World Youth Days have changed the lives of many young people. Some experiences.
“My name is Barbara, but here in Poland, they call me Basha. I am 21 years old, and I live in Krakow. The WYD pilgrimage to Panama in 2019 changed my life forever. My life before I went to Panama was really bad, and I struggled a lot with mental health problems.
“At 17, my life was a hell that I didn’t know how to get out of. At that age, my friends just wanted us to enjoy life. Sleepless nights, drunkenness, and nonsense of all kinds. We even spent a few nights in jail.
“How did my journey to Panama begin?
“Mine was a traditional Catholic family, like many others here in Poland. I never stopped going to church on Sunday, but I did so out of tradition and to please my parents. I think my parents left a seed in me that I have kept well-guarded. It was there, albeit hidden. Even though I wasn’t happy with the life I was leading, I didn’t know how to change. I felt so miserable that I became deeply depressed. In the midst of all this dissatisfaction, I felt that God was very far away from me.
“One year before WYD Panama 2019, my parish priest called me to invite me to participate in it. I don’t know why he invited me. At that time, I was very far from the environment and lifestyle of the parish youth. My depression continued to grow in the run up to WYD Panama 2019.
“I thought it would be two weeks away from this empty life I was living. And so maybe I agreed to go somewhere at least for a while on a sort of holiday. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of my return to the Father’s house ‘because I was lost and I found myself’. Thanks to WYD I found my place in the Church. Mine was a great experience of faith among many other young people like me.”
Rosemary from London was involved in her parish community, but she wanted to challenge herself to take a new path. Destination Krakow 2016.
“Choosing to leave for a WYD is never easy. It doesn’t just mean setting off towards a destination in who knows where in the world, but it means accepting a challenge with yourself. It’s not just choosing which clothes to put in your suitcase but deciding to answer a call, carrying all the doubts, questions, and hopes for our existence in your luggage.
There are two ways to live the unique experience that World Youth Day can be: you can live it as a tourist or as a pilgrim and it is up to us to decide which path to take. For me, living WYD was a real hotchpotch of mixed feelings, the fear of not making it together with the desire to get involved by opening myself up to a united, joyful and, albeit mistreated, still living Church!
There were many ideas for reflection received in those days during the various catechesis sessions and obviously during the meetings with our Pontiff. Who am I? Am I ready to contribute? Am I ready to forgive? Am I ready to leave my mark? Do I want to live the Gospel concretely or only in doctrine? From this experience I am left with the silence of prayer that climbs mountains, the ability to believe in a God who liberates.”
François from Paris also went to Krakow and now invites us to “get off the couch”.
“I left with a desire in my heart that I can’t even explain, but I really felt called to participate. Youth Day was an opportunity to feel that one is not alone in faith, but there are millions of young people all over the world who, like you, believe, pray and love, and it is truly an opportunity for all to feel like brothers and sisters.
Seven years later I still remember it as one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and the Pope’s words are still engraved in my mind. On that occasion, Pope Francis had in fact urged us not to be young “sofa” people, comfortably watching life go by and letting others decide. God always pushes us to go further, to live fully, because he has big plans for everyone.”
Antonio is Italian and belongs to the Boy Scouts. He was present in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
He says: “Memories of Rio will stay with me for the rest of my life. The meeting with many young people from all over the world. Being part of a big family. Everywhere we went we felt welcome. The Pope reminded us to follow Jesus how and where he wants, in daily life, together with the people who expect a credible and coherent answer from me!”
Maria Luisa from Spain attended the Madrid Youth Day in 2011.
“I didn’t know what World Youth Day was and how I would have lived it. I remember not going into a church or praying for almost 7 years; it was strange initially though, then slowly I began to feel something different inside, something that changed.
I don’t know exactly what it was, or what it is, I just know that after 7 years I made my confession and cried like a child because, for the first time in my life, I really felt guilty… In those days I made friends with a lot of people who think I’m a great person and I think the same thing about them, because they welcomed me as one of them, without any problem; it was strange because it was like being at home… And I loved it! Finally, I can say one thing: this experience has totally changed my life.”
(Filipe Resende and James Davies)