Monday, June 6, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: My First World Youth Day

By Bishop Nelson J. Perez 
Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Rockville Centre

It has now been over a year and half since I had the privilege and blessing of attending my very first World Youth Day, celebrated in July 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, along with my brother bishop, Bishop Robert Brennan and over 150 young pilgrims from the Diocese of Rockville Centre. If I could summarize my experience in one word it would be Wow! What an amazing, life-changing experience. While I have been blessed to attend other large gatherings of the Church in the past, many of them during the Papal visits of St. John Paul II to the United States, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, never had I been to a gathering with over 3 million faith-filled people. I can honestly say that a year and half later, I still relive this powerful experience often through the many pictures and videos that I preserve as a treasure.

As the week went on, the excitement and anticipation in awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis by thousands upon thousands youth from literally every corner of the world was felt in the air. It was a wonderful expression of the universality of the Church. Walking through the crowds gathering on Copacabana Beach I would hear chants and songs in so many languages, all praising God, proclaiming their faith in Jesus Christ, and expressing their deep love for the Church and the Holy Father. In a world that at times proclaims that faith and Church are irrelevant, I could only say . . . REALLY! This certainly was not evident at this event!

Each day, the youth gathered with open hearts, all over Rio for catechesis, prayer, and an opportunity to meet people from all over the world, all in preparation to listen to the message of Pope Francis to all of us. Finally, the Pope arrived, with his message of mercy and call to the youth of the world to be the embodiment of mercy to their local churches, families, and friends. During the beautiful and moving night of prayer and adoration on Saturday, as well as the closing Mass on Sunday, you could hear a pin drop when the Pope spoke. This in and of itself was a miracle, given the millions of people that had come together to be in the presence of the Holy Father. He challenged all of us to return to our particular parts of the world with a renewed spirit of mission, to touch the lives of the people that surround us by our faith, our merciful and loving hearts, and enthusiasm.Participating in my first World Youth Day profoundly touched my life, especially in my new role as a bishop of the Church. It deepened my appreciation for the universality of the Catholic Church, its beauty, and its transformative power rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, I look forward, with even more excitement, to Krakow 2016, the home town of St. John Paul II, the one who inspired this incredible gathering of joyful and faith-filled youth, a blessing for the Church and the world!

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