Going to World Youth Day 2005 was one of those huge, life-changing decisions that you make in a split second. When a friend told me about it, my first thought was, “This could be a turning point!"
I was working ten-hour days at the time, helping people who were looking for income assistance, employment, and other solutions to life's problems. The work was important, but all-consuming. On my days off, I was too tired and drained to do anything except sleep.
I knew I needed to do something: I was living to work, rather than working to live. And despite my busyness, I felt like the unproductive fig tree in Jesus' parable—not doing anything bad, really, but not doing anything to nurture and share my faith (Luke 13:6-9).
The pilgrimage from Australia to WYD in Cologne would give me a chance to step back from my everyday cares and concentrate on my spiritual life. But just how would I pay for three weeks in Europe? And could I get leave from work? I prayed over all this, and the Lord's answer seemed very clear.
Leaving the details to him, I paid the deposit before I'd even requested time off from my job. After that, everything fell into place. Certainly, it took some saving and fund-raising and giving up extras for three months—but I put my trust in the Lord, and he provided.
The Transformation Begins. Off I went, as part of a group of pilgrims from Queensland. It was a great collection of people—many priests and bishops, as well as youth workers, city kids, students from the bush, office workers from the coast, and engineers from out west.
Along the way, we visited some amazing places. We walked through the streets of Ephesus toward the "house of Mary" and stood in the market place of ancient Corinth, where St. Paul once addressed the crowds. Even more amazing than the physical journey, though, was our pilgrimage of the spirit and heart.
Our pilgrimage included both huge celebrations and times of quiet reflection. It was the chance to discuss your faith with young people from Cameroon to Canada and to share your Taizé songbook with the young man from Germany and the teenager from Spain. It was the chance to meet the pope and to join with him and more than a million people for Mass.
WYD offered so many opportunities: Traveling with people who look forward to daily Mass and like to stop in at churches for a quick "hello" to Jesus; meeting our archbishop and bishops, close up and personal; talking to priests and discovering that they are regular people; discussing vocations, be it a call to the priesthood, religious life, motherhood, or a new job.
Above all, WYD was an encouragement to take time with God—to just sit still and listen, for a change, knowing that he is near.
The Journey Continues. After such an experience, I wanted to continue growing in the Lord. I didn't want to lose my new joy and feeling of closeness to him. I didn't want to fall back into old bad habits. And so with God's help, I began to ask some questions:
Was my lifestyle making me a better person? Was I helping others?
Did I have time for family, friends, God, spiritual formation, or even sleep?
How could I be Jesus' hands and voice on earth if I never had time for him—or even for me?
If I was always at work—or feeling exhausted from work—how could I do anything else God might be calling me to do? "Sorry, can't come to the Saint Vincent de Paul meeting. I'm at work still. . . . Sorry, can't help out at the shelter—too tired . . . . Sorry, can't. . . ."
What was more important to me: a high wage or quality of life?
After considering these questions, I had a chat with the Lord about needing a different job. Again, I left the details to him. Again, everything seemed to work out—though not always how I thought it would, or even should.
I now have a job I enjoy waking up to. Yes, I am getting less money. On the other hand, I no longer receive death threats, dread going into work, or feel unable to make a positive contribution to the work of the church. On the whole, I would consider the trade-off to be well worth it!
Please Pray! World Youth Day is not just a day, a week, or an unforgettable experience. It's like learning to breathe fresh air again. It's about examining your life and reordering your priorities. It invites you to connect with God, with your local church community, and with people from all over the world. It shows you that you are not alone in your quest for answers and meaning in life. Nothing says that like Mass with a million people!
World Youth Day can be a life-changing experience. The change doesn't have to be external; it may involve the way you think, react, or look at things. It can start small, with a simple decision:
I will invite God into my daily life.
I will pray every day.
I will make time for others and for God's work.
Remember to be still and know that God is near.
As you read this, young people are converging on Sydney for WYD 2008. They too will have the chance to be spiritually transformed.
Join us, if you can, or join us in spirit and prayer. Please pray that we respond to God and become spiritually transformed, each in our own way. Pray that we come to appreciate the things that are truly important. Pray that we will experience the power of the Spirit to be witnesses of Christ throughout the world.
Alana Emerick lives in Brisbane, Australia, and has been helping people to get ready for WYD 2008.