Over 31 years ago, in April 1985, I was part of a group of fifteen youth ministers from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles who traveled to Rome for the first World Youth Day convened by Saint John Paul II. There were not very many present from the United States; I would estimate there were less than 300. We had an amazing adventure staying at a convent, walking into Rome each day or taking the bus. I discovered pizza rustica, with toppings that included a sliced hard-boiled egg and pancetta. More importantly, I discovered the youth center that the Pope created for the event. It was created from space behind the columns of the plaza in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral. It had a simple, beautiful chapel with an altar personally donated by the Holy Father and a replica of the Cross of San Damiano, from the Chapel where St. Francis of Assisi was told to “rebuild my Church.” The words of Evangeli Nuntiandi were written by hand on newsprint in five languages and posted throughout the room next to the chapel. I experienced this document for the first time by reading it and talking with other pilgrims. I will never forget reading the words of Pope Paul VI that describe Evangelization:
Imagine what it must have been like being Mary and Joseph and parenting the young Jesus. Imagine that you are a cousin of Jesus and you know his true identity even when you are both children. Imagine that you are a Roman soldier charged with killing anyone who is a threat to the Roman Empire and King Herod. How would you respond?