It is difficult to imagine WYD without the presence of a Roman Pontiff. Of course, the experience of WYD goes beyond any one Pope, however, his presence does attest to the fact that young people are an integral aspect of the Church and their gathering is important enough that the Holy Father wouldn’t miss it for the world. This aside, it is easy for pilgrims to get caught up in the excitement of seeing up close the shepherd of their church- for some an opportunity that will occur only once in their lifetime. I also, in my reasons for heading off to WYD in Rome, listed “to meet the Pope.” And so I did. After four hours in line and sandwiched among countless other pilgrims, I made my way into Saint Peter’s square, where for the next three hours, in the unrelentless Roman sun, I kept vigil near the barricade for a glimpse of Pope John Paul II.
WYD in Toronto was a similar experience. I must admit that for this Australian WYD my vantage point has been significantly different. My Salt + Light media pass allowed me to curtail the long lines of pilgrims and guaranteed me a great spot directly to the right of the main stage (a spot, incidentally, that I did not have to claim earlier on in the day as most pilgrims certainly did). Nevertheless, this new viewpoint changed my focus. Although the Holy Father was certainly in my horizons, so were the excited faces of the thousands of pilgrims who were chanting “BEN-E-DETTO.” During this WYD it has been the pilgrims who have captivated my attention and it is their genuine joy at being here in Sydney that has moved me to tears. Their fervour reminds me of what the Spirit enkindled in me at my first WYD in Rome- a love for a Church that cannot be contained by four walls or by any one people. To those past WYD pilgrims for whom this WYD is a virtual pilgrimage, I pray that the spirit of WYD will transcend the distance that separates you from Sydney and that the pictures, videos and testimonies of the pilgrims here will take you back to “your” WYD and reawaken in you the graces of those experiences.
-Image courtesy of WYD 2008/Getty Images