By Justin Stroh
Recently, I made a pilgrimage to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day with Pope Benedict XVI.
WYD is one of those intense experiences that requires every fiber of a person’s existence. There are amazing joys and unmet expectations, 110-degree heat and subway sing-alongs, 100 acquaintances in a day and intimate sharing about the meaning of life.
This was my seventh WYD, and I knew what I was getting myself into; yet, I did not know what God was going to surprise me with. This, I now realize, is the path of a Catholic pilgrim — having a plan, setting out and being surprised by God. Here, I recount some of my favorite divine surprises:
• I have had the honor of journeying with youth who where struggling with their faith and others who were firm.
• I have seen teens that did not believe in God transformed by the witness of the saints buried for centuries.
• I have encountered tour guides who thought they were guiding tourists and later realized that God had sent these youth to witness to them.
• I have sat next to priests who have gained deeper insights from an aging pontiff into how to relate with teens.
• I have watched multitudes singing in joy and cheering in the rain.
• I have cried with millions enjoying the greatest fireworks display, a gift from a blessed pope.
• I have venerated a cross carried by hundreds of thousands of youth throughout the world.
• I have stood in a mob for 30 minutes just to fill my bottle with water.
• I have chatted with cardinals who happened to be strolling among the thousands.
• I have exhaled as much as I can to make room for one more pilgrim in a subway car.
• I have recommitted my life to Christ because of the faith of thousands and strong words from the pope.
• I have laughed with a hundred people who do not speak my language.
• I have sung to the One Father in heaven in one language with millions.
• I have seen the flags of the nations of the world waving for the vicar of Christ.
• I have been entrusted with the task to make the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ known to the world by the successor of Peter.
Here is what the pope told me and the other million pilgrims:
“He [Jesus] wants you to be the apostles of the 21st century and the messengers of his joy. . . . He sends you out to be his witnesses, courageous and without anxiety, authentic and credible! Do not be afraid to be Catholic, and to be witnesses to those around you in simplicity and sincerity! . . . You have met Jesus Christ! You will be swimming against the tide in a society with a relativistic culture, which wishes neither to seek nor hold on to the truth. But it was for this moment in history, with its great challenges and opportunities, that the Lord sent you, so that, through your faith, the Good News of Jesus might continue to resound throughout the earth.”
I have now passed it on to you. What will you do to seek God and become more firm in your Catholic faith?
Justin Stroh is an evangelizer, speaker and musician from Divine Mercy in Faribault. Find out more at http://justinstroh.webs.com.