When I think of World Youth Day 2002, it's funny, because I actually don't feel like I attended the event. Silly thing, really, since for two years I worked with the WYD2002 National Office helping prepare and run the event. My job was Artistic Director, meaning that I was in charge of all artistic programming. This included namely the Youth Festival events, but also all the music during the week-long event, the selection and commissioning of all the music that was used for all the main events and the production of the WYD 2002 souvenir album. It also included the liturgical dance and helping with the processions for the main events. I can say that I've never had a job where I've felt that all my skills, my interests and talents, my experiences, my education and contacts, were being used. In many ways this was the perfect job for me.
At the same time, there were days when I wished I simply worked at Starbucks.Working for WYD2002 taught me to pray more, to let God do His thing, to prioritize, to delegate, to focus on the Main thing, and not to worry. If God created the world in six days, surely He can pull off WYD at the last minute!
WYD also presented me with the best of the Church. I've never met such giving, joyful, Christ-centred people. It was always a moment of pride (in a good way) to hear the backstage crew on the main stages, commenting about our artists. These are technicians who are used to setting up for and running shows such as the Toronto SARS concert with The Rolling Stones. They are used to being treated like garbage. But they were continually impressed by the gratitude of our artists and their willingness to lend a hand. There is nothing I hate more than dealing with producers, agents, managers, booking agents and unions -- but during WYD there was very little conflict. Everyone was focused on the Main thing. And this made an impact, certainly on me, and even on the backstage technicians. I'm still working on these things, but certainly the seed was planted.
WYD also taught me to be a pilgrim. Many of us become artists partly because we seek recognition -- we may not acknowledge it, but really -- no one wants to be an actor, dancer or a musician merely because they want to create great art. We want to be recognized. We want to be famous. We want to sell records. This is true for Catholic artists as well. But… what I saw during WYD 2002 were artists who came to serve. They were not seeking personal attention, but rather, "where can I serve?" I'll never forget Fr. Stan telling me that he'd play anywhere, if we needed him to play outside the portable toilets, he'd do that. He would even clean the toilets if that's what we needed. He wasn't joking. Or another artist, who asked to have her little stipend for recording the theme song donated to one of the other singers who'd had to hire a babysitter so she could come to the recording session. These people really humbled me and taught me the meaning of service and pilgrimage. The biggest comment after the event from the artists was: "I struggled with the event until I started seeing myself as a pilgrim. From that point on, I started having a good time, a God time." I too can relate. During my two years - and it didn't happen in a moment, it happened gradually - when I let God take over and do it His way, I became a pilgrim and the events I was planning became God's events.
I finished working on WYD and all I wanted to do was work for the Church. I wanted to serve. I didn't know how, I didn't know exactly why - but I knew I couldn't go back to doing the things I did before, and so, although it wasn't a "on-the-road-to-Damascus" conversion, it was a conversion of sorts: WYD changed my life.
And so, when I remember WYD 2002, don’t' think of a week of Catechesis and concerts, or the pilgrimage up to Downsview Park for the Vigil, or the Way of the Cross - although I do think of those things - I remember being in the Papal Chapel at the Vatican, with Pope John Paul II celebrating Mass in Latin. I remember when my wife Sheri and our boys got to meet the Pope. I remember going to John Michael Talbot's 20th anniversary celebration at the Hermitage in Arkansas and being at his concert during the power failure, and the flight back with Susan Hookong-Taylor.
I remember being lost in Rome, 'cause I didn't bother to get directions to the Church of San Lorenzo. I remember having to stay at Exhibition Place really late one night (and I really wanted to go to sleep), 'cause I ended up having to help two French pilgrims who had been left behind by their group. I remember sitting the rain out with Martin Valverde and his band at the bandshell at Ontario Place - I remember the rain - boy did it rain that week!
I remember the recording sessions - lying on the couch at Cherry Beach Recording Studios because I had injured my back and couldn't sit. Working with Tom Tomaszek of Oregon Catholic Press - spending the whole night in a hotel room in Rome picking the tracks for the WYD album. I remember the week in Buenos Aires for the Youth Gathering with the representatives of the Latin American Episcopal Conference.
I remember playing Fr. Stan's guitar so that our delegation could sing the WYD 2002 theme song, Lumiere du monde
for Pope John Paul II, when we went to Rome for Palm Sunday 2003 to pass the WYD Cross to the Germans. And then there was having to re-do the whole Youth Festival schedule, because our budget cuts meant we had to get rid of 10 stages! Indeed it was a fun and busy time.
But I remember much more: I remember two years of my life, of working for the Church, with wonderful people, doing the little that we can to help build the Kingdom of God.