By John Yep
It’s all thanks to a priest.
I crossed the Polish border, picked up my rental car and drove into town. That town, was Krakow, and I was joining literally millions of others for World Youth Day 2016. This tri-annual event brings together young adults from all cultures for a week of faith activities culminating with a visit from the current pope. For those who have been, they can swear on their grandmother’s bread pudding that it’s an event charged with joy and the power of the Holy Spirit. Allow me to explain.
After dropping off my car and clothes at the Air B&B where I would be staying for the week I ventured into the city that first evening. The city was absolutely bubbling over with joy, the kind of joy that only humans under thirty years of age are capable of generating.
There were colors, sounds, and smells which manifested the catholicity of our Catholic faith. Pilgrims flowed through the ancients streets, singing, dancing, and giving praise to their common god. Other pilgrims merely watched their family in the Lord while sitting down to enjoy the best of Polish cuisine. And still others, lined up by the thousands to wait their turn for the ultimate spiritual soul wash; the Sacrament of Confession.
It was this first night, after walking around town, that I was overcome with my own thoughts. Whoever started these tri-annual worldwide Catholic family reunions was an absolute genius. Of course they are officially put on by the Vatican, who teams up with the local diocese, but who was the person who had the original idea?
And then his picture came into mind. He was a son of Poland, a survivor of two of the most evil regimes of the 20th century. He was a poet, writer, athlete, professor, scholar, and a genuine down to earth human being. But most importantly, he was a priest. A priest, who became Pope John Paul II.
Only if you had grown up on a remote Pacific Island could you possibly not have heard of the man; perhaps the greatest of the 20th century. He did so much, traveled so far, and influenced so many people.
“John Paul Two, We Love You”, was the cry that met his ears whenever he walked among the crowds. And the crowd in turn would hear, “John Paul Two, He Loves You!” He loved people and people loved him. They felt the very love of Christ come through his heart to them. For this reason he was exactly what a priest should be, a bridge between God and man.
And this John Paul, had a dream back in 1984. He wrote, “I dreamt about getting young people together from around the world so that they could experience Christ, who is forever young.” And thus the world youth days were born. They have attracted some of the largest crowds in human history. The fruits go without saying. An untold number of people have found their vocations here, whether to the married or consecrated life. And an even greater number have simply met Christ himself.
If Dante himself had stepped inside the world of World Youth Day 2016, I reckon he would have taken his, “all ye who enter here leave hope behind”, to become a sign for the World Youth Day entrance with the altered words, “all ye who enter here shall find hope inside.”
For hope is the word that best captures the spirit that reigned on the fields outside the city of Krakow in the dog days of the 2016 Summer. Hope, because 2.6 million young people had gathered together and had found the Lord.
Hope, because it gave me, a future priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a vision of what a priest could do if he was faithful to the Lord’s call. As I gazed upon the myriad number of individual faces, I remembered again the man behind these world youth days.
It’s all thanks to a priest, and I want to be like that priest. I want to bring many souls to Christ, and then fade away forever, into the annals of history.