For me the World Youth Day liturgical, educational, musical and catechetical experiences were a mixed bag.
I alternated between feeling very much at home and in tune with the presenters, bishops, musicians and liturgical celebrants and being shocked and feeling a total stranger at other events.
At times I felt I was part of the church of the present and other times I felt I had been, like Dr Who, transported back in time to situations that I encountered as a little girl in the church of the late 1950s and 1960s.
Many parts of the Mass were said in Latin, the use of old ecclesiastical forms of address such as ‘Your Grace’ at catechesis sessions and some of the devotional practices of pilgrims left me quite confused and extremely concerned for the future of our church. Discussions I had with young sisters, priests and lay movement members who were so excited about this return to the pre-Vatican II church where truth was held and where the church would once again be strong and triumphant filled me with dread.
Their certitude that this historical shift would see young people returning to the sacraments in droves clashed with my family stories of aunts and uncles being married in church cupboards because their spouse was not a Catholic or being enslaved by fear and ignorance. These young WYD pilgrims seemed happy for the church to go back to a past they did not know but which promised them safety and security.
In contrast with this was the passion, energy and desire of young people to be together, to understand each other’s differences, ways of life and cultures, to celebrate life and faith together, to reach out to others and to discuss how together they can make this world a better place.
Often in the evening and first thing in the morning we would debrief the encounters that everyone had had during the day and reflect on these in the light of the gospel and each person’s call. These debriefs provided a wonderful opportunity for us to try and navigate our way through the ups and downs, the fears and joys of the pilgrimage that we were on. We sought quiet times to let the experiences settle and to make sense of them.
Early on we discovered a Marist parish, St Patricks, in the heart of Sydney. Here we felt reconnected to Aotearoa New Zealand and our Pacific roots. The quiet courtyard became an oasis to sit, drink coffee, think, talk and pray. I would often go there early to sit in the sun. Mary and I would chat about my conflicting concerns.
Often I would ask her for the courage and wisdom to try to live with my rampant feelings of confusion and ambiguity. After one particularly horrible encounter with an American who was haranguing some Aussies about being heretics I desperately said to Mary in the wee courtyard: ‘this whole thing is bloody hopeless—people from the right and the left, people at each other’s throats at a World Youth Day—intolerance, prejudice, even people smiling all the time and saying “if you just pray the world will be all shiny and good.” Yuk this is driving me insane.’
Mary graciously reminded me that this was exactly what she went through with her son. He was trapped, tortured; people argued over his teachings—‘This is the right way.’ ‘No, this way.’ People even argued about his clothes and attempted to kill him and his movement.
With a wry smile she asked me why or how I expected anything else? This was her story, it was Jesus’ story and it is my story.
At the closing Mass Pope Benedict said:
Dear young friends
in the beautiful prayer that we are about to recite we reflect on Mary as a young woman receiving the Lord’s summons to dedicate her life to him in a very particular way, a way that would involve the generous gift of herself, her womanhood, her motherhood. Imagine how she must have felt, she was filled with apprehension, utterly overwhelmed at the prospect that lay before her. And in our name Mary said ‘yes’. In fairytales the story ends with all ‘living happily ever after’ but in real life it is not so simple. For Mary there were many struggles as she lived out the consequences of the ‘yes’ that she had given to the Lord. Throughout her trials she remained faithful to her promise sustained by the spirit of fortitude.’
This summarised for me the 10 days of World Youth Day. It challenged me to remain faithful to my ‘yes’ to live the gospel.
Pope Benedict’s and Mary’s words reminded me how to deal with the inner confusion that I experienced at World Youth Day and reconfirmed the great joy and pain that I can anticipate attempting to be faithful in both the church and society.
So for now at Challenge I believe it’s important that we who are a tad older work alongside young people to provide opportunities, resources, situations, places and maybe even the structures where they can work out how to be witnesses and saints in Aotearoa New Zealand today. We need to give them space where they can ‘receive the power of the Holy Spirit’ and be God’s witnesses in their communities (Acts 1:8).
Kitty McKinley is the director of Challenge 2000. See page 20 for more reflections.
Images: Top: Kitty McKinley
Bottom: Stephanie Bowe, the only pilgrim from St Cannice’s, Westport, with Bishop Jean Yves Riocreux, from Paris, France, in Westport for Days in the Diocese.