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:
“(Evangelization is also) a wordless witness, through which we stir up irresistible questions in the hearts and minds of those who see how we live.” (translation of EN #21.)
I had always struggled to understand how Catholics evangelize. I think I was confused between evangelization and proselytizing, which I saw so much of in the community where I lived. This kind of evangelization was different. We live lives changed by Christ. When people see how we live, they want to know, where do you get your peace from? Where do you get your strength? We answer by pointing to Christ.
I was experiencing this evangelization at the same time that I saw it on the wall. I met so many pilgrims, who shared faith so willingly and with such enthusiasm. I saw hearts changed by an encounter with Christ.
Pilgrims from throughout the world are gathering for World Youth Day in Krakow. All of us are invited to join in the gathering, wherever we are, through prayer and in solidarity with the community gathered for the event. I hope and pray that during these days Christ’s abundant presence is recognized and shared. I hope that World Youth Day is the start of a new moment of profound grace, mercy and love in the lives of those gathered. I hope that this is a renewal of our efforts of evangelizing youth and their families. I hope that through our lives and our actions, people will see Christ. With and without words, I pray that we are strong enough to be witnesses.
History of World Youth Day
Schedule for World Youth Day 2016