many young people had come together on such a chilly night. It was not to see a rock concert or sports game, or for a chance to win a new Porsche or trip for four to Disney World. Thousands of people, from dozens of countries and ethnic backgrounds, had come to see and worship the most important thing, or should I say, person, in our lives. We gathered for Jesus Christ. It didn't matter that we couldn't understand the language of the people sitting to our left, that we didn't look like the people to our right, or that we had different personal interests than the people in front of and behind us. Like I said, we gathered for Jesus, who physically came into our presence on that very night, just like he always does in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Catholics at that Mass knew that God is more important than any celebrity or material possession will ever be, and that is why we gathered in the stadium.
The stadium in Melbourne was not the last time we gathered by the thousands. We all remember traveling to Barangaroo for the World Youth Day Opening Mass to greet the Pope as he arrived at Sydney Harbor and to watch the Live Stations of the Cross. We joined hundreds of thousands to spend the night on a racecourse...a racecourse!...just to attend the Closing Mass with the Vicar of Christ. We didn't care that it was cold, that we didn't have comfy beds to sleep in, or that we woke up with dirt coating the insides of our noses (which was pretty gross!). This Mass was the big finale of our World Youth Day experience. And what is the highlight of every Mass? Of course, you already know the answer to that question.
Now that I'm back in the United States, I always find it exciting to meet new people who attended World Youth Day in Australia or any of the other previous World Youth Days. I've met a few of these people already, and one girl (now a good friend) even went to Cologne with Father Paul and the Trailblazers in 2005! The world may seem big and like it has insurmountable problems, but it's very encouraging to know that there are good Catholics everywhere who seek to please their loving God and be united to Him now and forever. Blessed be God forever!