World Youth Day…what an experience. Yes there were the typical amazing things. Crowds, energy, enthusiasm, a celebration of being Catholic and young. The amazing sights…Sydney…the awe of the huge things around me…the number of people…the amount of effort that had gone into the whole event.
I’m sure that many of you will have seen a lot of this on television, the news, or on the internet.
However, it will not be all of the awe and wonder, the amazement, the chanting that I will remember. This will not be the treasure that I will keep from World Youth Day.
Instead one of the most striking things about World Youth Day was the difference that I encountered – difference in faith, difference in expression of that faith, difference in opinion, difference in purpose.
There were many times during the pilgrimage when this difference was obvious. There were many times when I felt uncomfortable in my expression of faith, despite being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of Catholics. I realised that there are many different ways of understanding and expressing being Catholic.
There were a few times when I saw passionate…sometime even violent difference. Conflict…lack of understanding…self-righteousness…people being intolerant of different opinions, different theologies, different cultures. And it was not all out there…it wasn’t only other people…it was within me as well. These were sometimes very human reactions.
During the more quiet moments I remembered home and reflected on what was happening here. I realised how much of what I was experiencing in Sydney existed here in New Zealand as well.
On the other hand there were also moments in Sydney where I saw people embracing difference – people attempting to be together – to understand each other – to be compassionate to those around them and the different situations we were in.
Many times I came across people from Sydney and had good conversations with them about WYD and the effect it was having on them. I will remember those conversations for the respect people showed to me and other Catholics, understanding and embracing WYD even when it had greatly inconvenienced them and their daily lives.
I will remember the way many Sydneysiders went out of their way to help our group. I will remember the volunteers who spent hours standing in one place at the railway stations, street corners, or anywhere, just in case we needed to know something.
World Youth Day has created many questions for me. I was shocked by many things in Sydney – some experiences that I don’t think I will ever forget. And throughout the whole experience…like Solomon in the first reading (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12), all that I sought was understanding: Attempting to understand and tolerate the vast difference that existed in World Youth Day. The treasure that I seek deep in my heart is understanding.
And, as the readings point out today, (Mt 13:44-52)…I think the investment of World youth Day was worth it. It may not be a tidy package deal that has strengthened my faith and provided me with all the answers, but it is a step in my journey to understand my faith, myself, and all of the others that surround me.
For more about Challenge 2000 and its work with young people in various contexts, www.challenge2000.org.nz/
Picture: The Challenge 2000 group at World Youth Day with Heath kneeling in front.