World Youth Day/ Sandra Kaltoum

Undoubtedly, the most vulnerable group in our society today is youth. Today’s youth are exposed to many social pressures that may influence and mould their identity. In recognition of this the late Pope John Paul II started the World Youth Day (WYD) initiative in an effort to enlighten young people about the importance of spirituality and the relevance of religion in the 21st century. The youth are the future of the church and it is necessary that they be grounded. As the WYD theme says: “We must be planted and built up, firm in the faith”.
My WYD experience is one I am sure to remember. The power of the experience is overwhelming and transports one to a deeper spiritual realm. In Madrid, Spain, two million people from across the world joined together before Pope Benedict XVI to profess their faith and pray together. 42 degree heat could not deter the crowds. On the Thursday, the Pope’s first blessing was due. Everybody gathered, chanting and praying, asking God to bless them through the Pope’s arrival.
Our pilgrimage was a tour through France, Portugal and Spain, stopping at many religious sites and opening our hearts to the will of God in our life. There are a few sites that remain particularly prevalent in my memory: Lourdes, Fatima and, of course the grounds of the WYD Vigil in Madrid.
Lourdes: There is a beautiful message inscribed on the taps in Lourdes: “Wash your face and cleanse your soul”. The sentiment stands out because it transcends a physical explanation of religion and encourages a deeper self-examination. The quote teaches that religion is about more than a combination of acts, religion is about the conscience and the decisions we make every day. The Lourdes baths present an opportunity for healing. There were many people with disabilities that visit Lourdes in the hope that they will be healed. A friend of mine said that when you come out of the baths you feel “ready”. You’re not sure what you’re ready for but whatever God asks of you, you will do. You get a feeling of spiritual healing as though the opportunities for growth and good are constantly renewable and endless.
Fatima: We arrived in Fatima at about 9pm. It was still not dark yet. At about 9:30pm, when it does get dark, there is a procession on the grounds of the apparition. There were so many people faithfully holding candles and praying for the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima. I was particularly moved by the faithfulness and love of the people gathered around us. There were people everywhere trying to get to the front of the procession to kiss Our Lady. I had never seen such a strong desire to be close to God. I have often, at concerts for famous popular culture bands, seen people pushing to touch the hand of their favourite celebrity but this was the first time I had seen people pushing, with the same energy, to kiss a statue of Our Lady. It clearly demonstrates the continuing relevance and influence of faith.
Madrid: Madrid was extremely hot. There were lines to get anywhere during WYD and yet people did not complain. Most people standing in the line next you instantly became your friend and bonded with you over common ground: the love of God. People everywhere were living out the mysteries of faith and promoting the joys of religion. The Pope’s message is one that will live on: Pope Benedict the XVI reminded all the youth present that they were called to reflect God’s love, be morally strong and stay “firm in the faith”. The message was inspiring and reinforced that the youth of today are the future of our church tomorrow.



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