World Youth Day witness talk

September 14, 2008 at St. Marguerite d’Youville Church

Everyone wants to reach, or at least taste what it feels like, to be at a state of happiness, harmony, contentment, and paradise. Attending Catholic schools and church all my life, I was taught that this state is reached by becoming closer to God. Despite my participation with the church, I noticed there was interference and things preventing me from truly seeing God, through the distractions of daily life.

Back in November of 2006, in preparing for the pilgrimage, Eliza emailed me a quote to reflect upon. The quote by Deepak Chopra was this: “If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge.” And so, my work to prepare for World Youth Day began, more than two full years before I even left Brampton.

In my grade 12 year, before leaving for Australia, I became increasingly aware of many, many situations and events in our community and in the world, that indicated the destruction and corruption of the its people. Attacks on each other’s religion, racial discrimination, large-scale terrorism, ongoing war, and the careless destruction of the Earth seemed to me, like bullet wounds, deep scars, and bruises on the body of Christ.

However, throughout the pilgrimage of World Youth Day, I felt hope with all possible human senses. I sensed hope for the future of our Catholic faith. I sensed hope for the world.

Anywhere in the world today, it’s rare that you will see large amounts of people walking together, celebrating in joy, rather than protesting or preparing for battle. It’s rare that you will see random strangers on the streets hugging each other and shaking hands casually. It’s rare that you would see groups of ordinary people, freezing and uncomfortable, outside with candles sharing food and shelter. It’s rare that hundreds of thousands of people, from hundreds of countries around the world, would all suddenly become silenced, for the sign of our faith. But, it all happened during World Youth Day.

Back to the five senses and the hope I experienced. During the opening in Melbourne, I saw people from Italy dressed in blue, and carrying red, white, and green flags with joy as they displayed their presence to the city. During the Papal Mass, I touched the hands of those from New Zealand and the Philippines as we shared peace through handshakes. During the Days of the Diocese in Melbourne, I tasted the homemade food made in honour of our visit. During the large-scale events at Barangaroo in Sydney, I smelled the canned tuna and canned beans that were generously distributed to all pilgrims. During the Papal Vigil, I heard the words of the Bible being spoken by the Holy Father.

As you may have grasped through my explanation of the presence of the five senses, there was more to World Youth Day than what was broadcasted on TV on July 20. It wasn’t just the one-day, for the overnight vigil or the papal mass that was my significant World Youth Day experience. It was the many days of experiences leading up to the closing Mass that enabled me to witness God’s presence fully. For example, one of the most exciting, powerful moments on the trip for me was the arrival of Pope Benedict in Sydney – but not the big huge parade on the water, but the anticipation of a chance to see the Pope flying through the side streets on the Pope Mobile. Although he drove by at what appeared to be at least 60 km an hour, and although many were disappointed at their failed photo attempts and obstructed view, I had such a positive, powerful feeling running through me at that moment. But that was just one moment of our WYD experience.

The World Youth Day theme song really started to make sense, after having heard it on the Internet, on CD, being sung by our own parish group, being shared during Masses in our host parish, being performed live in concert, and being sung by thousands of pilgrims a cappella throughout the streets of Australia. It was through this theme song that I actually started to Receive the Power. It would be odd not to feel anything, being part of the largest gathering of people in Australia’s history.

The theme was a Bible passage from Acts: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” It occurred right after the death and resurrection of Jesus, just before his ascension. It represents the birth of the Church. And in a way for me, it represents the re-birth of my faith, through World Youth Day.

I would like to thank St. Marguerite d’Youville parish for providing us with the opportunity to attend World Youth Day, I would like to thank each of you who supported us financially and through prayer on our pilgrimage, and most importantly I would like to thank my parents for their huge support in every way possible.

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