What World Youth Day ’95 Taught Me

Wow, has it really been almost 20 years?

I was a junior in high school when John Paul II came to Manila for WYD ’95. Up until then, I didn’t even know about this event that had been been going on since 1986. Every parish, school and Catholic organization were deep into preparations; it was easy to find a place to volunteer and join in the festivities. Already a year into having joined a charismatic community, I joined the activities in my parish (there were similar activities organized by my school), where most of my friends from community were also participating.

I now only have glimpses of what went on that month or so of activities leading up to JPII’s arrival–a gathering at an enormous school gymnasium, meeting with other kids my age from different schools, all of us from different backgrounds. Welcoming the delegates (I remember our parish being host to mostly Canadian youth pilgrims) when they arrived. Learning the official WYD song and the hand gestures that went with it. Painting posters (I remember staying up late for this one). And of course, making that trip to Luneta, finding a spot to literally camp out, and wait for the pope to arrive.

It was mostly nice.

One can’t expect crowding 5 million people into roughly 10 hectares to be easy. With Manila’s tropical climate (which means hot and humid, more than you ever thought possible), squeezing in and marking your territory for the overnight stay is bound to get, well, dirty (not to mention sticky). It’s a tempting thought to remember World Youth Day as young people hugging and loving each other in the name of Christ and His Church. But really, in the state (and smell) we were in, no one felt like hugging anyone.

And then, he came.

We really didn’t expect the popemobile to pass our way. They had already cleared a central path which was assumed by most (us included) to be the route kept free for him. Understandably, that area was the most crowded with delegates, hoping to get a glimpse of his Holiness. We were happy just to have found any spot, even if we didn’t really get a view of anything. So we were surprised when we heard people just a few meters away from us cheering and waving. What? Where?

Oh, there. THERE!!

“John Paul two! We love you! JOHN PAUL TWO! WE LOVE YOU!!”

I grabbed whatever I could get my hands on (it was a face towel, I didn’t have a handkerchief on me), and started waving it like crazy. As the popemobile slowly made its way in front of us, I saw the gentlest, kindest, sweetest face. And just like that, it didn’t matter that I badly needed a shower. I saw the Holy Father, and he had come all this way to see me, to tell me that I mattered to him, that I mattered to the Church.

Every Christian shares in the mission of Christ in a unique and personal way. Bishops, priests and deacons share in Christ’s mission through the ordained ministry. Men and women Religious share in it through the spousal love manifested in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. The Christian laity share in Christ’s mission: the fathers and mothers of families, old people, young people and children; simple people and those who are highly educated; people who till the soil, factory workers, engineers, technicians, doctors, nurses and healthcare personnel. Christ’s mission is shared by teachers, by men and women in the legal professions, and those who serve in public life. Writers, people who work in the theater and cinema and the media, artists, musicians, sculptors and painters – all have a part in this mission, part in the messianic mission of Jesus Christ. In this mission there is a role for university professors, scientists, specialists in every field, and people in the world of culture. In Christ’s mission a part belongs to you, the citizens of the Philippines and people of the Far East: Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Indians; Christians from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific; Christians from the Middle East, Europe and Africa, the Americas. Every baptized person has a part in Christ’s mission, in the Church and through the Church. And this participation in Christ’s mission constitutes the Church. That is the Church: a living participation in Christ’s mission! Do you all understand that? (From the Homily of Bl. John Paul II during the Final Mass of WYD in Manila, January 15, 1995)

As a high school student, I listened to these words filled with so much hope, so much fire within me. Yes, I share in this mission! I will continue on with my education, study to become a doctor, and fulfill my part of Christ’s mission, in and through the Church. I dreamed as a 16-year-old would–with boundless energy and limitless possibilities.

But did I, do I, really understand that?

Do I understand that even if I don’t get sent out into missions, I am still a missionary–teaching the Gospel, living the Gospel? Do I grasp the truth that even if I am not celibate, I am still called to a life of chastity and holiness? Do I comprehend that my vocation as a wife and mother is more than just fulfilling daily duties and managing expectations, but involves doing it all for the greater glory of God?

That vocation is more than just terminology–it is a way of life. I may be doing the same things other moms might be doing, but the very fact that I consciously offer my daily work to Christ, for the advancement of His kingdom, then that should spell the difference. That I, living out my vocation, can make a difference.

Jesus did not say: “if you would like to, if you have the time”, but: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you; but it is a command that is born not from a desire for domination or power but from the force of love, from the fact that Jesus first came into our midst and gave us, not a part of himself, but the whole of himself, he gave his life in order to save us and to show us the love and mercy of God.

Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you! May Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, always accompany you with  her tenderness: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. Amen. (From the Homily of Pope Francis during the Final Mass of WYD 2013, Rio de Janeiro)

Be like the mustard seed. Be like the yeast (Matthew 13:13-35). And go make a difference.


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