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Deacon-structing WYD: From Disciples to Apostles

Last week we saw how important Saints are, not just to WYD, but also to living our Faith.

In 2005 World Youth Day went back to Europe, to Cologne, Germany. This was Pope Benedict’s first World Youth Day. By now, WYDs are an establishment. For me Toronto was very much the WYD that brought it all together. The service component was the key ingredient, but something was missing.

In Toronto we also added something else. Traditionally the Saturday night Vigil was a celebration, a rally, an opportunity for the young people to be with the Holy Father. In Toronto we kept this idea, but made the core of the celebration Evening Prayer. I don’t know about you, but before this, I had never even heard of Evening Prayer. There is so much about our Faith that we don’t know. How many of us don’t know about these “prayers of the Church?” Why are these prayers not taught in Catholic Schools? But I digress…

In Cologne, they kept the Vigil as Evening Prayer, but added Adoration. Of course, this made sense because the theme for that WYD was “We have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2). But it also makes sense because that is the real reason why we gather: to adore. That’s why we go and do service: to adore. Worship is the reason why we respond to the call to being Saints.

wyd08pilgrimsIn the last three WYDs, Sydney 2008, Madrid 2011 and Rio 2013, all these components came together beautifully. We traveled as pilgrims, together with Mary and the Saints, under the Cross, in a spirit of reconciliation and service to meet with the Holy Father, the institutional Church, to learn about our Faith, to connect with and celebrate our Faith and to worship. These last three WYDs included adoration as part of the Vigil with the Holy Father. In Krakow it will be the same.

It is now 14 years after World Youth Day came to Toronto. It is 32 years since that very first WYD in Rome when Pope John Paul II entrusted the Cross to the youth of the world. And three years ago hundreds of thousands descended upon Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro to go and make disciples of all nations. So many young people who, over the years have been simply saying yes to being saints.

Being a saint is not hard. Being a saint doesn’t mean that you don’t make mistakes or that you don’t sin. It doesn’t mean you have to be a nun or a priest or you have to found a religious congregation. Being a saint simply means following Jesus, trying to get to heaven and helping others make it to heaven. Jesus already told us how to do that: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to those who are thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison. And pray. This is something that you and I can do very easily. And if we do, or try to live this way, we will realise that we are no longer just disciples who merely follow Jesus, but apostles whom Jesus sends.

This is what happens at WYD – one arrives as a disciple and having a personal encounter with Christ, we return home sent, as apostles – to share the experience with our families, our friends and all those whom we encounter on a daily basis.

But the good news is that we don’t have to go to a WYD to have a personal encounter with Christ. You didn’t need to go to Sydney in order to “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” and be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8) . You didn’t need to go to Madrid in 2011 to be “rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf Col 2:7) and you don’t need to go to Krakow this summer in order to experience God’s Mercy and share that Mercy with others. This is something that all of us can do right here at home.

You may not be able to go to WYD, but are you willing to let Jesus call you to be an apostle?

Are you willing to live as a saint?

Do not be afraid!

Photos WYD08/Getty Images

Deacon-strucitng WYD: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

From Kingston to Krakow: First Update

Our friends from the Archdiocese of Kingston are arrived safe in Krakow! Here is an update on their WYD Pilgrimage so far! Let’s continue to pray for them and for all the WYD pilgrims.











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Photo credits: Nadia Gundert










WYD – Youth Festival Update


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Kraków, PolandJuly 21, 2016 –  The Youth Festival for World Youth Day Krakow 2016 aims to unite youth from around the world through entertainment, cultural development and spiritual formation. It will last four days, from July 26 to 29, consisting of various events spread throughout the city.

The Youth Festival is a program of 250 varying events, including art expositions, concerts, sporting events, competitions of different types, and more.

Copa Catolica, the Youth Festival’s largest event, is a soccer tournament in which teams from all over Europe, North America, Central America, South America and Africa will be playing against each other in friendly matches. It will be held from July 26 to 27 at the Com-Com Zone Development Center. On the second day of the Youth Festival, there will be street ball and breakdancing competitions, finishing the day off with the Copa Catolica finals at 20:00 (CEST).

In order to help the youth discover their calling, and with spiritual formation in general, a Vocational Center, “Quo Vadis?”, will be located at Kraków Stadium during the entirety of the Youth Festival. There will be a series of presentations hosted there, such as, “How to live life fully even after a rough beginning,” “Daring to spiritually explore and freely choose,” and “Youth taking action to build a just and peaceful world,” featuring living testimonials in various languages.

The Youth Festival has also prepared a series of lectures, an initiative called Café FM, which will be held at the universities throughout Kraków from July 26 to 27. Lectures will address a range of topics, such as, meditation, social issues, testing one’s faith, etc.

There will also be smaller events – concerts, art expositions featuring local artists and artists from around the globe, etc.  – held in various locations. For example, artist Eugeniusz Mucha, will exhibit his post-war artwork portraying strong religious values; French artist Julian Faux’s heart-shaped mosaic will be on display, a compilation of pilgrim handprints he collected. Last, the Global Catholic Movement will host a Night of Ecology in Krowoderski Park.

The Youth Festival events will be held all throughout the city, but its primary locations are: B?onie Park, Kraków Stadium, the Com Com Zone Development Center and Kraków’s main Universities – AGH, Jagiellonian University and Academia Ignatianum.

Photo credit: World Youth Day

WYD 2016: A public enactment of much needed mercy


The recent displays of merciless violence in France and the United States have increased social and political tensions and struck fear into ordinary citizens. Despite the flood of energy and resources into public security measures, unpredictable attacks are becoming more common. Is this the world we now live in?

Against this backdrop World Youth Day Krakow is set to begin next week. It’s difficult to ignore at least the possibility of a security breach as more than a million people gather to celebrate with Pope Francis. But there is an even greater risk for the Church to ponder: the absence of such a global witness to unity and fraternity.

This World Youth Day is infused with the theme of mercy: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” from the Gospel of Matthew. Krakow is the city of mercy, the home of Saint Faustina, the “prophet of mercy”, and Saint John Paul II, the “apostle of mercy.” The city will welcome Pope Francis, now considered the “pope of mercy” for his closeness to those on the margins and his relentless insistence on the absolute and unconditional mercy of God toward all people.

In preparing for our coverage of World Youth Day Krakow, I spent some time reading about mercy in the Gospels and in the Church’s long tradition. And I found that mercy has a singular, foundational significance for Christianity. I realized that what Francis, John Paul and Faustina have said about mercy, each in their own way, is essentially the same thing. In John Paul’s words, mercy is, “the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer.”

That statement comes from his 1980 encyclical dedicated entirely to the topic of mercy, Dives in Misericordia. Devotees of now-Saint John Paul have pointed out that this encyclical resembles theologically Saint Faustina’s famous diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul. In fact, it was John Paul who, as pope, promoted Faustina’s cause and devotion to the Divine Mercy, eventually canonizing Poland’s most beloved nun in 2000. Since then Divine Mercy has become the fastest growing devotion in the Catholic Church.


When Pope Francis burst onto the scene in 2013, we all wondered what the leitmotif of his pontificate would be. The immediate signs pointed to something new for the modern papacy, something revolutionary. Clearly he wanted to bring the poor and those on the peripheries back into the center of the Church’s life. He spoke about the “globalization of indifference” and the need for structural and spiritual reform in the Vatican’s bureaucracy. But more than three years later, if we were to ask what the central theme of Francis’ pontificate is, who could refute the argument for mercy, “the greatest of all the virtues,” as Francis calls it?

What is somewhat perplexing about this whole development is the paradox at the center of it. It has to do with this lingering question of continuity and discontinuity around Francis. How is it that we have a Pope who, on the one hand, is often labelled a deviant from the pontifical path of his predecessors—especially John Paul and Benedict—and on the other hand, is preaching precisely the same foundational message of mercy that was at the heart of John Paul’s life and pontificate?

It’s not as if mercy were some peripheral theme of John Paul’s and Francis’ ministries. On the contrary, mercy is at the core of both of them. There must be something missing in that analysis. And, as is often the case, a biblical precedence can shed some light on the matter.

Both John Paul (in Dives in Misericordia) and Francis (in Misericordiae Vultus) astutely pointed out that the concept of mercy is integral to the relationship between God and the Jewish people articulated in the Old Testament. And in that historical framework Jesus arrived, “on ground already prepared,” as John Paul put it (DM, 4). But, the Pope continued, Christ’s mercy is simultaneously “simpler and more profound.” (DM, 5) After a penetrating exegesis of the parable of the Prodigal Son, John Paul concluded that:

“The true and proper meaning of mercy does not consist only in looking, however penetratingly and compassionately, at moral, physical or material evil: mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man.” (DM, 6)

This “more profound” articulation of mercy experienced in Jesus is not only difficult to grasp, but can be unsettling. It subverts our human conception of justice, often understood in a legalistic sense based on the OT law and image of God as “judge”. Both John Paul and Francis address this issue directly. Francis writes:

“For his part, Jesus speaks several times of the importance of faith over and above the observance of the law. It is in this sense that we must understand his words when, reclining at table with Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners, he says to the Pharisees raising objections to him, “Go and learn the meaning of ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9:13). Faced with a vision of justice as the mere observance of the law that judges people simply by dividing them into two groups—the just and sinners—Jesus is bent on revealing the great gift of mercy that searches out sinners and offers them pardon and salvation. One can see why, on the basis of such a liberating vision of mercy as a source of new life, Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees and the other teachers of the law.” (MV, 20)

Though John Paul did not write so candidly on the subject, he drew the same conclusion, namely that, “The primacy and superiority of love vis-à-vis justice—this is the mark of the whole of revelation—are revealed precisely through mercy.” (DM, 4)


The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were people of the law; they were religiously formed and considered among the guardians of the tradition. From that tradition they knew God as “merciful.” Still, the “liberating vision of mercy” that Jesus embodied was deemed unorthodox, even heretical. Such was the primacy and potency of mercy revealed in Jesus’ life and teaching. His public displays of mercy changed individual lives and eventually the whole world. Think of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15)—a favorite of John Paul II—or the woman caught in adultery (John 8). Think of the story of the sinful women who washed the feet of Jesus in Simon the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7). Think of Jesus’ instantaneous promise of eternal salvation to the criminal crucified next to him (Luke 23). Jesus never tempered his mercy in public for fear of confusion or undermining God’s established laws.  His mercy was the fulfillment of the whole of the law.

I remember one of the press briefings during the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family when Mark Coleridge, a very astute, pastoral bishop from Brisbane, Australia, spoke about practicing mercy in the Church. He made the argument that the old distinction of speaking the truth in public but practicing mercy in private no longer works:

“I think what we need now—and this is what I’d like to see emerge from this synod—are public enactments of mercy, not just doing mercy in private behind closed doors or in a confessional. And it’s the sort of public enactment of mercy that we see I think in Pope Francis, who in a sense is modelling what the whole church has to ponder. But when you’ve been used to centuries of thinking about “mercy in private, truth in public,” it’s not always easy to even imagine what the public enactment of mercy might look like. And when you do see it, it can even be unsettling.”

Ahead of World Youth Day Krakow, where mercy will be discussed, prayed for, reflected upon, and put into practice, it’s worth recalling the “simple yet profound” development in our understanding of mercy that Jesus embodied.  In his day, the old understanding of mercy was not enough.  In our time, what’s needed are public enactments that unequivocally communicate the absolute mercy of God for people in their particular circumstances, whatever they may be.

For his part, Pope Francis promised to do one public act of mercy every month during the Year of Mercy, and he’s encouraged all Catholics to do the same. The World Youth Day in Krakow is poised to be the grandest of these public acts of mercy. It’s not so much what will be done as what will be seen: “a mosaic of different faces, from many races, languages, peoples and cultures, but all united in the name of Jesus, who is the Face of Mercy,” as Francis called it. In light of all the division, hatred and violence manifesting itself around the globe, such an authentic mosaic is sorely needed. In spite of everything, the young people at World Youth Day will take a stand for humanity and proclaim that the name of God is mercy.


In the run-up to World Youth Day Krakow, Sebastian has been working on a story on mercy in the modern papacy entitled, “Mercy in Continuity.” You can watch it as part of S+L’s daily show World Youth Day Central, airing July 25-30 at 7:00pm ET. 

Photos courtesy of Bill Wittman and Catholic News Service

Let’s Go Deeper

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Written by Katie VanLeeuwen

Entering any new situation comes with a certain amount of anxiety for most people. Picture yourself as a young person walking into a crowded cafeteria. The first thing you do is look around to see if there is anyone you know, right? If there are no familiar faces then you pick a random spot to sit. Next you generally go through some awkward introductions, and some safe superficial small talk. When I applied to go to World Youth Day as a missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach, my initial thought was that it would be similar to the cafeteria experience, except this “cafeteria” would have hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.

Over the past couple of days, while going through orientation with my mission team mates, I’ve realized that this is not necessarily the case. A couple of days ago we were strangers, but now we are already very well connected. Right from the start we all knew that we wanted to get to know each other. At meals we would always be sitting with different people and I’ve really appreciated that acceptance from everyone.

One day at breakfast I found myself sitting in front of someone I hadn’t met yet. There were a few moments of silence while I was tempted just to focus on my meal or to listen to another conversation since I thought that maybe she hadn’t said anything yet because she didn’t want to talk. Finally I made up my mind to say something, and that’s all it took. By the time our conversation ended we had talked about the big life decisions we were discerning, the things we were nervous about or struggled with as missionaries, and the points in some of the talks that had touched us so far. It was so refreshing to be completely open and vulnerable with someone. In those moments before we spoke I was wondering what she thought of me, but those thoughts left as soon as we began sharing. I have discovered a new level of forming connections. A bit of small talk covering the weather, our sleep, and the food selection would definitely not have had the same effect.

Shared experience is a powerful connector. As missionaries, we share the background of our faith and evangelization goals. We also have all gone through the difficult process of figuring out what to pack. Who knew that it could take so much time and consideration just to put a few things in a bag! Sharing these connection points has allowed us to skip some of the small talk stages and go deeper right away.

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When people ask me what I’m looking forward to most at World Youth Day, I’d have to say it would be those unexpected moments of connection and discovery, when you can feel the Holy Spirit leading a conversation. If there was ever an environment that could promote going deeper in conversations with strangers it would be at World Youth Day! The event itself brings us together geographically to a place where we can encounter each other, but I think it is sharing in such an intense experience that will bring us together spiritually to a mindset where we can have those deeper conversations. My hope is that the Holy Spirit will be able to work through these encounters between pilgrims. It would be amazing to help someone form a more personal relationship with Jesus.

Usually after a retreat or some type of powerful experience we tend to feel the spiritual high drop off as we go back to “normal” life. However, Fr. Raymond de Souza presents another way of thinking when he says that a pilgrimage experience is actually a greater sense of what life is supposed to be since it is closer to what we will experience in heaven. I’m hoping that after World Youth Day, we will be able to continue going deeper in conversations and skipping all of that “cafeteria talk”.


God created us for relationships with Him and with others, so I’m excited to see how He plans to use the common experience of World Youth Day to draw His universal church together in Krakow and beyond.


kKatie VanLeeuwen is a 20 year old missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach. She is a Prince Edward Islander with a love for lupins, red dirt roads, and beaches. She is currently studying biology and psychology, but in her spare time she also enjoys gardening and being creative in the kitchen.

Follow her on Instagram!



Photos: Katie VanLeeuwen

What is your interior disposition this World Youth Day?

“If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient. But I only look at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.” – St. Therese of Lisieux 


Written by Celine Diaz

In an ideal world, I would be entering World Youth Day in a super reflective state after months and months of contemplation. But the truth is, I’m far from that. Like many other pilgrims, I am so knee-deep in school and work responsibilities that finding time to breathe, let alone reflect, has been an immense challenge (kudos to those of you who are more mentally prepared for this pilgrimage than I am).

It seems to me that we are all entering World Youth Day in different states of life. Some of us are spiritually high, oozing with enthusiasm and excitement for the events that are about to unfold. Others are crawling to World Youth Day in a state of spiritual dryness, desperate for ‘living water’ to quench their thirst.

Despite whatever state we’re in or intentions we have, there seems to be a common thread that unites us all: an over-fixation on the past or the future. But this World Youth Day, I believe God is asking us for more: not only to entrust our past and future to Him, but to be fully present with Him now.

My hope and prayer for my World Youth Day experience is not just related to outcome, but rather interior disposition. It’s so fitting that today’s Gospel was about Martha and Mary. So far, leading up to this event, I have undeniably been a Martha – busy, distracted, fretting incessantly. But it’s not too late for me to return to the present and simply “sit at the Lord’s feet.”

I pray for the peace to have a still heart and the courage to let myself be exposed, vulnerable, and loved by God in my poverty. Despite the mayhem that is going on in and around me, despite all the unanswered questions that still linger in my head, despite the unresolved shards of brokenness – I pray for the grace to simply let God find me and love me here, to let Him meet me where I am, without hiding or shying away … That is my hope this World Youth Day.

Like I said earlier: we’re all going into World Youth Day with different dispositions. But one thing is for certain: God will meet us wherever we are. So let’s keep our eyes peeled, for we will find Him. Or rather, He will find us.

Hold nothing back. Bring everything to Him. Let’s shed our masks, ditch the facades, and dare to be honestwith ourselves, with others, and especially with God.

“When I look into the future, I am frightened. But why plunge into the future? Only the present moment is precious to me, as the future may never enter my soul at all. It is no longer in my power to change, correct, or add to the past; neither sages nor prophets do that. And so what the past has embraced, I must entrust to God.” – St. Faustina

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Celine Diaz is a 23 year-old student from Vancouver, BC, who is currently working as a Social Media Coordinator for the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division and a Communication Assistant for Simon Fraser University. For empowering, honest, and inspiring stuff, check out her personal blog at www.RealTalkBlogs.com and follow her on Twitter @celinedizz

Photo credit: http://darlingmagazine.org/be-still/

Pope Francis’ Video Message to Poland

Several days before his Apostolic Journey to Poland on the occasion of the XXXI World Youth Day, Pope Francis has sent a video in Italian to young people of Poland that was broadcast this evening at 8:00 p.m. across the Polish nation. Below is the English translation of the Holy Father’s Message that was sent from the Vatican to Poland.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The 31st World Youth Day is fast approaching. I look forward to meeting the young people from throughout the world gathered in Kraków and having the opportunity to meet the beloved Polish nation. My entire visit will be inspired by Mercy during this Jubilee Year, and by the grateful and blessed memory of Saint John Paul II, who instituted the World Youth Days and was the guide of the Polish people in its recent historic journey towards freedom.

Dear young people of Poland, I know that for some time now you have been preparing, especially with your prayers, for this great encounter in Kraków. I thank you heartily for everything that you have done, and for the love with which you have done it. Even now I embrace you and I bless you.

Dear young people from throughout Europe, Africa, America, Asia and Oceania! I also bless your countries, your hopes and your journey to Kraków, praying that it will be a pilgrimage of faith and fraternity. May the Lord Jesus grant you the grace to experience personally his words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7).

I am very anxious to meet you and to offer the world a new sign of harmony, from many races, languages, peoples and cultures, but all united in the name of Jesus, who is the Face of Mercy. 

I now turn to you, dear sons and daughters of the Polish nation! For me, it is a great gift of the Lord to visit you. You are a nation that throughout its history has experienced so many trials, some particularly difficult, and has persevered through the power of faith, upheld by the maternal hands of the Virgin Mary. I am certain that my pilgrimage to the shrine of Czestochowa will immerse me in this proven faith and do me so much good. I thank you for your prayers in preparation for my visit. I thank the bishops and priests, the men and women religious, and the lay faithful, especially families, to whom I will symbolically bring the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The moral and spiritual “health” of a nation is seen in its families. That is why Saint John Paul II showed such great concern for engaged couples, young married couples and families. Continue along this road!

Dear brothers and sisters, I send you this message as a pledge of my affection. Let us keep close to one another in prayer. I look forward to seeing you in Poland!


Europe X World Youth Day: Adventure, Pilgrimage, or Both?


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written by Risabella Roque

World Youth Day… In Europe…?! WITH THE POPE?!?! I’M IN.

Upon hearing the news two years ago that the next World Youth Day would be in Europe, my thoughts went immediately to my sister. For how many years had we dreamed of going on an epic tour of Europe! And for long had we yearned to experience a World Youth Day!?

Like many other Vancouver, BC pilgrims, I wanted to combine both dreams into one epic adventure. Europe, a foreign and exotic continent full of culture, languages, (and accents!) that I’ve fallen in love with time and time again. World Youth Day, the largest gathering of young people in the world! And even better, to be gathered altogether to celebrate the Catholic faith! I would be able to check both things off my bucket list in the summer of 2016!

Fast forward two years and I’m here! My younger sister, Ina, and I began our European tour (#EUROQUE) just over a week ago and it STILL hasn’t hit me that I’m actually backpacking across Europe and that I’m FINALLY going to attend World Youth Day.

risabella 2Amidst the chaos and excitement of my Eurotrip preparations, I see now how little I’ve prepared for the spiritual portion of my trip: World Youth Day. For the Europe half, I watched countless YouTube videos on ‘how to pack the perfect pack’, read one too many ‘Top Things to See in (insert city here)’ blog posts, and compiled long-winded Google Documents with my sister to plan out every leg of this trip to the max.

But what have I done to prepare for the World Youth half of my pilgrimage? Have I increased my prayer time? Did I purposefully ask family and friends for prayer requests and intentions to bring to the Holy Father? Am I as logistically prepared for the Days in the Diocese and World Youth Day itself as I am for the rest of my #EUROQUE tour?

Sadly, no. I didn’t do anything to incorporate any JPII or Divine Mercy-related spiritual reading into my prayer time. I haven’t committed the World Youth Day prayer to memory. I don’t recall researching anything about Kraków, short of how far the airport was to Bolonia Park. I even opted to leave my Bible at home because it didn’t ‘fit’.

I’ve been so focused on getting as many adventures accomplished that I lost focus of the true meaning of this trip: to meet my brothers and sisters in faith and recharge my missionary heart by learning for their example. (AND MEET THE POPE, OBVS.)
But what can I do with less than three days until the start of the Days in the Diocese? I know from previous missions that you can only get as much as you put in.

I’m giving 150% of my focus to World Youth Day just as I have been giving to the adventure half of my trip so far. I’m praying for those pilgrims making their way to Kraków right now, for their safety and protection. I’m praying for those young people unable to attend World Youth Day that they will still join us in this historic event and be just as inspired.

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With Days in the Diocese just days away, I am excited to immerse myself in Polish tradition and to experience their culture firsthand. I am most looking forward to learning more of the Polish language and practicing my phrases! I’m hoping to meet young people struggling with same day to day challenges as myself,  a young adult practicing their faith in a secular world. I hope to be inspired by their witness so that I may also grow in fervour and faith. I look forward to forming an even more connected universal community, especially in this digital age! Keeping in touch will be easier than ever!

Ultimately, I open my heart completely to God that he will speak to me through my fellow pilgrims and speakers. I hope to learn more of His mercy and fall ever more in love with my Saviour.

To keep myself accountable in making this experience more pilgrimage than adventure, I’ve given myself a few goals to complete during World Youth:

  1. Mentally present > physically present
  2. Take an opportunity each day to approach a fellow pilgrim I don’t know well and befriend them.
  3. As it will inevitably be a grueling two weeks (Days in the Diocese and World Youth Day), I know my body will fall to illness. When this happens, I hope that I’ll be able to find the JOY in that suffering, as Christ did.

risabelle squareHello! My name is Risabella Roque and I hail from the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I am a full-time literary enthusiast, cheese connoisseur and lover of all things yellow. When I’m not studying linguistics and psychology at Simon Fraser University, you can find me reading, on an adventure, or napping.

Follow my #EUROQUE adventures on social media!
@risabellamegan/@theroamincatholics risabellamegan.wordpress.com

Photos by Risabella Roque





Abraham and Jesus Teach Us to Pray

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – July 24, 2016

The biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, home to Abraham’s nephew Lot, were full of sin. Israelite tradition is unanimous in ascribing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to the wickedness of these cities, but tradition varies in regard to the nature of this wickedness.

In many earlier interpretations, the sin of Sodom was homosexuality (Genesis 19:4-5), also known as sodomy; but according to Isaiah (1:3-10), it was a lack of social justice. Ezekiel (16:46-51) described it as a disregard for the poor, whereas Jeremiah (23:14) saw it as general immorality. Further studies have revealed that the sin of Sodom the grievous sin of inhospitality in the biblical world – an assault on weak and helpless visitors who, according to justice and tradition ought to have been protected from danger (Ezekiel 16:49).

Biblical bargaining session
Today’s first reading from Genesis (18:20-32) presents the famous bargaining session between God and Abraham over the destruction of the two cities. When Abraham heard that God was going to judge the cities where his nephew lived, he began with a general question: will you destroy the innocent along with the guilty (18:23)?  Abraham appeals to God’s better nature, as one does when one is trying to persuade a powerful person to do the right thing!

God starts at 50, if there are 50 righteous men, Sodom will not be destroyed, and Abraham gradually brings God down to 10. A subtle difference emerges in the way God speaks of the matter: God says that if a certain number of righteous persons are found in the city, God will not destroy it (18:28-32). Interestingly, after Abraham has rested his case on the basis of the righteous 50, God does not say, “I will not destroy it,” but that “I will spare the whole place for their sake” (18:26).

This intriguing story of Abraham interceding for Sodom is not really about a numbers game but about the significance of salvation for the righteous in a corrupt community. Abraham’s fervent intercession points to the central theme of biblical faith: the steadfast love of God that refuses to be frustrated even in the context of immoral societies and cultures and sinful people. Christian theology teaches us that humanity is saved by the life of one righteous person!

Elements of good negotiation
What are the essential elements of good negotiation? First, the demand or request must be clearly articulated and understood. Second, the logic behind the demand or request must be presented and agreed upon. Third, the person requesting or demanding must persist in the negotiation. What are ultimately required are clarity, logic, and persistence. We cannot give up!

Abraham involved all three of these in his prayer to God. Abraham pointed to Lot’s faith and character, not to the fact that Lot was related to him by blood. While he never clearly stated his request, Abraham clearly made his point to God: save those who worship you and act morally! Be faithful to those who are faithful to you; be merciful to those who treat others with mercy. Abraham persisted until God and he agreed upon the number 10 (18:26-32).

The number 10 did not only tell us the size of Lot’s family; it revealed the minimum number of believers necessary to form a community of faith. It gave the raison d’être for a minyan in the Jewish tradition. Judaism refers to the quorum of 10 male Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations. Ten was the minimum number needed for public prayer, and the minimum number needed to hold services at a synagogue.

When we pray to God, we should take Abraham’s example to heart. We must pray with a clear request, seek God’s will, and persist in prayer – even when we pray for something small. How are we clear in our prayer, logical in its implications, and persistent in its petition? How does our prayer reflect these wonderful Abrahamic qualities?

Centrality of prayer in Christian life
Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus at prayer is a model for us. In each prayerful moment, Jesus lives out the story of God’s great dialogue with the human family by remaining totally open to the power of God. We must pray unceasingly, for prayer is a sign of our faith in God. Prayer is not something that we use to put pressure on God to get our own way. Authentic prayer opens us up to the action of God’s Spirit, bringing us in line with God’s desires, and making us into true disciples, obedient to Jesus and to the Father who has sent him. Prayer becomes one of the ways by which we follow Jesus in the Christian life.

Three episodes concerned with prayer
In today’s Gospel scene, Luke presents three episodes concerned with prayer (11:1-13). The first (11:1-4) recounts Jesus teaching his disciples the Christian communal prayer, the “Our Father”; the second (11:5-8), the importance of persistence in prayer; and the third (11:9-13), the effectiveness of prayer.

The Matthean version of the “Our Father” (6:9-15) occurs in the context of the “Sermon on the Mount”; the shorter Lucan version is presented while Jesus is at prayer and his disciples ask him to teach them to pray just as John taught his disciples to pray (11:1-4). His disciples watch him from afar, and are keenly aware of the intensity and intimacy of his prayer with God. Jesus responds to them by teaching them the Our Father. Jesus presents them with an example of a Christian communal prayer that stresses the fatherhood of God and acknowledges him as the one to whom the Christian disciple owes daily sustenance (11:3), forgiveness (11:4), and deliverance from the final trial (11:4).

The prayer of the community

The “Our Father” is taught to the Twelve in their role as disciples, not just as individuals to be converted but also as persons already co-responsible for the community. This prayer is an apostolic prayer, because it is said in the plural and takes for granted one’s awareness of a people, of co-responsibility, of solidarity – linking each of us to the other.

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we reveal our deepest longing to see the day when the triumphant, sovereign lordship of our loving God will no longer be a mere hope clung to desperately by faith, but a manifest reality in all human affairs. Our souls can never be entirely content until God’s honour is fully vindicated in all creation. These words utter a heartfelt plea: when will the reign of evil and death end?

When we beg for bread, we are really pleading for more than food. We beg the author of life for all the necessities of life: “God, give us what we need in order to enjoy the gift of life – bread for today and bread for tomorrow, to sustain us as a community.”

We ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive everyone their debts to us. This may possibly reflect Luke’s concern that possessions not hinder community fellowship. The final petition is most likely eschatological: do not lead us into trial: i.e. the final, great and ultimate test and agony of evil before the end.

The “Our Father” becomes the prayer of the poor, of those who plod along – weary, hungering, and struggling for faith, meaning, and strength. It is perhaps the first prayer we ever learn, and the last prayer we ever say before we close our eyes on this life.

God’s assurance of good gifts
The parable of the friend at midnight is found nowhere else in the New Testament. Its message, too, is about prayer and its point is that if our friends answer importunate or shameless appeals, how much greater still God, who desires to give us the Kingdom (12:32). The concluding section (11:9-13) builds on the previous section. The analogy moves from friends to parents: if parents give good gifts, how much more so will God. Prayer is continual asking, seeking, knocking, but this persistence is within a parent-child relationship, which assures good gifts. Authentic prayer opens us up to the action of God’s Spirit, bringing us in line with God’s desires, and making us into true disciples, obedient to Jesus and to the Father who has sent him.

I conclude this reflection by offering you two thoughts on Luke’s great lesson on prayer in today’s Gospel. First, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #239:

By calling God “Father,” the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood (cf. Is 66:13; Ps 131:2.), which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard (cf. Ps 27:10; Eph 3:14; Is 49:15): no one is father as God is Father.

I also draw your attention to one of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s homilies on today’s Gospel. The great cardinal wrote in the 19th century words that still ring out clearly today:

He (Jesus) gave the prayer and used it. His Apostles used it; all the Saints ever since have used it. When we use it we seem to join company with them. Who does not think himself brought nearer to any celebrated man in history, by seeing his house, or his furniture, or his handwriting, or the very books that were his? Thus does the Lord’s Prayer bring us near to Christ, and to His disciples in every age.

No wonder, then, that in past times good men thought this Form of prayer so sacred, that it seemed to them impossible to say it too often, as if some especial grace went with the use of it. Nor can we use it too often; it contains in itself a sort of plea for Christ’s listening to us; we cannot, so that we keep our thoughts fixed on its petitions, and use our minds as well as our lips when we repeat it. And what is true of the Lord’s Prayer, is in its measure true of most of those prayers which our Church teaches us to use. It is true of the Psalms also, and of the Creeds; all of which have become sacred, from the memory of saints departed who have used them, and whom we hope one day to meet in heaven.

[The readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; and Luke 11:1-13.]

(Image: God’s Promises to Abraham by James Tissot)

En Route To World Youth Day!

group sharpen

Written by Kiara Smyth and St. Dominic Savio World Youth Day Group

Excited.  Nervous.  Hopeful.  Energized.  Overwhelmed.

These are some of the words my group and I used to explain how we are feeling as we sit on our first airplane heading to World Youth Day in Krakow.  Two of us have been to WYD before, eleven of us have not, but for all of our emotions are running high.  In the words of some of my group members, here’s a little bit of where these emotions are coming from:

The Highs – Excited, Hopeful, Overwhelmed

  • This will be my first ever WYD, so I’m excited for this new experience.  I’ve never been to an international event like this before or to an event with so many Catholics, so this will be really cool.
  • I’ve been to the past two World Youth Days, and both of them were amazing, but also very different, so I’m excited to see what this one has in store.  The energy at the past two WYDs was incredible, so I’m already getting energized just thinking about it!
  • I can’t wait to listen to Pope Francis.  He’s a very inspirational man, and gives me hope for the future of the church and the world.
  • I’m looking forward to experiencing the sense of community and hanging out with young Catholics from around the world.  At the last WYD in Rio, I met a lot of great people, and I’m sure that will happen again!
  • I’m looking forward to strengthening my relationship with Jesus through encountering him at mass and through WYD events.
  • I can’t wait to celebrate my faith with everyone at WYD!

The Lows – Nervous, Overwhelmed

  • I’m worried about getting lost among all the people at WYD and in a new city!
  • I’m feeling a little overwhelmed because I’ve never been to a WYD before so I don’t really know what to expect.  It seems like there is going to be so much going on, which is sweet, but also overwhelming.
  • I’ve been to WYD before, and there are definitely challenges that come with the pilgramage, from getting around the city, to dealing with the crowds, to coping with the weather, to navigating group dynamics.

Why the Lows don’t bring us down

  • We have such a great group!  A lot of us are cousins which is awesome, but also for the past three years, as a whole group we’ve grown really close and sincerely enjoy hanging out together.  While we know we will get on each other’s nerves at times, the fact that we have spent a lot of time together and formed strong friendships will get us through our challenges!
  • I’m trying to always remember the ultimate reason why I’m going on this pilgrimage: to strengthen my faith and spend time with God.  No matter what we face, I know that God is here beside us, guiding us and bringing us through.
  • What I’ve learned from the past WYDs is that it’s never what I expect it to be, but its always what I need it to be; God always come through for me!

As our flight prepares to land, we will see what God has in store for us this WYD!

Kiara Smyth is from Edmonton, Alberta leading the St. Dominic Savio World Youth Day group to Poland for Krakow 2016. Stay tuned to follow their journey from Edmonton to Krakow!