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A young Australian priest shares his insights into young people, World Youth Day and the magic and mystery of the world’s biggest youth event.


Father David, you have just returned from chaos, companionship and commissioning of World Youth Day in Madrid. What was the single most powerful experience for you?

One of my favourite moments in Madrid was sitting back under a tree while waiting for the Papal Arrival, watching thousands of young people from every continent dance together in the streets. The only thing that united them was their faith in Christ. There was a common trust and acceptance that suggested that each one had realised that this was their family. Dancing in front of me was the whole of the world united together in Christ and then drawn into the eternal love of God. Amid the noise, the mess, the heat and the smell, a giant Catholic dance party was transformed into a bold preaching about the truth of our eternal destiny.

Later that evening the Pope arrived, and as the head of this great family he encourage these young people to seek Christ with all their heart: “Use these days to know Christ better and to make sure that, rooted in him, your enthusiasm and happiness, your desire to go further, to reach the heights, even God himself, always hold a sure future, because the fullness of life has already been placed within you.”

For those who have never been to a World Youth Day can you give them a snapshot of what it’s like?

The organisers of every World youth day deserve to be greatly honoured for the way that they have coordinated these events. In fact I am waiting for the Vatican to include ‘World Youth Day Coordinator’ as a new sub-category in the list of Martyrs, thereby qualifying them for instant sainthood. However, the reality is that for many people, the experience of World Youth Day is that you spend hours fighting through crowds to get to an event only to find that the venue is already full, meaning that you then have to turn back and again fight your way through crowds until you get home. At each World Youth Day that I have attended, I have seen the disappointment slowly growing in the minds of young people as once again they fail to get to the talk, concert, mass or catechesis that they so desperately want to attend. However, I find that generally around the time of the Papal arrival on the Thursday, a realisation often begins to dawn that it isn’t actually about the event. An awakening begins to occur in the hearts of young people as they realise that World Youth Day is really about the people.

There can often be a lot of cynicism around the engagement of young people with what is termed, ‘the institutional Church’. What is your experience of observing young people at World Youth Day in relation to that cynicism?

Our faith tells us that God is a Trinity. Put simply, this means that God is Love: God is an infinite eternal communion of Love. If we are created in the image and likeness of God, then we are created in the image and likeness of Love. At the core of our being, there is something that craves communion. This is why Jesus created the Church. The communion that was broken through sin in the Garden of Eden is now being healed person by person as we are united through the power of the Holy Spirit. While some people scoff at the ‘institutional church’, the hearts of these young people seem to recognise something in the Church that they could never put words to.

It’s been said that World Youth Day can counteract the message of individualism that many students experience from their youngest years. What did you see in Madrid related to this?

There is something very Catholic about World Youth day. That probably sounds like an obvious statement seeing that the event is built around a visit from the Pope. But apart from the obvious things such as the Pope and the sacrament, there lies something deeper. In a world that bows down before the creed of individualism, World Youth Day is a proclamation of communion. On the surface it can seem that the young people are gathered together for the sake of an event. However, after attending the last three World Youth Days, I have come to realise that the only real event of World youth Day is the fact that we are gathered together.

So what happens after World Youth Day?

Now that a few weeks have passed since our return, many of our pilgrims claim to have succumbed to PPD (Post-Pilgrimage depression). As they adjust back to normal life, I am struck by the fact that they are not depressed because they are missing the events and concerts. It is because even without knowing it consciously, they have experienced a taste of heaven and their hearts crave for something that our consumerist society cannot sell them. And so we need to join with the Pope in praying that this hunger will lead them ever deeper into communion with God and the Church until the image becomes the reality in eternity.

Is World Youth Day a glimpse of heaven?

Heaven is meant to be a place where we enter into absolute communion with God and complete union with everyone else. That being the case, World Youth day is a beautiful image of what awaits us. One day while travelling on one of the trains, I mentioned this to a friend, to which he simply responded, “yeah, maybe. I just Hope heaven doesn’t smell this bad”.

 

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Fr. David CallaghanFr. David Callaghan
A young Australian priest shares his insights into young people, World Youth Day and the magic and mystery of the world’s biggest youth event.