When you ask what is memorable about an international World Youth Day gathering, young Catholics often mention the universality of the Church. There are the sights and sounds of the colorful displays of so many different national flags, so many different languages and the presence of peers of every race and color, all gathered together as one people, one family of God.
All of this diversity that we witness at World Youth Day – or at any holy pilgrimage site around the world – comes together in prayer and worship and creates a unity which is one of the fundamental marks of the Church. We experience a unity that comes from a Church which is one and universal because of her founder, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who came among us to restore the unity of all in one people and one body (CCC 813-16).
The experience of World Youth Day and our local celebration of Kraków in the Capital tomorrow reveal to our young people that the Catholic Church really is one and universal. Through the gift of technology, those gathered at The Catholic University of America will be linked to their pilgrim sisters and brothers from around the globe in Kraków and they will see both the unique language, custom and dress of particular churches that are the presence of the one Church of Christ. This is one of the mysteries of our faith that is best understood through experience.
The Church’s ability to express a unity in diversity is a very important message for our young people who are living in a time that diversity seems to be dividing our communities. What might the Church be able to also teach our young Catholics about finding a unity in community?
First, being a member of the Church incorporates us into something beyond us – greater than ourselves and greater than any man-made group or institution. The mystery of the Church is something into which we enter recognizing that the Church is a unique spiritual reality, the home of God’s Word and sacraments. In the Church, we come to see the deepest source of unity is found in being adopted sons and daughters of God in whom we live and move and have our being.
Second, we learn in Jesus what it means to be a friend. God offers us his friendship through his Son, Jesus Christ, in order to enter into a heart-to-heart conversation with us. Pope Francis speaks of Jesus’ friendship in this way: “He has so many things to say to each of you. Do not be afraid to look into his eyes, full of infinite love for you” (Message for World Youth Day 2016).
In an encounter with the Lord, young people discover the meaning of mercy and can become messengers of his love. “Open yourselves to his merciful gaze, so ready to forgive all your sins,” implores Pope Francis. “A look from him can change your lives and heal the wounds of your souls. His eyes can quench the thirst that dwells deep in your young hearts, a thirst for love, for peace, for joy and for true happiness. Come to Him and do not be afraid! Come to him and say from the depths of your hearts: ‘Jesus, I trust in You!’ Let yourselves be touched by his boundless mercy, so that in turn you may become apostles of mercy by your actions, words and prayers in our world, wounded by selfishness, hatred and so much despair” (Id.).
These words to our young people we can all take to heart and apply to our own lives. May we all be reminded of the grace that strengthens communal bonds when we gather as a community, particularly for the Eucharist.
Tomorrow evening, at the conclusion of the closing Mass for Kraków in the Capital, as the Church does at every Eucharistic celebration, I will invite the young pilgrims there to go forth out into the world to glorify the Lord and proclaim the Gospel. May we in our own lives also be resolved when we are sent at the end of the Mass to “Go in peace,” to be messengers of peace in our families and in the world.