10 Reasons to Go to (or Follow) World Youth Day

Photo by MAGIS 2016
Photo by MAGIS 2016

World Youth Day is taking place this week in Krakow, Poland. Here’s why you should go — or at least follow it from home.

1) See the colors of the church — except for one.

World Youth Day is like a technicolor all-you-can-see buffet filled with flags from all over the world and people of different ethnicities. It’s beautiful. There’s just one color you won’t see much of: gray. It’s practically nonexistent in national flags, and WYD attracts a young crowd.

2) Take a pilgrimage.

Centuries of religious tradition can’t be wrong. World Youth Day has only been around for 30 years, but the practice of pilgrimage is ancient and is important in other religious traditions. Going on a pilgrimage can be a great way of praying with one’s body.1

3) Experience joy.

The positive energy at WYD is unlike anything else I have experienced. People sing and dance and chant all over the place. It feels like a little taste of heaven (though something tells me that heaven will have fewer lines and bathroom problems.)

4) Hang out with the pope.

Even if you are a mile away from the altar at the closing Mass or only see him whizzing by in the popemobile, being in the same place as the pope is an experience to remember. Plus, we don’t know how many WYDs Pope Francis will have, so let’s savor it.

5) Become friends with the saints.

Needless to say, Saint John Paul II is kind of a big deal in Poland.2 By going to or following WYD, not only can you get to know him and St. Faustina better, but who knows, maybe a future saint or two will also be present among the millions of pilgrims.

6) Show others that the Church is alive.

WYD is not just for those who attend. The media can portray the Church as being out of touch with young people, but the youth, energy, and tangible joy at WYD is a powerful counter-narrative.

7) Experience the mercy of God.

Our current jubilee year is dedicated to mercy, and the theme for this year’s WYD is, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). With the Polish roots of the Divine Mercy devotion and countless opportunities to experience Reconciliation, there will be a whole lot of mercy going on!

8) Realize that you’re not the only one.

It can be lonely to be “the religious one” at your school or workplace. It is wonderfully comforting to meet others at WYD for whom faith is important to their lives. You’re not alone. In fact, you’ll have a couple million new friends.

9) Practice other languages — and communicate without speaking the same language.

At previous WYDs, I’ve seen a lot of pointing, Americans attempting horribly-accented Spanish, and people from other countries putting Americans to shame with their linguistic abilities. Somehow it all works. (Plus, even if the language is different, the Mass is the same around the world.)

10) Encounter Jesus.

At the opening Mass for the last WYD I attended, my group was so far from the action that receiving the Eucharist seemed impossible, but one of the students in my group looked at me with puppy dog eyes and asked, “Can we receive Jesus?” We linked backpacks and formed a 25-person train as we made our way towards the altar, probably throwing a few ‘bows in the process. The same student turned to her friend after receiving Communion and gave a high five. They had encountered Jesus — an experience that continued throughout the week. It’s what WYD is really about.

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Even if you cannot be there in person, there are many ways to follow WYD from home. Here are some:

This post is part of a series in preparation for Magis 2016, a gathering of young adults before World Youth Day in Poland. Pope Francis has offered participants a series of twelve questions for their preparation. Check out the Magis website to see how others are responding to the question, “Why are you going to World Youth Day?”

  1. Granted, I nearly killed the students I chaperoned at my last WYD after we walked so many miles in intense heat… Sorry! I’m glad you’re still alive!
  2. My Polish friend and I jokingly debate about whether there are more American flags in the US or more images of John Paul II in Poland. Trust me, you will see him everywhere!

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