by Petra Muller.
This past August, I attended World Youth Day. During this pilgrimage, in the midst of its commotion and activity, I tried to live in the interior of my soul so as to be in constant communion with God. I deeply wanted this. I think I was moved to live what we in Madonna House call, “poustinia of the heart.”
My whole pilgrimage was filled with encounters with Christ in people—the people who opened their homes to me along the way, the staff at Madonna House Belgium and the groups they were hosting there, and especially a group from New Mexico in the United States, who welcomed me to join them. They even paid for my registration. (Coming from a German-American family and speaking German myself, I became their guide and translator.)
But even more than in people, I found Christ in the sacraments, in the Scripture, and in the Church—militant and triumphant.
The sacraments are very clear signs of God’s love and presence.
But being able to receive communion at World Youth Day Masses was not something I took for granted. For at the closing Mass at World Youth Day Toronto, not knowing where to go in that huge crowd, I had not received communion.
So, this time at the opening Mass, I wasn’t sure that the priests would be able to make it all the way back to where we were. But extra efforts were made so that everyone who was able to could receive—no simple task, given the fact that 100,000 or so people attended.
Then at that Mass, someone in our group spotted a yellow umbrella, under which a priest was giving communion!
We were also given opportunities to meet Christ in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. This was fitting since the theme of this World Youth Day was, “We have come to worship him.”
Some of our group had a strong desire for adoration. We had many choices of programs and events to attend, but one girl said, “I don’t care what else we do today; I just want to go to adoration.”
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, too, was continuously available at the various spiritual centers.
As for Scripture, I had not brought my Bible along because I did not think it would survive the wear and tear of the trip. But at one of the spiritual centers, free copies of Magnificat, a monthly missalette containing Mass readings and meditations, were available in several languages. This was a special WYD edition which was geared to feeding the pilgrims with the Word of God and encouraging us to get into the habit of praying with the Mass readings.
Our group used Magnificat’s Scripture readings and meditations from John Paul II on our evening pilgrimage walk to the cathedral, which really made a difference in the tone. Our group had a solemn walk during which we alternated between listening to the readings and silent meditation.
On a building close to the cathedral, there was a huge image of Pope John Paul II. From a distance it looked like a photograph, but when you got close to it, it became clear that this image was composed of tiny photos of young people. The youth of the world had sent in their photos to make this image of the man they loved so much.
On the same building was another image—a photo of Pope Benedict XVI, with the word, “Welcome,” under it.
We young people did welcome our new pope, recognizing him as the Vicar of Christ, although we did not know him yet.
And it was amazing to see the Church so well represented at World Youth Day. There were approximately 60 cardinals, 800 bishops, 9,000 priests and a huge number of lay people from six continents totaling 1.1 million at the closing Mass.
I also learned something about trust on this pilgrimage. Every day there were problems, problems that sometimes caused me anxiety. These problems, real or imagined, challenged me to trust God to help me. And things always worked out. This was like God saying to me, Oh, you of little faith (Mt 6:30, 8:26). So I learned not to get too far ahead of myself. I learned that it is better to take life as it comes, one step at a time, and to find God in the duty of every moment.
Overall, as Pope Benedict XVI said, World Youth Day was an “explosion of joy.” We had come there for one purpose, to worship him who was very much present—Christ Jesus Our Lord. And like the Magi whose relics are housed in the cathedral in Cologne, we did.
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