ISSUES IN FAITH: World Youth Day a lesson in trust, community

It’s natural to have high hopes for World Youth Day, but when they are exceeded, it’s humbling.

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” — John 10:10

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE to say things out loud to emphasize the obvious, and such was the case with Martin and me.

“Hey, Mike,” he said to me. “We’re in Poland.”

Not just Poland, but World Youth Day 2016 in the great city of Krakow.

Sixteen of us from Queen of Angels in Port Angeles and St. Joseph’s in Sequim touched back down at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport the afternoon of Aug. 4 after 11 days in the most incredible environment most of us will ever experience.

High hopes exceeded

It’s natural to have high hopes for World Youth Day, but when they are exceeded — and I think I speak for nearly everyone — it’s humbling in a way that words can’t do justice, and the fruits of which will only extend and manifest itself throughout our lives.

It was a really big deal being there, which you can only prepare so much for.

So many variables to consider: Will our accommodations be OK? What’s the weather going to give us? Long flights, weird food and strange currency, and then, what will it be like to go to Mass with over a million people?

It was nearly flawless, thanks be to God.

Each late afternoon walk to Blonia Park from our hotel, it rained on us, a 3.5-mile trek each way. As events or Mass unfolded, the rain would cease and the sun came out. It was steamy but joyful, flags from a hundred different countries being propelled and waved by youthful hands held high.

We carried and flew large American and Seahawk flags. People from all over the world recognized the 12th Man Seahawk flag.

It was easy to follow in the crowds that swelled from several hundred thousand to nearly 2 million the final day.

The heat nearly took us down on occasion, but the alternative was thunderstorms, which always seemed to arrive at the right time where we could find cover.

One highlight for me was a deaf boy wearing a Russell Wilson jersey who we passed by in the main square of the Old Town of Krakow and who went nearly crazy when he saw our Seahawk flag.

His parents took his picture with us. No words were spoken, and they didn’t need to be — just plain joy.

Power of sound

How about a spiritual rock concert at Tauron Arena with Matt Maher and Audrey Assad, followed by Eucharistic Adoration where you could hear a pin drop amid 20,000 people?

I watched this online after I came home, and it has lost none of its power or meaning.

What does it mean to be Catholic, the oldest Christian faith in the world, and who would spend the night in a field with over a million other people just to have a place with one another at the final Mass with Pope Francis?

You have to be kind of a crazy Catholic to do this, but in the words of St. John Paul II in his first homily as pope in 1978, “Be not afraid,” and so you mustn’t.

Leaps of faith

True pilgrimages are leaps of faith in many ways.

This does not mean a disregard for common sense, but if you are seeking God, then it requires a trust in God, and World Youth Day is certainly about trust.

We will never forget the people we met.

The Scots and Aussies on the tram, the Koreans, Iraqis, the Ukrainians, the awesome Poles, the thousands of French and Italians, the Brazilians and Spaniards, and the songs they brought with them that were a serenade that won’t soon be forgotten.

Yes, we were in Poland, living the abundant life. Thanks be to God.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by four religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Mike Acheson is director of religious education at Queen of Angels Roman Catholic Church in Port Angeles and St. Joseph Parish in Sequim.

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