Sunday, April 1, 2012

WYD: Be Not Afraid!

World Youth Day, which you might know as the triennial (or biennial) international celebration with the Holy Father, is celebrated by local dioceses annually. The diocese of Rome has its World Youth Day on Palm Sunday each year. The theme chosen by the Holy Father for this year's celebration of World Youth day is "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil 4:4).

I joined the young people of Rome for a prayer vigil on Saturday night in the cathedral church of Rome, St. John Lateran. I've been to WYD twice and ever since I've been quite passionate about it. So I was pretty excited to join the young people. The vigil began with a catechesis delivered by Cardinal Vallini, who is the Pope's Vicar to the Diocese of Rome. Cardinal Vallini's remarks focused on the importance of authentic joy in our lives, joy that only comes from our encounter with the living risen Jesus Christ. After the talk, the Cardinal answered some questions put to him by the young faithful gathered at the Vigil. One of the questions struck me. A young man asked, "what can young people do who are too afraid to make a life-long commitment like to become a priest or to get married since it seems so permanent and a total loss of personal freedom?" A really beautiful question because so many young people today are afraid to make any decisions in life because it seems like any decision puts a limitation on freedom. The Cardinal answered him by saying that young people today should not be afraid of choosing a vocation as long as they place their faith in Jesus Christ at the center of their lives. Only by loosing ourselves do we gain real life, eternal life. True freedom isn't found in endless options which are always available, but only in choosing Jesus Christ are we set free from sin and death. I was reminded of Blessed Pope John Paul II's first words after his election to the See of St. Peter; "Be not afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ..."

After the Q&A session there was time for adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament along with some Taize chant. For me it was a really powerful moment to pray for and with the young people of the Diocese of Rome. What a wonderful way to begin Holy Week...

After the vigil had ended, I introduced myself to the young man sitting next to me. I was struck by the intensity of his prayer. We chatted for awhile and he introduced me to his youth group and to his twin brother, who also happened to be the guy who had asked the question about vocations. Their priest, a young associate pastor, invited me to join his youth group for pizza and a movie back at their parish. It was a great time. The young people in the youth group really made me feel welcome. It was a lot of fun. The young priest drove me back to the college just before curfew. What a great experience. It was great to be in a parish setting even for a few hours. God has an awesome way of blessing us!

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