World Youth Day begins January 22nd in Panama City. In 1993, while I was Director of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I traveled with 800 youth and adults to World Youth Day in Denver. This was the first time that World Youth Day was held in a site that had not already been recognized as a holy shrine or place of pilgrimage. The planners for the event invited pilgrims to consider that the youth who are gathering are themselves a reflection of God's image; we were told that our encounter with each other as pilgrims seeking Christ will be an encounter with holiness.
We embarked with this mission in our hearts on our journey from Los Angeles, across the desert, through Arizona and New Mexico. The attached icon for our Our Lady of the Sandias was our guiding image as we traveled through the Sandia mountains. The team prayed that we would be carried by Mary to encounter Christ's presence on our journey. We prayed that Mary would accompany us.
The call of young people today makes me hopeful.Many headlines focus on youth who are walking away from faith. I feel privileged to see and know young people who say "yes" to faith. These youth put their gifts and their energy at the service of ministry. They serve the poor. They lead their peers in ministry. They witness to their faith. When I hear their stories of how they came to believe, they speak about encounters with Christ's love. One young woman spoke about "touching the Body of Christ" when working in the soup kitchen. A young man talked about what it meant to be a Eucharistic minister and experience the power of God's love as he distributed Eucharist. A young adult spoke of the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and how she felt new again. Behind these encounters were adults and peers who walked with these young people to help them meet Christ, to help them to say "yes."
In the documents of the recent Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, we are reminded of our call to walk with youth and take care of young people:
"Taking care of young people is not an optional task for the Church, but an integral part of her vocation and mission in history." - Instrumentum Laboris 2018, # 1
This month, as World Youth Day returns to this hemisphere, let us hold all of the pilgrims in prayer. Let us pray that those who travel to Panama, and those who participate in World Youth Day from their homes, will experience Mary carrying them to the arms of Christ who stands waiting for us. Let us pray that we will be strengthened to walk with young people, care for them, and join with Mary in carrying them to Christ.
World Youth Day USA Prayer
God our Father, be with us on our pilgrim journey of faith. Give us the grace and courage to step forward in faith and hope on the road ahead.
Open our eyes to see your face in all those we encounter. Open our ears to hear your voice in those who are often ignored. Open our hearts that we might be faithful disciples of mercy and truth.
Transform us. Empower us to give of ourselves to the poor; to welcome the lost; to forgive those who hurt us; to comfort those who suffer and are marginalized.
Bless those who travel from the United States of America to Panamá, to join the universal Church for World Youth Day. Bless, too, those who celebrate stateside, united in faith and joy.
Like the disciples who journeyed up the mountain to witness the Transfiguration, may this experience be an encounter that strengthens us for our work in the world.
Through the intercession of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, patroness of our nation, may we be worthy witnesses of our faith, humble representatives of our country, and inspired missionaries bringing peace, hope, and mercy into our communities.
We ask all this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
St. José Sánchez del Rio, pray for us. St. Juan Diego, pray for us. Bl. Sor María Romero Meneses, pray for us. St. John Bosco, pray for us. Bl. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, pray for us. St. Martin de Porres, pray for us. St. Rose of Lima, pray for us.
St. James the Apostle, patron of pilgrim travelers, pray for us.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha, young faithful witness from our native land, pray for us.
St. Therese of Lisieux, patroness of missionaries, advocate for youth, pray for us.
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, patron of young adults, man of the beatitudes, pray for us.
St. John Paul II, founder and patron of World Youth Day, pray for us.