I started this blog in October and hence never did a full post on World Youth Day Brazil (although I do talk about it in this blog I wrote in January) from the summer before. My experience in Rio de Janeiro was beautiful, life-affecting and over way-too-quickly.
I went as a young adult, not to chaperone but rather to spread a message to the youth for an apostolate based out of Dallas. I honestly did not do more than have a desire to go, take the opportunity when it came my way a few months later, and trust God that it was his will.
Our last morning with Pope Francis I can remember kneeling on the beach with a sea of young people, strangers yet not, stretching as far as the eye can see. Most had been up all night, trying to sleep on the beach in preparation for the next morning. As Mass progressed, silence covered the beach, 4 million teenagers engrossed in the Mass. I particularly remember sensing the reverence and attention of the young people as we watched Pope Francis lift the Host for consecration. At that moment I looked around and thought: this is a foretaste of heaven.
A year later and I feel like I have experienced another, smaller World Youth Day: definitely the fruit of St John Paul II's beautiful hands. I spent this past week working in a Catholic youth summer camp where we celebrated Mass daily, said the rosary, participated in exposition, benediction and Eucharistic processions and went to confession. The rest of the time was spent hiking, swimming, playing sports, listening to live Christian music bands, and regular camp activities. Honestly, it appeared to me that for the children who were unable to go to Rio for World Youth Day, somehow God had worked it out that World Youth Day was able to come to them.
The more the week went on the more I could see (sometimes miraculous) changes in these kids...their love and interest in God and the sacraments grew, their ability to comprehend God's magnificent love and mercy even in the midst of some pretty difficult life situations increased and their thoughtfulness towards those around them became more apparent.
Its important to note that these kids were not only immersed in the sacraments ("sitting at the foot of the cross all week" as one person put it), they were totally immersed in the culture of love. So many religious - young and joyful priests, brothers and sisters - spent the week talking, playing, witnessing to and accepting the young people present: reaching out and peeling back layer after layer of stinky onion to find the person, made in the likeness and image of God, who lay beneath.
As the week progressed the impression I initially received of seeing a reflection of World Youth Day grew to the point that at the Eucharistic Procession as I knelt behind row after row of praying teenagers I had a flashback to the beach in Rio where so many young people went down on their knees before God. And I thought, "How much God loves these souls."
In conclusion I want to share that the theme of the camp was "There is a God, and I'm not Him." When I heard the kids yelling this slogan out and saw their response to the challenge to be Christ to the world, to live the gospel message, and to go and make disciples in every nation...I felt for a moment that I was seeing in them what St John Paul II must have seen: the exponential potential for great good, great holiness, and great love for the world.