Both Filip and Elizabeth attended the last World Youth Day that took place in Lisbon last year! Filip, being polish, and Elizabeth herself Italian, express the long-lasting effect that such an experience left on them. More than 6 months have passed since Lisbon 2023, but the spirit that such a journey of pilgriming together created is one that is not simply unique, but eye-opening.
In a few words, how would you describe World Youth Day?
Filip: During Sunday Mass, in the Creed, we say: I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. World Youth Day is the perfect event which can show participants what the words: ‘catholic’ and ‘apostolic’ really mean!
First, let’s turn to the word ‘apostolic’. The Church is apostolic because it is built on the Apostle’s faith and tradition. The head of the Apostles, as we know, is Saint Peter. World Youth Day is an extraordinary opportunity to meet the Pope – the Peter of our times. Saint Ignatius of Antioch is famous for the words: Where the bishop is, there is the Church, these words paraphrase the eighth chapter of his letter to the Church at Smyrna, capturing one of the main ideas of World Youth Day.
Secondly, the word ‘catholic’. The word catholic comes from the ancient Greek adjective ‘καθολικός’ (katholikos), which means universal. So what does it mean that the Church is universal?
The Church is sent to all people, to all cultures, to all places. Jesus said to his disciples: Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15). World Youth Day is a brilliant chance to meet people from all over the world who believe in one God. Participants could also share with each other the different ways of living the faith. It is easily noticeable that Christians have different sensibilities and spiritualities, but all have the common purpose, ‘who’ is Jesus Christ.
Elizabeth: World Youth Day is definitely an event of great joy. It’s what I would call, ‘’a life experience’’. It’s incredible to see how big and alive our Church is! So many young people from all around the world gather all together to celebrate their love for our Lord. At WYD there’s this inexplicable atmosphere of happiness, fraternity, community and joy. What also touches you are the many differences that each person has. We are all different. We all have our story to tell – and we all attend WYD for different reasons and desires. But amid our differences, we have one thing in common. We have a heart that is singing the same song: God – the incredible mystery of WYD.
What are some moments that touched you during your experience and which you think shed light upon the unique character of the Christian Faith?
Filip: I am still amazed by one moment – which I had heard about before visiting Lisbon. It’s traditional that during World Youth Day there is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with the Pope. this is a silent adoration. When I heard 1.5 billion people gathered together falling silent all at once, I knew that something extraordinary was going on. I think nothing, apart from God’s presence, is possible to stop all noises like it happened then.
Elizabeth: Like Filip, the moments that have touched me the most were the Adorations we had. They were most special to me because it was during these moments that I felt God’s presence the most. It was during these times that I would feel Jesus speaking right through my heart pronouncing the words, ‘’Do not be afraid. I am with you’’.
Something that also touched me was the endlessness joy that everyone had during those hot and tiring days. The days we lived were pretty intense but no one would show that! Everyone was always full of energy, singing, dancing, having fun… they always had this big wave of joy and always had smiles on their faces. No matter what hour or place, you could turn around and always find people being happy. And that was such a contagious happiness! That was something that amazed me so much to the point where I was able to finally understand the ‘secret’’ meaning of being a follower of Christ — praising, being joyful even when things gets too hard to handle, and showing happiness and gratitude even when you’re your worst. These are also some of the main keys of sainthood. Like Pope Francis once said: ‘’A sad saint, it’s not a saint’’. And like Saint Philip Neri also said ‘’A servant of God ought to always be happy’’. Let’s all be saints together!
Can World Youth Day be a space that challenges and perhaps also aids those who do not see themselves as belonging to the Christian Faith/or to any faith at all? If so, how?
Filip: Does God exist? What is He like? Why do we live? – without any doubt, I can say that everyone, at some point, is asking or asked themselves these questions. For nonbelievers or those who are still searching for answers, attending World Youth Days provides a chance to meet the Catholic Church, to compare the answers which they have in their heart with the answers which the Church proclaims.
Nonbelievers might get to know the Church which is rich – not in a financial way, but because of its diversity. Maybe somewhere, those who are searching will find their place. I hope that God will grant them the grace of faith, because as he said: Seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7).
Why should anyone consider attending the next World Youth Day?
Filip: There are many reasons why we should consider attending the next edition of the World Youth Day, but maybe the one I would like to emphasize most is the fact that we can feel the Kingdom of our Father there.
We read in the Bible: For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20). In Lisbon, around 1.5 billion Christians gathered in the name of Christ. I dare say, we all had the feeling that He is there with us. On the streets there were Christians full of joy and real hope. The hope and joy which have, have their source in the Passion and the Resurrection of our Lord.
In the next chapters of the Gospel of Matthew we read: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:40). During World Youth Days, the families, schools, and institutions that hosted us performed the Corporal Works of Mercy. They fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, sheltered the homeless. We all were immersed in the Kingdom of God. Go there to experience it. It’s worth it.
And, how do you think that we can bring the WYD spirit to our own little communities in our hometowns?
Filip: I believe that bringing the World Youth Day spirit to our communities is possible by doing all that we were inspired to do during our days in Lisbon: expressing the joy of our faith, performing the Works of Mercy, talking about God with peers and meeting to praise God together. We also might make the Pope present among us by reading and discussing his encyclicals, Apostolic exhortations, and letters. I truly hope that we will keep the spirit in our communities, at least to the next World Youth Day!
Liza: I feel like we should not keep what we experienced in Lisbon to ourselves. Being at WYD felt as if I was given many things and now I feel the need to give what I received, to others. We are the proof that our church is still alive and that God still speaks to the young. We have now the job to show this to those who could not attend, by sharing the message of this incredible experience! All we can do is to share our experience and feelings but mostly important ,we need to share the joy we got for free. Because joy is meant to be shared with others, not to be kept to ourselves! I believe that this is what we can do in order to bring the WYD spirit to our families and communities…the rest God will do!”.