Sunday, January 27, 2019

World Youth Day 2019: Far Away, Yet Close to Me

This past week, young people from all over the world met with Pope Francis for the "World Youth Day" festival in Panama (Jornada Mundial de la Juventud in Spanish, hence the "JMJ" logo). I was able to follow the progress of the events, not only from news reports, television, and live streaming, but also in a more particular way through the Instagram Stories posted by people I know who attended the events.

Those brief personal "reports" from friends in Panama were precious things. They were new channels through which the grace of the "JMJ" extended itself to distant places, including my "place" thousands of miles away physically but close in the heart and soul.

It also meant even more to me to follow this year's JMJ events, since they coincided with the twentieth anniversary of my first pilgrimage to Mexico and my first visit to Latin America in January of 1999. The occasion of that trip was also a papal visit of Saint John Paul II. Although it was not World Youth Day, John Paul's itinerary included two large public events that I was able to attend. The spirit of Panama this past week, with its distinctive Hispanic openheartedness and fervor, brought back memories of those days. 

Youth festival pilgrims, streamed via Vatican Media.
And then, of course, I will always love the WYD gatherings because of my own experience of the festival (again with John Paul II, who founded it) all the way back in 1993. I know how great the experience can be for young people, and the grace that works so deeply in these days.

Finally, the joy was more personal for me because of the presence and involvement of a number of my young friends who are dedicated to "Música Católica"—an emerging movement of outstanding Hispanic Catholic Christian artists who make contemporary Praise and Worship music (very beautiful, stirring, prayerful music) for appropriate Catholic settings. Through Instagram stories and messages, I was able to communicate with some of them during the week, learn of their experiences, offer prayer and encouragement, and receive the assurance of their prayers. It was a very special time of living the mysterious unity we share as brothers and sisters and "members of Christ's body," a unity that bridges physical differences, that transcends nations and cultures even as it enriches them and enables us to share them with mutual appreciation.

To my beautiful friends from Argentina, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and many other places in Latin America: "¡Muchos Gracias!" I am learning to love the Spanish language (and to understand more, with less help from Google); and I am also learning to love (though I can't understand it😉) "whatever-that-language-is" that people from Buenos Aires speak (😉😉--just joking, jaja). It's the very distinctive Porteño "accent"...

As long as I'm on the topic of "people from Buenos Aires," the most famous of all the Porteños was in Panama to give of himself to young people, encourage young and old alike, and above all to preach the Gospel. Here are some very moving words (in Vatican trans. English) of Pope Francis, from last night's vigil:

Papa Francisco streaming to my screen via Vatican Media.

"The life that Jesus gives us is a love story, a life history that wants to blend with ours and sink roots in the soil of our own lives. 

"That life is not salvation up 'in the cloud' and waiting to be downloaded, a new 'app' to be discovered, or a technique of mental self-improvement. Still, less is it a 'tutorial' for finding out the latest news. The salvation the Lord offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us. 

"The Lord comes there to sow and to be sown. He is the first to say 'yes' to our lives and our history, and he wants us to say 'yes' along with him.

"Saying 'yes' to the Lord means preparing to embrace life as it comes, with all its fragility, its simplicity, and often enough too, with its conflicts and annoyances.... It means embracing our country, our families and our friends as they are, with all their weak points and their flaws. 

"Embracing life is also seen in accepting things that are not perfect, pure or 'distilled,' yet no less worthy of love. Is a disabled or frail person not worthy of love? Is a person who happens to be a foreigner, a person who made a mistake, a person ill or in prison, not worthy of love? We know what Jesus did: he embraced the leper, the blind man, the paralytic, the Pharisee and the sinner. He embraced the thief on the cross and even embraced and forgave those who crucified him.

"Why did he do this? Because only what is loved can be saved. Only what is embraced can be transformed. 

"The Lord’s love is greater than all our problems, frailties and flaws. Yet it is precisely through our problems, frailties and flaws that he wants to write this love story. He embraced the prodigal son, he embraced Peter after his denials and he always embraces us whenever we fall: he helps us to get up and get back on our feet. Because the worst fall, the fall that can ruin our lives, is to remain down and not allow ourselves to be helped up.

"How hard it is at times to understand God’s love! But what a gift it is to know that we have a Father who embraces us despite all our imperfections!"