Picture this: you're sweaty, sticky, hungry, thirsty, exhausted and packed tight into a metro car with so many other sweaty people that you can no longer discern what body odor belongs to you. And yet, despite the fact that every single person in that metro car should hate each other for the extreme violation of personal space, all you can sense is joy and all you can hear is “¡Esta es la juventud del Papa, esta es la juventud del Papa!” This is the youth of the Pope. This is rejoicing. This is what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like.
Last summer I was given the opportunity of a lifetime when I travelled to Europe for World Youth Day 2011. I spent 10 days surrounded by the incredible priests, seminarians, Franciscan brothers and sisters, and bishop of my diocese as we encountered Catholic youth from every reach of the Earth. Our journey began in the peaceful village of Lourdes where a sickly peasant girl (St. Bernadette Soubirous) had a vision of an astoundingly beautiful lady (the Mother of God) that changed the world. From there we moved on to Spain where we made short stops in Burgos and Loyola until we finally made it to the heart of the worldwide celebration—Madrid.
I’ll never forget roaming the streets of Madrid on that first night. We met Jesus everywhere we went. From Plaza de Cibeles to Plaza Mayor we witnessed thousands upon thousands of Catholic youth parading through the streets shouting out the Lord’s name in great exclamations of joy. Chants of His love rang in the air in every imaginable language all over this secular city. And thankfully, we had a song of our own to add to the chorus of praise. In preparation for our pilgrimage Father Drew Curry wrote a song entitled “Viva Cristo Rey.” With a title that proudly proclaims the Kingship of Christ, the song reverberates with the delight that comes with partaking in such a journey.
One of the hallmarks of WYD is trading items with pilgrims from around the world. They suggest bringing small trinkets (such as pins, flags, bracelets, etc.) that are representative of your country. I ended up with keepsakes from Brazil, Taiwan, Australia, France, and more. People often ask me how we were able to trade and communicate with people from all over the world who didn’t speak a word of English. As I look back on the countless of interactions we shared with Catholics from around the globe I see that language was really unnecessary.
It’s difficult to explain, but we were connected by a common faith that somehow allowed us to communicate. It was as if everyone spoke the same language, a language of love. It didn’t matter that we looked different, ate different foods, had different customs, or worshipped in different languages because we had one thing, the most important thing, that united us—a love for the King. We were all there out of a passionate love for Jesus Christ and a fervent dedication to his Holy Church. As children of His Kingdom our nationalities were irrelevant. We were all His subjects, there to praise only Him.
WYD changed my life in more ways than one. It instilled a fire within me for Christ and Catholicism that brightly burns to this day. But above all I was given the chance to experience the universality of our majestic Church firsthand. On this Solemnity of Christ the King I am reminded of the ineffable jubilee that reigned in the hearts of the faithful throughout WYD, much like the way our King reigns in our lives—with joy.