Thursday afternoon at the Vivo Rio English Welcome Centre, Fr. Thomas Rosica took some time away from managing the amazing live coverage of WYD by Salt + Light TV
to say Mass for the Canadians gathered there. Nearing the end, he shared a quick story of his time after World Youth Day Toronto in 2002, where he was a key organizer.
In November of 2002, then-Pope John Paul II invited him and a few others to lunch. The Pope turned to Fr. Rosica at one point and asked him, "What did you learn from WYD?" After uttering an internal "Mama Mia!", he responded to the man whom he loved and greatly respected:
"Holy Father, I thought before WYD that I was Catholic, but I really wasn't. I became Catholic through the whole WYD experience. Because Catholic means a universal heart and a universal vision."
Then, the Pope took Fr. Rosica's hand and said "Bravo. You learned the most important lesson."
Fr. Rosica then turned the tables on the Pope, who had created WYD, and asked "Why did you start this whole thing?"
The Pope smiled warmly and said, "I started it because I saw them so much alone. And I wanted them to know that they are not alone."
"When we come to WYD as Pilgrims, we come from our parishes and our small groups," Fr. Tom continued, to a rapt audience in Rio. "But then we come here and we see the flags and the millions of people and we can say 'I am not alone.'"
A view from the far end of Copacabana beach of the estimated 3 million Pilgrims gathered for the final Vigil on Saturday night.
The feeling of solidarity is something more powerful than we can even know. As I watched 3 million people gather on a beach in a city known for its wild parties, I could not have been more astounded at the kindness, the friendly exchanges, the peaceful singing and the laughter between new friends. We had all come to World Youth Day with very different backgrounds and languages, but each Pilgrim was there because they believed in the same thing. There was a feeling of solidarity there that you would not find during Carnival.
In Pope Francis' final homily at the closing mass on Sunday, he uttered a simple three-point challenge: Go, Do not be afraid, and Serve. For members of Development and Peace, this challenge is something we confront on a daily basis. We must go
out, to learn about the world we live in, to listen to our partners in the Global South and to speak to our friends, families and our government about what we can do better. We must not be afraid
of going against the grain and standing up for what we believe in and the work we do. Challenges of global inequality and oppression are not fixed easily and we cannot be afraid of a long fight.
And finally, we must serve
. We must respect the human dignity inherent in each woman, man and child and work until the systems we create and run are systems that also recognize that dignity.
After the rejuventing and inspiring experiences of World Youth Day, I think there are many youth who are ready for the challenge!
Shelley between two WYD Pilgrims at the English Welcome Centre. Photo by a fellow Pilgrim.
This article was written by Shelley Burgoyne, Youth Officer for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. It was featured on the Development and Peace website in the wake of WYD Rio.