On Wednesday we began our catechesis at the Love and Life site. Whether we were ready or not, we had 450 pilgrims lining up outside our beautiful little chapel—some eagerly waiting to go in, others looking like they needed a few more cups of instant coffee. Every pilgrim’s story is different…why they came to World Youth Day, what they expect to get out of it, how they want their lives to change. Deep down, each one is looking for the same thing, rather the same One. Some already have a relationship with Jesus, and they come expecting greater intimacy with Him. But many are really searching, not quite knowing who Jesus is, or who He will be for them.
I saw Philip walk into St. Benedict’s that first morning. I was intrigued by his appearance: He was tall and slender with long dreadlocks, multiple ear piercings, and green and black tied-dyed knee high socks. I thought to myself, “I wonder what his story is…” I caught him after Mass sitting by himself. I walked over to him with my pilgrim lunch in hand and asked him how it was going. I took a bite of my pilgrim lunch (an ice cold sausage), and immediately I knew that God’s grace was at work. It had to be, or how else could I explain eating every last bite of that sausage?!
He told me that he used to be an atheist and now he didn’t know what he was. His girlfriend is an atheist and she wasn’t too excited about him coming to World Youth Day. He came because his mom had invited him to go, so he agreed, and the two of them set out for Sydney from New Zealand. He spoke of wanting to know the truth and of being happy. I smiled because I knew that in searching for the truth and for true happiness, he was likely to find only one answer—God. So I encouraged him to have an open heart and to dig deep into his own heart and lay all his deepest desires and questions and hurts before Christ’s own merciful heart.
I saw Philip the next day and he practically ran over to me and blurted out, “I went to reconciliation last night. My life is going to change. I’m going to stop hanging out with all my bad friends and I want to have a serious relationship with Christ.” I could hardly contain myself either; I was so proud of him. Then he told me, “You have something that I want. You have this life, this flame about you…you’re so full of joy, and I want that for myself.” I could tell that he already had it—“it” being God’s love, His life-giving, transformative, merciful love. I spoke to Him about being nourished by Christ in the Eucharist at Mass and in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The next evening we had a Eucharistic healing procession at St. Benedict’s. It was a sight to behold: hundreds of people on their knees, inching up toward the sanctuary where Jesus was waiting to meet them each personally. For some reason the image of the Israelites going up to meet God in the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant, came to me. We sang, “Holy, holy, holy,” and I spotted Philip amidst the crowd of people. He slipped in the side door and fell to his knees. I watched as he approached Bishop Lori holding Jesus in the monstrance. I was moved to tears as Philip grabbed a hold of the humeral veil and buried his face in it. I begged for healing graces for him. The moment is etched in my mind forever.
Later Philip told me that that was the most powerful night of his life. He had met Jesus and he really knew His love for him. Furthermore He knew that God is calling him…calling him to break up with his girlfriend and to grow in deeper fidelity to Him and to serve Him with his life.
That’s the power that World Youth Day had on one pilgrim. And if it was all for just that one pilgrim that would be enough. So many times we are not privy to know how God’s grace works in other’s lives, but sometimes, God allows us to see His transforming effect on people so that we can grow in our trust and faith in Him and foster a deeper sense of reverence and awe for others. God’s grace is at work in our world and in our Church today. Let us pray for the eyes to see it and the faith to believe it.
Sr. Mary Theotokos