My experience at World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland was unforgettable. It was fun, exciting, difficult, stressful, eye-opening, inspiring, and so many other things, all at the same time. I learned so much about myself, about other people, about God, about the world. And there are a few key things I learned that I’d like to share with you here.
1. The world is a big place.
This may sound like an obvious statement. But I think that we (especially we Americans) get so caught up in our own country and culture ~ our own little world ~ that we never open our eyes to other countries and cultures. Maybe we’re hesitant to, or we forget to, or we don’t even think to, because our own culture is so comfortable while other cultures are unfamiliar. So ultimately, we often end up having a narrow worldview.
But in reality, there are many other countries out there besides our own, all of which have cultures that, though different from ours, are beautiful, unique, and rich with tradition.
WYD gave me a taste of how big the world really is, and of the small fraction that America takes up in it. I don’t mean to belittle our country or anything like that. I simply mean to convey the importance of opening our eyes to the rest of the world that lies beyond our own country, and of learning about and appreciating other cultures.
A quote I came across on Pinterest sums it up perfectly: “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
2. Yet, it’s not hard to make friends with people.
All of that said ~ even when the people in this great big world don’t speak our native language, or have a culture that’s completely different from our own ~ it’s not difficult to befriend these different people. Smiling, singing, dancing, and high-fiving are universal languages that people of all nationalities, cultures, and tongues can speak together (and believe me, there was plenty of that at WYD, and it was wonderful). Or if you and someone else happen to speak a mutual language, saying hello and asking “where are you from?” are such simple things that can spark a conversation and a friendship.
These things were among my favorite parts about WYD. Meeting people from all over the world and exchanging joyful greetings, whether through words, smiles, or high-fives. Having conversations with people from all over the world (if they spoke English 😉 and learning about their country and their way of life. Making friends from all different countries and cultures. The camaraderie at WYD is truly special.
3. Seeing the Pope in person is such a special experience.
It’s always great to watch videos or TV footage of the Pope, of course. But let me tell you: seeing him in real life is amazing. As he drove through the crowd at the Papal Welcoming Ceremony, I could just see the top of the pope-mobile and the top of his head ~ and I was shrieking uncontrollably, screaming, “HE’S RIGHT THERE!” and crying. Then I got to hear his voice and listen to his speech with my own ears, live and in person ~ which was also incredible.
Even though Papa Francesco only looked about an inch tall from my vantage point during all the events, it was still amazing to see him in person. Seeing the Vicar of Christ himself, in the flesh, hearing him speak to you, praying with him, receiving his blessing… all of it is incredible grace.
4. There’s no joy like the joy at WYD.
Going into WYD, I was a little nervous about the crowds. I was afraid that all the people and all the noise would be overwhelming and stressful for me. While there certainly were difficult moments, it didn’t take long for me to notice the contagious, unabashed joy present at WYD.
Everyone is cheering, clapping, and smiling all the time, chanting, “Papa Francesco,” waving their flags proudly, and high-fiving new friends from other countries. Everyone is so excited to be there, so excited to see the Holy Father, and just so full of joy.
So instead of being overwhelming, the crowdedness and noisiness were exciting ~ because the atmosphere of WYD is sheer joy. And that joy is the joy of the Holy Spirit. It’s beautiful.
5. Being a young person is exciting.
All of Pope Francis’ addresses at WYD were so inspiring. These talks, along with my WYD experience as a whole, really made me feel excited to be a young person, a young Catholic, a member of the young Church. I felt empowered as I came to realize a few things: As young people, we have our whole lives ahead of us. So let’s really live. Our lives are full of possibilities. So dare to dream. Don’t be afraid. Don’t settle. God has incredible lives planned for us ~ so let’s live them. Don’t be afraid to really live.
I highly recommend looking up Pope Francis’ talks from WYD and reading them yourself. They will really inspire you to embrace being a young person and to live your life to the fullest.