¨Today marks the beginning of World Youth Day,¨ said Pope Francis in his final homily during the closing Mass of this week-long meeting of over one million young Catholics from around the world.¨Be like Zaccheus. Open the door when Jesus stops at your home. Jesus wants to touch your heart as you complete your studies and your first years of work. Make your every act prayer, and let the Gospel be your guide on your life´s journey.¨
During the past week I had the tremendous privilege of participating in World Youth Day XXXI in Krakow, Poland. Over the past week the streets of this city were flooded with young Catholics from six continents. In the central square the statue of Adam Mickiewicz, Poland´s national poet, was stormed by enthusiastic Mexicans carrying the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The train station was flooded with French and Italian teenagers singing hymns and cheering like football fans as they waited for the trains that would carry them back to their host families in the towns surrounding Krakow. Perhaps the greatest joy could be seen on the faces of the Iraqi Catholics who made the journey to Poland for this event. ¨I am so happy to see you here,¨ I said to a young girl I saw bearing the Iraqi flag as she waited outside a food truck. ¨And we are so happy to be here,¨ she replied.
For me, this event was a rare opportunity to remember that as Catholics, we are part of a global community that transcends race, language, culture and politics. I met pilgrims from countries like Philippines and Brazil, where Catholics form the majority, and also from Pakistan and Turkey, where they are the minority. I also met many enthusiastic youth from historically Catholic countries that have become detached from their religious heritage, such as France and Ireland.
Throughout these days the constant message has been one of God´s mercy, and by extension the mercy which we are called to show to others. ¨Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be shown them.¨ This is the refrain of the World Youth Day theme song, and it is the primary message that Pope Francis wants us to carry back to our communities.
For me, the most meaningful experience was Friday evening´s Way of the Cross, with each station transformed into a meditation on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy: to feed the hungry, admonish the sinner, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and imprisoned, comfort the afflicted, bury the dead, forgive offenses willingly, teach the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, clothe the naked, bear wrongs patiently, and pray for the living and the dead. Before each station we were shown a short video clip of a Polish or international charity focused on one of these works of mercy. In his address to the people after the Stations, Pope Francis raised a powerful challenge:
¨In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only appropriate response is the gift of oneself, even one´s life, in imitation of Christ. Our credibility as Christians is dependent upon our completion of these works of mercy.¨
I hope that wherever you are, however discouraged and disillusioned you are about the current state of the world, you might take inspiration from Francis´s words and rejoice in the witness of so many people from around the world who gathered in Krakow this week. As Jesus said, ¨Let your light shine before all, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven¨ (Matthew 5:16).