1 Sep 2005
In this article, Marie-Claire Bonavia, a pilgrim at World Youth Day (WYD), highlights that paradoxically, the riches of WYD do not reach their climax in the Day itself.
Originally, I had not been so keen to participate in the activities proceeding the actual WYD meeting with the Pope from 18 to 21st August. I had just wanted to go for the highlights as I thought that I already had a sufficient package of Christian formation and commitment. At the same time, my prayer was to allow the Lord to take me deeper into knowledge of Him and His people, and to allow Him to challenge me once again. Hence I shortened my holiday in sunny Malta to go and meet with youths in the cold "wintry" German summer in early August during the pre-World Youth Day phase. It was there in my "poverty" at this point that my own pilgrimage started.
My first stop was in Draeasden (Dresden) as the Germans kindly corrected me! There, forty youths led by the Kerygma Teams gathered for a programme entitled "Reclaiming Europe for God", strongly inspired by the movement that spread across Europe to appeal for the insertion of the reference to Christian heritage in the European Constitution. These youths realised that this was a call from God, asking for Europe to turn to its first love. The accidental death of one of the participants sparked a desire to offer the sacrifice of praise to the Lord and to proclaim His truth over the land of Germany and Europe. The most impressive moment was at the planting of a wooden cross in a field: a "classroom of cows" stood at the fences as if in awe of the Creator and mankind, proclaiming life over the land (Deut 8: 7 - 11: 32).
The second part of my pilgrimage took me to Essen for "Youth Arise", an established pre-WYD programme with 1,200 participants. Fr. Tom Rosica, director and organiser of WYD Toronto 2002, encouraged the participants to follow in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II by building bridges between peoples and nations. The third part of my pilgrimage consisted of volunteering in a centre called Domus Vitae (House of Life), which intended to create a dynamic of charity to the disabled, elderly, the unborn children and all the wounded of life, namely us all!
It was only as I reached Cologne that I learnt that the theme of the WYD was based on that of the mysterious Magi leaving their land and their riches to adore and pay homage to the King! How topical and how personally God spoke to me then in spite of the crowd! People from all walks of life came to adore Him: MEPs, Ministers, youths, elderly, disabled, various Christian denominations, Jews, and even Muslims! Indeed as Pope Benedict XVI came on to the podium at the opening of the night vigil on 20th August in the Marienfeld, which was peppered by some 1,200,000 pilgrims, I just told myself that the pilgrimage was now over. It seemed that it was an anticlimax after some three weeks of pilgrimage. But to my surprise, the first point Pope Benedict XVI made was that although the outward journey of the Magi was over once "they saw the child Jesus with Mary and worshipped Him (MT 2:11), inwardly a new journey began for them; an inner pilgrimage which changed their whole lives." Now they had to change their ideas about power, about God and man, for the King they met in the Child Jesus was certainly different from the image of the King they had had. Now they placed themselves at the service of the King and to model their own kingship on His.
Jesus – the focus of it all
Indeed at that point, realising that my entire WYD pilgrimage had changed me, I already then looked forward to my cosy bed. But then Pope Benedict XVI left without saying goodbye. In the wake of his silent departure we were instantly beckoned to turn our gaze to Jesus. The Pope left Him exposed in the Blessed Sacrament. That was the highlight of the WYD: Jesus Himself in His humble presence. Suddenly it seemed that the crowd, the cold, the rats in the field, the nuisance of people stepping on our sleeping bags...were no more.