- 8 October 2013
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In July I attended my fifth World Youth Day, held in Rio de Janeiro and I have only one word to describe it - unforgettable.
World Youth Day is an annual event which began in 1984; started by John Paul II. It takes place in Rome each year on Palm Sunday in a small scale, celebrating the youth of the church; but every two or three years a different country will host the full event. This consists of two weeks and culminates in the Holy Father celebrating Mass with the Catholic youth of the world. In the past 28 years this unique 'festival of faith' has evolved and has become a platform for; vocations, ecumenism and catechesis. Many organisations use it as an opportunity to engage with young people of all ages on international issue, for instance this year the UN held an event to discuss the role of the youth and peace in the world. Over the years my experience at WorldYouth Day has changed considerably, as the world and indeed the Church has progressed to meet the demands of the digital age. WYD has extended beyond the two week festival. Globalisation has allowed the Church to meet young men and women in their homes and call them to be young men and woman of God who are not alone in their faith, and I have never seen that more than when I was in Rio this year. This year we even had an app to use as our guide and to keep us up to date with the changing timetable of events.
Going to South America was an adventure in itself for me, but it was added to because this trip to WYD was not with a group but instead was a trip I was making with only my brother for company. Never more so did I feel the need to rely on Social Media and the internet to stay connected to the WYD plans and preparations - what an experience that ended up to be. Before going I was part of the UKPilgrims website and we were communicating via Twitter, I was part of WYD English and WYD USA and to be honest the list could go on. The point I wish to make though is that me one person in one country was part of something bigger, I was a member of something extraordinary - a physical representation if you like of what we describe in the Catholic Church as 'the family of God'. A community of brothers and sisters who are connected by one thing - a love of Christ and the Church. In all my WYD trips I had never looked forward more to the adventure awaiting me because I no longer feared the unknown, I knew I was not alone instead I with my brother beside me was going to a family reunion.
Now you might be asking yourself why is this here on the SCIAF website?
Here is why - WYD and Caritas International have two things in common. First, they are both an expression of God's love through humanity and second they educate others on the call to be missionaries of the world.
"Go and make disciples of all nations" Matthew 28:19 that was the theme of WYD 2013 set down by Pope Benedict XVI and delivered by Pope Francis and no theme could better link the work of SCIAF with that of WYD. Going to Rio and living under the gaze of Christo Redentor on Copacabana beach was a call to be a missionary of the world. To live amongst those who need our help and to live to help others even when we do not know what help to give. There are many events at WYD and this year all the major ones were held on Copacabana beach. In the end over 3.7 million people came to celebrate the Saturday night vigil with benediction and Sunday morning mass with the Holy Father. People of all ages and from all corners of the world travelled to stand shoulder to shoulder to listen to what I can only describe as a call to be the very best version of yourself. At that final mass in the sun sitting amongst the 3 million pilgrims I was in awe at the silence at mass and during the homily, we listened not just with our ears but also with our hearts.
"During these days here in Rio, you have been able to enjoy the wonderful experiences of meeting Jesus, meeting him together with others, and you have sensed the joy of faith. But the experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life ....That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, The Lord of life and history (cf. Rom10:9)".
Faith cannot remain locked up in the same way that good fortune, education and wealth cannot. Instead we must engage with the world and be part of it. Social change is one way that we can be the oxygen for others. SCIAF has worked with organisations and communities across the globe to bring 'change' into the lives of others and they have done this by empowering others through, aid, education, political campaigning and sustainable development programmes. It is the people of Scotland who have recognised the call to be missionaries of the world, and who right now are living that well known hymn - " They will know we are Christians by our love".
My work with SCIAF started when I was at primary school - that's when I remember learning what the letters stood for - Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund. I was taught that as a charity if I gave them my money it would get to 'those who need it most' and that I could 'make a difference'. I grew up in a small community - but through going to church, my family life and school I started to believe that if I told people about SCIAF and raised money for them I was part of a much larger community and that I was making a difference. Now I am much older and understand the complex needs of the international community, I have come to recognise the many blessings in my life. I have travelled extensively and have met some of the people on the front line of the missionary work of SCIAF. I know that SCIAF with Caritas International are transforming lives. This year when in Rio I felt privileged to be wearing my SCIAF t-shirt and to be its representative at WYD. When we met up with other scottish pilgrims I wish I could have captured the expressions on their faces when they saw the SCIAF sign and the excited conversation which followed - this is a brand for change which unites the Catholic youth of Scotland in what i can only describe as a testimony of charity.
'Esta es la juventude la papa' (we are the youth of the Pope) yes that was chanted in the streets on the subway and on the beaches of Rio for two weeks. Over the years I have heard many chants at WYD but this time there was a passion in the words which resonate with me still. Pope Francis is known as the 'humble Pope' and his example and language seemed to inspire the youth in a different way - to be men and women of change. At the vigil on the Saturday evening as we sat on the beach in the dark and the Holy Father spoke to us; I felt a call to try harder and work harder to first of all appreciate the blessings in my life and then to share what I have with those who would otherwise go without. I wanted to cry about seeing the 7 young boys living under a blanket on the street just days before and made a promise not to walk by another person while in Brazil when I could do something. I think that the lasting legacy of WYD is one of action - and just like a wee box can make a big change, so too can a small act of kindness to your fellow man.
World Youth Day has been a huge part of my life since I was 16 and I treasure the memories of each and everyone. 2016 will be in Krakow Poland. I pray that God will help me to be there once again and in the meantime I intend to try to live an authentic life which will allow me to serve others following the example of SCIAF which has for 48 years been providing aid and opportunities to people around the world - a living example of God's work.