World Youth: The Gathering!
It has been a hot, sultry week in Essex with temperatures over 30°C and in the Lambert household we are preparing to send our two oldest children off to World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.
The concept of WYD is genius: faithful young people coming together with the Pope gives them sense of critical mass. They are embarking on an adventure with millions of like-minded, vibrant, excited youth. It would seem clear that the experience will inevitably make them feel that they are part of something universal and important. Something unifying and positive.
The scale of the event is staggering, with more than 2 million expected by organisers, they are preparing to create a pop up city to cope with the visitors. A new airport, improved road and rail links, a fleet of dream buses and “Youth Bible” are among features of this, the 14th international celebration of World Youth Day.
At the weekend I was speaking to my oldest son, now 19, and his girlfriend, who are both looking forward to the experience, if not the thirty hour coach journey they will soon be embarking on! I was interested to discover what their expectations are for the event. They have both been on pilgrimage to Lourdes in France several times with the diocesan youth service.
My son has gained much from this experience, especially in regard to the service element. His most powerful experience was working all day in the baths in Lourdes and he can not recommend it highly enough when recalling his last trip. It's interesting that this was my experience also as a young man travelling to Lourdes. Working with handicapped children and adults was the most rewarding part of my experience. Making a positive difference to people's lives and recognising that I could do that—I could make a difference.
This seems such a simple thing really, but I think many young people today lack that experience of service. Perhaps 30 or so years ago we got it from simply helping our grandparents, or doing bob-a-job with the cubs. Today life for young people is far more insular and remote. I was only thinking the other day how none of my children have ever asked to go out on their bikes with their mates, something I used to do practically every day.
One of the challenges with this is that when our young people return to the parish, things often seem bland and irrelevant by comparison to the sense of love, community and joy they experience at events like WYD. It has long been a question echoed in Youth Service circles: how do you deal with the Lourdes blues?
My first observation is to remark how wonderful this is. That we can experience a way of living our faith in community that fits so well with our being that 'normal' life seems so dull and empty by comparison? Well worth reflecting on just that reality I think!
Please do say a prayer for all the pilgrims heading to World Youth Day, that this might be a great occasion where the Holy Spirit is poured out upon their lives in great abundance.