To World Youth Day and back again

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To World Youth Day and back again

By Tomasz Juszczak, Director of Youth Evangelisation

The Central American nation of Panama is set to welcome millions of young Catholics from around the world for World Youth Day (WYD) 2019. For the week of WYD this small tropical country will boost its population by about 50 percent. That’s pretty crazy. So how did such a significant event come to be?

The International World Youth Days started with St John Paul II and his vision for getting the Gospel out to young people. The saintly pope (with the help of the Holy Spirit) came up with the concept of WYD and invited the youth of the world to meet him in Rome. Many advisors told him to forget the idea, that it was bound to fail. St John Paul II, however, had faith in the young people, and they did not let him down. In 1986, 300,000 young people turned up on the pope’s doorstep for the first official World Youth Day celebration.

My first WYD experience wouldn’t be until 16 years later in Toronto, Canada. That WYD also happened to be St John Paul II’s last. I wasn’t going to WYD because of any great desire to grow in my faith; I was going because I thought it was a great way to have a cheap trip overseas with other young people. Oh, and I guess seeing the Pope was OK too.

I do remember a tiny moment I had at that WYD before the final Mass. It had been pouring rain up until that point, yet as St John Paul II stepped out onto the makeshift sanctuary, the rain stopped and the clouds parted. It wasn’t anything profoundly deep, but I remember thinking, “Hmm, I wonder if that was God?”

It wasn’t until my next WYD in Sydney, 2008 that something really changed for me. That week was a genuine turning point in my life, and I haven’t looked back since – but that’s a story for another day. Therein lies the power of this incredible event. Whether you are searching for an intense deepening of your faith or whether you’re just keen for an overseas adventure, WYD has the power to be a transformative experience in many ways – if you’re open.

With that, I invite you all to start thinking about this little country of Panama and how the upcoming WYD can be the beginning of something quite awesome in your life.