Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, says World Youth Day is a unique opportunity to witness young people look deep into their hearts and get inspired by them. He adds that WYD is a gift to the whole Church and not just those attending.
As a bishop, attending World Youth Day is a wonderful opportunity for a number of reasons. First, young people probably do not realize how inspiring their witness of faith is for their bishops. Bishops have very busy schedules. The opportunity to witness young people look deep into their hearts and souls, and encounter Christ in a way that might change them forever is not always on a bishop’s regular schedule. World Youth Day has a way of making such experiences more possible and more prevalent. These experiences are inspiring in my own life and help me want to deepen my own relationship with Christ in a whole new, and perhaps unparalleled, way.
Spiritually speaking, WYD is a phenomenon of prayer. Everywhere you turn you see young people praying rosaries, novenas, or some other expression of prayer.
WYD also provides opportunity to meet my brother bishops from around the globe. While the Church is so similar in many ways, the manner in which the Church exists globally varies greatly, as the needs and cultures vary greatly too. Enriching the spiritual lives of young people remains one of the common threads that each bishop has a keen interest in facilitating. At WYD I am afforded the opportunity to engage in a more pastoral and personal conversation with the youth. Through masses, the sacraments, prayer, and conversation, I will be more available to the youth than I may usually be able to be. This opportunity is a great joy to me. Nobody becomes a priest to shy away from opportunities to have a personal relationship with God’s people. The youth are not only special to Christ, but they are also the future mothers, fathers, deacons, priests, and religious of his Church.
An experience difficult to describe
My hope is that this experience will help the youth from the Diocese of Venice grow closer to Christ and his Church. It’s a simple hope, but one that I have seen happen time and time again at WYD.
The spiritual benefits of a pilgrimage rely on the openness of the pilgrim to Christ and the Holy Spirit. Assuming they are open, the benefits of a pilgrimage such as this are nearly boundless. It really takes being there for some of those experiences to be fully understood.
Seeing the Holy Father, whether face-to-face or from a distance, and standing in a crowd amongst thousands of other passionate Catholics is marvelous experience that is difficult to articulate. The same can be said for a young man who meets a priest on the pilgrimage and discovers he may have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. In such cases, the person can explain what happened, but cannot articulate sufficiently the feeling or the emotion that makes the experience so significant and memorable.
WYD benefits the entire Church
On the other hand, WYD does not benefit only the individuals who make the pilgrimage. The Church is universal. When one person’s faith life and relationship with Christ is deepened, the entire Body of Christ, the Church, is made more whole. The benefit of millions of young people making a pilgrimage to a single city to encounter Christ, share their faith with like-minded believers and connect with the Church Christ founded is profound and of benefit to everyone, whether or not you are actually in Madrid.
Similarly, those not attending WYD have an opportunity to participate by praying for those who are making the pilgrimage. The universal quality of prayer makes those at home equally able to impact the life of another.
I encourage anyone not attending WYD who knows someone that is going, or even if just concerned for the future of the Church, to pray for those going to Madrid. Pray that those attending are able to take advantage of every opportunity available to them and remain focused on Christ. Pray that they grow in faith, grow in love and peace, and grow in appreciation of Christ’s Church. In praying for those attending World Youth Day, all become a kind of participant and help the life of the Church grow.
Our youth did not shy away from spiritual renewal
World Youth Day is an immensely important phenomenon within the Catholic Church, in part, because it does what so many people have tried to do: connect the youth with Christ. Too often valiant attempts to engage the youth in an honest and straightforward conversation with Jesus Christ becomes watered down by the perceived need for entertainment to keep their attention. The importance of WYD is that it reminds the Church that when you present Christ authentically, especially in the Eucharist, people will come in droves.
World Youth Day is a pilgrimage. Many young people in our culture would be scared away by such an idea, since our society strays from spiritual renewal. The young people of the Diocese of Venice responded with maturity and excitement to the pilgrimage, as they have to our diocesan youth rallies.
The sacrifice these young people and their parents have made to attend WYD indicates a desire for a deeper relationship with Christ. That reality alone should inspire the Church and remind us that while we face many challenges, the youth are ready and willing to take the Church into the future with the same reverence and devotion to Christ as has always been present.
+Frank J. Dewane
Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, USA