Click here to read the original blog posted on the CAFOD ‘Just One World’ blog
It’s been over a week since I returned from Madrid, and I’m still processing exactly what it was that I experienced out in Spain. The entire trip was such an energetic collection of encounters which started off in a small Church in Toledo and culminated in a gigantic open-air Mass on an airfield in Madrid. I was given the opportunity to try traditional foods, learn the Spanish lingo and meet people from particularly obscure countries many of us had never heard of before.
After setting myself the challenge of spotting CAFOD partner nations, out of the 40 possible, I only managed to meet people from nine of the partner countries – Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines – although I did meet people from a further 36 countries in total. My favourite had to be El Salvador, the nation whose national hero is a CAFOD icon and a strong inspiration of mine for speaking out about civil violence within the country which lead to his assassination in 1980.
Upon meeting, we realised immediately that we knew neither of each other’s language, so we managed to have a very hand wavy conversation which just about conveyed that we were from the United Kingdom. And although we weren’t sure what the Spanish word for “hero” was, I think they got the general idea what we meant when we screamed “Oscar Romero” at them, and beat our heart with our fists. Another highlight of the trip was the daily catechesis sessions which ran at the “Palacio de Deportes”. The theme was “Love & Life” and my favourite speaker was the Archbishop of New York, Fr. Timothy Dolan. He took us through the four most important ways to spread the Good News: charity, joy, hope and love for the Church.
With my passion for social justice, I was particularly struck by Dolan’s remark that, “We are most nobly human when we give ourselves away in love to others.” This captures everything I believe about charity and Christianity; Christ calls us to forget all our worldly possessions, and start accepting the call of love. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” And sure, this may seem like a deviation from the norm in today’s society, and our peers may think we’re strange for not going after the most cut throat, or best paid job. But what I realised from Dolan’s talk, is that although the Christian way might not be society’s way, as Dolan best puts it, giving ourselves away in love to others is surely the “nobly human” way. What a guy!
My experiences at World Youth Day were everything I expected them to be, and so much more. The huge crowds were there, the celebrating was there and the youth solidarity was there. I was able to meet young people who had spent a year doing youth ministry in their Dioceses back in America and other young people from Ghana who were representing a youth Don Bosco movement, similar to a group we met in Liberia. I met young people from France who could understand my Scottish friend’s accent better than my own Geordie one, and other young people from almost every country who were asking, out of genuine concern, after the English people who had experienced the London riots. I chatted to another guy called Michael who had come from Syria, and spotted young nuns from Kazakhstan crossing the road. There are endless stories, for an endless number of countries.
Looking back, the things I will take away most are not just the stories, but the friendship and love that underlies all of them. Although meetings were often brief, and sometimes we only had time to pluck from our distant memory a “hello” in a language we learnt a long time ago, somehow it was just so natural. Nowhere else, have I been able to chat to random South Koreans on the train or wave to a group from St. Lucia as we pass in the street. Young people were open to talk to other young people, from different cultures, from different backgrounds, from different walks of life. And it was easy. No murmurs of, “we have nothing in common” or “they don’t speak our language”. For the most part, we most probably will never see or speak to each other again, but for that fifty seconds walking down a street together there is a connection made – friendship in its simplest form.
So, I look to the future and encourage any young person who has read my recent blogs to start considering whether or not they may want to attend a World Youth Day event. The next one is in 2013, and is taking place in Rio de Janeiro and I pray to God that everything aligns so I can be there myself. Events like these make the world an exciting place to be a young person; we can all be a part of this “great generation” which works together to “give ourselves in love” and bring much needed change in a place which is full of so much tragedy, so much sadness. So let’s celebrate the fact that we’re young people, let’s celebrate the fact that we want to make this world a better place, and let’s celebrate the fact that there are millions of us across the globe who can work together in spite of language, culture or geographical barriers to really make a difference and change our world.