World Youth Day 2013 was the trip of a lifetime. I remember it like it was yesterday, even though I’ve had countless adventures since– some of them even being abroad in Europe. This gathering of millions of pilgrims from throughout the world was unique and unrepeatable. We were able to see Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, ride by in his popemobile down Copacabana beach as we chanted “Papa Francisco” with millions of other Catholics from throughout the world.
On our way home we held praise and worship in the Rio de Janeiro Airport and bonded over the incredible experiences of the past few weeks, during which we prepared spiritually and physically for the World Youth Day gathering, travelled to Rio, and took part in the different events of JMJ that took place there. I exchanged Facebook credentials with many people from different countries and have successfully kept in touch with a number of them. We exchange Facebook messages full of prayer intentions and eager anticipation of World Youth Day in Poland, where we will hopefully reunite to celebrate our Catholic faith once again.
For me, World Youth Day was more of an energizing & encouraging witness than any sort of sudden realization about my faith… I tried as hard as I could to be open to what God had in store for me, and I truly believe that I got as much as I possibly could out of it because of my efforts to stay in the mindset of a pilgrim, constantly persevering through the hardships that accompany the pilgrimage experience. A huge part of what I gained on this trip was growing in the virtues of patience and temperance. There were more bumps in the road for us on this trip than anyone could have predicted, and through the frustration I learned to accept and trust in God’s will in a way that I’ve never been able to do before.
Reflecting on all of this today– when it has been nearly a year since we started preparing for World Youth Day– I am astounded at how much my experiences on that pilgrimage prepared me for what I have encountered in the past year. I have developed a new perspective on life: that life is a pilgrimage, and we are all pilgrims on a journey towards heaven. And while we are on this journey, it is critical that we stay close to the Lord in any way we can. The importance of things like participating in the sacraments, adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and spending a little time each day on spiritual reading cannot be stressed enough. It is how we can know that we will be able to overcome the obstacles that lie before us, “for nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)