Watching a replay of last weekend's beatification brought back so many memories of how Pope John Paul II influenced my growing up. Even as a small child, I knew he was important and holy. I read was determined to see such an historically significant man in person. (Yep, I was a nerd even then.) So nine years ago I set out with my BFF Stella on a Youth Apostles-led trip to World Youth Day in Toronto.
Looking back, my Dad recently commented "I can't believe we let you go off to a foreign country like that when you were 17." At the time, I couldn't believe it either. It was the longest and furthest I had ever been away from home. It was my first time using a passport, hiking for miles, camping outside, and conversing with nuns or people who didn't know English as a first language. That trip was life-changing on so many levels, particularly the way God decided it was time for me to address the depression and scrupulosity that had plagued my adolescence. On the way to see JPII, I finally confessed my problems to some people I trusted and got some wise, loving advice in return.
Of course I got to achieve my goal of seeing JPII "live and in person." I was perched on some college guy's shoulders watching the Popemobile drive past, taking pictures with the four cameras people had handed to me. After the Holy Father was gone and the crowd started to move towards his speech, the excitement of what happened hit me like a ton of bricks. The other girls and I just started bawling, joyful tears from deep in my gut like I'd never cried before.
|Part of my post-WYD photo collage.|
Dear friends, the aged Pope, full of years but still young at heart, answers your youthful desire for happiness with words that are not his own. They are words that rang out two thousand years ago. Words that we have heard again tonight: "Blessed are they ..." The key word in Jesus’ teaching is a proclamation of joy: "Blessed are they ..."So much has changed in the nine years since I heard JPII say those words. Back in 2002 the Balkans still made headlines. The wounds of 9/11 were still fresh and the Church's sex-abuse scandals were just coming into the public eye. JPII"s words at WYD addressed both. Today Americans are still facing the threat of terrorism and the tragedy of priests' sins, and Cold-War related violence is a distant memory..
Young people listening to me, answer the Lord with strong and generous hearts! He is counting on you. Never forget: Christ needs you to carry out his plan of salvation! Christ needs your youth and your generous enthusiasm to make his proclamation of joy resound in the new millennium. Answer his call by placing your lives at his service in your brothers and sisters! Trust Christ, because he trusts you.
As for me, I'm not 17 anymore. I've been away from my parents' home further and longer still, settling elsewhere for months at a time. I'm still searching to belong to something bigger - there has to be more to life than just building my resume and paying the bills for the next forty years of my life. The Holy Father's call for joyful dedication to the gospel rings truer today than it ever did.
Blessed Pope John Paul II, please keep praying for us.