I was not physically in Krakow for World Youth Day 2016. A series of scheduling practicalities made it necessary for me to stay in Toronto, anchoring Salt + Light’s coverage of WYD 2016.
Still, there were moments when the line between living WYD and living it vicariously through my colleagues on the ground was blurred. One of those moments was the Pope’s meeting with 20,000 World Youth Day volunteers.
After the formal introductions and the witness talks from pre-selected volunteers, Pope Francis picked up his prepared speech to address the 20,000 people gathered in the Tauron arena. Two lines in he stopped and looked up. The look he had on his face is nightmare of every person who does live commentary on papal events. It was the look we now know all too well: the look Pope Francis gets when the Holy Spirit moves him to abandon his prepared text and speak off the cuff!
Sure enough his next words were, “I wrote a speech. But it’s five pages long. It’s kind of boring. I hear you all have translation in your ears? Yes?” And with that the pope veered off course.
“You have been told you are the hope for the future. That’s nice, and it’s true, but there are two conditions” Pope Francis said. Those two conditions, according to the pope, are: you must have memory, and you must have courage.
Pope Francis asked the volunteers to make a point of speaking to their grandparents or- if their grandparents are already with God - other older people to whom they are close. Essentially, he said, absorb the wisdom of those who have lived it all before you.
Of course having that memory, that historic knowledge is nothing if it just becomes a neat story tucked away in the back of one’s mind. “Have courage” said Pope Francis. One you know where you come from, and have some sense of where you are going, you must tell the story through your actions.
That speech, totally unscripted, was electrifying. Despite being the final broadcast at the end of the long week of broadcasts, I was paying attention. I was taking notes. Since then, I have found myself asking “I know where I come from personally, as part of a family, as part of a community. How do I give witness?” It is by no means an easy question to ask or answer. In fact, the answer can be quite challenging.
If even half of the volunteers present in that arena are grappling with those two points presented by Pope Francis, the Church should fasten its seat belt, because we will be in for a great journey!
Alicia Ambrosio is an English producer for Salt + Light.